Q.504 – Covid and Enlightenment

Q: According to Advaita, God is  ONE, and manifestations are  many. The term ‘God’ is also called ‘Consciousness/Awareness’. It is a fundamental principle that there is nothing beyond Consciousness; everything arising from  Consciousness is Consciousness only. Dualities such as good-bad are not found in Consciousness.

If all this is the case, can the  virus COVID-19,  which is  shaking the world,  also be termed  as ‘Consciousness’?

A: Yes indeed – the substantial reality of Covid is also Consciousness, since there is only Consciousness. It is like the metaphor – bangle, chain and ring are all only gold.

But in the empirical reality of the world, the form of Covid brings disease whereas the form of vaccination brings protection from disease. No real problem – Consciousness is not affected by any of it!

Q: Thank you very much for your reply. However I have the grievance that I, the individualized spirit, cannot stop worrying  about the distress caused  practically , even though my ego mind is convinced with the theory of Advaita.

How can I reconcile the practical difficulties which  I face  with the teaching of advaita? What  you have stated is  only based on Advaita theory. I am badly hit by the above disease. Please advise.

A: Think of an actor, playing a role in a play or film. He may hate the role, plot etc. but, as an actor, he is obliged to fulfil that role as best he can and say the words that have been written for him.

Advaita teaching says that each jIva has allocated prārabdha karma, the ‘result’ of actions performed in previous lives. And this karma has to be ‘worked through’ whether we like it or not.

In the case of the actor, he knows that, once the play is finished, he can go home to his family and return to a normal life. In the case of the jñānī, he knows that the world and one’s life are not intrinsically real; that who-he-really-is cannot be harmed by anything that happens. So he just does what needs to be done and never worries about the consequences. At the end of his life, he remains as Consciousness, perfect and complete.

From the perspective of absolute reality, of course, the jīva and the world are mithyā. There is always only Consciousness, no matter what ‘good’ or ‘bad’ forms this might take.

I agree that, whilst you still do not really believe this, there will be problems. Strive to realize the truth of it and the problems will still be there but be known to be mithyā and you can then face them with a positive attitude.

Q: After several rounds of introspection, I understand the gist of your reply as follows (kindly correct me if I am wrong):

  • The jīva is superimposed on Brahman as a snake is superimposed on a rope. Hence, the jīva is only mithyā and has no existence per se.
  • Owing to divine  ignorance the jīva grieves worldly matters just as I grieve being hit by disease. However, Consciousness is not at all affected like the witnessing bird in Mundaka Upanishad.
  • This is only my intellectual  understanding and the ‘pain-gain’, birth and rebirth, will continue depending  on karma , until I practically/ dynamically realize that ‘I AM BRAHMAN’. 

I also convince myself with regard to the  disease as follows. Everyday the  morning is supposed to be bright, but sometimes it appears  to be cloudy, and other times drizzling. The truth is that there is the sun, transcending  all these. I console myself that the ever existing sun may be seen sooner or later. Similarly, I may be fortunate enough to realize that I am Brahman.

A: Who-you-really-are is Brahman even now. You mistakenly think that you are the body or mind, but these are really inert matter. The word ‘jīva’ is used to refer to the mixture of Consciousness-mind-body. So it is not strictly correct to talk about superimposing jīva on Brahman. The Consciousness aspect is real; it is the mind and body that are mithyā. The body is certainly affected by disease and it is certainly likely that the mind will suffer as a result but the Consciousness (which is who you really are) remains totally unaffected.

Yes, you are right – according to the basic teaching of Advaita, the jīva will continue to be reborn until you realize that you are Brahman. But of course, who-you-really-are – the Consciousness – was never born to begin with and is ever perfect and complete.

Your metaphor of bad weather hiding the sun is a good one. But you must not get misled by the idea that there is ‘(merely) intellectual understanding’ and there is ‘practical experience’. You are Brahman now, whatever your presumed situation. The problem is that the intellect does not understand this. Once the ignorance in the mind is removed (by shravaṇa-manana), and the intellect does understand it, there can be no need for any additional ‘experience’ to bring ‘realization’.

The Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.3 says that: “The nature of this ātmā does not fall in the range of perception. No one sees this with the eye. It is revealed by the insight (gained) through the intellect, which resides in the heart. Those who know this become immortal.”

Hope you recover soon and can pursue the teaching with less urgency and a still mind!