This question was so intriguing, complex and beyond logic that instead of eliciting an answer, it triggered a second question: Was the conversion of the ‘Absolute’ to the ‘relative’, of the ‘Infinite’ to the ‘Finite’, a magic? An illusion, a Maya? A delusion! Or a paradox? This is how the word ‘Maya’ got deviated from its original sense and came to denote the concealment of the play of all in each and each in all by persuading ‘each that he is in all but not all in him and that he is in all as a separated being not as a being always inseparably one with the rest of existence’. (The Life Divine, pg. 126)
Stretched further, this ‘illusion’ of Maya makes the world meaningless, existence a freak, the drama of life a nothingness and all quest for knowledge becomes a voyage to the Void so that ‘Reality’ becomes
‘A consciousness of being without its joy,
Empty of thought, incapable of bliss,
That made unreal the world and all life meant’;
and beckons to tease human creation thus
‘I am Maya and universe is my cheat.
I lay waste human happiness with my breath
And slay the will to live, the joy to be
That all may pass back into nothingness
And only abide the eternal and absolute.
For only the blank Eternal can be true,
All else is shadow and flash in Mind’s bright glass’
Mind, hollow mirror in which Ignorance sees
A splendid figure of its own false self
And dreams it sees a glorious solid world.
O soul, inventor of man’s thoughts and hopes.
Thyself the invention of the moments’ stream,
Illusion’s centre or subtle apex point,
At last know thyself, from vain existence cease’ (Ibid 535)
Why did this illusory Maya persist in the human psyche?
It is strange that in a land where the Absolute has been perceived as an All-Blissful Sachchidananda, the illusory and empty view of human existence should persist. There is a psychological as well as a metaphysical reason for this persistence:
(a) Psychologically, the human life on earth is a constant confrontation with the forces of adversity- the forces of darkness, suffering, evil, falsehood, ignorance, death- the forces of failure, defeat, conspiracy, treachery that tend to swallow all attempts to progress. This is why the ‘unreality’ of the world too easily overwhelms our conventional world-view.
(b) Metaphysically, it was not ‘known’ how a ‘transformation’ of human life was possible as an alternative to ‘liberation’ and the emergence of a new species in the evolution of consciousness with faculties higher than the present human mind was an endeavour worth attempting till Sri Aurobindo ‘revealed’ the Secret.
The necessity for a new paradigm
The moment Sri Aurobindo hints the possibility of ‘transformation’ of the lower reality in terms of the Higher Reality as an alternative to ‘liberation’ or dissolution of the lower reality in nothingness to give way to a featureless Higher Reality that surpasses all cognitive descriptions of Sachchidananda; it becomes imperative to construct a new paradigm of a Higher or Divine Maya to supplement the lower or illusory Maya.
He of course does not contradict the lower, illusory Maya but puts it in its proper perspective. He says:
The lower, present and deluding mental Maya has first to be embraced, then to be overcome; for it is God’s play with division and darkness and limitation, desire and strife and suffering in which He subjects Himself to the Force that has come out of Himself and by her obscure suffers Himself to be obscured’. (The Life Divine,pg.126)
At the end, the lower Maya leaves the relationship between the ‘Absolute’ and the ‘Relative’ as a dual and irreconcilable antithesis.
In Search of a New Paradigm of Maya. ‘The Divine Maya’
Sri Aurobindo has to re-construct a non-paradoxical, non-illusory paradigm of Maya to explain how the Absolute ‘manifests’ or ‘creates’ the relative.
We shall follow the steps He takes.
1) At the onset, He asks this question: - How does the poet, artist or musician create? He finds that any artistic creation is just the development of a pre-existent potentiality from an unmanifested state into a form of manifestation. He extends this logic into the creation of the worlds: ‘All creation or becoming is nothing but this self-manifestation. Out of the seed there evolves that which is already in the seed, pre-existent in being, predestined in its will to become, pre-arranged in the delight of becoming’ (The Life Divine, pg. 122)
2) The skeptic will immediately ask: There is a difference between the individual ‘creation’ and the cosmic ‘creation’ and wouldn’t it be preposterous to equate them? Sri Aurobindo is aware of this apprehension and He himself raises a second issue. As the ‘Infinite’ has the capacity of manifesting infinite potentialities and possibilities, is it possible to manifest ‘fixed lines of working’, ‘fixed worlds’, ‘fixed results’? Is it possible that any ‘fixed phenomenon’ will be ‘overpowered’ by all the infinite possibilities that are other then itself’? But actually, in the practical world, we see ‘fixed patterns’ to which our lives, acts, thoughts conform. May be that is the result of an ‘accident of development’ or ‘habit of past realised energy’. May be that some accidental potentialities of the Infinite arranged themselves in a way to give an impression of a ‘fixed pattern’ which will ‘remain in play so long as there is not the fiat that bids them to cease’ (Ibid, pg 125). Perhaps this is the origin of the thought which considers the world and the human drama the result of an ‘accident’ or ‘chance’.
Sri Aurobindo answers this question from a pragmatic standpoint. He perceives a process, a ‘LAW’ that helps ‘self-directive’ knowledge to move to ‘self-determination’. HE ENVISAGES A LAW THAT COMMISSIONS A SELECTIVE FACULTY OF KNOWLEDGE TO SHAPE FINITE APPEARANCES OUT OF THE INFINITE REALITY. He explains ‘when we say,“God said, Let there be Light”, we assume the act of a power of consciousness which determines light out of everything else that is not light; and when we say ‘and there was light’ we presume a directing faculty, an active power corresponding to the original perceptive power, which brings out the phenomenon and, working out Light according to the line of the original perception, prevents it from being overpowered by all the infinite possibilities that are other than itself’.(Ibid, pg 125) It needs to be appreciated that ‘Infinite Consciousness in its infinite action can produce only infinite results; to settle upon a fixed Truth or order of truths and build a world in conformity with that which is fixed, demands a selective faculty of knowledge commissioned to shape finite appearances out of the infinite Reality’(Ibid).
3) To Sri Aurobindo, this LAW is the Divine Maya which is in conformity with
the original description of Vedic Seers that later got lost and hence He has to reconstruct it anew : ‘Maya meant…..the power of infinite consciousness to comprehend, contain in itself and measure out, that is to say, to form – for form is delimitation- Name and Shape out of the vast illimitable Truth of infinite existence. IT IS BY MAYA THAT STATIC TRUTH OF ESSENTIAL BEING BECOMES ORDERED TRUTH OF ACTIVE BEING, - or, to put it in more metaphysical language, out of the supreme being in which all is all without barrier of separative consciousness emerges the phenomenal being in which all is in each and each is in all for the play of existence with existence, consciousness with consciousness, force with force, delight with delight’(lbid. pg. 125-126)
4) This means that the INFINITE can get expressed in the Finite. But the full
splendour and ‘completeness’ of the Infinite cannot be ‘manifested’ in the finite – ‘ABSOLUTE COMPLETENESS IS NOT FEASIBLE IN THE FINITE BECAUSE IT IS ALIEN TO THE SELF-CONCEPTION OF THE FINITE’(Ibid, pg. 123). Then what is the remedy? The finite cannot be satisfied with itself. It has to yearn for the infinite. Thus is justified the search for exceeding one’s limits, the “Adventure” for “transcending” oneself, the pursuit of knowledge, the seeking for God, the yearning for the Infinite, the impulse towards a growth in consciousness, the cry for ‘evolution’. That is how ‘THE WORLD EXPRESSES A FORESEEN TRUTH, OBEYS A PREDETERMINING WILL, REALISES AN ORIGINAL FORMATIVE SELF-VISION – IT IS THE GROWING IMAGE OF A DIVINE CREATION’ –(Ibid pg.130).
5) How do we deal with the Higher or Divine Maya? We discussed that Sri Aurobindo described that the lower or illusory Maya had to be ‘embraced’ first and then ‘overpassed’ as the Divine had plunged into ‘division’ and ‘limitation’ to be reconstructed again in its original unitary poise. In contrast the Higher or Divine Maya has to FIRST OVERPASSED, THEN EMBRACED. Why? Because the unitary poise of the Higher Reality consented to be delinked into finite forms so that each finite form can grow into its greatest individual potential before it realises its ‘enriched unity’ with all other forms, ‘for it is God’s play of the infinities of existence, the splendours of knowledge, the glories of force mastered and the ecstasies of love illimitable where He emerges out of the hold of Force, holds her instead and fulfills in her illumined that for which she went out from Him at first’ (Ibid pg. 126).This means that the unity that is reconstructed after the ‘finite’ variants manifest their highest potentials is not a blank, featureless, uniform unity of the unmanifested poise of the Infinite or the equally blank , meaningless unity after ‘liberation’ from the world of finites. Instead it is a rich variegated ‘multiple’ unity where the raison-d’etre of manifestation has been fulfilled!
6) This conception of the Divine Maya translates into a TRIPLE MOVEMENT as the whole key of the world – enigma:
a) The possibilities in the Infinite consciousness or Higher Reality have to get involved as potentialities in the Inconscience from which ‘finite’ forms will emerge,`an involution and a self-absorption of conscious being into the density and infinite divisibility of substance, for otherwise there can be no finite variation’(Ibid ,pg-124);
b) The evolution of the involved potentialities to constitute a ‘lower reality’ by an ‘emergence of the self-imprisoned force into formal being, living being, thinking being ;(Ibid)
c) A transfiguration of the lower reality in terms of the unitary Higher Reality by ‘a release of the formed thinking being into the free realisation of itself as the One and the Infinite at play in the world and by the release its recovery of the boundless existence-consciousness-bliss that even now it is secretly, really and eternally.’(Ibid)’
Thus, the triple movement of the Divine Maya serves two purposes:
a) It justifies the old Vedic truth of the Universal developing itself successively in time (which is now becoming relevant to science);
b) It justifies the modern and phenomenal truth of ‘evolution’ in the Universe (which is now expanding into the realms of consciousness research).
‘To this mutual self-discovery and self-illumination by the fusion of the old Eastern and the new Western Knowledge the thought of the world is already turning’ (Ibid, pg. 124).
Existence is neither an illusion, nor a chance or an accident:
The world of unreality ceased to be:
There was no more a universe built by mind,
Convicted as a structure or a sign;
A spirit, a being saw created things
And cast itself into unnumbered forms
And was what it saw and made; all now became
An evidence of one stupendous truth,
A Truth in which negation had no place,
A being and a living consciousness,
A stark and absolute Reality,
There the unreal could not find a place,
The sense of unreality was slain:
There all was conscious, made of the Infinite,
All had a substance of Eternity.
(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, pg.554-555)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu