by Swami Krishnananda
Tasya hetuḥ samānābhi hāraḥ putra dhvaniśrutau, ihā nādira vidyaiva vyāmo haika niban dhanam (14). In the case of the father's indistinct hearing of the voice of his son chanting the Veda, the obstacle to a clear and distinctive hearing of it is the chorus of the voices of other students also mingling with the voice of that particular student. That is the obstacle in the case of the illustration cited. What is the obstacle in the case of the Atman? It is indistinctly felt in us, partially making us feel that we love our own selves, which is possible only if the Self is revealed or manifest in some way. If it is not manifest at all, in any way whatsoever, there would be no love of Self. We would deny our Self, rather than affirm our Self. That is to say that the Self is manifest in some form.
But if it is really manifest, we would not love objects of sense. Why do we run after objects if the Self is really distinctly felt inside as the source of all bliss? This shows that there is some obstacle covering the consciousness of the Self, causing an indistinct perception of it, sometimes making it appear that it is revealed as the source of freedom and bliss in us, and at other times making us feel that we do not have any idea of it and are only thinking of the objects of sense.
The cause of the obstacle in this case is avidya, ignorance. It is a word which is difficult to explain. It is something which covers consciousness and is explained in many ways. Some people say that the avidya consists of a predominance of rajas and tamas over sattva; therefore, there is no illumination possible when the cloud of this avidya or ignorance covers the consciousness of the Atman. Others say that avidya is the residue of the potentials of all the karmas that one did in the past. In a way, we may say our avidya covering the Atman is nothing but our unfulfilled desires, whose impressions we have carried through several of our previous births. It may be that avidya is the end result of our unfulfilled desires which we could not fulfil through our different incarnations in this body. Or it may be, to explain the thing in a different way, rajas and tamas clouding sattva.
Sattva is indistinctly manifest in dream. So we have a hazy perception of things. Sattva is distractedly yet distinctly manifest in waking, so we can have a clear perception of things in the world. But we don't have any perception in the state of deep sleep. It is pure avidya covering – an abundance of rajas and tamas activity, minus the appearance of sattva.
Cidānanda maya brahma prati bimba saman vitā, tamo rajas satva guṇā prakṛtir divividhā ca sā (15). There is a thing called prakriti. We have come across this term in the Samkhya doctrine studies. In the Vedanta also, this prakriti is accepted, with a little modification of its definition. Brahman is Pure Existence, Consciousness – sat-chit-ananda. We have already established this fact. When this Supreme Brahman, which is sat-chit-ananda, is reflected in prakriti, which is constituted of sattva, rajas and tamas gunas, the prakriti acts in two ways.
In what way does this prakriti act in a dual fashion? Yesterday we have heard that there is, on one hand, an obliteration of the consciousness of the universality of the Self. That is called the function of prakriti known as avarana, covering. The other aspect of prakriti is vikshepa, which causes the perception of an externality of the world. So it does two things: covering consciousness, and then distracting the consciousness in the direction of perception of objects outside in space and time.
When the prakriti operates cosmically and reflects the Universal Brahman consciousness in it, it is called maya. Ishvara is the name given to Brahman revealed, or manifest, or reflected through prakriti's gunas. When a predominance of cosmic sattva, overwhelming rajas and tamas, reflects the Universal Brahman in itself, that reflected consciousness in the universal sattva is Ishvara. The universal sattva itself is called maya. Maya is under the control of Ishvara, but avidya is not under the control of the jiva or the individual. The avidya controls the jiva, while Ishvara controls maya. That is the difference between Ishvara and jiva, God and the individual.
Satva śuddhya viśuddhi bhyāṁ māyā’vidye ca te mate, māyā bimbo vaśī kṛtya tāṁ syāstarvajña īśvaraḥ (16). Omniscience is the nature of God, or Ishvara, because Ishvara is a universally spread-out reflection of the Absolute Brahman in the all-pervading, equilibrated condition of the sattva guna of prakriti. As sattva is universally manifest, it has no divisions like rajas and tamas. Therefore, the reflection through it of Brahman consciousness, known as Ishvara, is the omniscient knowing of all things at one stroke. For the same reason it is also omnipresent and omnipotent. So God is all power, all knowledge and all undivided presence: omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence. This is the nature of Ishvara – God who creates this universe.
But the fate of the individual jiva is different. It is not omniscient; it is not omnipotent; it is not omnipresent. The jiva, the individual, is in one place only. While Ishvara is everywhere, the jiva is in one place only – like every one of us. We cannot be in two places at the same time. Our knowledge is distorted, reflected and conditioned to objects; and we have no power, because avidya controls us. Therefore, the individual jiva is the opposite of Ishvara. While bliss is the nature of Ishvara or God, unhappiness, sorrow, grief, suffering is the nature of the individual jiva.
Avidyā vaśaga stvanya stad vaicitryāda nekadhā, sā kāraṇa śarīraṁ syāt prājñas tatrā bhimāna vān (17). This avidya, or the causal body, which is also known as the anandamaya kosha in the individual, is of varieties and not of a uniform nature. The avidya of the human being, the avidya of an animal, the avidya of a plant or a tree, the avidya in stones and inanimate objects are variegated in their manifestation. They cause the variety of the species of individuals which are called 84 lakhs in number.
Jivas are 84 lakhs in variety. A lakh means one hundred thousand – so 84 one-hundred-thousands. So many incarnations through the varieties of species of beings is what each one takes! And then comes the end result of this incarnating through the 84 lakhs of species, which is that we attain the state of humanity. Human beings are the last thread, knot, or the terminus of these 84 lakhs. Yet, evolution is not complete with humanity. We have to become divine beings. Merely being human beings is not sufficient, because even in the human being there is the operation of rajas and tamas. Pure sattva does not operate in the individual jiva. Therefore, there is unhappiness and a sense of finitude and limitation. Because of the subjection to avidya which, unlike Ishvara, is predominantly rajasic and tamasic in nature, and which is the varieties that are variegated in all the species of beings, there comes the causal body of the jiva.
The consciousness that is ignorant behind this avidya in the causal body is called prajna in the technical language of Vedanta philosophy. Prajna is only a name which means ‘the knower consciousness existing at the back of the totally covering and obscuring avidya in the state of deep sleep as it is manifest, and manifest in other states also, in different ways’. Avidya is not manifest only in sleep. In sleep it acts as complete obscuration, like an eclipse for the sun. But in the dreaming and waking states it manifests through the subtle body and the physical body, due to which we are conscious of our subtle body in dream and conscious of the physical body in waking. That also is an action of avidya because wherever there is externality of perception, there is avidya operating. And everything involved in this perception of outside things in space and time is working through avidya. It is only in the state of sleep that avidya completely covers the consciousness.
This consciousness in the three states – sleeping, dreaming and waking – is known by different names. The consciousness that is behind the causal body, as manifest in sleep, is called prajna. The same consciousness operating behind the dream state is called taijasa. The same consciousness operating behind the waking state is called visva. Visva, taijasa, prajna are the names of the same Atman consciousness operating behind the screen of the waking condition, dreaming condition and sleep.
Tamaḥ pradhāna prakṛte stadbho gāye śrvarā jñayā, viyat pavana tejo’mbu bhuvo bhūtāni jajñire (18). The jivas or individuals – people like us, human beings – have been born into this body due to our past karmas, the fulfilment of which is to be worked out through this body and through any other body which may be compelled upon us on account of our not living a righteous and good life in this world at the present moment. For the sake of the experience of the past karmas of individuals, a field has to be created because experience is not possible unless there is a field, an area of action. This area of action for the working out of the karmas of the individuals is this vast world which God has created. The world of God, the creation of God, extends from the time of the will of God to create until God enters immanently in every created being. After this level, it is all bliss. It is Virat operating by its immanence in all beings; and variety is not a bondage there, because it is one Universal Consciousness beholding the variety of its manifestation – right from the will to create until the immanence and entry of this very same Universal Consciousness in all individuals of every species.
But tragedy starts when this individual, which is actually an immanent form of Ishvara Himself, somehow or other, for reasons nobody knows, asserts an independence of its own. It is something like the Biblical story of the fall of Lucifer by asserting an arrogant independence over God. Something like that is also the story of the Upanishads and the Vedanta – namely, that the individual somehow or other foolishly starts asserting its independence and falls headlong into the mire of sorrow, with head down and legs up, as it were, like Trishanku falling from heaven.
Then what happens? The individual is completely oblivious of the Universal Consciousness which is immanent in it. And through the attacher or the distorted screen of this sleeping condition in which it falls down, with it manifests a faculty of individuality, called mind and intellect and sense organs, for creating a heaven in its hell. It says, as the poet tells us, "It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." It does not want to serve in heaven. It will reign as the president in hell. The world is hell, and we are like presidents, ruling the world. And we feel very happy. All is well with this hell. This is what we think.