The Purpose of Life, Part 6


Inquiry 6:  What is the Purpose of the Apparent?

And even if reality is non-dual, why this seeming duality? Why does this mithyA of life exist?


As has already been established, there is no creation.  The word “creation” implies that something that previously did not exist has been somehow brought into existence, that something new has entered the arena of the old or already-previously-established.  Since, however, there exists nothing other than consciousness/awareness and therefore such is the sole substratum of the entire field of manifestation and all the objects inhabiting it, it is not possible for anything new to arrive on the scene.  All apparent objects, including those making their first appearance in a given form, are nothing other that a reconstitution and/or reconfiguration of the same one substance of which the entire apparent reality consists.


From perspective of both the apparent individual and God/Isvara/the macrocosmic causal body (though it should be understood that the latter is not a personal entity) there is, nevertheless, an apparent creation.   There is, however, a difference between the apparent individual’s projected interpretation of reality (i.e. jiva shrishti) and God’s appearance as “creation” (i.e. Isvara shrishti).


Without going into a lengthy description of them, it bears mentioning that there are three basic energies of which the entire apparent reality is constituted: sattva, rajas, and tamas.  The defining characteristics of sattva are light, harmony or peace, and knowledge.  Those of rajas are intensity, passion or desire, and action.  And those of tamas are dullness, apathy or avoidance, and inertia.  Different degrees of these three energies combine in innumerable variations to create the myriad objects that constitute the manifested universe.


Through a complex process called panchikaranam, pure consciousness apparently forgets its true nature, assumes the appearance of the five elements – the fundamental building blocks of the apparent reality – and thereafter projects itself as the manifested universe on both the gross and subtle levels of being.  This projection is what is referred to as God’s creation (i.e. Isvara shrishti).  Once established, its fundamental form (i.e. what we take to be the physical universe and basic constituents or thought structures of the psychological “arena”) does not change.  Though its defining characteristic is mutability and therefore all the objects within it are in a constant state of flux, the existence and essential appearance of the manifested universe remains the same.  For instance, although individual plants, animals, and people die, these general life forms continue to exist.  God’s creation is pure sattva.


As a seemingly volitional entity within God’s creation, the apparent individual also enjoys the ability to “create” – albeit in a very different way and on a far more limited scale.  The apparent individual is basically nothing more than a three-bodied bundle of impressions (i.e. vasanas) that form and manifest as one’s likes and dislikes (i.e. ragas and dveshas).  These preferences are the by-product of the apparent individual’s past experience – both within the context of the present lifetime and what we might call the trail of one’s past lives or previous incarnations.  A pleasurable experience creates or strengthens an attraction vasana while a painful experience creates or strengthens an aversion vasana.  These vasanas are stored in the causal body from which state they compel us to seek what we consider pleasurable, avoid what we consider painful, and interpret each and every aspect of our experience in terms of our conditioned preferences.  As subtle objects within God’s creation, vasanas are constituted of a combination of the three basic energies – sattva, rajas, and tamasVasanas colored with more rajas create desires that one feels compelled to fulfill.  Vasanas colored with more tamas create fears that one feels compelled to avoid.  Figuratively speaking, the vasanas, therefore, serve as the watercolors with which the individual washes God’s creation in various hues and thus “creates” his or her own particular experience of it.


That an apparently objective creation is initially projected by God, however, may still seem an unverifiable issue that must be taken on faith.  But, once again, a logical examination of the nature of experience reveals that such is not the case.  And since one’s own subtle body (i.e. antahkarana) is the most fundamental object of one’s experience of the creation we will use it as the focus of our inquiry.


The manifestation of any object – including one’s own self – requires a field in which that appearance can take place.  So you, the subtle body, either appear in your own apparently individual field of awareness, or you appear in God’s macrocosmic field of awareness (i.e. the apparent reality, or the “created” universe).


If you accept the former premise, then you are left in a bit of a quandary, for it serves neither to verify nor negate the issue of whether God created an apparently objective universe and, moreover, ultimately invalidates itself.  While there would be no way to prove that “your” awareness is the only awareness, there would also be no way to prove the existence of “another” awareness or “other” awarenesses.   Nor would it matter, because it would be impossible for you as an individual to experience anything outside your own awareness anyway and, thus, no object outside of your own awareness would fall within the parameters of your experience or consideration or otherwise affect you in any way, therefore rendering its objective existence a moot point.


If you accept the latter premise, then not only are you in agreement with scripture, but you also find yourself in alignment with logic.  Though your individual perspective is undeniably limited, the awareness apparently “looking through” you – supposing, that is, that you are the apparent individual entity, which actually you are not – is the same awareness appearing as, animating/illumining, and observing both the gross and subtle aspects of the entire universe.  Vedanta employs several analogies to illustrate this point: the wave and the ocean, the ornament and the gold, the pot and the clay, the shirt and the cotton.  In each case the object is an effect dependent for its existence upon the material of which it is made and which is therefore its cause, and moreover both the effect and its cause are the self-same substance.  In the same way, the awareness associated with an apparent individual (i.e. atma) and absolute awareness (i.e. Brahman) are identical.


Due to the power of ignorance (i.e. maya), however, the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent awareness seemingly assumes limitation through its identification with the limited upadhi of a particular mind-body-sense complex.  Each individual mind-body-sense complex is like a lens through which pure awareness looks out upon the field of names and forms (i.e. namarupa) that is its manifestation.  While identified with a particular mind-body-sense complex, the self – pure awareness – is limited to the scope of intelligence, knowledge, abilities, personality traits, etc. associated with that particular apparent individual.


Often people ask why, if they are limitless awareness, they cannot or do not know other peoples’ thoughts, accomplish any physical or mental feat they want, or have at their beck and call the host of superpowers (i.e. siddhis) reputedly possessed by advanced yogis.  The truth is, however, that as awareness they can and do, for the same singular, all-pervasive awareness is “inhabiting,” or appearing as, and enjoying the experiences of each and every mind-body-sense complex populating the apparent reality.  From the limited perspective it assumes when it identifies with a particular mind-body-sense complex, however, awareness can only experience – though strictly speaking awareness is not an experiencer – the operations taking place within the scope of that apparent individual.  In order for the apparent individual to experience what is happening in another apparent individual it would have to “jump into” and “inhabit” that apparent individual’s mind-body-sense complex while simultaneously remaining within its own, which as an individual who by definition is confined within certain physical and mental boundaries it would be impossible to do for a couple of important reasons.


First, the apparent individual is not actually sentient.  The mind-body-sense complex derives its sentience wholly from awareness.  And due to its innate all-pervasiveness and perfect completeness, awareness has no desire to make such a leap since it is actually appearing as and experiencing through the other apparent individual’s mind-body-sense complex already.


Second, such “hopping” among mind-body-sense complexes and/or the “merging” of them violates the condition of dualism that characterizes the apparent reality.  If there were no apparent separation, the manifested universe would collapse into its essential non-dual character and disappear as it does in deep sleep.


The bottom line is that all knowledge and experience appear within the scope of the self/awareness/me.  But the self/awareness/I can only enjoy these phenomena through the vehicle of the mind-body-sense complex, and once identified with a particular mind-body-sense complex the self/awareness/I can only “see” through the limited scope of that particular lens.  Therefore, from its assumed limited perspective as an apparent individual, the self enjoys neither omniscience nor omnipotence.  In other words, I as an apparent individual will always be constrained by certain limitations.  Each mind-body-sense complex can only know that which appears within its personal scope and do that which lies within its specific range of ability.  By means of the knowledge revealed through self-inquiry, however, each mind-body-sense complex can realize its essential nature as whole and complete, limitless, unborn, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness.


Therefore, the only reasonable purpose – if life can be said to have any such thing – is liberation from the erroneous notion of limited individuality and the actualization of one’s innate and unqualified freedom.



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About Ted Schmidt

I was initiated into the yogic path when I received shaktipat from Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in 1989. For the next twenty years, Siddha Yoga served as my fundamental spiritual practice. During this time I avidly studied the non-dual teachings of both Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism as unfolded by the teachers in that tradition. Having grown up in a Christian culture and yet having felt little nourishment from its brand of spiritual belief and practice, I was also curious about what the true teachings underlying that tradition might be. After some investigation, I ran across Kabbalah (i.e. Jewish mysticism) and discovered that its teachings paralleled the non-dual teachings of the Eastern spiritual traditions. I also dabbled in Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, and the spiritual tradition of a West African tribe called the Dagara. During that time, I became a certified as both a yoga teacher and a QiGong instructor/healer and after a two-year study of Dagara shamanism was initiated as an Elder in that tradition. Though each of these paths offered valuable insights into the nature of reality, I was repeatedly drawn back to my practice of Siddha Yoga. The bottom line after all this searching and seeking and kundalini tweaking, however, was that none of it did the trick. It wasn’t until I met my teacher, James Swartz, and heard the teachings of traditional Vedanta that I finally understood who I am. Vedanta is the only tradition that I have encountered that offers the complete understanding that constitutes self-knowledge (i.e. Brahma satyam jagan-mithya jivo brahmaiva na’parah explained in all its aspects and ramifications). No other tradition that I have encountered offers prakriyas and practices that so effectively remove ignorance and so clearly reveal self-knowledge.