Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Sorting out ‘I’, ‘ego’, BMI, jIva, Ishvara and Atman
Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda (ed. Dennis Waite)

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Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda


Read Dr. Sadananda's other discourses.


(From a post to the Advaitin Egroup, Feb 2009)

The 'I' is pure existence-consciousness and is limitless: satyam-j~nAnam-anantam – that is the brahman that I am. That is one without a second, not even with mAyA, and it is called turIya in the mANDUkya upaniShad. It is also sometimes called the ‘original consciousness’ (OC).This is pAramArthika.

‘I’, when associated with total, cosmic BMI (body-mind-intellect), is called Ishvara and is the locus for mAyA, the power of projection. The total projected universe is Ishvara’s sRRiShTi (‘creation’). This projection is called vyavahAra. The rope that I see in the rope-snake example is not my creation; it is Ishvara’s. It is the snake alone that is ‘my’ creation (erroneous superimposition). In the 13 th chapter of the Gita, Krishna says that prakRRiti (mAyA) does all of the actions, including creation, of course under Ishvara's direction. I am gatiH, bhartA, prabhuH – I am the goal, the supporter and creator, says Krishna, identifying himself with Ishvara. All this is vyAvahArika. At Ishvara’s level, he is sarvaj~na – all knowing; there is no ignorance at this level. In order to be able to create, he has to have knowledge of the whole creation.

‘I’, identified with the local BMI (microcosmic level) is called the jIva, and has its own projecting power of ‘little mAyA Shakti’ that manifests in the projection of the dream state as well as the projection of the jIva's own saMsAra. This is prAtibhAsika. Ignorance is at this level; at the individual jIva level. The jIva has to deal with his projection as well as Ishvara's projection - prAtibhAsika as well as vyAvahArika.

Any knowledge has to take place at the jIva’s level, since this is the level where the ignorance is. Knowledge involves unveiling of ignorance. Any knowledge takes place when the light of consciousness gets reflected by the vRRitti or thought - detailed analysis of this topic is presented in the ‘Knowledge’ series of essays. Pure consciousness (OC) is 'as though' reflected by the Intellect; this is ‘knowledge of’ or ‘consciousness of’ the vRRitti, which is nothing but the image of the object seen. This is how I become conscious of the object and thus the world. Without the mind and intellect the world is not perceived, as is the case in the deep sleep state.

Reflected consciousness (RC) is nothing but OC reflected in the medium of the BMI. Without the reflecting medium, I am as ‘I am’ – pure OC, pAramArthika. Here there is no ‘knowledge of’; no self-realization. Brahman does not need any self-realization – He is pure consciousness. This is the meaning of j~nAna svarUpa. These words attempt to describe it, but really no words can describe it. Any description of Brahman is in vyavahAra only.

‘Ego’ is the jIva notion, where ‘I am this’ is the notional understanding. When the OC gets reflected in the BMI, I take the reflected image as ‘I am this’. I am actually OC that is ‘as though’ reflecting in the pool of BMI. The reflected light is my light only, just as the sun light is reflected in the objects that we see. Ego involves a misunderstanding, in which I take myself not to be RC but the reflecting medium (BMI) which I am conscious of due to RC. I.e. I take myself to be the object itself, rather than the light that is reflected by the object. There is nothing wrong with the object (BMI) itself; the error is in taking myself to be what I am not, taking the objects that reflect OC as myself.

Thus, the jIva is the one who identifies himself with the objects of refection (upAdhi-s), instead of with the light that is reflecting the upAdhi-s. Note that, without the upAdhi-s, no light can get reflected and I am then the pure OC – one without a second.

The jIvanmukta is one who, though he still has upAdhi-s (‘jIvan’), has now realized (‘self-realized’) that he is the RC and not the medium (BMI) that is reflecting. RC is not different from OC, since it is the light of OC alone that is coming back as the reflection – just like the sunlight that we see. When we recognize that the sun is shining, we do so by seeing the reflected light from the sun. In the same way, a j~nAnI is one who has shifted his attention from 'aham idam - I am this' to the Consciousness that is being reflected as ‘I am’. I am not ‘this’; I am the pure consciousness that is being reflecting by all ‘this’. When 'this' is no more,i.e. when the BMI drops (death of the BMI), then the jIvanmukta ‘as though’ merges with pure OC, since there is then no RC because there is no BMI to reflect.

When I realize that ‘I am RC’, it is the same as recognizing that ‘I am that I am’, just as the pot space might realize that ‘I am the total space without any division in space’. This understanding is clear for a j~nAnI. Simply enjoying the ‘play’ is called Atma krIDa or lIlA and, in deep meditation where there is total identification with RC/OC, it is called Atma rati - reveling in myself.

Once this knowledge is gained, the jIva’s misconceived notions fall away. These were products of his ignorance. His saMsAra ends, just as the snake disappears with the knowledge of rope, since the snake was an individual projection.

The jIvanmukta still sees Ishvara’s sRRiShTi, including the BMI that he was using before. Hence, consciousness is still reflected by the BMI but he now knows that he is really RC and the BMI can be seen as simply another object. Once the ‘snake’ is known to be a rope, the snake disappears. But the rope is still seen, since this is Ishvara’s sRRiShTi, whereas the snake was jIva’s sRRiShTi.

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