Dharma and Ishvara

There are two notions that are intimately involved in this topic – ‘justice’ as seen from the Eastern perspective: 1) Dharma, and 2) Ishvara or the creating and controlling aspect of God or the absolute reality.

The notion of dharma is paramount in the Eastern philosophico-religious traditions and is used in many combinations of words. The main meaning is ‘law’ or ‘order’ as it exists in the universe. Rather than man-made, it is a divine ordinance or, alternately, a cosmological law that maintains all things in equilibrium. As such, it cannot be far distant from the Western idea of justice (‘law and order’ and all its derivations and conditionings). It is a universal law from which nothing can deviate (literally, ‘what holds together’), whether in the social, the individual, or the moral realms.

The four important divisions or goals of life in the Indian tradition are artha (re material possessions), kāma (pleasure and love), dharma (religious and moral duties), and mokṣa (spiritual release or delivery). Some of the Dharmaṣāstras – Books of the Law – are attributed to mythological personages, such as Manu, ‘forefather of man’, and are filled with religious, social, and ritual prescriptions.

An important treatise, encyclopedic in its coverage, is the ‘Kauṭiliya Arthaṣāstra’, from the 4th Cent. BC.

 As far as the individual is concerned, the particular application of the law (dharma) is called ‘sva-dharma’, for s/he cannot escape it – in this or in another life (‘reincarnation’). There are different ways to look at it: merits and demerits, intimately tied up with (the law of) karma; duties pertaining to one’s station in life: student, householder, retiree, and, finally, renunciant or liberated one (mukti) – released from all duties and tasks and dedicated exclusively to contemplation of the divine or ultimate reality (traditionally referred to as ‘forest-dweller’).

The Indian tradition is prodigious in its elaboration and codification of all the branches of the sciences and of the arts: music, dance, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, geography, rituals, types of meditation, moral laws, etc.

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 7

Mantra 6

*** Read Part 6 ***

एष सर्वेश्वरः एष सर्वज्ञ एषोऽन्तर्याम्येष योनिः सर्वस्य
प्रभवाप्ययौ हि भूतानाम् ॥ ६ ॥

eSha sarveshvaraH eSha sarvaj~na eSho.antaryAmyeSha yoniH sarvasya
prabhavApyayau hi bhUtAnAm || 6 ||

eSha – This (i.e. the universal deep-sleep state)
sarva Ishvara – (is) the Lord of everything;
eSha – This
sarvaj~na – (is) omniscient,
antaryAmin – the ‘inner controller’.
eSha – This
yoniH sarvasya – (is) the source of everything;
hi – (is) assuredly
prabhava apayayau – the place of the arising and dissolution 
bhUtAnAm – of all beings.

The macrocosmic deep-sleep state is the Lord of everything, omniscient; Ishvara, the source of everything; indeed the source and final resting place of all beings.

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Q.530 Maya, Brahman and Ishvara

Q: Can Advaitins explain how Maya can be an attribute of the supposedly attributeless Brahman? (Quora)

A (Martin): Maya is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept that gives rise to much confusion, particularly when translating it as ‘illusion’

This concept can be viewed from psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives. Purely from the standpoint of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, Maya is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidya), which is prior to it; that is, avidya is the necessary condition for Maya. Once ignorance is annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) points of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Suresvara, who taught that Maya is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent., has defended the former, Shankarian position.

Maya can also be viewed as the power or energy of Brahman to create the world, and etymologically the word comes from ‘magic/magician’. But note that the (phenomenal) world is not a pure illusion, as stated above, but mithya (‘provisionally’ real)

Q: Why was the creation needed if Brahman alone existed?

A (Martin): ‘Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance.The world is not other than Brahman’ (one of the ‘great sayings’ or mahavakya).

Q: What is Ishwara?

A (Martin): Ishvara is Brahman considered as creator and ‘personal’ by those who need or are proclive to a devotional relationship (creator/creature). It is also known as ‘saguna brahman’ (Brahman with attributes), as (apparently) different from ‘nirguna Brahman’.

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 5

Mantra 4

*** Read Part 4 ***

स्वप्नस्थानोऽन्तःप्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोन्विंश्तिमुखः प्र्विविक्तभुक् तैजसो द्वितीयः पादः॥ ४॥

svapnasthAno.antaHpraj~naH saptA~Nga ekonaviMshatimukhaH praviviktabhuk taijaso dvitIyaH pAdaH || 4 ||

dvitIyaH pAdaH – The second aspect (of the Self)
taijasa – is called taijasa.
svapna sthAna – (Its field of action is) the dream state.
antaHpraj~naH – (Consciousness is) turned inwards (as opposed to the waking state in the previous mantra, where it was turned outwards).
sapta a~Nga – (As with the waking state) (it has) seven divisions.
viMshati mukhaH – (and) nineteen interfaces.
praviviktabhuk taijasotaijasa is the enjoyer (bhug = bhuk = bhoktA; experiencer, enjoyer) of the private, internal world (pravivikta).

The second aspect of the Self is taijasa. This is the dream state in which one’s awareness is turned inwards. taijasa has seven parts and experiences the dream world via 19 interfaces.

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Q.526 MithyA

Q: In your comment on the article by Arun Kumar, I was confused but intrigued that you define Mithya as something that simply explains the fundamental nature of the Brahman in life and its objects. I have not so far found any dictionary that defines mithya as anything other than false or illusory nor discovered any major scholar-philosopher who thought that Shankara viewed this world as a reality – as real as the ornament in your metaphor. You say that Shankara himself by discriminating between the waking and dream states suggests that novel meaning of Mithya. Is this your own interpretation or does Shankara himself link the ability to differentiate between those states to explain mithya?

You raise the example of how jumping into the middle of traffic would help one realize why this world is NOT an illusion… but it is not convincing enough. Potentially, both a person jumping in front of a truck and his consequent “death” could be perceived as illusory events too. The real question I have is whether Shankara himself viewed this world as illusion and used Mithya to convey that or not. And, if it was an illusion for him, what did he think the meaning of life was? If on the other hand life was Not an illusion to him, as you seem to suggest, what was its purpose in that case?

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Word by Word Scriptures

From 2015 to 2017, I posted a series of ‘Notes on Tattvabodha’ (31 parts) by Dr. Vishnu Bapat. (Beginning at https://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/bapat/bapat01.html.) These provided word by word translations of the Devanagari Sanskrit as well as an English commentary.

Dr. Bapat now has his own site at Vishnu Rao Bapat – Soulbliss where he has continued this practice and has similar translations of Bhagavad Gita, Atma Bodha, Dakshinamurti Stotram, Bhaja Govindam, Astavakra Gita, Amrita Bindu Upanishad and Devi Stotram.

Here, as an example, are two verses from the Bhagavad Gita. 

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Q.521 External Objects

Q: Do objects exist independently? For example, if one is not seeing the moon then does moon exist or not?

A: From the perspective of absolute reality (paramArtha), of course there is no problem; no question or answer! There is only Brahman; no creation and no objects. But I assume that your question relates to empirical reality (vyavahAra). Here, Advaita teaches that Ishvara governs the ‘creation’, setting and maintaining the physical laws that apply to the universe and the karmic laws that apply to the jIva-s. It is only some post-Shankara philosophers who try to make out that there is only one jIva so that, as soon as this jIva is enlightened, the apparent creation comes to an end. You can read all about the ‘world disappearing on enlightenment’ in the seemingly endless discussions we had on that topic beginning in 2020 (I think).

So, as regards your specific question, objects continue to exist when you go out of the room (for example). Otherwise, other jIva-s would not be able to enjoy them! Suppose that you go outside at night with a friend and both look at the moon. And suppose that you turn away but your friend doesn’t.  If the moon ceased to exist, so would your friend (who is also an object at the gross level).

Advaita is not subjective idealism. Objects are not ‘in the mind’ (although the names and forms that we give them ARE in the mind – hence we can see a rope as a snake). But the moon is not ‘real’ in an Advaitic sense; it is mithyA. The story of the sage and the wild elephant is relevant here. A seeker saw his guru run away when a rogue elephant charged. Afterwards he asked why his teacher had run when he would say that the elephant is mithyA. The teacher replied that the ‘running away’ was also mithyA. (At least, that is how I recall the story.)

Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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Swami Dayananda Interview (cont)

The following is the continuation of an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts. Read Part 1

NDM: An Indian sage once said, “No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary to know the self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself.”     

            Swamiji: He does require a mirror to see his face. No man requires a mirror to find out whether he exists or not, correct. But if he wants to see his face, he requires a mirror.           

            I have no question about myself whether I exist or not. I don’t have a doubt. I don’t need any mirror. Even my eyes and ears, nothing I require, because I exist and therefore I use my eyes. I exist and therefore I use my mind.

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Dharma and other principles of life

Why doesn’t philosophy take into account non-western theories of justice?

There are two notions that are intimately involved and interconnected on this topic (justice) as seen from the Eastern perspective: 1) Dharma (Law), and 2) Ishvara or the creating and controlling aspect of God or the absolute reality. I will not cover here Confucianism or the far East – only India.

The notion of DHARMA is paramount in the Eastern philosophical-religious traditions alluded to above and is used in many combinations of words. The main meaning is ‘law’ or ‘order’ as it exists in the universe. Rather than man-made, it is a divine ordinance or, alternately, a cosmological law that maintains all things in equilibrium; as such, it cannot be far distant from the Western idea of justice (‘law and order’ and all its derivations and conditionings). It is a universal law from which nothing can deviate (literally, ‘what holds together’), whether it is in the social, the individual, or the moral realms. 

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