Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Maya - the most misunderstood word in Vedanta

Usually many people understand maya as "illusion" and thus call Shankara a mayavadi or talk the word literally and say "the world is an illusion". Both are wrong.

The definition of According to Shankara

sharIra dvaya kAraNam AtmAgnAnAm-sABHAsamavyAkritam api ittyucchate
Etat kAraNasharIram AtmAna:
taccha na saNNAsaNNApi sadasaNNA BHiNNAm nABHiNNAm nApi BHiNNABHiNNAm krutashchit, na niravayavam, na sAvayavam nOBHayam, kintu kEvala-brahmAtmyaikatva gnAnApanODHyam

Bound up with the reflection of pure-consciousness, the mAyA, which hides the Atmanand is the cause of both the gorss and subtle bodies, is called the 'avYakriti' or undifferentiated. This is the causal body of the jIvAtman. mAyA is neither existent, nor non-existent nor even both existent and non-existent; niether different from, nor identical with, nor both different from and identical with, the Atman. This mAya is neither composite, nor noncomposite, nor both composite and non-composite, but removable only by the knowledge of the identity of Brahman and Ataman.

- srI Adisankara bhagavadpAda in panchIkaraNA, a prAkaraNa grantha (i.e, a preliminary text for students of vEdAnta).

In the classic rope/snake example, as long as we are in darkness, we perceive the rope to be snake. In this state of ignorance, the snake is real (for all practical purposes) and affects us - we experience the fear, we sweat etc etc. But what is the actual reality of this snake? We cannot say that this snake is totally unreal - cuz we are experiencing it/its effects. We cannot even say that this snake is totally real either - cuz its not as real as the rope. so its an unique state - state of mithya. The reality of world is *similar* to the reality of such snake. Neither real nor unreal.

Its important to note is that as long as we perceive the snake, it is real for all practical purposes. But from the standpoint of rope the snake is unreal. So from the standpoint of brahman - world is unreal. But from the vyavahArika standpoint - world is real.

so advaita DOES NOT totally negate the existence of world/Soul. it only says that this world is not as real as brahman. world is only a "realtive reality" (called mithya) where as brahman is the only absolute reality.

"mithya = unreal" is totally wrong - misunderstanding/misinterpretation

"mithya = neither totally real nor totally unreal; it is conditionally real" is the correct definition.

Question: Now what do we mean by this conditional reality and the parellel realities? According to physics the truth of any thing is with respect to its prespective or frame of reference, this also implies that there can exist parallel truths to a particular situation depending on the prespective

The existence of parallel truths in my view is also acknowledged by Vedanta.

I think the definitions 'truth' itself changes in these cases, hence, the assement.

If I say 'today is thursday', it is true. But is dependent on the person or the date which is said, and may be sometime false also.

Even though scinece may call it true, I think this statement cannot be termed true. To be accurate, it has to be said 'conditional truth'.

According to Advaita, there are 3 orders of reality:

1. paramarthika satyam (absolute reality)
2. vyavaharika satyam (empirical reality)
3. pratibhasika satyam (subjective reality)

Brahman alone is paramarthika satyam.

The universe comprising external objects and our bodies and minds is vyavaharika satyam. (it is NOT as real as brahman)

The dream world is pratibhasika satyam. (2 & 3 are mithya)

All are true, in certain sense. But the first is unconditional truth;

The second is common conditional truth. common conditional implying all having the same perception- the same world, the same earth

The third is individual conditional truth. individual conditional implying it holds for a single individual only, everyone does not have the same dream.

So when the we say "Brahman alone is true" or say "truth is god", it implies to the first, unconditional truth.

I guess we can draw similar parallels in science too.

The classical science may be the second level- Newton's laws may hold true for all of us.

I think psychological science may be similar to third level.

The relativistic modles try to include the observer into the system, and they too try to arrive at universal truths, not just conditional (like speed of light)

So, I dont think that there is really any contradiction. We are just comparing the first level in Vedanta with the second of science.

3 Comments:

Blogger Hemal Modi said...

Nice!

But I would say the most misunderstood word is karma :)

4:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have some questions on this. You have given the example of seeing rope and thinking as snake.
Let us analyse this in detail. In this comparison there are at least 2 objects. one is the person who is seeing, the second one is the rope which he is seeing. There is one more, a knowledge of another object i.e. Snake. The person who is seeing the rope should have 3 different knowledge, first is about himself, he should have knowledge that he is different from snake or rope. If this is not there he will not get fear. second knowedge about the snake, otherwise he can not get compared to. Third, knowledge about rope.
Now let us compare these things with advaita philosophy. You are comparing the person seeing the rope with BRAHMAN, acceptable. Then what he is seeing? according to advaita there is nothing else. In the example the person saw a real rope and misunderstood as snake. Even though snake was not there, the rope was always there, even after he got the true knowledge of the rope. Rope did not vanish.
accordingly, if BRAHMAN is seeing some thing it should be different from himself. He cannot see himself and think he is different.
So by giving this example will not provide any support for your MAYA definition. Please look for some thing else, if you find.
if you have answer let me know. - mukundachar@gmail.com

10:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have some questions on this. You have given the example of seeing rope and thinking as snake.
Let us analyse this in detail. In this comparison there are at least 2 objects. one is the person who is seeing, the second one is the rope which he is seeing. There is one more, a knowledge of another object i.e. Snake. The person who is seeing the rope should have 3 different knowledge, first is about himself, he should have knowledge that he is different from snake or rope. If this is not there he will not get fear. second knowedge about the snake, otherwise he can not get compared to. Third, knowledge about rope.
Now let us compare these things with advaita philosophy. You are comparing the person seeing the rope with BRAHMAN, acceptable. Then what he is seeing? according to advaita there is nothing else. In the example the person saw a real rope and misunderstood as snake. Even though snake was not there, the rope was always there, even after he got the true knowledge of the rope. Rope did not vanish.
accordingly, if BRAHMAN is seeing some thing it should be different from himself. He cannot see himself and think he is different.
So by giving this example will not provide any support for your MAYA definition. Please look for some thing else, if you find.
if you have answer let me know. - mukundachar@gmail.com

10:56 AM  

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