[Advaita-l] mAyA in Vedanta is not unlike the ‘plus’ symbol in mathematics
Durga Prasad Janaswamy
janaswami at gmail.com
Thu May 10 17:10:14 EDT 2018
Readers may find the following interesting:
(from the book:
Musings on Yogavaasishta (in Telugu) by Sri Kuppa Venkata Krishna Murthy
Translator from the original Telugu: Dr. Vemuri Ramesam)
mAyA is ‘Plus’:
Let us try to understand what avidya is from a modern perspective.
Everyone knows the mathematical symbol ‘plus’ (+). We use it often in our
work. We are so much used to it that we introduced it even into linguistics
in statements like Do + not = Don’t.
What exactly does ‘+’ mean? What is its function in an equation? Let us
examine its significance.
The ‘+’ sign is called an arithmetic operator. It stands for addition.
What exactly does the sign ‘+’ do?
For example, let us say that there is one banana. I place another banana
next to it. Then we can express it in the form:
1 + 1
The formulation introducing ‘+’ has not brought to bear any change upon the
first banana or on the second banana.
Next we write the equation:
1 + 1 = 2
How could we formulate the above equation balancing the left hand and right
hand sides? Wherefrom did the numeral ‘2’ get generated?
The two ‘1’s representing the first banana and the second banana on which
‘+’ has no effect, obviously, could not have generated ‘2’.
So the numeral ‘2’ must have got generated by the sign ‘+’.
But ‘+’ by itself all alone cannot generate ‘2’. It can generate ‘2’ only
when it comes in between the two 1s.
It happens so because, though the ‘+’ sign has no effect on any of the 1s
(called the operands), it has an effect on the ‘mind’ of the person doing
the operation (calculation).
The symbol ‘+’ produces the image of the numeral ‘2’ in the mind of the
person carrying out the calculation.
‘2’ appears clearly as a numeral. How can we say that ‘2’ is imagined in
If ‘2’ is really an entity and not an imagination, it should relate to
something or the other. But in the equation we have written, ‘2’ is related
to neither the first nor the second operand. When the two bananas came
together next to each other, the idea of ‘2’ got generated in the mind of
the person. Therefore, the number two is an idea only. When we expressed
the idea as a numeric character and scripted it, it appeared as ‘2’.
The long and short of it is that the number ‘two’ is only an imagined idea.
The idea of two gets generated in the mind of an observer from the idea of
‘+’ sign. Therefore, we have to admit that the idea of ‘plus’ is also
resident in the observer’s mind only.
The bananas are on the table. They form one set (shown in red). The idea of
‘+’ and the number ‘2’ are in the mind of the observer. They form another
set (shown in blue).
[1 1] — The red set on the table.
[+ 2] — The blue set in the mind.
We mix up these two sets and write down the equation:
1 + 1 = 2
In order to find the locus of the force responsible for causing the mixing
up of both the sets, let us examine the position prior to the origination
of the idea of ‘2’.
There were two distinct entities, namely the bananas and the mind. Bananas
qua bananas and mind qua mind. They were not related to one another and
were completely independent of each other.
Only after the introduction of the symbol ‘+’, the mix up in the two sets
has arisen. Hence, we have to conclude that the locus of the power causal
for the mix up rests in the sign ‘+’ .
Thus, the concept of ‘+’ has caused two things:
i) Though it existed in the mind of the observer, it appeared ‘as though’
it was related to the ‘things’ being observed;
ii) It engendered the idea of the number ‘2’ in the mind of the observer,
but it falsely projected the sense that the number existed in the things
external to the mind.
Such false projections, when encountered in the world, are described as
illusions, magic or jugglery. The simple arithmetic calculation is a very
common example of such an ‘illusion’ that we come across all the time in
our daily life.
Now applying the above logic, we are ready to formulate the expression for
creation on the lines of 1 +1 = 2:
Beingness + thought = Hiranyagarbha (Creator)
Just as ‘+’ does not affect the first or the later ‘1’, mAyA too does not
affect Beingness or thought.
The symbol ‘+’ is not any entity. So also mAyA is also not an entity.
Just like ‘+’ creates the idea of ‘2’ in the mind of the observer but
projects it onto the things which are outside the mind, mAyA too creates
the idea of a Creator in the mind of the seer and projects Him to be
somewhere over there beyond one’s own mind.
The imaginary Hiranyagarbha creates further imaginary worlds.
Thus we can see that mAyA in Vedanta is not unlike the ‘plus’ symbol in
mathematics. So those who feel intimidated by the word mAyA, can understand
it better when they think it in terms of the plus sign being used daily.
Maharishi Vasishta explains in the first sarga (of utpatti prakaraNa) that
the creation of the world is also an illusion in the mind of the seer.
-- durga prasad
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