26.1: MAYA, THE FIRST SECRET OF SECRETS FROM THE GITA
Usually Equanimity in practice is talked about as the central teaching of the Gita’s way of Man’s life on this planet. This equanimity in practice has two facets to it. One is the concept that everything is divine and therefore one has to look at the whole world, animate and inanimate, as one’s own Self. In addition to being an attitude of perception, this has practical implications as we have already seen. The other facet of this equanimity, namely, the attitude of equanimity in our response to everything that happens to us as individuals, has greater implications for the way we walk through our lives. Whether it is pleasure or pain, good or bad, friend or foe, to everything and every one we have to keep the same equanimous reaction without pigeonholing them into what we like and what we do not like. This teaching reverberates throughout the Gita. Certainly it is the uppermost teaching, the central teaching, for the practice of the Gita way of living. In fact, everywhere it says that this is the only way to happiness and the person with this kind of behaviour is portrayed as the ideal role model.
The wonderful passages (which are almost similar in language and emphasis) in the Gita on such an ideal person occur in three different chapters, namely, 2, 12 and 14 in three different contexts. In Chapter 2, the context is that of Right Action and it is established therein that only such equanimous souls have the Wisdom for Right Action. In Chapter 12, the same style of expression is repeated in the context of Right Devotion. In Chapter 14 the context is the influence of the guNas (satva, rajas and tamas) on us. Only those who can have, in their day-to-day lives and behaviour, an attitude that transcends the three guNas (guNAtIta-bhAvanA) are considered to have reached God. These statements come from the Lord in reply to the question by Arjuna “What could be the behaviour of one who has transcended the three guNas?”
prakAshaM ca pravRttiM ca moham-eva ca pANDava /
na dveshhTi sampravRttAni na nivRttAni kAnkshhati // 14-22 //
This is one of the most pregnant shlokas of the Gita. It conveys the behaviour of a guNAtIta. ‘prakAshaM’ is lighting up, as a result of rising satva. ‘pravRtti’ is involvement in action, as a result of rising rajas. ‘mohaM’ is a clouding of mental as well as nervous systems, as a result of rising tamas. When any of these happens, the guNAtIta does not abhor or shrink from it; nor does he long for them when they cease to appear.
udAsinavad-AsIno guNair-yo na vichAlyate /
guNA vartanta ityeva yo’vatishhTati nengate // 14 – 23 //
The guNAtIta, seated like one unconcerned, is unshaken by the guNas. Recognising that it is the guNas that are in the process of action, he stands apart and moves not.
Samadukha-sukhas-svasthaH sama-loshhTAshma-kAmcanaH /
tulya-priya-apriyo dhIras-tulya-nindAtma-samstutiH // 14 -24 //
He regards happiness and suffering alike. Gold, mud and stone are of equal value to him. So also are the pleasant and the unpleasant. Also praise and blame are the same to this brave soul.
mAnApamAnayos-tulyaH tulyo mitrAri-pakshhayoH /
sarvArambha-parityAgI guNAtItas-sa ucyate // 14 – 25 //
Honour and Insult are the same. Faction of his friends and faction of his enemies are equal things. He has abandoned all undertakings, because he has left them to the guNas. Such a one is a guNAtIta.
To see the similarity of thought in the other two contexts – that of Right Devotion and that of Right Action – here is just one sample shloka each from Chapters 12 and 2.
Yo na hRshhyati na dveshhTi na shocati na kAnkshhati /
shubA-shubha-parityAgI bhaktimAn-yas-sa me priyaH // 12 - 17 //
He who neither desires the pleasant and rejoices at its touch, nor abhors the unpleasant and sorrows at its touch, he who has abolished the distinction between fortunate and unfortunate happenings, he is the devotee dear to Me.
dukheshhv-anudvigna-manAH sukheshhu vigata-spRhaH /
vIta-rAga-bhaya-krodhaH sthitadhIr-munir-ucyate // 2 -56 //
He whose mind is undisturbed in the midst of sorrows and is free from desire in the midst of pleasures, he from whom liking, fear and anger have passed away – such a one is the sage of settled understanding.
The Lord Himself gives the reason why the generality of people do not rise to these levels of spiritual heights.
icchA-dveshha-samuthena dvandva-mohena bhArata /
sarva-bhUtAni sammohaM sarge yAnti param-tapa // VII – 27 //
By the delusion of the dualities which arise from liking and disliking, all existences in the creation are led into bewilderment.
Wherefrom comes this ‘dvandva-moha’, the intoxicating influence of duality and multiplicity? It comes from His own mAyA. “mAyayA-pahRta-jnAnAH AsuraM bhAvam-AshritAH” – ‘their knowledge has been captivated by mAyA and they resort to the ways of demons’ (VII – 15, second line)
When we talked of PrakRti in the third chapter of the Gita, it was ‘our PrakRti’ which is the conglomeration of all our Vasanas. It is only a fragment of the cosmic PrakRti which is first introduced by the Lord in the seventh chapter. Therein He says that it is the entire world of inert matter comprising the five elemental fundamentals, plus mind, plus intellect and plus the Ego.
“bhUmirAponalo vAyuH khaM mano buddhir-eva ca /
ahamkAra itIyaM me bhinnA prakRtir-ashhTadhA” (VII – 4)
God’s creation starts with these. So prakRti is the material cause for all matter creation and movement. Everything that we see before us is nothing but a specific combination of the eightfold contents of PrakRti and nothing else. But all this is only a Lower PrakRti. There is a Higher PrakRti which is what becomes the multiplicity of souls in the world. It is by this prakRti that the whole universe of men and matter is sustained.
“apareyaM itastvanyAM prakRtiM viddhi me parAM /
jIva-bhUtAM mahAbAho yayedaM dhAryate jagat ” (VII – 5)
It is the one spiritual current vibrating in all living beings as their life force. In that sense He is the Father of the Universe. He is the origin and in Him is the dissolution. And it is at this point He declares that all this is a divine mAyA of His and we have to transcend it in order to reach Him.
daivI hyeshhA guNa-mayI mama mAyA duratyayA /
mAmeva ye prapadyante mAyAm-etAM taranti te” (VII – 14)
And in the ninth chapter it is declared that it is all happening under his surveillance and supervision.
“mayA-dhyakshheNa prakRtiH sUyate sacarAcaraM /
hetunAnena kaunteya jagad-viparivartate // (IX – 10)
It is mAyA that hides the reality from us and also projects a falsity in the form of the multiplicities of the universe.
For those who are prone to intellectual questioning, a very fundamental question arises. Unless mAyA is already present, neither concealment nor projection can take place. Is mAyA then coeval with brahman? Do they exist side by side? Does this not contradict the non-dual status of brahman? Where does mAyA operate? What is its base of operation? These questions raise very profound issues. The base of activity of mAyA cannot be brahman because the latter is Absolute Luminosity and there is no place in it for ignorance or darkness. Nor can the jIva be the base of operations of mAyA. For jIva itself cannot come into existence until mAyA has operated. There seems to be an irresoluble logical difficulty here.
The difficulty vanishes once we realize that we are here making an implicit assumption that is not valid. We are actually assuming the prior reality of time and space before the appearance of mAyA. Otherwise we could not have asked the question: Where does mAyA operate? When does it come into existence? These questions are valid only if you have a frame of reference in time and space independent of mAyA. But time and space, says Sankara, are themselves creations of mAyA. (cf. ‘mAyA-kalpita-desha-kAla- kalanAt’ in his dakshiNAmUrti-stotra, sloka no.4). In fact, this is also the answer to the physicist’s question: When did time originate? Time did not originate in a timeless frame because we would then be begging the question. The very fact that we are conscious of the passage of time is a consequence and an influence of mAyA. So questions such as, ‘Where does mAyA operate?’ and ‘When did it start operating?’ are not properly posed. Time and space cannot claim prior existence. It is therefore wrong to ask whether mAyA is prior to jIva or later than jIva. Ultimate Reality is beyond space and time. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, time, space and causation are like the glass through which the Absolute is seen. In the Absolute itself, there is neither space, nor time nor causation. As in the field of modern physics, so in the field of vedanta, time and space are modes incidental to sense perception and should not be applied to what is trans-empirical. jIva and mAyA are both given a priori in our experience and we have to take them as such. They are anAdi (beginningless).
The only relevant question that you can ask about them is about their nature and final destiny. Examination will show that mAyA is neither real nor unreal. ‘I am ignorant’ is a common expression, within anybody’s experience. Hence mAyA is not completely unreal. But it disappears with the onset of knowledge. So it is not real either. Thus it is different from both the real and the unreal. In Sanskrit it is therefore called ‘sad-asad-vilakshaNa’, meaning that it is different from both the real and the unreal. And for the same reason it is said to be ‘anirvacanIya’, meaning, that which is undecidable or that which cannot be defined one way or the other. It is in this sense we say that the world of perception, the common world of experience, cannot be rejected out of hand as totally false, like the hare’s horn or the lotus in the sky; nor can it be taken to be totally real because it suffers contradiction at a higher level of experience. It is real in the empirical sense and unreal in the absolute sense. It appears, therefore it is not asat; it disappears, therefore it is not sat.
This is also the case with a dream. For the dreamer, the dream is real. The acceptance of the reality of the dream to the dreamer is the king-pin of Sankara’s explanation of advaita. He bases many of his arguments on this phenomenal reality of the dream (‘prAtibhAsika-satyaM’). Both this and the ‘reality’ of the world called ‘vyAvahArika- satyaM’are in between the total unreality - ‘asat’ – of the barren mother, and the total reality – ‘sat’ - of brahman. The dream and similarly the perceptible universe is neither ‘sat’ nor ‘asat’. It is ‘mithyA’. The meaning of the word ‘mithyA’ is not falsehood but comparative unreality. It is not total non-existence like hare’s horn but it is midway between the absolute truth of brahman and the absolute falsehood of hare’s horn.
There are actually different analogies to explain the peculiar relationship between brahman and the universe. The analogy that Sankara very often uses is the relationless relationship of the rope that is mistaken for the snake, because of poor lighting. The rope appears as a snake no doubt, but actually there is no snake there, ever. Even when it appeared to be there, it was not there. But the one who saw it did really get scared on ‘seeing’ the snake and only when help came in the form of better lighting did the person realize that what ‘was there’ all the time was only a rope. The second analogy that is used in the literature is the appearance of water in a mirage. And the third one is that of the dreamer and his dream.
Each of these three analogies has its own limitation in explaining the relationship between brahman which is invisible and the universe which is visible. Brahman is the rope; the visible universe is the snake. What appears as the universe is not really the universe. When spiritual illumination takes place we will know—that is what the teachers say -- that what was (and is) there all the time was only brahman. Similarly in the example of the mirage and water, the water appearance is only an illusion. What is there in reality is only sand, no water. The dream of course is totally a mental aberration, fully subjective and it vanishes the moment the person wakes up. The three analogies are not however just three analogies in place of one.
There is a gradation, says Ramana Maharishi. First it may be questioned, with reference to the analogy of the rope and the snake that when the lighting situation improves the appearance of the snake is no more there, whereas, in the case of brahman versus universe, even after learning that brahman is the substratum of truth, and the universe is only a superimposition like the snake on the rope, we still continue to see the universe; it has not disappeared! For this the Maharishi wants you to go to the analogy of the mirage. Once you understand it is the mirage and no watershed, the appearance of water does not confuse you into thinking that it is real. But now there is another objection. ‘Even after knowing that there is only brahman and the universe is only an appearance, one gets certain wants fulfilled from this appearance of a universe: one gets one’s hunger satisfied, thirst quenched and so on. But the water that appears in a mirage does not quench one’s thirst; so to that extent the analogy is inappropriate’. The analogy of the dream meets this objection, says the Maharishi. The dreamer has his thirst quenched in the dream. The thirst itself is a dream thirst and it is quenched by drinking (dream) water in the dream; so also the wants that one feels in this universe like hunger and thirst are also quenched by corresponding objects in this universe. Thus in this sense the analogy of the dream is reasonably perfect. Maybe that is why Sankara uses the analogy of the dream so emphatically to describe the reality or unreality of the universe.
In advaita the concept of reality is always comparative. Relative to materials, things made out of the materials are unreal. In other words if a bucket is made out of plastic, the bucket is unreal relative to the plastic. It is the cause that is ‘more real’ than the effect. The cause of the world versus the world itself gives us a comparison about their relative reality. When we say that the universe is unreal, we mean that IT IS UNREAL AS THE UNIVERSE, BUT IT IS SURELY REAL AS BRAHMAN, ITS CAUSE.
In order to explain this relative unreality the theory of superimposition is meticulously worked out by Sankara. While the snake is superimposed on the rope, the rope undergoes no aberration or modification in the process. It is the same rope all the time. What appears to you is only in your mind. The visible universe is just a perishable (kShara) superimposition on brahman. Brahman does not undergo any change in the process. All the time brahman remains as brahman, the imperishable (akShara) substratum. This is where the nirguNa (attributeless) character of brahman is effectively applied by Sankara to his explanation of this mysterious relationship.
This phenomenon of brahman not being visible but something else, the universe, being visible, is exactly what the term ‘mAyA’ means. ‘yA mA sA mAyA’: What is not, is mAyA. It does two things. It hides brahman from you. Simultaneously it projects the universe to you. The declaration that this is what is happening comes forth in a profoundly puzzling way from the Lord Himself in Gita IX – 4 and the first line of 5. ‘Everything that is perceptible is pervaded and permeated by Me, who is unmanifested. All the beings are established in Me but not I in them; they are not in Me either, this is my divine yoga.’
“mayA tatamidaM sarvaM jagad-avyakta-mUrtinA /
“mat-sthAni sarva-bhUtAni na cAhaM teshh-vavasthitaH // (X – 4)
“na ca matsthAni bhUtAni pashya me yogam-aishvaraM / (first half of IX-5)
He remains unmanifested while what is visible is basically a permeation by him. While He remains unchanged, and imperceptible, the universe is what is perceptible. Everything visible is supported by Him as the only substratum, whereas He Himself is not supported by anything. He is His own support. The snake appears on the rope, the rope does not undergo any change, but the snake is supported by the rope, (meaning, without the rope there is no snake). But in reality the snake was never there and so it is also true to saythat the snake is not in the rope.
To the question: Where is the snake?, the answer is: it is in the rope. To the question, Is the snake there?, the answer is, there is no snake, the snake was never in the rope. It is in this strain that the Lord gives out, almost in the same breath, what appears to be two contradictory statements. Everything is in Me; and nothing is in Me. This is the cosmic mystery of the existence of the Universe. It is and is not – sad-asad-vilakshaNa, mAyA! This is the first secret of the Gita. It talks of guhya-tamam (most secretive tattva) at three places. This is the first guhya-tamam tattva.
It is very significant that the Lord uses the words “pashya me yogam aishvaraM”, in making this declaration (IX-5); and he uses the same expression in the 11th chapter when he is about to show his Cosmic Form to Arjuna (XI – 8). The mystery behind MayA as well as the mystery behind His cosmic form are both explainable only as His “aishvaraM yogaM” (Divine Yoga).
Recall from ‘Dakshinamurti stotra’:
rAhu-grasta-divAkarendu sadRSo mAyA-samAcchadanAt
sanmAtraH-karaNopa-samharaNato yo'bhUt sushuptah pumAn /
tasmai SrI-guru-mUrtaye nama idaM SrI-dakshiNA-mUrtaye //
To The Self, who in sleep due to the withdrawal of the senses becomes Pure Existence, on the withdrawal of the veiling by mAyA, as in the case of the sun or the moon in eclipse, and on waking recognizes, 'I have slept till now', to Him of the form of the Guru, (of the animate and the inanimate) the blessed dakshinA-mUrti, is this prostration.
This is actually a rebuttal of the Buddhist theory that the absence of knowledge in sleep shows that the Ultimate is Emptiness. This verse is a very important one, because this brings the punch line in the debate with the nihilist point of view. When there is nothing presented to consciousness, as in the case of deep sleep, it is not as if consciousness is not there. The very fact that later one is able to say 'nothing was presented to my consciousness' shows that consciousness was aware of that nothingness. So consciousness is never absent. When the sun is under eclipse, the sun does not vanish. It is there all by itself. It is our view that is mutilated and distorted. It is this wrong perception that is removed by the Guru of all Gurus.
In deep sleep consciousness is there all by itself. It is not necessary to have another agency show the presence of consciousness. It is self-luminous. In a dark room it is not necessary to have a torch to find a lighted lamp. The lighted lamp itself is self-luminous. The silent condition of the mind without thoughts of objects is the pure conscious condition of oneself. The bliss of sleep and the ignorance that characterises sleep are both experienced by Consciousness. This consciousness is brahman. The 'memory' of sleep as well as the happiness of sleep is technically called pratyabhijnA. It is knowing oneself by oneself. When it is used as a verb, as in this verse (pratyabhijnAyate), it is a peculiar grammatic usage called karma-kartari prayoga. It is like saying that a calf released itself from the knot which held it on to the pole. The verb means: 'to come to oneself, recover consciousness'. The statement 'I slept happily' has a factor of awareness in it, a factor of bliss, and a factor of existence. These three are the cit, Ananda and sat of the sac-cidAnanda that is the Ultimate. The happiness that was enjoyed was not the pleasure of the senses, because the senses had gone to sleep. It was not the happiness of the soul resting, because the soul was always what it was: cf.
nAsato vidyate bhavo nAbhAvo vidyate sataH /
What is not can never be, nor can what is, cease to exist
(Here the meaning of 'is' and 'is not' should be taken in an absolute sense.)
Also it is incorrect to say that the happiness enjoyed during sleep was just the absence of unhappiness, because there was no instrument of enjoyment present. The pratyabhijnAcannot recall what was not experienced. Again it is incorrect to say that each instant the knower is changing and so instant after instant different knowers are registering different pieces of knowledge and therefore there cannot be any pratyabhijnA. This is a view called kshaNika-vijnAna. The buddhist philosophy therefore explains away the pratyabhijnA as delusion. But it is not a delusion. A recalling always needs continuity of consciousness between the past event and the present event of recalling and this continuity for recalling is available because the Seer never loses His Sight in view of His immutability. cf. (bRhad-AraNyaka-Upanishad)
na hi drashTur-dRshteh viparilopo vidyate avinASitvAt /