Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Reality of Maya By: Swamini Atmaprajnananda Saraswati

After all the explanations about the three orders of reality, it becomes imperative to explain the Mäyäväda of Sankara. That this jagat is because of mäyä or avidyä has been presented in many places of his bhäshyam.  Sankara is famous as the Mäyävädi philosopher by others, and has been criticized also. Now let us discuss what is the essence of Sankara’s doctrine of mäyä. 

Mäyä in the Vedas:
According to Sankara, this jagat is a creation of mäyä. In the Vedas, as well as the Upanishads, the use of the word mäyä is seen in many places. Generally, it has been used as mysterious power. The earliest reference to the word mäyä is found in the Rgveda, in the mantra - indro mäyäbhih pururüpa iyate (RVS-VI.47.18). The mantra means - ‘One Indra appears as many, because of the power ofmäyä’. Another Rgvedic mantra says - ‘O! Mitra Varuna! Your power of mäyä is residing in the space. By this power of mäyä, the bright Sun moves with its colorful rays. You cover the Sun by the clouds and the rains, thereby sweetly drenching the earth with the rains. All this happens because of your power ofmäyä.’ (RVS-V.63.4). 

Mäyä in the Upanishads:
In Svetäsvatara Upanishad-IV.10, mäyä is described as the prakrti, and Parameswara as mäyin ormäyävi.  It further says that, mäyä is the upädhi of Isvara and because of mäyä, Akshara Paramätmä creates this jagat (Sv.Up- IV.9). I 

Mäyä in Bhagav​adgitä:
In the Bhagavadgitä also, in many places mäyä is mentioned - ‘My three-fold mäyä is indeed difficult to perceive. Only those who surrender to me can overcome this mäyä’ (Bh.Gi.-VII.14). Further - ‘Those whose intellect has been stolen by mäyä, such evil people do not please me’ (Bh.Gi.-7.15).

Mäyä in Bhägavatam:
In Srimad Bhägavatam, mäyä’s power has been accepted as the cause and destroyer of this jagat(Bhä.Pu.-XI.3.16). Thus, mäyä has been referred to in Sruti, Smrti, as well as the Puränas. Therefore, the doctrine of mäyä is very ancient. However, Sankara has given this the distinction of a philosophical doctrine. Therefore, by Mäyävada philosophy, generally Sankara’s philosophy is understood. Let us now analyse Sankara’s doctrine of Mäyäväda. 

The notion of mäyä is understood as the principle that shows the Nis-prapanca-Brahman as Sa-prapanca. The doctrine of mäyä was not unknown to the Upanishads. It is already there, but naturally, it does not yet exhibit all the various features, which because of later elaboration and development, are associated with it in Sankara’s Advaita. It is true that the word mäyä occurs rarely in the earlier Upanishads (than Svetäsvatara); but it is found in literature considered older, though its meaning there may not be always be clearly determinable as in Sv.Up.-IV.10. Even in the earlier Upanishads, where we do not find mäyä, we have its equivalent avidyä (Ka.Up.-I.2.5). There also statements in them such as - ‘Where there is duality as it were (iva) one sees another’(Br.Up.-IV.5.15) which clearly points out the existence of idea in the Upanishads that the world is an appearance.

Sankara’s Mäyäväda:
By mäyä, Sankara means the power of Parameswara. Its other name is avyakta. Elsewhere, Sankara has mentioned this as avidyä. Because of this mäyäsakti, the jagat is created. It is erroneous to contend that by referring both Brahman and mäyä as two parallel realities (as presented in Sämkhya), Sankara’s doctrine of Advaita is negated. Just as the burning power of fire is non-separable from the fire, similarly mäyä is not a parallel reality apart from Brahman; rather mäyä is completely dependent on Brahman (Brahmäsrayä-mäyä). Thus, by acknowledging the existence of mäyä, the doctrine of Advaita is not negated. In Viveka Cüdämani, mäyä is described as - ‘Mäyä, through which this world is born, is called avyakta (unmanifest), and is the power of the Lord. She is beginningless ignorance, of the nature of three gunas, and superior to her effects. Her existence is to be inferred from her effects, by a person with a clear mind (Vi.Cü.-110). Endowed with mäyä, Nirguna-Brahman appears as Saguna-Brahman or Isvara, and this Isvara is the creator of this jagat.


Mäyä is Anirvacaniya:

In the Advaita tradition, mäyä is defined as anirvacaniya - categorically non-definable. It is neither sat - (absolute real) nor asat (here non-existent). One cannot define mäyä as sat, since once one gets to know Brahman, mäyä and its creation ceases to exist (in his understanding) for the knower. For the knower of the Truth, Brahman alone is Truth. However, although mäyä is asat, it is not non-existent (tuccham, alika); because non-existent objects like sasa-srnga are not perceivable, whereas mäyä and its product is object of perception. Therefore, in Advaitic tradition it is described as anirvacaniya - categorically non-definable, this mäyä is not different from Brahman, nor non-different. {Note, here the example of agni and its burning power (guna-guni-sambandha) is defeated}. Since mäyä’s svarüpa(here, ontological reality) is mithyä, and it being the cause of the jagat, it cannot be defined as non-different from Brahman. Mäyä is not different from Brahman (unlike in Sämkhya), just as the pot is not different from clay. If it is defined as different from Brahman, the doctrine of Advaita will be negated. And it is not a quality of Brahman, because Brahman is without any qualities - Nirguna. Again mäyäcannot be both part of Brahman, and separate from it at the same time. Therefore, it is anirvacaniya(Vi.Cü.-111). From the absolute (päramärthika) point of view, mäyä is non-existent i.e. there is no such thing as mäyä (just as from the gold’s viewpoint there is no chain, or bangle, or ring; from water’s point of view, there is no wave or ocean; from clay’s point of view, there is no pot). However, as long as one is in the samsära, in this empirical world, the effect mäyä is evident. Therefore, mäyä has both the qualities of negation and existence. All the object of this jagat is of the nature of anirvacaniya. As per Sankara, only that which is always unchangeable and un-negatable, that alone is sat, the absolute Reality (BGSB-II.16). Any object of the empirical world is not absolute real, since it is subject to change and subject to time. On the other hand, the objects of the world are not non-existent like vandhyä-putra, since a vandhyä-putra is not evident, whereas the evidence of the objects of the world is undeniable. Therefore, the objects of the world is neither sat nor asat (non-existent), they areanirvacaniya. That makes their cause mäyä also anirvacaniya.
Doctrine of Mäyä different from Sünyaväda or Vijnänaväda Buddhism:
Here, one has to remember that, as per Sankara, the objects of the world are neither vijnäna norsünya. Sankara’s doctrine of mäyä is completely different from Buddhistic doctrine of vijnäna or sünya. Even though jagat is mithyä from päramärthika - absolute point of view, it is not vijnäna. The Vijnanävädi philosophers (of Yogäcära School) do not accept existence of any external reality. They accept the reality of the vijnäna alone. Sankara, in his Brahmasütra-Bhäshyam has negated the contention of the Vijnänavädis by saying - ‘One has to accept the existence of objects like the pot, cloth. We have the cognition of the external objects. The knowledge and the object of knowledge cannot be one and non-separable.’ As per Sankara, knowledge is vastu-tantra. Generally, there is no knowledge, without the object of knowledge. Therefore, there is an erroneous belief that, without the object of knowledge, there is no existence of any object. Besides, the Vijnänavadi Buddhists consider the jagat as non-existent, treat the experience of the waking world similar to the experience of the dream world, and consider vijnäna as the cause of the experience of the dream world, as well as the waking world. 

However here, while explaining the sütra - vaidharmät ca na svapnädivat (Brahmasütra-II.2.29), Sankara has clearly negated the contentions of the Vijnänavädi Buddhists. He states, the difference between the waking experience and dream experience is very clear. The dream state is negated by the waking state, but the waking state is not negated as such. Waking state can be negated only frompäramärthika or absolute point of view. Even from absolute point of view it may be asat - unreal, but has vyävahärika or empirical reality, whereas the dream state reality has only prätibhäshika reality - ‘You see, therefore it is’. If the external object is not there, one cannot say that the internal vijnäna is reflected as the external object. It is not possible to accept a Vishnumitra as a vandhyäputra. Therefore, external objects are not vijnäna.  Thus, while Sankara accepts the empirical reality of thejagat, he does not confer on it any päramärthikatvam - absolute reality. In the field of empiricality, Sankara is a Vastu-svätantrya-vädi - a realist. From päramärthikattvam - absolute viewpoint he is Advaitätmä-vädi, since he accepts the reality of Brahman-Ätmä.

As per Sankara, prior to knowing the oneness and non-difference between Brahman and Ätmä, all the empirical transaction whether Vedic or local, appears real. The jagat is not sünya. Without basing on the absolute, one cannot negate the non-absolute. Brahman is the adhishthänam - basis of this jagat. Without acknowledging the reality of this basis, to label everything as sünya will negate the basis. And it is imperative to mention, where the jagat has to be negated. Since Brahman is the basis of the jagat,the jagat is negated in Brahman, just as the pot is negated with the knowledge of the clay. Therefore, as per Sankara’s doctrine of mäyä, even if the jagat is asat (unreal), it is not prätibhäshika like the dream, nor void (sünya). 

Mäyä of  Sankara is not the same as of Sämkhya’s:
Although Sankara has defined mäyä as avyakta in many (Vi.Cü.-110) places, it is not the same avyaktaor prakrti or mäyä as per Sämkhya. Because, whereas in Sämkhya philosophy prakrti is satyam, in Sankara’s Advaita, mäyä is asat or mithyä.  As per Sämkhya, prakrti has a special existence. However, as per Sankara, mäyä has no independent existence other than Brahman. Only because of ourajnänam, we consider Isvara’s mäyäsakti as satyam - real, and the jagat that is projected because of that mayäsakti as satyam - real. However, with knowledge, which is growing clarity, one gets to know the non-dual Brahman, and that the i) Isvarattvam ii) and His mäyäsakti iii) and the projected näma-rüpa-jagat because of that mäyäsakti, is not real. Therefore, the difference between Sankara’s mäyäand the prakrti of Sämkhya is clear.

Another evidence of Sankara treating mäyä as the cause of error is his seen in his Kathopanishad-bhäshyam - aho atigambhirä duravagähyä viciträ mäyä ca iyam, yad ayam sarvo jantuh paramärthatah paramärthasatatvo’pi evam bodhyamäno’ham paramätmeti na grahnäti (Ka.Up.Sa.Bh-I.3.12).   It becomes clear that the perception of jagat is in fact perception of ajnäna or avidyä or mäyä. The only truth is Brahman. Even if the jagat enjoys an empirical reality, it is unreal from absolute viewpoint. 

Epilogue - The Three orders of Reality:
It now becomes reiterate the three orders of realities as per Sankara. He has used three orders of realities in his explanation of Advaita-Vedänta:

 i) prätibhäshika

(ii) vyävahärika

(iii) päramärthika.

The appearance of the snake on the rope, or the objects seen in the dream-state, which is negated in waking-state belongs to prätibhäshika - subjective reality. Before knowledge of Brahman-ätmä, whatever appears as real, and wherein transaction is possible is vyävahärika - objective reality. And Nirguna-Brahman or Ätmä that can never be negated is päramärthika - absolute reality.
Swamini Atmaprajnananda Saraswati's Profile
Also known as Swamini
Sannyäsini (Hindu Monk), Advaitin, Vedic and Sanskrit Scholar, Published Author, Researcher, Vedäntäcäryä and Vyäkaranäcaryä (Teacher of Vedänta and Sanskrit). Gurukula studies, Masters and PhD in Sanskrit, MBA (in previous Äshrama). Alumni of XIMB, Ärsha Vidyä Gurukulam, Utkal University, IGNOU.Swämini Ätmaprajnänanda Saraswati is a student-disciple of Swämi Dayänanda Saraswati (b.1930 -), founder of Ärsha Vidyä paramparä - tradition. She is a Dasanämi Sannyäsini of Shankara-Bhagavatpäda order, belonging to Niranjan Akhädä.

She is an Advaita Vedantin and Vedic and Sanskrit Scholar (holding a Ph. D. in Sanskrit). Her other areas of study and research are - Vedic Studies, Temple-Architecture, Buddhism, Bhakti and Sufi Movement in India. (Her other technical degrees are MBA (in Finance and Marketing), and PG Diploma in Journalism, Certificate in Human Rights, which she earned in per previous äshrama).

Her expertise lies in disseminating Advaita Vedanta, and presenting it to the students/readers without any entropy, demystifying it and presenting as a Pramana (a valid means of knowledge). Her decades of gurukula studies and University education (MA and Ph.D) and past coroparte work-experience makes her relate to her students/readers. Although a consummate Advaitin, she handles effortlessly other philosophies. She handles her contenders in Vishishtadvaita, Davita, Acintya Bhedabheda, Atheists, Iconoclast, Christians , Islamic scholars with ease and respect, and wins them over with her intellectual honesty without imposing her views on anyone, winning them overhand, gathering the additional knowledge to her corpus.. She waits for the other person to grow and be ready for Advaita.
Swämini Ätmaprajnänanda Saraswati is a Vedäntäcäryä and Vyäkaranäcäryä. She teaches Vedänta and Pänini in Ärsha Vidyä Vikäs Kendra at Bhubaneswar. She is the author of two published books -‘Nomenclature of the Vedas’ and ‘Rshikas of the Rgveda.



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