Understanding Ishvara for Liberation

Who is working “you”? Are you the operator of “you”? Are you doing your actions and thinking your thoughts? Is it “you” suffering?

If you have been studying Vedanta for a while, or are a follower of any non-dual teaching, you know that all there is is awareness. There is only one reality, and a little investigation reveals this reality to be consciousness. The bottom line of Vedanta, and any non-dual teaching, is “I am that,” or “I am awareness.” Since awareness alone is real, and you know you are real, how could you be anything else?

But where the bulk of the self-inquiry work comes in is actually taking the sense of “I,” your normal, everyday sense that you exist, and understanding that this “I” is pointing to awareness and not to the individual being that it feels like you are.

This is where Ishvara comes in.
Ishvara is a term in Vedanta that describes that which operates the field – “the field” meaning the entirety of that which appears, commonly called “the world.”

The field is only apparently real. It isn’t
really real, because only awareness is really real. But undeniably, stuff appears, and the stuff that appears is apparently real. But even though the field is not really “real,” it still operates under a totally consistent and logical system of laws. The field does not behave in a random fashion – actions are followed by reactions, and they’re usually pretty predictable, even just by casual observation.

Ishvara operates the entire field. That includes you. That means your body, your mind, everything. We think we control our body and our mind, but Ishvara actually does that, down to every last detail. There is nothing in the appearance that is not totally Ishvara’s realm.

So there is no actual “you” that exists in the apparent world! Would you still call this entity “I” if it were clear you had no control over it at all? It’s Ishvara’s job to keep you thinking that entity is you – to keep the dance of duality going, to keep you involved and playing along. But unfortunately, this role-playing robs you of the knowledge of your true identity as inherently free and limitless awareness. The real fruit of self-inquiry is putting an end to the mistaken placement of the “I” sense onto a body and mind that is appearing in the field. Goodbye and good riddance to the apparent bondage!

If you were actually controlling the body and mind, then it would make sense to have your “I” attached to that. And that’s what we generally keep thinking, for years and years, even after we have heard and assimilated the knowledge “I am awareness.” There is a tendency to try to keep both identities afloat – both “I am awareness” and “but I’m still in a little bit of control here in the body, I’m still in a bit of suffering, I still need to fix things here,” etc.

There is a reluctance to let go of the idea that I am the person appearing in the field, because it’s not readily apparent how the suffering is going to finally end unless I stay here in the world and get rid of it myself! But you can’t get rid of the suffering by arranging things in the world – not in a million years. Only the understanding that the “I” you actually are is already free ends the suffering. That means knowing without a doubt that the “I” appearing in the world with a body and a mind is not you.

So when we say “I,” there are a few tests to run through your mind to challenge your thinking. It’s just a habit of yours (Ishvara’s habit!) to associate the “I” with the person. But if you have looked into it, you have seen how there is really no control there on “your” part. Thoughts come without your willing them. Feelings arise in response to the thoughts. Actions happen based on the thoughts and feelings. Physical laws are obeyed. There isn’t any choice about any of this. It’s all just happening, according the rules of the apparent matter, and we call that Ishvara.

So if Ishvara is running the body and mind you think of as “I,” that takes away the “doingness,” doesn’t it? Not thinking, not feeling, not acting – not doing anything at all. Just being. And I’m still here, even though Ishvara is running the body and mind. Knowing that Ishvara is in charge does not take away the “I,” does it? So then, what
is the “I”? If there’s no doingness going on, and yet there is beingness, what am I?

There is only one possible “I” – it is the awareness within which all this activity appears. I am awareness. There is nothing I have to do in the appearance to make myself more full, more safe, more satisfied. The appearance will never provide the mind with a sense of safety and fullness, because the mind is a duality machine, operated by Ishvara. The job of Ishvara is to keep this appearance going. Ishvara gives your mind a duality banquet every second, and for every step towards liberation in the appearance, there is a step away. As long as your “I” is planted there, you believe you are not free.

Place the “I” in the right place – that’s all! The beingness you know right now, just pure beingness, conscious presence – take this, see the logic in taking this non-doing, non-controlling beingness as the real “I.” This is liberation.

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As always, I recommend checking out
James Swartz’s Vedanta website, Shining World. My deepest gratitude to James and his tireless work of teaching Vedanta for forty years.

Is Your Freedom a Feeling?

You are already free. This you know from all your spiritual literature, from Vedanta, from your own insights and epiphanies. You, awareness, are already free. So why do you not feel free?

Is it that you have not attained
moksha yet? And that you will feel free when you have attained moksha?

What if you’re never going to feel free? What if it’s not about feeling free?

What if the “free” that you already are has nothing to do with feelings, or with anything else that you usually associate with the word “free”?

The freedom that we are used to thinking about is the one that we find in the dictionary. It’s a noun – a thing – and it is defined relative to other things. But nothing about the Self can be put in relative terms. All relativity is duality, and the Self is non-dual, not made of parts – there is no duality in reality. So the dictionary definition of freedom is not applicable to the Self.

A person can feel free – that’s possible, of course – but only relative to other things. A feeling of freedom comes from all kinds of experiences we can have in the world. Which means that the objects, the circumstances, the thoughts, all have to line up a certain way, and this causes a feeling of freedom. This isn’t a very free freedom, is it? When I have to make sure that all the objects in my experience behave according to plan, and then I’ll get my feeling of freedom for a little while, until the objects move on and don’t line up anymore? That sounds like a lot of work and aggravation for a small payoff that doesn’t last. And that certainly can’t be what
moksha is.

So what about
moksha, liberation, the freedom that the rishis talk about? What kind of freedom is this?

It’s a freedom that doesn’t involve objects at all. And it doesn't involve feelings. Nothing in the world has to be – or even can be! – lined up to produce this freedom. It is already the nature of reality, the nature of you, the Self. There is no way to draw this freedom closer to yourself, since it is already the essence of everything. There is no way to increase it, and no point in even trying. And incredibly, it's not something that you feel. You cannot feel this freedom. It is more subtle than your feeling apparatus, and is beyond the reach of feelings.

It is difficult to conceive of this indefinable freedom – impossible, in fact. Freedom, being a word we associate with objects, is not an accurate word for it. There is no accurate word. Nothing about the Self can be conceived of or put into words, or even known by the mind.

And yet, this is what you are.
Moksha is very simply the knowledge that this non-relative, eternal, unchanging limitlessness is your true nature. This knowledge removes the compulsion to try to make freedom happen in the world, and removes the bondage to chasing a feeling of freedom. Removing this bondage leads to a nice experiential state for the jiva, but this is due to a loss of false belief, not a gaining of "freedom." Moksha is a dropping-off, not an adding-on.

Just knowing who you are – not feeling it, not experiencing it, but
knowing it – reveals the ever-presence of this “freedom” which is no kind of thing you’ve ever thought of with your mind, nor can you. And yet, here it is.

How to get this knowledge?
Vedanta and James Swartz! And self-inquiry, of course.

What Makes Me Think I'm Not Free?

We have heard that the Self is described by the Sanskrit term satchitananda – a compound word consisting of three parts: sat, meaning “beingness” or “existence”; chit, meaning “consciousness”; and ananda, which is usually translated as “bliss,” but Vedanta teacher James Swartz defines as “limitlessness.”

The good news is, we don’t need any help knowing that we are two out of the three! We already know that we exist, and we already know that we are conscious. Those two parts are self-evident. But we have a harder time with the third: it is not immediately apparent that I am limitless – that I am free.

You are free, but you don’t know it. Something in the appearance – the apparent objective world appearing in your consciousness – is telling you that you are not free. It’s not your existence telling you that, and it’s not your consciousness telling you that. It’s something that appears to you – appears
in you, consciousness – that is telling you that you are not free. Does an object appearing in you have that power over you? Does an apparent object (be it a thought, feeling, or belief) have any power to limit you? To tell consciousness that it is not free? Can a limiting thought downstream actually limit anything upstream from it?

So it’s only the idea that your consciousness is limited that needs to be sorted out. If you follow the logic, which tells you that you are already free since you are the Self, then you have a platform from which to launch a good line of inquiry, using questions such as the ones above, or any question that is meaningful for you.

As James Swartz says, Vedanta offers a lot of different teachings. But understanding the truth of just one of them will set you free.