In the 11th skandha of the Bhagavata Purana, considered to be a condensed version of the Upanishads, the absolute reality — or the reality which is always true in all circumstances for all time — is explained by Krishna to Uddhava:
In the universe a single all-pervasive infinite being is both the creator and the creation. The soul of the universe is the savior and the protector, as well as the giver or taker of ability in all. In truth no being or occurrence can be viewed as different or distinct from that ruling controller over all manifestations in existence.
Therefore the vision of creating, maintaining or destroying by your own will is baseless. Know the apparent reality of people acting in goodness, passion, or darkness as an illusory creation.
The learned and wise who perfectly understand and realize this knowledge do not engage in blame or praise, they move like the sun. [the sun treats all equally, i.e., they see everything and everyone as a manifestation of the same cause, therefore they see everything equally.]
The following is a short selection from the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad.
Chapter 3 Section 7
Then Uddālaka, the son of Aruṇa, asked him:
‘Yājñavalkya,’ he said, ‘in the territory called Madra we lived in the house of Kāpya. His wife was possessed by a Gandharva (angelic being). We asked him who he was. He said, “Kabandha, the son of Atharvan.” He, the Gandharva, said to Kāpya and his pupils, “Kāpya, do you know that thread by which this life, the next life and all beings, from the highest down to a clump of grass, are held together, strung like a garland by that thread?”
Thus addressed, Kāpya reverentially said, “I do not know it, the thread, sir.” The Gandharva again said to the teacher and us: Kāpya, do you know that Internal Ruler — this is being specified — who controls this and the next life and all beings from within, causing them to move like wooden puppets, i.e. makes them perform their respective functions? Thus addressed, Kāpya reverentially said, “I do not know Him, sir.”
The Gandharva again said — this is in praise of the meditation on the thread and the Internal Ruler within it — “Kāpya, he who knows that thread and that Internal Ruler who is within the thread and governs it, as described above, indeed knows Brahman or the Supreme Self, knows the worlds such as the earth controlled by the Internal Ruler, knows the devas such as Agni presiding over those worlds, knows the Vedas, which are the authority for all, knows the beings such as Hiraṇyagarbha, who are held together by the thread and controlled by the Internal Ruler who is within it, knows the self, which is the agent and experiencer and is controlled by the same Internal Ruler, and knows everything — the whole world also similarly controlled.”
This praise of the meditation on the thread and the Internal Ruler tempted Kāpya and us to hear of it; and the Gandharva explained the thread and the Internal Ruler to us. I know this meditation on the thread and the Internal Ruler, having been instructed by the Gandharva. If you, Yājñavalkya, do not know that thread and that Internal Ruler, i.e. do not know Brahman, and still wrongly take away the cows that belong only to the knowers of Brahman (they were having a debate with cows as the prize), I will burn you with my curses, and your head shall fall off.’
Thus addressed, Yājñavalkya said, ‘I know, O Uddālaka, that thread about which the Gandharva told you, and that Internal Ruler about whom you have known from him.’ At this Uddālaka retorted: ‘Any one, any fool, can say what you have said — “I know, I know,” lauding himself. What is the good of that bluster? Show it in action; tell us what you know about them.’
Yajnavalkya said: “O Uddālaka, I know that thread and that Inner Controller. Vayu (prana/life-force aka Brahman) is that thread. By Vayu, as by a thread, are this world, the other world, and all beings held together. Therefore, they say of a person who dies that his limbs have been loosened; for they are held together by Vayu as by a thread.
He who inhabits the earth, yet is within the earth, whom the earth does not know, whose body the earth is, and who controls the earth from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits water, yet is within water, whom water does not know, whose body water is, and who controls water from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits fire, yet is within fire, whom fire does not know, whose body fire is, and who controls fire from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the air, yet is within the air, whom the air does not know, whose body the air is, and who controls the air from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the sun, yet is within the sun, whom the sun does not know, whose body the sun is, and who controls the sun from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the moon and stars, yet is within the moon and stars, whom the moon and stars do not know, whose body the moon and stars are, and who controls the moon and stars from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the sky, yet is within the sky, whom the sky does not know, whose body the sky is, and who controls the sky from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller.
He who inhabits all beings, yet is within all beings, whom no beings know, whose body all beings are, and who controls all beings from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the nose, yet is within the nose, whom the nose does not know, whose body the nose is, and who controls the nose from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits speech, yet is within speech, whom speech does not know, whose body speech is, and who controls speech from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the eye, yet is within the eye, whom the eye does not know, whose body the eye is, and who controls the eye from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the ear, yet is within the ear, whom the ear does not know, whose body the ear is, and who controls the ear from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the mind, yet is within the mind, whom the mind does not know, whose body the mind is, and who controls the mind from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the intellect, yet is within the intellect, whom the intellect does not know, whose body the intellect is, and who controls the intellect from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the organ of generation, yet is within the organ, whom the organ does not know, whose body the organ is, and who controls the organ from within — He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He is never seen, but is the Seer; He is never heard, but is the Hearer; He is never thought of, but is the Thinker; He is never known, but is the Knower. There is no other seer than He, there is no other hearer than He, there is no other thinker than He, there is no other knower than He. He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal. Everything else but Him is perishable.”
Thereupon Uddalaka, the son of Aruna, held his peace.
Bhagavad Gita 5.14 and 5.15 with commentary by the famous author of Govinda Bhasya, Baladeva Vidyabhushana (c. 1700–1793)
na kartrtvam na karmani
lokasya srjati prabhuh
svabhavas tu pravartate
na kartrtvam — not the causal agent
na karmani — nor the action
lokasya — in the world
srijati — creates
prabhuh — the individual soul
na — no
karma — action
phala — results
samyogam — undertakes, initiates
svabhavas — inherent nature
tu pravartate — but commence
In this world the individual soul is not the causal agent behind anything nor the doer of any action. Nor the cause of the results of action, these commence due to the nature of its situation.
In this verse the Lord explains how the jiva (human soul) does not perform action or cause anyone to act. The master of the sense and body, the jiva (prabhuh), does not become an agent who makes other people perform action saying “You do that.” Nor does he perform actions for himself, such as making garlands or cloth. He himself is not the doer. Nor does he create a relationship with the results of action, with happiness and distress: he does not become the enjoyer of results, nor does he cause others to enjoy the results.
Then who should we conclude acts or makes others act? It takes place by svabhava (inherent nature). The jiva, in possessing the body and senses arising from previously described pradhana (primal energy), by the samskaras (subconscious residual tendencies from previous lives) arising in pradhana, becomes the doer and cause of others acting.
[Here he is saying that the actions of the jiva or human soul are caused by the inherent nature of the jiva in it’s ignorant state conditioned by previous tendencies. An example we can use is an infant — is an infant causing its actions? No, the parent is moving the infant here and there as needed for the health and betterment of the infant because the infant in its ignorance does not know anything and acts out based on a natural ignorant reaction to its environment. As the infant grows up the parent determines how the infant lives its life according to what it needs to grow up properly based on its level of awareness and mentality. So it is said that the inherent nature of the jiva determines its actions.]
The jiva as an isolated entity is not the doer. The slight doership attributed to the jiva even in its pure state, described in the previous verse with the words sukham aste, should be understood as arising in such things as perception or knowledge alone. The word kartri is a noun whose root denotes action. In this verse the samskaras are said to be the doer, taking the chief import of the word svabhava (inherent nature).
The next verse, Bhagavad Gita 5.15
nadatte kasyacit papam
na caiva sukrtam vibhuh
tena muhyanti jantavah
nadatte — does not accept
kasyacit — of someone, anyone’s
papam — does bad
na caiva — therefore does not
sukrtam — does good
vibhuh — the all-powerfull all-pervading causal ruler over all
ajnanenavrtam — concealed by ignorance
jnanam — knowledge
tena — by that
muhyanti — cunfused and bewildered
jantavah — all beings, everyone
Therefore the all-powerfull all-pervading causal ruler over all, does not accept that anyone does good or does bad. By that knowledge being concealed by ignorance, everyone is confused and bewlidered.
In this commentary at first Baladeva Vidyabhushana plays the part of a challenger to what he said in the commentary above:
But if you say that the pure jiva is not the doer, then one must conclude that the paramatma (God within), out of some impulse of amusement, forcing pradhana down the jivas throat, created him with body and senses which are transformations of pradhana. This is justified. The sruti confirms:
esa u hy eva sadhu karma karayati tam yam ebhyo lokebhya unninisate esa u evasadhu karma karayati tam yam adho ninisate.
The Lord engages the living entity in pious activities whom he desires to elevate from these worlds. The Lord engages him in impious activities whom he desires to degrade. (Kaushitaki Upanishad 3.8)
The smriti also criticizes the Lord:
ajno jantur aniso’yam atmanah sukhaduhkhayoh
isvaraprerito gacchet svargam narakam eva ca
Lacking know-how people are powerless to bring about or stave off by themselves joy and sorrow. Impelled by the supreme being — they may go to heaven as well as hell.
Therefore the Lord leads the jiva into states of sin and piety. In being the instigator, the Lord must therefore have the quality of injustice and must be blamed for the sins of the jiva.”
This answers that accusation: The Supreme Lord, full of immeasurable bliss and knowledge, and full of unlimited energies, enjoying His own bliss, and being impartial to all else, simply engages the jiva in activity according to the jiva’s samskaras (subconscious residual tendencies from previous lives)— a jiva who desiring to enjoy, bound up by beginningless samskaras in the pradhana (primal energy), takes a body made of a transformation of pradhana in proximity to the Lord. Therefore, the Lord does not accept sinful or pious reactions for any jiva’s actions. The Vishnu Purana says:
yatha sannidhi-matrena gandhah kshobhaya jayate
manaso nopakartritvat tathasau paramesvarah
sannidhanad yathakasa-kaladyah karanam taroh
tathaivaparinamena visvasya bhagavan harih
Smell brings about disturbance to the mind by proximity with the mind, not because of doing anything. In the same way the Supreme Lord also acts in relation to the living entities without thoughts of causing them distress. Just as by proximity, the atmosphere and time are causes of a tree without their undergoing transformation, so the Supreme Lord is the cause of the universe without His undergoing transformation. (Vishnu Purana 1.2.30–1)
The example of fragrance is given to illustrate the neutral position of the Lord, but this does not mean that the Lord does not have desire in creating, for the sruti also says:
The Lord desired.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.2.4)
But then why do the jivas accuse the Lord of injustice? This is explained in the next line of the verse. The knowledge of the jiva, though lasting forever, due to the jiva’s being unconscious (muhyati) of the Lord (before being born), because of that the jivas are bewildered (from birth). The Lord is just, but the ignorant people, not the wise, say that the Lord is unjust.
The author of the Vedanta Sutras says:
vaishamya-nairghrinye na sapekshatvat tatha hi darsayati
The Lord has no injustice or hatred. Rather he is favorable to the jivas. The sciptures declare this. (Vedanta Sutra 2.1.34)
na karmāvibhāgāditi cet, na, anāditvāt
If it is said (the Lord is not just because) He gives different karmas to each jiva at the beginning — that is not so because karma is without a beginning. (Vedanta Sutra 2.1.35)
That is the end of his commentary. This is my commentary on that last verse he quotes from the Vedanta Sutra (Brahma Sutra):
The sutra is saying that if you object to the idea of God because of the different experiences people have in their lives, e.g., some people are born rich and healthy while others are born poor and unhealthy, therefore that proves there is no God — the sutra refutes those ideas by stating that people’s lives did not just begin in their current life. This is an attempt to explain samsara, reincarnation, saying that your current life is a continuation from a previous life. The idea is that people are not all at the same stage of their karmic development which takes place over many lives. It is wrong to suggest that your experience in your current incarnation should be the same as everyone if everyone is under the same control by an impartial God.
That is a way that Vedanta deals with what is called in western religion or philosophy “the problem of evil.” If God exists, then why is there evil or suffering? Vedanta teaches that everyone is undergoing a continuation of their karmic development, experiencing what you need to in order to attain qualifications for the ultimate purpose of life. Those qualifications are sometimes called shuddha-sattva, or pure goodness. Therefore you may have to go through suffering of various types in order to develop good qualities and to get rid of bad qualities, e.g., developing deeply seated empathy and compassion. Those qualities are needed for your eternal existence in the higher eternal realm of perfected beings, where only people at the siddha or perfected level of consciousness live, for eternity. Entrance into that eternal realm is taught as the purpose of life — where the supreme being lives and enjoys life with all the perfected beings for eternity. Therefore in the temporal world of birth → death → rebirth, or samsara, you may need to go through a temporary experience of suffering in order to develop into a perfect being — which will last for eternity. Once attaining that status, it is never lost.
Bhagavad Gita 8.20–21
paras tasmat tu bhavo ‘nyo
‘vyakto ‘vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarvesu bhutesu
nasyatsu na vinasyati
Above and beyond the world of birth and death is another world, primordial and eternal. They do not perish even when all beings in this world end.
avyakto ‘ksara ity uktas
tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
That primordial unchanging world is called the supreme destination, whom having attained never return. That is my realm, for the perfected.
Baladeva noted in his commentary above:
“The jiva as an isolated entity is not the doer. The slight doership attributed to the jiva even in its pure state, described in the previous verse with the words sukham aste, should be understood as arising in such things as perception or knowledge alone.”
He is saying: the only things a jiva or human can really do by itself to some degree, are perceiving things and knowing things. Everything else is done for us by Antaryamin (God within), i.e., God within you as the active power and giver of ability, is creating thoughts, giving you memories, giving the will and ability to move or speak and so on. On our own we lack the know-how and the actual ability to do those things. How are thoughts created or words understood or actions undertaken? We take these things for granted as under our dominion even though in truth we cannot explain how we do any of those things. That is because we don’t. It just appears to make sense that we are doing them because we don’t see any other causal force but ourselves in our body or minds. Until we do.
Bhagavata Purana 3.26.28
yad vidur hy aniruddhākhyaḿ hṛṣīkāṇām adhīśvaram
śāradendīvara-śyāmaḿ saḿrādhyaḿ yogibhiḥ śanaiḥ
The mind is known by the name of Aniruddha, the ruler of the senses. Like a dark blue lotus in autumn, he is found by perfect meditation gradually by yogis.
Aniruddha means “unobstructed.” It is another name for Paramatma. Parama means “the supreme and furthest in reach,” atma means consciousness. Paramatma is the word which describes the “universal all-pervading conscious mind of the supreme being or Brahman.” When you do not “obstruct” the mind by identifying with it, or by believing you are in control of your thoughts and memories, that meditation and view of yourself as only being the detached observer of the mind, that qualifies you to have the actual controller of the mind show you the truth. That is the true purpose of meditation in yoga. It’s not so much that God only just “appears in the mind,” God reveals himself as the mind itself, the creator and controller of thoughts, memories and intellect. The idea of our own control over our mind is in fact false, you cannot explain how to create thought. No one knows how thoughts come into existence. Scientists have many theories but no real consensus or proof. All they know for certain is that we do not create thoughts because thoughts appear in our mind without our doing anything to cause them. The same for memory.
This is important to understand because self-realization entails being enlightened to the true relationship we have with God — which is closest and most obvious within our mind. As the selection from the Upanishads above states — God is the controller of the mind and thoughts. Meditation on that truth will reveal that truth.
Two birds, beautiful of wing, close companions, cling to one common tree: of the two one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, the other eats not but watches his fellow.
The human soul is the bird that sits immersed on the one common tree; but because he is not powerful he is bewildered and has sorrow. But when he sees that other who is all-powerful and beloved, he knows that all is His greatness and his sorrow passes away from him.
Mundaka Upanishad 3.1
From birth people ignorantly identify as the mind and controller of thoughts, even though it has no clue on how to create or control thoughts. By detaching yourself from the sense of being the mind and being the controller of your thoughts, you will find yourself suddenly alone with the true controller of your thoughts — and of everything else you will ever experience.