The illusory universe and its purpose

Jnana Yoga talks of the illusory nature of the world. What does this mean? This world is projected by Maya Shakti of Brahman. Why should it project an illusory world? Moreover, we do not find it illusory but solidly real.
Maya and Illusion
Maya is thought of in 2 ways:
(1) Maya is the Power (shakti) of Brahman. It is the omnipotent and omniscient source of the world experience;
(2) The doctrine of Maya is expressed as a logical formulation of the nature of the world experience. The school of Advaita Vedanta views Maya in this manner, ie., the world is maya. Swami Tapasyananda explains this way of viewing the world as follows:

.. it is necessary to say what Mayavadins, mistakenly called illusionists, mean by the expression maya. They think that the real and unreal are not contradictory terms, but only contraries with a middle ground between them. At one end stands the absolutely unreal or fictitious entities like ‘horn of a hare’ and the ‘son of a barren woman’. These are mere words, without any reality. At the other end stands Brahman, the absolutely real, which can never be negated by anything. Between these two extremes, there are two levels, forming a middle ground, as it were, which thought cannot exclusively classify with either of them.

The first of these two middle categories is the experiences of the dream, and those caused by errors of perception…. At the time of perception these phenomena appear absolutely real, and therefore, as far as the perceiver is concerned, for the moment, the experienced objects are there. But when the error is dispelled by right knowledge the illusion disappears totally, or even if the appearance of it persists owing to a combination of circumstances, it no longer deceives the perceiver…The second of these intermediate categories is the phenomenal world which we experience in our working life, and which, after all, causes us all the problems of philosophy and religion.The first of these two middle categories is the experiences of the dream, and those caused by errors of perception…. At the time of perception these phenomena appear absolutely real, and therefore, as far as the perceiver is concerned, for the moment, the experienced objects are there. But when the error is dispelled by right knowledge the illusion disappears totally, or even if the appearance of it persists owing to a combination of circumstances, it no longer deceives the perceiver…The second of these intermediate categories is the phenomenal world which we experience in our working life, and which, after all, causes us all the problems of philosophy and religion. The school of thought [Advaita Vedanta].. tries to understand it also on the analogy of the erroneous perceptions described above. But it would be wrong to state that they put it on a par with them. What they contend is that there have been men who have experienced an awakening corresponding to the disillusionment from illusory perceptions. It is an awakening into a wider consciousness, on gaining which – and it is then and then alone – the phenomenal world is recognized to be on a par with experience of illusory perceptions, i.e. it either disappears completely or, if it continues to be perceived, it is no longer felt to be, in itself, of any reality or value.

Sri Ramakrishna’s thoughts in a vedantic perspective by Swami Tapasyananda
Why do we have this perception problem?
It is our mind that makes us see the world instead of Brahman.  Bhagavad Gita also speaks about the dangers of mental delusion (moha).

Deluded by the mental states accruing from the three Gunas of Prakrti, this world knows not Me, the Imperishable, transcending these Gunas.

Gita 7.13
What are these delusions brought in by our mind?

The mind brings before us all our delusions — body, sex, creed, caste, bondage; so we have to tell the truth to the mind incessantly, until it is made to realise it. Our real nature is all bliss, and all the pleasure we know is but a reflection, an atom, of that bliss we get from touching our real nature. That is beyond both pleasure and pain. It is the “witness” of the universe, the unchanging reader before whom, turn the leaves of the book of life.

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 8, Lectures and Discourses, Discourses on Jnana-Yoga – II
The human mind interprets Brahman as the universe and its living beings (including us).
Stranger in a strange land
The universe is a strange land. It exists only as long as ‘I’ exist.

“A Jnani sees everything at once – God, maya, the universe and living beings. He sees that vidyamaya, avidyamaya, the universe, and all living beings exist and at the same time do not exist. As long as he is conscious of ‘I’, he is conscious of ‘other’ too. Nothing whatsoever exists after he cuts through the whole thing with the sword of Jnana. Then even his ‘I’ becomes as unreal as the magic of magicians.”

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

According to Sri Ramakrishna we both exist and do not exist. It is our mind that creates the illusion of physical existence. However, as long as our mind operates we cannot say that the universe is illusory.

“Why should the universe be unreal? That is a speculation of thephilosophers. After realizing God, one sees that it is God Himself who has become the universe and all living beings.
The Divine Mother revealed to me in the Kali temple that it was She who had become everything. She showed me that everything was full of Consciousness. The Image was Consciousness, the altar was Consciousness, the water-vessels were Consciousness, the door-sill was Consciousness, the marble floor was Consciousness – all was Consciousness. I found everything inside soaked, as it were, in Bliss – the Bliss of Satchidananda.
After realizing God, one sees all this aright – that it is He who hasbecome the universe, living beings, and the twenty four cosmic principles. But what remains when God completely effaces the ego cannot be described in words. As Ramprasad said in one of his songs, ‘Then alone will you know whether you are good or I am good!‘ A man sees one way through reasoning and in an altogether different way when God Himself shows it to Him.”


The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Is there any record of actual experience that Brahman is All and the universe and its living beings are illusory?

During his second visit, about a month later, suddenly, at the touch of the Master, Narendra felt overwhelmed and saw the walls of the room and everything around him whirling and vanishing. “What are you doing to me?” he cried in terror. “I have my father and mother at home.” He saw his own ego and the whole universe almost swallowed in a nameless void. With a laugh the Master easily restored him. Narendra thought he might have been hypnotized, but he could not understand how a monomaniac could cast a spell over the mind of a strong person like himself. He returned home more confused than ever, resolved to be henceforth on his guard before this strange man.
But during his third visit Narendra fared no better. This time, at the Master’s touch, he lost consciousness entirely. While he was still in that state, Sri Ramakrishna questioned him concerning his spiritual antecedents and whereabouts, his mission in this world, and the duration of his mortal life. The answers confirmed what the Master himself had known and inferred. Among other things, he came to know that Narendra was a sage who had already attained perfection, and that the day he learnt his real nature he would give up his body in yoga, by an act of will.……………….The Master wanted to train Narendra in the teachings of the non-dualistic Vedanta philosophy. But Narendra, because of his Brahmo upbringing, considered it wholly blasphemous to look on man as one with his Creator. One day at the temple garden he laughingly said to a friend: “How silly! This jug is God! This cup is God! Whatever we see is God! And we too are God! Nothing could be more absurd.” Sri Ramakrishna came out of his room and gently touched him. Spellbound, he immediately perceived that everything in the world was indeed God. A new universe opened around him. Returning home in a dazed state, he found there too that the food, the plate, the eater himself, the people around him, were all God. When he walked in the street, he saw that the cabs, the horses, the streams of people, the buildings, were all Brahman. He could hardly go about his day’s business. His parents became anxious about him and thought him ill. And when the intensity of the experience abated a little, he saw the world as a dream. Walking in the public square, he would strike his head against the iron railings to know whether they were real. It took him a number of days to recover his normal self. He had a foretaste of the great experiences yet to come and realized that the words of the Vedanta were true.


Introduction to The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna translated by Swami Nikhilananda

What does science say about the strangeness of our universe?

Classical Mechanics, like Dvaita and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, considers the universe as absolutely real with mind playing no part. Quantum Mechanics on the other hand says ‘Moon only exists when one looks at the moon’. This led to Einstein asking whether we can cross a busy highway safely with our eyes closed. After all if you take Quantum Mechanics seriously then the highway with its cars exists only for the observer!

From the point of view of Hindu philosophy Einstein’s question points out the serious flaw in the scientific approach. The flaw is that the human mind or consciousness plays no role in the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics. What science should be really saying is that we will always experience the world as real as long as we have a mind that deludes.

Purpose of Jagat or universe

What then is the purpose of such a strange universe that both exists and does not exist? There is no satisfactory answer to this question. We have to say that it is Brahman’s sweet will!

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2 Replies to “The illusory universe and its purpose”

  1. What an excellent follow up to your previous post Pradip da.

    Do you have any thoughts on the Drishti-Srishti vs Ajatavada schools. Your blog seemed to point towards Ajatavada. Perhaps you could clarify?

    Best,

    Dwai

  2. Dear Dwai,

    I think the blog is pointing towards Drishti-Srishti vada. Brahman's Maya shakti is projecting this universe on our mind. Thus Maya can be thought of as the source of this universe. Ajatavada denies that there is any source of this world. At least this is what I think.

    Drishti-Srishti-vada (The theory of Perception is Creation)
    Seeing is creating.

    Gaudapada’s name is specially associated with the theory known as Ajata-vada. This theory may also be called the theory of non-origination. According to Ajata-vada, the perceptual world in which we exist was never created. This theory rejects all causality. It does not accept that there is any cause or source of this perceptual world.

    Best

    Pradip da

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