Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century


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Definition - Shyam Subramanian

In advaita Ishvara ultimately is the One, non-dual entity. From a jIva's standpoint we can understand Him at two levels. One level is as Bhagavan, as prabhu, the Lord and Master of all beings, as the bestower of the fruits of ones actions (karmaphala).

This level of understanding is indeed common to all dualisitic faiths and philosophies and has its own degree of paramount importance in ensuring the growth of the individual and ripening his ego for the higher truth.

Another level of understanding Ishvara is as the substratum or truth about Everything and Everyone and that includes me, meaning He is the none other than the Truth about me, or I the Self am non-different from Him – he is AkShara puruSha, or parabrahman or paramAtman, or Atman or Brahman – all synonyms.

Let us use the dream analogy to try and understand this. I weave a vast world in my dream. This dream is created out of myself and takes place in myself and ultimately resolves into myself. I am the efficient cause of this dream. I am also the material cause for this dream. Every river, mountain, planet, star, animate and inanimate objects in this dream - all are Me, the substratum alone. Yet while these are in Me, I am unrelated to them. Thousands of these dream universes can arise in me and can resolve into me, millions of big bangs can come and go, yet I the Creator/ Sustainer/ Destroyer am completely untouched.

Now for an individual in the dream, I am the Lord of the Dreamworld. If I had control over the activities in the dreamworld, then I am the only recourse for anyone in the dream. I am the only One who can save them and the entire world's activities are governed by laws orchestrated by Me alone.

How do I, the uninvolved One, create as it were this dreamworld? By a power that is both intrinsic and non-separate from me – this power is mAyA. mAyA is not a "separate" thing and hence does not enjoy independent existence. You cannot distil mAyA out of me and try to see how I am without mAyA or how mAyA is without Me. On the other hand mAyA is not nonexistent as long as the dream enjoys its existence either in an expressed or potential latent form.

What gives each individual in the dream a sense of separateness from the whole, and an inability to perceive a non-distinction between himself and the world that this dream individual perceives? It is ignorance about himself. What to the individual is ignorance or avidyA is none other than the same principle responsible for the dream itself which is mAyA. The former pertains to the poor helpless individual in the dream, the latter pertains to the "Creator" of that dreamworld, Me.

Now if the entire concept of the dream, the Creation is removed, then what exists is Me alone.

This is a helpful way to understand Ishvara. Ishvara is a mAyAvi in the sense of being a wielder of mAyA – understand again though that this mAyA is not a "separate" thing that He wields like a sceptre. The world that we seemingly cognize and have to deal with is mithyA – not in the sense of an illusion, but in the sense of not having a substantive reality other than its material cause which is Ishvara. What is mithyA is our seeing it as different with such surety and with no second thought whatsoever in assuming its validity. This is the power of mAyA.

This world is not a haphazard mutant entity. It is sheer intelligence in and through. You take any phenomenon in this world and what you find is infinite layers of intelligence.

An infinitesimally small cell has such complexly intricate intelligence interwoven into every facet of its structure and function that if every scientist in the world were to spend every living moment trying to analyze it with every ounce of effort time and resources for the next hundred years they would still be where we are today – an infinite distance away from understanding it. That is the beauty or marvel of infinity – or Divinity – it is always "ten fingers yonder"

Now, one has to account for this order. This is the basis for the famous watchmaker analogy. A Design implies a Designer. If you asked me how did a watch get built and I tell you pieces of glass and metal just got built by itself and started ticking along with meticulous precision, you will (hopefully) wish me luck with my future therapy sessions. And yet when it comes to the most amazing design spectacle ever, some people still have a hard time coming to terms with accepting an efficient cause.

Having said that, to assign this status to a "person" only, be it Krishna or Shiva or Vishnu, and to give a separate status to everything other than this personality is also immature.

The example Vedanta uses is that of a spider (UrNanAbhi): a spider creates the web on its own and is both the efficient and material cause for the web.

Why is this important? Once we expand our understanding to this, then everything in Creation becomes sacrosanct. A flower is now not "just" a flower – it is sAkShAt Ishvara [Ishvara, manifest, ‘before our eyes’] – hence it is in our tradition that a flower as prasAda [a propitiatory offering] is first applied to the eyes before the lady will put it in the hair, signifying that this flower is as sacred to me as my own eyes.

Acknowledging Ishvara in the manner in each and every facet of Creation one appreciates that nothing – neither here nor yonder – is separate from Him.

OM IshA vAsyamida{\m+} sarvaM is the opening to the Isha upaniShad, meaning ‘all this’ (idam sarvaM), (is) ‘covered over or enveloped’ (vAsya), by the Lord (IshA).

And in this acknowledgement is sown the seeds of surrender – because if nothing is separate from Him, then I am certainly not separate from Him. In fact the only thing that separates me from Him is my own notion of separateness, which is none other than that 600 pound gorilla, my Ego or I-sense. This is what I need to transcend by acquiring the right knowledge about myself – and, in this, Ishvara and his Order which again is Ishvara alone will come to my rescue. "The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower." (Psalms 18.2)

In His own words (Bhagavad Gita XVIII 65) –

manmanA bhava madbhakto madyAjI mAm namaskuru |
mAmevaiShyasi satyaM te pratijAne priyo'si me ||

Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.

Q: I think I am confused. Or at least want to make sure I am not.

Please clarify for me the distinction, if there is any at all no matter how nuanced, between the use of the name "Ishvara" and the name "Brahman." I thought after reading the initial definition that Ishvara encompasses both the transcendent, unmanifested, eternal Pure Consciousness of Brahman, and the more immanent, manifest aspects of Brahman. But a recent post seems to be indicate that Ishvara is used in reference only to the more manifest aspects by appending "Ishvara" to the term saguNa brahman, and not also to the term nirguNa brahman.

A (Prof. V. Krishnamurthy): Brahman is nirguNa, attributeless; is not the predicate of anything, cannot be pointed at, is neither this nor that – and thus it goes on.

So there is no way of `worshipping' it. No, we cannot even talk about that except by giving it a name, though not a form. Therefore Upanishads give it a name `tat', just for purposes of referring to it and to say that `tat' has no attributes.

But our intellect wants to do something with the Almighty Supreme. A worship, a prayer, a meditation, an offering or whatever. All these involve a duality of the worshipper and the worshipped. The moment we think of Brahman as an object of worship or prayer or meditation, immediately, the concept of brahman is jeopardized. Thus the intellect has created brahman with attributes – a saguNa brahman.

The very fact that our intellect has come in the picture implies that mAyA has done its job. It is mAyA's effect that there is an intellect and we begin to think of objects through our intellect. Thus Brahman, with the upAdhi (impact, coating, influence, superposition, covering, conditioning, ... - - choose your word) of mAyA, is called saguNa brahman. That saguNa brahman is the Ishvara. Now Ishvara has all the superlative qualities that any religion associates with Almighty God. But mAyA did not create Ishvara. It is Ishvara that created the mAyA. mayA is in His control. It is like a snake having poison but is never affected by its poison. Ishvara is not affected by His mAyA.

A (Shyam Subramanian): While it is true that saguNa brahman and nirguNa brahman are two separate terms, they do not refer to two entities.

They are just two levels of understanding pertaining to the same vastu [existent thing].

What is satyam about Ishvara is satyam about you - the jIva. And that satyam is the vastu brahman.

There are’nt two omniscient eternal limitless entities. There cannot be.

What prevents us from understanding or appreciating the infinite as our own nature [svarUpa] is our Ego which is the handiwork of avidyA [ignorance].

As long as the Ego or I-sense is functional, it has to relate to the infinite as a finite, to the Creator as the created, to the bestower of fruits as the recipient or as the doer.

Once the ahaMkAra [sense of ‘I’ as body-mind etc.] is sublated, the I-sense has been understood to be an illusion, the sense of separateness from the very same vastu vanishes. What remains is just Is-ness, the timeless eternal truth.

Division is ever in terms of an understanding on my part - the vastu is ever One and non-dual.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012