(Interactive session on 15.6.2013)
Keynote address by Mr. R. K. Gupta
(Other participant speakers: Mr. Sujit Chatterjee, Mr.Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. Ranjan Chatterjee, Ms. Manimala Das, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. A. K. Sengupta, Dr.Kalyan Chakravarthy, Dr.Suhas Majumdar, Ms.Kalyani Chakrabarti, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Ms. Ratna Chatterjee & Mr. Jogendra Singh – Devotional songs by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta)
Anchor & conclusive remarks: Asish K.Raha
‘Maya’ is a Sanskrit term used in the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Srimad Bhagavat Gita, to denote by popular understanding, though incorrectly, illusion or delusion. The earliest use of the term can be found in the Rig Veda where it was used in the sense of delusion: “Through his Maya, Indra assumed various forms.” In the Upanishads (popularly known as the Vedanta), the term came to be identified with Prakriti through which Brahman (Pure Consciousness or God) evolved Itself into or created the mortal universes. Reference in this regard is made to verses 9 and 10 of Chapter 4 of the Svetasvatara Upanishad which state as follows:
Ashman mayee srijate Vishvametam
Ashminschanyo mayaya sanniruddhav II – 9
Mayam tu prakritim vidyanmayinam cha Maheshvaram I
Tasyabayabbhutaistu vyaptam sarvamidam jagat II – 10
[“By Its Maya, Brahman creates this universe of mortals and by the same mechanism (Maya) all the souls get entrapped in this universe. Prakriti is the substance by which this world of mortals is created. Know this Prakriti as Maya and know the Maheshvar (read Brahman) as the Mayin (Creator of the Maya)”]
It can be seen that in the above verse of Svetasvatara Upanishad Brahman is described as the creator of the Maya through which this mortal universe is created. On the otherhand, in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Br.II.V.19) it is stated that Brahman on account of his Maya is perceived manifold. Again in Chhandogya Upanishad (Cha. VIII. iii. 1-2) it is proclaimed that all that can be desired is covered by falsehood. The Vedantic proclamation made by sage Uddalak to his son Shvetaketu – Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That) made in Chhandogya Upanishad (Cha. VI. Xiii.3) reveals that Brahman as either the creator or the core sentient element, as the case may be, is both the efficient and the material cause of this mortal universe. This was explained by sage Uddalak to his son cum disciple Shvetaketu by way of a practical illustration. The father asked his son to mix a lump of salt in water in a container and bring that container to him next morning. Instruction thus complied, the son was asked to drink the water from the top, the middle and the bottom portion and to report how it tasted. Shvetaketu informed his father that the water tasted salty uniformly. Uddalak explained that the salt which was no longer visible in the water was the material as also the efficient cause of the salty water. Brahman like the salt was the subtlest soul of this universe, not seen but yet present in minutest part of the universe including all living beings. “Shvetaketu, thou art That” is the cardinal message of the Upanishad that is applicable to the whole of the mankind.
The question as to whether the Creator and the creation (read Maya) can be identical has been addressed differently by various schools of Vedantic thought. As for the Advaita (Monist) school represented by Shankaracharya, the Creator Brahman is the only reality while the entire creation or Maya is nothing but illusion/delusion and unreal. It is like mistaking rope for a snake. The Dvaita (Dualist) school represented by Madhavacharya and Sri Chaitanya on the contrary holds that the Creator cannot be the same as the creation and the former is the efficient cause of the latter, but not the material cause. To this school, the creation is as much real as the Creator. The Vishistadvaita (Qualified Monist) school represented by Sri Ramanuja strikes a synthesis between the above two schools of apparently conflicting thoughts holding out in Sri Bhasya of Brahma Sutra (Interpretation of Brahma Sutra of Vedavyas by Sri Ramanuja) that the Brahman as the Creator is both efficient and material cause of the creation. It is already explained above that the concept of Tat Tvam Asi is a corollary of the above line of thinking, once the veil of Maya is lifted.
Now the question is how the veil of Maya can be lifted.
In Chapter VII, verse 14, of the Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna:
“Daivi hi esa gunamayee mama maya duratyaya I
Mameba ye prapadyante mayametam taranti te II – 14”
[Since my divine Maya constituted by the Gunas or qualities (Sattva, Rajas and Tama) is hard to cross over, there is no other way but to take refuge in Me to cross over this Maya.]
In verses 5 onward, chapter 14, Krishna explains that the three Gunas (qualities) born of nature (Prakriti) bind the immutable soul to the body through numerous attachments. As to the question of Arjuna how this Maya can be transcended, Krishna answers in verses 24 to 26 of chapter 14 that the one to whom happiness and sorrow, censure and praise, honour and dishonour, friend and foe are alike, the one who is established in his own Self, the one to whom a lump of earth, iron and gold are the same and the one who serves Him as God through the unswerving Yoga of devotion, can transcend the three Gunas or the Maya.
The modern school of thoughts represented by Swami Vivekananda, however, is of the view that the Maya of the Vedanta is “neither Idealism, nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts – what we are and what we see around us.” Explaining the concept of Maya further, he states that the world around us has no absolute existence. “We see this world with the five senses but if we had another sense, we would see in it something more. If we had yet another sense, it would appear as something still different. It has, therefore, no real existence; it has no unchangeable, immovable and infinite existence. Nor can it be called non-existence, seeing that it exists, and we have to work in and through it. It is a mixture of existence and non-existence.” (Refer his lecture on ‘Maya and Illusion’ in London in 1896).
Mystery of Maya
The mystery surrounding the Creator and the creation evokes great interest amongst all, including the scientists, philosophers and the saints and spiritual masters. The concept of the God as the Creator is not accepted by scientists. They believe in the theory of evolution. According to them life on earth was not created; it evolved, as did every living creature. It is not God who created man, but it is man who created God. The question that is asked is if God created life, then who created Him? It may appeal on a cursory reading but on a serious note, the same question needs to be addressed in the context of Darwinian Theory of evolution of life. Did the life evolve out of nothing? It is true even for an agnostic that nothing could be created from nothing. That being so, life would have emerged from something and that something would have come from something else and so on. Going back sequentially, one would have to stop at some point beyond which there is no answer as to how that thing (if it could be called a thing) came into existence. That something, which is the first, from which everything else has originated, philosophically speaking, could rightly be called the core element which is also the source of our collective consciousness. In short we may call that core element as the Supramental or Super-consciousness. As the creation pre-supposes a conscious decision and our proposition is that the core element is supra-mental, it would stand to logic to infer that the Supra-mental is the Creator of the universes and living beings.
The above inference may give an impression as if the Creator and the creation are two different entities. But then it would be important to mention here that unlike some Semitic religions, which believe in a personified God, who feels jealous and punishes or rewards people according to His pleasure, and place the God in juxtaposition to man, the Vedantic philosophy talks of a wholesome God, reflected in this Sutra (verse) of the Ishavasya Upanishad:
Om Poorna Madah Poorna Midam Poornaat Poornamudachyate;
Poornasya Poornamaadaaya Poornamevavashishyate II
[“What we see is Whole. What we don’t see is also Whole. What springs forth from the Whole is Whole. From the Whole if we remove Whole, the remainder is also Whole.”]
This Sutra mentions both the Creator and the creation as “Poorna” or the whole. In other words, it suggests that the Brahman or God described as the Whole is all-encompassing and nothing that exists falls outside the Whole or Brahman.
Apart from all-pervasiveness, this Sutra speaks of the principle of Conservation of the Wholeness. Scientists also believe in the principle of Conservation of Energy, which is one of the key principles of physics. According to science no matter or energy can ever be destroyed; matter can change form and convert into energy and similarly energy can convert into matter but the sum-total would remain the same. If the entire thing could be measured in some single unit, the measurement would remain the same. For example if a Kg. of wood is burnt, it would convert into coal, smoke, ash and different forms of energy such as heat, light and sound and if there be some measurement of all this to be measured it would measure equivalent to a Kg. of wood.
This would mean that the material creation, i.e. the universe which we see also has the same attributes and characteristics as the Brahman, i.e. it could neither be created nor destroyed but there could only be a change in the form. It could be called by different names such as manifestation of the Brahman or the evolution and involution of the Brahman. By whatever name it may be called, the essential principle which is hinted at is the One, i.e. the Creator appearing as many in the form of the manifested creation, because that One remains the One, even when it manifests as many.
A question may arise: Can God be numerically described as One? In the verse referred to above, God is described as the Poorna or the Whole and not as the One. However, when the Upanishads describe God as Ekam eva advitiyam (One and no Second) it describes God as all-inclusive, meaning thereby that nothing else exists other than God. Thus there is hardly any contradiction in the concept of God as the Whole and God as the One and no Second.
In this context, reference may be made to the Srimadbhagvat-Mahapuran, which in Tratiya Skandh (third Section), Adhyay 5 (Chapter S) Shloka 23 (Verse 23) mentions that ‘before the creation, there was only the God, the Soul of all souls. Neither there was anything to be seen, nor any seer. He Himself was the manifold existence that is seen in the created world, as He desired to be alone’. It was the state of Absolute Truth, with no manifestation of any sort and is described as the state of Supreme Darkness of Absolute Non-beingness. No one has any knowledge if there was any creation that existed before. Everything having dissolved in its essence, rested in a state of total concealment in the Essence of all essences i.e. the God-the Truth, who was in the state of absolute peace, perfect harmony and supreme bliss. All His qualities and attributes were resting in Him in a dormant state. In this state, there was no Prakriti (Nature or Maya) and Kaal (Time) in existence, nothing except the One – the Almighty God.
Since there was no existence of time in this state of Supreme Darkness, no one knows for how long did this state last. This was the state which is totally Indescribable, Unimaginable and beyond any perceptions. It was the state of the Absolute Truth all by Itself. No time, no relativity, no creation whatsoever. It was not the state of nothingness but the state of Completeness, of Totality and of Fullness. The scriptures describe such a state as the state of absolute bliss, as this was the state of perfection, harmony and equilibrium.
Overwhelming with bliss, the Almighty God thought of revealing Itself in the form of manifold existence in order that the manifold existence may also enjoy the same state of bliss. The world was thus created by the mere thought of the Almighty God. Thought is the most powerful thing, which creates and also dissolves the world. It is a common experience for all of us that all our activities are first born at the level of thought. The thought is the seed of all human actions and achievements. The thought of God to manifest in form of multiple existences in order that the manifold existence may also enjoy the same state of bliss was thus the root cause of the entire creation. The sages and seers consider this world to have been created in accordance with the principle ‘Ekoaham-Mosyaam’ meaning thereby – ‘I am One, I should become many’. The Islamic tradition supports this in the famous Hadith; ‘I was a hidden treasure. I desired to be known and hence I created the world so that I should be known.’
The desire of God to manifest
The human mind cannot give any explanation for this desire of the God, the cause of all causes. Desires arise from imperfection, if something is wanting, for fulfilling the deficiency. But the God is Perfect; He is complete in Himself and does not depend upon anything. Why then this desire? This is what, which could be termed as His ‘Leela’.
This desire of God to manifest Itself as manifold existence to enjoy the same state of bliss acted as the Primordial Determination, the Cosmic Intelligence that reflects itself at all levels, in all the creatures, and is the root cause of the desire for all living beings to multiply and to constantly endeavor to seek happiness. Every creature in the universe desires to be happy and to multiply. Look at the trees. They flower and produce seeds. Seeds in turn produce trees and thus keep on multiplying. The same is true of all other creatures. They all long for procreation and happiness; no one wants to be unhappy or to undergo any sufferings.
A lot of philosophical discussion has taken place on the issue that since God was alone in the beginning of creation and since everything has originated from Him, therefore, everything that exists is also a form of God. The other viewpoint is that although everything has originated from God, but everything is not God; rather everything exists because of God. These viewpoints called by different names such as Advaidvad, Dvaivad, Vishishth Advaitvad and ‘Hamo-Ast’ o ‘Hamo-Aj-Ast’ by various Acharyas and Sufis are the creation of human mind and have given rise to various speculations. They appear to be different viewpoints initially on a cursory look but are, in fact, not different if one has realised the truth thereof. For example the sea is made of trillions and trillions of droplets of water, which exist together in the form of the sea. Seen from the viewpoint of the sea, every droplet in itself is the sea, but from the viewpoint of the droplet, its individual existence is that of a drop of water and not that of the sea. The reality, however, does not change whatever way one looks at it. The sea remains the sea whether one sees it as a conglomeration of droplets or the droplet as the part of the sea. The sea exists because the droplet exists and the droplet exists because the sea exists; the only difference is that while the sea is not dependant on the droplet, the droplet is dependent on the sea. It is the question of realisation. Separated from the sea the droplet acquires its separate entity as a droplet. When merged in the sea, it loses its separate identity and becomes one with the sea. Endowed with consciousness, if the droplet realises itself as the sea it is the sea, otherwise it is a droplet.
The desire of God to reveal Itself in the form of manifold existence in order that the manifold existence may also enjoy the same state of bliss constituted a two-dimensional plane. The two dimensions were constituted by the two aspects of God’s desire, the first aspect being to multiply i.e. to manifest in the form of manifold existence and the second aspect related to the state of bliss enjoyed by God to be enjoyed by the manifold existence. These two aspects were not unidirectional. The aspect of manifold existence required the One to manifest as many. Hitherto it was God alone; all by Itself, but the desire to manifest in the form of manifold existence involved the One to appear as many. This caused the manifold existence to have a feeling of separate identity, an existence of their own-self. The One became many and the manifold existence lost the feeling of oneness, wholeness, completeness and fullness. At the same time the other aspect of the desire of God was that the manifold existence should also enjoy the same state of bliss, which required that the manifold existence should realise its oneness, wholeness, completeness and fullness, as anything separated from its origin would always long for the unity and can become full of bliss only on removal of this feeling of separation. A piece of stone thrown in the sky rests at peace only on getting back to the earth to which it belongs. Similarly, a stream of water constantly endeavours to rush and reunite with the ocean, from where it originated. This is the universal law that one rests at peace only on regaining its original state, i.e. by reuniting with its origin.
This desire of the Divine, therefore, consisted of two opposing ends that of separation from the source and uniting back with the origin. This desire of the Divine was the Primordial Determination that reflects in and echoes in all the living beings. The entire creation, therefore, emulates this dual perception that arises from two opposing or mutually opposite complementarities. It is like a circle, which begins and ends at the same point. The point of beginning is the end of ending and the point of ending is the start of beginning. The two extremities thus originate from the same source but result in an expression of outward flow, which encompass within them the entire creation.
This two-dimensional desire of God constituted the first plane to receive the irradiations from the Absolute Truth in the form of a Marvellous Brilliance-the Supreme Consciousness that appeared instantly with the God’s desire to reveal Itself wherein was cast Its luminous image (known as the Sat Purush, the Adi Purush or Saguna Brahman) shining all around, which is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient and has all the qualities and attributes of God. The scriptures mention that being the Supreme Consciousness and the treasure house of all knowledge, God creates the world by Its mere thought, which reflects in the form of Cosmic Intelligence and sets in the process of creation. The Srimadbhagwat-Mahapuran in the Pratham Skandh (1st Section) Adhyay 3 (Chapter3) in Shloka 1 Verse 1) states that ‘in the beginning of the creation, God desired to create the universe and at once It revealed Itself in the form of the Adi Purush accompanied with ‘Mahtatva’ (‘Chitta’ or the faculty of thought) etc. at Its command.’
Similarly, it is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an: ‘God is the creator of all. It is He, who produced fire for you by rubbing the green trees (like the bamboo tree) and now you (the man) produce fire by rubbing its branches. Verily, the One, who created the skies and the earth, does not He command the power to bring them to life (the dead persons)? Why not! He is the creator of all and He is the Knower. Verily, when He intends a thing, His command is: Be! And it is. He is the Lord of all and everything will return to Him’-Qur’an, 36:79-83. The Holy Bible also mentions similarly in the chapter Genesis.
The concept of Time in Hindu Mythology
The Hindu mythology strongly believes in the periodical creation and dissolution of the world. They believe that the universe is created and dissolved periodically by the action of Kaal (time). According to the Hindu scriptures, Brahma, the lord of creation, has a life span of one hundred divine years. One day of lord Brahma, known as a ‘Kalpa’, is equivalent to 4,32,00,00,000 years* of our earth time. Similarly the duration of the night of Brahma is also one Kalpa. Lord Brahma creates the universe in the beginning of every new Kalpa, which exists during the day and remains dissolved during the night of lord Brahma (Pralay). In that dissolved state it rests in Lord Brahma. During the periodical dissolution of the universe, however, the Prakriti (the Nature or Maya) and Kaal are not dissolved. Only at the time of Mahapralay i.e. at the end of the life span of lord Brahma, everything including the Prakriti and Kaal are dissolved in the Essence of all essences-the God, and the process of creation starts afresh, as a result of the desire of the God, as mentioned above.
(*Aryabhatta, a famous Indian philosopher and mathematician, has stated that in 10,80,000 years the planets make an integral number of revolution round the earth in the celestial sphere, which brings them all together in the same original position. This period corresponds to a Yuga. Four Yugas make one Chaturyuga equal to 43,20,000 years and one thousand Chaturyuga make up one Kalpa equal to 4,32,00,00,000 earth-years. Source-‘What Awaits Man in 2000 AD’ by Prof. M.K.Dave).
Concept of Brahman
In the context of creation, it would be interesting to note the meaning of the world “Brahman”. “Bruha” in the Sanskrit language means expanding and “Manan” means contemplation. Brahman thus means growing with thinking.
In the context of the relationship of the Creator and the creation, i.e. the One manifesting as many, it would be apt to give an example of the Sun and its rays. The sunrays have all the attributes and characteristics of the sun. They have the warmth and the light but are dependent on the sun and exist with the sun. Further, the sunrays are invisible, they are seen on getting associated with the dust particles or when they fall on an object. The “Jeevatmas” (individual souls) are like sunrays, which are seen when they associate with a physical body.
It has been mentioned earlier that the universe has been created as God desired to create it. This desire of God, however, is the first illusion, the first veil, referred to as Adi-Maya in the Hindu scriptures. As mentioned earlier, the Srimadbhagwat-Mahapuran states that before the creation, there was only the God, the Soul of all souls. Neither there was anything to be seen, nor any seer. With Its desire to manifest in the form of manifold creation, It started to look around, but It did not see anything else, as It alone was shining all around and there was nothing else. This very faculty of differentiating the Seer from the seen was the first manifestation of the ‘Karya-Kaaranrupi Maya’ (the Adi-Maya in the form of cause and effect), with the help of which God created the world. In scientific terms this differentiation between the seer and the seen is called “relativity”. In other words the philosophical Maya is comparable to the relativity in modern science.
The philosophical saying of “Brahman satyam, Jagat mythyam” (God is Truth, the world is untruth) has to be understood from the relativity point of view. The “Jagat” (mortal world) is not myth. Truth cannot create anything which is untruth. In fact if this mortal world is untrue, there would have been no importance of “Karma” (action). The correct position is that everything is relative. By the time we finish this discussion, we would have travelled millions of miles in the space, since the earth, the solar system and the galaxy of which we are a part, all are moving at a tremendous speed in the space. Where we were a moment before in the space, we are not there the next moment. Yet relatively with reference to our own surroundings, we are at the same place. The houses, towns, cities, rivers, oceans and mountains, all of them stand at the same place with reference to each other, although in absolute terms all this would not be at the same place in the space. A person located in space would see us moving, but we ourselves do not see so. This is what the relativity is.
Everything is changing every moment but in a short span of time, the change is not noticed. In fact the time and relativity are inter-connected. It is well known that atom and the sub-atomic particles all revolve around their own axis. The fundamental particle (i.e. the smallest sub-atomic particle) also revolves around its axis. The time taken by it in making one revolution around its axis is the fundamental unit of time. Every particle and even the celestial bodies have their own time. We are well aware of the moon-day, which is much smaller than a day on the earth. This revolution of the particle around its axis sets up the relativity. Since the particle revolves, for the viewer a change keeps on occurring continuously. It is the relationship between the seer (one who sees) and the seen, which sets in the field of relativity. This duality between the seer and the seen is the root-cause of relativity.
Maya is relativity
Thus what is philosophically called ‘Maya’ or the illusion, in fact is this relativity. Things are as they are, but different viewers see them differently depending upon their own relative position i.e. according to their individual perceptions. Maya does not mean falsehood or non-existence but anything and everything which is constantly changing and, therefore, causing an illusion. Since things keep on changing, they do not have permanence and hence they are called illusionary. The same things put differently or in different circumstances appear differently. The example of a fabric is apt to illustrate the nature of things. A piece of fabric is an arrangement of yarn. Yarn in turn is a combination of fibres and fibres are made of molecules and so on. At different stages they all look differently but their reality remains unchanged. It is the manifestation of the same fundamental existence in different forms that gives it different names and character and the viewer sees them differently.
At the level of consciousness, the field of relativity is set because of I-ness i.e. because of the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘you’; me and mine, you and yours. This duality of ‘I’ and ‘you’ is the most subtle level of relativity. Every person sees the whole world with his own perspective. He keeps himself at the centre of the whole world around him and relates everything to himself. All creatures thus see the entire existence from their own perspective and gain different impressions of the same event or happening. What is good for one becomes bad for the other and vice-versa, which gives rise to agony and suffering. But when this feeling of duality ceases to exist, one sees the same self acting in all living beings, which makes him realize the truth, i.e. confers on him the eligibility to penetrate the veil of relativity. It then makes him content and peaceful.
Here, two more things may be mentioned. One, the most prominent part of the human body, which establishes the individual identity, is his face. It is, however, not possible for anyone to see his own face. What he sees in a mirror is only a reflection of his face. He can see faces of all others but not his own. This is Maya. The second point is about the acceptance of Maya in the philosophical context. Here we wish to say that while living in the world, one cannot wish away Maya. It is Maya, which provides the means of living; even the saints and mahatmas cannot live without taking shelter of Maya. If, however, one takes refuge in Maya as a child, Maya being the mother introduces him to his father, the Creator. If, however, one wants to rule the Maya, as a husband rules his consort, he must possess the Aishwarya of God, otherwise the Maya would topple him down on his head.
Maya is both Avidya & Vidya
The Poorna or Wholeness of Brahman postulates that all three qualities, viz. Sattva, rajas & Tamas have emanated from Brahman. As a matter of fact there is nothing that cannot be sourced to Brahman. Since Brahman is both efficient and material cause of all that is created, It is immanent as much in Vidya as in Avidya, as much in light as in darkness, as much in Sattva as in Tamas. This being the absolute Truth, Vedanta does not recognize any sin or devil once both positive and negative forces are sourced to Brahman. This explains why Swami Vivekananda observed that the one who worshipped God as all good, worshipped one legged God. According to the Vedantic monk, God was all good and also all bad. This concept is best explained by the following mystical verse in Isha Upanishad:
Andham tamav prabishanti yehavidyamupasate I
Tato bhuya iba te tamo ya wu vidyayam rataav II – 9
[Those who pursue Avidya (materialistic pursuit dubbed as ignorance) plunge into darkness. But those who pursue only Vidya (spiritual pursuit) plunge into even greater darkness].
Even though the Isha Upanishad does not explain why a person pursuing only Vidya will plunge into greater darkness compared to the one who pursues Avidya, subsequent verses appear to suggest that Brahman being immanent in both Vidya and Avidya, unilateral pursuit of Vidya for realizing Brahman would expose the person to the risk of being thrown into greater darkness to realize the absolute Truth that Brahman is also in darkness.
Veil of Maya can be lifted by the grace of a liberated Master
In Chapter VII, verse 14, Sri Krishna urges Arjuna to take refuge in Him so as to transcend Maya (refer Introduction above for citation). In Chapter XVIII, verse 66, Sri Krishna urges Arjuna once again to renounce all forms of rituals and to take refuge in Him alone, whereupon He will free him from all bondage (Sarva dharman parityajyam mamekam sharanam Braja).
In Mahabharata it is said that Shuk Deva by merely reading out Srimad Bhagvat Mahapuran to king Parikshit liberated his soul from the bondage of Maya. As the story goes, Shuk Deva was the only person apart from Sri Krishna, who was free from the shackles of Maya from the time of his birth as he was born on the condition that Maya would withdraw her spell at the moment of his birth.
Swami Vivekananda, while still a student and known as Narendra Nath, was agnostic and argumentative. On one of his visits to Dakshineswar, Calcutta, he in the company of a friend Hazra was mocking Sri Ramakrishna by describing the tea, the cup, the rasagolla (juicy sweet ball), him and Hazra as Brahman and laughing loudly when Sri Ramakrishna entered the room and just touched Narendra momentarily. That single momentary touch lifted the veil of Maya from the vision of young Narendra enabling him to see and feel that all the substances, including his own body, the tea, the cup, the consumables and the iron railings of a park in the neigbourhood were made of the same elements with no difference whatsoever. The said vision lasted with him for several days so as to make him realize the Upanishadic Truth hard way by the grace of his Master.
Baba Loknath Brahmachari, a well known saint of 19th century, when asked by a disciple how to get rid of Maya, explained that like a butterfly flew out of a caterpillar when the time was apt, a yearning soul could be liberated from its shell of bondage only when he was fit for such liberation.
Even great spiritual Masters may come under the spell of Maya momentarily, but a simple flicker of wisdom may render their souls ablaze to set them free from Maya. From the Lalita Vistara (Biography of Buddha) we know that though born as the saviour of mankind, Buddha forgot himself in the cushy, comfortable and luxurious life of the palace. Some angels roused him with a beautiful song conveying that we were floating down the river of life which was continually changing, ceaselessly and restlessly. Likewise, our lives were also flowing on without rest. What should we do?
Shankaracharya, the great Advaita Master, also came under the spell of Maya for a short while when he trans-migrated his soul to the body of a dead king to acquire the knowledge of Kusumastra-sastram (art of love between the sexes). This was necessitated by the challenge of Ubhay-Bharati, the enlightened wife of Mandana Mishra, in a debate on that subject, unknown to a monk like him. Mandana had earlier lost to Shankara in a debate on the Vedas and consequently was required to renounce the house-hold life. As a wife was considered to be ardhangini (half of the husband’s self), Ubhay-Bharati insisted that Shankara ought to debate and defeat her as well before enforcing his terms on Mandana, more so when renunciation of house-hold life by her husband was going to directly affect her. Shankara asked for a month’s time to acquire proficiency in that branch of knowledge. He transmigrated his soul from the body by Yoga and entered the body of a king, just dead. When a month had lapsed and Shankara did not return to his former body, his disciples travelled to the court of the resurrected king and sang from Moha-mudgar (Liberation from delusion), the famous composition of Shankara himself, to awaken him to his real self.
Maya & Science
Stephen Hawking, the noted physicist in his The Grand Design has concluded that “it is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” The reason for drawing that inference is that “there is a law like gravity” which helps the universe create itself from nothing, i.e. from a plank size, a billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimetre to an astronomical size, as if a coin 1 centimetre in diameter suddenly blew up to ten million times the width of the Milky Way.
The Vedantic concept of creation of the universe from Brahman in form of a subtle, sentient, core element to vast universes almost in no time, driven by Its desire of being manifold, is factually not distinctive from above-said finding of the physicists, except for the element of choice. But the above finding of science has a striking similarity with the Vedantic postulate that Brahman is without action. In other words, Brahman does not interfere in worldly affairs, either in outer cosmos of physical forces or in inner cosmos of consciousness, and both the areas are left entirely to Prakriti (nature) or Maya.
The inner cosmos clearly falls outside the ambit of physicists. Nevertheless, interestingly Hawking finds it impossible to conclude whether human beings have a choice in their action or all their actions are programmed by equations and interactions of about a thousand trillion trillion particles. Science as of now is unable to solve exactly the equation for three or more particles interacting with each other.
The other interesting finding of the physicists is that the expanding universes are like the surface of bubbles of steam in boiling water. Many tiny bubbles appear and collapse. A few of little bubbles, however, grow large enough, continuing to expand at an ever increasing rate, corresponding to universes, till they finally collapse. In other words, none of the universes or particles for that matter is permanent. Their comparison with bubbles is strikingly similar to the concept of Maya according to which this phenomenal world is transient, very much like bubbles that expand and collapse time and again.
In relation to Maya, the following pertinent questions have been addressed by the participants:
- Does Maya in Vedantic philosophy stand for illusion, or real, or neither real nor unreal but a fact of life limited to our understanding with our five senses?
- Is Brahman, the Mayin, the efficient cause, or the material cause, or both, in relation to all Its creation?
- Is Maya an evil or an unavoidable necessity to live with?
- How can one liberate self from the bondage of Maya?
As for the first question, given the fact that the Maya pervades outer cosmos of our mortal world as well as inner cosmos of our mental world (including mind, intellect and ego), it would not be correct to reject Maya as unreal and illusory. More so when Karma (action) in this mortal world is given so much importance for our prarabdh (destiny) or liberation, as the case may be. It is, however, true that our mortal existence cannot be taken as absolute truth given the fact that our body cannot be mistaken for soul, and that the departing of our soul from the body cannot be taken for our death as the soul never dies. Hence, our mortality is a misnomer. From this point of view, our transient existence in this mortal world cannot be taken as real given that we are ignorant of our real self, or SOHAHAM (I AM He). Be that as it may, as a butterfly cannot say that the caterpillar is unreal, a self-realized soul cannot also brush aside his mortal existence as unreal. So long as realization does not dawn on him that he is not his mortal self, his mortal existence is real for him. As soon as he is able to unite with Brahman, the veil of Maya is lifted, and his mortal self becomes unreal.
As for the second question, we have reasonably concluded, following the Vedanta, that Brahman is both efficient cause as also the material cause of ITS entire creation in view of the Vedantic postulate that in the beginning there was nothing except Brahman and the entire creation was by way of evolution of Brahman as IT desired so. This desire to become manifold makes Brahman the efficient cause. As the creation was evolved out of Brahman, IT became the material cause in the sense that in every particle/soul Brahman is immanent. The concept of Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That), expounded in Chhandogya Upanishad by sage Uddalak to his son Shvetaketu would validate above proposition.
As to the third question, Maya is often denounced and denigrated as an obstacle on the path of our spiritual progress. This is because Maya, as opposed to Yoga, draws a person toward materialistic world. The pursuit of Yoga on the other hand takes one away from the spell of Maya toward Brahman or Pure Consciousness. However, the fact remains that Maya or Prakriti is created by Brahman or Pure Consciousness, and it would be repugnant to logic to even suggest that Impure can come out of Pure Consciousness. Obviously, therefore, our conclusion is that Maya, though not an absolute Truth, should be accepted as relative truth in our spiritual quest and should not be denounced or denigrated as impure or evil.
As for the fourth and last question, the Vedanta/Gita prescribes complete equanimity as the key to liberation from the bondage of Maya. Just as all creation and motion come to standstill in the state of dissolution when all three Gunas, viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas come to perfect equilibrium, the above principle very much applies to an individual soul as well in its state of liberation. The soul gets liberated from the cycle of birth and death when its all three Gunas come to perfect equilibrium. This is possible only when the soul has equipoise toward all material comforts and sufferings, happiness and sorrow, success and failure, victory and defeat, insult and accolade, friends and foes, riches and poverty, sin and piety, good and evil etc. Such equipoise pre-supposes conquest of ego. Automatically, in that event the binding knots of the three Gunas loosen, setting the soul free from the bondage of Maya.
The grace of a spiritual Master or the Divine is the only other means by which a soul is able to transcend the Maya.