[Advaita-l] Re: doubt

Sanjay Verma sanjay1297 at yahoo.com
Fri Jan 30 21:13:38 CST 2004

Pranam to all,


Namaste. I humbly offer my contribution on this topic for further clarification....


It is a misnomer that "maya" means illusion. It is *not* the case that the phenomenal world is an illusion. It is in fact very real and does exist (as do you and I and all the other beings in the material universe). Maya is God's creative power. In BG, Sri Krishna even states that He created the world with His maya (i.e., creative power). What is an illusion is the duality and permanence which our mind superimposes onto the material world. 


This is not too difficult to imagine for those who are familiar with physics. Each object is fundamentally (i.e., at the molecular and subatomic level) composed of more space than matter. However, at our level of awareness and because we (habitually) depend on our senses for perception (i.e., indirect perception) we perceive the objects as solid, when in fact they are not. Furthermore, the molecules are in a constant state of flux and energy in a constant state of transformation (from one form to another). So, the solidity and permanence of the phenomenal world are illusory products of our mind. However the constituent matter and the energy which sustains its transformations are very real. Once one understands that, then the concept of 'maya' and illusion are better understood.


The concept of duality is also an illusion. The Universe is a continuous field of energy. Energy may transform from one state to another. What gives the 'appearance' of local 'objects' in the time-space continuum is localized energy. Take for example the ocean. The earth is covered by one body of water. Water is all composed of H2O and the molecules do not change. However, because in different areas the local energy is at different levels we see waves, eddies, whirlpools, tidal waves, and calm waters. The temperature and other behavioral aspects of the ocean also vary in different areas so that the plurality of oceans appears to behave as if different local entities. However, the totality of the ocean is but one -- what changes is the localized energy. Going back to the universal field of energy -- we are all part of that continuum. However, because of different localized energy (i.e., the degree to which we have burned up our karma and eliminated our nescience about duality)
 appear to behave as distinct entities when in fact we are but all Brahman. The deities, then are individual souls at a higher spiritual energy.


So, why do we pray to these deities? Well, enlightened souls would not need to for themselves. If you read the Avadhuta Gita (which pushes Advaita to its extreme), there are numerous passages describing the futility of praying to something outside oneself when one is Brahman. 


Avadhuta Gita III.2:


"Siva is ever without white and other colors. This effect and cause are also the supreme Siva. I am thus the pure Siva, devoid of all doubt. O beloved friend, how shall I bow to my own Self in my Self?"


However, as already mentioned, Sri Krishna states in the BG that enlightened souls behave (physically) in such a manner so as to be an example for the rest of society (whose members still live with the illusion of permanence and duality of the phenomenal world).


In his speech, "Christ the Messenger" [available online], Swami Vivekananda refers to the Christian "Common Prayer" and indicates that such prayers (to a God as if He were separate from oneself) are necessary for the masses because their level of spiritual development does not enable them to accept the non-duality of Atma-Parmatma. He states:


"Mark you, it is the ‘Common Prayer’ because it is intended for the uneducated masses. To a higher circle, to those who had advanced a little more, he gave a more elevated teaching: ‘I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.’ "


So, in the same religious tradition, different messages are given to different audiences depending on their spiritual capacity and need.


The same can also be seen (for comparison purposes) in the speeches of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. On one hand Swami will lead devotees in bhajans to various deities and encourage deepening bhakti. On the other hand, Swami will state: "I am no more God than you are; the difference is that I know it and you do not."


So, is it a contradiction for Adi Shankaracharya to be such a great Acharya of Advaita and still compose verses of bhakti to deities? No. The Acharya did after all travel to almost all corners of India to revitalize the tradition of Advaita which was being confused in the minds of the common people.


Furthermore, I don't believe it is accurate to state the Acharya believed that 'knowledge' (i.e., spiritual, experiential knowledge that 'aham brahmAsmi') was sufficient for attaining mukti. Such brahmavidya is necessary for enlightenment, but not sufficient for all individuals. It is necessary in that without it, enlightenment is not possible. However, it is not sufficient, in that some individual souls need to various means to purify their minds first by various karmas (e.g., rites, ashramas, prayer, meditation, service, etc.) before the aspirant can realize, understand and embody the brahmavidya.


In BS IV.i.2 the Acharya speaks of the importance of repetition of mantras. In Advaita, the path to liberation entails Shravana, Manana, and NidhidhyAsana. So, why do we all not attain enlightenment after hearing, reflecting, and deep meditation on Shruti? Because we still have to burn some of our past karmas through various deeds to purify the mind. So, in BS IV.i.1 the Acharya mentions how the statement " 'Thou art that' cannot produce a direct realization of its own meaning in those people to whom these two entities remain obstructed by ignorance, doubt, and confusion..." He cites Svetaketu as an example, stating that he had to hear "Tattvamasi" 9 times before he realized its import. How many more times we would need to hear it!


So, in summary, Vishnu, Siva, and the other deities are real -- they are not illusory. What is an illusion is that they are separate from oneself. So long as one lives experientially in the world of duality (with all the joys, sorrows, and attachment entailed therein), one may benefit from prayers and worship of these deities. These prayers cultivate concentration and help purify the mind of nescience. However, when one has the conviction of non-duality firmly planted in one's psyche then such prayers become less fruitful and one may pursue the path of knowledge more exclusively.


I hope my comments have been of some help.


Om Shanti Shanti Shanti




The journey of a thousand miles begins
with a single step.--Chinese Proverb


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