Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A Realist view of Advaita
Part IX
Chittaranjan Naik

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Part IX - Ishvara

Om Gurubhyo Namah


Existence then was not, nor its opposite, Nor earth, nor heaven's blue vault, nor aught beyond, The subtle elements that are the veil Of this so insubstantial world, where then Might they find out a place? by whom be known? The deep abyss of waters - where was that? Death was not yet, nor deathlessness; the day Was night, night day, for neither day nor night Had come to birth. Then THAT, the primal font Of life - breathless - to its own primordial power joined - Brooded eternally. Itself beside, In the wide universe there nothing was, In the beginning gloom - gloom hidden in gloom! From its cause undistinguished stood the world: But lo, thereafter, from its darkling state - Yet undistinguished from its cause - it rose, By the pure will of THAT made manifest. Whence came this will? From out a seed it came Asleep within the heart of THAT - the seed Of vanished worlds that have in order wheeled Their silent courses of eternity: The manifest in the unmanifest they found - The sages, searching deep within themselves…. Ah, what are words, and what all mortal thought! Who is there truly knows, and who can say, Whence this unfathomed world, and from what cause? Nay, even the gods were not! Who then can know? The source from which this universe hath sprung, That source, and that alone, which bears it up - None else: THAT, THAT alone, Lord of the worlds, In its own self contained immaculate As are the heavens, above, THAT alone knows The truth of what Itself hath made - none else!


The shruti assigns the origin of the universe to Ishvara.

Brahman is omniscient because of Its being the source of the scriptures. (BSB, I,I,3).

Shankara explains:

Brahman is the yoni (i.e., the material and efficient cause) of great scriptures like the Rg-Veda etc. which are supplemented by other scriptures that are themselves sources of knowledge, which reveal all things like a lamp, and which are almost omniscient. For scriptures like the Rg-Veda, possessed of all good qualities as they are, cannot possibly emerge from any source other than an all-knowing One. For it is a well recognised fact in the world that the person from whom the scriptures dealing with multifarious subjects emerge is more well informed than the scriptures themselves; for instance grammar etc., emanating from Panini and others, represent merely a part of the subject known to them. It goes without saying that, that great Being has absolute omniscience and omnipotence, since from Him emerge the Rg-Veda etc. - divided into many branches and constituting the source of classification into gods, animals, men, castes, stages of life, etc., and the source of all kinds of knowledge - and since the emergence of these Vedas from that Being occurs as though in sport and without any effort like the breath of a man, as is stated in the Vedic text, 'Those that are called the Rg-Veda, are but the exhalation of this great Being'.

Again Shankara says:

The Upanishads teach thus: Starting with the text, 'O amiable one, before its creation, this universe was but Existence, one without a second.' (Ch.VI,ii,1), it is stated, 'That (Brahman) visualised, 'I shall become many, I shall be born' That Brahman created fire' (Ch.VI,ii,3). In that text, the universe, manifested as names and forms and referable by the word 'it', is first ascertained to be identified with Existence 'before its creation'; then the text shows that the creatorship of fire etc., that follows the visualisation of future creation, belongs to that very entity, called Existence, which is under consideration. So also elsewhere: 'In the beginning this universe was but the one Self alone; there was nothing else whatsoever that winked. He visualised, 'Let me create the worlds'. (Ai.I,I,1-2).


There is in science a principle called the law of entropy that states that the world continuously tends to chaos and disorder. Evidence of this universal tendency towards disintegration is everywhere - cars rust, stereos break down, people become old, mountains erode, and buildings collapse. If one were to place the parts of a clock in a box and shake it, the probability of the pieces falling together as a working clock is so negligible that it can be discounted. Yet, if we open our eyes and look around us, we see that the principle of entropy is being violated with such impunity that it is astonishing that we don't see it. The evidence is all around us - ordered structures of beehives come into existence, honey is gathered from diverse flowers and accumulated, anthills come into being, seeds germinate and grow into beautiful trees, cars get made, particles of sand turn into microchips, aeroplanes fly and reach their intended destinations, activities coalesce into coherent organisations, human beings are born and grow - the list is endless. The loci of these tendencies to order are living beings - wherever we find life there we find that the most wondrous order of things are brought forth from the chaotic dispersions of inanimate matter. The element that makes this possible is life, for intelligence is the mark of life.

If one who wanted to make a clock were to sit shaking the pieces in a box hoping that they would become a clock, we would not called such a person intelligent. On the contrary, it would be quite fitting with his actions to call him 'ignorant'. It is possible to create things only by discerning the operative causes and acting accordingly. In Shankara's words:

We have already said that an effect which is patent in the cause serves as an obstruction to the manifestation of the other effects. So if one tries only to destroy the previously manifested effect such as the lump or the two halves which stand between it and the jar, one may also have such effects as the potsherds or tiny pieces. These too will conceal the jar and prevent its being perceived; so a fresh attempt will be needed. Hence the necessary operation of the factors of an action has its utility for one who wants the manifestation of a jar or any other thing.

Discussions on efficient causality have often been obscured because words are used in manners that violate their meanings. Thus it is said that omniscience is to be understood as being contained in the manifestations of avidya. It is not reasonable to speak of omniscience as being a manifestation of avidya, for that is a mere application of the word 'avidya' without a consideration of its meaning. It is as if one who, on seeing a remarkably beautiful woman, were to state that that beauty is contained in, or is a manifestation of, ugliness. Apart from the wounded reaction that this might draw from the charming woman in question, it would only go to show that the person who speaks thus is not speaking meaningfully. Words must be employed in consideration of their meanings; otherwise one may as well call a cow a horse and a horse a door and say that flying is a kind of walking, and the only thing that this manner of speaking would achieve is universal confusion.

One does not attain to the desired result through avidya, for by definition avidya is lack of knowledge. Driving a car without knowing how to drive would most likely result in a consequence that is graver than the intended one of reaching the destination. Attempting to cook without knowledge of cooking may result in something not quite palatable to the senses. But when these same tasks are undertaken with knowledge, they lead to the intended goals even if the law of probability does not give them much of a chance. Intelligent goal- oriented actions are disruptive of the closed systems within which the principle of entropy operates. Moreover, the law of probability would completely rule out the possibility of repeatability.

It may happen by a rare chance that one clock may somehow fall into place and get assembled, but the chances of clocks getting repeatedly assembled with clocklike regularity would need an extraneous factor for sure. That extraneous factor is the directedness to the result that is provided by intelligence. Order and regularity can only be brought about by vidya. The word vidya has all these connotations - of intelligence, design and goal-orientation, etc. Avidya on the other hand has neither intelligence nor directedness. Avidya is darkness, sloth, sleep, inertia. Avidya may contribute to the rise of chaos, but would certainly not account for the regularity that we see in the world. Therefore, it is Intelligence rather than avidya that is the efficient cause of the universe. And Maya is to be understood as the power through which Brahman brings forth this universe. Maya is not avidya. The efficient cause of the universe is the Intelligent Brahman and Brahman only.


The confusion between avidya and Maya arises from a misinterpretation of the bhashya, wherein it is stated that the omniscience and omnipotence of God are contingent upon the nescience of the jiva. How is this statement to be interpreted? The word 'contingent' here implies a condition upon which something else happens. Avidya is the condition and what happens is the response of Reality to that condition. And that response springs by its innate power given the contingency of avidya and the accumulations of karma caused by avidya. Just as in the Yoga Sutra it is mentioned:

Good and bad deeds are not the direct causes in transformations, but they act as breakers of obstacles to nature, as a farmer breaks the obstacles to the course of water, which then runs down by its own nature.

Similarly avidya is not the cause, but is the contingent factor upon which the very nature of Brahman 'acts'. And it is because Brahman acts by His nature that Brahman is actionless in His actions, because that action is not through the sense of agency but by His own immovable nature, for His nature is unmoved even by the greatest of deeds and is hence truly omnipotent. He does the greatest of deeds with the greatest of ease - without the least affection to His being. That is His aishvarya - His controllership. Therefore He is called Ishvara, for Ishvara is the repository of aishvarya.


Ishvara is not a product of Maya. Maya is Ishvara's incomprehensible power of creation. There is no avidya in Ishvara.

The seeing of the Seer is not avidya. It is the very nature of Brahman. It is the eternal and unbroken seeing of Brahman:

For when it appears that it does not see, it is seeing even though it appears it is not seeing; for there is no cessation of the seeing of the seer, but there is no second thing apart from it that it can see.
(Br.Up. IV,III,23).

Shankara says in the bhashya (BSB,I,v,5):

For like the effulgence of the sun, Brahman has eternal consciousness by Its very nature, so that It has no dependence on the means of knowledge. Moreover, in the case of the transmigrating soul, subject to ignorance, the rise of knowledge depends on body etc., but not so in the case of God whose knowledge is free from obstacles. And thus it is that the following two mantras show how God is not dependent on body etc., and how His knowledge has no covering: 'He has no body and no organ; none is seen to be either equal or superior to Him. The Vedas speak of His diverse supreme powers as also of His spontaneous action that is accomplished by His vigour arising from knowledge.' (Sv.VI.8).

And the next sutra reinforces this by stating that this eternal seeing is not spoken in a secondary sense.

Now, the capacity by which the 'created' universe is brought forth into the luminosity of seeing is not avidya. For avidya is nescience which means sloth, or sleep, or inertia. Inertia cannot bring forth; it can only mask and hide. That is the meaning of avidya. The capacity to bring forth has to be the capacity to illuminate to the senses - it has to be a power of projection. Its name must derive from the etymological root that evokes the meaning of projection. That word is vikshepa. And the power by which it brings forth is vikshepa shakti.

What is brought forth to be illumined to the senses also hides what is not illumined, in so far as it is not so illumined. Particularization hides the infinitude of the universal. That showing forth of a particular also conceals the universality, and that concealment is a concomitant of vikshepa. It is its avarana shakti. It is the obverse side of vikshepa.

The knowing eye - the third eye - is never befooled by avarana. It knows the infinity even in seeing the particular. It is only the cloud of unknowing that takes the finite for the infinite. That cloud of unknowing is avidya. It is not a 'thing' for it is the privation of knowing. It is the veil of indescribability that has its seat in the jiva.

The third eye is the eye of Ishvara. Therefore Ishvara has no avidya. Vikshepa and avarana are the capacities of His infinite power - the awesome power of Maya. They are not two - Ishvara and His Maya - they are Existence and the magical power of Existence. They are Shiva and Shakti.

What Ishvara brings forth is Himself. That is His own form showing forth. It is His Prakriti. They are not two - Ishvara and His Form - they are Existence and the Prakara of Existence. They are Purusha and Prakriti.

In our lucid moments, we may glimpse that the world is only in consciousness, that it has no existence in itself, but in spite of such a vision, one cannot, by one's will, determine the world into being. That power of aishwarya remains with Ishvara. A fraction of that power may come to a yogi through the eight siddhis, but the power of creation remains with Ishvara alone.

For the Supreme Lord alone has competence for activities concerning the creation etc., of the universe inasmuch as the fact of creation etc., is taught in connection with Him alone, and the word `eternal' is attributed to Him. The Upanishads mention that others get the divine powers of becoming atomic in size etc., as a result of search and hankering for knowing Him.
(BSB, IV,IV,vii,17).

The world springs from a deeper level than one's conceptions and conception cannot negate the very Will from which it springs forth as conception. The weft and weave of the cloth cannot negate the cloth. The jives with their minds are identified with so many layers or sheaths of Reality, and from amidst the weave of these sheaths one cannot negate the filaments of the weave, nor see the deep springs from whence the world has come. The weave is already woven and it is Ishvara that has brought it forth and it is He that projects and holds the universe in place. How then can the jiva that cannot see the well-springs of the world deny the world? When the jiva challenges the creation of Ishvara, it is questioning the truth of its own inner Self, and the answer to the challenge may as well be like the words that came out of the clouds when Job challenged God in the Old Testament:

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man, for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?… Who laid the cornerstone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors…. And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?…. Canst thou bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?…. Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts, or who hath given understanding to the heart?
(Job 38:1-40:2).

None can dislodge the universe from the firmament in which Brahman holds it aloft as the three created worlds. For is it not seen that it is held in place?

Under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gargi, the sun and moon are held in their positions; under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gargi, heaven and earth maintain their positions; under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gargi, moments, Muhurtas, days and nights, fortnights, months, seasons, and years are held in their respective places; under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gargi some rivers flow eastward from the White Mountains, other flowing westward continue in that direction, and still others keep to their respective courses; under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gargi, men praise those that give, the gods depend on the sacrificer, and the manes on the independent offerings.

Proceed to summary.

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