[Advaita-l] About the term in 'Ishwara' in Advaita - a brief note

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Apr 3 12:28:05 CDT 2012

We had some time ago observed that the word 'Ishwara' has not just one
meaning in Advaita/Vedanta. Contextually it takes different meanings and
that is the reason why we have to keep the global vision while trying to
understand the meaning in specific instances.

Here, in the IshaavAsyopanishat we have the opening mantra:

*ईशा वास्यमिदं* सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत्

Here the word 'Ishwara' occurs.  In the bhashya Shankara says:

ईशा ईष्ट इति ईट् तेनेशा । ईशिता परमेश्वरः परमात्मा सर्वस्य । स हि
सर्वमीष्टे सर्वजन्तूनामात्मा सन् प्रत्यगात्मतया तेन स्वेन रूपेणात्मना ईशा
वास्यम् आच्छादनीयम्।

किम् ? इदं सर्वं यत्किञ्च यत्किञ्चित् जगत्यां पृथिव्यां जगत् तत्सर्वं
स्वेनात्मना ईशेन प्रत्यगात्मतया अहमेवेदं सर्वम् इति परमार्थसत्यरूपेण
अनृतमिदं सर्वं चराचरम् आच्छानीयं स्वेन परमात्मना ।

Here Shankara first says that Ishwara is the ruler.  He is the paramAtmA of
all.  He indeed rules everything being the Self of every being, being the
innermost Self of all.  Shankara makes a key shift in the commentary: tena
svena rUpeNa AtmanA IshA ...by this one's true nature that is the Self
which is the Isha is this entire world be covered.

Now, Shankara comes to the word 'covering'.  All that exists in this world
is to be seen/realized/known/viewed as one's own self, being, as 'I indeed
is all this' in 'its nature of the absolute truth', all this consisting of
the moving and the unmoving is unreal.  So, the 'covering of all this world
by Ishwara' means, according to Shankara, the realization that all this is
unreal when viewed from the absolute standpoint.  And what then is all
this? Shankara says: all this is my innermost Self.  Thus, in the
non-paramArtha sense all this is unreal.  In their pAramArthic, absolute
nature, all this is nothing other than the Self, the pure Consciousness.
There is no point in the shruti/shankara teaching us that we are all this
perishable nAmarUpa objects. Shankara does not bring the saguNa Ishwara
concept at all here in this commentary.

One can see the extremely close similarity between this bhashyam and the BG
bhashyam for 15.17:

*éçvaraù *sarvajïo näräyaëäkhya éçana-çélaù

In the BG wherever the Lord says 'knowing Me, he who knows Me, etc. attains
liberation/My state, etc.' one has to take that 'Me' as nirguNa chaitanyam
alone and not the saguNa nArAyaNa.  We keep the Mandukya segregation (sixth
and seventh mantras) in mind.  Shankara comments, as  quoted above, for
this verse, keeping in tune with the BG method of portraying the Supreme.
It is the kevala chaitanyam, too, Shankara specifically says in this
bhashya itself: svakIyayA *chaitanyabalashaktyA, svarUpasadbhAvamAtreNa

In Advaita all action, both at the micro and the macro level, takes place
due to the* mere presence of the Pure Consciousness* (see the underlined
portion in the paragraph above).  It is due to Its 'prasAda' which means
none other than mere presence do things happen.  So, 'IshanashIlaH' can and
does mean in Advaita the one Pure Consciousness, that by mere presence
makes things happen.  And how does this happen? Due to mAyA. This Pure
Consciousness does not even have a sankalpa that things should happen.  Nor
even does It really 'support or bear' the universe.  The word 'dhAryate' of
the BG 7.5 and the word 'bibharti' of the BG 15.17 mean the same.  It is
the parA prakRti that is spoken of in both places.  One can see that the
IshAvAsya upanishat too talks about this parA prakRti alone, according to
the Bhashya, when it comes to 'covering' the entire creation.  'Covering'
is our ideal realization and 'bearing' / 'supporting' is from the point of
view of Brahman.  There is no point in 'covering' the constantly changing
and perishing world of objects by anything, whether it is the saguna
Ishwara or the nirguNa Brahman that covers.

The word 'sarvajna' used by Shankara in the BGB 15.17 too poses no
difficulty for this word is commented upon by Shankara Himself in the
Gaudapada kArikA [3.36 ] as 'sarvam tat jnasvarUpam cha'  that is, 'It is
everything (in its essential nature) and Consciousness too at the same

In the Taittiriya bhashyam for 'सोऽश्नुते सर्वान् कामान् सह ब्रह्मणा
विपश्चितेति’ Shankara writes: विपष्चिता मेधाविना सर्वज्ञेन । तद्धि
वैपशिचित्यम्, यत्सर्वज्ञत्वम् । तेन सर्वज्ञस्वरूपेण ब्रह्मणा अश्नुते ।’
Here, the context is the aspirant realizing his true self and 'enjoying all
desires along with the intelligent Brahman'.  Shankara comments that
'enjoying with this *intelligent Brahman *means: the intelligent, *sarvajna,
brahman*'.  We should not take this 'sarvajna' to be omniscient in the
sense of the saguNa Ishwara, for, in Advaita, there is no realization of
one's identity with the saguNa omniscient Ishwara nor any bhoga for the
Jnani along with the saguNa Ishwara.  It is with the nirguNa, shuddha
chaitanyam alone.  So, the word sarvajna here in the bhashyam means only
similar to the GK instance quoted above. That is why Shankara says:
sarvajna svarUpeNa.

The word 'Ishwara' occurring in the BG 18.61 (ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां
हृद्देशेऽर्जुन तिष्ठति) too has the above meaning of Pure Consciousness
alone.  In the bhashya we see the word 'IshanashIlaH nArAyaNAkhyaH'
occurring here too.  Even here, it is the shuddha chaitanyam that is
'seated' in everyone's intellect. In BG15.15 too it is as this chaitanyam
alone Ishwara is said to reside in the intellect.  How do we know or say
for sure that such is the case and not the saguNa brahman that is residing
in the intellect of everyone?  For Shankara has clarified in several places
in the Upanishad bhashyam that it is for the purpose of enabling the jiva-s
to realize the Supreme that the Supreme is 'seated' in the intellect.  For,
the Taittiriya Upanishad teaches:  यो वेद निहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन्...He
who realizes the One residing in the cave of the intellect (attains
liberation).  Shankara has stated in several places that only because this
chaitanyam is available in oneself that one is able to wrongly think
oneself to be kartA, bhoktA, vijnAtA, mantA, shrotA, draShTA, etc.  All
these are possible only because this chaitanya saannidhyam is there in the
individual.  Such a possibility is not there in the inert objects.   Surely
this chatianya is not the saguNa Ishwara. For Shankara has strongly argued
in the antaryAmi case that it is the chaitanyam alone that is non-different
from the jiva's true nature that is called the antaryAmi, for Shankara
reasons, there cannot be two chaitanyams in a jiva.

The above was said to point out that the treatment of the word 'Ishwara' in
the scripture and the Bhashya could be somewhat confusing.  The specific
instances I have shown above are cases where the term 'Ishwara' is taken as
shuddha chaitanyam and NOT the saguNa brahman. We have also seen instances
from the BSB, for instance, where Shankara has explicitly negated the
reality of the saguNa brahman (Ishwara/Ishwaratvam) as being valid in the
vyavahArika alone.

Thus only those who have understood the Advaita shastra as per the
sampradaya can correctly identify the manner in which the term Ishwara
occurs and is treated in the scripture/bhashya.  Others who have no such
exposure are bound to take the term 'Ishwara' in an incorrect way and get
confused.  The terms 'nArAyaNa' or 'shiva' too can take either the saguNa
brahman meaning or the nirguNa brahman sense and one has to carefully
understand from the context the correct sense.  There are verses like
'नारायणोऽहं नरकान्तकोऽहम्’ where the Jnani proclaims that he is nArAyaNa,
the destroyer of naraka.  What it means really is that he is none other
than the pure consciousness, the realization of which destroys the naraka
that is samsara.  The same case with 'shivaH kevalo'ham'.  It does not mean
the narayana with conch and discus or the shiva with trishula, parvati,
ganesha and subrahmanya.


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