One What?

Neem Karoli Baba, my first guru and inspiration on the spiritual path, famously said, “Sub ek,” which means ‘All one.’  I, as perhaps many of us, who heard and contemplated the phrase throughout the years, had my own concept of what that phrase meant.

Many drops, one ocean; many petals, one flower; many sunrays, one sun; many parts, one whole.

It was not until I encountered the teachings of Vedanta that I came to understand what Maharaji in fact most likely meant by ‘sub ek.’

From the perspective of the teachings of Vedanta, sub ek, does not mean many drops one ocean, what it means is the truth of the drops and the truth of the ocean is one alone.  One water.  The reality of the drops and the reality of the ocean is water.

It means that in reality there are not many separate things that actually exist.  There is only one thing that really and truly exists, upon which everything else depends for its apparent existence, and Tat Tvam Asi, You are That.

So what is this That, this one thing, that everything is and you are?

What is the one common denominator in the world of name and form?

Isness, existence.  In Sanskrit satyam.

Think about it.  Do you ever in your entire experience not exist?

Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita:  “There was never a time I did not exist, neither you, nor these kings.  Nor will any of us cease to exist in the future.”

(Chapter 2, verse 12)

Things—objects—which exist and are subject to coming and going in terms of time and space—come and go in existence itself.  That existence, which is only one and never ceases, that existence you are.

The recognition of one’s very being as that existence is called ‘jnanam’ or ‘self-knowledge.’   You are That right now, but take your Thatness to be a product of the body/mind, and it isn’t.

Is there ever a time you do not exist?  What is your experience?  You always are.

“Always I am (sat)

Always I shine (chit)

Never at any time am I not beloved to myself (ananda)

Therefore it is established that I am that One alone,

The meaning of the word satchitananda”

Advaita Makaranda (The Nectar of Nonduality) Verse 2


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About Dhanya

Dhanya developed an interest in Hinduism and Eastern philosophy in the early 1970s. In 1973, she traveled to India in search of a guru to guide her on the spiritual path. While there she encountered disciples of Neem Karoli Baba and his teachings of bhakti and karma yoga which influenced her life from then on. She studied Vipasana meditation for some time with S.N. Goenkaji beginning in 1974. In 1991 she met HWL Poonja, whose words sparked a desire in her to understand the teachings of nonduality. Subsequently she met other advaita teachers, including Jean Klein and Sri Ranjit Maharaj, who were great sources of inspiration to her. In 2002 she met her current teacher, Dr. Carol Whitfield, a traditional teacher of Advaita/Vedanta and a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Having found a teaching and a teacher with whom she has a deep resonance and who clearly and effectively elucidate the means for self-knowledge, Dhanya now lives on the island of Maui in Hawaii where she studies Vedanta and writes on the topic of nonduality.

24 thoughts on “One What?

  1. “Do you ever in your entire experience not exist?”

    Yes. As a jiva, a nature, my ordinary self… I do not exist. The jiva is merely a projection (vikshepa) of the buddhi (higher intellect). Advaita states that there is a divine Lila (a play, a show) being produced all around one. All plays have actors and parts, so who is the actor and who is the part? Advaitins rarely ask this significant question? Upon analysis, even better upon experience, it is reasonable to conclude that the jiva (a nature) is the part which is being played by an unknown actor (a spirit). If you go as high as you can, upwards in to the higher intellect, and then turn completely around and look behind you… you will be surprised to see the buddhi smiling sweetly at you. The buddhi is your spiritual self which you realize, with disconcerting astonishment, has been projecting your natural self all your life. Only now for the first time do you realize that you are only a projection of a spiritual actor… a complete and utter illusion. Then you realize that you do not exist.

    Existence and non-existence are opposites and both are part of the illusion.

    “Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “There was never a time I did not exist, neither you, nor these kings. Nor will any of us cease to exist in the future.” ”

    Krishna (Visnu) is part of the illusion. Visnu is the maintainer of the illusion upon its course. The Bhagavad Gita is smriti, not shruti, and everything remembered is present in Universal Life, in Universal Memory. The past, the future and the present all eternally exist in a metaphysical Universal Memory. Everything that is in memory will disappear. The Self is without past or future and the ‘you’ to whom Krishna is referring is ‘the part’ in the divine Lila, merely the illusory self… which is part of the illusion of the universe as drama held in Universal Memory, which has no beginning and no end. There is only life. There is nobody who lives a life. All life is universal life, it has nothing to do with an individual. Consciousness has merely identified with a character in Universal Life, that is all. Surprisingly, we are not actually in the universe. Krishna, who is an illusion, is referring to the immortality of the illusion. There will always be a Krishna and an Arjuna, and a Mahabharata battle, and a Dhanya and an Yehan. They are parts in the play. The play and its characters are eternal and indestructible. Even contemporary physics says that information survives in Black Holes.

    “The past is in memory, the future is in imagination. Past and future are in the mind only. Your being a person is due to the illusion of space and time. You imagine yourself to be at a certain point occupying a certain volume. Your thoughts and feelings exist in succession, they have their span in time and make you imagine yourself, because of memory, as having duration. In reality time and space exist in you, you do not exist in them. The mind creates time and space and takes its own creations for reality. The Self is in svarupa, in its own state, timelessly in the now.” [Nisargadatta].

    Krishna refers to the impossibility of ceasing to exist in the future…but he is only stating that everything is eternally and recurrently present in unmanifest Prakriti. Our natures, which are not our own, are eternally part of the Primordial Nature that is Prakriti.

    “Tat Tvam Asi, You are That.”

    Although Advaitins revere this statement as a profound Mahavakya, it contains the seed of the illusion. First, you cannot be anything, even a ‘That’. You cannot be yourself (Being), nor know yourself (Knowledge), nor see yourself (Consciousness). The Absolute doesn’t know itself, cannot see itself, and is beyond being and non-being. Nothing absolute can be said about the Self using the verb ‘to be’. Therefore ‘I am , or You are…’ are temptingly attractive, but invalid.

    The Atman has identified with what it is not. The Atman, pure consciousness (Chetana), is identified with the jiva (nature). Advaitins rarely enquire how this came to happen, or what is the cause of the error, or what precise flaw or ignorance is present in the Atman which leads to such a profound misidentification. Atman has separated from Brahman, which implies that consciousness has separated from knowledge. In Brahman, knowledge and consciousness are not separate. Atman, pure consciousness, therefore lacks knowledge, particularly knowledge of who he is. Shakti (Energy), in combination with Maya (Measure, mathematical law) lays a trap for Atman. They, at the causal level, send an emissary, Ahamkara (part of Prana – power -the subtle element air), which touches inert static Buddhi (which is part of Isvara’s created light-consciousness) bringing it to life. The animated buddhi, full of self-love, then projects the jiva, just as an actor projects his part in a play, and presents the jiva before the consciousness of the unsuspecting Atman. When the Atman sees the jiva, he refers it to the Param Atman, the transcendental principle within himself, and from the depths comes the statement “I am everything, everything is myself”. Therefore the Atman believes everything he sees is himself. ” I am That”. So, he fatally becomes the jiva. The Atman has identified with an illusion, which is nothing more than a powerful bond with the subtle element of water, an illusion which is capable of enduring Kalpa beyond Kalpa. Therefore, paradoxically, the Atman is not ‘That’.

    “The meaning of the word satchitananda: “Always I am (sat). Always I shine (chit). Never at any time am I not beloved to myself (ananda). Therefore it is established that I am that One alone.”

    Sat is Being, but the Absolute is beyond being and non-being. Cit is seeing and instantly knowing, therefore Cit is Knowledge. Cit is never fooled by Shakti-Maya, unlike the Atman. Ananda is bliss which is anandamayakosa, one of the final illusions to be transcended. But Sat-Cit-Ananda all observed to move. Therefore Sat-Cit-Ananda are not absolutes because there is another observer observing their movement. Ananda is located directly in front of the observing Self, and is the vision of realizing that the whole universe is oneself… all its atoms, living beings, moving, dancing ecstatically, blissfully, co-operatively… obeying the fundamental law (Maya) that ‘all support all’. Cit comes into awareness from the diagonal left side and sees that one is never born… the one who is born, lives and dies is actually the jivatman, whom one is not. Sat, is an inner eye which opens, an inner head which moves into the arena of oneself, from the diagonal right side, and is mature pure Being, which is describable as awareness of awareness. Sat sees the ‘imitation awareness’ created by Shakti-Maya and realizes it is a mirror of itself, its own Being. There is a flash of light and the whole universe disappears. Sat-Cit-Ananda thus form a triangle around the observing Self. But notice… Ananda is bliss-consciousness, Cit is Seeing and instantly knowing, and Sat is Awareness of an awareness which observes the light of consciousness. Therefore all three, Sat-Cit-Ananda, which is Being-Knowledge-Bliss, have an unknown, transcendental observer accompanying them. Therefore Sat-Cit-Ananda cannot be absolutes… why?.. they move, and they are not identical with the absolute observer which is present, which precedes them, is their basis, and is that which enables their functioning and manifestation, and which is oneself… the Seeing.

    A new word is necessary to refer to the Self, to the Absolute, which is neither consciousness, nor awareness, nor knowledge, nor being, nor bliss, nor That, nor anything. The only suitable word in English is… Seeing.

    I do not believe I am anything, but if someone insists on myself, and yourself, being something, then I am Transcendental Seeing. Whenever I believe I have found myself, realized myself, whenever I sense some final form of myself has appeared, when I have reached the ultimate in the search for myself… then I am never ‘That’ but ever elusively, transcendentally, quietly and silently, ‘an unobservable who?’ which is Seeing.


  2. Dear Yehan

    There are three levels of reality within which our existence is to be experienced, known as paramarthika, vyavaharika and pratibhasika. If life is not experienced in full advaitic harmony in the second level of reality (the pragmatic one), and the existence within this sphere realised as ‘dharma’, the wider picture of where that ‘maya’ or illusion as you put it will not be apparent. Ishwara is a genuine reality in vyvaharika and this can be experienced through the analytical process of truth in our dealings with other human beings and with Nature, that will show us that there is a certain ‘justice’ in the way that this level of reality operates. This has to be experienced and realised and understood in terms of the principle of advaita, which is that the position one attains in one’s outlook is at the centre of the sphere so that one can see all the horizones with equal clarity and attain the harmony with Nature.

    Beyond that one knows that existence changes in its form from photons to atoms to molecules and life, so that all that constitutes absolute reality is physical energy as Brahman. I agree with ‘sab ek’ at this absolute level of reality because there is no difference in the photons that are responsible for the dog, the stone, the tree, the water, the sun, the clouds, etc. But we do no live in the absolute level and Brahman as Ishwara does not exist in that absolute level. Tat tvam asi merely states that. ‘Sab ek’ and ‘tat tvam asi’ are not relevant in vyvaharika, and in fact prevents us from doing our ‘dharma’. There are real differences between human beings as anyone with basic knowledge of evolution will vouch.

    What I have found from my experience is that unless one attaches great importance to ‘dharma’ (duties and righteous actions) in vyvaharika, the full extent of advaita cannot be realised. So the question that arises is what is dharma’, and perfect dharma that needs to be practised for the attainment of the understanding of the ultimate reality.

  3. Dear Panigrahi ji

    There was much that I agree with in your response but I have problems with one or two of the conclusions you reach.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your final para that the advaita vision is not available for those who do not live a dharmic life. But where I diverge from you is in the implication that it is the dharmic life itself that delivers the vision. Traditional advaita teaches that following dharma (as part of a karma yoga lifestyle) prepares the mind for self-knowledge. But that self-knowledge is the result of the understanding of vedānta śāstra and not of the karma yoga lifestyle. For this one needs a teacher and follows the three-step process of study, reflection and contemplation.

    The essence of the teaching of vedānta śāstra is encapsulated in the words ‘Tat tvam asi’ and the doubt-free understanding of these words is what ends our identification with the transactional level of reality that seems so real. For this one needs a prepared mind, for which living according to the fine regulations of the natural law and order, and not rubbing up against it, is essential.

    The natural universal law and order is given the name Īśvara which, as you rightly point out, is also a superimposition on pure limitless existence-consciousness Brahman. When that cover too is no longer there then Brahman is all there is. Till that understanding becomes unshakable it is vain to deny the transactional level of reality and yet carry on transacting as though it is real and it matters. (It is like trying to convince one’s mirror reflection that it is not real. It cannot hear you!) The mind saying one thing and actions taking another direction results in a knower-actor split.

    This split is a great impediment to self-knowledge. Vedanta accepts experience and then shows it to be ultimately resolvable into Brahman. For this one needs mind and a teaching. For which one needs grace and steadiness. For which one needs dharma and prayer.

  4. Dear Peterji,
    Brahman is not a Consciousness that we can relate with as jivas; we can only relate to Ishwara, which you have confirmed to me is the natural universal law and order. Without its manifestation as Nature, Brahman is nothing but physical energy, that is photons that cooled to produce atoms and then molecules and then life. This is to say, the existence of Brahman is immaterial and irrelevant if we humans had not been generated through abiogenesis and evolution.

    We can only relate to Ishwara through the natural law and order and what has been provided with truth consciousness as the mechanism of the operation of Ishwara in Nature. In our transactional existence we need to relate to this law and order and this is done through the practice of dharma and living a dharmic existence. Society is therefore maintained. Dharma rakshati rakshita. If one protects dharma, dharma protects one. In the final para of my first comment I had not clearly specified what is dharma. My experience is that truth-seeking, self exposure, transparency, honesty, determines what is the dharmic course of action through an automatic process that is built into Nature. Some Indian religions called this karma. And this path of truth-seeking takes one to a centrist position in all ones dealings so that one attains harmony and conservation in all that one does, as if one is at one with the transactional existence. This is the advaitic vision for one’s day to day life, because in so doing one is relating to the manifestation of Brahman as Ishwara (Vishnu as preserver) and so has de facto union with the Brahman.

    We jivas cannot go beyond the transactional level of existence physically. Those who believe this can be attained through perhaps meditation on the Brahman Consciousness are entirely wrong in thinking such an advaitic practice is possible.

    Truth consciousness is also the means to self-knowledge. The only self is that which can be shown to be within ones physical experience. That self is denied union with any other consciousness that exists outside the body. I hope you agree.

  5. Namaste Panigrahiji, I have to say that I agree entirely with Peter’s very well-written and well-constructed post. What you say does not match what those acharyas trained by Swami Dayanandaji say, and what Swamiji himself says.

    First of all brahman is not energy. Brahman is the nondual reality of everything. If brahman were energy it would be one more thing in a list of things, one thing different from another.

    There is no need to place brahman outside of one’s realm of experience, because brahman is itself the baseline of all of one’s experience, and this self-revealing fact is completely recognizable. This is what mature jnanis (those who are firmly rooted in self-knowledge) have recognized without a shadow of a doubt to be true. This is their direct actual day to day experience.

    There is no need for a jiva to go ‘beyond’ the transactional level of existence physically, for the jiva is already brahman, and that brahman is here and now, and entirely known and self-evident within, and through and through, the transactional level of existence. Thus all is advaita non-dual.

    A jnani recognizes that this manifestation is all myself alone and at the same time recognizes this is all Ishvara, and indeed the two visions do not contradict each other in the least. To see to that the mithya is Ishvara, and to see at one and the same time that the being of the mithya is brahman, this is jnanam as far as I know.

    We do not need to place brahman in some unreachable locale. This is a big mistake that many people make. Right here, right now, in this very moment, we can know that the truth of this whole display of duality is brahman alone. This is why being a jiva in a human body is so special, because as human beings we have the type of mind that has the ability to recognize directly and without a shadow of a doubt ahambrahmasmi (I am brahman). If that were not possible why would there be such a vakya (statement) as ahambrahmasmi? This isn’t a poetic notion, it’s a recognizable fact.

    Brahman is my very self alone. My atma is brahman, as is your atma, and the atma of every living being. Brahman is the truth of duality. And atma being brahman, there are therefore not two atmas, only one.

    Does one need to ‘relate’ to that atma, which is brahman, that consciousness which is nondual? Since it is already me, how am I going to relate to it? For relationship there must be two, and in reality there is only one.

    We relate as individuals on this dual level of experience, but a jnani knows there is only brahman, only myself, and the ‘relating’ is only ‘as though.’ Real enough from the dual level of experience, but ‘as though’ from the reality of my being, and this truth is entirely accessible to be recognized right here, right now.

    To say anything else, in may opinion, isn’t correct. Dharmic activity, of course provides great blessings and conveys mental shanti, and dharmic behavior is in Swami Dayananda’s words ‘non-negotiable;’ but the shanti acquired through dharmic behavior though wonderful, will always require maintenance, and thus it is time-bound and subject to change.

    There is only one thing that is not subject to change, therefore does not require maintenance, and is not subject to decay, and that is atma which is brahman. It is the recognition of the fact that I am That, which conveys the ultimate shanti which changing circumstance cannot alter or affect. This is the ultimate blessing.

  6. Pranam Dhanyaji,
    I was under the impression that atma(n) says nothing more than just describing ‘the character of a person’. Perhaps I am wrong in this. Does Advaita Vision have a better explanation of what ‘atma(n) is?

    Shantanu Panigrahi

  7. Dhanyaji, I should have added that ‘atma(n) can also be perceived as being the mental faculty of each jiva to connect to Ishwara through truth consciousness, and in my conception of advaita this amounts de facto to being in union with Brahman as the correct explantation of Aham Brahmasmi.

    Shantanu Panigrahi

  8. Dear Panigrahiji, Sometimes it is difficult (as it is for me in this case) to reply to someone whose background I don’t know. I’m not sure with whom you have studied, or from where you are acquiring your information on the teachings of advaita.

    I study within a traditional lineage of which Swami Dayanandaji is the head teacher. In teaching, our lineage primarily uses certain Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Adi Shankaracharya’s commentaries on those texts, along with certain other supporting texts. Thus the words we use and the way we use them follows along the lines of the way Adi Shankaracharya uses them

    The word advaita, as you probably know, means, not dual, or we can say ‘one.’ So the point of my original post was to point out that the teachings of Vedanta posit there is only one thing that really and truly exists, and that one thing is called in the teachings ‘brahman.’ And brahman is the nondual reality.

    The teachings further posit that an individual, a jiva, in human form due to having a human mind which is capable of self reflection, can recognize that nonduality, or brahman, is the actual reality of the entire changing world of name and form.

    So how do the teachings do that? How do they effectively point out to the individual person’s mind in such a way that it is recognized, not as a concept, but rather as a fact, that brahman is the actual reality of everything, including myself? They do this by a process of negation and positive assertion.

    The teacher points out that everything one takes oneself to be, i.e. anything having to do with the body, mind or sense organs is changing. But while all of these things that I took to be myself are changing, there is that about me which is not changing, which is ever present in exactly the same way.

    We call that which is ever present in exactly the same way the atma. Once that atma has been recognized as existing independently and entirely free of the body/mind, the teachings and teacher next guide the student to recognize that this atma which is myself, is indeed brahman, the actual reality of every single changing thing.

    How is such guidance and pointing out possible and effective? It is possible and effective because it is actually true. It is a reality which is available to be recognized because it is actual.

    I cannot give the entire teaching of Vedanta here. I don’t feel this blog provides the scope for that and it would also take a very long time to do that. And one should study with a proper teacher who is in a position to answer all of one’s questions, clear one’s doubts, and provide proper guidance.

    But just for example, what do we say about any object that is? We say it *is,* correct? Is, is, is, any object while it is, *is.* We can use this same verb to describe myself, I am, or yourself, You are.

    While objects go into and out of existence what they all share is isness. It is this isness that is brahman.

    As the teachings progress the student recognizes that I always am in exactly the same way, never changing, not going into or out of existence. We call that amness the atma. This constant amness is actually the isness of the entire world of name and form.

    There is much more to the teaching of course, because this amness/isness is indeed consciousness, and it is limitless.

    Isness can be seen to be consciousness, as all arises and passes away in consciousness, and during the time a thing is, it is non-separate from consciousness. Furthermore consciousnes/isness lights up the entire world of name and form.
    Nothing is separate from consciousness which is the same thing as isness. (Perhaps this is taking you too far for now).

    To return to the use of the word atma. Anyone who is a scholar, which I am not, may be able to confirm what I am about to say. It is my understanding that the Upanisads, and also the Bhagavad Gita at times use the word ‘atma,’ in different ways, and sometimes atma may refer to the body, mind, sense organs individual, (so a good teacher needs to know that and recognize when it happens), but in general and as a word used in teaching as a pointer, the word atma means that which is available to be recognized as the unchanging baseline reality of myself.

    Then we go to the word brahman and point out that atma is indeed brahman, the baseline reality of all that is. Thus we arrive at nonduality, not as a concept, but rather as a direct recognition, for it is the truth of existence, and the truth is entirely present to be recognized as it is here and now.

    There is no two step identity of the jiva with brahman, for everything in reality is brahman. And recognizing this fact is what is called jnanam, or moksha, liberation.

  9. Dhanyaji,
    Pranams and my respects to Swami Dayanandji and those advaitists belonging to this lineage. Thank you for clarifying the meaning of atma in this particular lineage.

    I have never been taught advaita by any Swamiji-teacher but came to realise it from personal experimentation during intense God-search over a decade or longer. I detected the existence of Brahman from these experimentations and knew from it that there is a real connection between the human being (jiva) and the universe as Brahman, the external reality. This connection gave me the basic idea about advaita. Since in my experimentations the connection that I made was between my mind and Brahman I decided that the atma either resides in the mind, or is a personal spirit that overrides the mind and body if one gives in to the spirit. A person only gives in to the spirit if he is of sattvic guna. So the advaita vision only belongs to people of sattvic nature. And this is demonstrated from their focus on dharmic way of life that is truth-based action because the essence of a sattvic nature is that truth must dominate the person’s life at all costs.

    I needed to share these personal experiences with traditional advaitists so that I could try and make some sense of my experiences. Thank you for your patience.

    Shantanu Panigrahi

    • Dhanyaji,
      What I mean by the word Brahman is the absolute (core, essential and constituent) form and nature of Reality from which all other realities materialize and on which they are dependent. This is a direct attempt at describing what traditional advaita has approached through the Neti Neti angle because of the difficulty in describing what is seemingly indescribable.

      Have I got the understanding correctly?

      • Namaste Panigrahaji, Brahman isn’t a form, nor as you referred to it in an earlier post, is Brahman energy. Brahman is formless.

        I have reread your other posts on this thread and it seems to me that you had an experience which you are trying to describe using the words of the teachings of Vedanta, and fit that experience into your understanding of the teachings.

        As wonderful and as insightful as an experience might be, and as much as it might propel one to try and understand the nature of reality, the best way to understand the nature of reality, is really to try and find a traditional teacher who can clarify your doubts and answer your questions.

        It seems to me that the experience you described doesn’t really touch the topic of nonduality. Truly one needs to investigate the nature of the subject, the one who had the experience. That is the correct place to begin, in my opinion.

        I think that I understand what you are attempting to do, but my advice would be to forget all that you think you know, forget everything that you feel that experience showed you, then find a teacher, settle down and open your mind to what that teacher has to say. I’m sorry if I cannot offer any further help, but I don’t feel that this format provides the scope and opportunity to do so, and I wish you all the best in your search.

        • Namaste Dhanyaji,
          Pranams to all.
          Please help me with the following question. It has now been explained to me that atma (or jivatama) is sat (eternal/existence)-chit(full of knowledge)-ananda (bliss) and Brahman too is sat-chit-ananda. Do you also agree with this – it seems to fit in with ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ very well and atma=Brahman and the ‘amness’ and ‘isness’ that you wrote about. I just need some corroborative opinion on advaita.

          I hope I am not being a nuisance. Any advice you can give will help me a lot. Thank you.


          • Dear Panigrahi,

            Atma is Brahman, and thus atma and brahman are non-different. Atma is Brahman is satchitananda. Satchitananda means sat (existence) which is chit (consciousness) which is ananda (limitless).

            Satchitananda is not three things. Satchitananda describes atma/brahman (brahmatma). Brahmatma is the base line of existence, it is consciousness and it is limitless and ever full.

            When one recognizes oneself as that, one understands what those words truly mean. They point to the true nature of yourself, which is here and now and entirely self-evident, but taken to be other than it is (one with and a product of the body, mind and sense organs)

            Taking brahmatma to be a one with and a product of the body, mind and sense organs is referred to in Sanskrit as the ‘dehatmabuddhi,’ which means the buddhi (firmly held conviction in the mind), that the atma (that which is limitless and ever free), is the deha (the body, literally that which will be burned, as on the funeral pyre).

  10. Namaste Panigrahi
    Dhanya’s reply covers the essence of your question. I would like to add a little more, if I may.
    There is only one Reality which is available for experience at the macrocosmic level as the universe and at the microcosmic level as the individual. At the macrocosmic level the name is Brahman with the derivative meaning ‘Big’. How big? Limitlessly Big: there is nothing that isn’t Brahman, it is the all. At the individual level Reality gets the name Atman which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘āpnoti’ which is ‘pervasiveness’. Brahman includes everything and Atman pervades every minute corner of the individual from the tip of the hair to the tip of the nails.
    Atman, as you say, is described as sat-cit-ānanad. Brahman is famously described as satyam-jñānam-anantam in the Taittīriya Upaniṣad. The two sets of words map onto one another quite well: satyam/that which remains unchanged in all three periods of time – sat/pure existence; jñānam/the totality of knowledge of all laws and universal order – cit/pure consciousness; anantam/limitessness – ānanda/total happiness that is limitlessness itself and not a state of mind.
    Why two names for the same Reality? Because the individual is the only thing in the universe that is endowed with the ‘I’ sense and thus believes him/herself to be distinct: ‘I am one, everything else is other’. So Vedanta starts from this point and, through a fine and time-honoured handling of words, reveals the unity of Atman and Brahman.
    Self-study is woefully inadequate here. As Dhanya has suggested in an earlier response to you, the best next step is to find a teacher who is capable of unfolding the words of vedanta shāstram to finally resolve all vagueness and doubt. You can listen to a series of talks that systematically explains the fundamentals of Vedanta by my teacher from here:
    Happy journeying.

  11. Dear Peterji
    Pranams to all.
    You have proved the value of Advaita Vision by giving me very useful tips. I will try and follow your advice.
    In the meantime, could you help me with resolving the following question: what exactly is Ishwara? Where does it come from? If it comes from Brahman as satchitananda, what is the process for its emergence? Does Brahman actually control Ishwara? If so how does this control take place, given what you have explained above?

    Thank you very much

    Shantanu Panigrahi

    • Pranams Shantanu ji

      Īśvara is the name given to Brahman when it is poised for manifestation, i.e. Brahman ‘together with’ its potential for manifestation, māyā. Another name for Īśvara is saguṇa Brahman.

      An analogy for Brahman ‘together with’ māyā would be the sun ‘together with’ its power to illumine, given the name ‘light of the world’. Without sunlight the visible world will be as good as non-existent; so light can be seen as that which brings the world into manifestation. But does the light do anything to manifest the jagat? No. By its mere presence, because of its intrinsic nature, things in its presence become illumined.

      Similarly in the mere presence of Brahman+māyā (Īśvara) the universe becomes manifest. Brahman doesn’ create or control or do anything: it is pure, limitless, existence-consciousness.

      Māyā is described as Brahman’s three undifferentiated and unmanifest śakti: the powers of knowledge, action and inertia. In māyā lies the sum total of all knowledge that will ever be needed – not only knowledge of every name and form but also the knowledge of every law that governs every tiny aspect of the perceived and un-perceived universe.

      Īśvara is the name for ‘total natural universal law and order’. Īśvara is not, therefore, ‘created’ by Brahman, it IS Brahman in its role as ‘Lord of the universe’.

      Trying to distinguish Brahman from Īśvara is the equivalent of separating out something called ‘sun’ from its illumining power – cognitively possible but serves no purpose other than for the sake of discussion. Nirguṇa Brahman is the equivalent of the sun without illumining power.

      As māyā is unmanifest, Īśvara too is unmanifest. When the powers of māyā become differentiated (they then get a new name: guṇa-s) Īśvara too gets a new name: jagat. Jagat is Īśvara manifest, jagat unmanifest is called Īśvara.

      Thus you see, Panigrahiji, that there is only one vastu: Brahman. (The word vastu can be translated as: any really existing or abiding substance or essence.) That one vastu is given different names in different situations:
      > When not spoken of in the context of the manifest universe it is called nirguṇa Brahman
      > When poised for manifestation it is called Īśvara, or saguṇa Brahman.
      > When manifest it is called jagat
      > It is pure existence-consciousness without limit
      > As the truth of the individual (jīva) it is called Ātman
      > (Thus jīva and Īśvara are one and the same, jīva and jagat are one and the same, jagat and Brahma are one and the same. Hence jīva can declare with total confidence: Aham Brahma-asmi! This is the advaita vision in a nutshell. )

      • Dear Peter, Thanks for your post, which as always is very clear and well-written. I have a question, however. Above you stated “Māyā is described as Brahman’s three undifferentiated and unmanifest śakti: the powers of knowledge, action and inertia.”

        My question has to do with your use of the last word ‘inertia.” I recall listening to a CD of Pujya Swami Dayanandaji where he clearly talks about Maya’s powers of jnana, kriya and iccha. The first two, it seems to me that you have translated correctly, i.e. knowledge and action. But your use of the word ‘inertia’ I find puzzling.

        Swamiji translated iccha as ‘desire;’ and that is the way the word is usually translated as far as I know. Clearly Brahman/Ishavara does not desire anything, thus my understanding of iccha is that it might be compared to our projecting a dream when we sleep. Do we desire to project the dream? No, it just happens, almost as an ‘impulse’ one could say. So I don’t really think of iccha in terms of desire, similar to a desire which arises in a human mind, but rather just as what is. In other words, it’s time for the creation to arise.

        But still I am confused by your use of the word ‘inertia’ which seems to me to have an meaning opposite to my understanding of what the word iccha might mean. Can you elaborate on the way that you are using that word, and why you translate iccha as inertia.


        • Dear Dhanya

          All you say about Jñāna, krīya and iccha śakti is totally correct. This, however, is how the powers appear AFTER manifestation. Also, in the context of manifestation, krīya and iccha need to be seen as one śakti: krīya being the gross manifestation and iccha being the subtle manifestation of the māyā śakti power to act. Mentally the active power expresses as desire which then expresses itself through activity at the gross level.

          The triad I mentioned is unmanifest and undifferentiated as the three-stranded rope called māyā. Dravya śakti can be seen as the power to materialise, to become an object, and so, when talking about the manifest jagat, it is not mentioned separately because the mere fact of manifestation is an expression of dravya śkati (in the form of tamaoguṇa.)

          In conclusion, therefore dravya is NOT a synonym for iccha. And iccha (action-impelling desire) is the subtle expression of the krīya shakti of māyā, whilst krīya is its gross manifestation. Hope that clears the matter.

  12. Namaste Peterji,

    I am very grateful for this explanation. It seems that Maya must have a built-in switch or possibly an external switch that decides when nirguna Brahman will become poised for manifestation as Ishwara. Am I right?

    • Pranams Shantanu ji

      Your assumption is not quite right. Brahman is ALWAYS poised for manifestation. And even in this poised state, if we want to talk about it as distinct from its potential to manifest (māyā), we use the term nirguṇa. The ‘light of the world’ (sun) is never without its illumining power, but if we want to talk about it separately from its illumining power we might need to coin the phrase ‘nirguṇa sun’.

      If, on the other hand, you are asking what triggers undifferentiated and unmanifest māyā to become differentiated and manifest jagat, the answer would need to be ‘universal prārabdha’. What wakes a person from deep sleep? Individual prārabdha for the day is ready to fructify. Māyā is the subtlest form of matter and the nature of matter is to constantly undergo change, so sometimes it expands and sometimes it withdraws: all governed by universal prārabdha.

  13. Pranams Peterji

    Just to clarify in a single sentence, the Advaita Vision is that nirguna Brahman poised for manifestation is defined as being composed of the consciousness/existence reality (as sat-chit-ananda) plus its potential for manifestation (as maya) plus a third universal principle called prarabhda; and when we say atma=Brahman we are saying that we are all of these entities?


  14. Namaste Shantanuji

    Brahman is defined as satyam-jñānam-anantam. Atman is sat-cit-ānanda. Both are ultimately the same – Just different terms used.

    Māyā, Brahman’s potential for manifestation, is composed of three powers too as said in an earlier post: jñāna śakti, krīya śakti and dravya śakti (the pwers of knowledge, action and inertia).

    The knowledge inherent in māyā includes ALL knowledge, so there is no need to postulate a third entity called prārabdha which is the consequence of past deeds stored in the form of knowledge. This is the material of creation undifferentiated and unmanifest as māyā as the differentiated and manifest tree with it roots, branches, leaves etc lies undifferentiated and unmanifest in a seed.

    At the end of the day, all this is nothing more than a model of creation. The Upaniṣads give a number of accounts of how the universe comes into being. Why? Because that is of little concern to the main teaching of vedānta – how the universe comes into being is left up to science to explain.

    The key question for us is: How do I free myself from the wrong notions I have about myself? How do I get rid of the notion of smallness and inadequacy centred on ‘I’? Who am I? The answer doesn’t lie in understanding the nature of the universe. It starts with self-enquiry, based on systematic study of sāstram, expounded by a qulified teacher. The more one knows oneself, the clearer the All becomes.

  15. Somewhat belatedly – Your, and Peter’s, clarifications and extended comments in this thread are crystal-clear. Thank you. I learned recently that *iva* (‘as it were’) “should be supplied to every page and every line in which the Upanishads are concerned with somthing other than atma”, and I have taken this to heart (sufies are prone to say at the end of a sentence, “and God knows better”). You used this expression in one of your entries; I haven’t even finished reading them all! Best wishes.

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