Q: The question about Ishvara, Atman, Brahman gets confusing once a person starts reading and gaining knowledge from different branches of religions or schools of philosophy. So to put my question as simply as possible: If we are all Brahman then how does Karma come into play for us as individuals ? (As technically it’s Brahman acting against Brahman.)
One other thing:
Let’s say there are two people ( You and Me ) who realises the truth and doesn’t need to take rebirth again, so once their body dies, their Atman merges back with Brahman. So once that happens, do both these people become one ? At the highest level, Yes ! Because they were always One ! But would a part of them both remain ‘Them’ ? As in a person who sent a mail and a person who replied to it ? If so, then is that ‘Part’ what we’d call a soul ?
A (Dennis): In reality there is only brahman, non-dual, formless, eternal etc.
The world (including the ‘person’) is mithyA, neither real nor unreal, depending for its existence on brahman. The ‘person’ is a mind-body, ‘animated’ by Consciousness via a ‘reflection’ of brahman in the mind. This concept, called chidAbhAsa, is fundamental to understanding the seeming problems you raise. See my essays on this subject: There is an article called “The ‘Real I’ verses the ‘Presumed I’ – An Examination of chidAbhAsa” – http://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and a follow-up blog called ‘Continuing Reflections on Reflection’ at http://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/.
Ishvara is the (mithyA) macrocosmic entity whose laws govern the working of the universe. One aspect of these laws is embodied by the theory of karma. In reality, none of these things exist in any absolute sense – they depend on brahman for their seeming existence.
In reality there are not two people; there are not any people. The reincarnation concept is part of the karma theory and provides an interim explanation for how things seem to be at the level of the world. Once a ‘person’ realizes all this, that ‘person’ is not reborn (as part of the karma theory), whereas the continuing ignorant person is reborn until that ignorance is replaced by Self-knowledge.
That is a quick, brief summary! If you want a fuller, but still simple picture, read my ‘Advaita Made Easy‘. If you want the more complete picture, read the 2nd edition of ‘Book of One‘. If you want the bottom-line truth about reality and the world, read ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality‘.
[ As an aside, because it is slightly relevant and was also mentioned in Ramesam’s last post on ‘The Simulation Hypothesis‘, I would like to ask him about eka-jIva-vAda. This is the theory that there is only one jIva, who ‘imagines’ the world and all the other jIva-s as in a dream. I don’t want to initiate another discussion about the subject itself. There is a series of articles by Ramesam on this topic, beginning here. My question is a simple one: What is the point of this theory? We know that the appearance is that there are many jIva-s, and that we act in the world as though there are many. And we (eventually) know that there are none at all – there is only brahman. So why make the effort of trying to advance this ‘intermediate’ position. What purpose can it serve, other than to delay understanding of the reality? Does it not strengthen, rather than weaken, the dominion of the ego?]