Māyā

Fig. 3.1 from ‘The Artful Universe’ by John D. Barrow (OUP 1995) is reproduced above to show the logarithmic scale, in centimeters, of the universe ‘visible’ to the human consciousness and this extends from the –10 to about +25 decimal power. So dyauh should be interpreted as the ‘observational’ limits imposed in physics by ‘c’ the velocity of light on the higher end and by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle on the lower end. Fig. 3.2 gives these limits as shaded areas viz. the Black Hole and the Quantum Region respectively.

Rig Veda I ,115, 1 – 6 discusses the three realms of the dyauh , antarikś and prithvī in more detail. For further study these shlökas present interesting metaphysical concepts. The trinity here is termed as agnī – the celestial fire, varun – the emanating principle and mitrâ – the attractive principle. This trinity frames the cosmic eye that is illumined by the divine light of sūryâ – the sun.

¥       I will use two more crutches to complete this essay on māyā . Both these minds belong to the list of literary giants of the 20th century.

Firstly, Rabindranath Tagore whose writings are highly influenced by his vedic knowledge. In Gitanjali he says :-

[71] That I should make much of myself and turn it on all sides, thus casting coloured shadows on thy radiance – such is thy maya.

Thou settest a barrier in thine own being and then callest thy severed self in myriad notes. This thy self-separation has taken body in me.

The poignant song is echoed through all the sky in many-coloured tears and smiles, alarms and hopes ; waves rise up and sink again, dreams break and form. In me is thy own defeat of self.

This screen that thou has raised is painted with innumerable figures with the brush of the night and the day. Behind it thy seat is woven in wondrous mysteries of curves, casting away all barren lines of straightness.

The great pageant of thee and me has overspread the sky. With the tune of thee and me all the air is vibrant, and all ages pass with the hiding and seeking of thee and me.

 In the poem ‘Ami’ (“I”) in Shyamali, Tagore takes the anthropomorphic view of life and uses the concept of maya to show that Brahman in a state of ‘no-maya’ – a barren , pre-creation existence resorts to ‘yes-maya’ where there is the first desire to create multiplicity, to have man as a colourful presence in the vacuous emptiness. Few paragraphs are extracted here (the complete version with a commentary from “The Concept of Indian Literature” is hyperlinked above) :-

But there is the Infinite One deep in sadhana
in the heart of finite man,
saying, “you and I are one.”
In that oneness of you and I darkness and light become one,
rose shape, rose rasa,
no-maya flowered into yes-maya,
in line and colour, in pain and pleasure.
Don’t call this philosophy,
My heart thrills with the joy of creation
as I stand brush and colour-bowl in hand
in the hall of this cosmic-I…

…The day man disappears
his eyes will take away all the world’s colours.
The day man disappears
his heart will take away all the world’s rasa.
Then Shakti vibrations alone will energise the sky,
there will be no light anywhere.
The musician’s fingers will strum in a veena-less hall
a soundless raga.
A poem-less Creator will sit alone
in a blue bereft sky
lost in the coordinates of a personality-less existence

In terms of space Tagore refers to the –‘ that cosmic mansion stretching across endless and uncountable reaches of space upon space of splendid desolation…’ and in terms of time he writes about the Mahakala time that goes on for yuga upon yuga till the stage of cosmic dissolution when the poem-less Creator will again sit alone in a blue bereft sky lost in the co-ordinates of a personality-less existence. The choice of words here in this poem knit together difficult concepts with soundless ease….

Secondly, Jorge Luis Borges who was an Argentinian short narrative writer with a phenomenal intelligence and knowledge. His writings are filled with metaphysical insights and his inventive style merges mathematical concepts into a simple flow of words. In his essay ‘Avatars of the Tortoise’ (the title is obviously enthused from the second avatār – incarnation of Lord Vishnu [16], the kurma or tortoise) that is based on Archimedes’ paradox about the race between the hare and the tortoise Borges concludes :-

It is venturesome to think that a co-ordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much. It is also venturesome to think that of all these illustrious co-ordinations, one of them – at least in an infinitesimal way – does not resemble the universe a bit more than the others. I have examined those which enjoy certain prestige; I venture to affirm that only in the one formulated by Schöpenhauer have I recognized some trait of the universe. According to this doctrine, the world is a fabrication of the will. Art – always – requires visible unrealities. Let it suffice for me to mention one : the metaphorical or numerous or carefully accidental diction of the interlocutors in a drama…..Let us admit what all idealists admit : the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done : seek unrealities which confirm that nature. We shall find them, I believe, in the antimonies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno.[17]

‘The greatest magician (Novalis has memorably written) would be the one who would cast over himself a spell so complete that he would take his own phantasmagorias as autonomous appearances. Would not this be our case ?’ I conjecture that is so. We (the undivided divinity operating within us) have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it as firm, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and durable in time; but in its architecture we have allowed tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason which tell us it is false.