सर्वं चैतदविद्यया त्रिगुणयाशेषं मया कल्पितम्
इत्थं यस्य दृढा मतिः सुखतरे नित्ये परे निर्मले
चण्डालोस्तु स तु द्विजोस्तु गुरुरित्येषा मनीषा मम || 2 ||
sarvaṁ caitadavidyayā triguṇayāśeṣaṁ mayā kalpitam
itthaṁ yasya dṛḍhā matiḥ sukhatare nitye pare nirmale
caṇḍālostu sa tu dvijostu gururityeṣā manīṣā mama || 2 ||
I am Brahmam. All the worlds and all things are there due to the indwelling pure and infinite Brahmam which is verily I am, the unlimited sentient energy and the infinite-knowledge. All creations and the notion of creator are thus superimposed, due to the Maya or nescience and its triple traits. Whoever understands and hold steadfast knowledge on this everlasting, perfect and absolute bliss, he alone, irrespective of his perceived stature in the world be it lowly or holy, is the real preceptor. This is my determinate knowledge or conclusive wisdom.
brahma eva aham = I am Brahmam; idam jagat cha skalam = in this very universe and in everything; chinmaatra = only for the subtle conscious form (of causal knowledge); vistharitam = is perfectly unfolding itself;
sarwam cha ethath = All this sentient world; avidya yaa = borne of nescience; thrigunayaa = due to the convolution of three traits; sesham = remains as (creation and creator); maya kalipitam = superimposed by my ignorance;
iththam = thus; yasya = whoever; dhruda matih = understand with stead-fast knowledge; sukha tarae = of Absolute-Bliss; nityae = forever; parae = the Supreme; nirmale = perfect (uncontaminated);
chandaalo asthu = may be a down trodden (outcaste); sa tu = in the same way; dwijo asthu = may be a twice born (who is learned); yaesha = that Great one who inculcates this concept; gurur iti = is the real preceptor; maneesha mama = my determinate knowledge or conclusive wisdom.
In the earlier verses we learnt that the Jeevaatman is the embodiment of the Atman in individual bodies and remains as the ‘Self’ within as the unattached witness to the actions of the embodiment. We also learnt that the Atman is the same which is threaded in all things and all worlds and remain as the eternal witness, as Ishvara or the Paramaatman and that Atman when undifferentiated is the Brahmam.
In this second verse, the Paramaatman is analyzed and as it represents everything in the worlds, the experiences of the world are taken as the subject of analysis. It starts with the assumption that worlds are created by Ishvara. Why is this assumption valid? Firstly, if we consider all these worlds are the effects or outcomes, there must be a root-cause for these. That root-cause is attributed to a superior God. This is known as nimitta kaaranam or the assigned-cause. Many faiths and religions only take this approach to appoint a God-head as the supreme root cause. Science also assumes in its quest for the ‘theory of everything’, the assigned-cause of creation as the point of singularity at the origin of time.
The Upanisads go beyond this reasoning. If Ishvara or Paramaatman, is the creator of the world, then where do Ishvara get the knowledge and the material to create. This is reasoned as follows.
The Atman is proven to be infinite-knowledge. So the knowledge to create the world is not external to the Atman. Secondly, the potential of Atman when it is manifest becomes both the power and matter required for the creation of the world. This power of creation is known as the Maya.
What is Maya?
The Upanisads teach that the differentiated and innumerable embodiments and worlds are due to the ‘Moolaprakrti’ which is the root-cause of anything and everything. This is the power-absolute, the infinite-potential of Brahmam. This is also known as ‘Shakthi’. When it is manifested, it is known as ‘the Maya’.
One of the most important aspects of Advaita is the concept of Maya. It is said ‘ya ma sa maya’, meaning ‘what is really not’ is the Maya. The Vedanta declares that the Maya is absolute-unreality since its existences is not real but for the Brahmam.
The concept of Maya is the most intricate principle to understand and require guidance of a qualified Guru; such scholarship demands certain prescribed qualities and preparation on the part of the learner. Yet, for the context of our study of Manisha Panchakam, a brief introduction to the concept of Maya, through a simple example is offered.
Imagine that my hand is moving to pick an apple which is on a table.
What is evident here is an action on my part – the motion of my hand. By analyzing this activity, it is learnt that the action is due to the motor-effect of the physiological faculties such as the movement of muscles, the impulses on the nerves etc. By inquiring, we infer that the cause for this motor-effect is due to a particular mental-state or volition, which we shall call as ‘the will’. We confirm that it is the will that caused the action of picking up the apple. By further analyzing, we infer that the will has its cause on another mental-state or volition, namely ‘the desire’; It is the desire that caused the will to act. We also observe that the awareness of the existence of an apple, or simply the knowledge is the root cause of the desire and thus the root-cause of the action.
If we pursue the analysis, it becomes clear that the knowledge, the desire and the will are the effects and possible only because there exist the corresponding powers, namely, the power-to-know, the power-to-desire and the power-to-will. These powers are possible only for the witness, the Self. This would mean, these powers are the potentials of Atman and when manifest, exist as the temporal powers of nature.
Ordinary minds do not analyze the root causes and thus have no appreciation of the differences, for example, between the power-to-will and the will. In this example, when the movement of hand is viewed ordinarily, it depicts a real action, and therefore, the power is real. Then for the ordinary mind, the Maya is real.
However for the student of Self-inquiry, the definition of Maya is not so straight forward. Firstly to him, if something is real, it must exist at all times – the past, present and future. On that basis, the power, as the cause for the witnessed action is evanescent and therefore must be unreal. But the movement of the hand to pick the apple is seen as a real activity. How can an unreal cause create real effect? Therefore, he deduces that the power must be real too. He thus moves towards a position of contemplation that the power must be both unreal and not unreal at the same time. For him, thus the concept of Maya conjures infinite complexities. When One sees One’s image in the mirror, is the image real or unreal? The image really exists as a true reflection yet it is unreal.
For the Seers, there is no confusion. To them, as the phenomenal world is temporary and unreal, its root cause, the manifested Maya is absolutely unreal. Like the movement of hand in this example, all worldly actions are therefore unreal but appear to be real in the phenomenal world. Therefore they declare that the Maya and all its effects are unreal.
Although these perspectives on the Maya appear to be contradictory among the ordinary person, the spiritual-seeker and the Seer, their views are all true within the context and the orientation of these observers. When it is learned under the guidance of the Guru and contemplated, this seemingly contradictory theory unfolds towards the wisdom imparted by the Vedanta.
The Upanisads call these three powers – the power-to-know, the power-to-desire, the power-to-will, respectively as gyaana-shakthi, icchha –shakthi and kriyaa-shakthi and the derived results of exercising these powers as gyaanam, ichhai and kriayai. The combination of these powers or the Shakthi when is not manifest, is the potential power in the Brahmam. When it manifests, the Brahmam is differentiated and known as ‘Ishvara’.
We also learn from the Upanisads that the manifestation of the Maya corresponds to the three aspects of the Atman, namely, Sat- Chit-Ananda, such that the power-to-will (kriya Shakthi) corresponds to the ‘Sat’ , the power-to-know (gyaana shakthi) to the ‘Chit’, and the power-to-desire (ichcha Shakthi) to the ‘Ananda’ aspects respectively. The Upanisads show that the multitude and infinitely varied worlds are only due to the infinite power of Maya and the interplay of her three attributes or the gunas.
How can we determine the attributes of the Maya as we cannot even define her nature precisely?
What the learned have shown is that by studying the attributes of the effect (the world and everything therein) the attributes of the cause (the Maya) can be ascertained. On that basis, there are three distinct guans or attributes assigned to the Maya. These are known as Tamas, Rajas and Satvic.
Tamas represents dark ignorance and comparative inactivity or inertia.
Rajas refers to the illusive light and the passionate and divisive or disruptive activities.
Satvic refers to the pure light or knowledge and the harmonious flow of activities.
Depending on the predominance of the attribute present, the Maya when it is manifest is named differently. When the Tamasic attribute is in the ascendant, the Maya is known as Tamasi. When the ‘Rajasic’ attribute is predominant, it is known as ‘Avidya’ and with the overwhelming ‘Satvic’ attribute, it is known as ‘Satvic Maya’ or simply the ‘Maya’.
Through the Maya only, the Self is exhibited in three types of embodiments.
Firstly, when the Atman is exhibited through ‘Satvic Maya’, it is known as Ishvara or Paramaatman. This is the primary cause and the emanation of the universe. In other words, with Satvic Maya as his Causal-body, Ishvara pervades all the worlds, embedded as the thread and remaining as the witness.
Similarly, with ‘Avidya’ or ignorance as the causal-body, the witnessing ‘Self’ within the individual embodiment of life is exhibited as Jeevaatman.
Finally, ‘Tamasai’ being the casual body, the inert matters exist.
In the inert matter, only the ‘Sat’ aspect of the Atman is predominant and the Chit and Ananda aspects are completely subordinated. Contrary to this, in the case of Jeevaatman, both ‘Sat’ and ‘Chit’ aspects prevail and the ‘Ananda’ aspect is marginally indicated. Only in the Ishvara is the fullness of absolute Sat-Chit-Ananda. All that exist do exist in Ishvara. The universe is thus one organic body enlivened by Ishvara, the One Supreme Self. This is indicated by the Shvetashvaropanisad as
Thus we understand that when it is not manifest, the Maya is unqualified and rests within the Brahmam as the moolaprakirti. When it is manifest, it takes three forms ‘Satvic Maya’, ‘Avidya’ and ‘Tamasi’, each giving rise to three principles namely, ‘Ishvara’, ‘Jeeva’ and ‘Matter’ respectively. These three principles are what the Bhagavad Geetha calls as Purushotma, Akshara, and Kshara as well as Paramaatma, Kootasthsa and Bhuta.
We also understand that the qualities of the Maya can themselves never be but for the absolute reality namely the Brahmam. When the Maya or nescience is removed, Ishvara is Brahmam. Similarly, when the avidya or ignorance is removed, the Jeevaatman identifies with Paramaatman. Only with such wisdom, the learned are able to declare that the phenomenal world or separated existence is indeed unreal, and its cause the Maya is absolutely unreal.
Truth is always simple and trivial. Yet the profound truth about Self is incomprehensible only due to our ignorance or the nature of avidya. To aid understanding, Vedanta often sites examples such as the perception of a ‘snake-in-rope’ and the case of spider that creates a web of an exquisite nature by its own part, sustains it and ultimately consumes it. These examples appear to be trivial yet conceal infinite wisdom.
It is Mandukya Upanisad that provides a synthesis of the different embodiments and the experiences of bodies under the different manifestations of the Maya. For the Self, when subjected to three experiences as shown in the previous verse, there exist three worlds.
The gross world is known as ‘visva’ and it exists only in the waking-state of the Jeevaatman. The subtle world of Jeevaatman is known as ‘thaijasa’ or the dreaming-world and it operates in the dream-state only. The causal world for the Jeevaatman is known as ‘prangya’ and it exists in the deep-sleep state as full of potentials only.
For the Universal-Self or the Paramaatman, similarly there are three experiences and associated worlds. These are respectively, ‘virat’ or the gross world, ‘hiranya garpa’ or the subtle world and ‘prakrithi’ as the causal world.
Both the Self and the Universal-Self remain as the witness during these three distinct experiences, resulting in distinct world of operations, due to the distinct manifestation of the Maya.
Thus the Maya is the power that creates the worlds; so all worlds are only relatively real. Only with the true knowledge, this veil of nescience can be removed. At that stage, in the absence of The Maya , the Ishvara is realized as the undifferentiated Brahmam.
The process of creation is also revealed in the Vedanta. This is briefly introduced.
From the Prakriti, the causal-body of Ishvara, the hiranya garpa or the subtle world is created by the Maya.
Within the subtle-world, fist the Akash (Space) is created, and successively other primordial elements namely the air, fire, water and earth are created. These five-primordial-elements are subtle and known as shukshma- avasta.
Only from these five-primordial-elements, everything else is created. From their ‘satvic’ aspect, our mind and the organs of perceptions were created. That is why the mind and the organs of perceptions are considered as the instruments of knowledge.
Similarly from these five-primordial-elements, based on their rajasic aspect, the praanan (or vital air) and the organs of actions were created. The tireless functioning of respiration in all life-form is only due to the ‘rajasic’ aspect only.
Similarly based on the tamasic aspect of these five-primordial-elements, the five- natural- elements namely the sky, air, water, fire and the earth of the gross worlds are formed. These are inert.
Subsequently, these five-natural-elements intermixed as the food to permute innumerable physical bodies in the world. In a concise text called ‘Pancheekarnam’, the five-fold mutations of universe from these five-primordial-elements to five-natural-elements and conflate to make everything gross, is succinctly described by Jagadguru Adi Sankara.
The Mandukya Upanisad shows that the three worlds of experiences for the Jeevaatman and the three worlds of experiences for the Ishvara although appear to be different, these are in fact one and the same; the differences are due to the Maya only. It describes the assignment of the seed-letters ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’ respectively for these three sets of worlds and the sound ‘AUM’ as the indication of their unification as Brahmam.
The letter ‘A’ denotes the waking-state of Jeevaatman and the physical worlds of Ishvara. The letter ‘U’ denotes the dream-sate of Jeevaatman and the subtle hiranya garpa of Ishvara. The letter ‘M’ denotes the deep-sleep state of Jeevaatman and the Maya of Ishvara.
As the seed-letter ‘A’ produce the sound of expansion, ‘U’ the contraction and ‘M’ the assimilation or completion, the representation of the corresponding worlds of experience through these letters is apt and beautiful. The primordial sound ‘AUM’ denotes the Brahmam. In AUM, everything is born, everything is sustained and everything is consumed. Only to remind us of this wisdom, the Veda mantras always include the sound of ‘AUM’ in the beginning as well as in the end.
Therefore what we understand is that Ishvara is also the upadhana kaarana or the material cause of the world and thus, the world and everything therein are nothing but Ishvara; The names and forms are infinitely explored by His power of the Maya , yet the same divinity of the Self is prevailing in all.
That leads to another question.
As Ishvara is everything in the world, then all good and evil, all rights and wrongs must be due to Him and for Him only. Is that so? The answer to this question according to the concept of non-duality or Advaita is this: It is kalpitam or Superimposition, as quoted in the above verse.
The word kalpitam or super-imposition is a key representing the most important concept of the theory of Advaita. The creation of Maya is the deliverance of the kalpitam that projects what is not there as to be there and veils what is there to be not there.
When we see an elephant in a sculpture, we are aware that the elephant is a kalpitam on the stone. We understand the super-imposition and able to deal with it. The multiplicity of the world is also seen as the kalpitam of the One Universal Self due the Maya. But this is not easily comprehended or appreciated as our domain of intelligence ordinarily does not probe into the subtle and causal worlds of existence.
The scientific pursuits and the discoveries that are only focusing on the gross world will continue to evolve, turning what is unimaginable at present time into the relative realms of the future. Such gross-world changes, according to Vedanta, have their cause in the deep desires of the subtle-world and the root in the Maya. As long as the scientific minds seek the theory of everything only through the gross matter, without the concept of non-duality, diversity will only multiply and the kalpitam will continue to guide us through her weaves of infinite web.
Therefore for the so called rationalists and scientific minds of the gross world, the concept of kalpitam is a philosophical challenge and for the aspirants of Self-inquiry, the concept of kalpitam is a spiritual challenge.
The most daring declaration due to the concept of kalpitam in the Advaita Vedanta is that the creations and also the position of a creator are therefore unreal and appear to be real only because of the kalpitam of the Maya! So even the initial assumption that the Ishvara is the creator of the world is also not valid! When the Maya is not manifest, there is nothing other than the undifferentiated Brahmam.
When the pursuit of contemplation on the principles of Advaita turns to fruition, at that light of wisdom, the nescience or the Maya is cut asunder. In that state, there is none other than the Self; no other creations and none as the creator exist! The Self remains as the ultimate noumenal, infinite-knowledge and absolute-bliss. Only this is declared by the Seers as ‘sarvam brahma mayam’, everything is nothing but Brahmam.
Unless and until this truth is realized, the cycle of life and the recursive creation and destruction of the worlds and the experiences therein will continue. Such perpetual cycle of kalpitam is known as ‘samsara’ and as long as we are merged in the avidya or ignorance, our entrapment in this illusive web is permanent.
Thus within the first two verse, by showing the identification and unification of Jeevaatman and Ishvara, Jagadguru Adi Sankara has revealed the salient wisdom of Vedanta. In the following verses, Sankara continues to expand on the wisdom and offer guidance to the seekers of Self-Realization.