Vedanta uses the word ‘Ishvara.’ When teaching, my teacher, who is western, never uses the word ‘God.’
Why? Well, the word ‘God’ can be very loaded, and often for us born in the west, negatively so.
So what is Ishvara? When I first met my teacher, I noticed she used the word ‘Ishvara’ a lot, and I never really know what she meant by it.
The first time I met Swami Dayananda and heard him teach, he said, “If you want to see Ishvara in action, look around you.”
I looked out the window at the autumn leaves on the trees moving in the wind. I looked at the little squirrels playing at the bottom of the tree. I looked at the clouds moving in the sky, and I thought, “Oh, Ishvara is everything.”
So that is what ‘God’ is in Vedanta. Ishvara is everything, the maker, i.e. intelligence, and the material, of all that is seen and perceived.
Ishvara doesn’t stand apart from the creation. Ishvara is the very creation itself–all the laws that govern the creation, both seen and unseen (or discovered and perhaps undiscoverable).
Ishvara is also the material–the warp and woof of the whole thing. There is nothing that stands apart–or is not a part–of Ishvara, not the body, not the mind, not the sense organs, not the individual, not the rules that govern the individual’s behavior–they are all part and parcel of Ishvara.
So that is God in Vedanta.
Although Vedanta is not a religion, here is a nice quote from Swami Dayananda, “Some religions say ‘there is only one God.’ Vedanta says ‘there is only God.'”
And what is the ultimate reality of Ishvara? The ultimate reality of Ishvara is the nondual (in Sanskrit brahman). So since everything is Ishvara, and the reality of Ishvara is nondual brahman–the reality of everything is nondual.
Thanks for posting on Ishvara, a crucial topic that seems to often be completely omitted from online discussions pertaining to Advaita. Yet the practice of Karma Yoga, for example, would be essentially impossible without first having some understanding of Ishvara. I think the risk for Western audiences is the tendency to think in terms of a personal deity. Perhaps this is why James Swartz is careful to discuss Ishvara on an impersonal basis, describing it as the “totality of the dharma field.”
Hi Charles, Yes, it’s a tricky subject for most Westerners. “Totality of the dharma field” is an interesting statement. I remember one western Vedanta teacher, trained by Swami Dayananda, who said that she felt unless people had some tendencies, or were drawn to traditional teachings in their totality, Vedanta wouldn’t work for that person (probably she meant the person needed to have those samskaras, and she may have used the word)
Swami Dayananda also has said that if a person doesn’t understand Ishvara, that person doesn’t understand the teachings, and further he said that the only two texts that were really necessary were The Bhagavad Gita and Vishnusahasranama.
If that is the case, then the pool of westerners who could really benefit from traditional teachings would be small indeed, and I think that it is. It is very rare, in the first place for someone to have mumukshutvam (want self-knowledge), and I suppose even rarer for a westerner interested in nondual teachings to want the whole package.
And yet, interestingly enough, and somewhat conversely, there is a huge interest in kirtan and ecstatic bhakti practices right now in the west. Perhaps step one is attending yoga classes to make the body fit, then maybe the person adds in a little chanting because it feels good, but to really go all the way to nonduality from step one (hatha yoga) is very rare these days, and perhaps always will be.
We’ll see. Best to you, Dhanya