Q.489 Creation and reincarnation

Q: Is Ishvara/mAyA the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Ishvara/mAyA:

  • then who/what is Ishvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does adhyAsa come into the picture because if Ishvara is the creator then even if adhyAsa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison, in what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness.

A: The answer to your questions is really ‘it depends’. It depends upon which theory you are ‘using’/accepting.

The ‘simple’, traditional response is that Ishvara creates the world and there are detailed ‘explanations’ as to how this is done in several Upanishads (which do not always agree in the finer detail). To any modern, scientific mind, these explanations are not convincing (to put it politely). And you are right – when adhyAsa is removed for the jIva, the world is still there. Ishvara is both the material and efficient cause – matter IS Ishvara’s own substance, in the analogous way to the web being the spider’s own substance. This is the sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda theory – the world is created and we then see it.

There is what is believed by its adherents to be a more sophisticated theory, which is that the jIva sees the ‘form’ of brahman and effectively creates the universe out of it. You can appreciate this in the vAchArambhaNa sutras in Chandogya Upanishad. We impose forms on the non-dual substrate and give them names, thereby bringing about an apparent duality. This is the dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda theory – you see and then create your universe.

Of course, if you think about this second theory, you realize that these forms that you create have to include ‘other jIva-s’ and your own body-mind. This is equivalent to solipsism and is called the eka-jIva-vAda theory – ‘one-jIva’. It is effectively the same as DSV. And, again you are right – upon enlightenment (when ‘I’ am enlightened), the world will disappear.

Personally, I prefer to go straight to ajAti-vAda – there has never been any creation at all. There is only ever the non-dual brahman.

There is much written on all of this. As you appreciate, it is a complex topic. Have you read my last book, ‘A-U-M’? Gaudapada went straight to the heart of the matter and my book tries to cover all that he and Shankara said in their commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad.

Have a look at Q.103 and http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/theories_vidyasankar.htm.

Q: (2 years later!) I have read your book but I do have a question on Karma – Reincarnation.

It seems to me that  Advaitins response to Karma & Reincarnation is that it isn’t ultimately real because it relies on the reality of the individual ego, which according to Advaita isn’t ultimately real. Which I agree with, within the framework of Advaita philosophy.

However, my confusion and somewhat concern is the following, the idea of Reincarnation is actually quite fundamental and important to the very purpose of studying or bothering to know about the ‘Absolute’, ‘Brahman’ etc. Why? Because if reincarnation is false, as mainstream scientific thinking suggests, then what is the point in knowing about the Absolute or studying Vedanta etc as we will simply live out our remaining days and ultimately die and be in a state of permanent non-existence. Advaita must be able to explain how exactly reincarnation occurs, or at the very least explain why the notion of non-existence of the individual (ego) after death doesn’t make philosophical sense. Do you agree? Have there been any discussions on this or is there anywhere I can get more information on Reincarnation? Pretty much every argument I have seen for Reincarnation is quite weak. Nonetheless, given my understanding of where Science & Philosophy currently is, I think there are frameworks available to posit that reincarnation exists, but nothing I can think of as to How exactly.

A: Which book was it that you read?

The key thing that you have to always keep in the back of your mind when studying Advaita is that none of the teaching is ultimately true (apart from the bare fact of Non-Duality of course). Advaita itself admits this in a few places. It was said at the outset by Gaudapada in his kArikA-s on the Mandukya Upanishad. This method of teaching is called adhyAropa-apavAda. Have a read of https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-443-a-simple-summary-of-advaita/ – that may help.

Reincarnation is a good example. Obviously it cannot be true in reality. Since we were never born in the first place, how could there be rebirth? But you have to start from where you are – you believe you are the body, that you have free will and so on. A good way of approaching this is to begin with believing that there are consequences for your actions. You reap what you sow and all that. And this is clearly true from an empirical standpoint. If your mind is fuil of circling thoughts and ego-driven desires and fears, you are not going to be able to contemplate the nature of reality.

Who-you-really-are is not the body. It is only the body that dies. Nor are you the mind or ego, although this might take a bit longer to accept. Consciousness is the substratum of everything; or alternatively everything is just name and form of Consciousness. And who-you-really-are is that – eternal and omnipresent.

If the topic of karma and reincarnation is really a particular problem for you, I suggest the book ‘Karma and Reincarnation’ 😉 See http://www.advaita.org.uk/library/a1_topics.html where there is link to a review and to buy.

Q: Thanks very much for your reply Denis, appreciate you taking the time out.

I read A-U-M Awakening to Reality. Brilliant book. Any other of your books of yours you would recommend, for someone who has a decent grasp of the basic concepts of Advaita.

So what I gather from your response is there are two ways to approach the problem of Reincarnation:

  1. Consequences of actions
  2. Consciousness is eternal

Since Vedanta doesn’t have a developed theory of HOW reincarnation occurs (as far as I know), we can infer reincarnation from the fact that consciousness is eternal?

I did see that book recommendation in one of your responses to someone else, will definitely give that a read.

On a slightly different topic, do you believe Advaita is falsifiable? In the scientific & philosophy community there is a growing tendency towards fallibilism, namely that even our best theories about reality are just best guesses and can be expected to be wrong (e.g David Deutsche). Is there a Vedantic perspective on how we arrive at the truth of reality given the fallibility of our senses and mind?

A: ‘A-U-M’ is the most ‘advanced’ book so far.  (Did you review it at Amazon, incidentally? Would be much appreciated if not.) The one I am working on now will be more so – concentrating on all of the various ‘confusions’ that beset seekers when they read/listen widely to different teachers, Many modern teachers have wrong understanding with respect to traditional Advaita. Vivekananda was one of the worst! The Q&A book just published answers many ‘difficult questions’ posed by seekers. These are all on the website (or will be) but there are additional introductions and summaries to many topics. They are all sorted and indexed of course, also, so that you don’t have to search for answers.

Like all problems in Advaita, you can either look for ‘explanations’ in vyavahAra or you can simply appreciate the ‘bottom-line’ pAramArthika reality. I suppose it’s all a bit schizophrenic in the end. You know that there is only Brahman but the appearance continues so you still have to cope with it.

Your question regarding falsifiability is a bit like asking whether science will ever explain Consciousness. The mind (and science) can NEVER explain or understand Consciousness. In order to do so, there would have to be another conscious mind as subjective observer of the objective mind/Consciousness. And so on ad infinitum. You ‘know’ Consciousness only by virtue of ‘being’ it.

5 thoughts on “Q.489 Creation and reincarnation

  1. Excellent Answers, Dennis, balanced and well articulated. Thank you.
    There is perhaps very little one can add to what you said.


  2. Ha Ha Ha! 🙂

    Thanks, Dennis, now that you make a mention of it, I do feel that I should make a submission.

    The “eka-jIva-vAda” (The Doctrine of “I Alone Am”) maybe thought of, IMHO, as a “prakriyA” derived based on dRiShTi – sRiShTi – vAda, very much like say, ‘upAsana’ is a prakriyA derived from sRiShTi – dRiShTi vAda. While the former is suitable for a seeker who is more analytical in approach, the latter is suitable for a seeker with a devotional attitude.

    In the present context, you made a passing reference to ‘eka-jIva-vAda’ while discussing the Creation Theories. I do not suppose that ‘eka-jIva-vAda’ could really claim itself to be a creation theory. Even if one does like to consider it to explain creation, it cannot be lumped with solipsism because solipsism speaks of the mind as the only existent entity. In contrast, ‘eka-jIva-vAda’ considers ‘brahman’ as the only existent entity and not the individual’s mind.

    Anyway, the reference made by you gave me a chance to read through the long discussions we have had on the subject at: https://www.advaita-vision.org/shruti-support-for-eka-jiva-vada/

    I will not hesitate to recommend the blog post and the comments section therein if the Questioner is interested to have a go at the ‘eka-jIva-vAda.’


  3. I believe I said that eka-jIva-vAda follows logically from dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi so, in that sense, it is related to creation discussions.

    Also, although your statement that “‘eka-jIva-vAda’ considers ‘brahman’ as the only existent entity and not the individual’s mind” may be pedantically correct, it IS called ‘eka-jIva’ and not ‘eka-brahman’! Hence, I don’t think it unreasonable to call it solipsism. 😉

    [Chambers definition: “The theory that holds that self-existence is the only certainty, otherwise described as absolute egoism, the extreme form of subjective idealism.”

    Best wishes,

  4. Dear Dennis,

    You say “that eka-jIva-vAda follows logically from dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi so, in that sense, it is related to creation discussions.” I don’t think that there is anything wrong in such a view. However, the roll of “eka-jIva-vAda,” which is a “prakriyA” for nivRitti, is to sublate the creation rather than to explain creation!

    On an analogy, would you like to admit that it is reasonable to say that “upAsana” which logically follows from sRiShTi-dRiShTi is related to creation?

    On the second point that you make about christening that doctrine as ‘eka-jIva’ and not ‘eka-brahman,’ I admit I have no competency to answer. I do not know why the conceivers of it preferred to call it in the way they did!

    And should it really make a difference when Shankara himself said the “jIvo brahmaiva nAprah”?

    However, if you permit me to take a crack at it, I would guess that it stands to logic to call it as eka-jIva and not eka-brahman. After all, it is the jIva version only that is in need of a “prakriyA” to free himself from his ignorance and remain as brahman in Its pristine state. brahman will not have such a need! 🙂

    More seriously, I think, that the short excerpt about these various vAda-s reproduced below presents a balanced view:

    “I would like to end on a note of caution against reading too much into the names of these vAdas. The names are meant to capture the most significant thread of discussion in each vAda, but it is easy to be misled into an analysis of the respective positions that concentrates only on their names and forgets all the other allied arguments that are not specifically mentioned in the name. Each vAda touches upon every issue that is of concern to the advaita vedAntin, but in slightly different ways.”


    [It was written perhaps by Dr. Vidyasankara Sundaresan?]

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