Unity in Diversity
the view from the Upanishads – part 3
Maya, the Veil of Nature
The urge to create is the urge to fulfil one's potential: to actualise in form that which one can imagine in the mind's eye. Ishvara is following this urge when he acts to enable his differentiation into countless sparks of being, or monadic selves: "Let me be many, let me be born. Meditating, he created all things..." The heat (energy, power) generated by his austerities (tapas) engenders the worlds. Meditation is the greatest of austerities (ascetic disciplines). His meditation generates its reflection, his shadow. The will to create activates the field of creation: Maya, or Prakrti, which is the material world. There is dissension among the schools as to whether Maya is simply a dependent illusion, as suggested by the monists, following Shankaracharya, or an eternal reality, separate from spirit, but able to be acted upon by it: the Prakriti of Kapila and the Sankhya.
"Know Maya verily as Prakriti" says Svetasvatara. Yet Maya, the Goddess, is a net, a veil that hides the Lord of Love from our sight. He is the Self that lies hidden within the hearts of all, as butter lies hidden in cream. We are advised by the sages to know him and all fetters will fall away; to know that he is always enshrined in our hearts and that this world is filled with the presence of the Lord. As the Lord of Love and the embodiment of the divine will, our lives are structured around him, though we know it not. The world is filled with his presence; he has manifested himself as name and form through his reflection, his Maya, his power of differentiation. The world, according to the Brihadaranyaka, existed first as seed; the seed is planted in Maya and germinates as name and form. The spirit thus clothes itself in matter, remaining all the while at the heart of every being.
Evolving Sparks of Reality
Perhaps I should mention here that, from the esoteric standpoint, all beings are basically considered to be monads: evolving sparks of reality that dwell in the world of name and form—within all appearances. A rock could thus be said to be a being, as could a plant, an animal, a pond, or a planet. All beings have one ultimate interest and purpose: to grow in consciousness towards that perfect understanding of Self which leads to liberation from form. Every action that does not directly apply to this goal is said to be a waste of time and energy—and a contribution to a further accretion of karmic entrapment in the world of material desires.
The Lord of Love, Devatmasakti—the God of devotion, the Self of knowledge and the Power of manifestation—is the Mahesvara, the Atma and the Mahamaya, combined within the three-fold expression of spirit, soul and matter. Maya is Mulaprakrti, the root of the material world. She is Pradhana, the germ of the Sankhya. She is Shakti, the power of the goddess.
Shiva, the divine Lord of love and light, the auspicious one, Nataraj, the Lord of the Dance, contains Shakti as his polar antithesis. Shakti is the outward flow of divine energy: the obverse of the universal sovereign; she is the manifestation, the generative field of creativity. Her existence is no less real than his; neither could exist without the other, for she is his extension. Mahadeva, Shiva, is the inner light, while Shakti is the illuminated structure, the glorious frame within which it glows. Without the the energy that activates the manifest world, there could be no growth in knowledge, no generation, no growth in consciousness, no final realisation of Atma, or Self. The urge to creativity would remain unfulfilled were it not for the threefold expression of Shiva, Shakti and their combination, the cosmos.
The Kathopanisad (II, i: 6) teaches that the creative surge engendered by the tapas (austerities; spiritual disciplines) of the Supreme Ishvara is called Hiranyagarbha, the golden egg, or universal womb. The god of creation, Brahma, emerges from the egg as the progenitor, the Prajapati, the "grandfather" of the world. At the same time the goddess Aditi, mother of the cosmic forces, arises from the vitality, or power of the Godhead as the personification of Prana, or Life-force. These two are complementary aspects of the One, for they arise simultaneously. Their combination produces the sensible world.
An understanding of this hierarchical series of triplicities is essential, for it underpins the whole process of the cyclical manifestation of nature, as taught by the sages of the Upanishadic era. This ancient wisdom has remained hidden in the heart of Indian philosophy to this day, just as the Self has remained hidden in the hearts of all beings, masked by its Maya, its body of power.
There are held to be countless manifestations of the Lord of Love, for the initiated believe there are countless universes that rise and fall in the dreaming of Supreme Ishvara. Each universe requires its own Ishvara, its Lord of Creation, its Goddess of Power, its own triple hierarchy in a descending process of materialisation from the most subtle emanations of the divine will to the coarsest manifestation of the material world. Interestingly, modern physics is turning to a view that there may be limitless numbers of universes in parallel dimensions to our own.
This point is not explicitly made in the Upanishads, but it is to be found in the Puranas, which are the more expository texts. The Upanishads are concerned with the revelation of a general message: the Self is the source of all being and the ultimate enjoyer of all experiences; moreover that the Self is the vivifier of each individual being and that it may be known in a direct, blissful, experiential manner, by means of techniques which are outlined in the texts, but which may only be effectively taught directly to the aspirant by a qualified teacher, or Guru.
[This article continues in part four to outline the role of Jivatma, the Personal Self, and Moksha, Liberation of the Spirit, as seen in the Upanishads.]
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