(a) Sensory or visual: This corresponds to what psychology describes as a hallucination to be an abnormal response in the absence of any stimulus. An example is a mirage.
(b) Mental or ideative "when we take for an objective fact a thing which is a subjective structure of the mind, a constructive mental error or an objectivised imagination or a misplaced mental image". (The Life Divine, pg.429) This corresponds to what psychology describes as an illusion to be a misrepresentation of an actual stimulus. An example is that of a rope taken for a snake.
Both these instances have one common theme, "the placement of an unreal figure of things on a reality, of a mirage upon the bare desert air, of the figure of a non-present snake on the present and real rope". (Ibid) The illusionists contend that the world is such a hallucination, "an imposition of a non-existent unreal figure of things on the bare ever-present sole reality of the Brahman." (Ibid, pg.429-430) But Sri Aurobindo explains that in each case the false image is not something non-existent but actually existent at another space and time. The oasis is not unknown to the person seeing the mirage, the snake actually exists on some other plane. Therefore the analogy of the world as a hallucination fails as the world is not a non-existent form of things based on the sole Existent devoid of things and formless; "there would be a true analogy only if our vision constructed in the void air of the desert a figure of things that exist nowhere, or else if it imposed on a bare ground both rope and snake and other figures that equally existed nowhere."(Ibid, pg.430)
Actually hallucinations are misrepresentations of things that are themselves existent or are due to Ignorance which proceeds falsely upon some content of knowledge. If the world is considered to be a cosmic illusion, it would be based on another premise where all forms of Reality are totally non-existent. Or else, all forms of Brahman must exist with Brahman without forms --"an attribution, it might be, of the activities of the Saguna to the quiescence of the Nirguna". (Ibid, pg.431) But if both are real, any confusion between them would indicate something wrong created by the Ignorance.
Sri Aurobindo also notes that there are other instances also labelled as hallucinations but are "symbol-images sent up from the subliminal or experiences in which the subliminal consciousness or sense comes to the surface and puts us into contact with supraphysical realities; thus the cosmic consciousness which is our entry by a breaking down of our mental limitations into the sense of a vast reality, has been classed, even in admitting it, as a hallucination."(Ibid, pg.429)
If we consider the world-phenomena as an operation of Maya and therefore totally illusory, then also, we detect an inapplicability in it. The familiar analogy between the mother-of-pearl and silver turns into an error "due to a resemblance between a present real and another and absent real". (Ibid, pg.431) We are confronted with "an illusory multiplication of the Identical imposed upon its one and ever-unalterable Identity, the One appearing as many, but upon that is imposed an immense organized diversity in nature, a diversity of forms and movements which have nothing to do with the original Real. Dreams visions, the imagination of the artist or poet can present such an organized diversity which is not real; but it is an imitation, a mimesis of a real and already existent organized diversity". (Ibid) But the operation of Maya admits no imitation of the Real but an original creation of unreal forms that are non-existent anywhere. Such a stupendous cosmic illusion must be unparalleled. But everywhere what we see does not appear as an illusion but a real formation out of one original substance. "A Reality of Oneness manifesting itself in a reality of numberless forms and powers of its being is what we confront everywhere". (Ibid, pg.432) This process is also magical but the working of Consciousness-Force by an eternal self-knowledge.
Workings of the Mind
As it is the Mind that is involved in all these formulations it would be pertinent to question if it is an instrument of an original illusion or itself a primal miscreating Force or if the mental ignorance is deviation of the original Truth-Consciousness which builds the worlds. In reality, our mind with its limitations cannot be the primary creative power of consciousness but at best an "instrumental demiurge, an intermediary creator". (Ibid) If so, then analogies from the errors of the mind which are consequences of an intermediate Ignorance may not illustrate the nature of an original creative Maya or Illusion.
"Our mind stands between a superconscience and an inconscience and receives from both these opposite powers: it stands between an occult subliminal existence and an outward cosmic phenomenon; it receives inspirations, intuitions, imaginations, impulsions to knowledge and action, figures of subjective realities or possibilities from the unknown inner source; it receives the figures of realised actualities and their suggestions of further possibility from the observed cosmic phenomenon." (Ibid) The mind receives truths, possible or actual from the physical universe, brings out from them subjectively the unrealised potentialities, selects some out of those possibilities for a subjective action, chooses others for objective action. Simultaneously, it gets inspirations from above and within, plays subjectively with these truths or selects some for objective realisation.
Our mind is neither omniscient, nor omnipotent but a dealer of possibilities between the truth and the actuality. Therefore, it is not only limited in knowledge due to incompleteness but open to error, the Ignorance. "In dealing with actualities it may misobserve, misuse, miscreate; in dealing with possibilities it may miscompose, miscombine, misapply, misplace; in its dealings with truths revealed to it it may deform, misrepresent, disharmonise." (Ibid, pg.433) It may make constructions which are not applicable in reality.
Maya, unlike the Mind, must be an original creator though it is an illusive Power for it creates out of nothing but what it creates are some way Real to be passed off as truths, possibilities, actualities.
Mind deals with objectivised or discovered actualities and can unearth the potentialities in Nature which makes physical Science so successful. It receives inspirations for creation from within or above but these can only take form if they are embedded potentials, not born out of fancy. Maya on the other hand creates a superstructure that has no connection with Reality.
The power of imagination
However, mind has the power of imagination. Though our "mental imagination is an instrument of Ignorance" (Ibid. pg.435), nevertheless it is the mind's way of summoning the unknown potentialities of the Infinite. As the mind's power of receiving the Truth is limited, it imagines and hypothesizes. But Sri Aurobindo notes that through imagination, the mind does receive "a figure of truth, does summon possibilities which are afterwards realised" (Ibid), like the idea of travel in the air was in the imaginative realm for a long time before it got fulfilled. "Imaginations can create their own potentiality, especially if they are supported in the collective mind, and may in the long run draw on themselves the sanction of the cosmic Will." (Ibid) All imaginations represent possibilities, some get actualized in some form, others do not.
Thus imagination is not totally illusory and often point out what could be if existing potentials were otherwise arranged. Moreover, through imagination, the powers of non-physical domains communicate with our mental being. And when imaginations sound extravagant they have actuals as their basis. "The mind creates the figure of a mermaid, but the phantasy is composed of two actualities put together in a way that is outside the earth's normal potentiality; angels, griffins, chimeras are constructed on the same principle: sometimes the imagination is a memory of former actualities as in the mythical figure of the dragon, sometimes it is a figure or a happening that is real or could be real on other planes or in other conditions of existence". (Ibid, pg.436) Even the extravagant claims of a psychiatric patient who in a manic phase or under a delusion of grandiosity considers himself a monarch are founded on an exaggerated "misfitting of actuals". (Ibid) Any mental error is an misapplication or misunderstanding of experience and knowledge.
"Imagination itself is in its nature a substitute for a truer consciousness's faculty of intuition of possibility: as the mind ascends towards the Truth-Consciousness, this mental power becomes a truth-imagination which brings the colour and light of the higher truth into the limited adequacy or inadequacy of the knowledge already achieved and formulated and, finally, in the transforming light above it gives place wholly to higher truth-powers or itself turns into intuition and inspiration; the Mind in that uplifting ceases to be a creator of delusions and an architect of error". (Ibid) Though Mind is an instrument of cosmic Ignorance, it is too a creator of truths, possibilities and actualities and it would be logical to suppose that the original Consciousness and Power from which the mind has been derived is also a creator of truths, possibilities and actualities and as it is "not limited like mind but cosmic in its scope, not open to error, because free from all ignorance, a sovereign instrument or a self-power of a supreme Omniscience and Omnipotence, an eternal Wisdom and Knowledge". (Ibid, pg.437)
The dual possibility
A dual possibility emerges (Ibid, pg.437):
(a) There might be an original consciousness and power which creates illusions and unrealities through the mind so that the universe is actually unreal, a Maya and only some undifferentiated Absolute is real, or
(b) There might be an original cosmic consciousness which creates a true universe but the mind there acting imperfectly and ignorantly gropes between truth and error. But this ignorance even falteringly proceeds towards knowledge and can get liberated into the Truth-Consciousness.
Our enquiry has opted for the second option and rejects the idea of a Cosmic Illusion as a solution of its problem. "A problem exists, but it consists in the mixture of Knowledge with Ignorance in our cognition of self and things". (Ibid, pg.437-438)There is no need of bringing in the theory of cosmic Illusion on a consciousness "that is for ever pure, eternal and absolute". (Ibid, pg.438) The world phenomenon is neither a dream nor a hallucination or illusion.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu