Friday, February 20, 2015

Does a reflection control the reflecting medium?

Q:  Is Ishwara  the reflected conscious?
mAyA is said to be the reflecting medium of original Consciousness - brahman. It is also said that Ishwara controls or has full control over mAyA.
How can the reflection (Ishwara) have control over the reflecting medium - mAyA? For example, if i see myself in a mirror how my reflection (image) can control the reflecting medium - the mirror?

Ramesam:  As you may be well aware, the main thrust of the “teaching method” adopted within the Advaita philosophical system is to point out one’s mis-directed worldview and reorientate his/her view towards the one Reality which is Absolute, Immutable and Attributeless. 
Ordinary folk on the street believe that there is a ‘me’ confined and contracted within ‘my body-mind’ and a ‘world’ exists 'out there' external to a ‘me’ which is 'here.' Similarly, they believe in the reality of the body because of the sensations and the existence of a mind because of the thoughts and images. The falsity of this belief structure about the body and the mind and the illusory nature of the objective world (including all percepts) have to be convincingly conveyed to the spiritual aspirant.
Several approaches are adopted by a teacher towards that end depending on the mental makeup and attitude of the inquirer. None, absolutely no one of these methodologies adopted by a teacher have unqualified validity or unquestionable sanctity. All these devices have to be ultimately discarded once the final understanding is attained.
For one who starts with a belief in the perceived creation, the model of Ishwara, mAyA and reflected Consciousness is given as a first approximation. In this model, it is visualized that the attributeless unchanging brahman (= original Consciousness) appears as the illusory ‘self’ which is comparable to a virtual image (reflection) seen in a mirror. The name given to the very first virtual image appearing is Ishwara who is pure satva with a very very little amount of other guNa-s. Ishwara is said to be the cause for the subsequent multiplicity (i.e. the created world). When once you begin to believe in this model of creation, you will naturally get two doubts. By what powers does Ishwara create the world and how does the world get controlled and managed?
Just like the saying -- if you lie once, you are bound to lie  a hundred times to protect yourself – goes, you have to fabricate further fiction to answer the above two doubts.
So the teacher talks of an inexplicable power of Ishwara to explain his ability to create. This power is named ‘mAyA.’ By giving just a name, it does not mean that there is something real and tangible called mAyA on which you can put your finger on. It has to be taken merely as an explanatory artifact.
Because the created world is illusory (like the virtual image in the mirror) and because it has emanated as an effect of ‘mAyA’, the reflected image (world) is also sometimes referred to as mAyA. So the word ‘mAyA’ connotes both the ‘power’ of the Creator, Isswara and the ‘world’ which is the result of His creation.
Now what is it that corresponds to a mirror, the reflecting medium, in this whole game?
The honest answer is “none.”
Why so?
In this entire analogy, nobody is talking of an actual reflection taking place. The comparison is only to the “virtual” nature of a reflected image in a mirror. You see big mountains and houses and trees in the mirror. Are there really mountains and houses and trees in or behind the reflecting surface of the mirror?  If they are not there, how come they appear as if they are there behind the mirror, the reflecting medium?
The metaphor used tries to convey the “unreality” of the world by comparing it to the “unreal” quality of a reflected image. So do not worry about where is the mirror placed, what sort of mirror it is and what is controlling the mirror. Focus only on the “unreality” aspect of the image.
Therefore, your question on how Ishwara, who is a reflection, controls the medium (mirror) does not arise. [At this stage, we may not enter into a highly involved debate about theories of pratibimba vAda, abhAsa vAda, avacheda vAda etc. developed by the followers of Shankara.]
Incidentally, mAyA is not the reflecting medium. You can imagine it to be something like an ‘operator’ in a mathematical equation. Suppose you say,
x + y = z                                                                                         --1.
Correspondingly, you can write the equation,
brahman mAyA thought = Ishwara                                          --2.
Ishwara mAyA thought = world                                                --3.

What has happened to “ + ”  when you move to the right side in the equation (1)?
Which member is controlling the plus sign?
The role and significance of ‘mAyA  in equations (2 and 3) is like “+” in the equation (1).
In Vedanta, all similes used are said to be “ekadesIya” – i.e. they are specific to a point being illustrated. You will lose the meaning and purpose if you stretch it or extend beyond that specific point under illustration.

Hence, the moral of the story is: do not mix the similes or extend them beyond the point being discussed at that level.


From a humble start in Feb 2009, the Blog completed six great years. I express my heart-felt thanks to the Readers for their support and encouragement, to the Teachers for their valuable contributions to the Blog, and to all our Members for their useful discussions and Comments.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Dear Ramesam

Congratulations for completing six years of "Beyond Advaita". This blog, i know has helped many seekers and will continue to guide many in future including myself.

Ron Bonilla said...

Ramesamji, Thanks for this clarifying post.The very idea of the teaching being an 'explanatory artifact' is a remarkably freeing concept. When that is understood then there are no longer any grounds for a dogmatic stand, thereby, giving other methodologies equal validity. Would that the worlds religions could come to this understanding.

Peace to be to you my friend,