Translation and Commentary by Rory Mackay: Chapter Six…
1. In so many eloquent ways, the scriptures have revealed the world of form to be nothing but a desert mirage. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How, then, can this Self be compared to anything?
The very heart of Vedantic teaching is a vision of non-duality; the knowledge that there is only one factor in existence—that which we call Brahman, or the Self: pure, undifferentiated consciousness/awareness.
That being so, how can a separate world of form and objects appear to exist independently of consciousness? For anything to exist other than the Self, we’d have to inhabit a duality, and the scriptures make it clear that, despite appearances, reality is one and undivided. The technical term for this is Advaita, meaning “not-two”.
Clearly, we do experience a world of objects and form with our mind and senses, so we can’t say that it doesn’t exist. Vedanta concurs that it exists, but it isn’t real. There’s a difference. Something can exist without being real; the ‘blue sky’ being a prime example. According to Vedanta, this universe of names and forms appears courtesy of maya, a Sanskrit term meaning ‘illusion’ or ‘magic’.
Maya is that which makes the impossible possible—that by which the one, formless, non-dual Self appears as a manifold world of form and duality. As Dattatreya says in this verse, this gives the world of form the ontological status of a desert mirage. We can see and experience a mirage with our senses, but it’s not actually there. It’s a misperception of reality. Similarly, we may experience a universe of discrete forms and objects, all of it apparently separate from us, but this is simply the way that our physical senses structure reality for us. All that’s actually there, and all we’re ever really experiencing, is our own consciousness/awareness. Why? Because, as the scriptures clearly state, reality is non-dual and consciousness/awareness is all that exists.
Understand this, and you have grasped the very heart of Vedantic teaching. Because there is only one, indivisible Reality, which for lack of a better word we call the Self, everything is, therefore, divine. The Avadhuta Gita uses the term ‘Shiva’ as a synonym for this universal consciousness. While in some verses I kept the translation as ‘Shiva’, in the second line of this verse (which is repeated throughout the rest of this chapter) I changed it to ‘God’, which has a more universal connotation. Quite often even spiritual people take umbrage with the word ‘God’, largely due to centuries of misuse at the hands of corrupted religion. A word is a word, however—a symbol pointing to a greater truth. While believers and non-believers argue relentlessly over the existence or non-existence of their conception of ‘God’, there’s no room for debate in Vedanta—because, simply, nothing exists but God. For how can you have an effect (the world of form) without a cause (the formless) and how can an effect exist independently of that cause? Thus, as Dattatreya affirms again and again, “everything is God.”
2. The Supreme knows neither division nor non-division. The Supreme knows neither activity nor inactivity. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. That being so, where is the need for austerities and religious rites?
Division and non-division relate only to this dreamlike world of maya; the universe of form and experience appearing to the mind and senses. The ‘Supreme’ refers to the underlying and all-pervading consciousness in which this world appears: the beginningless, endless, unchanging Self that you (and all beings) are. It cannot be attained by action, for there was never any time it was non-attained. It is the essence and substance of all things. All that needs to be done is for the mind to be purified and re-conditioned to apprehend reality as it truly is. This is the key to liberation for the apparent person living in maya.
3. The Universal Mind is infinite and all-pervading; and the Supreme neither ‘without’ or ‘within’. As the Universal Mind is One and beyond limit, everything is God. How can it therefore be encapsulated in thought or word?
This and subsequent verses are short but potent meditations designed to strip away all sense of duality. This helps us recognise the underlying non-duality that exists as the basis, heart and essence of everything; the one, indivisible substance in creation that appears as it does as a manifold universe of objects and forms.
4. The distinction between day and night has no meaning for Me; nor does the distinction between dawn and dusk. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. What difference does it make if the sun or the moon are shining?
5. Beyond the duality of desire and dispassion; beyond the duality of action and inaction, if there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How meaningless, then, are the distinctions of ‘inside’ and ‘out’?
6. Neither with substance nor without, neither a void nor non-void, if there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How, then, could there be beginning or end?
7. Free of distinction between division and non-division; free of distinction between knower and known, if there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How, then, can mental states pertain to It?
8. The ultimate Truth cannot be spoken in words. Neither what is spoken nor what is not spoken can encapsulate the Reality. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How, therefore, can the Self be contained by form, senses, intellect or mind?
The Self, the true Reality of existence, cannot be described by words. Words are simply symbolic representations of reality; a crude shorthand allowing us to communicate information. How, then, can we explain Vedanta: a dualistic means of knowledge aimed at revealing this Self? To gain knowledge of what is, all we must do is remove our ignorance. Vedanta uses words to dispel self-ignorance. This ignorance, called avidya, binds us to the world of form and matter by virtue of false identification with objects.
While Vedanta must necessarily use words to point to the Self, these terms are generally negative in nature, because we can only recognise the Self by negating what it is not. Thus, we might describe the Self as being limitless, formless, timeless, unchanging and unbound by form and experience.
Self inquiry, which is the key to Self knowledge, challenges us to examine this in the our own direct experience. We come to realise that we cannot be anything that we witness, such as body, mind, thoughts or ego. These are all objects known to us. In order to reach the truth, we must be able discriminate between subject and object. The Self alone is the eternal subject; the light of our own consciousness; that by which all is known. This subject cannot be perceived as an object any more than the eye can see itself or a camera can photograph itself.
9. Neither space nor air are ultimately Real, nor earth, nor fire. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How can one distinguish the raincloud from the rain?
All objects, all perceivable things, from the grandest of forms to the subtlest of elements, fall under the category of mithya, meaning apparently real. While objects appear to enjoy their own separate existence—‘this’ as distinguished from ‘that’—all phenomena, themselves time-bound effects, borrow their existence, their ‘beingness’, from an inseparable and underlying cause at the heart of creation. That cause is called satya, another name for pure consciousness; the very essence of existence, and our own innermost nature.
10. The Self is not contained by thought-based worlds; nor by thought-based gods. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How then can it be affected by discrimination between the apparent and the actual?
Practising discrimination between the apparent and the actual, or mithya and satya, is one of the most important tools in Vedanta’s arsenal. By separating the objects from the subject, we are able to disidentify from the components of the false self (specifically, the body, mind and ego) and reclaim our original and true identity as the awareness in which they appear.
While this is an important practise for the liberating the mind, this verse points out that such discrimination has no effect on the Self. The Self, after all, was never bound in the first place. It remains eternally free and untouchable by anything in this apparent world of creation. Just as the light shining on the cinema screen remains unblemished by the images projected into it, so does our innermost consciousness/awareness remain untouched and unmoved by both the inner and outer worlds experienced by the mind and senses. This is an important understanding. As the Self, you have never been bound in any way. Bondage is merely a product of ignorance and misperception of reality.
11. The Self is ever free of the duality of birth and death, and unaffected by action and inaction. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How then can one speak of coming and going?
12. Prakriti (the material world) and purusha (the eternal Self) are not separate, but one, just as the effect is inseparable from its Cause. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How then can one speak of the Self and not-Self?
As noted above, the ability to discriminate between the Self and not-Self, or the subject and the objects appearing in it, is a key part of Vedanta’s teaching methodology. Ultimately, however, it is only a tool to help beginner and intermediate students to separate the real from the apparently real. Because there is only one factor in existence—the Self; pure awareness/consciousness—there can’t possibly be anything it is not. Therefore, the notion of ‘Self’ and ‘not-Self’ can be negated, because there duality is nothing but a thought in the mind. The Self alone exists. There is nothing that isn’t the Self, whether we consider the forms of the phenomenal world or the formlessness of the noumenon from which it arises. As this chapter’s refrain emphasises, everything is this one, indivisible Self—everything is God.
13. The Self has no childhood, no misery, and no bondage to the gunas. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How then can it experience childhood, youth or old age?
All living beings, both enlightened and unenlightened alike, are subject to the three gunas, or forces, that comprise the field of creation: harmony, activity/passion and inactivity/indolence. These three factors condition not only our external environment in every respect, but also the instruments of our body, senses, mind and intellect. While it’s both possible and advisable to actively manage the proportion of these gunas in ourselves and our environment, the only way to fully transcend them is to know that, as the Self, we are already free of them and all the burdens, joys and sorrows of materiality. The light of our consciousness remains constant, eternally self-effulgent and untainted by anything in this apparent creation. While bodies undergo birth, ageing and death, our consciousness remains changeless, and therein lies freedom. Even while, as people, we are seemingly bound by the world, at essence we remain ever free of it.
14. The Infinite cannot be bound by stages of life or by caste. This Self is not a product of cause or effect. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How then can it be declared either perishable or imperishable?
15. The Self is neither perishable nor imperishable; neither created nor uncreated. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. How then can it be defined in terms of mortality?
Only that which has a beginning can have an end. As the Self was never born, it can never die. It is the eternally self-shining light of all lights; the very substratum of Existence in which universes rise and fall like waves dancing upon the shore. Forms come and go, but the Essence abides forever unmoved and unmoving.
16. The masculine principle of purusha (spirit) does not pertain to the Self. The feminine principle of prakriti (matter) does not pertain to the Self. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. The opposites of duality and their interrelationship have no bearing on the Infinite.
17. If the Self is free of desire and aversion, and impervious to pleasure or pain, if there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. From where, therefore, comes the sense of “I” and “mine”?
Our everyday sense of “I”, “me” and “mine” is a product of the ahamkara, or ego, which is part of the subtle body. This otherwise inert mechanism is enlivened and illumined by the reflected light of the “original I”—pure awareness/consciousness. Thus, for the purposes of grasping this subtle understanding, we have the “original” awareness and the “reflected” awareness of the body-mind-sense complex.
A great analogy is the light of the sun and moon. The sun is in this case the “original” light and the moon the “reflected” light. This moon has no light of its own, but enjoys the reflected light of the sun. The reflected awareness (chidabhasa) teaching helps explain how there can be only one self, but many apparent selves. Extending the metaphor, there is only one sun in our solar system yet this sun will appear in all the reflecting instruments in the world; the same sun appearing in every mirror, every pond and puddle and drop of dew. Therefore, the one is capable of appearing as many.
18. Is it not true that neither virtue nor vice have any bearing on the Self? Is it not true that neither bondage nor liberation pertain to pure consciousness? If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. What meaning, then, have thoughts of sorrow or happiness?
Vedanta is a teaching only for qualified students; people of intellectual and emotional maturity, who have learned to surmount the worst excesses of the ego and its many and often hidden layers of desire and ambition. One of the criticisms levelled at Vedanta by some critics is that it promotes a kind of dangerous moral relativity. They point to verses such as this, which basically state the Self is beyond good and bad as the worldly see it.
Such people do not understand Vedanta and have failed to the grasp the fundamental basis of the teaching. It is true that, as the Absolute non-dual ground of being, pure awareness knows no duality, and that includes all concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The fear is that some people may hear this teaching and use it to justify their own violations of dharma, such as exploiting and abusing others financially, sexually or emotionally. This is called “enlightenment sickness”, wherein the ego co-opts knowledge of the Self and uses it as an excuse to satiate its own lower urges and lusts.
Knowledge of the Self is in no way a substitute for self control and living a pure and dharmic life. Mature students will have already assimilated the teachings on dharma, which underpin every facet of Vedanta. The scriptures state that dharma must come before all else, including enlightenment. This is something not understood by many people who have intellectually grasped what Vedanta is saying yet who hurriedly set themselves up as teachers and who use that newfound power to take advantage of others. This creates bad karma for themselves, their students and casts a bad light on the entire Vedantic sampradaya (lineage).
There is no escaping the fact that at this level of existence, the objective world, dharma, which means doing what is right and appropriate in each and every circumstance, is essential to the world and to all our lives. This is explored in great depth in the Bhagavad Gita, one of Vedanta’s primary source texts. Dharma should only be ignored at one’s peril. While the Self remains unaffected by anything in the world of form, at an individual level, the violation of dharma will very much affect people and the lives of those around them.
19. No distinction exists between the sacred ritual and the one offering it. No distinction exists between the act of worship and that which is worshipped. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. Who then is there to seek reward for their actions?
It’s for this reason that the highest form of worship is to realise one’s unity with all that is; one’s essential nature as pure consciousness. The negating of duality is breaking of all false bonds and divisions between the things of the relative world. By owning our oneness with all forms, we come to worship and revere all things, and this becomes our sacred offering to life. We treat all things and all beings with sanctity, love and respect. What higher worship could there be?
20. The Self exists free of both sorrow and happiness. The Self exists free of both pride and humility. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. Why then would the notion of attachment or non-attachment arise?
21. The Self knows neither delusion nor non-delusion. The Self knows neither greed nor desirelessness. If there is only one, limitless and indivisible Self, everything is God. Why, then, would the notion of discrimination or non-discrimination arise?
Believing yourself to be the jiva,the apparent self living in a world of form and division, is the fundamental ignorance that creates the suffering of samsara. Very simply, by identifying with the body, mind and ego, you become subject to their sorrows and limitations. Experiences both good and bad shape the fabric of your psyche, subjecting you to all kinds of conflicting emotions and relentless attachments and aversions. Lifting your sense identification from this limited, assumed self, to that in which the aggregates of body, mind and ego appear—the pure, unchanging awareness by which all things are known—liberates the mind from its assumed sorrows.
22. There has never been either “you” or “I”; all talk of family or social division is fallacy. Truly I am Shiva, the one Absolute and Supreme Self. How, then, can I worship and to whom should I bow?
23. The distinction between guru and student is but illusion, as is the guru’s instruction. Truly I am Shiva, the one Absolute and Supreme Self. How, then, can I worship and to whom should I bow?
24. The distinction between bodies is but imagined, as is the distinction between worlds. Truly I am Shiva, the one Absolute and Supreme Self. How, then, can I worship and to whom should I bow?
The enlightened know all forms and beings to be but appearances in the one, universal and eternal consciousness that is the Self; different waves upon the same ocean of Eternity. They see through the illusion of multiplicity to embrace the whole of creation in its unity. All things become sacred, all beings worthy of worship.
25. The Self knows neither activity nor rest, for It is ever pure, unstained, and immovable. Truly I am Shiva, the one Absolute and Supreme Self. How, then, can I worship and to whom should I bow?
26. The distinction between embodied and bodiless is but illusion, as is the distinction between “right action” and “wrong action”, for neither exists. Truly I am Shiva, the one Absolute and Supreme Self. How, then, can I worship and to whom should I bow?
Going back to the first verse, all things in the perceivable universe are but the play of maya; the creative energy that allows the one, undivided Self to appear as a world of form and division. The presence or absence of maya, of this manifest universe, does not affect the Self in any way. It always and ever remains the same, both immanent in that it is the form and substance of all things, and yet transcendent in that it is not limited or modified by those things. That’s why it is always free, and why, by returning our deepest sense of identification to that Self, we ourselves can ‘become’ free by realising that, but for thoughts of ignorance in the mind, we were never actually bound.
27. For the Self, at the Absolute order of reality, there exists no versified knowledge of any kind. But while apparently occupying the state of worldly existence, I, the Avadhuta, have shared this knowledge of the Self.