An uncompromising theory of Maya negates all individual experience. "God and ourselves and the universe become myths of Maya; for God is only a reflection of Brahman in Maya, ourselves are only a reflection of Brahman in illusory individuality, the world is only an imposition on the Brahman's incommunicable self-existence."(Ibid, pg.467-468) This negation of all things can be less drastic if a certain reality to the being is accepted even though it is under the spell of illusion but then instead of taking the unreal for real, the being's ignorance is considered to misapprehend the real! For extreme illusionists who consider even Brahman as the self as illusory, the concept of selfhood is invalid and the experiential utterance of "I am That" is ignorant "for there is no I, only That; the experience "I am He" is doubly ignorant, for it assumes a conscious Eternal, a Lord of the universe, a Cosmic Being, but there can be no such thing if there is no reality in the universe". (Ibid, pg.468) A real solution of existence has to account for the right relation between our existence and world-existence and relate it to the transcendent Reality which is the source for everything. But this requires recognizing some reality of individual and cosmos and their relation to the Absolute.
A Greater Knowledge
Illusionism cuts Spirit from Nature, allows the latter to perish in the unreal reality of Maya. But a greater knowledge is that which internalizes and harmonizes all contradictions in an "all-reconciling oneness." (Ibid, pg.469)
But this debate which belongs to the field of pure reason can be negated by a "single decisive spiritual experience". (Ibid) For when the mind has become still, the selfhood void of all sense of individuality and empty of cosmic contents, the spiritualised mind can consider the individual and the cosmos as illusory, falsely imposed on the reality of the Self. This comes as a very convincing spiritual experience that seizes the spiritual aspirant. It carries an "overwhelming sense of finality complete and decisive". (Ibid, pg469-470)
There are a hundred ways to approach the Supreme Reality and the illusory path is one such way. It tries to eliminate all other knowledge but there are other equally valid ways to the Supreme. If it is possible to extinguish self in Non-Being, it is also possible to pass through the double experience of cosmic consciousness and Nirvana of the world-consciousness to a greater Divine Union and Unity which holds both these realizations in a vast integral Reality. "A supreme experience which affirms and includes the truth of all spiritual experience, gives to each its own absolute, integralises all knowledge and experience in a supreme reality, might be the one step farther that is at once a largest illuminating and transforming Truth of all things and a highest infinite Transcendence. The Brahman, the supreme Reality, is That which being known all is known; but in the illusionist solution it is That, which being known, all becomes unreal and an incomprehensible mystery: in this other experience, the Reality being known, all assumes its true significance, its truth to the Eternal and Absolute." (Ibid, pg. 470)
A New Spiritual Vision
Actually, all truths, all philosophies and all spiritual experiences have some validity but they coalesce into a greater reality which admits their truth and exceeds them. A stage comes when the different viewpoints lose their validity and one may experience the unreality of them without a principle of unification as they pass "into the negativing purity of an absolute experience...and there remains only a silent and immobile Absolute...But the consciousness might be called to go farther and see again all it has left in the light of a new spiritual vision....it may reconcile the negation of Nirvana and the affirmation of the cosmic consciousness in a single regard of That of which both are the self-expressions".(Ibid, pg.471)
When one traverses the mind to enter the overmind or global cognitive field, "the many-sided unity is the leading experience". (Ibid) The whole manifestation gives a picture of unity and harmony and this vision "reaches its greatest completeness when the soul stands on the border between Overmind and Supermind and looks back with a total view upon existence." (Ibid)
Knowledge and Ignorance
The theory of illusion has to be considered as it is very powerful but once we are sure that it is not the end of things, we need to concentrate on the issue of Knowledge and Ignorance which was left by the exclusion of the illusionist solution.
It is needed to discriminate between essential reality, phenomenal reality and the misleading experiences created by our senses and reason. Our senses tell us that the earth is flat or that the sun goes around the earth. Science discovers that this phenomenal reality is different from true reality. Our reason dependent on the senses creates canons of the real and unreal but the objective standpoint is taken from the subjective standpoint of the observer. Thus the physical scientist may view Matter objectively and the mind as a subjective result of Matter and therefore unreal. The psychoanalyst deals with another domain of realities and considers subjective Mind as real while objective Matter is only a field of the Mind while the spirit is unreal. "But there is a further probing which brings up the truth of self and spirit and establishes greater order of the real in which there is a reversal of our view both of the subjective mind realities and objective physical realities so that they are seen as things phenomenal, secondary, dependent upon the truth of self and the realities of the spirit". (Ibid, pg.473) But then this deeper search runs the risk of considering mind and matter as a lesser order of the real or even unreal!
Reason deals with the finite as it was the entire reality and since its work is to deal with the finite as finite, we have to accept its workings. But a spiritual perspective deals with the phenomenal reality as well as the essential reality and divides the finite from the infinite, dubbing the finite as unreal. However an integral perspective sees all things together in a sweeping view and considers the whole as an essential reality and the phenomenal reality a manifestation of the whole. If it had considered the phenomenal to be false, it would not have consented to support the phenomenal play. Instead it sees all the forms created by the finite reason and sense as partial constructions with an element of truth and an element of error but by itself the phenomenal world is neither unreal nor unreal-real but "a power, a movement, a process of the Infinite". (Ibid, pg.474)
It is held by reason that truth must be free from all contradictions. Therefore an original and fundamental consciousness must be seen as Unitarian and free from all phenomena as the latter introduces contradictions. But what the reason sees as contradictions may not be such but complementaries. The finite becomes a circumstance and not a contradiction of the Infinite and the individual is a self-expression of the universal and Transcendent, it is not a contradiction of terms, "it is the universal concentrated and selective, it is one with the Transcendent in its essence of being and its essence of nature". (Ibid, pg.474-475) In this view, an infinite Oneness expresses itself in a multiplicity of beings and aspects and powers and movements for they belong to the One. Surpassing the limitations of the finite reason, the consciousness must be responsive to the logic of the Infinite "whose sequences are not the steps of thought but the steps of existence". (Ibid, pg.475)
It might be argued that of the three terms, The Transcendent, the Universal and the Individual; the Transcendent is the Absolute and as the Universal and Individual limit the Absolute, they must be unreal! But it is evident that the Absolute cannot be limited by anything. The impression of limitation belongs to the mind and the senses which views the finite as independent; "it is this impression that is illusory" (Ibid, pg.476) for the finite and the infinite depend on the Absolute and not by the impressions of the sense and the mind.
The Paradox of an Absolute
The Absolute can be approached through a negation of all experience when it appears as a mysterious infinite Nihil. But it can also be approached through an absolute affirmation of all fundamentals, through an absolute of Light and Knowledge, of Love or Beauty, of Force, of peace and silence. It is not only by negating the self and cosmos that one can experience the Absolute, one can also proceed by sublimating the spiritual personality by taking up the cosmos within oneself and transcending it. After all it is still the individual who by self-exceeding, either by negating oneself or by sublimating oneself, enters the Absolute. The "paradox of an Absolute" (Ibid, pg.477) which can be realized by an absolute negation or an absolute affirmation is possible since it is the supreme of all things: "The Absolute is the ineffable x overtopping and underlying and immanent and essential in all that we can call existence or non-existence." (Ibid)
Granted that the Absolute is the supreme reality, the contentious issue is whether our experience of the manifestation is real or unreal. It is supposed that the being is real but what is manifested is unreal. Sri Aurobindo describes that this conclusion does not appear to be valid if whatever exists is form of Being and substance of Being and would be unreal if it were a form of Non-being created out of the Void. "The states of existence through which we approach and enter into the Absolute must have their truth, for the untrue and unreal cannot lead into the Real". (Ibid) And nothing can appear in Time unless it is supported by the Timeless. The timeless eternity and time eternity are two aspects of the Eternal and Absolute and both are real "but in a different order of reality". (Ibid, pg.478)
Being and Consciousness
Does the manifestation depend on the being or on the consciousness and its power or degree? Sri Aurobindo explains that the manifestation depends on both, on the status of the being as well as the status of consciousness. The Inconscient is a status of consciousness in which the being is plunged into a certain non-existence from where the material universe is manifested. Likewise the superconscient is "consciousness taken up into an absolute of being". (Ibid) Here consciousness seems to be luminously involved in the being. However there is also a status of the Supreme where there is no distinction between being and consciousness for the force of consciousness and force of being are one there and cannot be separated; "it is this unification of eternal Being with the eternal Consciousness-Force that is the status of the supreme Ishwara, and its force of being is the dynamis of the Absolute."(Ibid) This status does not signify a negation of the cosmos but carries the essence and power of the cosmos.
Unreality as Illusion of Ignorance
But unreality is still a fact of the cosmic existence and if all is the Brahman, the Reality, this element of unreality in the Real must be accounted. This unreality has been traced to an original cosmic illusion or Maya but Sri Aurobindo says that it can actually be traced to the power of illusion of Ignorance. And he points out that it is in the power of Mind to create the unreal and its view of itself and the universe "is a construction that is not wholly real or wholly unreal". (Ibid, pg.479) The description of unreality can be very well applied to the world of Ignorance in which we live, the world of birth and death and tragedies. The removal of this ignorance would abolish for us the reality of the world! Sri Aurobindo points out that this would be valid if the ignorance was a pure Ignorance without any element of truth in it. "But in fact our consciousness is a mixture of the true and false.... The structure it builds...is not a mixture of reality and the unreal so much as a half-comprehension, a half expression of the real, and, since all consciousness is force and therefore potentially creative, our ignorance has the result of wrong creation, wrong manifestation, wrong action or misconceived and misdirected energy of the being". (Ibid) Our ignorance is the agent of a partial and limited and therefore ignorant manifestation. If this state of things is permanent then we always move in this circle and the cessation of individual ignorance could only be by an escape of the individual from world-being. "But if this world has at its root an evolutionary principle, if our ignorance is a half knowledge evolving towards knowledge, another account and another issue and spiritual result of our experience in material Nature, a greater manifestation here becomes possible".(Ibid)
Our mind holds the factual as true and everything else as unreal. The mind holds the material universe as the only manifestation. But this terrestrial manifestation is only a part manifestation that does not exclude other possibilities. There is always a possibility that new realities may emerge in Time. Supraphysical truths of being not yet realized but nevertheless real belonging to another domain of manifestation may appear. There is also an unreality which is due to a false construction of consciousness due to limitation by Ignorance.
Instead of an original consciousness which sees reality as a whole, we have a limited consciousness that views a partial creation or a cosmic kinesis that moves in a meaningless circle. Moreover, the problem becomes more complex when we confront what is known as the hard problem in consciousness research, the emergence of the evolutionary manifestation from the bosom of the Inconscience from where even the Ignorance appears with difficulty.
It is difficult to conceive how consciousness with its endless variation enters into the limitation and separativeness that characterize the Inconscience. "It is the mystery not of an original illusion, but of the origin of the Ignorance and Inconscience and of the relations of Knowledge and Ignorance to the original Consciousness or Superconscience". (Ibid, pg.481)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu