Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


Here is a place to linger, to let your intellect roam. Aatmaavrajanam is being written as a progressive study and, as such, can be read like a book. Anyone arriving at any time can simply start at the very first post and work their way through at their own pace. Please take time to read the info tabs and ensure you don't miss a post, by subscribing to the blog. Interaction is welcomed. Don't be a spectator - be a participator!

Smoke & Mirrors

Hari OM

'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.

[You are reminded that reviewing the previous week's posts will become essential as the meanings of the Sanskrit terms may not be repeated. There may come additional or alternative meanings, but all should be noted. As study progresses, the technical terms must necessarily become 'second nature' to the student. When the Sanskrit is used, the translation will fall easily into place - or likewise, if the English is used, the Sanskrit term must easily come forwards.]

Please revisit THIS post and chant the mangala-charana. Please use the TattvabodaH label to access all posts relevant to this text.


Last week we saw the introduction to this section on the brahmaanda - the macrocosm, as in the greater world. We found that when we speak of सृष्टि /srishti (creation), we refer to twenty-four factors in the process; establishing that there is a twenty-fifth, but that being of the nature of  avidya and therefore without beginning, we have to consider it as part of the cause and not of srishti itself. Avidya is the ignorance as it pertains to the microcosm. When we talk of avidya in reference to the macrocosm, it is called as Maya.

The chanting provided here is for the aphorism relating to last week's post and then for today's topic.

अथ च्तुर्विंशति-तत्त्वोत्प्त्तिप्रकारं वक्ष्यामः।
atha chturviMshati-tattvotpttiprakaaraM vaxyaamaH.

"Now we shall explain the evolution of the twenty-four factors."

ब्रह्माश्रया सत्त्वरजस्तमोगुणात्मिका माया अस्ति।
brahmaashrayaa sattvarajastamoguNaatmikaa maayaa asti.

"Depending on Brahman, Maya exists, which is of the nature of the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas."

The Truth is, in the macrocosm, referred to as Brahman. Big. This is an adjective which generally qualifies a noun and is limited by the noun it is qualifying. For example, we may say that an elephant is big we immediately envisage the limitation of that 'bigness'. It may be big in relation to other things, but actually can be quite small in relation to the forest it is in. If there is no noun to which the Big adjective is applied, then that Bigness is unlimited, there is no restriction on what that Bigness is and thus it becomes potentially infinite. As we have established that Pure Self is the infinite substratum to everything, and as Brahman is here the Self conditioned by macrocosm, then Brahman and Self must be one and the same thing. Pure, unchanging Reality.

Think carefully now. If we are seeing shristi ( a created cosmos), it would naturally be our thought that Brahman is the creator. However, as everything must arise from something else, it involves an element change, does it not? Yet we have said that Brahman is unchanging. The created cannot come from the uncreated, the Ever-Existing Self. The created can only come from the created… but at some point of time, logically and philosophically, we have to find as we research ever backwards (or inwards…), that we reach to that uncreated entity, the source of everything. We intrinsically understand creation only from the point of the created, but Existence itself cannot be created or modified. Then we hit the question, 'can we say that entire shristhi has arisen from That?' Brahman must have created; this would suggest that until the point of creation, Brahman was quiet for some time and then became active to create. This implies modification. If we accept modification we also have to accept finitude - that is to say, destruction. If we accept that all which is subject to change is also subject to destruction then we now face the incidence of Brahman being destructible. [This can seem very esoteric if you are knew to this type of thinking… go with the flow; it comes up often!]

Image result for srishti vedantaFor there to be a stablising force behind everything, logically we cannot have a destructible Brahman. How can an ever-changing srishti have come from an unchanging cause? Our difficulty remains for as long as we consider that the creative process resembles that of the potter and his lump of clay, removing parts of the big lump to produce an endless variety of smaller clay items.

Vedanta postulates that the srishti element is actually within Brahman. Be careful here and be sure to understand the subtle difference. The creative instance according to Vedanta is not that of larger parts being cut into smaller parts, but of that large part going through internal process; it is a whole item, it transforms itself within itself, remaining forever whole. The 'formula' given is या मा सा माया /yaa maa saa maayaa - that which is not, yet appears to be, is called Maya. From the standpoint of Truth/Brahman/Self, there is no world - yet we experience it. This is Maya. Maya is sometimes referred to as प्रकृति /prkRiti - 'Mother Nature', the creatrix. The traditional example given for this is that of the snake appearing on the rope. The rope (Truth) cannot create the snake yet we experience the snake. As far as the rope is concerned there never was snake and never could be. This is the effect of Maya.

Maya has two powers;
  1. आवरण शक्ति  /aavarana shakti - the veiling power; this is of the nature of ignorance. For as long as we are ignorant, we do not know Truth. Aavarana cannot of itself create the world.
  1. विक्षेप शक्ति /vikshepa shakti - the projecting power; this is the creative power which projects the entire world of names and forms. It manifests our inherent impressions, but it cannot do this without the help of aavarana - as in the snake rope; the ignorance of the rope should precede the projection of the snake vision.

It is the existence of Maya upon Truth which together give us the creator 'God' - Iishvara. The power of Maya is unfathomable, it can make the impossible seem real. Maya alone creates the boundary-less cosmos from beginningless time and will do so apparently endlessly. Maya at no time is separate from the Truth - it only exists because of that True Existence. Truth itself is not affected by Maya and even is unaware of it. Upon the discovery of Truth, Maya is destroyed, just as finding that the rope is there, the snake dissipates completely.

Now, the aphorism told us also that Maya is of the triguna by nature. Sattva guna is characterised by knowledge, rajo-guna by activity and tamo-guna by inertia. These three qualities pervade the entire srishti and it is by the combination and permutation of the three which brings about the enormous variety we perceive.

Further important points at this stage now, are that there are two causes for any object; the material cause (उपादान कारण /upaadaana kaarana) and the efficient cause (निमित्त कारण /nimitta kaarana).  The clay is the material cause of the pot and the potter is the efficient cause of that pot. The finished product remains with its material, but generally, once the potter's work is done, that efficient cause separates from the object. On our big-scale model, panchabhuutas are upaadaana kaarana and Maya/Iishvara is nimitta kaarana - but both are Brahman only and therefore there is no separation of creator and created. As the five elements themselves arose from Truth, we must conclude that there is some condition of illusion going on. Example often used to illustrate the Grand Illusion is that of the waker and the dreamer. To the dreamer, his world is as real as any in his waking state; mind alone is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of all within the dream world. By positing Maya, Vedanta extends the entirety of srishti to be of a dream-like nature.

For us, the 'dreamers' this world is real! It has many natural laws, for which we have developed specialised sciences to explore them and our relationship with them… but such scientific exploration is not new. What proceeds from here in the text is the ancient wisdom on the physical nature of this Maya-created world.

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Hari OM
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