Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 15 Jul 2019


Monism and the Vedantic Unification

Note: This article is meant for intellectuals only

Shri Phani asked: In Your response given to Smt. Rama Sundari, You have explained that monism between God and an ordinary soul is possible only in the highly limited sense of equal entertainment in happiness and misery. You have clearly stated that, in a strict sense, dualism alone exists between God and an ordinary soul. In that case, how can You correlate the philosophies of the three divine preachers?

Quantitative Difference Between God and Soul

Swami replied: O Learned and Devoted Servants of God! In the previous discourse, I gave the example of a highly limited monism between you and friend. This monism is only partial. It is actually negligible and is restricted only to the aspect of equally enjoying the different types of dishes in the meal. Just because you have attained this negligible monism with your friend in this one aspect, you must not forget the dualism that exists between the two of you in the aspects of purchasing the food materials and cooking the food. A movie is playing on the screen and the producer-cum-director of the movie is enjoying the show of his movie along with his peon who is also sitting by his side. In the single aspect of enjoying both the comic and tragic scenes of the movie, the producer-director and peon are equal. But the peon should not misunderstand this negligible partial similarity to be a total monism or total equality. If the peon, under the illusion of total equality, were to put his hand around the shoulder of his boss, the producer-director, would it be proper? The boss is always the master whereas the peon is his servant. The partial similarity does not even bring total equality between the two, let alone bringing oneness or monism in an absolute sense.

The relationship between a realized soul and God was said to be such a partial similarity by Rāmānuja. He described the relationship as a part-whole relationship, where the soul is a part and God is the Whole. He called it the Amsha-Amshi or Shesha-Sheshi sambandha. Note that this relationship can only be accepted in the case of a realized soul who actually enjoys the world with God-like equal-mindedness. It cannot be accepted in the case of an ordinary soul who cannot enjoy the world with equal-mindedness. Madhva said that the relationship between God and the soul always remains the same Master-servant relationship. He did accept a trace of similarity between God and the soul in that, according to Him, both God and soul are awareness. It is important to note that God’s original nature is not awareness since He is unimaginable, while awareness is imaginable. However, the three divine preachers agreed on one common point that God is awareness. This point is true in the sense that God can be said to be Unimaginable Awareness. This Unimaginable Awareness of God is fundamentally different from the awareness of the soul. The soul’s awareness is imaginable since it is a product of energy passing through the physical nervous system. On the other hand, the mechanism of generation of God’s awareness is unimaginable. Yet, both can be said to be awareness in the sense that both can know. Thus, in this aspect of the ability to know, there is a similarity between God and a soul. This point will be discussed in detail further.

Rāmānuja looked at the qualitative similarity between God and soul while simultaneously noting the quantitative difference between them. Therefore, He compared God to the whole body and the soul to its limb. Madhva only looked at the difference between God and the soul. Treating that difference to be the reality, He neglected the one similarity of both being awareness. Such a view had also been expressed earlier by Shankara in a prayer written by Him on God Jagannātha (Satyapi bhedaapagame...) in which He addressed God as His master (Naatha). He compared Himself to a wave and God to the ocean. Shankara knew that the difference between God and the soul was predominant and that the similarity between them was negligible. The similarity is that both have awareness. It is like saying that the master and the servant are similar because both are human beings. In spite of that similarity, the difference in the potencies of the master and the servant is large. In the case of God and the soul, the difference in their potencies is infinite. God is omnipotent, while the soul has very little power. The only point of similarity between the two is awareness, which simply means the ability to know. But even in the knowledge possessed by the two, there is a vast quantitative difference since God is omniscient while the soul knows very little. Over and above this quantitative difference, there is also a fundamental difference related to the awareness of the two. God is Unimaginable Awareness, whereas the soul is imaginable awareness.

Comparing an Animal, a Sage and God

An animal is also imaginable awareness since it has a very basic ability to know. But a realized sage has a lot deeper knowledge. In a loose sense, we could say that there is monism between the animal and the sage based on the qualitative similarity that they both are awareness. But huge difference in the extents of their knowledge must also be accepted as a quantitative dissimilarity. Further, between the sage and omniscient God, there is an infinite quantitative difference. Then is it not ridiculous to claim that there is a strict monism between an animal and God? How can I control My laughter at your utterly ridiculous claim? If you had at least claimed monism in a loose sense between an animal and a sage, I could have perhaps controlled My laughter. But saying that there is a strict monism between an animal and God is the most foolish and laughable statement!

In both the sage and the animal, there is a basic qualitative similarity that the knower in both is relative awareness. Relative awareness means the awareness which is a product of inert energy passing through the nervous system. So, between the animal and the sage, there is a qualitative similarity in terms of the common basic awareness, even though there is a quantitative difference between the two. The quantitative difference lies in the extents of knowledge possessed by their respective awarenesses. It means that the potencies of the awareness present in the animal and the sage are different. Thus, between the animal and the sage, there is at least a qualitative similarity in spite of a quantitative difference. But the unimaginable God and the ordinary soul are totally different from each other. The awareness of the former is unimaginable whereas the awareness of the latter is imaginable. In fact, the imaginable awareness, which itself is the soul, is a form of inert energy.

The Seer-Seeing-Seen Triad

In the process of knowing or seeing, there are three components and they are: (1) the knower or the subject, (2) the process of knowing and (3) the known or the object of the process of knowing. Thus, in the process of knowing, there is a triad of the subject-process-object or knower-knowing-known. The process of knowing is also sometimes indicated by the word seeing, in which case, the triad is said to be seer-seeing-seen. The seer (knower), who is the subject, is called the druk or the drashtaa. It is the awareness which is a work-form of the inert energy in the nervous system. The process of seeing (knowing) is called drushti. It is also a work-form of the inert energy. Thus, we find that the seer and the seeing are one and the same. The druk and drushti are the same. The seer and the process of seeing, which are work, are both basically the same dynamic energy. Energy is characterized by dynamism.

The seen object is called drushyam, which is matter. Matter is characterized by its static nature and it appears to be different from energy, which is dynamic. But matter too is a form of energy since both are interconvertible as per science. So, even the static matter is the dynamic energy, after all. The dynamism in matter is not perceived because it is subtle. We only perceive its gross static nature. That is why matter appears static while energy appears dynamic. Matter is made of atoms. But hidden behind the static appearance of the atoms of matter is a highly condensed dynamic nature involving the revolving and spinning of the subatomic particles. Dynamism is the nature of energy. Thus, we realize that matter is ultimately energy in a hidden way.

Two-Level Illusion

The static nature of matter is only an illusion, while its real nature is found to be dynamic energy. In fact, the absolute truth of the entire imaginable domain is only this dynamic energy. This energy, which is the essence of creation, can also be said to be the unimaginable God in a hidden way. We say that energy is the creator of matter. But God is the Creator of energy. Note that God is the absolute phase, which is the unimaginable domain whereas creation is the relative phase or the imaginable domain. Since God is unimaginable, it might be difficult to understand how He could be the cause of the imaginable creation. Fortunately, even within the imaginable domain, absolute and relative sub-phases exist. They help us understand the relation between the absolute unimaginable domain and the relative imaginable domain. The unimaginable God is the absolute reality upon which inert energy is the superimposed illusion. This inert energy is the imaginable domain. Now, within the imaginable domain, energy is the absolute reality. Matter is an illusion superimposed upon this energy. These two illusions involve superimpositions at two different levels—energy on God and matter on energy. They are divine illusions (maayaa) created by God for the soul and the soul can never cross them.

A person sees a rope in dim light and thinks it is a snake. The rope is real while the snake is an illusion. The snake is created by the person himself. The cause of the illusion is the ignorance of the person, which is called avidyaa. The soul can cross the illusion created by its own ignorance or avidyaa. But the same soul cannot cross the illusion created by God using His power, called maayaa. The false illusory snake produced by the soul’s avidyaa, does not appear as clear as a real snake in bright daylight. But the illusory snake produced by God’s maayaa appears very real and clear to the soul as if seeing a real snake in bright daylight. God is the rope, which is the absolute unimaginable phase, which is the reality. The soul is neither the rope itself as per the philosophy of monism nor is it a part of the rope, as per the philosophy of special monism. The soul is only a part of the false snake (imaginable creation). Hence, the false snake (creation) can never be unreal for the soul, which also is part of the snake.

The soul is neither already God nor does it ever become God by its own wish of effort. But God can become the soul when God wishes so. This happens when God merges with the soul leading to perfect monism with that particular soul. Even though there is perfect monism between God and the soul in an Incarnation from our point of view, an extremely subtle dualism between God and the soul exists. But this subtle difference is beyond the limits of our imagination. Hence, confining ourselves to our limits of imagination, we have to say that when God becomes a soul (Incarnation), there is perfect monism between God and that soul. Both these illusions of God appearing as energy and energy appearing as matter exist even for God as long as He wishes. Although they are illusions, they provide Him real entertainment. But both the illusions disappear for God whenever God wishes to perform a miracle. Hence, the state of the non-existence of matter and energy and the state of the existence of matter and energy can both exist simultaneously for God. The state of the non-existence of matter and energy can never exist for a soul.

God as Unimaginable Awareness

When we call God as unimaginable awareness, we must realize that awareness is an extremely dangerous word. In a fraction of a second, it can mislead us into thinking that God is energy. In the case of an ordinary soul, we have the triad of knower-knowing-known or seer-seeing-seen. In this triad, the knower and knowing are both the same awareness. Awareness is both the process and the subject and this awareness is basically inert energy. Extending this same concept to God, we might misunderstand that that since God is awareness, both God as well as His process of knowing must be forms of energy. This is a huge misunderstanding! Alas, God was thinking even before He created inert energy! Inert energy was absent before its creation by God. Hence, awareness, which is a work form of the energy, must also be absent before the creation of energy. Then, how could God, the subject-form of awareness, have done the process of thinking, which is the work-form of awareness? So, you have to say that before creation, in the absence of inert energy and the awareness produced from the energy, both God and His thinking are unimaginable. This means that the unimaginable God need not be the subjective awareness and the working awareness in order to think. The unimaginable God can think without awareness, simply due to His unimaginable omnipotence. When I say that God thought in such and such manner, you should simply understand that that God thought in this manner. You should not bring in the concept of awareness here since awareness has no place at all before the creation of its cause, which is inert energy. The word awareness is born only after inert energy is created and matter in the form of a material nervous system is created.

When the first pot was not even created in the entire creation, how can you use the word ‘pot’? Hence, in the state before creation, the word ‘awareness’ does not exist at all. In that state, only one item exists and that is the unimaginable God. Hence, if you are talking about the state or condition before creation, there is only word you can say and that is ‘God’ (unimaginable God). When we say that the unimaginable God thought before creation, that thought is also the unimaginable God Himself. This is because there cannot be a second item—the thought—other than God in the unimaginable domain. Any attempt to define multiple unimaginable items ultimately ends up in the one and only unimaginable item, God. The unimaginable God thought before creation. In that case, both the subject, God (druk) and the process of thinking (drushti), which is commonly called awareness, are both the same unimaginable God. We can use the word ‘Awareness’ or ‘Unimaginable Awareness’ to indicate God and His process of thinking, but it ultimately means the single unimaginable God. One thing must be understood clearly and it is that from the angle of the subject or from the angle of the process (work), the unimaginable God is not the relative awareness that is found in the imaginable creation. The awareness found in the imaginable world is imaginable as it is the imaginable work-form of the imaginable inert energy functioning in the imaginable material nervous system. One cannot even dream of equating this relative awareness or the soul with the unimaginable God, who existed alone before creation without any second item like awareness.

Absolute and Relative Realities

This omnipotent unimaginable God can see the non-existent world as if it were real and existent in order to get full and real entertainment. Making the non-existent appear real and existent is impossible for the soul but it is possible for God due to His unimaginable omnipotence. Due to the same unimaginable omnipotence, He enters into His own creation and merges with a certain soul. That soul acts as His medium to become the mediated God or an Incarnation. This process of entry and merging of the unimaginable God with a medium is also beyond our logic. A false snake, which is an illusion superimposed on a rope at twilight, can never appear as clear as a real snake seen in bright daylight. But God is seeing the non-existent world as if it were absolutely clear and existent. He is also getting full and real entertainment watching the world. There is no way to explain this other than God’s unimaginable omnipotence. Furthermore, the real rope cannot enter into the false snake, but the real God enters into the non-existent world as an Incarnation. Here too, the unimaginable potency of God is necessary to explain this phenomenon.

Therefore, you cannot use the word ‘awareness’ in the absolute phase, which is the state before creation. In the absolute phase, you can use only one term and that is ‘unimaginable God’. Even when you use the term ‘Unimaginable Awareness’, it only means unimaginable God and nothing else. You cannot say the awareness exists as a portion in the unimaginable God because, in an unimaginable item, even internal differences (svagata bheda) cannot be accepted. Hence, the Unimaginable Awareness also becomes identical with the unimaginable God, which is the single unimaginable item. This makes it clear that the Unimaginable Awareness cannot mean the relative imaginable awareness, which is called soul.

Practically, you, as a soul, stand in the relative phase alone. You may speak about the absolute phase, but it does not mean that you are speaking about absolute phase standing in the absolute phase. Here, the absolute phase strictly means the unimaginable God and that too, strictly the state before creation alone. You cannot even call the unimaginable God in the present state after creation as the absolute phase. You might be tempted to say that since God is always the absolute existent reality and creation, including all souls, are non-existent with respect to Him, the unimaginable God in the present state is also the absolute phase. But the important point here is that after creating the world, God has made creation absolutely real and existent using His unimaginable omnipotence. At present, it is equally real and existent as God Himself. This is necessary to provide Him real and complete entertainment. Creation remains real and existent to God as long as He wishes and He converts it to its unreal state only when He performs miracles. Thus, there is a difference between the condition before creation, when only the unimaginable God existed and the present condition, when apart from the unimaginable God, creation, which has been granted an equal reality also exists. Essentially, there is no difference between the two conditions but an external superficial difference exists by the will of God. So, strictly speaking, the absolute phase refers to the condition before creation and not to the condition after creation. Even though the same absolute phase exists in essence, even after creation, owing the external difference, the two conditions are treated to be different.

Let Me give an example. Light is an inert form of inert energy and awareness is a non-inert form of the same inert energy. Essentially, both light and awareness are one and the same, but they differ in the external form in that light is inert while awareness is non-inert. How did the inert energy become the non-inert awareness? How did the dynamic energy become the static matter? It is an illusion. The non-inert nature of awareness is also an illusion just like the static nature of the matter.

Awareness Means Control and Freedom

In reality, non-inert nature means having full control and full freedom. God has only given a little control and little freedom to the soul, which is actually inert but which appears as relative imaginable awareness, so that it can be differentiated from fully inert items. This enables God to teach souls the difference between non-inert and inert items. The soul can move its hand, but, it cannot move a paralysed hand. Involuntary process in the body such as the beating of the heart cannot be controlled by the soul in any case. This shows that the soul has only a restricted control and freedom. The unimaginable God, on the other hand, has full freedom and full control over any imaginable item, be it an inert item or a non-inert item. Hence, the soul is basically inert (Ajna) even though superficially, it appears to be non-inert (Alpajna).

A wise person would never get misled by the common word ‘awareness’ and would never even dare to compare the imaginable awareness with the Unimaginable Awareness. This is because both the subject (druk) as well as the process (drushti) are totally unimaginable in the case of the Unimaginable Awareness whereas in the case of the imaginable awareness, both the subject and the process are imaginable (energy). How then can anyone even dream of equating the imaginable awareness with the Unimaginable Awareness? God is the Unimaginable Awareness as the subject and as the work (process of knowing) while the object (drushyam) can be imaginable when God is seeing the world. If the object of God’s seeing is also Himself, then all the three items in the triad namely the seer, the seeing and the seen are unimaginable. In the case of the imaginable awareness, i.e., in the case of a soul, even if the object (drushyam) is oneself, all the three items in the triad are essentially the imaginable inert energy. When God sees the world, only the seen (object) becomes imaginable. When the soul sees the world, all the three are imaginable.

Comparing a Soul with an Incarnation

In an Incarnation, the unimaginable God has entered and merged with the soul. The soul is a part of the imaginable creation but it is non-inert and it acts as the medium God. God identifies with that particular medium, which is also called the mediated God. The mediated God or Incarnation has both an external imaginable nature and an internal unimaginable nature, which is the unimaginable God. When we approach the Incarnation, He may reveal the hidden unimaginable nature whenever there is a necessity. Otherwise, He may only express the imaginable nature of the soul, in which case, the unimaginable God who is merged into the Incarnation’s soul will remain hidden. In the Incarnation, God does not use His unimaginable omnipotence to view the world because He can view the world through the soul’s imaginable process of seeing. Not using an unnecessary amount of power in any situation is the quality of a good administrator. The finger of Krishna was as tender as the finger of any other boy. But when the occasion of lifting the Govardhana hill arose, the unimaginable nature of God entered the finger to lift the hill. God’s unimaginable nature extended all over Krishna’s body to withstand the weight of the hill.

If you want to compare a soul with God in the aspect of their common ability to equally enjoy both happiness and misery, you must strictly follow two conditions. The first condition is that the soul being compared must be a realised soul and not any ordinary soul. The second condition is that the comparison must be made only with the mediated God and not the original unimaginable God before creation. Following these two conditions makes the comparison valid. If your basis of comparison is the imaginable relative awareness then this relative awareness is common to all souls as well as the mediated God. Here, awareness simply means the ability to know. All souls have this awareness. So, on the basis of this basic awareness, you can compare the omniscient mediated God, a saint having lot of knowledge, an ordinary human soul having a little knowledge and an animal having just the basic awareness. In any case, you should never compare any type of soul with the unimaginable God before creation (Parabrahman).

The basic quality of awareness, which is to know a little, can be treated to be almost negligible. It can be treated as absence of knowledge. Hence, the Veda says that the soul is inert (Ajna) and does not even know a little (Alpajna) whereas God being all-knowing is actually awareness (jna). Awareness can truly be considered to be awareness if it has full control and full freedom (Iisha). An inert item has neither freedom nor control over the other (Aniisha). The soul or awareness of a human being has negligible knowledge, negligible freedom and negligible control over the body. God, on the other hand, has full knowledge, full freedom and full control over the body of any living being or non-living item in creation (Jna Ajnau...; Iisha Aniishau —Veda).

The negligible similarity between a soul and God in just one aspect which is the basic property of awareness, can never bring a total and strict monism between the awareness of both. Moreover, the awareness of God is unimaginable. It is not the imaginable awareness which is the work-form of inert energy functioning in nervous system. Unimaginable Awareness means that it is not the work-form of inert energy at all. It is called as awareness because God, the single unimaginable item, also knows and knowing is the basic property of awareness. But this unimaginable item (God) can do the work of thinking even though it is not the imaginable awareness. Similarly, it can also burn things without being the imaginable fire and so on. The difference between the imaginable and unimaginable awareness is total because the imaginable awareness is a work-form of the imaginable inert energy whereas the Unimaginable Awareness is totally unimaginable. Shri Datta Swami says that the very attempt of comparing the two is meaningless because a comparison is possible only between two imaginable items.

The Undifferentiated Unimaginable Domain

No difference whatsoever can be accepted between two unimaginable items. The types of differences between any two items are said to be Sajaatiiya, Vijaatiiya and svagata. Sajaatiiya differences are the differences that exist between similar items or items that belong to the same category. Vijaatiiya differences are the differences between two dissimilar items or items belonging to different categories. Svagata differences are internal differences between the parts of the same item. None of these types of differences can be accepted between two unimaginable items. This means that you cannot have two similar or dissimilar unimaginable items. It means that in the absolute phase, there cannot be a second God similar to the unimaginable God. There also cannot be any second item other than the unimaginable God and no internal parts of that single unimaginable God can be differentiated. The absolute phase or the unimaginable domain can only be a single undifferentiated homogenous phase. This absolute phase itself is called the unimaginable God. The world including souls is non-existent with respect to that single existent unimaginable God. Applying our worldly logic to this absolute phase, we can say that the non-existent soul can never become the existent God and vice-versa. It is like saying that the real rope can neither become the false snake nor can the false snake become the real rope. In an absolute sense, this remains true and it is the reality of the absolute phase. Yet the omnipotent unimaginable God, being beyond the worldly logic, becomes a specific imaginable soul by merging with it. The soul into which the unimaginable God has merged is called the Incarnation. In our limited language belonging to the relative phase, we could also say that that specific imaginable soul has become the unimaginable God.

In the phase of the relative reality, the world around you is existent to you. The same world is non-existent to God in an absolute sense. But it is existent to you because, being a soul, you too are equally non-existent as the world, from God’s point of view. The absolutely existent God identifies with a soul which is non-existent to Him to become the mediated God. The mediated God is very much existent to the soul in the phase of the relative reality. Shankara twisted facts when He said that soul, which is non-existent from an absolute point of view, itself is the absolutely existent unimaginable God. This twisting of facts was necessary to convert atheists to theists. Actually, from an absolute point of view, anything other than God is non-existent and hence, you, the soul, also become non-existent. If the word ‘youor ‘soul’ has been mentioned in the absolute phase, that ‘you’ or ‘soul’ must be God. But it does not mean that you are God. It only means that the meaning of the word ‘you’ must be God alone because we have already seen that there can be nothing other than God in the phase of the absolute reality. Any item, indicated by any word in the absolute phase, must only mean God. In the absolute reality, you, the soul who is different from God are non-existent. You, with your individuality can only be mentioned in the relative phase. You can never enter the absolute phase of reality. In contrast, the omnipotent God can enter the relative reality by identifying Himself with a relative item of the world to become the mediated God.

Different Standpoints of the Three Preachers

Shankara’s standpoint was the absolute phase of reality. From that standpoint, the meaning of any word becomes only God. Hence, He said “The soul is indeed God (Jiivo Brahmaiva)”. The word ‘soul’ as implied by Him is God Himself. Shankara’s statement was justified because He was an Incarnation of God and He was speaking from His absolute point of view. But His point of view does not apply to the soul. Ramanuja and Madhva were Incarnations of the angels Adishesha and Vaayu, who are devoted souls. In their philosophy, they only spoke about the relative reality, which pertains to the soul. God, as described in their philosophies, is not the absolute unimaginable God, but is only the mediated God. As souls, they were speaking from their point of view.

If you have already become the absolute unimaginable God through the process of Incarnation like Shankara, you can follow the path of monism. If you are a created soul which is a tiny part of the relative creation, you should follow the path of Ramanuja and Madhva. You are in the path of Shankara if you are already the mediated God, which means that you are an Incarnation of the absolute God. You are in the path of Ramanuja and Madhva if you have realized that you are a created soul and not the mediated God, who is the Creator of the universe. The philosophy of Shankara is the absolute truth, which is applicable only to a specific soul, called an Incarnation. The philosophy of Ramanuja and Madhva applies to all ordinary souls wishing for the grace of God. The Advaita philosophers must distinguish the absolute phase of reality and the relative phase of reality in order to avoid confusing themselves and confusing others. Ramanuja never criticized Shankara. He only criticized the followers of Shankara. Had Ramanuja criticized Shankara, it would have meant that He criticized Himself since He too was an Incarnation of God, who was behaving like a devotee.