Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century


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God has not created the universe like a poet creates a poem, the relationship is just like a dancer and the dance: they remain one . Osho (Ref. 166)

The concept of Ishvara often poses a problem for the western mind. Having rejected the idea of a Christian God in heaven (and a separate, created world with the descendents of Adam living in inherited sin) and embraced the non-dual concept of Advaita, it somehow seems to be a retrogressive step to start talking about Ishvara.

It seems that the only intellectually acceptable idea is that there has been no creation. If the world exists as separate from the Absolute, then that would mean duality, irrespective of whether or not He created it. Alternatively, if the Absolute has transformed Himself into the world, then He is subject to change and no longer Absolute. Creating something implies a desire to create, in turn implying that He lacks something, which is a limitation, again meaning that the Absolute is not “infinite.”

Instead of a creation, the rational explanation if one is needed is that the apparent world is a superimposition – the snake on the rope mistakenly perceived as a result of ignorance. But it is only meaningful to talk about creation in the phenomenal realm, where causality appears to exist. Once this has been transcended, the question no longer arises, just as it is no longer meaningful to ask whether the snake is poisonous, once we have realized it to be a rope.

The appearance is the world; the reality is brahman. But it does not make sense to say that brahman is the cause of the world, just as one cannot say that the rope causes the snake. Causality and change have no meaning at the level of paramArtha – there is no relationship between Ishvara and the world because “both” are brahman. There is a “creator” only as long as the world is believed to be real. Or, to put it another way, if you believe in the reality of the world, you are obliged to invent God.

At the level of the individual, the ignorance that prevents the jIva from seeing the truth is called avidyA. At the level of the world, the “force” which obscures the reality and projects the apparent world is called mAyA. Since it would not make sense to talk of such a force without also talking about an “entity” which wields the force, it is necessary to postulate one. This entity, which as it were, carries out the creation on behalf of brahman is Ishvara. Ishvara and mAyA have the same ontological status. Unlike the jIva, however, who is at the mercy of mAyA, Ishvara is its controller.

God is only a concept, though the highest the human mind can make. But you are not a concept. Atmananda Krishna Menon (Note 1310 Ref. 13)

Thus, the following equations can be formed to help understand the various relationships:

jIva = Atman + avidyA

Ishvara = brahman + mAyA

This is expounded in the pa~nchadashI (III.37):

Brahman who is existence, consciousness and infinity is the reality. Its being Ishvara (the omniscient Lord of the world) and jIva (the individual soul) are (mere) superimpositions by the two illusory adjuncts ( mAyA and avidyA, respectively). (Ref. 52)

Atman in the form of an individual body-mind is the jIva; brahman in the form of the totality (including all individual body-minds) is Ishvara. Thus it is that the individual can be a part of the totality, in the same way that a wave is a part of the ocean, and yet Atman can be brahman, in the same way that both wave and ocean are water. The reality, satyam, is always only Atman-brahman; the person and the world are mithyA, though their essence, too, is brahman. Swami Dayananda explains further:

Between the wave and the ocean, the difference is obvious. If the wave is enlightened, it gives up the mithyA difference, having recognized its oneness with the ocean. The ocean – satyam (what is real) – transcends mithyA. But this transcendence does not imply any physical separation. That is why we use the word “transcend.” It is both immanent and transcendent. It remains in and through, and it is more than; it goes beyond. It is exactly like when you say. “touch wood.” Whatever wooden object happens to be in front of you, you touch… transcending the door, table, chair or desk, I recognize wood.

…As satyam, there is only one limitless brahman, and that I am. The little enlightened wave can as well say, “There is only one limitless ocean, and that I am. I am the cause of all these waves and breakers; they are all from me.” But the other waves must be enlightened to understand that. (Ref. 186)

Once we have removed the ignorance that causes us to identify our true self with a body and mind ( ahaMkAra), we are left with the realization that we are the Atman. It is not that we have acquired something new (knowledge) that has changed us into the Atman – we always were That. Our experience has changed but the reality has not – who we are transcends the experience. It is only the body, mind, thoughts etc. that change but as long as I think I am those, it seems as if I am subject to change, too. It is this avidyA upAdhi – concealment of ignorance – that effectively makes me, the Atman, into a limited person. Who I really am is free from all limitations.

Another way of looking at it is through a consideration of vAsanA-s, the impressions that we accumulate as a result of action, according to the theory of karma. Each of us has his or her own vAsanA-s that we bring into this life and these form our individual ( vyaShTi) upAdhi of ignorance, which in turn dictates how we react to situations in life. Effectively, they might be considered to bring about the sort of life we lead or the world in which we live – they are held in our kAraNa sharIra or “causal body.” The world is the total of all of these “individual worlds,” the sum ( samaShTi) of all of the individual vAsanA-s. Thus it is that Ishvara can be considered to create the world according to these samaShTi vAsanA-s in order that all of the individuals have the optimum opportunity to “work out” their prArabdha saMskAra and thereby realize their true nature.

This is somewhat different from the “argument from design” considered under the topic of creation. It is assumed that action gives rise to “fruit of action,” as was discussed in Chapter 2. Often the fruit is immediate or occurs in the near future. If we eat, we feel immediately satisfied. If we plant a seed, it eventually sprouts and grows. Sometimes, the fruit depends upon others, as for example when we work for an employer and they are then responsible for paying us. The argument is that there are no examples where the fruit is not dependent either on our own actions or on the actions of another. Therefore, there must be a God who keeps record of all of the fruits due to us that need to be carried over to a future life if not given later in this one. This is also the argument for performing religious rituals, the idea being that these generate saMskAra in Ishvara in the same way that the work of a servant causes saMskAra in the mind of his master. (These arguments stem from Shankara’s vAkya bhAShya on the kenopaniShad, as related in Ref. 335.)

Remember God is not the future, not heaven, God is “I am,” present tense, this moment. Mark McCloskey (Ref. 251)

But it must never be forgotten that Ishvara IS brahman, simply being looked at from the point of view of the world. It is all a question of trying to make words perform tasks for which they are inadequate. Brahman cannot create as discussed above. Since, in our ignorance, there appears to be a creation, we postulate a creator, Ishvara, and a power derived from brahman, mAyA, to account for it provisionally until the truth is realized. Similarly, subsidiary explanations are offered to account for more detailed aspects such as that the mAyA of Ishvara is predominantly one of projecting the illusion ( vikShepa) while the avidyA of the jIva is predominantly one of covering over ( AvaraNa) the truth. ( mAyA is said to consist of pure sattva, whilst avidyA is impure sattva, contaminated by rajas and tamas.)

All the words such as omnipotent, all-seeing, omniscient etc. apply to Ishvara but not to brahman – brahman is beyond description

Similarly, mAyA and reality are the same. As Ramana Maharshi said (Ref. 49), it is simply that “the universe is real if perceived as the Self, and unreal if perceived apart from the Self.”

Order from or


Extracts from the Book
Summary and Endorsements
List of Contents
List of Quoted Writers and Scriptures
1. Potential Problems with Sources and Teachers
2. saMskAra
3. Different Types of Knowledge
4. Becoming the Disciple of a Guru
5. Ishvara
6. The Self as Knower or Known
Page last updated: 07-Jul-2012