Don: Hi Vishnu, I read your articles regarding God and atheism in Vedanta with interest. I read in one of your posts that Isvara, (the apparent, manifest brahman) is a matter of speculation. Now I’m assuming by this you mean Isvara as some kind of personalized deity? I may be wrong here, but I always thought that the Vedantic interpretation of Isvara meant the bundle of laws that govern the apparent manifestation (of the universe), not a being as such. Isn’t it the case that Vedanta IS essentially atheistic anyway in the ‘anthropomorphic man in the sky’ sense?
I think the assertion of Isvara as the manifest order is self-evident. We can be fairly confident that the laws which govern the apparent universe serve to benefit the Whole and keep things ticking over in an orderly fashion, just as karma yoga suggests, not least because we can see for ourselves that the universe has been around for 13.8 billion years or so, so it clearly operates in a self-regulating manner which ultimately serves to support the Whole.
Furthermore, the related concept of karma seems reasonable since if we accept the non-dual nature of existence, then whatever you (the apparent you) do to someone or something else, you are essentially doing to yourself, and so at some point the results of that will be experienced.
Swami Dayananda talks about the implicit order we can observe in everything, which is supported by science. So we can observe a psychological order, a physical order etc. And this collective bundle of order is essentially what we mean by Isvara.
Any thoughts you have on this are appreciated!
Vishnu: My thought on the matter is this: I respect your viewpoint even if I don’t agree because I think people are free to believe whatever they want regarding the workings of Isvara, God or the any other aspect of the apparent reality (especially considering that’s what they do anyway). So if you believe that Isvara is a self-evident truth, good. I have no reason to try to convince you otherwise. I write my articles with the idea that people can take or leave whatever they wish. I’m no ultimate authority on matters of belief because belief is purely a personal decision.
I hope that helps.
Otherwise, all of the answers to your questions are contained in the satsangs “Who Knows?” “A Progressive Vedanta” and “Drop the Boat.” If you agree with what I say, that’s fine. If not, that’s also fine. Your peace of mind is the point, not conformity to a certain viewpoint, mine or anyone else’s.
Now I have a question: Is what I’m saying about Isvara causing you some kind of doubt? Is it affecting your self-inquiry? If so, what is that doubt? Please let me know.
Don: I did like your “Drop the Boat” post. It reminded me of an article from a Zen guy, can’t remember who now, but he came to the same conclusion as you, that the last thing he had to let go of was Zen itself! As it was such a beautiful teaching he didn’t want to let go of it, but ultimately, as you found, he realized he had to “drop the boat” so that he could get on and enjoy his life. And of course the teaching wasn’t going anywhere so he could still love it—He just wasn’t attached to it.
Vishnu: That perfectly summarizes what I said!
Don: I think what’s been fueling my original inquiry (rehashed here) is a latent attachment to the concept of god. Upon analyzing this, I think it stems from the concern that the world will be less wonderful or awe-inspiring without. In others words, I’m worried that dropping (belief in) god would lessen my enjoyment of life.
V: In a way I think it can, especially if someone has a generally positive notion of God. In that case, as you said, it may take a bit of awe out of their life. Luckily for those kinds of people, Vedanta never really asks anyone to give up their belief in God. They’re only asked to analyze their belief that they’re fundamentally different from God, whether their idea of God is the stereotypical Man In The Sky or the Collective Bundle Of Order (Isvara) that’s beloved by intellectual leaning Vedantins.
In the relative world, if the Man In The Sky exists, he depends on existence itself to exist. If a Collective Bundle Of Order exists, it depends on existence itself to exist. If an individual person exists, they depend on existence itself to exist. As existence itself (brahman), all three are fundamentally the same. Recognizing that you are brahman and everything you experience is brahman is the point of Vedanta, not getting rid of belief in God. For those who don’t see any reason to give up their belief in God, consider this verse by Shankara:
“Even when I am no longer duality’s slave, O Lord, the truth is that I am yours and you are not mine. The waves may belong to the ocean but the ocean never belongs to the waves.”
– Six Verses to Vishnu V. 3
Shankara recognizes that as pure existence (brahman), he is non-different from the MITS/CBOO. He has non-dual vision. And yet, because the illusion of the world remains, he acknowledges that on the illusory level the difference between the individual person and the totality of the cosmos still obtains. While Shankara fully understands that he’s reality itself, on the level of the apparent individual he still stands in awe of the wonderful and mysterious total. To use a metaphor, a wave (the individual person) is never the ocean (MITS/CBOO) but despite that, both are the same as water (brahman).
Now, I’m not saying what you should or should not believe regarding God. Rather, I’m trying to demonstrate that Vedanta has different options for different people. In other words, this is not a black-and-white one-size-fits all situation. People are free to view the workings of the apparent reality (which includes God) in whatever way makes the most sense to them. After all, the apparent reality is an illusion—How could we come to a definite conclusion about something that isn’t real in the first place?
Don: However, upon further reflection I don’t think that (dropping belief in god) lessens enjoyment of life because the replacement knowledge is even more amazing. What could be more awesome, amazing and beautiful than the knowledge that everything is me? While also being clear that I’m free of it (the apparent world), it’s the very thing that allows me to be free to enjoy it.
Vishnu: Exactly! Understand that you’re brahman. Think of God in whatever way seems most reasonable to you. And most importantly, be happy. If your current belief in God makes you happy, keep it. If not, drop it and find something that does.
All my best – Vishnudeva
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