The difference between Brahman and Īśvara lies in the fact that Brahman supports the entire universe, whereas Īśvara is the creator of the universe. Both are seers only because all the activities are carried out by their upādhi and viśeṣaṇa, known as Māyā. Similarly, in the case of Kūṭastha and jīva, it is avidyā that acts upādhi and viśeṣaṇa respectively. Brahman is the source of the universe and Īśvara is the creator of the universe. Brahman is incomprehensible and nirguṇa, which means devoid of attributes. On the other hand, Īśvara is saguṇa and has attributes. Without attributes, creation cannot happen. When the equilibrium in the three guṇa-s is disturbed, creation happens and Īśvara takes care of creation.
Like Brahman supporting Īśvara and Its creation, Kūṭastha supports jīva. The difference between Kūṭastha and jīva lies in the fact that Kūṭastha supports jīva in the form of consciousness. Again Kūṭastha and jīva are seers only because all the activities carried out by their upādhi and viśeṣaṇa, known as avidyā. Kūṭastha is the Self in a jīva. Jīva comprises of both antaḥkaraṇa and organs of perception and action.
It is important to understand the difference between māyā and avidyā; many are of the view that they both are the same. Māyā can only project, but avidyā has the dual role of obscuring and projecting. A rope is considered as snake, first obscuring the rope and thereafter, wrongly projecting it as a snake. Avidyā is the cause for superimposition. But māyā is the cause for the illusionary world. Māyā is in the form of a veil around Brahman. This veil can be removed only with the help of knowledge. Mere textual studies will not suffice. One has to learn to understand māyā with the help of knowledge. Otherwise, any affirmation such as “I am Brahman” would be only illusionary in nature, due to ego. Yoga Vāsiṣṭha (II.6) says, “This māyā is the root cause of creation. It gives joy to itself through its own destruction. It is neither understandable nor observable.”
Īśvara, Kūṭastha and jīva are all nothing but Brahman, as Brahman alone is Real, It alone is Truth. But these differences are necessary for the sake of acquiring spiritual knowledge, which is available in plenty in the form of both elucidations and negations. Like schooling to university, we have to move in stages towards Brahman, after we acquire the requisite Knowledge. In spiritual practices, faith is important. Lack of faith and fluctuating mind will lead to confusions. This is with regard to seers – Brahman, Īśvara, Kūṭastha and jīva. All of them are related to consciousness and jīva is related to antaḥkaraṇa and organs of perception and action.
Then, how do we see the universe? It is due to cause and effect or kāraṇa and kārya. When Brahman’s (Self-illuminating in nature) reflection falls on Its own veil, known as māyā, there originates Īśvara. We have already seen that māyā forms as a veil around Brahman and inherent in Īśvara. It is only Īśvara, who manifests as the universe, because māyā is inherent in it. Now, we have to understand the relationship between the four - Brahman, Īśvara, Kūṭastha and jīva and the process of creation and absorption.