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Understanding Isvara Is the Linchpin
John: I have read your book and the various Q&As, etc. at your site. Having read your guidelines, I will provide a biographical sketch. I am male, retired, married, with an adult daughter. I am no longer a seeker but do have questions. First, the bio. My search began on a California hillside when at age seven gazing at a poppy; we became the same, lit by a brilliant yellowish-orange color. Then at 19 in the navy, a buddy gave me Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. That did it. I came to believe there was something else. Discharged, I read Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, about Larry who chucked it all to live spiritually, this based on somebody Maugham knew and Maugham’s visit to Ramana Maharshi. So I left California for New York City, driving a rattle-trap Dodge in search of a guru. Don’t ask me why NYC. This was 1960 and NOBODY talked or wrote about non-dualism/Advaita. It was just a stab in the dark. My sister’s husband though quickly got my car repaired (using up my “spiritual search” money) and I headed back to California. Then came university: BA, MA, PhD and, as Zorba the Greek put it, “wife, children, house, the full catastrophe.”
Sundari: Ah yes, the often perilous path of the householder, which so very often fails to deliver what it purports to do. ☺
John: Along the way, as householder, I sat with Maezumi Roshi, Joko Beck, at ZCLA in San Diego, Genpo Roshi in Holland, etc. I meditated regularly and had a few experiences which pointed to Truth. A few years ago I was on the spoor of awareness with people such as John Wheeler et al. but ego had a book to finish and I became fascinated by the new wunderkind, neuroscience. That done, I picked up the trail again, largely because suffering became intense and science was a dead end.
Sundari: The best that any teaching or science can deliver below the line (speaking metaphorically, as this is a nondual reality and there is no line as such) meaning within the apparent reality, can only point to awareness. There is nothing other than Vedanta that offers a complete teaching which unfolds what it means to be beyond the line, meaning to be awareness apparently manifesting as a person, or subtle body, within the apparent reality.
John: I have followed self-inquiry.
Sundari: What does “followed self-inquiry” mean to you? Self-inquiry entails subjecting the mind to self-knowledge with the aim to free the mind from its identification with objects, an endeavour which requires great dedication and commitment. Self-inquiry does not end for the jiva, enlightened or not. This is because the jiva (the self under the spell of ignorance identified with the subtlebody) and the jivanmukta (awareness appearing as a subtle body no longer under the spell of ignorance) never leave the apparent reality and always need to understand what is happening.
Inquiry is the nature of the subtle body. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance because the apparent reality, or dharma field, is governed by Isvara, meaning it is a lawful universe and a playing out of forces (the gunas) which are not under the control of the jiva, enlightened or not. Through inquiry jiva can come to gain knowledge of the Isvara factor, the part of awareness that causes things to happen and affects the destiny of the jiva. This is because moksa is for the jiva as awareness is already free; the jiva lives in the apparent reality and never leaves it.
John: So here are some events as one-liners, chronologically as they happened. Because they are laconic, you might have questions about some of them. I kept them terse so as not to labor your reading.
No storyteller. Stories no longer get told because nobody exists to tell them. They have no Velcro. That was when suffering ceased.
Sundari: Awareness is not concerned with the story or the storyteller because it is not a doer nor it is identified with the doer. Suffering ceases when the identification with the story and the storyteller end. This is when the doer, or storyteller, who does have an apparent existence in the apparent reality, can enjoy the apparent story for what it is: a movie playing out on the screen of awareness. As the jiva your story is just your interpretation of the playing out of prarabdha karma – the dharma field, or Isvara. The interpretation of the story will be governed by the conditioning given to you by Isvara, or the gunas, the vasanas.
Moksa is simply discriminating you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you. Discrimination renders your binding vasanas non-binding and negates the notion of doership. You will understand that Isvara is the only doer. Isvara is a name given to pure awareness plus the gunas operating maya, or ignorance. Isvara is the impersonal sum total of creation governed by certain laws or principles; Isvara is also called “the macrocosmic mind.”
John: Something still hung around. Then came the realization that though I knew it was supposed to be unreal, mind was still there. Shortly, mind fell away and now thoughts come and go in awareness. But I’m not out of the oven.
Sundari: The “oven” is ignorance and the one still cooking in it is the doer, the one identified with the subtle body and the idea that awareness is something to gain. Mind cannot fall away because the mind does not belong to the jiva, it belongs to Isvara and as such poses no problem for you as awareness. You are the knower of the mind and there is no need for it to fall away, assuming it could, which it can’t.
Awareness exists prior to the body-mind/ego (subtle body), and the only problem the subtle body poses is identification of the self with it. This is called ignorance, the self thinking it is a jiva. The subtle body is not real – meaning it is inert, value-neutral – it appears to be real (“real” meaning “that which is always present and never changes”) because the light of awareness – YOU – shine on it. The subtle body apparently exists, as do all objects (because you can experience them) but they depend on you, awareness, like the clay and the pot, the gold and the ring, water and the ocean. The clay is always free of the pot, the gold is free of the ring, water is free of the ocean and awareness is free of all objects, subtle or gross.
John: Awareness comes clearest as now. Not a series of nows, not as “the now” but what I am, you are – now. Probably “now” is clear because this way no effort can be made to grasp it. Now can’t be grasped. I can’t be here now. There is no “I” to do so. There is no “be here,” no location. This = now.
Sundari: “The now” is a very bad metaphor for awareness because it has the implied meaning of space and time, neither of which apply to awareness.
If reality is non-dual awareness then there is nothing other than awareness, there is no such thing as past present or future, no time and space. However, when you use the term “now” you invoke time – and time cannot be discussed without discussing space because what happens in space occurs in time. Space doesn’t exist in awareness and does not apply to awareness because there is nowhere that awareness is not so there is no time for awareness. It would be more correct to say that time and space occurs within the “scope” of awareness or that it is known to awareness. Furthermore, space is just the distance between objects and time is the distance between events. Events happen to objects. Space is often used as a metaphor for awareness because it is all-pervasive but, like time, there is the knower of space and time – you, awareness – so they are both objects known to you.
It does appear to take time to prepare one’s mind for Vedanta but the fruit of the inquiry is self-knowledge, which is independent of time. Time is only a mental concept, a subtle manifestation of awareness. Nothing is ever experienced in the past or the future, only the present – or the now. So what is the now? How long is the now? A year, month, minute, millisecond? The moment you try categorize time, time has already passed.
Time has no objective reality. The essence of the experience of events (time) is stored in and by the mind. Memory is simply catalogued and categorized events. Could you actually say an event took place previously if your mind didn’t record that event? You could not. Time is the distance between a memory of an event and another memory or current experience. Time is an illusion. And if the mind is inert, who is doing the recording? Memory is a function of the mind but it is not the mind that remembers anything. All events are recorded in the causal body, Isvara. If time is the space between memories formed by the mind, what sees the presence of the memories and of “time”?
Awareness sees the memories, it sees time. Is awareness affected by any event or function of the mind? No, it is not. Does awareness actually have anything to do with the mental illusion called time? No, again. Would time exist if awareness weren’t there to see it? That depends who you take yourself to be. If you take yourself to be the jiva, time and memory are real for you. But they are not real, they only have an apparent existence.
This is precisely what we mean when we say that awareness is “out of time” or “timeless.” Vedanta doesn’t say that awareness exists in an ever-existent flow of time; it also does not refer to awareness as the “now.” Yet awareness has to be there for time – or THE NOW – to exist. That is why time (or now) depends on you but you don’t depend on time. You see time, it doesn’t see you. You are the seer unaffected by time. You are free of time and therefore free of the now. Nothing ever happened. Therefore you will never change, age, decay or die.
John: In your interview with Rick Archer, I strongly resonated, as if we were in the same room. To Rick you said that the way to answer the question “Am I enlightened?” – sorry, I know the word carries baggage – is to ask “Am I complete?” I cannot say yes. Somewhere you speak of “rock-solid confidence,” that one is that, and it makes a “huge” difference. Do I have that kind of confidence? No.
Sundari: The rock-solid confidence that Ram speaks of is called “self-actualisation.” It is standing in awareness as awareness, it is the ability to discriminate the real from the apparently real and to never again confuse the two. As stated above, self-actualisation takes place after self-realisation because it is not an experience, it is the firm knowledge that “I am whole and complete, non-dual, actionless, unlimited, unchanging, ever-present awareness.” Self-knowledge is NOT memory-based and it is always good. In other words, it is not based on thoughts or feelings or experience. It is self-revealing and self-illuminating. The self does not need anything to know itself. When maya is operating awareness appears as a subtle body and identifies with the objects; this is the self under the spell of ignorance. It then ironically believes that awareness is something to be gained! Self-knowledge removes the ignorance from the mind, revealing pure awareness to be your true nature.
Any knowledge is object-based, not subject-based. It is not knowledge unless it is true to the object. If it is my knowledge, then it is my interpretation of an object, which is not necessarily knowledge. Ignorance (or my point of view) is causing me to see or experience whatever it is as though it is actually there. People believe that ignorance is knowledge because they believe that what they experience is knowledge. It may be knowledge but it may not be.
Self-knowledge depends on the nature of the self, not on knowledge gained through personal experience. On the basis of self-knowledge the individual can retain or reject the knowledge gained through his or her personal experience.
The very fact that you know something means it is an object. Awareness is the subject and the one that knows the object. Without awareness, no knowledge can take place; without awareness, no objects (which include knowledge and ignorance) exist. Awareness is not an object of knowledge and cannot be known by the mind, which is an object known to it. Awareness can only be revealed in a sattvic mind with the removal of ignorance through exposing the mind to self-knowledge.
Isvara is in charge of the dharma field. Maya encompasses jiva’s personal creation, or story (jiva srsti), and Isvara’s impersonal creation, maya.
Isvara and jiva appear to be different when ignorance rules the mind but both the jiva and Isvara have a common identity as awareness. Isvara creates, sustains and destroys the whole universe. Although Isvara appears as individual subtle bodies, there is really only one subtle body and we all share it. The world we see with our senses, and the senses with which we see it are Isvara’s creation. Within Isvara’s creation are innumerable jivas: plants, animals, humans, insects, etc.
Jivas are living beings with gross, subtle and causal bodies. Human jivas have intellect which makes them self-aware, self-reflective. This means that they can interpret their experiences. The way that a jiva’s subtle body interprets its experience is its “world.”
When we say the world would not be there without the mind (subtle body) we mean jiva’s interpretation, its projection, would not be there. It does not mean that the material world, the senses, subtle body and the vasanas (Isvara srsti, or creation) would not be here. We call the jiva’s creation “pratibhasika satyam,” the subjective reality. There is only one John and he sees things a certain way owing to his conditioning. Isvara’s creation is called “vyavaharika satyam,” the objective world. This is the world of science, the objects and the laws which are not under the control of any jiva.
We need this teaching so the jiva does not confuse its creation with Isvara’s. The jiva is part of Isvara’s creation and is required to respond to it. This is called dharma, appropriate response. If the individual responds properly to what Isvara wants, it will be in harmony with Isvara, the creation, meaning its environment. But if the jiva is living in its own world, gets a request from Isvara and responds according to its fears and desires, likes and dislikes (vasanas, or conditioning), it is quite possible that it will run afoul of Isvara, meaning its circumstances – and therefore suffer.
This teaching makes the jiva aware of the difference between the subjective and the objective realities. If it is clear which is which it can choose to follow dharma, not its own desire – in case they are different. There is no problem with jiva’s desires as long as they conform to dharma.
In order to understand non-duality, one first has to understand the identity between (1) pure awareness (paramatman), (2) pure awareness plus the gunas operating as the Creator, or Isvara (the dharma field, or apparent reality), and (3) the individual, or jiva. As all objects are experienced in the mind of the jiva (the self under the spell of ignorance), HOW objects are experienced depends on whether the jiva knows its true identity as awareness or not. If the jiva has self-knowledge it will not confuse its creation with Isvara’s. Through self-inquiry, discriminating the self from the objects appearing it, self-knowledge negates all objects and reveals that they are apparently real.
The self-realised jiva knows that all objects are value-neutral and incapable of delivering anything, which means that the joy comes from awareness. So they do not seek objects to complete them. Until such time as ignorance is removed by self-knowledge, the jiva takes itself to be a body-mind and sees all objects as real and separate from it. So the jiva seeks objects to complete it. This is why moksa is freedom from dependence on objects.
There are no real “others” once one really understands non-duality. As stated, there is only one awareness manifesting as many apparently different jivas. These apparent others appear to have an impact on us and we on them. As the liberated jiva, or the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, we continue to have interaction with others as “other,” knowing that all objects are Isvara and we experience them according to “our” conditioning, meaning the guna-generated vasanas.
When your true nature is known to be awareness, you no longer project onto “others” as objects even though you may still experience your interpretation of them as objects. Your interpretation comes from Isvara and is an object known to you and therefore not a problem for you, awareness. Everything dissolves in the light of self-knowledge.
John: I anticipate James’ raised eyebrows re my prior message about the mind going away. I can be clearer. I understand it “exists,” as he puts it, but I mean that it nonetheless was something I constructed as needing to be gotten rid of, another thought-object. When I realized that as a thought-object it was powerless, it lost its hold. Certainly, in the relative world thoughts are a function of the brain, which in the world of consciousness is the mind.
Sundari: Yes, indeed, we did raise our eyebrows – and we are glad that you revised your statement. You are incorrect in your statement that in the apparent reality (apparent is a better term than relative) thoughts are a functions of the brain, which in the world of consciousness is the mind. Firstly, thoughts are a function of the mind, not the brain; secondly, all worlds exist in consciousness and thirdly, the mind is inert, as stated several times already. Thinking takes place because of the presence of awareness, although awareness does not think. Awareness appears to think because the light of awareness shines on the mind, which is not confined to the brain. The quality of the thoughts in the mind will be determined by the guna at play in the moment. All thoughts arise from the guna-generated vasanas which come from Isvara, not the jiva. It is in understanding what is driving the conditioning of the mind that the jiva frees itself from the spell of ignorance and the notion of doership.
You cannot get rid of the mind nor is there any need to do so. Trying to get rid of it implies that it is real, which it is not. As you say, like all objects it is powerless over you, awareness. Understanding how the gunas condition the mind, however, is of paramount importance if you want to be free of the jiva and the mind.
John: A follow-up question, and one that is critical to my understanding of Vedanta teachings:
The claim about deep sleep: (1) Only being is “there.” (2) Objects are absent. (3) Therefore as being is present in all three states – deep sleep, sleep, wakefulness – and objects present in only two, being is our true nature, objects are not.
Sundari: By “being” I assume you mean awareness. Your statement is pretty jumbled but essentially correct. The whole point of the three-states teachings is to negate the states and reveal that you, awareness, are the knower of all states.
Here is the full teaching on the three states –
Jiva manifests as three little jivas according to the state that it experiences:
(1) As viswa, the waking state entity. In this state its mind is totally extroverted. It is hypnotised by duality. It chases and consumes experiences. Viswa appears in two forms: (a) free of identification with objects (a jivanmukta) or (b) as a doer (karta), or person identified with objects (a samsari). Both a jivanmukta, a liberated person, and a samsari, a bound person, have a common identity as awareness.
(2) As taijasa, the shining one, awareness with a subtle body illumining the dream state. In the dream state the subtle body is turned inward facing the causal body, the vasanas. The experiences the dreamer has are just experiences of the vasanas. Jiva is not present in the dream state in the same way that it is present in the waking state. In the waking state jiva identifies with the doer, so the doer is not seen as an object. It is thought to be the subject. In the dream state there is also identification but the doer/ego can also appear as an object illumined by taijasa, awareness reflected on the subtle body. For instance, in the dream you can see the waker going about its business, walking, talking, eating, etc. The doer/ego is a dream doer/ego similar in some respects to viswa but with unique powers. These powers are inherent in the dream state and do not belong to taijasa although in normal dreams it identifies with them. The doer-ego and the events appearing in the dream are just waking state events that have become vasanas that out-picture as dream events.
(3) As the sleeper, prajna, in the deep sleep state. Prajna means “almost enlightened.” It is almost enlightened because it experiences the limitlessness and bliss of awareness but lacks knowledge of what it is experiencing because the intellect is not present in deep sleep. In deep sleep, awareness knows the absence of objects, which means that the absence of objects is an object.
The subtle body disappears in deep sleep state as does the microcosmic causal body (personal subconscious). The personal subconscious, which comes from Isvara, seems to belong to the jiva and to produce the jiva’s karma. The deep sleep state is defined as “a state with no mental activity.” It is the same for everyone because the personal subconscious is subsumed into Isvara, the macrocosmic causal body. The macrocosmic causal body, another name for Isvara, is the deep sleep state. Deep sleep is the presence of tamoguna alone. Rajas and sattva are dormant. There is no sense of individuality (ahamkara) in this state because the subtle body of the individual is not there to be conditioned. (The ahamkara or “I-sense” [ego] belongs to the subtle body and the subtle body belongs to Isvara.)
Although the nature of both the jiva and Isvara is awareness, both the jiva and Isvara are inconstant factors with reference to awareness. Jiva is inconstant because it changes from state to state and because self-knowledge removes the notion that it is a limited entity, revealing its nature to be pure awareness. Isvara in the role of Creator is inconstant because logic and scripture – which is just science – informs us that Isvara is withdrawn at the end of the creation cycle; whatever is created will be destroyed. Isvara in the role of Creator is eternal with reference to the jiva but not with reference to pure awareness, or paramatman, the constant factor.
The dream state has two aspects: waking dream and sleep dream. It is called the pratibasika state, the subjective state of reality. It is jiva’s creation (sristi). It is an individual jiva’s interpretation of reality. In the dream state (whether the jiva is awake or asleep) vasanas influence how reality is interpreted by the jiva. Isvara provides the raw material for the interpretation, but not the interpretation itself. Ultimately, it is all Isvara but to get to that understanding – which is tantamount to moksa – the jiva has to understand its oneness with Isvara as awareness as well as its difference from Isvara as an apparent jiva, so that it can be free of both itself and Isvara.
John: How can the claim be validated? How can it be asserted that objects were not in deep sleep? We cannot recall what we did five minutes ago, so why can it not be the case that we don’t recall what happened in deep sleep? Being unable to recall, we cannot confirm objects were not there or that they were.
Sundari: Who is trying to confirm what? If you are talking as the jiva identified with being John the doer, then you will not be able to confirm what was or was not present in deep sleep. This is because the subtle body is not present in deep sleep. In deep sleep the subtle body has returned to the causal body, so awareness is experiencing its own nature or bliss, i.e. the absence of objects, because all vasanas are dormant, so there is no activity in the mind. The only objects present in deep sleep are ignorance and nothing (no objects); this is why deep sleep is so pleasurable. Think what it is like to be woken abruptly from deep sleep, like the kid next door coming home at 3:00 am with his music blasting – the mind experiences immediate agitation at being wrenched from the bliss of deep, tamasic sleep.
The analogy of deep sleep serves to prove that you cannot be the experiencing entity.
Dreamless sleep is known as the “bliss sheath,” ananda-maya-kosha. In moments where there seems to be no doer/experiencer, there has to have been a witness who knows the joy/bliss. If not, how would the jiva or deep sleeper know joy/bliss was there in the first place? How can the jiva say that it did not know anything while it was asleep unless awareness was there to witness the absence of knowledge? Therefore the deep sleeper cannot be the lack of knowledge or ignorance; therefore you cannot be the experiencing entity, or jiva. Deep sleep is called “experiential bliss” because it ends, like all experiences do. The bliss one is after if one is seeking moksa is the bliss of self-knowledge, which never ends (anantum) because it is one’s true nature.
John: It would seem that “recall” is the linchpin here. The implication is a movement out of the present into a fiction called “the past.”
Sundari: If you are talking about deep sleep, you are incorrect. It is not “recall” that is the linchpin, it is “inference,” which is a valid means of knowledge. The movement is not from the past to the present, it is from the causal body to the subtle body. When the subtle body returns to the causal body, whether in deep sleep, during anaesthesia, coma or death, the subtle body goes into seed form.
When one returns from deep sleep, coma or anaesthesia (the causal body) to the waking state (viswa, or waking state entity) you can infer that have been in deep sleep because the body-mind-intellect (subtle body) is present again because awareness knows the apparent absence or presence of the subtle body.
As a separate but related topic, if we look at reincarnation after the death of the physical body, it is not the subtle body per se that returns but the vasanas that give rise to an apparently new subtle body.
John: If something cannot be experienced now, it cannot be confirmed.
Sundari: For whom? You are speaking again as the jiva identified with being a jiva. Awareness does not experience anything as it is the non-experiencing witness without whose presence no experience can take place. As awareness is your true nature and this is a non-dual reality, you are only EVER experiencing awareness and nothing else. Awareness is that which cannot be confirmed by the means of knowledge at our disposal – perception and inference – because awareness is subtler than both. The object can never know the subject. Does your mind or body know you? The body-mind may seem to be conscious because the light of awareness shines on it but the body-mind, like all objects, is not conscious. The body-mind is inert, a counter across which experience is experienced. This is why awareness evolved Vedanta (so to speak, as awareness is not a doer).
Vedanta is called a “brahma vidya” which means “the science of consciousness.” It is an objective analysis of the true nature of reality – and your experience, based on the facts. Like any other science, it is not personal and it has a methodology which, if followed with great dedication and commitment, will provide irrefutable knowledge that is moksa, if the student is qualified. Vedanta is simply the truth about you. Not your truth or my truth or anyone’s truth: The Truth.
This is why Vedanta is called apauruseya jnanam, meaning “not the philosophy or experience of one person” like a prophet or a mystic. It is an impersonal and independent teaching. It is sruti, which means “what is heard.” It is revealed to the mind, not thought up by the mind, which is why you can trust it. You have come to the right place; you have found the Holy Grail. You just need a little help to understand what it means to be self-realised and to live the knowledge.
I have attached two articles for you that will help you in your understanding of the identity between Isvara and the jiva. One is a combined article by James and me and the other is an article I wrote on the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by the experimental psychologist Daniel Kahneman. I think with your interest in science this book will be very interesting to you. It provides a different and contemporary slant on the macrocosmic and microcosmic mind, even though Kahneman himself is not aware of this dimension to his work.
~ Om and prem, Sundari