Maya is 'Maya'


   by Peter Holleran

   “When the old worn-out phrases about Brahman and maya are parrotted from Sankara it is better to answer simply, “So what!” For still things remain the same as before, all the denunciation of the world has been merely maya and does not change its very real presence and actuality to us. The same applies to other persons and individuals. Is it not better to say that the ego, with its body, emotion, and intellect, is part of the person’s experience than to deny it altogether?”

   "Instead of merely repeating certain sentences which you have read or been taught, think them over for yourself. If you were really the real could you become illusion? If you were the True, how could you succeed in deceiving yourself so far as to become the false? If ignorance , error, and illusion can happen to the One Mind, then they are just as powerful as It."

   “This world is rooted in the divine substance and is consequently not an empty illusion but an indirect manifestation of divine reality...The world is neither a trap nor an illusion, neither a degradation of the divine essence nor an indication of the divine absence.”

   “He must not let the Ashtavakra Samhita be misunderstood. It does not preach mystic idleness and indifference. The world is there for both sage and student, and both must work and serve--the difference being mental only. Illusionism is not the doctrine except as an intermediate stage towards truth, which is higher. One must participate in God's work by assisting evolution and redeeming the world, not squat idly in peace alone.”
- Paul Brunton (PB) (1)

   “Nothing hides consciousness." - Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon (2)

   "To be afraid of the world is the greatest bondage of all." (3) - Bengali Baba, guru of Swami Rama


   We will now embark on an investigate the concept of Maya or illusion, which is subject to a similar treatment as ‘Emptiness’ was in the preceding article, in the sense that upon examination it is found itself to be ‘Maya’ or illusion itself. But, of course, there is much more to say than that. As in the previous article, we will alternately write in a scholarly, practical, risk-taking, humorous, provocative if not blasphemous manner! It cannot be otherwise, because the existant views must be introduced and clarified, even as they have often failed - and still fail - to deliver as promised. One can say that they have proven the test of time, but that now time has changed. Yet even that is not quite correct. For all through the centuries they have been debated, argued, fought and - yes, even in the East - killed over (references available on request). So, let us begin at the beginning. As is the case with many of our articles, we try to introduce much traditional material from many sources and points of view, as a capsule education on the topic, for ourself as well as the reader, while also trying to simplify traditional matters for a modern understanding wherever possible. If we fail in this task it is not for want of trying. As this is a comprehensive consideration, similar to "Emptiness Is Empty", the text is broken up with frequent sub-headings for ease of reading. There is no central argument built up gradually paragraph by paragraph, but rather topical sections that the reader is advised to read contemplatively, and to savor intuitively one at a time, as he feels so moved. If a particular section proves too dense he may simply go on to the next, without, in most cases, missing out on the essential themes of the whole.

   In addition, we will be attempting to following the cautionary admonition of PB in regards to writing:

   "Write what can be useful to others, what will simplify the teaching for them, and what will lead them to seek the source within their own being."

   "When he writes at his best, what he writes may be on a higher level than himself."
! (4)

   With these preliminary remarks out of the way, we shall begin.


   Some traditional and non-traditional thoughts on Maya

   PB writes of the traditional two-fold process (used by Sankara and Vedanta as well as the Buddhists) of ‘negation-assertion’ in coming to a non-dual view:

   “Chandrakirti, a Mahayana Buddhist guru, said, "We teach the illusion of existence only as antidote to the obstinate belief of common mankind in the existence of this world"...The real truth is that both world and self exists in consciousness, that they are nothing else than Consciousness itself....In the higher philosophy the existence of the world is not denied...It is no less real than humanity. Only it must be understood that is is a manifestation of Mind, not an illusion. This being the One Reality, it follows that the world cannot be unreal...”The Manifest is Mind; and so too is the Void.” - Tilopa, The View of Mahamudra.” (5)

   “He must not let the Ashtavakra Samhita be misunderstood. It does not preach mystic idleness and indifference. The world is there for both sage and student, and both must work and serve - the difference being mental only. Illusionism is not the doctrine except as an intermediate stage towards truth, which is higher. One must participate in God’s work by assisting evolution and redeeming the world, not squat idly in peace alone.”

   “Of what use or help is it to tell the enquiring Westerner, “The Hindu sage does not see the world; he sees only Brahman”? If he does not see the world, then he does not see food in front of him, nor even his own body - both being parts of the physical world. Such statements merely create confusion for others. The Greek philosopher saw the world but understood it for what it really was. He did not need to deny its existence...It will be more correct to translate the term Maya not by “unreal” but by “not what we think it to be.” We must not deny the existence of the world - that would be lunacy - but we must try to get a correct understanding of its hidden nature.”
(6)

   Of course, he does admit this is easier said than done:

   “It is all like a gigantic dream, with every human inserting his own private dream inside the public one. A double spell has to be broken before reality can be glimpsed - the spell which the world lays upon us and that which self lays upon us. The man who has completely awakened from this spell is the man who has gained complete insight. This faculty is nothing other than such full wakefulness. It is immensely difficult to attain, which is why so few of the dreamers ever wake up at all and why so many will not even listen to the revelations of the awakened ones. However, Nature teaches us here as elsewhere not to let patience break down. There is plenty of time in her bag. Life is an evolutionary process. Men will begin to stir in their sleep erratically but increasingly.” (7)

   The so-called Void, as profound of an experience it is in meditation, with all the fear and dread the ego may (or may not) face at its threshold, has, says PB, a counterpart in daily life, and that is detachment or non-identification. Thus, one can come to reality whether in and out of trance. The contention of jnanis or sages is that enlightenment itself is not the direct fruit of concentration, samadhi or meditative absorption alone (although that may be indeed be preparation), but rather is a discriminative knowledge or insight arising when the Self and Maya (illusion), or Self and World, are finally seen as non-separate, in the midst of any and all conditions and states. If the effort is only to kill the mind, they will say, how can such discrimination arise?

   Papaji often said, “nothing ever happened.” Reminds me of a famous story about Krishna explaining the power of illusion that goes like this:

   "The Sage Narada once asked Sri Krishna to describe maya. Sri Krishna said, 'Very well, but first you must go and bring me a little water to drink.' Narada went to a nearby village to get the water, and there he met a young woman to whom he was instantly attracted. They were married, had several children, and were very happy. Then came a terrible flood and all the houses were washed away. Narada was struggling in the water to hold on to his wife and children, but they were pulled away from his arms one after another. He was trying to stay afloat himself when he heard Sri Krishna's voice calling, 'Oh, Narada - where is my water?' Then Narada understood what maya is." (8)

   Thus, illusion, whatever it is, is powerful, even for great sages of the past. Questions to raise at the outset, then, are the following: is our 'entanglement' in 'illusion' entirely based on just ‘an innocent misunderstanding’, as Adyashanti once remarked, or is it deeper than that, and, further, is there a divine purpose behind it, and if so, what is it, and can it even be put into words? These issues will be addressed as we proceed.

   Maya and traditional Yogic-Vedantic relationship with the koshas; some additional associations

   According to Swami Ranganathanda, in The Message of Vivekachudamani, the classic Vedantic text attributed to Sri Sankara, the subtle body is said to be ‘the true man of Vedanta’. (This is to be contrasted with the ‘true Self of Vedanta’, the Atman, one's eternal identity). The subtle body or inner organ (antahkarana, manas-ahamkara-buddhi, or sometimes higher manas-vijnanamaya-anandamaya koshas) is what is often considered the reincarnating ‘soul’ in western thought. It is in Vedanta a beginningless superimposition on the true Soul (Atman) brought on by its own ignorance, or the power of Maya, Nescience, the Undifferentiated, the mysterious power of the Lord Isvara or Saguna Brahman composed of the three gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva, however you want to look at it. Maya has both a veiling and a projecting power. The latter is activated by rajas and the former by tamas. Further, the projecting power is only manifested once the veiling power is active. Cultivation of sattvic buddhi in which the Atman can be clearly reflected is the Vedantic way to rid oneself of this primal ignorance. (9)

   A word of clarification. While in some traditions within yoga-vedanta the subtle body generally means the astral-mental bodies, or pranamaya-manamaya koshas, and the causal the vijnanamaya-anandamaya koshas, in some schools the four internal instruments making up the antahkarana: Mind, Intellect (Buddhi), Memory (Chitta) and Ego (Ahankara) are sometimes lumped together as the subtle body. Then the causal body (considered a ‘body’ by the definition of body as ‘One that is prone to destruction’) is essentially avidya or maya itself. We are not what we believe ourselves to be as a consequence of our natural, unquestioning acceptance of the gross and subtle bodies; i.e. we do not know our own self; this is our Avidya. It is the jiva’s false knowledge or ‘Mithya Jnana.’ This allows the entry of attachment and aversion (raga-dvesha) into our lives. It is not karma per se that is harmful, it is action done because of raga-dvesha that is the source of our misery. Karmas performed under the influence of raga-dvesha lead to their fruits getting coded inside the subtle body. Not all these fruits can be reaped within the present birth. Therefore we have to take birth again. Hence the root cause of the continuous cycle of birth and death is our Avidya, or ignorance of our true self. Since this Avidya is susceptible to destruction through knowledge (Jnana), hence it too is a sharira (body). Consequently, ignorance too is referred to as a body in the scriptures (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Isha Upanishad, Mantra 8). Avidya is the causal body since it is the cause of our falling continuously into the cycle of birth and death.

    In this classification of koshas the anandamaya kosha or the 'bliss sheath', active in sleep, may be looked upon as Maya also. And so it was written in the Atmaram by Sri Samartha Ramandas, that "the bliss attainment of the yogi is Maya". It is a cover over the pure Soul, although so close that it has been considered almost an integral part of the (impartible) Soul.

   Even though we think of Avidya (the causal body) as situated within us, and thus reap the fruits done through raga-dvesha, in actual terms the Avidya does not reside in us (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on Katha Upanishad 2.2.11). This Avidya is not natural to the soul because the soul is ever pure and devoid of any Avidya-like contamination. Actually, Avidya or the causal body is not actually the presence of something (bhava rupa), rather, it is the absence of something (abhava rupa), namely knowledge or Vidya. Still, it said to have power until it is seen through.

   [All of this must be recognized as seen from the relative, or vyavaharika, point of view. From the absolute, or point of view, there is only non-dual Brahman: no real bodies; koshas as such are considered expedients or modes of perceiving relativity. Vedanta takes its most traditional stand from Guadapada and Sankara where causality is not admitted, relativity and nescience are solely due to ignorance, which is beginningless (anadi) and inexplainable. Some schools of Vedanta more associated with yoga, however, teach reincarnation, birth, death, bodies, and so on, recognizing Isvara as a power or aspect of non-dual Brahman that may be reckoned with. Thus, the shabda-brahman, or light and sound current, for instance, is seen not only or merely as a temporary 'concept', as Dennis Waite suggests in his excellent book Back to the Truth: 5000 years of Advaita, and somewhat absurd on its face, but as an intermediate reality or liberating presence within relativity].

  . According to Swami Vivekananda:

   “Maya is not a theory for the explanation of the world; it is simply a statement of facts as they exist, that the very basis of our being is a contradiction, that wherever there is good, there must also be evil, and wherever there is evil, there must be good, wherever there is life, death must follow as its shadow, and everyone who smiles will have to weep, and vice versa. This eternal play of light and darkness - indiscriminate, indistinguishable, inseparable - is always there. A fact, and at the same time not a fact; awake and at the same time asleep. This is a statement of facts, and this is what is called Maya. We are born in this Maya, we live in it, we dream in it. We are philosophers in it, we are spiritual men in it, nay, we are devils in this Maya, and we are gods in this Maya. Stretch your ideas as far as you can, make them higher and higher, call them infinite or by any other name you please, even these ideas are within this Maya...Everything that has form, everything that calls up an idea in your mind, is within Maya; for everything that is bound by the laws of time, space and causation is within Maya.” (10)

   Swami Rangathananda gives us this intriguing description of Maya:

   "No definition is possible for Maya. It just escapes clear-cut description, and when ever we attempt to describe it, the description takes the form of a paradox, as found in this verse: She is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters. We cannot say it exists. Then can we say it does not exist? That also we cannot say. Then can we say it is a mixture of both existence and non-existence? Even that is not possible. Similarly, She is neither same nor different nor both. She is neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both. We cannot predict whether it is with parts, without parts, or combined. None of these predications can be made about nature, Nature is beyond predications. She is a mysterious wonder. This is the beautiful definition of Maya given by Shankara." (11)

   Sankara ecstatically exclaimed:

   “Alas! What a wonderful thing this veiling power is! It can even destroy the wisdom of a learned and wise man! One may be intelligent and wise, a scholar, very clever, and also adept in the vision of the exceedingly subtle Atman. In spite of these high qualifications, even a little breeze of this concealing power can destroy everything.” (12)

   The Sufis make a big deal about this point, that no matter how high a 'station' one has reached, there is always a danger of a fall; the higher one advances, the greater the temptations. For instance, in the 'station of the soul' one has the danger of pride or arrogance. In the station of 'divine secrets' one may be overly attached to ecstasy, and in the even higher station of 'nearness to Allah', one may become enamored of one's divinity, or one's 'awareness' and 'selflessness'.

   According to Swami Ranganathananda, Maya, also known as the Divine Mother or para-shakti in the Devi Mahatmyam, has two dimensions:

   “It is an important point that comes in Sri Ramakrishna’s gospel. The two dimensions of Maya are avidya maya and vidya maya. When the heart becomes the playground of avidya maya, it pulls us down. Vidya Maya lifts us up. It is the enlightening Maya. The choice is ours. Though everything is Maya, we have the choice to choose either of the dimensions. When we begin to exercise this choice in favor of vidya maya, our life is lifted up. We become moral and steady. Our spiritual growth begins from then onward. But when we take Maya for granted and do not struggle against it, we remain like animals.” (13)

   Maya, according to Advaita Vedanta, can only be overcome by realizing the non-dual absolute Brahman through the knowledge ‘I am the Self’. Sankara says:

   “Neither by yoga, nor by samkhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is liberation possible, and by no other means.” (14)

   This is so because the first false identification of the Self, according to the Vedanta of Rangananthananda, is with the buddhi, wherefrom the sense of ‘I’ comes from. Buddhi is so fine and close to the Self that it reflects the Self’s brilliant light to such a degree that many aspirants have taken this experience to be realization of the Self. Ramana often quoted scripture, saying “the Self is always shining in the intellectual sheath,” or what Sankara called "the cave of Buddhi". This false identification is an error of knowledge, and can therefore only be removed by discriminative knowledge of the finest degree.

   For PB, maya "simply means that matter is an illusion of the mind," (15) and can be eradicated by the mentalistic discipline combined with concentrative meditation and contemplative reflection. It is not illusion per se but not seeing things the way they are in truth, due to an error in thinking, or thinking taking itself to be the light of consciousness itself. This, at times anyway, for PB was not strictly an error, but only the present condition within a long evolutionary process of man coming to self-consciousness. Shankara, when siding with ajatavada, rejects causality, creation and by necessity evolution, saying only that while the illusion or nescience is beginningless, it has an end through the dawn of right Knowledge. However, Vedanta, being scientific, is compatible with evolution.The key to this tangle is in recognizing the two truths, absolute and relative, and their resolution beyond polarities in a higher synthesis. Evolution, creation - and no evolution, no creation - are all relative terms. Truth is beyond such concepts.

   Lama Yeshe seems to agree with PB:

   "The beautiful face of reality exists within all phenomena, right here and now. It is only a matter of removing the layers of our own projections obscuring the pure vision of reality." (16)

   Continuing with the line of reasoning by Swami Ranganathananda, the causal body of the soul, or karana sarira, is spoken as made of the Undifferentiated, the compound of the three gunas, and as such is also of the nature of Maya. It is expressed especially in deep sleep, in which the mind and the powerful mental impressions that activate us in the waking and dream states remain dormant or suspended, as is vijnanamaya kosha, without which there is no knowledge, held in latent seed-form (bijatmana-avasthitirava-buddeh); only the bliss sheath remains. (17) Upon awaking we have only the memory of bliss derived from Atman reflecting in the anandamaya kosha. Thus a Sanskrit text, Atmaram, by Sri Samartha Ramadas, was led to declare, "the bliss experience of the yogi is maya."

   This can be confusing because Brahman Itself, or more properly, Saguna Brahman or Iswara has been described as ‘Sat-Chit-Ananda’. Thus discrimination is needed between what is a extremely subtle form of experiential bliss and the inherent bliss of the Self. One who becomes or recognizes his oneness with Saguna Brahman, Iswara or World-Mind, automatically is beyond mind and maya, soul and God, becoming ultimate Brahman Itself, says Vedanta. Maya or illusion is shown as itself illusion, with only Reality standing as it is.

   Sankara was, according to some thinkers, essentially forced to come up with the theory of 'higher and lower' maya to explain the apparent nature of creation, supposedly for those of lesser understanding. Others, however, believe he actually went through a conversion of sorts and firmly believed in maya as the creative power of absolute God or Brahman, and was not just speaking down to those of lesser intellect. He is sometimes blamed for introducing the concept maya, but it is found throughout the Upanishads, the Gita, and other scriptures:

   “Without Shakti or Maya, God cannot be the creator, because in absence of Maya, there cannot be an inclination (pravritti) to create in God.” (18).

   Krishna says:

   "I have two kinds of Maya – lower (apara) and superior (para). The first is the cause of the inert world, and the second is my shakti in the form of prana which sustains this world. Because My Maya, in these two forms, is the cause of this entire world, it is actually Me, who is the ultimate source and dissolution of the world." (19)

   The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says:

   ”God takes on many forms through His Maya. He takes on these various forms to reveal His own self.” (2.5.19).

   Sankara said in his commentaries to the Brahma Sutras that higher maya, the power of the Lord, creates prana to sustain the living world, lower maya creates the inert but changing world (the forms), and that our avidya or ignorance activates lower maya to fulfill our desires:

   “First prana is created by the superior form of Lord's Maya. It is our avidya which then actuates the lower form of Maya This Maya creates the various bodies fit enough to reap the fruits of the karmas of our previous lives. Thus the para prakriti sustains this world through prana or 'life breath', and the apara prakriti is responsible for the bodies, which if it hadn't been for the prana would have been lifeless.” (20)

   Desire for this world, and the proximate cause of its creation, is ours, the capacity to create it is God’s:

   “Even though God (Brahman) is essentially quiet and neutral, It creates the world by this Maya which is joined with the avidya of beings.” (21)

   We have already seen an alternate Vedantic explanation of this from Sankara himself, where nescience is entirely due to maya. Some Vedantins extend this to arguing that Isvara, jivas, and worlds are due to maya also. So, what is the truth? Sankara apparently had two positions, according to some. The commentaries on the Brahma Sutras are held by strict advaitins as solely provisional ones for lesser minds, while non-causality and its corollary of non-creation, or ajata, were his highest teachings in the Mandukya Upanishad. Sankara himself, however, did appear to set this controversy at rest in both of his commentaries, the Mandukya and the Brahma Sutras, respectively:

   "The noble ones, the seekers of liberation, are preoccupied only with ultimate reality, not with useless speculations about creation. Hence the various alternative theories about creation come only from believers in the doctrine that creation is real." (21a)

   "...the texts teaching that there was a creation are not concerned with proclaiming the ultimate truth. For their subject-matter falls within the realm of practical experience consisting of name and form imagined through nescience, and their ultimate purpose is to indicate how one's true Self is the Absolute." (21b)

   The reader will recall, also, that for the Madhyamika Buddhists (such as Nagarjuna, who borrowed some of Guadapada's arguments refuting causality), avidya is transcendental illusion, not the avidya of individual beings, as it often was for the Hindus. Thus, avidya for the Buddhist seems more like the general Hindu maya. The Hindu view of Brahman/Isvara/cosmic maya and avidya or ignorance for the jiva appears the more intricate of the two explanations. For when individual avidya is gone, maya or the world-projection is still there, even for the sage. This was PB's view, that the World-Mind still continues project its World-Idea even when one is individually enlightened. That the bodies or sheaths, mere expedients for the Vedantists, 'empty skhandas for the Buddhists, are actual 'entities' that persist due to the presence of 'conscious' elementals in the ether for a time even after the death of the person bears this out. This is a complicated mystery of relativity that must be respected.

   Once again, it is unlikely that Sankara was of two minds. He, like most broad-hearted sages, taught what was most useful for his audience. In his famous commentaries on the Upanishads, especially the Mandukya, he wrote pure nondual advaitic philosophy, arguing with precise words for the identity of Atman and Brahman, or only nondual Brahman. There is no causality or creation, only non-dual Brahman. Even if one holds that everything in this world is interdependent, as the Buddhists maintain, and that everything is the cause of something else, that all is in fact the cause of all - one can see where this leads: that that there are only causes and no effects, and thus, in truth, no causes either - for you can't have one without the other - and the doctrine of causality self-destructs. This was liekly Sankara's highest teaching, which one had to mount to in stages. On the other hand, his writings on the Brahmasutras with references to maya, higher and lower Brahman (Isvara) to account for 'creation' (or real enough 'apparent emanation'), is alleged to have been meant as a help for those who could not understand the higher point of view. All theories of Maya, then, are to account for 'creation'. If there is no creation as such, then there is no Maya, or alternately, 'Maya is Brahman'. This methodology is based on compassion, and is specifically also called 'sublation', or 'superimposition and recision'. A lessor view is given, which is later withdrawn as the understanding of the student progresses, until in the end all views are discarded for the truth. This is a living and profound process, because, in Vedanta, even Maya as the 'Shakti' of God (which includes the Word or power of the Logos) is rejected in the end. And this poses some extreme practical challenges (such as why, if all is Mind or consciousness, does the body not just disappear upon one's death, when the conscious principle leave, instead continuing to appear for others, and, also, how do some practitioners, die in such a manner that they do disappear, deconstructing their bodies into the 'essence of the elements', leaving only their hair and nails - or, in the case of the Siddhas, nothing - behind them, whether through the power of siddhi, or, such as in Dzogchen, even without siddhi? Further, a simple question: why does a chance tune heard the night before - or even years before - suddenly begin reverberating involuntarily and repeatedly, as if in a loop in one's brain, if all is only mind and there is no such thing as matter? How does that happen? What, in fact, are the brain, or the elements, and the essence of the elements? (for to the ancients so-called 'matter' or elements were not considered actual substances, but modes of appearance, i.e., solid, water-y, air-y, fire-y, or etheric-ly, and also chid-akasa (space) and cit-akasa (consciousness), of which their gross manifestation was what was is conventionally considered 'matter'. Thus, they spoke of both mulaprakriti and prakriti - the unmanifest, and the manifest aspect of the unmanifest, which was itself the noumenal aspect of the phenomenal!). Matter and spirit or consciousness were considered on a spectrum, always inseparable, yet distributed on a spectrum whereby the highest level of matter was consciousness, and the lowest aspect of consciousness was matter. Other questions present themselves: why is a brain necessary for perception? What is the subconscious mind in which one seems to be plunged during the normal dream state? How is my subconscious mind different from yours? This can be explained with the theory of elementals, which, while considered as matter, are also 'conscious', with individual 'signatures' that 'know' for whom they are designated. They are the root of the doctrine of karma. Thus I don't dream your strange dreams. To adequately explain all of this with ajata Vedanta, however, is very difficult if not impossible. This is why strict gyan was considered the highest or steepest path. And this is also why we suggest that Sankara didn't really have two views, but was searching for a unified view to account for reality, with its necessary polarity of (inseparable) spirit-matter at every level below Brahman. Yes, it is all Mayaic, as even the often misunderstood theosophist H.P. Blavatsky emphasized, but a Maya that would endure for an entire eonic Day of Brahma, individual illusion or ignorance only until it is recognized as itself inseparable from reality, and not merely capable of being thought or enquired away. This viewpoint is discussed in detail in the article: Theosophy, PB, and Non-Duality: A Fresh Look on this website.

   [In this light it is interesting that H.P.B.'s living, incarnate masters informed her (to her relief, in fact) that the very same Sankara had been made 'World Teacher', a function of a completely liberated being who worked from a higher dimension to guide various streams of world spirituality towards a greater understanding. For the purposes of this paper, the reader is not asked to believe such things, such as that there are 'custodians of wisdom' for mankind, only to keep them in mind as possible.

   In Guadapada's vedanta everything in the Vedas not amenable to reason was to be rejected. Sankara took that work and elaborated upon it. But who wrote the Vedas? Some say the Seven Holy Rishis. And who is said to have taught them? Lost in hoary antiquity, it is believed that more advanced beings from other worlds guiding fledgling humanity did so, beings so advanced in comparison to our sages as those sages are to higher primates. Of course, they could have been wrong, or simply only divulged what was appropriate for the stage of evolution that man was in at the time, so this is not iron-clad proof to doubt truths propounded by Sankara, only offered for consideration. Anadi argues that the ancient teachers viewed their concept of freedom as an impersonal one only, and were not in tune with the subtle realities of the soul, which a more whole and undivided humanity is now ready for:

   "We may wonder why extraordinarily deep teachings of non-duality founded by seers of the highest order have repudiated the existence of a personal essence. It is not that the conclusions of these masters sprang from incomplete realizations, but rather that their perceptions of reality were conditioned to express their experiences in a purely impersonal way. The traditions we are referring to were created in times when humanity was not yet ripe enough to embrace the consciousness of the soul. They may have been revolutionary in their time, but from the viewpoint of the now, their spiritual vision is outdated. At its conception, any new tradition of enlightenment naturally reflects the unconscious evolutionary needs of the contemporary collective mind; otherwise it is rejected and forgotten. It is in fact the will of the divine cause to express truth at a level in accordance with the evolutionary capacity of humanity at any particular stage of its development."

   "Traditions of the past were not designed to reveal the subtle dimension of the soul; their objective was the strict realization of impersonal peace and freedom. Their teachings were not incorrect, only incomplete — and not in their time, but from the present perspective of the expanded potential of human consciousness. Even though enlightenment is a timeless realization pointing to the change-less principle of the absolute reality, insight into that reality eternally evolves as the subject of illumination becomes increasingly whole. Ancient questions about our true identity and the nature of self have to be revisited in order to unravel the ultimate mystery of me within."
(21c)

   This of course would be adamantly refuted by strict vedantists, but is much more fully elaborated on in anadi's book].

   An entire section near the end of this paper is devoted to the vedantic teaching methodology of superimposition and recission. A bit on this method, also known as sublation, follows directly below.


Creation stories and Maya; the vedantic method of sublation

   To clear up some undoubted confusion, it must be mentioned that among the writers of the Upanishads and others on up to Sankara and Vedanta teachers after him, it was not a top priority to be exacting in their 'creation stories' because their main position was that of 'no-creation' , or ajata, or non-duality. Therefore, where some Upanishads speak of Isvara creating Maya, while others say Maya creates Isvara, or that Saguna Brahman is the Creator, using Prakritti or undifferentiated matter (a Samkyha term used in a Vedantic explanation!), it is not so important. The very methodology of Vedanta is 'superimposition and recission,' or 'sublation', or basically offering a view suited to the intelligence of the listener, to be retracted when the intelligence matures, until the aspirant can accept the truth of 'no-creation'. Sankata's 'neti neti' method of analysis of the five koshas was of this type: eliminate all that is not the Self, then, when one has found his unchanging essence, he is then taught to go back and reclaim all that he has negated and see that as also the Self, or Brahman. This should be kept in mind as we continue. Ramana Maharshi used this method also. He would take one of three views on creation depending on the level of development of the person he was talking to. If they could understand the deepest truth, he would teach ajata vada or no-creation. If they could not understand this, he would teach drishti-srristi vada, or the theory that the I-thought and the world arise and cease together, which is his variant of vivarta or 'apparent'creation. Ramana justified this by saying that, "if one can consistently regard the world as an unreal creation of the mind then it loses its attraction and it becomes easier to maintain an undistracted awareness of the 'I'-thought"(Ramana's favorite method of self-inquiry, which he felt led to realization of the Self or Atman). Ramana would even go so far sometimes to tell people that this viewpoint was not the ultimate view, but that it would serve as a working understanding. If the person could understand neither of these, he would teach sristi-drishti vada, or the gradual creation of the world, such as in typical Creation Deity myths and such.

   The second view, that the world and the 'I'-thought arise together is the majority position taken in the book Guru Vachaka Kovai. In this book Ramana even goes so far as to say that there is only one jiva that apparently sees other jivas, but they don't really exist. This, of course, seems like solipsism, but here is the quote, as reported by Major Chadwick, an early devotee:

   "It is a fundamental tenet of advaita that the world is projected by the individual mind that sees it. Some people think that this means that each individual jiva projects its own world, but Bhagavan taught that this is not the correct perspective. He maintained that the jiva which sees the world is the only jiva that exists, and that all the other people whom this jiva sees are merely imagined projections of the first jiva. Since all things and all beings are merely the externalised projection of the jiva who sees them, it follows that when this jiva is absent or destroyed, the other beings and things simply cease to exist...`The world does not say that it was created in the collective mind or that it was created in the individual mind. It only appears in your small mind. If your mind gets destroyed, there will be no world.'" (22)

   Now, I did a little research, and in the famous book Talks with Ramana Maharshi, the sage himself gives a metaphor to explain how this, in fact, does not happen, that there ARE separate jivas and they do SEPARATELY  become enlightened:

   "There is the moon. Let any one look at her from any place at any time; she is the same moon. Everyone knows it. Now suppose that there are several receptacles of water reflecting the moon. The images are all different from one another and from the moon herself. if one of the receptacles falls to pieces, that reflection disappears. its disappearance does not affect the real moon or the other reflections. It is similar with an individual attaining Liberation. He alone is liberated."

   Moreover, the quote from Guru Kavacka Kovai just seems absurd on its face. Where did the idea that the world is a projection of a jiva come from? The jiva itself is a projection within a projection! Or, an illusion within an illusion as some others would say. Or a thought within a Thought. A dream within a Dream. Either way, if one holds an ajata view as Ramana did then there is no creation or world to be destroyed in any case. The quote gives the mistaken impression that a sage will not see the world of duality like everybody else, but he does so, only knowing it is not separate from the Self. The sage sees the world-image. The jiva's avidya is destroyed, but the projection of Maya, the World-Mind, or Saguna-Brahman remains. A true non-duality doesn't make everything go 'into the soup'!

   Farther on in the book Ramana seems to agree with this, in that he accepts Iswara’s ‘creation’ as real - more in line with PB’s concept of a World-Mind projecting a World-Idea, and an individual mind and individual self which participates in it . Only the latter is considered the source of illusion in this quote. [Of course, on ‘emptiness’ principles both would be conceived as ‘relatively real’ if viewed incorrectly as something ‘substantial’]:

   “Bhagavan: Creation is to be considered in its two aspects, Iswara srishti [God's creation] and jiva srishti (individual's creation]. Of these two, the universe is the former, and its relation to the individual is the latter. It is the latter which gives rise to pain and pleasure, irrespective of the former...Kill the jiva and there is no pain or pleasure but the mental bliss persists forever. Killing the jiva is to abide in the Self.” (23)

    I would make a distinction, therefore, between the perception of the world, and the existence of the world. In the nondual state, one can transcend the perception that there is actually an external world that is separate from oneself, but that does not mean that the appearance of an external world does not continue to exist for all other beings who are not enlightened. For this conundrum PB posited a World-Mind, similar to the Nous of Plotinus, superimposing a master-image or World-Idea on every individual mind, to account for a world-in-common, which makes things easier to grasp, and for which reason among others PB left Ramana philosophically - but it may not be absolutely necessary to do so since things aren't totally graspable anyway! However, the concept does resonate with many traditions. Likewise, with the arising of consciousness we can say that the world also arises, but since, at the relative level at which the story/experience of ignorance and enlightenment takes place there are many 'selves', then when a given self arrives at awakening to nondual realization, since other 'selves' have not, then the continued relative appearance of a universe continues for them, and an enlightened being can participate in that without believing it is an absolute truth. 

   But, we partly agree with the more strict non-dualists,  in that all this is still dangerous story making, because even the notion of beginnings and endings to ignorance/enlightenment, minds arising with worlds, and so on is all dualistic cosmology anyway. It can have a kind of value in pointing in a general direction towards 'deeper states' of nondual understanding about all of this, but upon 'entering' vaster realms of enlightenment, 'looking back' at such understanding (quotes around several of these terms to imply their relative nature), they will appear to be much too simplistic and crude to begin to do justice to the deeper perspectives that arise about all of this in trans-intellectual states. But we can at least refine the intellect's orientation towards these levels of realization by doing as good as we can with pointing beyond. For instance, PB writes:

   “We reject all theories of the Divine Principle having a self-benefitting purpose - such as to know Itself or to get rid of its loneliness - in manifesting the cosmos. It is the perfect and needs nothing. The cosmos arises of itself under an inherent law of necessity, and the evolution of all entities therein is to enable them to reflect something of the Divine; it is for their sake, not for the Divine’s, that they exist.”

   “It is not possible to answer the question, “What is the purpose of creation? But this will not deter the practical person and genuine seeker from continuing his attempt to fulfill the immediate purpose which confronts all human beings - that of awakening to the consciousness of the divine soul.”
(23a)

   Personally, I think Plotinus, Sufism, Taoism, and some other schools of Buddhism and Vedanta do a better job with this. It feels 'more true' to say, that is, a better story (!), not that there is only 'one jiva that manifests the world and all other jivas' (a difficult word to use since the jiva itself implies something limited, and which, relatively speaking, seems patently absurd), but that we live in a world where there are infinite beings each of whom who are All-that-is interacting with 'other' beings who are also All-there-is! Plotinus and Ibn Arabi saying that in the Intelligible we see all forms within the One, interpenetrating and not separate in the usual way, yet a mysterious reality nonetheless. There is also room for the infinite Soul in all of this as well.

   I would say, maybe even more importantly, that besides this  view there are  even more subtle levels of perspective, because this point of view is still quite black and white, where one element of the primary polarity, the jiva (atman-illimunated-antakarana), is ascribed the quality of awareness or consciousness (even ultimate consciousness in this quote, which is absurd), and I-ness, and the other is the 'world', either as image or as matter. But as we actually 'approach' increasingly nondual illuminated states, we will see more and more the interplay of attributes in these types of polarities, so that, for instance, there really must be 'jiva-ness' in the world, or consciousness there also, so that it is also a kind of witness or presence looking back at 'jiva'. So who is the jiva and who is the world? Just another dualistic superimposition. If we just collapse completely into giving each aspect the same traits equally (which can be actually experienced, but also may be more of a philosophical exercise) then we transcend dualism and individualities, for individualities can only exist if they are 'individuals', that is, they are experienced as having some trait or quality or attribute more than what is experienced as not-self. But, in between the more black and white realms of simple notions like 'jiva(s) and the world' on the one hand, and radical non-distinction on the other, is a vast expanse of states and realms where the polar-distinguishing attributes are being perceived more and more as actually interdependently manifesting in each aspect of the underlying polarity of relativity, giving rise to increasingly nondual-illumined states of individualized experience. Here, too, in these states of realization, simplistic models of creation based on overly dualistic polarities and such, all break down and give rise to more sublime, much harder to describe, transcendent realizations of all this - including 'creation' understandings. So that is why these classic designations of various philosophies do not do  justice to the truly transcendental nature of advanced contemplation of these points of view, especially those that deeply treat the relationship between ajata-type realizations, and how they would illuminate the ways in which people experience the nature of relativity. I have yet to see a discussion of all of this in the world philosophies that begins to due full justice to these realms of realization. Maybe we can get into this in more detail, it could prove interesting.

   What is certain is that the fundamentalist creation stories are not acceptable for they signify the creation of something out of nothing. And a fundamental tenet of ancient Indian doctrine is that something cannot come out of nothing. No one, not even God, can create something out of nothing! Therefore, the ‘creation’ must be of the very same ‘stuff’ as the ‘creator’. This means that creation is really a manifestation or emanation of consciousness or Mind, without which we can never experience anything. We may even grant what I call a ‘modified Samhkaya’ philosophy, admitting two principles, thought or consciousness and energy or matter, i.e., Purusha and Prakriti, so long as we do a little nondual ‘tweaking’ and derive them both from the principle of Mind and do not admit them as eternally separate substances, the basic drawback of Samkhaya as a philosophy. This, in fact, is what H.P. Blavatsky has done in The Secret Doctrine, and what the highest forms of Vedanta have always done, as they are rooted, as is most Hindu philosophy and yoga, in the basic principles of Samkhaya. Without going into elaborate reasoning right now, let us just say that It makes it somewhat easier to explain emanationism and many phenomena, and unifies Buddhism, Vedanta, and Christianity. 'Creation' is a combined product of an infinite hierarchy of intelligences 'guiding and building' on the basis of a primal divine ideation and also an inherent, immutable law of karma - not one or the other as different philosophies maintain in their divisions. Both forces are inherent in the One Absolute, whose two unmanifested aspects are Parabrahman and Mulaprakriti, which maintain a two-fold emanated aspect of Spirit and Matter (first as Purusha and Prakriti (the 'noumenon' of matter), on down an elaborate, emanated chain of being. "There is a mind behind every particle of dust," says the Yog-Vashista. PB states as much when he writes:

   “At the center of each man, each animal, each plant, each cell, and each atom, there is a complete stillness. A seemingly empty stillness, yet it holds the divine energies and the divine Idea for that thing...The Void which man finds at the centre - whether of his own being or of the universe’s - is divine. It holds both godlike Mind and godlike Energy.” (23b)


   Continuing, an example of a subtly dualistic, 'static' conception of non-duality is found in in the very ancient three-fold advaitic prescription of Sankara, which Ramana himself followed. It goes like this: "The world is unreal; Brahman is real; Brahman is the world." So the realizer is one who, in theory, first negates the world, then reintegrates his awakened consciousness with the world of phenomena. But not really. He does so only as from 'a distance.' This is so if you look at how such realizers and practitioners function in the actual world. The descriptions of such advaitic teachers sound great, but they do not themselves actually act as if Brahman is the world. Vedantist James Swartz says that after this third step there is actually a fourth step, and that is to realize that while the world of objects is the Self, the Self is not the objects. What is this but a confession of avoidance, that here is really a subtle distinction still between consciousness and 'its' objects. Not really non-duality, in my opinion. These realizers traditionally act more like disinterested observers, or, at best, as one who is ever at rest in the bliss of the divine, unchanging ocean, and never, heaven forbid, affected in any way by any of the waves. That is to say, the realization is described as one of non-duality, but it is only felt or perceived as non-dual, but not really lived as such. One is even warned to be on his guard against worldly contamination with egoic tendencies after realization, so as not to disturb one's peace of Brahman or the Self. That doesn't sound very non-dual to me. In pure non-duality, even the ego is real. It is suggested that the languaging of reality by these ancient teachers is outdated, in that they describe or posit a static context on which a dynamic content appears, manifests, or arises, whether in or as it. But what if the context, the 'ground', is mysteriously dynamic also? 'Quantum', if you will? Then such singular pronouncements as 'I am Brahman' or one must 'overcome attachment to the world' fall kind of flat. What's wrong with attachment, or desire,or pain and suffering, even a bit of reactive human emotion for that matter? How can they, assuming basic maturity, affect one's fundamental freedom as limitless consciousness? Simply, in that which is beyond 'duality and non-duality' , as the Avadhuta Gita says, it can't. Further, then, who can say he is Brahman? What about all the others that are Brahman, too, and that personally live alongside you day in, day out? No way Ramana can get away with dismissing a questioner who asks about the millions dead in the Phillipines by saying they are 'only in the Self', and then cry when a little bird dies by crashing into a wall of his ashram. Something is wrong with this picture. Am I getting through, or am I deluded? I am asking a real question! Seeing all the dead in the Phillipines as only being ‘in the Self’ is seeing one’s own soul as Absolute, whereas having compassion for a little bird that dies is seeing other souls as having distinct existence, albeit they be ultimately rooted in the One.

   Although his conclusion was usually that of 'no-creation', and the one 'Self', Ramana was not absolutely rigid in this regard. In other words, some of his remarks may be seen as non-comittal on the subject of Soul versus the One Self as what is revealed with self-inquiry. In commenting on the Maha Vakya "I Am Brahman," Ramana said that this wasn't the correct way of looking at it:

   "That is not how the text is to be understood. It simply means, "Brahman exists as 'I' and not 'I Am Brahman.'" (24)

   PB appears to agree:

   "In the statement "Tat Tvam Asi" (That art Thou) we must observe that the existence of "That" is put first, while the "Thou" is identified with it only later. This is significant." (25)

   This could be read as "I am not God", but rather, "God is me." The difference is an important re-articulation of the Maha Vakya, in that it leaves us open to explore some of the other ancient teachings like those of Sufism, Plato and Plotinus, where mention is made of eternal principles of Soul, Nous, and the One, and not just non-dual impersonal consciousness of the Self. The Self realized in Vedanta may in fact be the true transcendental Soul in these other teachings, and not the absolute Reality Itself.

   One more thing. if the world is not ultimately simply an illusion, it seems reasonable to assume that it is not enough - and a denial of a true, rich nonduality - to ignore the intelligence of the workings of that manifestation in favor of quiet abidance in conscousness only. This often happens among simplistic advaitic teachings. Yet PB warns:

   “All spiritual study is incomplete if it ignores the facts, truths, laws, and principles of cosmogony. To attempt to justify this neglect with the accusation that they belong to the world of illusion is silly and useless. For the accuser must still continue to live in an illusory body and use an illusory self governed by those laws....In the long slow course of development, as it stretches out with time, men will come to understand the true nature of the universe around them and the correct nature of their relationship to it...The World-Idea is drawing us little by little after the pattern of its own infinite perfection.” (25a)

   It must be added that this understanding must be gathered in all realms, whether form or formless. This is the role of the spiritual ‘scientist’. It is also not enough to merely have an experience, one must also understand it. And the nondual realization must be actualized on all planes of consciousness without assuming that they are simply illusion prior to their experience and understanding, if one’s realization is to be both deep and complete. This may seem like a hopeless task. Maybe it is, but it also shows how far man has to go, and what his possibilities are. Many spiritual secrets can not be understood without such depth of understanding. It is too easy to just settle for ‘freedom from psychological suffering’, or ‘ feeling that all is one’. But how to understand how an advanced adept may have multiple simultaneous incarnations of himself under such a simplistic model? Yes, such things do happen!

   The sage sees things like everybody else - almost

   Let me state again, if I haven't already, that Ramana's position, and that of some direct path teachers, like Greg Goode, can seem to imply that the sage sees nothing but the 'Self' or consciousness. I think for Goode the confusion lies between his and the traditional conception of the witness. In my understanding, with entry into the witness position, or with the 'falling into it', which takes different forms, but a most fundamental one is the falling from the head-based awareness to heart-based-Consciousness, one has total confidence in his identity as consciousness, but there us still a felt distinction from objects. One does not know they are arising from consciousness, but one has a basic wellness in Being, in identity as consciousness. With the collapse of the witness position, one then experiences no-separation with others, objects, and conscious. But there are still distinctions, or there would be no seeing. But Goode experienced the witness as this very condition, yet felt the fact that there where still distinctions was a problem. Yet this is not a problem but simply a fact of life, of Being, as long as you are alive somewhere. Greg says that with the collapse of the witness, however, 'the non-dual consciousness of the Self shines in all its glory', without distinctions whatsoever, and all 'illusions' are gone. Therefore, one gets the idea that the sage sees no one or no thing. But is this so? I think not. Greg almost appears to make this error in his book, Standing in Awareness, but, if one reads further, he saves himself at the end - in a way. He clarifies that by essentially admitting that while this is a possible experience, it is really not true. Consciousness, after all, is a word. After the awakening to non-dual Consciousness, he says that the concept that there is only Consciousness itself gradually fades ("for the very notion of awareness gets its meaning in contradistinction to things other than awareness", and, then, as they say in Zen, "mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers again". (26) Thus the world and the person are resurrected in truth, with no division (in Islam they call this fana (annihilation) and baqa (subsistance)), and then the real fun begins! - the deepening process of actualizing non-duality for real. However, this final step also gives the lie to the collapse of the witness into distinctionless pure consciousness as Goode and other direct-pathers as well as some vedantists maintain is the goal. For what it shows is that one cannot remain as pure distinctionless consciousness, and in any way function in a world, but only as 'pure consciousness' with the distinctions mysteriously appearing again, only this time non-separately, and in a way as 'real' in their own right. To put it another way, what remains for Goode is no longer 'pure consciousness' by his definition but actually a state where there is a paradoxical distinction-and-distinctionlessness between consciousness and real 'rivers and mountains'. The paradox cannot be reduced by any more logic (it is part of the identity-relatedness polarity of Being) but only, I dare to say, perhaps. by what amounts to almost an evolutionary transmutation into the very cells of the body and all bodies, at all manifest levels. Therefore, the very age we live in demands that there be a move beyond such static, mind-based views of reality that we are presented with by so many teachers. A movement alive in the world is now requiring it of us.

   Let me go over this important point again. Goode says that the realization of the Witness is the realization that there is no 'entity' that is the self. One feels completely at peace, at 'home'. He feels free of all distinctions and sees all arising as non-separate from himself, from Consciousness. In my opinion, but not Goode's, this satisfies the requirements for sahaj (the 'simultaneous') samadhi. He does notice a distinction between the noticing consciousness and the objects, however, which, upon inquiry, he says collapses into pure consciousness. For him that is sahaj, what all the 'non-dual texts have been saying'. How one sees anything from this position is unclear and, I dare say, impossible, as the subject-object distinction is eradicated, at least temporarily. However, one eventually 'forgets' the entire idea of such a thing as consciousness, it fades away, and somehow miraculously things are restored to the state of 'rivers are rivers' and 'mountains are mountains' again'. Thus is the end of the game for Goode, although not for certain schools of Taoism, and for that of other teachers, who argue for a continued transformation, even eventually divinization of the bodily nature and soul nature, a true alchemy, after conscious awakening. Further, are we not back to the double standpoint requirement of PB, or, the 'We' of Plotinus, in which the Soul or Consciousness and Witness-I are required for functioning in a world? Thus, a Witness is still there, we are just no longer identified with it. It hasn't really collapsed permanently. Then there would be no experience possible. So, the sage knows that the world and the Soul are in essence consciousness, but also is the Witness to the manifestations of that consciousness which maintains itself as a principle that is non-separate yet distinct from that consciousness. The sage retains a sense of self, a personality (body, tendencies and traits), and also the Soul's 'shadow' of that personality, the ego, in order to have a world and function in it. Egoism may be more or less gone, but the ego as a function is still there.

   In Tibetan Buddhism, the apparent manifestation is seen as quite natural, with nothing much needed to be done about other than a change of view - of heart, attitude, or perspective. It is not meant to disappear. So, in another way, Gampopa simply said:

   "Since appearances are the natural display of the mind, it is unnecessary to abandon them. Tilopa indicated this when he said, 'It is not by appearances that you are fettered, but by fixation on them. So abandon that fixation.' It is not what you experience that causes confusion, it is your fixation on the experience as being inherently what it appears to be. Therefore only this fixation need be relinquished, not experience itself."

   The same logic can be used when considering non-duality as denoted by terms such as ‘Objectless’ (as opposed to objects), ‘Self-Knowing’ (as opposed to ignorance or not-knowing’), etc., i.e., choosing one side of a relative pair as Reality. Is 'timelessness' reality, for instance? Many teachers says so, but does Reality instead transcend both time and the timeless, the limited and limitless, the finite and the infinite, while also not negating either, or perhaps, as we will see later 'from Chuang Tzu, negating both, and also negating the negation?! To say reality is timeless or limitless or infinite is to, in effect,  limit it, doesn't it, since one is contrasting it with something else which has attributes, and is conceptual to boot? If this is so, ‘emptiness as either ‘nothing’ or a purely spiritual' state is still but one half of the picture. In Islam they call it 'tanzih' without 'tashbin', or the absolute-Absolute without its self-determination of Divine Names and Attributes. ’Emptiness, therefore, must itself become ‘empty’ to come to Reality! Adhering to one side of the spiritual picture is to limit the absolute, to limit reality, to something conceptual or experiential. It is to refuse to let ‘mountains again become mountains’ and thus to find the ‘All-Pervading’, ‘Hidden Ruler’, the ‘Breathe of the Merciful’, or the ‘Waters of Life’, as described in many traditions. It is to be condemned to being either an isolated mystic or a confirmed materialist! It is, in short, to miss the Tao. And, according to some traditions, even further stages unfold after this. I know, such a thing is impossible for Vedanta, the Direct Path, or the 'consciousness only' schools to consider, but it is said to be so. This is too large a subject for this essay, but just consider: what, for instance, is chi? It is easy to say that it is just subtle energy, maybe cosmic energy that can be cultivated individually, or as energy that is itself only the 'expression of consciousness' (which the direct path will then reduce to consciousness only), but according to the very highest levels of Taoism chi is considered as none other than Reality, the (immaterial) 'substance' of the Absolute, and the ontological essence of Being. In Islam the very Essence of the Absolute is the ground of both Consciousness and 'Prime Matter' or 'Substance' (which is also immaterial and formless, but 'flows' as the Water of Life through everything and gives it existence). This system avoids the dualism of Sam'Khya philosophy with their independent Purusha and Prakritti by positing an Absolute Essence reconciling the two secondary principles. Thus, at the highest ontological levels what may roughly be equated with Siva/Shakti, or Consciousness and formless Substance, are two-as-One, two different ways of looking at the same thing. And it may be more accurate to speak this way than to say that there is only 'consciousness', even while epistemologically that may be as far as man as man can go).


   Is Ego only an illusion?

   Finishing up the previous section, we must briefly clarify what the ego really is before we can justly call it an illusion. For it is actually a paradox, as is the Soul. Using PB's terminology, the Soul in its higher aspect is cosmic and infinite, eternal and unborn, a ray of the World-Mind or Nous, but when that Divine Mind or Nous projects the Cosmic Idea, that is, when that World-Mind - or active aspect of Mind - projects a World-Idea, it projects it through each Soul, in emanated stages. What do we mean by stages? PB writes:

   "It is not quite correct to assume that we are the unmanifested form of the perfection from which we emanate. More precisely, we are projections of a denser medium from the universal mind, appearing by some catalytic process in natural sequence within that medium. The cosmic activity provides each such entity-projection with an individual life and intelligence centre through an evolutionary process, whereby its own volitional directive energies are, ultimately, merged with the cosmic will in perfect harmony." (26a)

   This seems to argue that there is not just consciousness-at-rest and conscious-in-activity as some teachers maintain. Or that, there is, but there are various stages in that process, as most traditional teachings maintain.

   So, continuing, then, or simultaneously, the Soul itself projects a ray or emanation of itself into that World-Idea and ultimately a body, in order to experience that World-Idea which is actually also within itself. How much more non-dual can one get! Thus, when Consciousness enters a body, a world and ego arise together. This is not an error, as Ramana Maharshi sometimes made it appear, but an evolutionary process for the emanation of the Soul, which is not separated from the Soul which is One and undivided no matter how many times it may appear to be divided or parted, to gather experience of that World-Idea and ultimately come to consciously know the World-Mind from which that Idea comes and which is also the 'prior' principle of the Soul itself. This, the unborn Soul gets enlightened, knowing itself in the Nous, which also knows itself in and as the Soul. To borrow the words of St. Paul, "for then shall I know even as I am known."

   Follow closely now. When the light of consciousness irradiates a human body, the sensible world and ego is produced for that Soul from the World-Idea within it. Thus, the ego is not just a bunch of phenomenal tendencies or a karmic continuity as described in some Buddhist teachings, but a conjoint composed of both that manifested phenomenal continuity or changing entity (which has no inherent self-existence) and also the noumenal Consciousness of the Soul which manifests it. It is only when the ego qua ego takes itself to be exclusively an entity independent from the Soul and others beings that it is an illusion. But, remember, the ego can not exist without the Soul animating it and is both of these things together. Again, PB writes:

   "Unless the human ego were itself an emanation of the Overself it would be quite unable to identify itself with the sensation of severance from the body during the process we call dying." (26b)

   So, in a sense, to be elaborated in other essays, the ego by this way of describing it as a conjoint complex does gets enlightened, as well as does the Soul itself or 'Void-Mind' through that ego. This complex of ego/Soul might be called 'a sentient being'. It is not an illusion unless by a trick of the mind it usurps its position as subservient to the unborn Soul that overshadows it. Which it obviously does very well! And even in that case it is a stage of evolution which is being guided by the divine intelligence of the World-Mind. It is not bad or wrong per se, except when it continues functioning egoistically longer than it needs to and refuses to cooperate with the World-Idea of which it is a part and in which it has a role to play. This entity of ego is intelligent, due to the rational powers of the Soul which inhere in it. It is needed, strangely enough, to produce enlightenment, and is needed as a functional tool to check our enlightenment afterwards. So this often maligned thing called ego is rather mysterious and not so easily pinned down.

   There is another aspect of the ego which needs mentioning. This is directed to those who say it simply doesn't exist. One of the characteristic aspect of the unregenerated human ego as ego is to mightily resist seeing that it is illusory! So its aspect of egoism or self-referral or self-survival at the expense of everything and everyone else most definitely is a force to be reckoned with.So the mere fact that on inspection one can't seem to find it doesn't mean it isn't there. As Anthony Damiani used to joke, those who say the ego doesn't exist haven't even seen it yet! It does have the ability to insinuate it into even our most spiritual endeavors, and resists its own death or surrender. However, as explained above, in reality it doesn't die, being a reflection and joint functioning of the Soul and the World-Mind. As long as one is alive in a body it remains as a function. The only illusion is in what it tends to think about itself: that it is only separate and self-existing, and not part of the whole. So no breath should be wasted in trying to prove that it doesn't exist. Practically speaking, it does exist and is based on reality.

   These ideas are difficult, and are repeated in the articles "Emptiness Is Empty" as well as "PB and Advaita" on this website.


   Ramana and Sankara's method; upadhis

   Advaita-Vedanta is not, as is sometimes presumed, a “world is unreal” philosophy, but, rather, a point of view that grants the world a relative reality. Like Buddhism, it does not deny the evidence of the senses in a naive and idealistic fashion:

   “By these words (unreal, maya, illusion) Vedanta philosophy does not mean absolute negation, but rather that phenomenal existence is relative [Vyavaharika Satta], or reality conditioned by time and space. It does not deny the existence of matter, mind, and everything that are in the phenomenal plane.” (27)

   Brahman, however, is absolutely real, or Paramarthika Satta.

   The Advaitic formula, to be successively realized (assuming adequate traditional preparation is in place), is: “the world is unreal; Brahman is real; the world is Brahman.” This finally grants the vision of non-duality. Sankara thus apparently affirmed a progression of points of view depending on the stage of one’s practice. In The Wisdom of Unity (Manisa Pancakam, or “Five Verses of Wisdom”), he stated

   “From the standpoint of the body, O Siva, I am thy servant; from the standpoint of the soul, O Thou with three eyes, I become a part of Thine; and O Self of all, from the standpoint of the Self, I am verily Thou.” (28)

   [Note: while usually considered as an example of the method of sublating one view after the other, we suggest that one tentatively embrace all of these viewpoints as parts of a continuum of the complete identity of man].

   We can say then that Ramana's teaching method was essentially that of Sankara:

   "At the level of the spiritual seeker you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way. When a man forgets that he is Brahman, who is real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory and labors under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion. Why? Because his vision which has forgotten its own Self is dwelling in the external, material universe. It will not turn inwards into introspection unless you impress on him that all the external material universe is unreal. When once he realizes his own Self he will know that there is nothing other than his own Self and he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman." (29)

   This is necessary even if one 'gets it' intellectually. The whole person must own this realization: mind, heart, and will. One must follow the laws of the relative universe and seek grace as well. As Ramana said:

   "Divine Grace is essential for realization. It leads one to God-realization. But such grace is vouchsafed only to him who is a true devotee or a yogi. It is given only to those who have striven hard and ceaselessly on the path towards freedom. There is a state beyond effort and effortlessness. However, until it is realized, effort is necessary." (30)

   As Anthony Damiani once said, "You can't kid the Soul." The process is one of actualizing realization from within relativity. Therefore, there are stages, even while the non-dual truth is always the case. Of course it's a paradox!

   The way that Sankara gets around the perplexing equation of Atman and Brahman is as follows:

   "Vivekachudamani...explains that the aparent dissimilarity [between isvara and jiva] results from their respective upadhis. Isvara's upadhi is Maya, while the jiva is limited by the five sheaths. But these are only like the different costumes worn by an actor, with Isvara being the role of the king and the jiva being that of the beggar. The actor is the same - Brahman. Advaita, then, pursues the path of negating each of the five sheaths which we mistake ourselves to be...This process leads us to the understanding that "I" am that Conscousness that is present in everything. SImilarly, the finite, time-bound objects of the world are negated so that Isvara is realized to be that same Consciousness. Then it is seen that I am That." 31)

   But are they identical, even though the same in Essence? Was the 'I'-'I' that Ramana experienced in the heart the Supreme, or the Soul known to be one with the Oversoul? Advaita Vedanta has been unequivocable in their answer over the years, although other teachings, while asserting the same non-dual nature of ultimate Reality, speak differently. In the Sufism of Ibn al 'Arabi, while the Essence of the Soul and the Absolute is the same, man always has an ontological inferior position, of being the 'servant' of God (Allah, the first emanation of the Absolute Essence). Man can never know the Absolute in its 'absoluteness' (in Taoism they call this the 'Mystery of Mysteries'), but only at that point before manifestation where the Absolute has become other than itself in its absoluteness. This might be PB's knowing himself as a 'point in Mind', or the Soul knowing itself in the Intellectual Principle or Nous, or something similar. But we are beginning to travel far afield of our discussion of Maya.

   For more on Sankara and Maya please see Why Did Sankara Speak (and Think) So Much? on this website.

   Why Ramana and Sankara's method may mask an essentially dissociative path

   While the third part of Sankara and Ramana's advaitic formula seemingly resolves the world and body back into Brahman as real, in practice it is only 'looked upon as real', but not 'acted upon as real'. I am not saying that Sankara, certainly, was not capable of this - he was a great yogi and tantirc as well as nondual realizer - but one only has to look at the brittle ascetics and lifeless abiders in the 'Self', the 'waveless ocean', afraid of actually dealing in a direct human way with the 'waves' themselves, to see that the 'world is not Brahman' in a truly non-dualistic way for most advaitins. And what Maya as a belief and a concept does is act as a kind of 'trick' to ensure an airtight logic that upholds the primacy of Siva or consciousness over matter and life, or the Shakti aspect of the divine, the consort of Siva. It is also a trick to help one avoid dealing with the paradoxes of Being: (1) identity and relatedness, rather than holding out in identity alone, and (2) the and the distinctionless distinctions of all of Nature. Therefore, both classical and contemporary advaita does and has lacked force, life, and heart.

   Sankara admits that to posit Maya is the only way to make sense out of vedantic logic of no-creation. But what it sometimes does, in my opinion, is to shield pundits and misguided seekers from really awakening to a greater reality of life and truth. And there is no way of converting them short of their undergoing a breaking of the heart that will let in the light of an even higher 'logic'. Over the centuries there are countless stories of 'enlightened' sages bowing before great adepts of yoga for cure of some disease or other malady. Or those who, basking in the bliss of isolation of Siva, were penetrated by the force of the great Goddess of Mother Maya and didn't know what to do with it and sought help elsewhere than their vedantic fold. We will have more to say on this.

   Creation theories and non-duality

   Let's go over this all again in a different way. Basically, the truly nondual view and the experience of a Universal Creator are incompatible. Some have tried to make them compatible, but, in my view, they really aren't. People object mostly with emotional arguments, imagining that the heart and soul of God are taken out of life. That is not really true, but, in a sense, coming to the terminal stages of relative existent is a kind of death. For some it is dramatic, punctuated with many crises, while for others, especially if they have been schooled in a tradition that recognizes the non-dual truth from the beginning of practice, even if its actualization is still along ways off, it is a more graceful transition. Much depends of karma and the level of development of the soul. However, the sages, in order not to create great fear in lesser qualified disciples, came up with several theories to try to explain creation. A popular doctrine in the Hindu tradition is the notion of lila. Often this notion is used to describe the fundamental motivation or reason for the emergence of Maya. Lila means 'divine play'. It is understandable how this word is often used, because it usually takes the form of suggesting that, from a transcendent point of view, if Creation or Relativity has no specific reason or function, it must then be a kind of playful, spontaneous expression, a kind of game. This can be a useful balancing perspective for when we take the drama of life too seriously, but ultimately it is another dualistic conception. It can also have the negative side effect of being interpreted to mean that the Creator is toying with his creation, or is cruel, or is playing a bad practical joke on everyone. These perspectives are probably not intended in the view of lila, but from a nondual perspective, lila is still a dualistic concept. Liberation from the heavy, painful drama of samsara often brings a sense of joy, lightness, freedom and spontaneity, but even these are relative reactions to the realization of Brahman, not universal characteristics of Brahman Itself.

   Another common creation stories involve the notion that the Absolute is somehow lonely in Its transcendent unity (this is obviously a superimposition) and so needs Creation either as an 'other' to relate to, or as a reality to enter into in order to experience relatedness. A similar scenario is the idea that God is filled with infinite love and creates the cosmos in order to have beings to express that love to. All of these perspectives are based on projecting dualistic conceptions onto the nature of the Absolute.

   One of the more popular versions of the 'purposeful creation' or 'lila' story is the notion that the Absolute is whole, complete and perfect (or some version of goodness) but in its unity-consciousness cannot appreciate its condition, and so generates Relativity with its diversity and individual beings so as to experience a vehicle through which to become self-aware. This again is a superimposition based on suggesting that the Absolute is lacking something. The soul may need the polarity of creation or manifestation to come to self-awareness, but not the Absolute, Nirguna Brahman. Even Sri Nisargadatta spoke in language that suggested this view:

   "As Absolute I am timeless, infinite, and I am awareness, without being aware of awareness...Unless there is space and duration I cannot be conscious of myself." (32)

   This is not the view of Ramana Maharshi, Shree Atmananda, or the 'Direct Path, in which Consciousness is self-aware, and, in fact, the primordial ground.

   Eckhart Tolle has spoken in a similar way:

   "it is through the world and ultimately through you that the Unmanifested knows itself. You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold. That is how important you are!" (33)

   Both of these statements are not traditional Vedanta, and are dualistic or relative in the final analysis. First, it is an error, as previously pointed out, to superimpose the 'unmanifest' on the Absolute or Nirguna, for 'unmanifest is only existent in polarity with the manifest', and, second, how can one know he is awareness without being aware of that? Ego-conscious obviously depends on time and space, but that isn't the implication of the quote by Maharaj. In I AM THAT he, in fact, alternates between saying that there is an absolute 'beyond consciousness', and that there is an 'absolute awareness beyond consciousness'. Confusing language, and, unfortunately, in my humble opinion, he died without making his position clear. Again, the article "The Primordial Ground" on this website gets into this in greater detail, but, in short, the great traditions themselves seem to be divided on whether or not consciousness is All (i.e.,Atman therefore being identical with Brahman which is Consciousness), or whether consciousness is the 'outer manifestation' or first emanation of God's being, or a first emanation of an Absolute in its 'absoluteness': i.e., a true Nirguna, the unknowable 'mystery of mysteries.' [This would be true for Sufism, Taoism - and sometimes even Dzogchen. For Vedanta and most yoga schools, however, generally it is considered that ultimate reality is consciousness]. And finally, the notion that the absolute 'needs' anything (us or the world) to complete or know itself is contradictory to the very definition of an absolute. It verges on a theistic and not a philosophical view.

   Ishvara, and this is most interesting and a fruitful area of research, is also used in the Hindu tradition in a way that is not that of a Creator-God. Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, defines Ishvara as “a special Purusha (Soul), untouched by misery, actions, their results, and desires. In Him becomes infinite that all-knowingness which in others is only a germ. He is the Teacher of even the ancient teachers, being not limited by time.” In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, also, there is a being called the Adi or Primordial Buddha, or Samantabadra, which is essentially identical to the Universal Christ, the power of grace, a liberating principle, either as a universal presence itself (for instance, the Shabda-Brahman as the inner essence or ‘in-drawing sound' of the creative ‘outgoing’ Creative Word), or the presence of a holarchy (a ‘host of nested spheres’) of awakened beings and intelligences that support collective awakening. This is spoken of in another form in the Judeo-Christian tradition as Primal Adam or Adam Kadmon, the archtype of the Universal or Perfect Man. This is Man as the Christ Consciousness, which as a function of grace works to actualize enlightenment to the Absolute from within relativity. This, then, would be Ishvara as liberator, not creator.

   Even Sri Nisargadatta seemed in agreement with this:

   “There is a power in the universe working for enlightenment and liberation. We call it Sadashiva, who is ever present in the hearts of men. It is the unifying factor. Unity - liberates. Freedom - unites. Ultimately nothing is mine or yours - everything is ours. Just be one with yourself and you will be one with all, at home in the entire universe.” (34)

   Spiritual meaning and purpose do not exist in the Absolute Brahman, but they do as part of the Relative dimension of experience. Enlightenment, love, beauty, liberation, service - these values give our life spiritual meaning and direction, but they are still part of Relativity. They are part what can be called 'enlightened duality', which is the bridge to nondual transcendence.

   Maya as 'Mother' and divine Goddess, consort of Siva

   In the Mahabharata it says, ”It is not the fault of Maya but mine, that looking away from God I became attached to it.” In the Gita the Lord says, ”My Maya,” and ”Maya is divine” (daivi) or ’bhava-rupa’. Maya means 'mother.' Indeed, the Divine Mother is another name for Saguna Brahman. If it is truly divine, can it then be said to be just illusion?

   While in certain mystical bhakti schools, God is considered masculine and the soul feminine, the word 'Mother' is used to denote the Source of all in many traditions. Even in Islam, where man is traditionally held to occupy a slightly higher position than woman, it is interesting to note that the words for, not only the Absolute Essence or Ground of Being, but also for the Divine Names and Attributes, as well as the creative power of God are all feminine. In Taoism, the Way at the level of Being is called 'the Mother of all things,' or 'the Mysterious Female'. it is not considered illusion but an ontological principle or transformation of the Nameless Tao. [A brief description of Islamic and Taoist ontology will be given below].

   Sankara, once again, some say (as a mere youth of sixteen - subject to a change of mind I would say) wouldn’t admit causality for Brahman, so he allowed for Iswara/Maya as emanating the realms of manifestation and all beings therein. This was, say some, a concession to ignorance, for he truly espoused ajata, or no-creation, as did Nagarjuna, but, as mentioned, this is a matter of some controversy. Remember, Sankara as well as Nagarjuna were also tantrics, and seeing Maya as the Divine Mother, Ishvara, or the Shakti of God or Siva is a tantric viewpoint. Isvara is explained as inseparable from Brahman, and beyond the veiling power of Maya, and itself commanding the projecting power of Maya. Thus, Maya is an aspect of Brahman, an intermediary between Brahman and manifestation. This would also be the vivartavada theory of emanation but not the non-creation of ajatavada.

   Sankara, however, commenting on the above verse of the Upanishad, said:

   "If these various names and forms had not been made manifest, then it would not have been possible to realize God." (35)

   In this he is echoing Krishna who exhorted the aspirant to be devoted to Him within relativity as a way out of relativity. This, too, however, can also be seen as a concession by Sankara to ignorance and not his highest position, in which he essentially shared the eight negations of Nagarjuna (no creation, no bondage, no liberation, etc..). Maya, they say, is an explanation of a divine shakti or force that accounts for the creation of an effect that is different than its cause, a possibility rejected by both the Advaitins and the Madyamikas. However:

   “Shakti is fundamentally the same as its cause.” (36)

   “Shakti is none other than God, because Shakti is non-different from the one who wields it.” (37)

   “It is My Maya, which is non-different from Me (svabhuta), which creates all beings.” (38)

   Then Shankara borrows a concept from Sam ‘khya as have so many of the ancient philosophers and yogis of India, saying:

   “That which is called as Mula-prakriti, it is the same as our God.” (39)

   The Shvetashvatara Upanishad states:

   "Know Maya to be the same as Prakriti." (40)

   This is much like what Swami Ranganathananda was speaking about above, that Maya was the Undifferentiated between Isvara or Saguna Brahman and manifestation. So we have two aspects of Brahman, and two aspects of Maya. We also have two views of realization: one, that man can know God (Saguna Brahman, Isvara, or the World-Mind of PB), but of the Absolute Nirguna or Mind-Alone he cannot know, for which there will always be mysteries and paradoxes; and two, Advaita Vedanta which affirms based on scriptural authority that man can definitely know his identity with Brahman.

   More fundamental, meaning 'affecting one most fundamentally', at the core, is that Maya as the Divine Mother is a reality of the Divine as the inseparable consort of Siva. Those who hold to consciousness only and reject phenomena or matter as inferior, non-existent or 'only' a modification of consciousness often tend keep themselves at a remove and unconsciously suffer a 'form of spiritual numbing', not submitting to the crucifixion on and redemption of matter, the meaning of the incarnation of Christ, the essence and fruit of Dzogchen, and the true nondual disposition. Maya is, according to some yogic schools of thought, the Divine in the form of Shakti, which gives each person their distinctness and also infuses them with Abundant Life once they are awakened to their being as Consciousness. Mother Maya, or divine Shakti, the 'consort' of Siva, becomes, no more the deluder, the 'measurer', the creator of illusion, but a liberator, while Siva alone doesn't liberate, but merely sits in quiet repose - like, for instance, Ramana usually did. Yes, he radiated, as the Self, perhaps to a great extent because he resided in a contemplative disposition most of the time, but he didn't particularly move people to realize their divine humanity. Rather they sat in (anticipation of) the bliss of the impersonal Self that he embodied Thus, philosophers that assert that 'consciousness is all' may have impenetrable 'logic', but they tend not to fall out of their minds, which a confrontation with Mother Maya will definitely do. But to woo Mother Maya truly one needs to be nearly a God him or herself. One needs to be awakening.

   Well, this is a nice story, but a view from the yoga tradition worth contemplating. An excerpt from The Tripura Rahasya, a favorite of Ramana Maharshi, speaks to this:

   "When the Supreme Devi is well pleased with the worship of a devotee, she turns into vichara in him and shines as the blazing Sun in the expanse of his Heart." (41)

   One at this stage in his process can, as Ramakrishna stated, "Depend on God. Then you will not have to do anything yourself. Mother Kali will do everything for you...God Himself will think about your morrow if you completely surrender yourself to Him. You can exert force on Him!" [Note: be honest, are you at this stage of the process?] Likewise, he said, "You must force your demand on the Divine Mother. She will come to you without fail." You are ready to make the Big Prayer, calling upon the divine Presence, Person, or Power, understood 'not as an other', to effect one's liberation as expeditiously as possible. When doing so ask for the happiness and peace of each and all.

   For Ramakrishna, Maya is definitely the Divine Mother, whose grace is necessary to reach absolute Brahman. And for those who say that Ramana Maharshi was a sage and that Ramakrishna was just a mystic, we have it from the mouth of Ramana himself that such talk is foolish and ignorant: "Why say that! What was there that Ramakrishna did not know?!" So let us hear about Maya from the illuminating and inspiring words of the sage himself. This is from a highly recommended book, The Way to God by Swami Lokeswarananda:

   "How can one have the vision of the primal Energy and attain Brahmajnana, the knowledge of the atrributeless Brahman? Pray to Him with a yearning heart and weep. That will purify your heart. You see the reflection of the sun in clear water...Isvara is Brahman united with Maya. The Vedantasrara says that Brahman is Consciousness conditioned by the sattvika quality - that is, characterized by goodness and purity..Isvara is not inactve like Brahman..Isvara listens to our prayers..He posseses unlimited power, and is the respository of all auspicious quaities..Our tears will wash away all impurities, and then the reflection of Brahman will be seen on the pure mind. In the mirror of his 'I-consciousness' the devotee sees the form of the Primal Energy..As long as a man must see the Sun in the water of his "I-consciousness" and has no other means of seeing it, as long as he has no means of seeing the real Sun except through its reflection, so long is the reflected sun alone one hundred per cent real to him. As long as the "I" is real, so long is the reflected sun real - one hundred per cent real...If you seek Brahmajnana, the Knowledge of the attributeless Brahman, then proceed to the real Sun through its reflection. Pray to Brahman with attributes, who listens to your prayers, and he Himself will give you full Knowledge of Brahman; for that which is Brahman with attributes is verily Brahman without attributes, that which is Brahman is verily Shakti..Saguna Brahman will take us to Nirguna Brahman."

   "Sri Ramakrishna said that no one should ever think that whatever has been said about God is the last word. God has form and he is also formless, too. Further, He is beyond both form and formlessness. He is 'one' and He is 'two; again, He is free from both dualism and nondualism. Brahman is nirguna, without qualities and attributes, and He is saguna, with qualities and attributes. he is also much more. No one can limit Him."

   "The Master said, 'How many aspects he has! We cannot comprehend Him...One must accept everything: God with form and God without form..One does not know when or how God will reveal Himself. A man read a little of the Gita, the Bhagavata, or the Vedanta and thinks he knows everything."

   "At the beginning, while following the method of " Not this, not this", one has to eliminate the universe and all living beings..But after we have realized god, we then find that it is God who has become all this. Then we see that God, maya, living beings, and the whole universe form one whole..I accept all - Brahman and also maya, the universe, and its living beings...The Nitya
[the Absolute] and the Lila [the Relative] belong to the same Reality. Therefore, I accept everything, the Relative as well as the Absolute. I don't explain away the world as maya. Were I to do that I would get short weight."

   "'The Svetasvatara Upanishad says: 'The sages, absorbed in meditation, saw within themselves that power which belongs to the Lord himself.' Maya is that power, the Sakti, of Brahman..Many followers of Advaita Vedanta do not accept maya at all. But if we do not accept my or Sakti, there can be no explanation of creation."..In the Brahma-Sutra Bhasya, Sankara says that witthout Sakti, it is not possible for Brahman to be the Creator."
(42)

   Sri Ramakrishna said that "Maya is nothing other than the egotism of the embodied soul." To remedy this he described the culling of the ripe from the unripe ego. The unripe ego says 'I and mine, I am the doer.' The ripe ego says, "He is the doer, I am His servant, I am his child, I am his parent," and, even, when really ripe, "I am He." At this point, Saguna Brahman absorbs the soul into itself and makes it Nirguna Brahman. Both the 'maya of ignorance' and the 'maya of knowledge' are lost. One is free. Thus, the ego progresses from the personal ego to the universal ego to the 'egoless ego'. At the highest stage the "He" becomes changed into "This." That is to say, there is no longer any distance between the devotee or aspirant for knowledge and the goal. He sees everything within himself and himself within everything. This is the fruit of bhakti and jnana. Even after such God-Knowledge, however, said Ramakrishna, the 'ripe ego' is usually retained. Such an ego is 'like a burnt rope', capable of harming no one. This was the disposition of Papa Ramdas. Paradoxically, the enlightened sage keeps the attitude of being a servant of the Divine, while those who haven't yet reached such a stage practice the 'ripe ego' as a form of discipline.

   "Swami Brahmananda said that the Divine Mother has the key to the knowledge of Brahman. The door cannot be opened without the key of Mother's grace. Whether we take the path of knowledge or the path of devotion, we must first propitiate maya. Sri Ramakrishna said, "One must propitiate the Divine mother, the primal Energy, in order to obtain God's grace. God himself is Mahamaya, who deludes the world with her illusion and conjures up the magic of creation, preservation, and destruction. We read in the Chandi that Mahamaya in the form of the Divine Mother grants liberation when propitiated..Sri Ramakrishna prayed, "We should never be too egotistical about maya, thinking, 'Maya has no power over me'. We must always remember that if maya is not gracious, we forget God." (43)

   Further, I forget who said it but someone did, that "liberation is always available, but divine love is only given to a very few." Similarly, Kabir spake:

   "O sadhu, lift the veil of ignorance and you'll be one with the Beloved. Light the lamp of love in the inner chamber of your being and you will meet the Beloved."

   Whether or not one can relate to this aspect of Maya, it is of note that just about every great master in history, including, as mentioned in this paper, Sri Nisargadatta, the reknown non-dualist, has recognized a liberating power within relativity that one may worship and be absorbed by en route to realization or 'actualization' of the nondual truth, a living presence that helps in getting rid of egotism, the 'egotism of the embodied soul' being the chief aspect of maya-as-illusion for Ramakrishna. PB implied as much in this beautiful quote:

   "The Overself is not a goal to be attained but a realization of what already is. It is the inalienable possession of all conscious beings and not of a mere few. No effort is needed to get hold of the Overself, but every effort is needed to get rid of the many impediments to its recognition. We cannot take hold of it; it takes hold of us. Therefore the last stage of this quest is an effortless one. We are led, as children by the hand, into the resplendent presence. Our weary strivings come to an abrupt end. Our lips are made shut and wordless." (44)

   On the other hand, he said that it is of the utmost importance to have longing. As the saints say, if you want flowers and fruit, first there must be rain. PB writes:

   "Aspiration which is not just a vague and occasional wish but a steady settled and intense longing for the Overself is a primary requirement. Such aspiration means the hunger for awareness of the Overself, the thirst for experience of the Overself, the call for union to the Overself. It is a veritable power which lifts one upward, which helps one give up the ego more quickly, and which attracts Grace. It will have these desirable effects in proportion to how intensely it is felt and how unmixed it is with other personal desires." (45)

   Before concluding this section it is of special interest that Ramakrishna "declared that his spiritual experiences went beyond what was written in the scriptures [Vedas and Vedanta]; they were unable to describe what he himself had realized." (33a)

   One can only wonder of the depths of his spirituality.

   Swami Rama, disciple of Bengali Baba and founder of the Himalayan Institute, who spent much of his life among great sages of India, as recounted in the autobiographical Living with the Himalayan Masters and also the wonderful biography, At The Eleventh Hour, near the end of his life said these beautiful words about the Divine Mother:

   "The Mother is all-pervading. She is eternal and so are her children, the sages. Following her wishes, my master emerges from her and is reabsorbed into her. I am simply an extension of him. My master is the center of my destiny. He decides when I come and when I go. Now he needs someone there to disturb the monotony of his samadhi. I must go." (46)

   In this 'eternal' Himalayan lineage, the Divine mother is the nameless and formless source of all, an ocean of bliss and beauty, whose manifestation is also one of bliss and beauty. Thus, God as the Divine Mother is not only both the projecting and concealing God, but also God as the liberator of beings as well:

   "The masters of Sri Vidya [the path of Swami Rama and the sages in his ancient lineage, including Bengali Baba, Aghori Baba, Swami Shivananda, Sombhari Baba, Goraka Natha, Rama, the seven holy rishis, Dattatreya (supposed author of the Tripura Rahaya, a favorite 'non-dual' classic which, however, the tireless Swami Rama not only re-translated but considered a supreme example of bhakti)] view the Divine Mother as the highest reality...Bliss and beauty is her nature, and the universe is her manifestation...Everyone and everything in the universe is the child of Divine beauty and Bliss... Further, everything in this manifest universe is connected to everything else, and experiencing the fullness of our own beauty and bliss depends on having a direct experience of this connection...Once we are in harmony with Nature we begin to experience divine love and grace manifesting everywhere, and our hearts open spontaneously. As this happens, the curtain of duality is lifted and we no longer experience ourselves as entities separate from her. This experience erases our fear of death, because we now realize that we have been with her all along: there is nothing like bring born and dying. We are drops of bliss emerging from the wave of bliss and subsiding into it again. We are no longer bound by the cycle of birth and death, for we know birth is like coming into the lap of our mother, and death is like returning to her womb."

   Further, he says:

   "Bhakti [is] love and trust together. A person joined in bhakti remains ever-cheerful. He also attains shakti [inner strength] and siddhi [all yogic accomplishment]. There is nothing higher than bhakti. Freedom from doubt, fear, and the bondage of karmas are three fruits of bhakti. People lacking bhakti don't receive the full result of their sadhana despite their knowledge and sincere practice. And they often lose even what they do achieve." (47)

   Such sadhana as taught by the seers of the Sanatana Dharma, in contrast with the watered-down Hinduism of fifteen hundred years ago - cut-off from its Vedic roots as well as from Buddhism and Jainism - results in a total transformation with multiple deep absorptions and an absolute divine relationship and realization, and not just a pursuit of moksha or an 'insight' as the advaitic tradition from Sankara onwards has more or less proposed. For Swami Rama, jnana in fact is the fruit of yoga and bhakti, and junior to bhakti itself. Swami Shivananda told Rama:

   "The Vedic sages did not erect a wall between spirituality and life in the world..They saw the world as the manifestation of the Divine, and they felt no need to isolate themselves in order to experience the Divine. They were interested in self-realization only as a means to understanding who they were and what their relationship was with a world filled with beauty and joy. Shivananda explained to Bhole Baba [a young Swami Rama] that the idea of moksha (liberation) is a much later development in the spiritual history of India." (48)

   In any case, humility first and last is our sheet-anchor, whatever path we choose to follow. Along with sincerity. And, as Ramakrishna emphasized, truthfulness at all times. One may compromise many things, but the truth is not one of them. Indeed, in the Mandukya Upanishad we find:

   "The Atman is attained by the unceasing practice of truthfulness."


   Suffering considered as not merely an illusion or maya

   It is in vogue these days to say that 'pain is real, but suffering is optional.' This type of belief, in my opinion, is true either for those who have so utterly actualized nondual enlightenment with relativity that they are capable of manifesting the rainbow body (that is, those who are at the end of the path, and have realized the fruit of the Fourth Noble Truth), or those who simply have little familiarity with suffering! It is on a par with those who would from the outset as their sole practice with no preliminaries, as in a 'direct path' or certain forms of Buddhism, try to mentally dissect the body to a collection of sensations, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts, rather than also honoring the incredibly intelligent sentient organism it is, with essentially a 'triple brain' in the head, the heart, and the gut or hara, and which intricately interacts with our environment. Granted, these are two opposite points of view, one realistic, the other idealistic, and, in theory, ultimately, idealism wins out, as all is through, and as arising in, consciousness. But to come to know this is easier said than done. PB states:

   "To become spiritual is to perceive that all objects are mental ones; the revelation of the mental nature of the universe is so stupendous that it actually sets mind and feeling free from their materialistic prison and brings the whole inner being into the dazzling sunshine of truth, the fresh atmosphere of reality." (49)

   The caveat here is that one must remember it is a living mind, and that one will inevitably go through a furnace to come to such a stable, sublime realization. The direct paths are not wrong. It is a matter of who is best suited for them. It is a long work to settle the physical, emotional, and mental natures so the mind is free to truly, effectively, directly contemplate its source. It takes a great adaptation, a revolution in perception to see the mental and not material nature of all phenomena and realize they are products of consciousness. In the meantime, to naively try to outwit pain or suffering through intellectual gyrations is rather foolish. In Buddhism there are many prerequisite qualifications for such an analysis of the 'skhandas' or phenomena of consciousness to bear lasting fruit: moral purification (the 'furnace'), meditational concentration, altruistic activity, as well as study. PB admits as much, as quotes to follow will attest. First, let's look at this issue of suffering practically.

   Just look at a screaming infant in the crib, or witness those reliving life in the womb, and say there is no suffering, only pain. Neither of those beings possess 'personal stories', unless one considers an innate karmic tendency a story, but it is very hard to doubt that they are suffering. The theory in developmental psychology made popular in the 1960's that the child has no ego until the age of 18-24 months but exists in undifferentiated unity with the mother has been pretty well discredited. According to Santideva, the Buddhist position is that one is born already experiencing his aloneness. Maybe not with the conscious 'thought of 'I', but certainly with the 'feeling of 'I'. Of course, one can take the position that the fetus or infant has an 'innate story', but that is stretching the story argument beyond recognition, isn't it? To say a baby only feels pain in his body but does not suffer is naive, and the point of view, in our opinion, of one who is simply out of touch. It is almost as if one is assuming the baby is a jnani, who, as Ramana Maharshi once said, can 'roll around on the ground groaning in pain' and not suffer. But a baby is not a jnani, and even Ramana might be wrong. If you associate with a body and sympathetically relate to others, one in a billion may not suffer. At the very least, you take on the suffering of others out of great love. Suzuki Roshi stated:

   "You think that pain is bad, that suffering is bad [he doesn't distinguish between so much between the two, so perhaps this is more semantics than anything, or perhaps not]. You think that our way is to go beyond suffering, but there is no end to suffering. When I was young I felt very bad for all the suffering that people have. But now I don't feel so bad. Now I see that suffering is inescapable. Now I see that suffering is beautiful. You must suffer more." (50)

   Suzuki should know. His wife was murdered by a friend with an axe to the head, his daughter spent years in a mental institution before hanging herself, he lost loved one's in Hiroshima, as well as friends and students to illness, and weeped openly and often. So, as the end of suffering is the fulfillment of the Fourth Noble Truth, this is something to ponder coming from a reknown Zen Buddhist master. One can, of course, take the position that he wasn't fully enlightened. Respected Theravada teacher Anagarika Munindra, however, responding to someone feeling 'overwhelmed with it all', said:

   "You know, when I hear you saying this, when I see you crying, I feel so happy for you...You must enjoy the suffering." (51)

   Mark Epstein reminds us of a well-known Buddhist story:

   "A Tibetan master's son died suddenly from illness. Hearing him weep inconsolably, the master's disciples came and confronted him with their surprise. "You told us that all is illusion and that we should not be attached," they admonished him. "Why are you weeping and wailing?" The master answered immediately, "Indeed, all is illusion. But the loss of a child is the most painful illusion." (52)

   In Buddhism, pain and suffering are not considered to be illusions. It is practically a central part of their doctrine. What is illusion is what is believed to exist independently of a mind or an observer. "Matter", as distinct from the perception or sensation of an object itself, would be such an illusion. Pain, however, never exists independently of one who experiences it. While the empirical person may be 'relatively real', the pain exists.

   For the Vedantin, however, pain is not real because it doesn't exist during sleep.

   As adults one can certainly become realized as non-separate from consciousness, and paradoxically at one with but related to others, thus transcending - but more likely minimizing - suffering, but all it takes is a little confrontation with Mother Maya to dismantle the sanity of the residual sleeping mind. A problem with this type of teaching that there is no suffering inevitably leads to making seekers feel there is something wrong with them if they feel pain or suffer or even have a 'story ' to tell. Yet, we have not sinned or done anything wrong; we have been born in a place where there are limitations, and also we can realize the core pain - suffering or dukkha (if we allow ourselves to feel it by not choosing options to escape or avoid, whether material or spiritual, such as are traditionally prescribed), that lies in the midst or our simultaneous dwelling as infinite conscious-being and finite humanness. This is at the root of all of our seeking, a 'black hole' at the center of our being that may indeed become awakened to, but not necessarily completely erased, although, as stated, avoided almost indefinitely by apparent success at worldly affairs as well as spiritual techniques or methodologies. Yet it is a portal to the divine. [see The Deeper Meaning of the Dark Night of the Soul on this website]. This form of existential pain is an achievement or a grace even to be able to feel, and is not something that is happening to us or that we are doing, but, in a sense, it is intrinsic to our human-being, as radical as that may sound to one such as a confirmed advaitist. They may admit the existence of such pain, but philosophize about the old Tibetan aphorism that 'pain is real but suffering is optional', teaching ways to 'not pay attention to personal stories' and/or 'embrace suffering' - but essentially so it will go away, not to actually become it and in a major way release energy and attention as profound and real, human realization. Granted, some may refute this point of view.

   We do accept, in theory, that for the divinely enlightened, with mastery over the 'three bodies' and beyond, and completion of the Noble Eightfold Path, there may be no more suffering; yet, in practice, almost all historical masters have suffered much, whether it be by themselves or for others! According to contemporary teacher Anadi, this latter form of suffering is the 'fifth noble truth'. Two stories about Swami Vivekananda, himself a great advaitin, serves to illustrate this point:

   "One day Swami Turiyananda went to visit Swamiji at Balaram Bose's home. He found Swamiji alone, pacing back and forth on the veranda. He was singing a song, 'Only he who has suffered knows the pain of suffering.' As Swamii sang, tears rolled down his cheeks. Swami Turiyananda could do nothing but watch in silence; it seemed as if Swamiji's heart was burning with the misery of the world. Girish Ghosh was present one day while Swamiji was talking to his disciple, Saratchandra Chakravati, about Vedanta. Swamiji was deeply engrossed in his subject. Suddenly Girish said, 'I don't understand all your Vedanta.' Girish then went on to describe how the people in one locality were starving to death. In another area, Girish continued, horrible injustices were taking place. 'What does your Vedanta say about that?' Girish challenged. Upon hearing Girish's words, Swamiji stopped speaking. Tears welled in his eyes. To conceal his weeping, Swamiji left the room. Girish then turned to Saratchandra and said, 'Do you see how vast Swamiji's heart is? This is why I love your Vivekananda'..Swamiji had this love because he saw one God in all beings."

   "Swamiji wrote in a letter, 'I have been dragged through a whole life full of crosses and tortures, I have seen the nearest and dearest die, almost of starvation; I have been ridiculed, distrusted, and have suffered for my sympathy for the very men who scoff and scorn."

   "Sri Ramakrishna himself said, 'I am not free. I will have to earth again.' Why did he love the world so much? Because he saw himself in all beings - their suffering was his suffering."
(53)

   Split hairs if one likes, call it what you will, but we say even the sage suffers. Maybe not like the average human being, but he is still crucified upon the earth, as an ancient world-wide metaphor attests. "And he was numbered among the transgressors," as they said of Christ.

   Besides, there is a spiritual purpose behind suffering, say many sages. PB writes:

   "Either by time or by philosophy he will one day be placed at the point of view where the significance of suffering will be revealed to him and where he necessity of suffering will be understood by him. This, indeed, is one of the great paradoxes of the human development: that suffering leads him step by step from the false self to the acceptance of the true self, and that the true self leads him step by step back to the acceptance of suffering." (54)

   "Illumination arising from suffering seems to last longer than that arising from happiness because the later is easier to lose. One is likely to become careless with that which comes from happiness." (55)

   One is reminded of the words of Meister Eckhart, "the horse that bears us fastest to the goal is suffering." All right, enough said. There is certainly no argument against happiness! It is as necessary to experience as its relative polarity. For one can only endure as much darkness as he enjoys the light. The spiritual path is not one of morbidity, although a sobering influence is quite appropriate, given our general circumstance.

   Right here a few words must be said on the so-called "I got it, I lost it" syndrome, as we believe it is related to the topic of suffering. 'Direct path' teachers say that seemingly slipping in and out of 'awakening' is not true, but really the failure to see that one can never not be in one's real nature as consciousness, and that the supposed lapses are really just appearances on consciousness, which is always there. This may be true, but it can also be another way of making it 'wrong' and 'illusory' for someone to feel they have such vacillations. Whereas this is actually a positive and necessary evolutionary process for consciousness to clarify and refine its true nature as an irreduceable polarity of limitlessless consciousness and finite humanness, the ocean and the wave, and not just one or the other. It is also part of eventually honoring Maya as the divine Shakti, the consort of Siva, and not just its apparent modification, thereby not reducing the paradoxical polarities of real Being. Of course, the 'consciousness is all' people will fight this to the death with rigorous logic, while sages like Ramakrishna laugh.

   PB had much more to say on this topic of suffering - and humility - before we move on:

   "Do not praise the ego for having found God. It was Grace which brought about the discovery. it was not the ego. It is true that the beginner needs humility but it is even more true that the advanced man needs even more humility."

   "The days when he could speak glibly and assuredly on the most recondite phases of spirituality gradually go. A new humility comes to him."

   "See all men and women according to the Holy Ghost that is within them; always remember that the outer picture is still being worked on."

   "Humbly to accept our limitations, after long experience and repeated test, is also a form of wisdom. The innate tendencies that make us what we are from birth may prove too strong for our will to oppose successfully. Yet even if the leopard cannot change his spots, time may mellow their hard black to soft grey."

   "When affliction seems to hard to be born any longer, when man has come to the end of his endurance, what other recourse has he than to fall on his knees or cry out in humility?"

   "The poignant feeling of hopeless aridity and helpless dependence on Grace brings one's ego very low."

   "Beware what you pray for. Do not ask for the truth unless you know what it means and all that it implies and nevertheless are still willing to accept it. For if it is granted to you, it will not only purge the evil out of you but later purify the egoism from your mind. Will you be able to endure this loss, which is unlikely to be a painless one?"

   "The ego does not give itself up without undergoing extreme pain and extreme suffering. it is placed on a cross whence it can never be resurrected again, if it is truly to be merged in the Overself."

   "We may know God only by losing self, we may not lose self without experiencing pain. This is the inner meaning of the crucifixion."

   "Indeed, the hour may come when, purified from the ego's partiality, he will kiss the cross that brought him such agony and when, healed of his blindness, he will see that it was a gift from loving hands, not a curse from evil lips. He will see too that in his former insistence on clinging to a lower standpoint, there was no other way of arousing him to the need and value of a higher one than the way of unloosed suffering. But at last the wound has healed perfectly leaving him, as a scar of remembrance, greatly increased wisdom."


   And a word of advise for a certain type of character:

   "A harshly critical, dryly intellectual aspirant who has had many troubles in his worldly life and physical health has had the opportunity of working out a lot of hard destiny. But it will not be without compensation if out of his suffering he develops a more religious attitude towards life, a fuller acceptance of the insufficiency of earthly things and human intellect, a greater throwing of himself into self-humbling prayer and upon the Grace. He is the type and temperament who must emphasize the religious, devotional approach to Truth and confess his helplessness." (56)

   Finally, some wise words I perchance saw on a sign for sale at a craft fair today:

   "It' not about waiting for the storms to pass,
   It's about learning to dance in the rain."


   Purpose and manifestation

   Like Sankara in the quotes above, Anthony Damiani also found a 'meaning' and 'purpose' in manifestation - for the Soul. For the Absolute, Nirguna, we cannot talk of purpose, but for the Soul we can. Some Advaitins will squirm at the thought of meaning or purpose at all, but in the terminology of PB he stated:

   "In Nirvikalpa there is no thought. There's nothing to understand. Without the fullness of the understanding that comes from penetrating into the World-Idea - in other words, the full development of the faculty of understanding which comes to a soul through the World-Idea - in the trance state one would be utterly unprepared to understand the mysterious Void...Or we can put it this way: It will take all the teaching that the World-Mind [God as manifesting the universe] can bring to bear upon the soul, in order for the soul to understand its origins, its own priors...that's what is necessary to become the sort of philosopher that not only understands the nature of the soul but also something about the prior principles that are, let's say, eternally generating it." (57)

   In this view, discussed in greater detail in Non-Duality and the Soul - Some Knotty Problems and PB and Plotinus: The Fallacy of Divine Identity, while all is indeed One, there are a number of details left out of the usual discussions on the matter. While the reality behind the self and the universe are both consciousness or 'Mind', for PB, prior to the individual soul or Overself are three higher principles he called universal Overself, World-Mind, and Mind. Plotinus referred to these as Absolute Soul, Intellectual Principle, and the One. Soul itself is eternal, cosmic and infinite consciousness, and of the nature of void. It is transcendent as well as immanent in creation. Thus it is understandable that many nondual awakenings or realizations are often mistaken for the highest possible understanding. Soul is simultaneously itself one with the principle of the Absolute (or 'mother') Soul [Soul for Plotinus being a 'one and many'], a ray or emanation of World-Mind or the Intellectual Principle, and a point in Mind or the One. The World Mind or Divine Intellect as the ancients termed it, projects its world-thought or cosmic-idea through each individual soul, which that soul then manifests as the sensible world or cosmos, including a body to experience that world with. Then, paradoxically, that eternal soul emanates a part or ray of itself 'into' that world-idea and body - which is nevertheless within itself - and then participates in it. Thus, soul has a higher and lower nature, one 'unborn', and another participating in a series of incarnations to gather experience which it distills into self-knowledge or self-cognition. All of this happens within the One, yet the distinctions must be respected and are real and not illusion. The only real illusion is the mis-perception that there is a world of 'things' made of 'matter' that is 'out there' independent of mind or consciousness. Otherwise, there is mind and its own manifestations which are not true illusions. Damiani states:

   "The individual mind (or consciousness) receives the World-idea, portrays that World-Idea, then inhabits part of the World-Idea and experiences it in a sensible way...Only through the World-Idea [can] the soul can to self-recognition...It is inconceivable that wisdom should come from anywhere else except from that World-idea manifesting itself; in other words, the intelligence of the World-Mind revealing itself through that very manifestation. That's why it is ridiculous for anyone to deny the world or think it's illusory. To speak of God's intelligence as illusory is one of the biggest jokes I've ever come across. If that doesn't humble you, when you look up at the starry skies, then nothing is going to do it except the next time a rock falls on your head - probably sent by the starry skies!" (57a)

   Further, he goes into depth explaining that only by the soul 'going into' the World-Idea in a body will it gather the intelligence and understanding for it eventually to understand the realities of its own inner being, something of the nature of the Void-Mind other than that it Is - and also the fact that there really are other souls that exist beside itself. The latter point is something that most advaitins cannot grasp through their philosophy. This is understandable, as the soul's awakened relationship between it and its manifestation is a nondual one, of the nature of infinite consciousness, yet the soul is still an emanation of a unity of higher principles, which is only realizable once the faculty of egoism dies and the Soul completely overshadows the personality, which is a very advanced stage. One does not glimpse or know these higher principles merely by a temporary lapse of ego. One must be fitted for it.

   The 'Absolute Soul' or 'Principle of Soul', once again, can not be spoken of as One: it is a One and Many. Therefore, the advaitins face a strong challenge from this other classic and modern view which denies that there is merely one soul or self or being that everyone realizes or glimpses each and every time the ego is transcended. The same divinity is within each and every soul, but that does not reduce all souls into one. In this way of looking at things one can see in what way advaita and vasishtadvaita, and even dvaita, can all be true. The insight of the sage is that of both nonduality and duality simultaneously, it is not a simple monism.

   In simpler prose PB writes:

   "Where is the incentive to improve oneself or society, to make something of one's career, one's life, to be ambitious or enjoy art - what is there to live for if everything is illusion?"

   "Is this a world of exile from our spiritual home or is it a world of education for our spiritual home? If it is the first then all experience gained in it is worthless and useless. But if it is the second then every experience has meaning and is related to this universal purpose."

   "To refuse to explore experience for its meaning by denying its very existence, merely because it is painful experience, is simply to evade the very purpose of incarnation here on earth. It is only by striving to understand the significance of what happens to us, only by drawing out the lessons of life from it, that the higher truth about one's self and about the universe can ever reveal itself."

   "The transcendental intelligence behind our personality has put us in this world neither to deny it nor to hide from it, but to accept it and learn its valuable lesson."


   Its lesson, as illustrated metaphorically in many traditions, is as a mirror to show us to ourself:

   "This is the extraordinary paradox of the Quest, that it is a road leading out of daily life and yet far inseparable from daily living itself."

   "This earthly life is the "narrow gate" which opens onto the kingdom."

   "Whoever lives in such a society, his heart in the Real, his mind in the true, is as much absent from it as he is present."
(58)


   In the Tao Te Ching the 'Old Master', Lau Tzu, said:

   " 'Know the Mother that you may know the Child; know the Child that you may grasp the Mother.' In other words, the world of form is not to be understood unless the void is grasped, nor the void to be penetrated without understanding the world of form. These two are aspects of the One." (59)

   So, while acknowledging ultimate non-duality, we can use justifiably use the word 'purpose', so long as it, as all concepts, is held lightly.


   Traditional commentary on Maya, avidya, Isvara, sakshin (the witness)

   To refer to material in the next few sections that some may find perhaps old, dry and pedantic, in need of simplification and upgrading to better suit our needs, yet an exercise in reasoning that I feel is still useful, in the microcosm, according to Prof. Chandradhar Sharma, in The Advaita tradition in Indian Philosophy, the practitioner realizes the witness self (sakshin), which has similar attributes as the Self (pure eternal conscious, self-luminous and self-proved consciousness, unqualified and indeterminate), except that it is associated, but not bound or limited by, an upadhi of maya, ignorance, the ‘internal organ, or antahkarana. It illuminates all that it is a witness to, and when not witness to anything it is self-illuminating. It is also responsible for maintaining the continuity of the jiva pre and post the deep sleep state. Yet it is not Atman, which exists without association with any upadhi or limiting adjunct. Atman is pure conscious, beyond the Sakshin. It is realized in nirvikalpa, but not necessarily with understanding, as the above quote by Damiani suggests. Coming out, one does not necessarily also know that Atman and Brahman are one. This issue of nirvikalpa is a complicated one, beyond the scope of this paper. In sum, sakshin is the consciousness appearing in Isvara as associated with maya and in jiva associated with antahkarana. Although the witness consciousness arises in association with the experience of objects, it is not the result but the presupposition of this experience (hence the often-made conclusion that ‘all is consciousness’). Thus, it has been historically difficult for one realizing the sakshin to disentangle himself from this realization and get to the ever-present Atman. Iswara, or PB’s World-Mind, in this context, may be likened to the Witness Self of the Absolute, overseeing creation but not bound by it, and self-illuminating in its inseparability from the Absolute. It would also appear that for PB, Atman and Brahman, or Overself and Mind, are not identical, but eternally related in a transcendental unity.

   Thus, in some systems either nirvikalpa or the sakshin is held to be Self-realization, whereas in others the collapse of the sakshin into sahaja is Brahman or God-realization.

   This may indeed be confusing! Therefore I will quote directly from Prof. Sharma. In a way I hate to do so, as it is a fine example of old language that reifies things that maybe shouldn't be reified, and maybe don't even exist! But it is a good, while pedantic, traditional account:

   "This pure, non-dual, eternal and unconditioned Consciousness (shuddha chaitanya) called Brahma or Atma, through its own power Maya or Avidya, appears as conditioned and determinate and is then called lower Brahma or Ishvara [the professor is using Brahma and Brahman interchangeably here]. The same pure Consciousness appearing as limited by the internal organ (antahkarana), which is objective and physical and is a product of avidya is called individual self or jiva. The jiva is a subject-object complex...Its subject element is pure consciousness and is called saksi, while its object-element is the antahkarana, the internal organ. Saksi is, like Brahman, pure Consciousness, self-luminous and self-proved, unqualified, indeterminate and unknowable as an object, but, unlike Brahma, it appears in association with the upadhi (upahita) of avidya or antahkarana as a witness or a disinterested looker-on illuminating itself and everything presented to it as an object."

   "Brahma is the transcendental ground-reality (adhisthana) on which, through maya or avidya which is the transcendental Illusion, Ishvara, jiva and jagat (objective world) are super-imposed, and when the avidya is dispelled by non-dual experience of the Self
[which is not an 'experience'], all these vanish leaving only non-dual Brahma."

   "Ishvara or God is the personal aspect of impersonal brahma. As saguna Brahma, He is the abode of all good qualities (ashesakalyana-guna-sampanna). He is the perfect personality. He is the material (upadana) as well as the efficient (nimitta) cause of this universe...He is the soul (atma) of souls (jivas) as well as the soul of this objective world. As the immanent inner ruler of this universe, He is called Antaryami. He is transcendental, for in His own nature, He transcends this universe. He is in the universe and the universe is in Him, yet He is not limited by the universe. he is Will-Consciousness, the self-conscious Supreme Individual or the Concrete Universal. He is the Giver and the Governor of the moral order...He helps the devotees in their spiritual realisation by showering His Grace (anugraha) on them...He is the Lord of Maya and the 'covering power' (avarana shakti) of Maya cannot operate on Him and does not conceal His nature. He controls the 'projecting power' (viksepa shakti) of Maya through which he appears as the individual selves and the objective world. he never misses His essential identity with Brahma. He is Being-Consciousness-Bliss all in one (sat-chit-ananda)...Finite thought can never grasp the indeterminate Brahma and therefore all talks about Brahma really refer to Ishvara. It is utterly incorrect to say that in vedanta God is treated as insignificant and unreal. God is, for vedanta, the highest appearance which we have, but this highest appearance is the highest workable reality for us. The phenomenal character of God is realised when Brahma is directly experienced and then there is neither God nor soul nor world. As Ishvara is essentially identical with Brahma
[i.e., World-Mind and Mind], Brahma-realisation is also realisation of the essential nature of Ishvara. In fact, jiva also is essentially identical with brahma (jivo Brahmaiva naparah), for its objective component comes from avidya. The subject-element in jiva is saksi which is pure Consciousness and is identical with Brahma. Hence, Ishvara, saksi and jiva are in fact non-different from Brahma, their difference is due to their association with Maya and avidya in different degrees and this association, too, is finally unreal as the fact of illusion is also illusory. So if a person in phenomenal life demands a reality higher than God that person does not know what he or she is seeking."

   However,

   "Jiva is the slave of Maya or Avidya (Maya-dasa) and is subject to its power of avarana, which conceals his true nature, while Ishvara is the Lord of Maya (Mayapati) on whom the avarana shakti or the covering power does not operate and the viksepa shakti or projecting power functions under His control. Jiva is subject to all three gunas of avidya, while in Ishvara there is only pure sattva guna."

   "Ishvara is full of qualities and is immanent in maya as its controller, but saksi, unlike Him, is the pure self devoid of qualities and uninvolved in upadhi...Saksi is the pure, eternal consciousness appearing in Ishvara as associated with maya and in jivas as associated with antahkarana. The former is called Ishvara saksi and the latter Jiva-saksi. Though the witnessing consciousness arises with the experience of object, it is not the result but the presupposition of this experience."


   As regards moksha, he says:

   "The self is neither bound nor released; it is only avidya which appears and avidya which vanishes. The self is always pure, eternal and transcendental reality. Atma and Brahma are one...Moksha is cancellation of transcendental Illusion by the immediate experience of the real (avidya-nivritti)...Knowledge of the ground-reality and cancellation of illusion happen simultaneously...It is ever-contented eternal bliss (nityatrpta). It is not self-conscious and blissful in the sense of consciously enjoying its own bliss; it is bliss itself, not parted by subject-object duality. It is transcendental unity, indivisible and unique (niravayava)...Moksha is eternally there and the consciousness of its achievement is an appearance...Realisation of Brahma takes place when the knowledge generated by the Vedanta texts culminates in immediate experience, when the 'upadesha-vakya,' 'Thou art that' (Tat tvam asi), becomes 'anubhava-vakya,' 'I am Brahma' (aham Brahmasmi)." (60)

   As one can see, the saksi or sakshin is eternally rooted in Brahman, while also in relationship with Ishvara and jiva. This is also PB's sense of what the Overself's position is: watching over the personality, in 'dialogue with World-Mind', and in eternal relationship but not strict identity with Mind. [In the latter point he therefore differs with vedanta. While inherently unspeakable, it is apparently a best 'workable reality']. Whether upon vedantic moksha there is something new added to what was 'already the case', such as 'self-consciousness within unity' for an eternal soul, as some systems affirm, is generally not recognised in that system. As truth is non-conceptual, however, we also must remain silent on this point.

   Vedantin V.S. Iyer, court philosopher of the Maharaja of Mysore and one-time teacher of Paul Brunton, discusses the notion of the witness in a somewhat simpler, more direct matter:

   "European psychology has not gone beyond personality, has not reached the Witness. This is because unless one's mind is sufficiently sharp the notion of the Sakshin cannot be seen. One must perceive that the I itself comes and goes, as in sleep for instance. What it is that perceives this? It is the Witness. The I is an object, the Witness is the subject. This position is the next step ahead of Western psychology. It much be reached, mastered and then dropped for the next higher step, the understanding of the Atman. The Witness-self is not an individuality, it is universal, but still it is a temporary stage, not the ultimate truth. It is for beginners and here Maharishi's "Who AM I?" analysis is most useful as it shows beginners that the I comes and goes, and that they must look beyond it to the principle of Awareness which tells you of these appearances and disappearances of the I. But beyond that point the Witness self, the Sakshin, the Maharishi's teaching does not go. Higher than his is the doctrine of the Atman. The notion of the Witness arises only when you consider the objects from this standpoint which assumes the real (not ideal) existence of all objects, the antithesis of a subject, a Witness must arise. But there is a loftier standpoint wherein the objects are dismissed from consideration entirely through the use of avastatraya [an analysis of the three states] and thus non-dual Atman is reached...But that is not the end. We have to know all the world, and we have to know the real I.

   ...The notion of Atman as the Witness or knower, of the three states is not the ultimate position. But we are forced to adopt it as a preliminary step, because we cannot leap into the ultimate view at once. From that view there are no separate states because the ego which knows them is itself as transient and illusory, itself known and seen like other drysams
[objects or things seen]. Unless you know the true position of the ego, Vedanta cannot be grasped." (61)

   In practice, one might also break this down into three basic realizations. First is the witness self or sakshin realized exclusively in trance, without contact with objects although actually associated with maya or avidya, the unmanifest. Then there is the ‘embodied witness’, where this ‘self’, as consciousness, known as not a fixed entity, is realized in daily waking life. There is still a subtle separation from this sakshin or witness self and the world of objects, however, even though the true witness position is void of a separate entity; it is felt as 'home'. When the witness position collapses into Atman or nondual consciousness, that is true Self-realization. Some call it God-Realization, recognizing only Atman as Brahman and no distinct Souls as such. Some of this confusion is understandable, because - although this isn't the place to get into this in the depth it deserves - in some Upanishads and sacred Vedantic scriptures, the goal or Reality is stated as the identity of the jiva-Atma and Brahman, where jiva-Atma means individual soul as often considered in many religious and mystical traditlons to be a 'spark' of the divine seeking re-union with it, whereas on realization there is seen to be only undivided Consciousness. In yet other places, however, the reality is referred to as transcendental Atman, which is not different or other than Brahman. We have no argument that the realization, commonly expressed these days as 'no-self', 'no-separation', 'infinite Consciousness' is what is realized through the Vedantic process of inquiry or investigation. A further difficulty, however, is that there are traditions that do not consider Soul in such limiting terms as an individuated 'spark' seeking re-union, but as both that and an eternal transcendental principle, the teachings of PB and Plotinus being two examples. Other traditions as well speak of stages 'beyond' this infinite Atman. In short, it is not so simple to conclude based on one's experience that there is 'no one' or 'only One' ! Again, truth may be simple, but this area of study on its own terms is very complicated! [See The Primordial Ground and Dual Non-Dualism and PB and Plotinus: The Fallacy of Divine Identity on this website for much more in-depth discussion of this issue (62)].

   The state of the jivanmukta: vedantic views on trigunatita and turiya

   Before leaving this sometimes 'dry and pedantic old stuff', there is one more issue to clear up. The reader may wish to take a walk or have a snack before buckling down once more to get through this. We promise to get back to more accessible and extremely interesting material shortly. Swami Prajnananda writes:

   "There is another controversy as to whether a Jivanmukta can be ranked with trigunatita (one, who is beyond the three gunas, i.e., a transcendant state). But we find in Anandaguiri's commentary on Shankara's Vedantakeshari that the Jivanmukta attains to the state of Hiranyagarbha. The Hiranyagarbha (Brahma-Prajnapati) really assumes a two-fold nature: trigunatita, i.e., gunatita/or transcendant as well as gunayukta or immanent. The body of the Hiranyagarbha, the unlimited cosmic intelligence (samasti-buddhi) is always transparent, and is known as all-knowing sar'vajna. He is the medium between the noumena and the phenomena. Man's highest reach as well as appreciation is up to this medium. Above is the Avyakta, the unmanifested or undifferentiated consciousness. The Isvara is the Karana saguna-Brahman whose manifested form is Hiranyagarbha or karya or shabala-Brahman [Note: according to Prajnanananda, in Vedanta, Hiranyagarbha-Brahma is known as the determinate and saguna-Brahman, and isvara is known as the indeterminate and nirguna-Brahman; this is a reversal of the more common usage]. As soon as an apparent man reaches the karya or saguna-Brahman, Hiranyagarbha, he attains at once the state of a Jnananistha, i.e., a state of absorption in knowledge which causes him to be trigunatita also. Madhusudana Saraswati says that from a description of the characteristics of a man beyond the three gunas, it is evident that the state of Jivanmukti is a result of absorption in Divine knowledge or Divine consciousness. Therefore, it seems to imply that a Jivanmukt is gunatita, a conclusion which is very controversial. Again we find it to be mentioned that those who have burst their bonds of individuality and ignorance in the present life, are placed in a stage which is removed from the sudha-sattva-Isvara. Isvara as trigunatita is different from the transcendental Brahman, Turiya, because Isvara as trigunatita remembers his feat of having transcended maya."

   "As a conception, Isvara is inferior to Turiya of the transcendental fourth, when a sadhaka reaches the highest state which, though spoken of as a state, is in reality not a state at all, being one with the pure existence itself, which does not stand in contradiction to any of the three other states, jagrat (waking), svapna (dream(, or susupti (deep sleep). There he shines with his undying glory ('sve mahimni')... But as a matter of strict logic, it will be wise to ascribe the state of Hiranyagarbha- Isvara to the Jivanmukta and not the transcendental fourth state or Turiya. It should be remembered that Isvara of the Advaita Vedanta is different from that of the Puranas and such other dualistic schools of thought. Isvara of Advaita Vedanta is, in essence, no other than the fourth or transcendental Noumenon itself...it is the pure Absolute which can be realized in one's own self..the one without a second."
(63)

   However, Swami Sharvananda, also of the Ramakrishna order, has this to say:

   "[Turiya] should not be identified with God or Ishvara who experiences the whole of phenomenal existence in one act of cognition." (64)

   The first is certainly a controversial passage, and one may question why I inserted it here. Indeed, much can be said about it regarding possible contradictions, but as Swami Prajnananda is a monk in the lineage of Sri Ramakrishna I choose to cut him some slack. I think we might be able to condense both of these by offering the following, simply: liberation as Turiya is possible in any state (as it is not in reality different from any of the states, when maya is seen through), but the 'complete man', at least as an ideal, also has reach of all the ontological levels of being. However, if Turiya is conceived as some kind of emptiness or void, at a 'distance' from any state or condition, then it is not the end of the Way, but another oriental inheritance to respectfully move through and beyond. That may be an heretical proposition, I am fully aware. In the final analysis, realization of Turiya must be maintained throughout all of the states. This is the fruit of a great transformation or nondual integration deep into the being that usually takes years. For those who think there are quick, direct ways to achieve this, why did the Buddha elaborate stages after Arhathood, or jivanmukta?

   It is also much easier to realize Turiya in the waking state than in deep sleep, or an after death realm, hence the importance given to the human birth in many, many scriptures. This is also why insight trumps or completes samadhi practice in the Buddhist traditions. And, perhaps, it was Turiya that PB had in mind when he wrote:

   "We are always in the Timeless but the individuality may pass in and out of time." (65)

   That is, our essence throughout 'the three states' is Turiya, while the individual person passes back and forth between ordinary waking and deep sleep.

   Different Vedanta positions

   There are several schools of Vedanta other than the Advaita of Sankara: Vashistadvaita, Dvaita, even Dvaita-Advaita.The relation between Maya, Nirguna Brahman, Saguna Brahman, and Isvara differs among these schools, as previously touched upon. Moreover, for Sankara, Atman and Brahman are one; for Ramanuja and the 'qualified non-dualists' (Vashistadvaitins), the Soul or Atman is eternally inseparable from and related to but not identical with Brahman. For Madhva and the Dvaitins, the Soul is eternally separated from God, but nevertheless God is in charge. For a teacher like anadi, there is 'Dual Non-Dualism', or Dvaita-Advaita. That teaching, in brief, says that there is a primal polarity of Soul and God beyond the non-duality of the relative polarity of consciousness and phenomena. (66) We suggest the radical possibility (which the reader is also free to consider a cop-out) that in a true ultimate Brahman all of these positions may be simultaneously true, the Real being beyond all categories of thought while including them.

   Mention will also be made of the Cangadeva-pasasti of Janadeva (1275-1296), a unique work presenting a non-dualistic absolutistic ontology without resort to the concept of maya or avidya. From the linked article, "Jnanadeva says simply, 'I do not think so.' The basic oneness of Reality, Absolute or God is the theme of this work. Jnanadeva holds that the whole world of plurality, of subject and object, is an apparent expression of the Brahman, its material and efficient cause, without itself undergoing any change within itself. Without affecting the basic unity it appears as the duality of the subject and the object, or the triad of the knower, known and knowledge. Jnanadeva says that such manifestation of Brahman is natural to it. He does not subscribe to any element of avidya, or maya as an explanation of this dualism or triadism or pluralism. Jnanadeva's insistence is on the unbroken, continuous nature of Atman even when there is the manifestation of two or more. The Absolute shows itself in such apparent dualism which having its origin in the Absolute is not other than the Absolute, that is real, and yet the Absolute remains completely unaffected. In the same manner Janandeva says that the description of Atman as sat-cit-ananda also could not be regarded as final, as these terms become meaningful in relation to their opposites asat-jada-duhkha. Thus the Absoluteness is beyond any meaningful description. It could be understood by being it, that is going through its experience, and enjoying it in silence or by keeping mum. This experience Jnanadeva has through the grace of his Guru Sir Nivrttinatha."

   'Illusion' and ontology in other traditions

   Plotinus, also, is said to have studied with Eastern teachers, vedantic, etc., yet there is no mention of maya per se in his teachings. The One (ineffable Be-ness) from its abundance becomes Being, a ‘multiple One’, or one-in-many, the Intellectual Principle; the image of this is the Absolute Soul, a one-and-many, source of the worlds, for which there is a purpose. The world is thus real, if only a reflection, but it is mistaken thinking which accounts for our dualistic vision. This might be considered a form of individual avidya, but not transcendental Maya in terms of Vedantic illusion. That, in fact, is how Paramhansa Yogananda also interpreted the two: Maya is the creative power of God that produces multiplicity, and avidya is the illusion-making power of the ego.

   Yet Buddhism and Hinduism are not the only ones who had words to say on the issue! The views of Ibn al 'Arabi are not dissimilar to those of Plotinus, and especially Plato with his world of archtypes. We turn to the Sufis, then, in particular Arabi, for a much different view. While perhaps the most non-dual of all shaykhs, he nevertheless does not take us off the devotional hook, by granting even an 'ontological necessity' for man being a servant or worshipper of God - despite their oneness and dual existence in what he called the Reality or Essence, which is beyond the polarity of Divine/cosmos, yet knowable by the deep heart the Sufis call "Sirr". He basically held to the paradoxical simultaneity of Absolute Reality, and an eternal 'I' or Soul and God. He said, "I have two aspects, 'He' and I, yet 'He' is not I in my I (ego), but He is my 'I' in Himself," and also, as mentioned earlier, "Our Master, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), said: 'He who knows himself knows his Lord.' He did not say: “He who eliminates himself knows his Lord!” Finally, however, he prays, "My Lord, increase my perplexity concerning you! ['Perplexity' to Ibn 'Arabi is seeing the One in the Many, and the Many in the One; either view by itself is imbalanced and effectively limits the Absolute. This would be either seeing manifestation only, or the absolute in its purity abstracted from all manifestation - as a spiritual void or emptiness, which equally limits the absolute by comparing it to something with attributes. That is to say, to call the absolute 'limitedless' is limiting it; in truth it is transcends being either limited or limitless while including both]. He who experiences this perplexity is ceaselessly centered on God, while he who follows the "long" path to a distant God is always turning aside from the Supreme Goal to search after imagination as his goal." (67)

   Plato, in the Timaeus, similarly reminds us of prematurely reducing the mystery. Thomas Taylor comments:

     "In the first place, therefore, since wholeness is triple, one being prior to parts, another subsisting from parts, and another in each of the parts, that wholeness of the soul which is now delivered is that which subsists prior to parts; for the demiurgus made it one whole prior to all division, which, as we have said, remains such as it is, without being consumed in the production of the parts: for to be willing to dissolve that which is well harmonized is the province of an evil artificer." (68)

    The Sufis, not mentioning the word maya per se, see the world as a divine theophany, display, or self-manifestation of the ninety-nine attributes or Names of Allah [ninty-nine essential ones, the number is really infinite]. However, they recognize illusion as such in that the manifestation is divine imagination and veiled to those without the eyes to see. There is a great 'treasure hunt' by the Soul for her Beloved, to know Him through all of His forms as well as in Himself, as far as it is revealed for man to do so. For there is always an absoluteness of the Absolute that even the greatest mystic can not penetrate. Ibn 'Arabi states:

   " 'The world is an illusion; it has no real existence. And this is what is meant by 'imagination' (khayal). For you imagine that it is an autonomous reality quite different from and independent of the absolute reality, while in truth it is nothing of the sort..Know that you yourself are an imagination. And everything that you perceive and say to yourself, 'this is not me', is also an imagination. So that the whole world of existence is imagination within imagination.' "

   But what Ibn Arabi means by this is that the world is a reflection of something that is truly real:

   "What then, is that Something which hides itself behind the veil of the phenomenal...? The answer is given immediately. It is the Absolute, the real or absolute Reality which 'Arabi calls al haqq. Thus the so-called 'reality' is but a dream, but it is not a sheer illusion. It is a particular appearance of the absolute Reality, a particular form of its self-manifestation (tajalli). It is a dream having a metaphysical basis. 'The world of being and becoming (kawn) is an imagination', he says, 'but it is, in truth, Reality itself.'" (69)

   To understand Islamic ontology one must first envision an eternal and perpetual process of emanation and return, all happening temporally and a-temporally within the eternal Now. While there is a hierarachy, man and the worlds are perpetually ascending and descending. What happens in the lower realms affects the higher, and the higher affects the lower. This gets us out of the loop of creation theory. But is also leaves us open to the notion of what I call the 'actualization of realization within relativity', without falling for he ploy of neo-advaita that there is no such thing or nothing one can do. For Ibn 'Arabi, whose thought often appears so Platonic that he earned the epithet "a son of Plato', there is 'first' an 'absolute-Absolute' (the 'Essence') that is itself in its absoluteness; it has  no attributes. Then, by a 'most holy emanation' (or 'the Breathe of the Merciful') this Absolute in its absoluteness becomes something different; it is still Absolute, but with multiplicity in potentia within it. This is the stage of Divinity, or Allah. Also, the 'permanent archtypes' of all things are there potentially within this Divine Consciousness. Then, a second 'holy emanation' actualizes the Divine Names and Attributes (archtypes), but first as-a-whole; this is the stage of Unity; from here we get the stage of Images and Similitudes, and, finally, the sensible world (all seven planes or so, depending on tradition). What is interesting is that Ibn 'Arabi says that there is a 'pressure' or 'compression'  that builds up in the Absolute with the Divine Names that necessitates its actualization of those archtypes which finally overflows - he uses the word 'determination'  - and the chain continues on down producing all the things. It goes on perpetually, moment to moment; there are no temporal gaps, it is all a drama within the Absolute, but still, with ontological stages that must be respected. Even the archtypes - which acount for the relative indentity of phenomenal objects that are created and destroyed moment to moment - are also created and destroyed perpetually moment to moment by the perpetual ‘most holy emanation’.

   Well, Chuang Tzu, instead of the word 'pressure' and 'breathe', uses the word 'eructates', and 'divine wind'. Where he differs from Ibn 'Arabi is  that he doesn't feel there are any archtypes permanently existing in a Divine Consciousness (neither ‘existing nor not-existing’, but ‘realities’ nevertheless), or if he does, they are only in potentia, never actualized. It is the 'Divine Wind that moves 'over the 'holes and hollows' (the closest he gets to archtypes) like the wind in a flute, that produces the ‘ten thousand things’. For Ibn 'Arabi, the archtypes do exist in the Absolute essentially; for Chuang Tzu, he is more of an existentialist: things just ceaselessly manifest. But the two sages are actually very close, just with different leanings. Regarding the Absolute, Chuang Tzu says, 'there seems to be a Ruler', but we can't see Him.'  He also speaks of the same stage as Arabi - after the 'most holy emanation' that makes the absolute-Absolute into the Absolute no longer absolute-in-its-absoluteness - just before stage of Divinity. In this state the Absolute is still the Absolute but has multiplicity in unity, although only in potentia. He says that after the Tao or Way, the Mystery of Mysteries, the ultimate Unity, there is the Nameless (Non-Being). Of this Nameless he says, ‘In this darkness, there seems to be an image, I sense there is something there, I don't know whose 'son' it is, I think maybe it is 'antecedent to the Heavenly Emperor' (i.e., God). God is called the One. Then it 'eructates', Heaven (Yang) and Earth (Yin) are produced, and the Wind blows over and through every potential thing creating the world(s).

   For neither of these philosophers is there really causation, per se; certainly for Arabi, he definitely says that God is not the cause of the universe (God says, “Be!” and ‘it comes into being' - God doesn't bring it into being, God only issues the 'Command', and the things respond; there is a mutual process of creation at this level. But the Absolute is its Ground, and through the 'Breathe of the Merciful' - also called 'the Water of life' - is its very immanent Essence. Ibn 'Arabi has an interesting concept of the whole dynamic. He says that the archtypes actually 'determine' the Absolute (which cannot just do 'anything it wants, so to speak), but, on the other hand, it is the 'most holy emanation' that produces the archtypes themselves, and the 'holy emanation' tthat actualizes them. This is a difficult and seemingly heretical concept to grasp, if even that be possible. And this goes on perpetually and eternally without any gaps. A mind-boggling conception, unless you realize it as a divine drama within Eternity.

   For Ibn 'Arabi the highest the saint (walih) can get is to the point where the Absolute in its absolute has turned into the Absolute no longer in its absoluteness, where there is just 'the faint penumbra' of multiplicity in potentia, just prior to the stage of Divinity (Allah). However, he definitely reaches a stage where he knows his 'I-ness' as and in the 'He-ness' of the Absolute; it is the Absolute that knows his I-ness as Itself. For Chuang Tzu, the sage at one with the Tao is still shy of the 'Mystery of Mysteries' - but it is more than enough for man.

   To simplify, a modern Taoist teacher, Charles Belyea, in Dragon's Play, describes the Way in terms of twelve stages. Numbers one to five are approaches to the Way. Six generates an inner fire that brings an end to all seeking and the realization that any more efforts are useless for realization. Seven (considered the end of many paths) constitutes non-dual realization, with no distinction or difference felt between emptiness and form, although he calls seven 'yin-nondualism', with the focus more on the emptiness aspect. Many nondual teachers are stuck in this stage. Eight is the realization of the Greater Patterning of Nature, or 'yang-nondualism', and nine and ten are greater participation in that Patterning and further actualization and deepening of the non-dual realization, through the natural activation and interaction of inner and cosmic energy channels. This would pear at first glance to be what happens in some schools of Vajrayana Buddhism, but not exactly. For there is no motivated exploitation of these things, but a free exploration and co-operation with them on the basis of the already realized transcendental Heart. Eleven is the Heavenly Immortal, through which the Tao effortlessly operates, while twelve is the fulfillment of the Tao, the truly human stage, but even it is not really 'the end' in the normal sense. As he writes:

   "There really is no Beginning, nor a cosmic or personal fall from grace. The path of returning to the Source is not a matter of going back to the womb or transcending the diverse universe of manifestation [as some of the early examples of Taoism indicate with the yogic terms such as 'closing the gates of the body and mind', and entering the void', etc.]. The Source is the context for everything. It's quite simply where we all are, and returning to it means to give more attention to it as the basis for a full exploration of life...Twelve is not the top of the mountain and is not a "peak experience" - that rather limited view exhausts itself long before twelve." (70)

   He says, then, that in step six "efforts cease and we are confronted with the reality that cultivating the Way produces nothing." We could translate that as saying that willful efforts to achieve something by a separate self do end, but a much deeper integration with Nature or the Divine lies ahead. One's human character must penetrate much deeper into both its own depths and into the energies and dimensions of the cosmos. Thus what began in stages six and even before continues in the stages after seven, at a deeper level, and without personal effort, although not without its cooperation. But it would not have been able to do so until it had reached the end of its personal rope in six and been taken to the mat in a fundamental way [see Caught on the Path on this website for more on this theme]. Ramana might have said that this was the point where one ceased experiencing one's path as an 'ego-soul in the head' and realized the presence of oneself as 'Consciousness in the heart'. But there is still much more. Then at seven, "attaining the Way is the merger of our self-nature and Nature Itself, without death or transformation...We can no longer make a meaningful distinction between phenomena and..open Space." This is a description of Self-realization. Characterizations of such a stage are 'the totally unexpected,' 'the obviousness', 'just so', and 'the undeniable but still unbelievable'. Here the metaphorical (not mystical) 'third eye' opens.

   It must be kept in mind that the entire set of stages is a seamless process. At eight and nine, the exploration of Nature expands, and the 'fourth eye' opens. Stages ten and eleven are a further deepening of the interpenetration of consciousness and energy, the One and the Many, the Many and the One, the individual and the universal, 'Earthly' Hsien and 'Heavenly' Hsien, quite advanced, with twelve representing the return to our true nature, which is nothing other than our full humanness, with a 'fifth eye' of the dragon' opened. I include this brief introduction to illustrate that many of the older Taoist texts, of which there are hundreds if not thousands countless centuries before and even after the well-known Tao Te Ching and Chuang-Tzu, can be rather obscuring and impenetrable, while there is, in fact, a more modern, simplified interpretation of things.

   For both 'Arabi and Chuang Tzu, the goal is to see the Many as One, and the One as Many, thereby avoiding the two extremes of spirituality, or tanzih without , emptiness without fullness. Everything is a coincidum oppositorum within the Absolute. Words can never reach it, but, says Chuang Tzu, 'if I didn't use words, even to say 'one', I couldn't say anything about it'. For 'Arabi, every Name is All of the Names, like One and Many, yet there is still a hierarchy among the Names, of which "Merciful" is the highest and most prior.

   The ancient Greek philosophers were like a supernova blazing across the sky, well ahead of their time. While there is much evidence in their time of cross-pollination between East and West, the essential conversation was most likely severely cut short by the destruction of the great library at Alexandria, to await two thousand years until our time for its fruition and the emrrgence of a more complete dharma.

   Plato, like 'Arabi and Chuang Tzu, also spoke of the One and the Many. In reference to a quote of PB [(a) "The one without a second" reappears in the universe as "no two things alike." (b) Nonduality, not two, means mentalism; the world is my idea, in my consciousness, hence not separate from me. There are not two - me plus world." (71), my friend David writes:

   "An especially profound quote which cuts to the core of the one-many question. At its heart are the Greek categories essence, same, and different, rest and motion implicate as well; Plotinus's five genera. The best I've been able to make of it, for me, is summarized as follows: All things are always simultaneously both same and different; different because they are not same; same because they are all different.  This, I find, is the essence of the double standpoint. Plato wrote in the Timaeus:

     "From an essence impartible, and always subsisting according to sameness of being, and from a nature divisible about bodies, he [the demiurgus] mingled from both a third form of essence, having a middle subsistence between the two.  And again, between that which is impartible and that which is divisible between bodies, he placed the nature of same and different.  And taking these, now they are three, he mingled them all into one idea.  But as the nature of different could not without difficulty be mingled in same, he harmonized them together by employing force in their conjunction.  But after he had mingled these two with essence, and had produced one from the three, he again divided this whole into becoming parts; at the same time mingling each part from same, different, and essence." (72)

   Further, on the nature of the Soul, in his commentary on the Timaeus (35a-b), citing Proclus, the eminent scholar Thomas Taylor wrote:

     "But as he [Proclus] had said that the soul is not only partible, but also impartible, it is requisite to preserve both, and to consider that while the wholeness remains impartible, a division into multitude is produced: for if we take one of these only, I mean the section, we shall make it only indivisible.  The whole, therefore, is divided together with the whole remaining impartible; so that it equally participates in both.  Hence it is well observed by Aristotle, that there is something impartible in partible natures, by which they are connected; so that it is much more necessary that something impartible should remain in things whose nature is not only partible, but also impartible."

     Anthony Damiani, speaking on the ontology of Plotinus, in a passage very reminiscent of the quotes from Ibn 'Arabi and Chuang Tzu above, writes:

   “Out of the ocean of infinite possibilities present in the ineffable undifferenced intelligence of the One, there pours forth a radiant display of glorious revelations -- the Divine Mind and its Ideas.  These luminous existences, emanating on the surface of its voidness, exhibit the inner nature, the inherent perfection of the unique and unknowable God.  The Power of the One is so great that this Divine Mind, though an "image One," is itself authentic reality. This "outward" expression of the One paradoxically stands as a distinct hypostasis midst the One without a second.” (73)

   And:

   “Seeking nothing, possessing nothing, lacking nothing, the One is perfect and in our metaphor, has overflowed, and its exuberance has produced the new: this product has turned again to its begetter and been filled and has become its contemplator and so is an Intellectual-Principle.  That station towards the One...establishes Being; that vision directed upon the One establishes the Intellectual-Principle.” (Enneads, V.2.1)

   Here he is speaking of the Nous, what Plotinus called The Intellectual Principle (from which proceeds a third hypostases, Soul, which, as far as I know, is self-aware Consciousness). Chuang Tzu, the Easterner, preferred to speak of it in vague, obscure imagery, 'Arabi as 'dim and hazy', while Plotinus spoke of it as luminous - but so luminous that it is in fact dark to human eyes. This very likely appears to be a principle 'prior to consciousness' such as spoken of by Sri Nisargadatta and a few others, and, in fact, by some major traditions.

   These views are definitely unlike strict Vedanta, or the Direct Path, but offer a contrast and challenge to them. They, in my view, point to, not only a dynamic content, but a dynamic context, something lacking in the more static Hindu concepts. Yet they also picture an absolute who-knows-what that is actualizing itself within eternity. We are not saying which of any of these views is right. The reader is to make his own inquiry. We only suggest that they offer something of real value.

   For now we will briefly further summarize the stages given by Ibn' Arabi to give just a taste of his deep ontological position:

   "The self-determination, as it develops, forms a number of stages or levels. Properly and essentially, these stages are of a non-temporal structure, subsisting as they do beyond the boundaries of time. But at the same time they come also into the temporal order of things and give a particular ontological structure to it...The self-determination of the Absolute is, in fact, possessed of a double structure. It is a trans-historical, trans-temporal phenomenon, but it is also a temporal event. One might even say that this is precisely the greatest coincidentia oppositorum observable in the structure of Being. It is a temporal event because from eternity the same process of tajalli [self-determination from the Absolute 'on down' to the world] has been repeated and will go on repeating indefinitely. Since, however, exactly the same ontological pattern repeats itself infinitely, and since,moreover, it is done in such a way that as the first wave is set in motion, there already begins to rise the second wave, the process in its totality comes to the same thing: an eternal, static structure."

   "There is nothing in Being except one single Reality ('ayn') which is the Absolute, and its 'realization' (haqiqah), which is being in its phenomenal (mashhud) aspect. But this phenomenal aspect of Being is not a one-stratum structure, but it comprises six major strata."

   "The first stratum: Being at this stage is still completely free from any limitation. This stratum represents 'Reality' in its non-determination and non-delimination. In other words, there is as yet absolutely no self-manifestation occurring; Being is still the absolute Essence itself rather than a part of phenomenal reality. And yet it is capable of being considered a part of phenomenal reality in the sense that it forms the starting-point of all the subsequent ontological stages. it is no longer the Essence per se in its metaphysical darkness."

   "The second stratum: Being is here 'determined' in itself by a kind of all-comprehensive self-determination comprising all the active determinations pertaining to the Divine aspect of Being (i.e., the Divine names) as well as all the passive determinations pertaining to the creaturely or phenomenal aspect of Being. The Absolute at this stage still remains One. The One is not actually split into multiplicity; yet there is observable a faint foreboding of self-articulation. The Absolute, in other words, is potentially articulated."

   "The third stratum: this is the stage of Divine Unity (al-ahadiyah al-ilahiyah) or that of Allah, where all the active and effective self-determinations are realized as an integral whole."

   "The fourth stratum: this is the stage at which the Divine Unity (3rd stage) is split into independent self-determinations, i.e., the Divine names."

   "The fifth stratum: this stage comprises in the form of unity all the self-determinations of a passive nature. It represents the unity of the creaturely and possible things of the world of becoming."

   "The sixth stratum: here the unity of the preceeding stage is dissolved into actually existent things and properties. This is the stage of the 'world'
[including the seven 'heavens']. All the genera, species, individuals, parts, accidents, relations, etc., become actualized at this stage."

   "The self-manifestation of the Absolute to itself consists in the forms of all the possible existents making their appearance in potentia in the Consciousness of the Absolute...It is, in other words, a state in which the potential Many are still actually One. In contradistinction to the real unity in which there is not even a shadow of the Many, i.e., the Unity of ahadiyah, this Unity which is potentially plurality is called wahidiyah or Oneness."

   "Since the Many in the plane of Oneness are Many as the content of the Consciousness of the Absolute (Divine 'Knowledge' as the theologians call it), they are, philosophiclly, pure intelligibles, and not real concrete existents. They are nothing more than 'recipients' for existence. They are those that would be existents if they receive existence.
[which they do by the 'breath of the Divine Mercy' - a purely ontological function]...In reality and in themselves, these figures are the content of the Consciousness of the Absolute, and as such, nothing can possibly be more definite and distinct. They are 'realities' in the full sense of the word. They are themselves far more real than what we regard as 'real' in the world. They look dim and hazy from our point of view, because they belong to the world of the Unseen. These realities as intelligibilia are called by Ibn 'Arabi permanent archtypes."

   "We may summarize all this in a general theoretical form as follows. The first self-manifestation of the Absolute brings into being the permanent archtypes which are the self-manifesting forms of the Divine Names, i.e., the ontological possibilities contained in the Absolute. These archtypes are recipients waiting for concrete manifestation. They provide loci for the second type of self-manifestation of the Absolute
[the 'holy emanation']. And each locus has a definite 'preparedness' which, as an immediate effect of the first self-manifestation [the 'most holy emanation, the Divine Mercy], is eternal and unalterable. Even the Absolute cannot alter or modify it, because it is a form in which the Absolute manifests itself." Now here is a very crucial point:

   "Such a description is liable to suggest that there is an interval of time between the first and second self-manifestation . In reality, however, there is no relation of priority and posteriority between the two. Everything occurs at one and the same time. For, in the very moment in which 'preparedness' arises on the part of a thing (in truth, however, every 'preparedness' is already in existence from eternity because the first type of self-manifestation has been going on from eternity) the divine Spirit flows into and makes it appear as a concretely existent thing....The self-manifestation in the Unseen and the self-manifestation in the visible world are nothing but two basic constituent elements of Being." (74)

   Thus, there is a dynamic nature even to the absolute, because it is perpetually and eternally making determining determinations within itself. PB has the same perpetual determination, as well as dynamic nature of the underlying context, in mind, in my opinion, when he wrote concerning the World-Mind's World-Idea:

   “It would be a mistake to believe that the World-Idea is a kind of solid rigid model from which the universe is copied and made. On the contrary, the theory in atomic physics first formulated by Heisenberg - the theory of Indeterminacy - is nearer the fact. It does not seem that Plato meant the same thing when he described his theory of Ideas as referring to eternally existent Forms, but mentalism does not at all liken them to goods laid up on shelves in warehouses. Here they are simply the infinitude of possibilities, varieties, permutations, and combinations of elements through which the Infinite Mind can express itself in an infinite universe without ever exhausting itself.” (75)

   Plotinus, too, wrote in this vein, of the Intellectual Principle determining Being and in turn being determined by it. I don't know what this really means but it is definitely interesting!

   “...this is pure being in eternal actuality...everything in that entire content, is Intellectual-Principle and Authentic-Existence.... Intellectual-Principle by its intellective act establishes Being, which in turn, as the object of intellection, becomes the cause of intellection and of existence to the Intellectual-Principle.” (Enneads, V.1.4)

   These philosophies have implications for the way we conceive of the Absolute, of Reality, as something not static, even in its absoluteness, but rather, as science is suggesting to us, 'quantum' in nature, or at least, a closer representation than traditional concepts portray. Its affects carry over to our ideas about the nature of realization as well, as has been suggested previously in this essay. An philosophical and ontological view closer to reality will make us rethink our methodology of realization as well. We will question, get confused, and get clarified. No longer, I venture to put forth, can we glibly assert that there is consciousness-at-rest, and consciousness-energy, but still consciousness alone, and that is the end to the story; no, better be prepared to be stunned by the paradoxes and surprises that the mystery holds in store for us.

   Now, for Islam, the only way for man to get an insight into himself at the level of the archtypes, the Divine Consciousness, is through the process of 'unveiling'. And only a man of the most 'perfect' 'preparedness' can do so:

   "Is it possible for man to gain an unconditional insight into it? No, he can never do that in so far as he is a man. However, when a man becomes annihilated (i.e., in the mystical experience of 'self-annihilation' ) and loses his name and personal identity to such a degree that there remains in him no trace of his I-ness and his own essence, thus losing himself completely, then it is possible that he gains an insight into the Reality through the Reality in so far as he is the Reality."

   "The 'knower'
[a saint] is a man who sees the Absolute from the Absolute, in the Absolute, and by the Absolute Itself. The 'non-knower is a man who sees the Absolute from the Absolute, in the Absolute, and by his own self. The 'ignorant is a man who sees the Absolute neither from the Absolute nor in the Absolute, and who expects to see the Absolute (in the hereafter) by his own self."

   The first two of these represent fine distinctions of knowing. The knower sees the 'face of God' everywhere, as reflected in His reflections, and he may know the Absolute but only at the point in which it has made its first self-determination from its absoluteness.

   "In the eye of a real 'knower', the Absolute (in whatever form it may appear) remains always the 'recognized' one which is never denied....His own 'self' is nothing other than the 'He-ness' of the Absolute, and his knowledge thus obtained is easily extended to everything because everything in the world of Being, whether present or future, is nothing other than the He-ness of the Absolute; indeed, everything is the He-ness itself."

   The goal is wholly non-dual, in that the knower sees the Many in the One, and the One in the Many, avoiding extremes of placing either transcendental or mundane limitations on Reality. Further, 'Arabi assures us:

   "The people who recognize the same Absolute under all phenomenal forms in the present world will do exactly the same in the Hereafter." (76)

   Islamic ontology posits an eternal and perpetual process of self-determination of the Absolute into various strata of Being, all occuring temporally and a temporally within one seamless and interpenetrating Essence. It is, if you will, a 'non-dual creationist view', spoken of very brilliantly by Ibn Arabi above. Something of this is held to be the case in Taoism as well.

   The Absolute in Islam runs through and pervades all as the 'Water of Life.' In Taoism they similarly speak of the 'Divine Wind'. In that sense all is of the Absolute. However, "He who knows himself knows his Lord" does not mean that such self-knowledge allows man to know the Absolute in its pure absolute Essence. That is the 'Mystery of Mysteries' which no man no matter how great a sage can penetrate. In this sense Islam and similar schools part with Vedanta. As suggested, this teaching is deep and profound, and we have barely scratched the surface of it here.

   Briefly, according to Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu (or whoever wrote what is attributed to Lao Tzu) the stages, which parallel those of Ibn 'Arabi, are as follows: From the Mystery of Mysteries (The ultimate Tao) comes the 'Way', or Non-Being; from Non-Being comes the One; from the One comes Being, the Mother of all things', or 'Heaven and Earth'; and from this comes the 'ten thousand things.' Yet, again, the reader is reminded not to imagine a temporal Beginning to this process.

   Well, what did this long exegesis, then, have to do with 'maya'? Only inasmuch as it relates to theories of creation and ontology, what is real and what is illusion. Islam may be said to represent an elaborated 'theistic non-duality', a 'no-creation-creation', in contrast with the simple ajata of Vedanta. Taoism is non-theistic (but not entirely, only as popularly conceived), and also a 'non-creation creation' view. In my humble opinion, this is a fruitful area for discussion, where the last word has not yet been said.

   This little bit of Taoism is but to wet the appetite of the reader for more on this topic. The book, Sufism and Taoism, by Toshihiko Izutsu, while academic, is brilliant, spoken from theheart, thorough, and highly recommended. In it he finds many deep similarities between two culturally separated traditions, including the interesting concept of the Perfect or Universal Man, also discussed in more detail in The Idea of Man on this website.

   An exercise of dialectic

   Epistemologically, we find a very interesting dialectical series of negations by Chuang Tzu in arriving at a 'name' for this Absolute Reality and also for 'Beginning' of the world of Being. Inasmuch as ontology relates to the ideas of maya or illusion this is relavent - and kind of cool:

   "The concept of a Beginning, i.e., the initial point of the whole world of Being ,is but a relative concept. It can be conceptually pushed further and further back..In order to put an end to this process we have to transcend it at one stroke by negating the Beginning itself. As a result, the concept of No-Beginning is obtained. However, the concept of No-Beginning is, again, a relative one, being as it is a concept that subsists only by being opposed to that of Beginning. In order to remove this relativity and attain to the absolute No-Beginning, we have to transcend the No-Beginning itself by negating it and establishing No-No-Beginning. The No-No-Beginning - which must be articulated as No [No-Beginning] - is, however, a concept whose real significance is disclosed only to those who are able to understand it as signifying a metaphysical state of affairs which is to be grasped by a kind of metaphysical intuition. And this would seem to indicate that No-No-Beginning, although it is something that has been posited by Reason, lies Beyond the grasp of all logical reasoning."

   Thus, the world of 'Creation' is beyond both having a Beginning or a Non-Beginning - or neither. Lu Yen, seventh-century progenitor of the 'Complete Reality School' of Taoism, which broke into Southern and Northern sects and combined the best of Confucianism, Taoism, and Ch'an Buddhism, similarly spoke:

   "The Great Way is very difficult to express in words. Because it is hard to speak of, just look into beginninglessness, the beginningless beginning. When you reach the point where there is not even any beginninglessness, and not even any nonexistence of beginninglessness, this is the primordial." (77)

   In the same way Chuang Tzu summarily dealt with the concept of 'Being':

   "First, the idea that the Absolute is Being, i.e., 'existence' as ordinarily understood, is negated. The concept of Non-Being is thus posited. Then, the concept of Non-Being is eliminated, because, being a simple negation of Being, it is but a relative Non-Being [Note: meaning the void or emptiness as 'nothing', is not Reality]. Thus the concept of No-Non-Being is obtained. This concept stands on the negation of both Being and Non-Being, and as such it still keeps in itself a trace of reflection of the opposition which exists between the contradictories. [Note: it is seeing the Absolute - the One - in and as the Many, but without really appreciating the Many in and as the One.] In order to eliminate even this faint trace of relativity, one has to negate the No-Non-Being itself. Thus finally the concept of No [No-Non-Being] is established, as 'Nothing' in its absolutely unconditional transcendence." (78)

   Adyashanti speaks of the same idea of needing to see both the One in the Many and the Many in the One:

   "That happens in spirituality quite commonly when someone realizes the absolute, specially if its a really deep realization. For a time they stop attending to the relative aspect of their life. But here's the important thing, we'll also have to come to realize that the relative aspects of life are themselves the absolute. In other words the absolute appearing as an individual human life. Individual human life doesn't mean a separate human life. See unity does not deny diversity for one, nor does it deny individuality, it just denies separation. Unity does not deny uniqueness. Look around you. Everything seems to be very unique. One tree to the next. One cloud to the next. Even one thought to the next. There's a uniqueness to them all. And that uniqueness is the beauty of the relative world and one's relative experience. So to go beyond the absolute, the absolute is just the polar opposite of the relative, right?, to be in separation or to be in total unity. But like I said, this sutra the San Do Kai that was chanted, that famous and beautiful line, "to realize the absolute is not yet enlightenment." Later in that sutra it has this beautiful but very simple phrase, "that the Absolute and the Relative go together like two feet walking, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking." (3-1-12 webcast)

   I find that we must submit 'Maya' to the same dialectic. First the vedantins posited Maya to account for apparent creation, which in their non-dual universe they could not admit. Then, as mentioned earlier, even by their own admission, Maya can be negated, because it is based on something real (i.e., the Self). So we get 'Maya is 'Maya', or, simply, 'No-Maya.' However, since even this negation is conditioned by the prior contraries, we must logically posit a final negation written as 'No [No-Maya]'.

   Thus we finally arrive at Reality, as far as words can take us. However, Chuang Tzu laments:

   "But I do not know whether I have truly established something meaningful or whether what I have established is after all, nothing meaningful. All things are absolutely 'one'. But if so, how is it possible for us to say something? But in order to reason I have to say something. So I have said: 'one'...However, the moment I posit the term 'one', the original 'one' (i.e., the absolute One which is a coincidentia oppositorum) and the term 'one' necessarily make 'two'...Better not to make any move. Let us content ourselves with abiding by the great Yes (which transcends all oppositions and contradictions, and leaves everything as it is) ! " (79)

   "Yes!" This is the missing piece in all the traditional dharmas to date. For while some undoubtedly give deference to such a truth, in practice they generally do not. The time was not right, the cultural conditioning too great. Because it was a message likely to be misunderstood, the few luminaries who did understand did not dare teach in that way, but gave things for people to do, to work toward as separate selves - even if it was to deconstruct that separate self and find the absolute, the universal. But they left out the personal, the individual, the 'dirty secret of Brahman' that has kept men imprisoned in self, his heart concealed, for centuries. Even in the newer non-dual traditions a subtle but nearly impenetrable dualism often persists, inasmuch as they still strive to dismiss the personal as' merely stories', or somehow 'less than' the universal absolute, towards which we must strive or non-strive to return. But what is the personal but the very absolute in form? REALLY. The tantric development that started in India two thousand years ago is beginning to re-emerge on a new level; the ice is melting, and people's hearts - bodily, soul, and spirit - are starting to shine - as non-separate individuals. As individual God in and as everyone and everything. Not only as the 'perfect man,' although that remains an ideal, but even 'just a slob like one of us,' to quote a popular song. Not to be misunderstood, I still think the Way is still real, stages and transitions are real, but they are organic ones, not achieved in isolation as a superman or superwoman. Methods and preconceptions of the whole affair are changing. Thus, all the ancient doctrines are up in question: what truly is real, and what doesn't work anymore? Even quantum and post-quantum physics is validating our intuition: the perceiver influences the perceived, time and space are relative, there is no 'empty space', the great is in the small, and so on. We must 'question right down to the marrow,' as Adyashanti once said. 'Is this so'? 'Do I really have to do that to accomplish this'? 'Who says I need such and such form of purity or preparation'? 'Am I really doing something wrong' (assuming basic sincerity) or am I just 'learning and clarifying' who/what I am/we are? 'Is it wrong to have feelings, desires, reactions, preferences, aversions, a mind or - a body? 'Are they all illusion', or have we been sold a bunch of goods by some old men in robes or loin cloths?' 'What really works'? 'Have the eastern teachers/teachings truly learned the lessons they need to learn from the West, and vice versa?' "What really is our aim in all this'? 'Do we know what anything is'? 'We don't - who says we don't'? And so on as long as there is breath.

   We find we must also apply the same dialectic to the concept maya, taken as something real. Of course, things are slightly different here, as Maya is said to be mithya, neither real nor unreal, but in any case we'll still do it. Say there is Maya. But since there is Reality, we then must say "No-Maya". And because this is only a relative negation, our final formula is "No [No-Maya].

   For a practical comparison, I ask the reader to ponder the words of John Lennon, who wrote, "Nothing is real,and nothing to get hung about." We could reverse this and say, however, "everything is real, and something to get hung about". What is wrong with that, as a relative human being, having desires, attachments, feelings, and the like? Nothing really wrong, when understood in the right light, but perhaps it may even be better to hold both of these views simultaneously?

   So, there is no illusion, or rather, there are several illusions. One is that there is separation; another is that 'God' or the 'One' is strictly impersonal, and third, that there is illusion itself.

   Finally, in my opinion it comes down to a way of looking at things: when the ego-I matures, and also gets tired of interpreting the world for itself, enlightenment can happen, or be recognized, at any time. But it is a process, not an event. Both before and after awakening there is 'stuff'. It is revealed and discovered, as the veil of maya is seen to be mayaic itself. The question 'what is revealed' is left unanswered here, but it is only ourselves in all THEIR implications. We do not disappear into the 'soup' - not yet anyway.

   'Maya' in Christianity

   There is one final tradition to be considered, however, and that is Christianity. In one of its esoteric schools, Cypriote master Spyros Sathi ("Daskalos, the Magus of Strovolos") made mention of the concept of maya, albeit in a different, more practical way than in the Eastern versions, which he did not accept:

   ‘Within Christianity...we notice a great emphasis on the notion of suffering. In the Eastern religions, on the other hand, we find the idea of maya, that suffering (along with everything else) is an illusion.”

   “We have this idea within our own Christian tradition,” Daskalos responded. “We say, for example, that the gross material world is the world that offers us the meaning of past, present, and future, a form of maya. And in order to prove that it is maya, just bring your memory an episode that made you feel good or caused anger yesterday or the day before yesterday. Is it not that which you experienced yesterday that remains in your memory as anamnesis a form of maya? What did yesterday offer you other than anamnesis today? It is based on this observation that the Indians called the world of experience maya and the ancient Hebrews called it chimerical and illusory.”

   “And yet, it is not exactly that way. The world of gross matter is neither chimerical nor illusory. it is not so because it offers us lessons and experiences. It offers us, for example, the sum total of our experiences in order to draw the appropriate lessons for our spiritual development.”

   ”And then I ask the question, if maya means illusion and nonreality, then where were my past experiences stored, experiences that I can bring back to my awareness as memory and anamnesis? If we sit down and study this issue carefully we will realize that what we call maya is really not as illusory as is commonly assumed, because what is called maya and illusion remains as anamnesis within the subconscious. And if the world of experience is just maya and illusion, then how could it be imprinted within the Univeral Memory that can be recovered at any moment by advanced masters?”

   “After all, the world of maya is the world of elementals
[thought forms]that every human being necessarily creates. And elementals have the power of reality since they keep us accountable. You may have forgotten them somewhere in your subconscious, but sooner or later you will have to confront them since you are the one who created them. Maya, you see, is a way of perceiving things. For if all these things..are just maya, then God too is fantasizing and dreaming. The Absolute is meditating, not dreaming. And we are within its eternal meditation. Everything unfolds and takes place within Itself.”

   “We must be careful how we use this word maya. Something that has happened is over as an event but it remains as an elemental. And the world of elementals, as we have said many, many times, is not illusory because they keep us accountable. Christ did not speak of maya, of illusions. On the contrary, He placed great emphasis on urging people to watch what they were doing. He told them ‘What you sow, so shall you reap.’ He was not referring to chimeras and illusions.”
(80)

   We see here that Daskalos was, as they say, "talking turkey," and acknowledging a larger dimension of working ones way out of bondage in relativity than some of the so-called direct paths may admit.

   We believe PB may have had something of this realistic point of view in mind, respecting the relative laws of karma and elementals - a lacuna in the philosophy of many advaitins - when he wrote:

   "Where is the human being who is really not affected by the past, present, and future? It is easy to make the claim in talk or print, but even if this were granted, the effect of mass history (for example, a world war) must shape personal life even for the reputed "spiritually self-realized souls." (81)

   Final thoughts on creation and ontology

   I think the classical Vedantins schooled in yoga would have given this their approval, even though it is spoken more from a relative/practical than an absolute point of view. Forms of nonduality such as in schools like Dzogchen would hold that the nondual vision of rigpa must eventually integrate itself with all of the relative levels of existence, including the various planes and esoteric structures of the human body-mind, eventually yielding the 'light body', which is not disappearance but such a nondual realization of the conditional dualistic bodies and even their elements (which as part of samsara are also dualistic), that one becomes invisible to ordinary people. Yet it is not that one has gone anywhere! Only those who so integrate the nondual vision can ignore the two truths, absolute and relative, and utter proclamations such as "there is no doer," or "there is no exercise of personal will or intention." Others are fooling themselves, for even if one accepts that there is such a thing as a complete nondual realization without the above profound integration, it is at least a living paradox of infinite consciousness and limited humanity wherein one must admit "I am a doer" and, "yes, I do use personal will at times" - even if it is within the absolute reality. Remember, the One in the Many, and the Many in the One? 'Consciousness is One', but to say, as Adyashanti says, that there is 'Only the One', or that 'Consciousness is All, then the Other - the Many - must be brought into the picture. The realized Unity of the One and the Many is what is truly 'Only the One', or the 'All'. Not just the One, but Only the One. This implies not only a cognitive shift in identity, to consciousness, as many teachers maintain, but also an entirely new way of relating, which many who stake their identity in consciousness are afraid or hesitant of doing. Yet the true 'Self' or Atman is not only a witness, as some ancient philosophies teach, but also a participant - among equals. That is to say, one is simultaneously the ocean of Being incarnating as an individual wave, in the midst of other waves with the same infinite essential nature. Another way of saying it is that the Self is a Multiplicity. In itself this is not a paradox, but from a relative point of view it will always be such. For, "after all is said and done," said Anthony Damiani, "we have to become human."

   Similar to the above progressive integration proposed by Dzogchen, Kriya Yogi Roy Eugene Davis, disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, in perhaps vivartavada, dvaita-advaitic, or a purely practical mix of Sam'khya/Yogic/Vedantic terms, also speaks to another Siva-Shakti form of this process:

   "A supreme Consciousness, commonly referred to as God, projects a vibrating Power (Om) that produces space, time, and fine cosmic forces which are further projected as the subtle and gross aspects of a universe. The realm of Nature is produced and maintained by orderly interactions of cosmic forces...When you are established in Self-knowledge and identified with Om, you are where objective phenomena originate, and are conscious of the wholeness of which all relative events and things are parts or aspects." (82)

   "Souls are individualized by interactions between the radiant expressive field of ultimate Reality and its emanated vibration (Om) which produces universes...The sole function of the primordial field of nature (Om with attributes of space, time, and subtle cosmic forces) is to manifest universes; it is not to delude souls or prevent them from being Self and God-realized....From the absolute (pure) aspect of ultimate reality and its expressive aspect, to primordial nature, subtle realms, and the physical universe, one supreme essence exists. There is not, and cannot ever be, "a conscious and independent force that keeps everything and everyone deluded." To believe otherwise is an impediment to rational thinking, a symptom of emotional immaturity, and a self-imposed obstacle to spiritual growth." (83)

   Sound okay, but who can really succeed at this yoga? Does it open the heart? - the BIG one, called 'Sirr' by the Sufis? By the way, while we are on it, Ramana Maharshi, proponent of ajata, was not totally averse to this explanation, calling the nada or sound of Om, while an indirect method, a "current that takes you home, and is home." He did recognize its validity (84). Another way of saying this is that 'Om', otherwise expressed as its complementary centripetal polarity, the Shabda-Brahman, or ‘sound of God’, is a presence and intelligence within relativity of a universal Logos, the Primordial Buddha, Cosmic Christ, or 'liberating principle' that 'threads its way' throughout creation. We might think of this current, when fully realized, as the ‘sound of non-dual realization’, the audible vibration or emanation of sat-cit-ananda, or ‘transcendent beingness, consciousness and bliss’, all arising within the ground of non-dual presence. This Logos is supposedly the 'returning' polarity of the outgoing creative Word or Divine Idea. However, it is an eternal return, not a one-way street. Therefore, it does not necessarily imply the need for a great search. It may also be expressed, apart from the universal vibration, as the presence of a holarchy of infinite intelligences, beings, bodhisattvas, deities, masters, archtypes, one's own heart most of all, together working for the sake of universal realization. There are endless ways it may be expressed, this is not to suggest the one and only 'correct' view. It certainly doesn't require one leaving the earth, however, although that is possible (and certain after death!), and that aspect of one's nature will inevitably be caught up and developed in one's total awakening in one lifetime or another.

   As an important aside, it should be noted that the school of Sant Mat has a unique view on maya, somewhat different from that of traditional yoga or vedanta. Rather than maya being considered a veil over Brahman or Atman, they speak of the domain of both mind and maya only going up to the third plane of consciousness, which they refer to as the causal or Brahmand stage. Here the three lower bodies (physical, astral, mental/causal) are left behind, and one has broken through the triple-shelled 'hall of mirrors' into the 'upper atmosphere', so to speak. In their ascending schema, manas or the mental faculty is dropped off in the universal mind of Brahmand, with super/supra-causal (Par Brahmand) and Sat Lok (Truth) stages beyond this. Thus, they see Vedanta, as well as Isvara, the Hindu demiurgic trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, and maya being restricted to a lower stage than the Sants have access to through communion with the divine sound current/vibration termed shabd-Brahman or the Word. They refer to the stages from the super-causal on up as 'spiritual' planes, with the lower emanations as 'spirituo-material' (causal), 'materio-spiritual' (astral), and 'material' (physical) planes. In the super-causal region one has vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas (sometimes referred to as the 'super-causal body, but in reality formless), is free from birth and death, but not yet attained the oneness or non-dual liberation of Sat Lok, which itself has several stages beginning, with Sach Khand and proceeding to Anami/Nirguna. Thus one sees that in this teaching maya is not the same as the direct creative power of the Supreme, but a somewhat lower manifestation or expression, that of Brahma, not Brahman.

   And of course, Advaita will argue that Sant Mat just does not fully understand Vedanta and is idiosyncratic in its explanations! The reader is directed to "Sant Mat: A Comparative Analysis" on this website for further discussion of this school.

   The advaitists and other awareness-only students including those adhering to the mature teaching of PB might be more comfortable substituting the term Mind for God, vibrating Power, and cosmic forces here, rejecting both emanationism per se and the concept of primordial matter out of hand as illogical according to strict advaitic standards, but are the two views really so far apart, in a truly nondual universe? Many traditions speak of a prima materia as an emanation from the absolute, as also is consciousness. It must not be forgotten that it is a living Mind we are talking about! In a true non-duality the two are as it were fused together, not just disinterestedly 'seen' as one. This may be the omega point toward which the emerging spirituality is in fact leading. However, this is all my own speculation: hold it lightly.

   When all is said and done, I must confess to seeing all of this philosophy as being partial and limiting. We must leave room for the unexpected and the new to emerge. Not just new expressions of the old models, which are outdating themselves, but, I dare say, new methods and means of realization but also our very way of being in the world. Call it whatever one likes. Why not? What do we really know?

   All of the philosophies mentioned, with few exceptions, developed in a millenia-old experiment in approaches to spirituality where a separate individual attempted to break away from a millenia-old world-view where men and women saw themselves as essentially part of nature. The concept of a soul separable from nature also developed, and individual heroic figures formulated and carried out their enlightenment project as individuals and developed philosophies to match. So we get Maha Vakyas such as "Tat Tvam Asi" (I am That)", or "Aham Brahm Asmi" (I am Brahman). We get Advaita that boldly asserts that, in the end, 'the world is Brahman" but often still produces skinny old men, brittle ascetics who are afraid to 'get their hands dirty' by association with the world, preferring to abide as the calm 'ocean' and not be affected by the 'waves', simply awaiting the running out of their pralabd karma until they can be the Self - thus giving the lie to their pronouncements that the world really is Brahman. The heart of their Being has not come alive and front and center. True incarnation is missing. So 'Maya' is, in this view, somewhat of a cop-out. Something, it can be argued - whether it is true or not remains to be seen - is definitely missing in these traditional teachings. For, even if one person realizes they are the Self, they are still alive in a world where there are others who have also realized the Self, who have realized that they are the All, or that the All is them. Therefore, this 'Self' is starting to seem more ecclesiastical. The infinite and the finite are both parts of what is real. People are not separate from others and objects, yet at the same time they are. We are not robots animated by one puppeteer. The one and the many are inseparable. Becoming IS Being, Being IS Becoming, and both the identity and the relationship of that is more dynamic than static. Or, to be precise, beyond while including both. As mentioned elsewhere, there is a 'quantum' element that more and more must be taken into consideration, not only in our world view, but our spiritual view as well. The inner dimensions, of which even the physical world is one, are hierarchical but also multi-dimensional. Realization of Consciousness by itself happens one by one, but ultimate Realization includes both one and all. We will say it again, but all views expressed in this paper should be held lightly, in respect of the indefinable truth!

   Some closing words on superimposition as both an 'accretion' within relativity and also a spiritual methodology

   Similar to the analytical meditations of Tibetan Buddhism on emptiness, deep philosophical/intuitive reflection on the idea of superimposition has been a chief Vedantic method of illuminating the nature of nondualism for many people, and actually exploring the notion wholistically has far-reaching implications for cutting through many mental constructs, deconstructing the mind's dualistic processes, undoing emotional predispositions, and opening intuition to nondual insight, that is, to actually 'grok' the idea that Reality, whatever it is, is not merely a blank screen, a formless emptiness, an infinite potential, or an unmanifest void. These and similar notions are all 'superimpositions'. To put it of necessity imperfectly, a radical nondual level of experience transcends all such limiting and partial, relative views or superimpositions.

   What is meant here by 'relativity'? One way putting it is that it is simply the sum total of all superimposed viewpoints, all partial, relative, imperfect understandings of what the actual, nondual Reality actual is. So we simply posit an undefined and undefinable Truth, the 'Absolute', 'Nondual', 'Ultimate' or whatever, in contrast with a dimension or realm which appears to be 'separate' from this Reality, but is not, and this realm is made up of all kinds of ceaseless perspectives, all states of mind (even so-called matter) that represent vast, innumerable, interwoven perspectives generated by countless sentient beings as they continuously generate perspectives on the nature of Reality. In the essence they are all trying to understand the Truth, but, due to relativity of perspective, or superimposition, see only partial experiences, dualistically mediated, and so are incomplete, limited and fragmented. Layers are formed as superimpositions form apparent veils over the Absolute (only in perception, not in reality) and then new layers of imposition form as beings add further relativity/superimposition by looking dualistically at other superimpositions, which are already misunderstandings, and so now we have misunderstandings of misunderstandings, which form realms of even greater dualism. So we can not say that maya (taken as the relative world) is not 'real', because reality is all there is. Yet there is a maya, a misunderstanding, a mirage, a confusion. Traditional imagery and metaphors given are imperfect, so we cannot pick at them too much, and must hold them rather lightly. They are meant as tools to point beyond the superimpositions to the greater Reality. Therefore, 'superimposition and recission' can be a technique to peeling away layers to finally, and hopefully, uncover Truth.

   Swami Vivekananda said:

   "We do not go from error to truth, but from a lower to a higher truth." (85)

   Of course, temptations in a model like this are two: first and perhaps most practically, is to assume that such an intellectual method of analysis or inquiry is sufficient to undo our sense of illusion or confusion about our identity, deeply, in both conscious understanding (the 'head') and bodily/intuitively (in the 'heart' - and perhaps even in our cellular memory); and second, is to begin asking 'what causes the superimposition'? or 'What is it made out of?' For instance, if it is of the same 'essence' as Brahman, why does it arise in the relative form of a maya or superimposition, representing a misunderstanding? 'Is there really a 'higher and lower maya'?' 'Does Isvara produce maya, or does maya produce Isvara', or are they both simultaneous productions of Brahman, etc., as pundits and even gurus continue to argue? Obviously, the method of superimposition and recission does not attempt to explain that. Many great ones have suggested that this is an eternal, unanswerable mystery. Even to say maya is just 'the egotism of the embodied soul', as Ramakrishna in one quote said, or that it is an 'error of thought', as PB has said, or 'just an innocent misunderstanding,' as Adyashanti once remarked, still does not really give us an answer. According to Vedanta, at least, the question as to causes is not resolved by answering the question, but by transcending the state of dualistic consciousness that is invested in the question in the first place. And this, of course, entails the whole issue of spiritual practice, not just the intellectual dialectic. Other traditions, however, have suggested that, while this even such transcendance is an important first step, it is not in any sense 'the end'.

     Superimposition as a method has been used to point to the perspective that the nondual Truth or Reality is not in need of being balanced by anything, integrated with anything, brought down anywhere, ascended to, and so on. That it is transcendentally complete Now, always has been, and evolution is not about improving Reality, but about removing superimpositions to the experience of what it always was. [That in itself can be a Great Ordeal, however, and, within relativity, a Sacred one]. In this 'view', all of the ideas we can ever create about individual and collective spiritual evolution are therefore ultimately nothing but variations from different perspectives on the one idea of awakening from the superimpositions. Everything that we ever could have felt or thought that was lacking in ourselves or the world, that needed us or the world to grow or mature or evolve towards in order to be more complete or fulfilled, is already inherent in the state of Reality from the beginning - we only need to remove the superimposition that we have in our experience to the realization that this is not so. [I would only mention that the word 'only' is necessarily an understatement; volumes can be said about it, and saying so here is not meant to take away from any of the criticisms levelled in this paper regarding paths or viewpoints considered partial. By using the words 'felt' or 'thought' is to imply that the awakening to non-dual Truth, or any kind of Truth, is not just in the mind, but also the body and even primarily the heart, although these are not 'water-tight' compartments, as Shree Atmananda Krishna Menon once said, but a necessary, complementary axis, even heard-wired into the very body]. In one sense, then, all maturations or evolutions of spiritual paths, philosophies or practices can be seen as growths in discovering and removing superimposition, but in a practical and not idealistic or only intellectual way. And, true to nondualism, this process, from a relative point of view, can be seen as both a process of removal, or as a process of appreciating something that was previously not seen. Yet, lest this sound rather dry, we will dare say that, not true to (traditional) non-dualism, it is also a process of appreciating and seeing the emergence of something that may not only not been seen before, but maybe hasn't even been before: Conscious-Being fully incarnated, and the living Spirit fully expressed, in, as, and through you. Full Self-realization and divine marriage. Complete harmonization with the Tao. And ultimately these are really the same process. Which is why so many different views were presented here as part of a greater conversation. But if we reify Maya, or, worse yet, place it near the top of a hierarchical ontological 'stack', we fail to see the paradoxical distinction/distinctionlessness between the One, the divine, and the human, and how all levels interpenetrate, and in so doing thereby prevent further necessary shifts and changes in our 'illusory' evolution, suffering the fate of those who take themselves 'out of circulation' due to inherence to a philosophical belief system.

   For, call it a dream or illusion or maya if you like, after awakening there is yet the process of conforming the body, soul, and Consciousness into a uniquely human destiny, if one so chooses.

   And, prior to awakening, to deny any truth to the necessary intermediate phase between the dream and the reality is to blur the process of actualizing our realization. As PB writes:

   "The truth is that the cosmos is truly a self-revelation of the World-Mind. It is spun out of God's very self...Illusionism is not the doctrine except as an intermediate stage towards truth, which is higher. One must participate in God's work, by assisting evolution and redeeming the world, not squat idly in peace alone." (86)

   "All is illusion but all is not equally illusive...The doctrine of relativity has a grave danger of its own. When we see that numerous standpoints exist, we may claim despairingly, "Beauty, truth, and righteousness have no real existence but only an imagined one"...Although life is really like a dream, some phases of the dream are more worthwhile than others - those which bring the Glimpse, for instance." (87)

   What is certain is that we have many more tools in our kit today than simply the old ‘snake and the rope’ analogy to investigate the nature of truth and illusion:

   "The snake [seen in the place of a rope] may be an illusion, but all the same the perception of it was a factual experience. It is not to be ignored merely because it is an illusion, but to be explained." (88)

   Again, hold all in your mind and heart with a loose grip, and with humility.

   Thus, in conclusion, emptiness teachings and advaita have been, for some, legitimate, ancient ways, but not the only ways, of approaching Truth, and even if they are, the way of languaging reality can certainly be, will be, and must be, improved. Such traditional teachings have been far too dissociative from body and life in the past.

   Further, there is still grace, which we are certainly justified in praying for. As Ramakrishna used to cry, "Oh Mother! This man says this, that man says that; please show me the truth!" Some of the Tibetan teachers have said that if one is not weeping while meditating, he is not yet meditating for real. This, of course, was partly meant for effect. I say partly, because the tears are a manifestation of the dual sorrowful and blissful nature of creation. It is common talk in Sufism as well. The heart must see its brokenness to be made whole. [Trust this fact: if you are born, it is broken]. Usually, however, first one weeps, then prays, then meditates - then weeps again! And, if one takes the task to heart, the same can be said about weeping over the reading of a spiritual text. That is hard work. As Swami Nikhilinanda once said, "some men would rather die than think." But it is necessary to get rid of our inherited false views, identities, and dispositions.

   "All becoming is an imagination, and in truth also a reality. Who truly comprehends this, has attained the mysteries of the Way." - Ibn al' Arabi

   "The mind passes through a stage when, seeking after truth, it finds out that the world is other than it seems to be, and that its material substance is not matter at all but energy; its form is illusory. But this is not the end. For the seeker does not stop there. If he proceeds farther, he may find that illusion is itself an illusion. It is next found to be a form assumed by reality. This is the sage's enlightenment, this is the experience."

   "The human being is not the victim of his own illusory living in a world of utter make-believe; he is ultimately and in his true selfhood a ray of the Divine Mind. It is his thoughts about himself that live in their own illusory world of make-believe, but he himself lives in a world of truth and reality."
- PB (89)

   "Devotee: What does Maharshi think of the theory of universal illusion (Maya) ?
    Maharshi: What is Maya? it is only Reality.
    D: is not Maya illusion?
    M: Maya is used to signify the manifestation of the reality. Thus, Maya is only Reality."
(90)


   "You are already divine. All you have to do is become human." - Swami Rama (91)

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   Final note of clarification: the purpose of this article was to point to ones true nature, through many means and perspectives: logical, philosophic, religious, spiritual, going from affirmation, to negation, to a final positive transcendental affirmation. It was not meant to intellectually pretend that 'illusion is an illusion', that 'maya is maya', in practical fact, but only when realized or actualized to be so. This is of paramount importance. To assume other wise is to trivialize the great ordeal of the spiritual quest and also seriously underestimate the nature of samsara. The relative dualistic world, including the ego, is a kind of illusion, but it is not a 'myth', as one teacher has written, but rather traditionally considered to be mithya, 'neither real or unreal' - until penetrated with the means of merit and of wisdom. To say 'illusion is an illusion' is a mind game to try to escape the philosophical paradox inherent in trying to characterize Relativity as 'not existing'.

   An illusion is having a misunderstanding or false perception of something. But that false perception is 'something'. So simplistically calling (the illusion) of Relativity an 'illusion' is too dualistic (ironically), and does not really treat the subtleties of the issue of how to characterize Relativity in relationship to the Nondual Ground, which represents our liberation. Relativity may be characterized not as Illusion (as if it does not exist - examples for that kind of illusion are given in vedanta as 'a hair's horn,' or 'the son of a barren woman'), but as Maya in the sense that it is a misunderstanding of Reality (the Nondual Ground), although not in the sense of saying that this means Relativity has no 'reality' to it. It is the Relative Reality of a dimension of existence that expresses various states of both misunderstanding its true nature as the Ground, and also of awakening from that misunderstanding into states of Nondual Realization (samsara and nirvana both being aspects of Relativity). Relativity, then, transcends simple categories of 'real' or 'unreal'. The concept of 'illusion' is that of Relativity continuing to have the problem of trying to understand itself in dualist, relative terms. And this can go along for a long time!

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   See the companion piece, Emptiness Is 'Empty'


1. Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 5, Part 2, 3.175; Vol. 13, Part 1, 1.39; Vol. 16, Part 2, 1.182; Vol. 13, Part 1, 1.57
2. Shree Atmananda Krishna Menon, Atma-Nirvriti, Chapter 20, p. 25
3. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, At The The Eleventh Hour (Honesdale, Pennsylvania: The Himalayan Institute Press, 2001), p. 186
4. Brunton, op. cit., Volume 9. Part 2, 3.38, 4.41
5. Ibid, Vol. 5, Part 4, 5.135, 3.14, 4.225
6. Ibid, Part 1.57, 1.61, 1.26
7. Ibid, Part 2, 4.194
8. Swami Lokeswarananda, The Way To God As Taught By Sri Ramakrishna (Calcutta, India: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1992), p. 78
9. Swami Ranganathananda, The Message of Vivekachudamani (Kolkata, India: Advaita Ashrama, 2008), p. 198-243
10. Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. II, p. 97, 112)
11. Ranganathananda, op. cit., p. 230
12. Ibid, p. 243
13. Ibid, p. 236
14. Ibid, p. 128
15. Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1984 (1943), p. 42
16. Lama Thubten Yeshe, Introduction to Tantra (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1987), p. 58
17. Ranganathananda, op. cit., p. 251-252
18. Shankaracharya's commentary on the Brahmasutras 1.4.3
19. Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, 7.4-5
20. Ibid, 7.5
21. Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brahmasutras 2.2.2
21a. Sankara, commentary on Guadapada's Karika to the Mandukya Upanishad, 1.7, as found in Waite, Back to Reality: 5000 Years of Advaita, p. 350
21b. Sankara, Brahma Sutra Bashya, XVIII.67; Ibid, p. 342
21c. anadi, book of enlightenment (www.anaditeaching.com, 2011), p.26-7
22. Muruganar, , Guru Kavackaha Kovai Boulder, Colorado: Avadhuta Foundation, copyright David Godman 2008, currently out of print), p. 231-232
23. Ibid, p. 285
23a. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 2, 1.158, 1.161
23b. Ibid, 1.213, 1.214
24. A. Devaraja Mudaliar, Day By Day with Bhagavan (Sri Ramanashramam, 2002), p.
25. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 10, 2.390
25a. Ibid, Vol. 16, Part 2, 4.161, 4.169

26. I have but one point to raise about the Direct Path as outlined by Dr. Goode in his book Standing As Awareness. He mentions that the way to get started is to use 'higher reason' to follow your direct experience. He says, "you examine the gross and subtle worlds, as well as the body, senses, and mind. You come to see that they are experienced as objects in witnessing awareness and cannot exist apart from witnessing awareness." (p. 11) Let us consider the first sentence: "examine the gross and subtle worlds." Exactly how is one to do this? The answer is that it takes 'special training', as Sri Nisargadatta would say, that is, advanced yogic and mystical capability. This is not something that Greg teaches or that most of those who come to the Direct Path are equipped with. Sri Atmananda, his mentor, was, however, an accomplished yogi. His very being glowed. Yet I dare say that even his yoga was not so advanced as to having explored all of the seven-storied creation, and the 'spiritual' and 'formless' planes above that, and perhaps even further ontological dimensions and absorptions beyond that. Without doing so the inquiry, in my tentative opinion, is not complete regarding the 'subtle worlds', and thus the non-dual realization may suffer as well, either in not being as rich as it could be or also not being entirely definitive. If one experiences or knows the non-dual consciousness on the physical plane, will he automatically be able to do so after death, or must his realization go deeper? I think that is a legitimate question. Then the question if there is truly only one perceiver or one witness, or, more specifically, in what way that is so or not, may also become clearer. Thinking further, if there is only one perceiver or witness, as people like Goode, Francis Lucille, and Sri Atmananda maintain, how come we all don't experience everything all at once? The answer must be: 'the One Self, not a person, experiences itself in many bodies'; but then, relatively speaking, when the 'old fool' descends from the mountain top, he doesn't experience 'rivers and mountains' again in the same way as other 'old fools' do, does he? This static advaita logic, I say, is outdated. "I may be That", but so are you, and you and you. What then is 'That', really? A static context, a 'screen' on which images are projected', etc., or a 'context' as dynamic and mysterious as the 'content'?

26a. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 1, 1.131
26b. Ibid, 1.136
27. Swami Prajnanananda, The Philosophical Ideas of Swami Abhedananda (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1971), p. 164
28. T.M.P. Mahadevan, The Wisdom of Unity of Sri Sankaracarya, epilogue
29. Suri Nagamma, Letters from Sri Ramanashramam (Sri Ramananashramam, 1995), p.
30. A. R. Natarajan, edited, Sayings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning, March, 1994), p.
31. Dennis Waite, Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita (Winchester, UK: O Books), p. 316
32. Jean Dunn, ed., Prior to Consciousness: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (The Acorn Press, 1985), p.
33. Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now (Hodder and Stoughton, 2001), p.
34. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I AM THAT (Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 2008), p.
35. Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad
36. Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brahmasutras 2.1.18
37. Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, 14.27
38. Ibid, 14.3
39. Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brahmasutras 2.3.9
40. Shvetashvatara Upanishad, 4.10
41. Swami Sri Ramananda Saraswati (Sri Munagala S. Venkataramaiah), trans., Tripura Rahasya, or, The Mystery Beyond the Trinity (Tiruvannamalai, S. India: Sri Ramanashramam, 1989), p. 19
42. Swami Lokeswarananda, The Way to God (Calcutta, India: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1992), p. 34-66
43. Ibid, p. 79
44. Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 14, 3.9
45. Ibid, Vol. 12, Part 1, 1.53
46. Swami Lokeswarananda, op. cit., p. 111
47. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, op. cit., p. 404
48. Ibid, p. 361-363, 138
49. Swami Rama, Living with the Himalayan Masters (Honesdale, Pennsylvania (The Himalayan Institute Press, (1978, 2001), p.
50. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 3, 5.96
51. David Chadwick, Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki (New York: Broadway Books, 1999), p. 303
52. Mirka Knaster, Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra (Boston: Shambhala, 2010), p. 86-87
53. Mark Epstein, Going To Pieces Without Falling Apart (New York: Broadway Books, 1998), p. 64
54. Knaster, op. cit., p. 297-298, 392, 302
55. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 1, 2.8
56. Ibid, Vol. 14, 7.26
57. Ibid, Vol. 12, Part 2, 3.42, 3.58, 3.60, 3.75, 8.82, 3.83, 2.143, 3.90, 4.5, 4.118, 5.229
57a. Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 62, 52-53
58. Ibid, p. 69
59. Brunton, op. cit., Volume 9, Part 1, 2.3, 2.1, 2.10, 2.181, 2.185, 2.186
60. John Blofeld, Taoism: The Road To Immortality (Boston: Shambhala, 1985), p. 3
61. Sharma, op. cit., pp. 189-199
62. Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Mark Scorelle, p. 282-283

63. PB, for example, taught that the One, Intellectual Principle or Nous, and Soul of Plotinus - the three Primal Hypostases - were roughly equivalent of what he termed Mind, World-Mind, and Overself. In his Notebooks, however, one will find quotes where he will alternately say that the Overself is both individual and non-individual, a 'point in' or 'ray of' Mind itself. In short, he wouldn't be pinned down to saying one way or the other whether there were in reality individual souls, but most definitely implied that they certainly were not separated in the manner that ordinary egos appear to be:

"In all of us there is this resplendent being dwelling in the deepest concealment, linking us with the Supreme Being." (Vol. 14, 3.83)

"When man shall discover the hidden power within himself which enables him to be conscious and to think, he will discover the holy spirit, the ray of the Infinite Mind lighting his little finite mind." (Ibid, 3.181)

"Actually, there is only One thing, whatever you call it, but it can be studied from different standpoints and thus we get different results. That thing is Mind - unindividuated, infinite." (Ibid, 3.263)

When asked the question whether it was necessary to understand the three concepts of Mind, World-Mind and Overself in order to understand the Absolute, he responded:

“If you are trying to think things out in an intelligent way, you must do that. You can't leap there. You can take the Absolute Advaitic point of view if you like, but you can't get there until you've gone through them—because you don't understand; the instrument is lacking which can handle it....Why did Plotinus split it into three if it wasn't necessary for us? Eventually you rise to the point where there is only THE ONE. In studying, using the intellect; all three are necessary.” (Annie Cahn Fung, conversations with PB in Mysore)

Further, as stated in the introduction to Volume 14 of his Notebooks:

"An issue of lively debate among serious students of this "true individuality" concerns whether it should be described as singular or multiple. Does each individual have his or her own unique Overself, or is the Overself one and the same in every human being? In several places, PB addresses the problems involved in planting both feet inflexibly in either camp. In the eighth chapter of The Wisdom of the Overself he wrote, "If there would be a slight technical confusion in using the singular number alone, there would be immeasurably more confusion if, in using the plural, this dire error of any radical difference existing between them were to be authenticated." For this reason, PB chose throughout his later writings to emphasize the oneness rather than the diversity within the Overself - the sameness of the core of the divine consciousness rather than the variety of its expressions.." (p. x)

We will simply leave the reader with the Soul, Overself or Atman as the paradoxical mystery as PB most often portrays it to be: distinct, but not separate, from other Overselves - if any - and neither identical with nor separate the Absolute. For more discussion on this please see the above articles cited.

64. Swami Prajnananda, Is A Jivanmukta Subject To Ignorance? (Calcutta, India: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1992), p. 120-123
65. Swami Sharvananda, mANDUkyopaniShad (Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1982), p.
66. Brunton, op. cit., Vol.13, Part 1, 4.119

67. Sri Nisargadatta said that he had realized the 'Absolute prior to consciousness.' Greg Goode, however, in his book The Direct Path, which honors the way as propounded by Shree Atmananda, Ramana Maharshi, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, and others, wrote that "Some nondual teachings speak about a reality "prior to consciousness." In these teachings, "consciousness" is what the Direct Path would call the generic state of waking and dreaming. And "prior to consciousness" is what the Direct Path calls "pure consciousness" - consciousness without the superimposition of the witness aspect." He also says, "There is nothing more basic or primordial that is "prior to consciousness" (p. 13, 327). This is, however, definitely not what Sri Nisargadatta meant by 'prior to' or 'beyond' consciousness in his teachings, which I admit are rather maverick among the traditions many of which say that 'consciousness is all,' or 'God is an ocean of pure consciousness,' etc.. Sri Nisargadatta in many places certainly does distinguish empirical awareness or consciousness from what he calls the I Am, then the witness, then pure consciousness, and finally the Absolute 'beyond consciousness'. Differently from Goode he believed that in deep sleep one went into the Absolute beyond consciousness, while Goode and the Direct Path maintain that one is always aware as consciousness, even in sleep when one is blissfully 'aware of nothing'. [However, I ask then, if this is so, why do the scriptures make a distinction between deep sleep as one of the three states and turiya as the ever-conscious 'fourth', the substratum of all states? According to one translation of the Mandukya Upanishad, "turiya is not an undifferentiated mass of consciousness [Sri Nisargadatta uses a similar metaphor: 'a solid block of reality'], neither knowing nor unknowing, invisible, ineffable, intangible, devoid of characteristics, inconceivable, indefinable, its sole characteristic being the consciousness of its own Self; the coming to rest of all relative existence." (92) So we have Vedanta saying that consciousness is veiled during sleep and the Direct Path saying it is not. Can both be right?] I must also say that Sri Nisargadatta muddies up his own arguments about 'prior to consciousness' by occasionally talking of an absolute consciousness beyond individual consciousness, and also saying, 'Consciousness is all there is' (ironically, in the book, Prior to Consciousness !); so, to my mind, it is not entirely clear what he meant! Paul Brunton wrote about pure consciousness, but also appeared to agree with Plotinus that there were three degrees of penetration or deepening reaization of that, suggesting a principle(s) beyond consciousness. anadi, Karl Renz, and Adyashanti have also talked like this to some extent. See The Primordial Ground on this website for an extensive, and, as far as I am aware, nowhere else to be found, discussion of this issue.

68. R.W.J. Austin, Ibn Al' Arabi: The Bezels of Wisdom (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1980), p. 79
69. Thomas Taylor, trans., Timaeus, 35b
70. Toshihiko Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1983), p. 7-8
71. Charles Belyea and Steven Tainer, Dragon's Play (Berkeley: Great Circle Lifeworks, 1991), p. 6, 21, 23
72. Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 1. 2.18
73. Thomas Taylor, trans, Plato, Timaeus
74. Anthony Damiani, Astronoesis: Astrology's Empirical Context, Philosophy's Transcendental Ground (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications for Wisdom's Goldenrod, 2000), p.
75. Izutsu, op. cit. , p. 152-157
76. Ibid, p. 181-182, 253, 261, 260
77. Thomas Cleary, Vitality, Energy, Spirit: A Taoist Surcebook (Boston: Shambhala, 1991), p. 77
78. Ibid, p. 482-483
79. Ibid, p. 378-381
80. Kyriacos Markides,Fire in the Heart (London, England: ARKANA, 1991), p. 114-155; for a more extended discussion of the term elemental and its place in the philosophy of Daskalos, see The Magus of Strovolos by Markides
81. Roy Eugene Davis, Paramahansa Yogananda As I Knew Him (New Delhi, India: FULL CIRCLE Publishing, 2008), p. 11, 96
82. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 1, 4.166
83. Roy Eugene Davis, "Truth Journal", April-May 2012, p. 8-9, 13
84. Talks with Ramana Maharshi (Carlsbad, California: Inner Directions Publishing, 2001), p. 102, 218
85. Lokeswarananda, op. cit., p. 340
86. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 3, 1.56-1.57
87. Ibid Vol. 13, Part 3, 1.66, 1.68; Vol. 14, 4.96
88. Ibid, Vol. 13, Part 3, 1.43
89. Ibid, Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.229; Vol. 6, Part 2, 4.163
90. ed. by T.N. Venkataraman, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (Tiruvannamali, S. India, 1955), p. 191
91. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, op. cit., p. 81
92. Swami Krishnananda, The Mandukya Upanishad: An Exposition (The Divine Life Trust Society, 1981), p.