QUESTION: If, according to
Vedic philosophy, the world is an illusion, why bother with Jyotish?
It is true that the Upanishads, Puran, etc., describe the world, the universe, including all sentient beings, as an illusion, much like a dream. From the perspective of Vedanta, while the creation may seem real, it is but a temporary manifestation of a deeper, unseen 'Reality'. In its unmanifest state, this Reality is termed variously the 'Absolute', the 'Self', 'Paramatman', and 'Parabrahman'. When manifesting as the creation, the Absolute functions as ‘Universal Consciousness’, or ‘Universal Life Force’. In whatever state, the Absolute remains unchanged, much as water remains water whether as a liquid, steam, or ice.
Within the manifest creation, numberless sentient, conscious beings continuously arise and disappear¾ like waves on the surface of an ocean. Among these, Human beings are unique in that through them awareness of the Absolute can happen.
We experience consciousness as a sense of beingness or knowingness, a self-awareness which tells us that we are. It is a sense of presence, or ‘I-am-ness’, that illumines our daily waking and dream states. Totally dependent upon the condition of the physical system, consciousness is dimmed or lost if the system is tired or sick or dies.
Human consciousness, which appears spontaneously (and inexplicably) some time after the body is born, is simply the Universal Consciousness conditioned and narrowed by the mental and physical constraints of the human organism, due to which it 'forgets' its universal and Absolute nature, and assumes itself to be merely the single, separate form it occupies. Differing from the Absolute Universal Consciousness in scope but not essence, normal human consciousness is much like a thimble of water dipped from the ocean.
As the human organism matures, the notion of a 'person', having a mind, ego, self-will, history, and destiny, is developed through cultural and psychological conditioning. Also, the organism exhibits unique genetic attributes that serve to further define it as an 'individual'. Gradually, the concept that 'I am this person having this body and these characteristics, who was born to these parents on this date in this place, and who will one day die' becomes so strongly fixed in Consciousness that all apperception of its Absolute nature is obliterated.
This mistaken identification by the Universal Consciousness with an imaginary person in a temporary body is known in the Vedic tradition as maya, or ignorance. In this state, Consciousness, identified completely with the limited capabilities of a body, mind, and intellect, dismisses any suggestion that its true nature is unborn, undying, formless, and eternal. It regards the unreal world as real, and the Real (the Absolute) as imaginary.
As one sage has described it, the spell of maya is a kind of 'Divine Hypnosis', a power of suggestion which Consciousness, functioning through the mind, cannot resist. It is as if an actor in a play has forgotten his true identity and regards himself to be the character he is playing. In truth, the character is but a fictional creation that does not, nor ever did, exist. Even the play is not real, but a conceptualization that will end only when the identified Consciousness awakens to its eternal, Absolute nature. In fact, there is only one actor¾ the Absolute, manifesting as Universal Consciousness, which is not only playing all the characters, but is scripting, directing, producing, and witnessing the play of creation.
Nevertheless, driven by the illusion of maya, the identified Consciousness believes that both the person and the world are real, and it goes about 'living' a life, compelled by an imagined sense of volition and personal doership (self-will, ego). It busies itself conceptualizing a personal world, and ideating numberless, inter-related, interpretive values¾ right and wrong, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, heaven and hell, and so on. It creates numerous imaginary, mental realities among which it must choose, but which, in fact, are completely illusory. At first exhilarating and enjoyable, promising purpose and fulfillment, the task is a mirage that ultimately produces nothing but frustration, disappointment, and suffering. The world, which initially appeared so varied and beautiful, becomes a nightmarish creation of shifting conceptions which the identified Consciousness struggles to resolve, and which produce unceasing, alternating emotions of love, hate, anger, fear, pride, greed, etc. Meanwhile, its true Absolute nature, which is undying and eternal, and which if realized would instantly bring contentment and peace, remains hidden.
The situation culminates when the Consciousness, exhausted from suffering in the (albeit imaginary) world, turns its attention back upon Itself, back upon its own sense of I-am-ness. Through repeated 'meditations' upon Itself, the Consciousness eventually subsides into Itself, transcending the mind and the world to realize its own unborn, undying, eternal nature. This moment of understanding is not merely intellectual comprehension, but a deep, irreversible, intuitive perception in which the human identification is irretrievably shattered and the Absolute universality regained. It is a moment known variously as 'Liberation', 'Enlightenment', and 'Self-Realization'.
Freed from a compulsive absorption with an imaginary person, the Consciousness now abides in peace in its Absolute state. Although the body, mind, and personality continue to function, they are no longer the principal focus of Consciousness, but are 'witnessed' without any sense of binding identification. The confining, torturous notion of 'I am this person in this body in this life', which once occupied every waking moment, recedes so far into the background as to almost disappear. In this respect, Enlightenment can be understood to mean freedom from the person, freedom from the 'me', freedom from the imaginary characters we think we are.
Jyotish is an aspect of Vedanta that describes the life and destiny of the fictional, embodied person who is 'born' and will 'die'. The purpose of Jyotish is to relieve the suffering of the identified Consciousness which, ignorant of its true nature, is unable to ignore the Navras (nine tastes or expressions of life) and other feelings such as hunger, fear, pain, greed, etc. Until awakening occurs, the identified Consciousness, deluded by maya into thinking itself a person, must follow the rules of life, earning honestly, fulfilling duty to family, society, and God (all imaginary conceptions). Jyotish aids by identifying opportunities and obstacles in the imaginary world, thereby preventing or reducing much physical and psychological pain and anguish. Only when the identified Consciousness awakens to its true nature and realizes that the entity with which it has identified is imaginary and non-existent, does all need for Jyotish drop away.
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