Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Maya and AvidyA

Let us begin with an illustration: I see a dream. Two friends in this dream go on a hike. It starts raining. They rush into a hut they see along the way. They are glad to see an old man with a long beard in the hut. He is kind enough to give them food and water. They then sit to talk with him, and they talk about how fortunate they were to find his abode, whereupon he tells them - listen, do you know something - the two of you, me, this hut, this forest, are all nothing but brahman.
And who or what is brahman? - he/she/that which is pervading the entire dream. Now the two friends look very surprised - with due respect dear sir, how can it be - they claim! You are doing the talking, we are listening, we just had warm rotis, our clothes were drenched in the rain - and all this was nothing but brahman? who is this brahman?
He is both the efficient and material cause of that dream.
He is the sleeper "I"
As far as that dream Universe is concerned I lent both satta - existence - and sfurti - consciousness - to the dream. The hill, the trees, the rain clouds, the rain, the water, the food, my friend, the old man, everything in and through was me and me alone.
And yet, did I for a second become old to become the old man. Did a particle of me get wet in that rain? Did i develop both the two friends' hunger and again its lack of on eating the dream food which was again only me? no. Now let us reverse the question - was the old man me> ? yes. were the two friends me? yes. Once i resorb the dream unto me, and the old man, the friends, even that mountain, all are destroyed - will i still continue. yes. So the dream friends and the "real" sleeper me are in essence the same - yet he the dream "jiva" was as though created and i, the sleeper, am as though the creator - the vishwanatha for that dream vishwa.
I pervade the dream, i am immanent in the dream, i transcend the dream, and yet i remain unsullied, unattached, pure, auspicious - shivoham shivoham.
How did i do this? Using my power called maya.
Where is maya? It is my intrinsic power.
So there are two things - me and maya?
No is only one, thing, Me. maya is not a separate thing that i wield like a spectre.
I cannot distill or separate out this power of mine called maya - you can perceive it by its effect - in having successfully given an appearance consisting of this universe of plurality that was perceived.
When there was the dream I was, when there is no dream or rather when the next dream is in potential form, i still am. In fact i alone am.

Now what prevents the dream people from recognizing their innate oneness with me? ignorance or avidya alone - about what? their true nature.
Strictly speaking omnipotence, omniscience are all never applicable to Brahman - Brahman is the Whole, One, without a second. These adjectives apply to Brahman only from the standpoint of the jiva, - the jiva regards himself as an entity with limited power - so he has to look to Brahman as all-powerful, he regards himself as being a mortal - so Brahman is Omniscient - he regards himself as being a karta-bhokta - so regards Brahman as a karma-phala-daata. And this Brahman, in relation to this jiva, is said to be "saguna" Brahman or maya-sahitam Brahman.
This does not mean there are two Brahmans - or two parts of Brahman - or two levels of Brahman - or two anything - this is precisely what advaita - Non-duality - is all about.
It is simply from the perspective of the ignorant jiva that the term avidya has any relevance.

Now one may ask "Why did Brahman manifest as the Universe? If this was because of a limitation on the part of Brahman, then can he be said to be Omniscient?"

There is a space-time-construct that we are enmeshed in where causality has to be assigned.There is milk right now visible to me, and tomorrow it has become curd. What caused this to happen? A "cause" has to be posited.

As far as avidya is concerned it is anaadi, or beginingless.
Now when we hear the term beginingless, our mind, again by its default mode of functioning, thinks of beginingless as meaning something very very very old..something before Krishna, Rama, etc.etc.
Time itself is a created entity just like space, and so beginingless essentially means something that is beyond this time-space-causality matrix.

So it is not that "first" we posit Brahman, as One, without a second.
"Then" this "homogeneous" Brahman develops ignorance about Itself.
And "from this" the worlds and universes get created. This mode of thinking should be discarded.
In essence there is no reality other then Brahman.
What you see is Brahman alone. What you are is Brahman alone.
This which should be apparent is not - to whom? to me, to whom it is not apparent.
Instead what is apparent to me is duality, which is mithya.
This is because of avidya. This avidya - this entity "i" have always had. Why? there is no answer because it beyond cause. That is Maya. It exists, for me, because i perceive duality which is its "effect", but it is not Real, because this duality is purely notional, and disappears with the right knowledge.

Now let us go to the the second example: water/ocean/wave example. There is only water, nothing else. From the standpoint of the water - water is.
The ocean with millions of waves is not really an illusion "superimposed" on the water. That there is an ocean, that there are waves, is mithya because in essence there is only water. there is no wave minus the water. the wave is only a notion.
If we consider one wave in the ocean as having a notion of spearateness - i was born 10days ago, i am blue in color, my name is Devadutta, 4 days ago i married to this wave next to me called XYZ, we now have these 3 little waves that are next to us called A,B and C, i know at some point i am going to die - this "i-notion" - that i am this "discrete and distinct" entity - is who the illusion occurs to. The reason for this notion is ignorance or avidya - about his true nature, which is beginigless.
This i-sense being only a mistaken,mis"placed" notion, can neither be said to be inside the ocean nor outside the ocean, it can neither be said to be real, nor even unreal, as long as the particular wave Devadutta holds onto that notion.
As far as water is concerned, there is neither ocean, nor waves, no illusion, nothing to observe, nothing but Itself, One, without a Second. The water is merely a unattached substratum in which is this whole play of waves, wave droplets, etc are born again and again and die.
The wave as Devadutta considers himself separate from the ocean. Until he realizes otherwise, Mr.Devadutta the wave is very much a small wave and the Ocean is very much infinitely large and powerful. Once he understands with the help of Shruti as well as a competent Guru, his true identity is only water, then all distinctions come to an end. He as a wave may still be "10days old", his physical location in the ocean need not change, (in the sense that he does not have to travel to a separate location in the ocean called Vaikuntha or Brahmaloka), but he is no longer deluded, his "identity-crisis" is over.So yes, there is water and noting else, but only when this is dis-covered to be a fact by the i-sense of the wave - for itself. as would be obvious this realization will result in an annihilation of the i-sense itself.
Did the water "create" the waves? no! there IS nothing but water. The wave is not a separate "thing" that required to be created. In fact the water for all its omniscience could NOT create a single wave that was not water when water alone IS. But the waves (let us say) perceive themselves as waves. This is a notional ignorance on the part of the waves which harbor this "wave-sense" So the concept "wave" is relevant to them. And now with this "wave"concept that they firmly cling to and conclude to be their nature, comes the "ocean" of wave-samsara.
What is the substratum of the ignorant wave? water
What is the substratum of the "liberated" wave? water.
Brahman(water) is not a "knower" It is that know-ING - that objectless awareness - that illumines the notional ingorance of the jiva(wave) as well as its notional liberation.
This very knowing - this awareness - is never under the delusion of duality - it lends its reality as it were to this delusion so that the jiva knows - but knows himself himself to be something he is not.
I am Devadutta is a mix of "I am" which is borrowed from Brahman and "Devadutta" which is borrowed from avidya. Fortunately in the wake of knowledge, when the notional Devadutta as someone separate from Brahman disappears, what IS is "I am"
Maya is the power or shakti of Brahman. Saying Brahman can be subjected to or under the influence of avidya is like saying my wondrous power of sight can cause me to go blind. Nothing Real can ever be "covered" by something which borrows its existence from it.
So jiva/i, is/am, under the spell of avidya. this avidya is beginingless. So don't look for a cause for this avidya. Why? Not because the question is inconvenient, not because the answer is difficult, but because what is begininglesss CANNOT HAVE a cause. And Brahman is beyond both cause and effect. When we say it is vivarta upaadaana kaaranam it is only form the standpoint of the ignorant jiva who demands a cause, for a duality that has no reality to begin with.


Anonymous said...

good post.

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Nikhil Gandhi said...

Namaste. I would like to ask you a question about this post. There is something about the way avidyā is presented in sampradāya that has left me confused (appropriately!). Could you please email me at All the best. Om.

Anonymous said...

This is a very nice post. The gist of the avidya issue is-

The very perception of time is an illusion. Hence, clearly, illusion cannot have any beginning in time. In this sense, avidya is beginnigless.