One of the more difficult ideas for some Western seekers to accept is God, the Lord. The usual picture is of a highly judgmental white-bearded figure, sitting in heaven, dispensing punishments and rewards. God, in this picture, is all-controlling, all-powerful and thus I am small and insignificant and a mere pawn in his game. This sort of idea of the Lord is also prevalent in the East. For the godless, prayer and worship obviously have no place, and for the theists, prayer and worship are ultimately to secure a place in heaven or worldly comforts and pleasures. In one of her talks to her London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda put all of this into perspective so that anyone with an open mind could get a wider, more liberating vision of these important and vital matters. This part deconstructs the concept of Lord…
What is this world? The world is nothing but a world of objects – different objects, perceptible through different senses. You can reduce the whole universe into five types of objects, perceptible through the five different senses. Every object becomes as good as non-existent if it is not perceived by the appropriate sense organ.
Despite its size, the universe would be as good as non-existent if you didn’t perceive it. The universe has the status of being existent only when it is perceived by you. The Gītā says: “They say the sense powers are superior (to sense objects); the mind is superior to the sense organs; the intellect is superior to the mind. Whereas the one who is superior to the intellect is He (ātmā).” (BhG 3.42)
Everything comes to light because of light – light is great. But, close your eyes, and where is the light? Light is, but for you light becomes non-existent when you close your eyes. It is the same for the hearing power. Sound is, but if sound is not heard it is as good as non-existent. Un-smelt fragrance is as good as non-existent. Taste too – unknown taste is as good as non-existent. The whole universe, which is known as five different sense objects, has the status of being existent only when it is perceived.
The seeing power is not dependent on light to be the seeing power. Whether light is there or not, the seeing power is still the seeing power – it is not affected by the presence or absence of light. Its job is only to see what is. If light is there it sees the light, if light is not there it sees darkness. The seeing power is not dependent on what is seen, but what is seen is dependent on the seeing power. Similarly, the hearing power is not dependent on sound to be the hearing power. But for sound to be sound, it depends on the hearing power to be heard. If sound is and hearing power is not, sound is as good as non-existent. Similarly, smell is dependent on your power of smelling. Every object is dependent on its respective sense power.
That’s why it is said: The senses powers are superior to the perceived objects. The senses powers are not dependent on objects, whereas objects are dependent on the sense powers for them to have the status of being existent.
Mind is said to be superior to the sense powers. The sense powers may be there, but if the attention of the mind is not there with the senses, the sense power is as good as non-existent. I may have, for example, very good seeing power, distortion-free vision, there is light, there are people in the room all looking at me, expecting me to talk. But I am lost in something – the mind has totally gone elsewhere. Do I see? No. Though you are sitting here, for me you are as good as non-existent. The mind has to be with the sense power, only then does the sense power have the status of being existent. It is dependent on the attention of the mind. The mind is not dependent on sense powers to be the mind – it can be with itself or it can be anywhere.
Intellect is superior to the mind, and That (Awareness) is superior to intellect. When the mind goes away, intellect knows that the mind has gone away and where it has gone. But even that knowledge does not exist outside awareness. There is awareness of where the mind is and where the mind is not. Awareness is not dependent on the mind. Awareness is not dependent on the sense powers or the sense objects, whereas the sense objects are dependent on the sense powers, sense powers are dependent on the mind, mind is dependent on the intellect, the intellect is dependent on Awareness.
I see, therefore the world is. I know, therefore the world is. If I do not know, if I do not see – even if it is – the world is as good as not being there.
There is a beautiful mantra in the Katha Upaṇishad:
The sun does not shine there, nor do the moon or stars. Nor does lightning shine. How, then, can fire burn? When He shines, all of these shine. Through His light, all things shine. (KathaUp. 2.2.15)
Every sense is a deva – that which shines. That which shines by itself is the real deva, the Lord, the Awareness. Each sense power is like a light, they bring other things to light. That which shines by itself and brings life to everything else is light. All these sense powers bring their respective object to light. Yet all these sense powers, which illumine their given objects, shine after another light – the light of the mind. And this light of the mind shines after some other light that is Awareness. That light alone, which shines by itself, illumining all these lights, shine as everything. All these things that shine, shine after that Awareness.
Ramana Mahārshi’s enquiry went something like this: What do you see in this room? I see many objects. Why do you see many objects? Because there is light. How do you know there is light? Because I see through my eyes – my seeing power is the light that lights up this light. How do you know you have seeing power? There is knowledge that I can see. Mind is the light that lights up the seeing power. What is the light that lights up the mind – how do you know that you know? Buddhi, Awareness. What is the light that lights up the Awareness? No other light.
The grossest thing borrows consciousness from the subtle conscious being. The subtle conscious being borrows its consciousness from Consciousness directly – from the light. Awareness shines by itself; matter shines after Awareness.
There is no place where Awareness is absent. Awareness is everywhere, consciousness is everywhere. But, consciousness being there is not manifest in non-living things. Consciousness has to manifest as knowledge. For consciousness to manifest there has to be a subtle reflecting medium. Wherever there is no subtle body there is no life. Wherever there is no life you do not see consciousness manifesting. Consciousness is there, but it is not manifest.
Pure Awareness is there, pervading everything, but it is not manifest. When you understand that Awareness is all-pervasive, then knowledge takes place in your own buddhi. When you discover the knower, discover the discoverer – when you know who the knower is – then you understand.
What is manifest as knowledge? Pure Awareness alone is manifest as knowledge in every being. The whole universe is a manifestation of knowledge. That Reality, which is of the nature of knowledge, is Īśvara, the Lord, for us. The whole universe, being a manifestation of knowledge, is looked upon as Īśvara. Everything is Īśvara – there is not anything that is not the Lord here. The Lord is everywhere. In the smallest speck of dust, the Lord is there.
A living being implies many functions – the function of digestion, the function of respiration, etcetera. In Spring every plant is full of life, we see fresh leaves, fresh flowers. You can understand the tree drinking, breathing, even though you cannot see it. Intelligence can appreciate many functions continuously happening in every living being. In the tree you can appreciate the absorption of water, photosynthesis, respiration, and even change – in the night, when there is no sun, it starts inhaling oxygen and, during the day, it takes in carbon dioxide. When there is sunlight, it makes use of sunlight for photosynthesis, and processes food in its green leaves. In this way, through all these functions, a tree lives.
In our own system, many functions are required to keep us alive. Which of these functions does not imply intelligence? Our heart and the circulation of blood reveal intelligence. Our lungs reveal intelligence. Our kidneys reveal intelligence. Every function reveals the involvement of intelligence. Without being instructed, involuntary functions are continuously taking place. How do these functions take place? Who is instructing? Who is ordering? Who is guiding? For any function to take place in a given order there must be knowledge. The kidneys function differently. Lungs and heart function differently. All these functions imply an order.
Wherever there is life there are functions, wherever there are functions this implies an order and, wherever there is an order, there must be knowledge backing it. There is knowledge on the part of the heart to pump the blood, to function continuously. There is knowledge on the part of the lungs to expand and contract, to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Who is instructing? Adequate knowledge is there, manifest.
A bird lives a bird’s life. A frog is a frog successfully without any complaining. Happily it lives its life without being taught. No living being in this universe complains except us. Every living being is blessed with adequate knowledge to live its life. What is the knowledge that exists in every being? That knowledge is the manifestation of pure Knowledge. Īśvara is manifest in every being as knowledge. Every manifestation of knowledge is Īśvara.
The intrinsic nature of this Reality, this pure Awareness, is being aware, knowing. This Reality, this pure Consciousness, manifests as knowledge at different levels, in keeping with differentnames and forms that superimpose their qualities on it. You do not see pure Awareness as pure Awareness, but you can understand pure Knowledge as manifest knowledge. What is the difference between pure Knowledge and manifest knowledge? Pure Knowledge alone is manifest as the knowledge that is backing the order in all the functions of all living beings. (The same Awareness is also manifest as knowledge in non-living beings, but we cannot understand this, whereas we can understand it being manifest in living things.)
Pure knowledge is the Reality. Pure knowledge is the Lord. The whole universe is the manifestation of knowledge. The whole universe is looked upon as the Lord, Īśvara, the universal law and order. The law of karma (action) is not outside this.
Anything done, knowingly, unknowingly, intentionally, unintentionally – however it is done – any action has to result in a reaction, has to cause some effect. The universal law and order is what determines the fruits of actions. You can’t see this with physical eyes, but you can understand the laws being manifest. Every natural law is Īśvara. The law ordaining grace is Īśvara. Action is Īśvara. The results of actionis Īśvara. Merit is Īśvara. Demerit is Īśvara. Pain is Īśvara. Pleasure is Īśvara. Right and wrong action is Īśvara. Punishment for the wrong action is Īśvara. Good is Īśvara. Evil is Īśvara – don’t say that evil is not God. Everything is Īśvara.
Beautifully expressed, Peter!
I just have one point and question. You say: “if sound is not heard it is as good as non-existent.” This seems fine. But you also say: “The whole universe, which is known as five different sense objects, has the status of being existent only when it is perceived.” This is not the same surely. Did you not mean to phrase it the same as the previous statement, i.e. “When the universe is not perceived, it is as good as non-existent”? I.e. the ‘as good as’ is the key point, and is not at all the same as saying that it really does not exist. Or are you assuming that we know about vAchArambhanaNaM here? (i.e. the ‘naming’ of objects effectively bringing them into existence as separate objects)
The point that occurred to me is that oxygen (for example) is not perceived by any of our senses but we might be in trouble (our bodies that is, which are perceived) if it did not exist.
Two things to put straight:
1. Any beauty of expression belongs 100% to Swamini Atmaprkāśānanda, not me.
2. Yes, it should be taken to mean that the universe is ‘as good as non-existent’ as was said in the sentence before the one you quote: “Despite its size, the universe would be as good as non-existent if you didn’t perceive it”.
And one observation:
For things to be perceived they can be objects of sense perception (sound, touch, etc) as well as thought perception (ideas, emotions, etc). So this would cover perception at the level of prāṇas, at which level the presence or absence of oxygen, for example, will be perceived. If the absence of oxygen was not perceived by the respiratory function, then there would be no struggle and gasping for air. (Then we’d die…)
The point being made is that pure existence is made available for recognition as consciousness: sat is cit. Existence and consciousness being two expressions of the one Reality (Brahman) means that one cannot exist and the other be absent. You cannot have existence without there being consciousness: to recognise ‘book is’ means ‘book consciousness is’.
The reason for this emphasis on knowledge is to get to Īśvara. And Swaminiji gets to it with this statement: “The whole universe is a manifestation of knowledge. That Reality, which is of the nature of knowledge, is Īśvara, the Lord, for us.” If the universe exists independent of Awareness, then Īśvara as the sum total of universal law and order cannot exist. Then the question becomes: What is the universe made of?
“perception at the level of prāṇas” certainly answers the question. Although I was not aware that this was one of the sense organs, and I had not previously thought of it as a pramAna. But, as you say, we would certainly be aware of something being amiss if the air around us contained no oxygen. (Though difficulty in breathing could have many other, more probable explanations.)
I suppose we normally think of pratyakSha as relating only to the five senses but mental perception of pleasure, pain, emotions etc also counts as pratyakSha. The vedAnta paribhAsA says that ‘the immediacy of knowledge does not rest on its being caused by the sense-organs.”
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