Mental cognition depends on three elements, "the percipient, the perception and the thing perceived or percept". (Ibid) All the three can be affirmed or denied reality. If all three are rejected as illusionists would want, the question would arise, " is there a reality outside them and, if so, what is the relation between the Reality and the Illusion?" (Ibid)
The Material Existence
Eulogizing Matter as the only reality, one can vouchsafe for the reality of the percept and deny the reality of the perceptive individual and the perceptive consciousness. In a materialistic world-view, consciousness holds a secondary place and the individual is relative and temporary. But science as it progresses brings on its own complications. If Matter is considered to be a phenomenon of Energy then Energy becomes the sole reality and the percipient, the perceived object and the perception are nothing but phenomena of Energy. "But an Energy without a Being or Existence possessing it or a Consciousness supplying it ...looks itself very much like a mental construction, an unreality". (Ibid, pg.441)The Void of the Infinite would be the sole reality giving credence to the Buddhist view. If Matter can be reduced to Energy, Energy can be reduced to Consciousness but that Consciousness can work in the Void creating illusions and itself being illusory! But these conclusions might not be viable for this Consciousness might be supported by an "invisible original existence: a Conscious-Energy of that Existence could then be a reality; its creations too ...would be real... This original Reality might be a cosmic spiritual existence". (Ibid)
Illusionism believes in the absolute spiritual Existence as the only Reality while the universe constructed on the substratum as unreally real, a cosmic illusion! Sri Aurobindo asks what then would be the relation between the Reality and the Illusion.
If Brahman is the only reality, it cannot truly create. If it creates, we can have a truth of Becoming which the truth of Brahman would negate. Therefore whatever Maya creates can contradict Brahman. Maya itself becomes illusory. "But still this illusion and its works have some kind of existence and so must in some way be real". If Brahman is real and the universe unreal we still "see the Reality through these unrealities". (Ibid, pg.442) Therefore there is a reality in Maya, "it is neither real nor unreal: it is a paradox, a suprarational enigma." (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo sets to enquire about the nature of the unreal reality of Maya.
Granted that Maya exists, who is it that perceives the Maya? Who is the percipient? The illusionists consider the individual as unreal so it must be Brahman who perceives! But if Brahman perceives with the true consciousness then everything must be real. But everything according to illusionists is unreal! Yet we have to provisionally accept the universe and the works of Maya as a reality.
The Double-status of Brahman-Consciousness
If Maya must be partially real and that partial reality recognized by Brahman, then "there must be a double status of Brahman-Consciousness, one conscious of the sole Reality, the other conscious of the unrealities to which by its creative perception of them it gives some kind of apparent existence". (Ibid, pg.443) But these unrealities are forever unreal! Such a makeshift compromise cannot accept the Upanishadic doctrine that the world is actually a real becoming of the eternal Being. It cannot accept that as unreal beings, human nature posseses a spiritual substance. But human nature does contain a spiritual substance. The dual consciousness of the Brahman is merely a compromise offering itself as an explanation of "a real eternal Percipient, an unreal Percept, and a Perception that is a half-real creator of unreal percepts". (Ibid, pg.444)
If we do not admit the dual consciousness and accept Maya as the sole conscious power of Brahman, we have two possibilities:
(a) The reality of Maya is that it is a subjective power passing through experiences that are real as they are part of the Brahman-Consciousness and simultaneously unreal as they are not part of its being, or
(b) Maya is Brahman's power of cosmic Imagination creating forms out of nothing and therefore unreal. (Ibid)
However, Imagination can happen to a partial being with an ignorant consciousness for it has to supplement the Ignorance by imagination; it can have no place in the realm of the sole Reality which does not construct unrealities. There is nothing to show why a Sole Existence, complete in itself and having no need for manifestation should create an "unreal Time and Space and people it to all eternity". (Ibid) Such a solution would be "logically untenable". (Ibid)
The first contention that Maya is a purely subjective unreal reality starts from the mind which distinguishes subjective and objective experiences. But since there is nothing else than the Brahman, there can be nothing externally objective to Brahman. The idea of "a subjective action of consciousness creating a world of fictions" (Ibid, pg.445)appears to be the mind's imposition on the Brahman. And the distinction between the consciousness and being of Brahman cannot be validated as Brahman-being and Brahman-consciousness cannot be different entities. This duality becomes true in human consciousness in Ignorance when one is aware of the Self within and the rest as non-self but has to act as if the rest is real. But this solution is untenable as it creates a dualism within the featureless unity of Brahman, similar to the double Principle in the Sankhyas between Purusha and Prakriti, Soul and Nature.
The dual consciousness of Brahman cannot be considered as a dual power of Knowledge-Ignorance for the Supreme Existence as that would mean Brahman is subject to Maya. "An Ignorance which occurs or intervenes in the course of manifestation as a result of a subordinate action of Consciousness and as part of a divine cosmic plan and its evolutionary meaning, is one thing and is logically conceivable; a meaningless ignorance or illusion eternal in the original consciousness of the Reality is another thing and not easily conceivable". (Ibid, pg.445-446)
"The dual consciousness of Brahman must be no way an ignorance, but a self-awareness co-existent with a voluntary will to erect a universe of illusions which are held in a frontal perception aware at once of self and the illusory world." (Ibid, pg.446) The Self in the world either acts as a witness or participates wholly in the world-play created by Maya. But this would indicate that the Eternal not satisfied with its Eternal status has the need to create a drama of knowledge and ignorance, delight and suffering, unreality and escape from unreality. The Eternal however has no need to escape and the play rotates in circles forever. However the dynamic consciousness of the Eternal is a contradiction of its static and real nature. "A Will or Power to create or manifest is undoubtedly there: but, if it is a will or power of the Brahman, it can only be for a creation of realities of the Real or a manifestation of the timeless process of its being in Time-eternity; for it seems incredible that the sole power of the Reality should be to manifest something contrary to itself or to create non-existent things in an illusory universe". (Ibid, pg.446-447)
Therefore the relation between the reality of the Brahman and the cosmic illusion remains a chimera. This absolute unreality can be traced to Illusionism. There is even an extreme line of reasoning in Illusionism which denies the problem by excluding it because the universe is non-existent and Maya is unreal while Brahman is the sole truth. (Ibid, pg.447) Brahman is unaffected by any illusory consciousness, no universe exists within its timeless reality. But if a real universe is non-existent, a cosmic illusion does exist and we are bound to know how it came to being so. For the extreme view of Illusionism contends that Brahman is not the percipient of Maya; "it has nothing to do with Maya". (Ibid) Therefore either Maya cannot exist or there are two entities, "a real Eternal superconscious or conscious only of itself and an illusive Power that creates and is conscious of a false universe. We are back on the horns of the dilemma.." (Ibid, pg.447-448)
lf Brahman is not the percipient, then the individual being can be considered as that which perceives but at the end both the individual and his percept are unreal. This deprives Maya of all significance. A less rigid standpoint can be taken that Brahman is eternally free from Maya but "Brahman as the individual percipient or as the Self of all being here has entered into Maya and can in the individual withdraw from it". (Ibid, pg.448) But here a dual being is imposed on Brahman and a reality attributed to the cosmic illusion or Maya. "The absolute unreality of Maya disappears...once more there is established a dual consciousness for Brahman, a consciousness or superconscience free from the illusion and a consciousness subject to the illusion, and we have again substantiated a certain reality of our existence and experience in Maya". (Ibid, pg.448-449) And Sri Aurobindo asks that if our individual being or consciousness carries something of the Brahman, why not the universal being? (Ibid, pg.449)
An illusory unreal being can never put on reality. Some real self or being must exist but this real self must in some degree be subject to Maya. "It must either be the consciousness of Brahman that projects itself into a world of Maya and issues from Maya or it must be the being of Brahman that puts forth something of itself, its reality, into Maya and withdraws it again from Maya. Or what again is this Maya that imposes itself on Brahman? from where does it come if it is not already in Brahman, an action of the eternal Consciousness or the eternal Superconscience? It is only if a being or a consciousness of the Reality undergoes the consequences of the Illusion that the cycles of the Illusion can put on any reality or have any importance except as a dance of phantasmagoric marionettes with which the Eternal amuses himself, a puppet-show in Time."(Ibid)
We have to go back to the dual consciousness of the Brahman involved in the illusion and free from the illusion with a certain phenomenal truth of being for Maya. Or else there is no solution for the existence of the individual and the universe. But is there a reality of an original universal illusion or is it an inexplicable suprarational mystery? (Ibid, pg.450)
There are two possible replies if we do not admit the idea of an absolute unreality of the world-phenomenon and favour a qualification or a compromise.
Brahman as Self is four fold
A foundation can be constructed for a subjective illusion-consciousness as part of Being and therefore partly real if we consider the Upanishadic symbol of Brahman or Self having a fourfold status (Ibid):
(a) There is a pure Self-status where there is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness; "it is a state of superconscience absorbed in its self-existence, in a self-silence or self-ecstasy, or else it is the status of a free Superconscient containing or basing everything but involved in nothing" (Ibid); it is the figurative name of the "supreme superconscience" (Ibid, pg.452);
(b) There is a luminous status of sleep-self ,a state that is "a massed consciousness which is the origin of cosmic existence; this state of deep sleep in which yet there is the presence of an omnipotent Intelligence is the seed state or causal condition from which emerges the cosmos" (Ibid, pg.450); it is a state of Self as the all-wise Intelligence, a figurative name for the superconscient (Ibid, pg.452);
(c) There is the dream-self which is "the continent of all subtle, subjective or supraphysical experience" (Ibid, pg.450); it is the state of Self for the subtle existence, a figurative name for the subliminal (Ibid,452) and
(d) There is the waking self which is "the support of all physical experience" (Ibid, pg.450); the Seer of the gross material existence (Ibid, pg.452).
Note that the waking state does not denote a "true waking" (Ibid, pg.451), it is awareness of objective reality of things of whose subjective reality we can become aware in the dream-self and deep-sleep or trance state. The true waking comes in the Superconscient self, free from objectivity and subjectivity while all consciousness and unconsciousness is Maya. Maya is on one hand real as it is "the self's experience of the Self, something of the Self enters into it". (Ibid) On the other hand Maya in unreal because it is a sleep state, a dream state, a transient waking state but does not convey the status of the Superconscient Reality. "Here there is no actual dichotomy of being itself, but there is a multiplicity of status of the one Being; there is no original dual consciousness implying a Will in the Uncreated to create illusory things out of non-existence, but there is One being in states of superconscience and consciousness each with its own nature of self-experience". (Ibid) But the lower states though having a reality do not represent the actual Real. The One Self sees itself as multiple but the multiple existence is actually subjective.
The Upanishads consider the Brahman as the Reality of everything and this emphatic assertion does not leave any space for an illusory Maya but the description of the dream state and deep sleep or trance state "open the gates to the illusionist idea". (Ibid) "If we take this fourfold status as a figure of the Self passing from its superconscient state, where there is no subject or object, into a luminous trance in which superconscience becomes a massed consciousness out of which the subjective status of being and the objective come into emergence, then we get according to our view of things either a possible process of illusionary creation or a process of creative Self-knowledge and All-knowledge." (Ibid, pg.452)
The figurative names for the lower three statuses of the Self are significant: the Superconscient (deep sleep Self) and the Subliminal (dream Self) and the Seer of the gross material existence. Through dream or trance we can access these deep sleep or superconscious state and subliminal state and we can then pass into the fourth or "supreme superconscience of the highest state of self-being". (Ibid) However if the transition is made not through dream or trance but by a spiritual awakening in all these states, "there need be no perception of an illusionary Maya...In this transition it is possible to be awake to all states of being together in a harmonised and unified experience and to see the Reality everywhere". (Ibid, pg.452-453) But if we make an exclusive concentrated plunge into mystic sleep-state or superconscient state then the mind can be seized by a sense of unreality of the cosmic Force and "passes by a subjective abolition of them into the supreme superconscience. This sense of unreality and this sublimating passage are the spiritual justification for the idea of a world created by Maya; but this consequence is not conclusive, since a larger and more complete conclusion superseding it is possible to spiritual experience". (Ibid, pg.453)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu