Sri Aurobindo explains that Maya as the infinite consciousness displays three powers or possibilities:
(a) "free power of self-variation"
(b) "power of self-limitation"
(c) "Power of self-absorption". (Ibid, pg.341-344)
The free power of self-variation
The One and Many are equal both in terms of status and in terms of potentiality. The individual can be aware of one's uniqueness but can also surpass limitations to universalize oneself and again transcend both the individual and universal poises. If Brahman is infinite, then the "free power of self-variation" must be natural to that infinite consciousness that permits "different real statuses of consciousness of the One Being". (Ibid, pg.342) Therefore a manifold status of consciousness does not undermine the unitary status of Oneness because it is the latter which facilitates the manifestation of the former. The only riddle to be solved "is to understand the connections between a status of limited or constructed consciousness like ours, a status of ignorance, and the infinite self-knowledge and all-knowledge."(Ibid)
The power of self-limitation
The power of self-limitation allows the Infinite consciousness to be expressed in legitimate subordinate movements within the framework of infinite consciousness and in consonance with its power of self-determination. The self-limitation would actually be "an individual specialization of a common universality" resulting in novel integers like the "Spiritual individuality".(Ibid) The "spiritual individual would act from his own centre of the one Truth and according to his self-nature, but on a common basis and not with any blindness to other-self and other-nature. It would be consciousness limiting its action with full knowledge, not a movement of ignorance". (Ibid, pg.343)
The self-limitation would not only happen in the individual poise but also in the cosmic poise to effectuate "a power of cosmic limitation"(Ibid) to delineate an array of universes with unique potentialities in the matrix of Chit-Shakti or Consciousness-Force for "the creation of universe necessitates a special determination of the Infinite Consciousness to preside over that world and a holding back of all that is not needed for that movement". (Ibid)
The principle of self-limitation also circumscribes designated matrices to support independent actions of powers like Mind, Life and Matter. Such matrices of self-determination do not indicate a real division for they are propped up by the Infinite Consciousness in an integral sweep. Rather such conscious self-limitation in both individual and cosmic spheres indicate "spiritual possibilities" (Ibid) of the Infinite that cannot be dispensed off by imposing limitations on the Illimitable Infinite.
The power of self-absorption
By the power of self-absorption, the Infinite Consciousness can plunge into itself so that the luminous state of Superconscience becomes dormant and hidden as the Inconscience where the being of the Infinite presents as an apparent infinite non-being. Yet the Inconscience is phenomenal and not fundamental because it holds even in self-oblivion an intrinsic consciousness and energy that get released through evolution to produce an ordered world. It is a great paradox that the structured evolutionary world "is created in a trance of self-absorption, the force acting automatically and with an apparent blindness as in a trance, but still with the inevitability and power of the truth of the Infinite". (Ibid, pg.344)
The interesting thing is that the phenomenon of self-absorption presents in myriad denouements and not merely in absolutist terms. It can present in special or restricted ways or allow partial actions to consolidate so that one aspect of the being comes to the forefront while "the rest is held back behind a veil". (Ibid) This holds true even when one aspect of Reality has a double status, so that one status gets precedence over the other. For example, Reality without any attributes (Nirguna) can stand apart with a remarkable uniqueness of "purity and immobility" from Reality with attributes (Saguna). "The totality of the infinite consciousness would be there, not abolished, recoverable, but not evidently active, active only by implication, by inherence or by the instrumentality of the limited awareness, not in its own manifest power and presence." (Ibid, pg.344-345)
Difficulties with Integralism
The operations of Maya through the powers of self-variation, self-limitation and self-variation paradoxically pose difficulties to view Reality in an integralist perspective as certain aspects of Reality can be viewed exclusively at the cost of others. Consciousness may be viewed in its static, immutable and featureless poise and considered to be the basic poise of Reality. Or it can be viewed in its dynamic and vibrant poise which could be considered natural and the only reality. Yet to an integral perspective of the Infinite Consciousness, "both the static and dynamic are possible; these are two of its statuses and both can be present simultaneously in the universal awareness, the one witnessing the other and supporting it or not looking at it and yet automatically supporting it; or the silence and status may be there penetrating the activity or throwing it up like an ocean immobile below throwing up a mobility of waves on its surface."(Ibid, pg.345)
Sri Aurobindo explains that due to the same reason, under certain conditions, we can be aware of several different states of consciousness at the same time:
(a) In yoga a double consciousness is often experienced, one on the surface which is engrossed with ordinary emotional turbulences and one within that is calm, vast, detached and equipoised so as to transform the outer agitation.
(b) One can rise to a higher consciousness and act upon the rest of the being from that higher status.
(c) One can descend voluntarily to one of the lower statuses of consciousness and act with the limited light and obscurity of that level while temporarily shutting out the rest or use it as a referral point to ascend or recede or observe the inferior movements.
(d) One can go into trance where one goes into the depths and be conscious there, oblivious of all outer activities. Or one can go into a deeper consciousness or climb to a higher consciousness.
(e) One can also identify with a pervading equal consciousness where one can have an omnipresent awareness or see everything with one enveloping glance. (Ibid, pg.345-346)
Thus the operations of Maya or Consciousness-Force that are necessary to manifest the world of multiplicity from the Unmanifest becomes paradoxically the reason why our minds make trenchant oppositions between different aspects of Reality. These oppositions have some temporal validity or specialized significance but have to be surpassed in a comprehensive integralist perspective.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu