The knowledge of Brahman that is Ishvara


Gloria Arieira

August 2019

The knowledge of Brahman is the main topic of the knowledge that is called Vedanta. But knowing Brahman, however, includes knowing Íshvara, which is Brahman through Maya, the power that makes everything happen. This power is said to be 'na satyam, mithyá iti', 'not real, apparent or apparently real', but it has a reality that cannot be denied. This power, called Maya, cannot be asserted as asat, non-existent. To understand it is to understand the entire universe, which is to understand jiva, the individual.


Íshvara is jagat-karanam, the cause of the universe, but at the same time it is its body and cosmic expression. His body is the size of the entire universe - all vast space, air, fire, water and earth, including the sun and the moon, all the stars and planets, and all the various kinds of living beings. It also includes the laws governing the expressions and motions intrinsic to the universe, and the law governing the operation of all laws: laws of fire, water, heavenly bodies, winds, seasons, days, mind, the acquisition of knowledge, the emotions, the attractions and repulsions at the different levels. These laws do not change; they are the same since the universe exists; they are constant and so they can be studied and known. Knowledge of them is what is called science.


And for any creation to happen, even the creation of a simple clay pot, intelligence is needed, which can be found in an intelligent being. Jiva, the individual, is an intelligent being, but with limited power. The being responsible for the creation of the whole universe has to be intelligent, for all its creation is relevant, and have unlimited power, unlike jiva. This intelligent being is called in Ishvara in Vedanta. It is not a person, as jiva is. It is a cosmic whole whose form is the totality of the universe. This is why it cannot be seen, nor imagined by a human mind. The human mind is unable to conceive of the cosmic totality that is Ishvara. So all that exists and the laws that keep this whole functioning in compliance with its own laws is Ishvara, which of course includes jiva.


Understanding this is important. The consequence of this understanding is to realize the coherent, impersonal and incorruptible wholeness that always functions within its working pattern (with rules and possible exceptions). And as such, it can be trusted that it works fairly. Always. If the individual perceives this larger order that keeps several other orders in perfect working order, impersonally, the individual finds that it can be trusted. This is because it is the law that is infallible.


As Sri Swami Dayananda said: “God is not infallible. The infallible is God.” We have to understand the difference between the two statements. One cannot elect a God and say that he is infallible. But when we recognize what does not fail, the order that keeps the various laws in operation, without possible failure, we can name this intelligent cosmic order God. It is in this understanding by which confidence and relaxation is born in the individual. It is only upon this understanding that life – physical, emotional and intellectual – can be lived with balance and peace.


The wisdom of acting in the world is in the constant capacity for rebalancing, not in the rigor of attachment to a particular action. It's like a roly-poly doll that rocks back and forth, but always returns to its plumb line. The duality of life and the constant unexpected and unwanted situations throw the person back and forth, but one can be rebalanced by recognizing the Order which is Ishvara.


In Sanskrit we have two words that mean law, order. The laws of men, which are subject to change of time, place and particularities, is niyama. And the laws of the universe, which are the same and maintained by a great law that keeps the whole universe cohesive, in order, which is sharp, the unchanging order that is Íshvara.


In order to better or more easily relate to Íshvara, whose form we cannot conceive, the Vedas lead us to see him in different ways, through the various aspects that compose him. These aspects, expressions of the whole that is Íshvara, are called devas and devís. Through specific forms our mind can visualize Íshvara. But if we think that each should or should be separate or different from Íshvara, our view will be flawed, partial. If we can recognize that all forms are included in the whole that is Isvara, the vision of devas and devis will help us. At first, there will be religion with a specific concept of god; in the second, a fuller and deeper understanding of god. And, finally, it may lead to the realization of Brahman's unchanging reality and, consequently, to the understanding of the perishable and changing reality that is Isvara, through the power to create, maintain and transform that is Maya. The expression of Maya has beauty and enchantment. What is unchanging, but at the same time the basic truth of all that exists, is Brahman – the one who has no form or qualities is nirguna and arúpa, and at the same time is inherent in all that exists.

Om tat sat

Gloria Arieira