Ishvara this, and Ishvara that!

I have a simple question, I think. I am a long-time reader of James (I knew of him pre-Ram when he was still just James, pre-Sundari!), and he once sent me a copy of his 1999 Meditation book, as it was going out of print ahead of his newer writing. In the newer content, especially when being expounded by Sundari, I keep tripping over what seems to be a personifying of Ishvara, as in "Ishvara willing," "Ishvara had other ideas for me," and on and on and on. I am asking you, especially in light of your Christian background, is this type of imagery knowingly used to comfort the reader, almost as if equating with a Jesus figure who sees all, loves me, knows what is best, etc? It hits me the wrong way, and I usually just try to skip quickly past it, but what the heck is that all about? It seems way out of place with the rest of James's teaching, well certainly his early stuff, anyway. There is nothing in the 1999 book like that at all. Maybe it is just a teaching technique that has evolved, but it strikes me as dangerous simplification of something far more complex, and a more than a little bit silly.

A: Wow, your relationship with James goes way back! I didn't know of him until after the first Enlightenment book, about 2010.

I guess I would need to know what your understanding is of Ishvara. If you have gone all the way through the teaching of Vedanta, you know that the non-dual vision looks like this: There is just awareness; awareness appears in the form of Ishvara, which is the entire field and all the objects; and awareness appears in the form of individual
jivas. Of course none of the appearances have any bearing on the fact that there is only just this one undivided awareness, which is me. It's all one awareness, appearing as many forms.

So in our daily life, when we are identifying with the individual apparent jiva (instead of identifying with our true identity as unbounded awareness), it's helpful to know the rules of that entire field that appears. And the rules are: Ishvara is in charge of the entire field, including the individual jivas, all the action of all, all the thoughts of all, etc. There is only this one "operator" of the field of apparent objects. There are no independent, separate operators, such as my individual jiva mind. My individual jiva is an object that appears in the field, has no sentience of its own, and is completely operated and maintained by Ishvara.

To me this is really different from the Christian view of things. Of course in Christianity, I am an autonomous individual, and so everything is going to be completely different. God, or Ishvara, is "over" me in Christianity, whereas the non-dual vision reveals that God appears in me – awareness. So I am actually over Ishvara.

So this is what I know, and this is freedom. And being free, it's fine to say things about Ishvara that are consistent with the knowledge, which is that Ishvara is running things here in the field. I, awareness, cannot run things, because I'm formless and timeless. And jiva can't run things, because jiva is not sentient, has no free will, and can't really be found to be anything other than a thought appearing right now in awareness. That leaves Ishvara to run things.

The logic of the Ishvara principle is that a field of existence appears, and that it appears as individual objects, but in reality it is all one thing. And so that field operates as a whole, not as independent things. The word "Ishvara" is just a way to explain the fact that anything and everything appearing is simply
one, appearing as many forms, and therefore all operate under the law of One, or non-duality.

So the casual use of it in conversation – I think it's fine, actually. "Ishvara had other plans for me" is not a true statement in non-duality, but there really isn't anything that is a true statement, other than "I am awareness." We speak as jivas and interact as jivas, but I have no doubt that Sundari or whoever wrote that knows that she is awareness. And the point is, if she said, "I had other plans for myself," then that really
would be misleading. Because we have no control over what happens to us.

I hope this clears something up for you, and if not, please say so! I'm happy to answer any questions you may have. The topic of Ishvara is indeed complex, as you suggest, and understanding it and its relationship to jiva is crucial to liberation. So it's well worth spending the time to sort it out. As you know, you are already boundless eternal awareness, and can't be made more free or more aware. But jiva believes himself to be bound, and all of this is for the benefit of jiva.