Chapter 2: Pancha Mahabhuta Viveka – Discrimination of the Elements
Sarvathā śakti mātrasya na pṛthak gaṇanā kvacit, śakti kāryaṁ tu naivāṣti dvitīyaṁ śaṅkyate kaṭham (53). The discussion was centring round the question of the relation of a substance to its quality—such as fire and its heat, a person and his ability and strength, etc. This verse tells us that the quality cannot be considered as independent of the substance, in the same way as the strength of a person cannot be considered as separate from the person, because strength or quality by itself does not effect any special activity, consequence, etc. Minus substance, the quality cannot produce any special effect.
If we separate the person from his ability, and the ability is made to stand independently by itself, it will not do anything. That ability is a vacuum; it is an abstraction. So shakti, power, ability, minus the substance in which it inheres, is a non-entity. It is also not a second principle. All these arguments through which we have passed in the previous discourse hinge upon the point that the quality of a substance is neither separable from the substance, nor can it be identified with the substance. The strength of a person is not the same as the person. They are not identical, and yet they are not separable. Dvitīyaṁ śaṅkyate kaṭham: The duality of the two—substance, and quality or property—cannot be doubted.
Now, a question arises in the 54th verse. Does maya work in the whole of Brahman, or only in a part of Brahman? Brahman is universally present. Is maya also universally present, or is there some part of Brahman where maya does not work?
Na kṛstna brahmā vṛttiḥ sā śaktiḥ kiṁ tveka deśa bhāk, ghaṭa śaktir yathā bhūmau snigdha mṛdyeva vartate (54). The author’s view is that maya does not work in the whole of Brahman; it is only in certain aspects of Brahman that we can see maya operating. Eka deśa bhāk means ‘located in some part, but not operable everywhere’, just as the capacity of earth to modify itself into a pot is not to be seen generally in every part of the earth. The potential for earth to get transformed into a form called a pot is localised in the sense that it requires the assistance of a maker of the pot and certain other factors. The earth will not automatically rise into the shape of a pot. That is to say, the pot-ness of the earth is not a universal existence; otherwise, everywhere, wherever there is earth, pots will come up. There are certain locations, conditioning factors, where alone a pot can come up out of the earth, and generally, we cannot see a pot form coming up everywhere in physical existence.
In a similar manner, under conditions, maya operates. It does not mean that it is unconditionally operating everywhere in the whole of Brahman, the entirety of the Absolute. In the Purusha Sukta of the Veda it is mentioned that one-fourth of the Absolute, as it were, is manifest as this creation.
Pādo’sya sarvā bhūtāni tripādasti svayaṁ prabhaḥ, ityeka deśa vṛttitvaṁ māyayā vadati śrutiḥ (55). Metaphorically, not to be construed in a precise mathematical fashion, the Veda mantra, the Purusha Sukta, says that a fraction, one-fourth as it were, of the Supreme Absolute is all this creation, and three-fourths is transcendent, untouched by maya, the creative process. Pādo’sya sarvā bhūtāni tripādasti svayaṁ prabhaḥ: Transcendent radiance is the uncontaminated Brahman, the Absolute, ranging above all creative process; and only one-fourth is this whole cosmos.
If the whole of Brahman has become the world, assuming that such a thing has taken place—supposing that the maya shakti has pervaded the whole of Brahman, and the entirety of Brahman has become this world— then there would be no Brahman left beyond the world. If that is the case, there would be no such thing as the liberation of the spirit in Brahman, because there is no Brahman at all. It has all become the world. As milk that has become curd cannot become milk once again, the Brahman that has become the world would cease to be Brahman on account of its modification into the names and forms entirely, if we suppose that the whole thing has become the universe.
That doctrine which holds that the entirety of God has become the world is called pantheism. It is a defective doctrine which merges God in the creative process and does not accept a transcendent God. For the pantheistic doctrine there is no transcendence of God, there is only immanence of God. This cannot be accepted on account of the fact that transcendence is always there, but for which, individuals involved in the creative process would not have an aspiration for God. Our aspiration for the Transcendent Reality is actually an indication of there being such a thing as a Transcendent Being. If such a thing does not exist—if it is all immanence only, and all the parts of God are merged in the parts of creation, including our own selves—we would be like locked-up persons inside a prison, and there would be no consciousness of even the possibility of freedom from the prison.
Pādo’sya sarvā bhūtāni tripādasti svayaṁ prabhaḥ, ityeka deśa vṛttitvaṁ māyayā vadati śrutiḥ. Sruti is a Veda; it refers the Purusha Sukta, which affirms that only a fraction of Brahman, not the entirety, should be regarded as involved in creation. In the Bhagavadgita also, this is confirmed.
Viṣṭa bhyāham idaṁ kṛtsnam ekāṁśena sthito jagat, iti kṛṣṇo’rju nāyāha jagata stveka deśatām (56). In the Bhagavadgita, the great Lord says, “I have enveloped this entire creation, and I am sustaining this entire cosmos by a fraction of Myself. I do not involve Myself entirely in the act of creation.” Even when we work, when we are occupied with certain works—office work, industrial work, manufacturing work, etc.—we always remain as something at the back of this work. We do not completely merge ourselves and then cease to be what we are, even if the work is very heavy. There is a transcendent element in us, to which we revert after the work is over. If we have merged ourselves in the work, there would be no personality in us; we would be only work. The entire personality would be nothing but the manifestation of work. There is a transcendent background to which we revert when the work is finished. Though for the time being it appears that we are immersed in the work, we never get totally immersed in anything; we have a transcendent element in us always. So is the case with God.
In the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna says that by a fraction of his power he is able to sustain the whole cosmos: iti kṛṣṇo’rju nāyāha jagata stveka deśatām. Lord Krishna describes to Arjuna the fractional character of creation, even though it appears so large.
Sa bhūmiṁ viśvato vṛtvā atyatiṣṭha daśāṅgulam, vikārāvarti cātrāsti śruti sūtra kṛtor vacaḥ (57). Again the Purusha Sukta is quoted here. Having enveloped the whole of creation, the entire Earth, the whole world, the Supreme Being transcends creation by ten fingers’ length. Even if it is by one inch, it is nevertheless transcendence. This is only to indicate that God is above the world and always maintains His Self-identity in spite of His being immanent in all parts of creation.
The word dasangulam, or ‘ten fingers’, is interpreted in many ways. The word ‘ten’ is a figure which exceeds numerology. There are no ten numbers; numbers are only nine. Ten is nothing but one and zero, so the number ten is indicative of a numberless state of being; and a numberless state of being is infinite being. So to say that God transcends the world by ten fingers is to say that He transcends the world infinitely and there is no end for His transcendence. Sa bhūmiṁ viśvato vṛtvā atyatiṣṭha daśāṅgulam.
The Brahmasutra also corroborates this view when it says in a sutra, vikārāvarti ca tatḥā hi stḥitimāha (B.S. 4.4.19): There is something above all modifications. All these quotations from the Veda, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahmasutra are to suggest that the whole of Brahman is not involved in creation. Maya does not pervade the entirety of the Absolute. It is localised only in certain conditioned parts of Brahman, and the transcendence of Brahman is not affected. God remains transcendent in spite of the vastness of creation and the inscrutability of His power, maya.
Niraṁśe’pyaṁśa māropya kṛtsneṁśe veti pṛcchataḥ, tad bhāṣayo ttaraṁ brūte śrutiḥ śrotṛ hitaiṣiṇī (58). You may ask the question: “Can you divide God into two parts—three-fourths somewhere and one-fourth somewhere else—with transcendence and immanence being two different aspects of God?” This difference is not a mathematical difference. It does not follow that you can actually divide God into two parts as the transcendent and the immanent. It is only an answer befitting the question itself.
The question itself implies the possibility of maya shakti being somewhere, or not being somewhere. You have already assumed in your question the location of maya, or the fractional area that is said to be occupied by maya. When you have already assumed this kind of fractional consideration of the location of maya, you have also to give the answer accordingly. So we say it is only fractional, and not the whole of Brahman. Here, the question of the whole and the part should not be taken in the sense of measurement in geometry and arithmetic. Geometry and arithmetic do not apply to God because measurements of every kind and computations of every type refer to things which are in space and in time. Timeless and spaceless existence cannot be geometrically measured or computed arithmetically. So it does not follow that there is a physically discernable part of God which is transcendent and some physically discernable part which is involved in creation. Our questions and answers are in terms of the way in which we express ourselves. It is a metaphorical way of speaking.
It is not factually true that there is division of God. It is indivisible Existence—in the same sense as some part of our mind is affected with a certain anxiety, etc., and yet we remain unaffected in certain other aspects of the mind, thereby indicating that we cannot split the mind into two parts. We have an integrated personality. We feel that we are one single whole, and yet many a time we feel that we are little finite fractions in the world of society and engagement. This is a logical distinction that we introduce into our mental operation, and it is not a mathematical distinction. Mathematical parts are different from logical parts, which are conceptually construed for the purpose of the understanding of the spirit involved in the situation, and are not to be understood literally. The fraction that is said to be of God manifested in the form of creation is a logical part, and not a mathematical part.
Sattattva māśritā śaktiḥ kalpayet sati vikriyāḥ, varṇā bhitti gatā bhittau citraṁ nānā vidhaṁ tathā (59). This shakti, the power of God, associating itself with Pure Existence, creates variety as the names and forms of this world in the same way as colours painted on a wall may present portrayals of pictures which are different from one another. Varieties of colours may look like varieties of forms on a canvas or a wall when a painting is done in that manner. In a similar way, this shakti, which acts like the colouring medium in terms of names and forms, works this great variety of creation on a base—a canvas or a wall or a background—which is Pure Existence.
Maya also has to exist; otherwise, there would be no presentation of variety in the form of this creation. On the basis of Universal Existence, which is Brahman, varieties in the form of this colourful creation are created by the shakti, the power of God, which is neither to be identified with God nor considered as separable from God.
Ādyo vikāra ākāśaḥ so’va kāśa svarū pavān, ākāśo’stīti sattattvam ākāśe’pyanu gacchati (60). What does maya create? In order that creation may be possible and conceivable, there should first of all be space and time. If there is no space and time, no creation is possible. Before conceiving the order of creation in terms of names and forms or in terms of the variety that is to be manifest, a background of the possibility of the manifestation of name and form has to be thought first.
The world cannot exist unless there is space and time, because what we call ‘the world’, what we call ‘creation’, is nothing but extension and duration. Extension is space; duration is time. If there is no extension and there is no duration, there would be no existence of anything. All objects in the world, including our own bodies, are combinations of spatiality and temporality together with externality, characteristics of space itself. Hence, the origin of creation is nothing but the manifestation of space first.
Many philosophies and religions hold the view that God created the world out of nothing. It is another way of saying that there was a necessity to project an emptiness in the beginning of things. We may call it space if we like, because space is something like emptiness. God could not manifest Himself as the world either by modifying Himself into creation or through the instrumentality of something other than Himself. There was a difficulty. What is the material out of which God creates the world? There is no material external to Him. Nor could it be His own body. Will He rip His body and then manufacture the world out of it? We cannot conceive either of these possibilities. Therefore, religions which would prefer to defend the integrality of God even when accepting the possibility of creation hold that God created everything out of nothing.
Again we come to the point of nihilism. A kind of vacuum was there in the beginning. In dream, we first of all create a vacuous spatial and temporal condition in which we manifest names and forms by the projection of thought. God created the world in the same way, perhaps, as we create mental dreams.
The first creation, therefore, is spatiality: ādyo vikāra ākāśaḥ. What is the quality of space? Accommodation, room, extension, the possibility of anything to exist—that is called avakasha. The quality of akasha is avakasha. Accommodation, room is the quality of space. This is the first evolute: akasha, space.
Ākāśo’stīti sattattvam ākāśe’pyanu gacchati. We say, “Space exists.” When we make the statement “Space exists” we understand that the spatiality of creation has also to be rooted in Existence, which is Brahman. Even the vacuous concept of space has to be rooted in Brahman, Pure Existence. If Brahman, which is Existence, is not to be associated with space, there would be no existence of space—which is another way of saying that it is non-existence of space. So even to imagine a vacuum, an emptiness or a sheer extension like space, we have to associate that concept of spatiality with Existence. That is why we say that space exists. The quality of space is, therefore, dual. It exists, and it is extended. Existence and extension are the two qualities of space.
Eka svabhāvaṁ sattattvam ākāśo dvi svathāvakaḥ, nāva kāśaḥ sati vyomni sa caiṣo’pi dadvayaṁ sthitam (61). Existence has only one quality—namely, existence itself. Existence cannot have a quality other than existence. Therefore, unitariness is the nature of Existence. It has only one character: eka svabhāvaṁ sattattvam. But space has two qualities: existence and spatiality.
Nāva kāśaḥ sati: Spatiality is not to be found in Brahman. Brahman is not extended like space, and is not measurable like the distance that we can see in space. Immeasurable is Brahman, whereas spatial extension is measurable by a foot ruler or a chain. That is the difference between space and Brahman Existence. Brahman is not measurable, while space is measurable. Vyomni sa caiṣo’pi dadvayaṁ sthitam: Oneness is the quality of Brahman; duality is the character of space—that is, existence and spatiality.
Yadvā prati dhvanir vyomno guṇo nāsau satī kṣyate, vyomni dvau sad dhvanī tena sadekaṁ dviguṇaṁ viyat (62). Reverberation of sound is also the quality of space. It can echo sounds. But no such echo is possible in Brahman, the Absolute, because extension in the form of spatiality is unthinkable in Brahman. Echo, sound production, reverberation, are not to be found in Existence, pure and simple, while it can be seen in space. Existence and sound are both to be seen in space; but in Existence, no sound is there. Existence is one. Space is dual.
Yā śaktiḥ kalpayed vyoma sā sadvyomnora bhinnataṁ, āpādya dharma dhamitvaṁ vyatya yenāva kalpayet (63). Maya has a peculiar quality of distorting facts. It makes us feel that Truth is untruth, and untruth is Truth. A total distortion of facts is necessary in order that we may be forced to believe in the reality of the world. It has to convert us into fools first and brainwash us totally before we are forced to accept that there is such a thing called the world outside. What does it do?
That shakti, that power, that maya which has become responsible for the creation of space as extension, somehow or other creates in our mind an illusion that spatiality and Existence are inseparable. Do we in our perceptual process ever recognise that Existence is different from spatiality? We see spatial extendedness, of course, in front of us. But do we believe that this cannot be the nature of Existence? We confirm every day in our lives that Existence is the same as space, space is the same as Existence. What do we say? We say, “Space exists.”
Here we commit a great mistake even linguistically speaking, because when we say “Space exists” we consider ‘space’ as the noun, the subject of the sentence, and ‘existence’ as the predicate. We give a secondary importance to Existence, and a primary importance to space. Space exists, a building exists, a table exists, this exists, that exists. The form which is actually a subsequent effect of Existence is given primary importance, and the original cause which is responsible for the manifestation of this form is given a secondary importance.
This is what maya does. It prevents us from recognising the fact that Existence is prior, and space is posterior. When we say “Space exists” we always feel that Existence is posterior and the objects (space, etc.) are prior. In the sentence we give the word ‘space’ the importance of a substantive, or a noun, and give the secondary importance of a predicate to Existence. Actually, Existence is the noun; space is the quality of Existence. But we make a confusion and reverse the order of cause and effect when we say “Space exists”. Space is not the noun. Existence is the noun, and Existence is not a quality of space; it is space that is a quality of Existence. So by reversing the order or precedence of cause and effect, maya creates the confusion in our heads.
Yenāva kalpayet: Topsy-turvy perception is the nature of human perception. That which is universal appears as an external thing; that which is a product, such as individuality, looks like the subjective originality. Man came very late in evolution, and yet he thinks that he is primary, and he starts judging everything, even that which existed prior to him. Dharma and dharmi are substance and quality. The mix-up of issues in terms of substance and quality is taking place due to the operation of maya. Substance is Existence; quality is space. But in our statements, we always wrongly consider that space is a substance and Existence is a quality. That is why we say “Space exists”. The sentence itself is erroneous in its construction. This is how maya works in us.
Sato vyomatva māpannaṁ vyomnaḥ sattāṁ tu laukikāḥ, tārkikā ścāva gacchanti māyāyā ucitaṁ hi tat (64). What has happened? After all, poor Existence has become space. It has been reduced to the vacuous condition of extension, while Brahman Consciousness, which is indivisible, cannot become vacuous, and it cannot become an extension.
Logicians such as the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika philosophers, thinking like ordinary children, caught up in this maya of the confusion of issues between substance and quality, assert that space is one of the ultimate categories of Existence. According to the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika philosophies, there are nine realities: earth, water, fire, air, ether—the five elements; then time (they consider time as an independent existence), extension (that is seven), mind (which is eight), and soul (which is nine). These are the nine independent substances accepted to be ultimately independently real by themselves, according to the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika philosophies.
Space also is considered as an Ultimate Reality. That is, they have mixed up the two issues. The Naiyayika and the Vaisheshika logicians wrongly think, like prattling children, that Existence is the quality of space, while actually Existence is not a quality of space. We should not say “Space exists”. The sentence itself is wrongly construed. It is the work of maya.
Yadyathā vartate tasya tathātvaṁ bhāti mānataḥ, anyathātvaṁ bhrameṇeti nyāyo’yaṁ sārva laukikaḥ (65). Right perception alone can give us a vision of Reality as it is in itself. But maya will not permit us to have right perception. The processes of sensory perception, inference, and logicality based on the duality of concepts are all based on maya because they are based on certain assumptions which are unfounded, basically. The externality of the world is taken for granted, while the world is not external, it is Universal Existence; and the perceiving consciousness is also considered as totally independent of the object that is perceived. This is the defect of modern science, and is also the work of maya. Neither does consciousness perceive independently of the object of perception, because by assuming such a thing we will not perceive anything outside at all, nor is it true that the world is external. It is total inclusiveness. How maya works!
Right perception is impossible under ordinary conditions of sensory operation and intellectual activity. Only direct intuition independent of the senses and mind will give us an idea as to what truly exists. The senses, intellect, and argumentation based on intellectually construed logic can never give us an idea as to what truly exists. We always move blindfolded from place to place, walking in darkness, groping for a little grasp of Truth, and finding it nowhere in the world. Blind men in search of light are led by blind men. This is the analogy before us. All our search for Truth in this world is like a blind man groping in darkness for a little ray of light, which he will never find. This is how maya works. Anyathātvaṁ bhrameṇeti nyāyo’yaṁ sārva laukikaḥ.
Evaṁ śruti vicārāt prāg yathā yadvastu bhāsate, vicāreṇa viparyeti tatas taccintyatāṁ viyat (66). Thus, we have to thoroughly investigate into this situation, like a medical diagnosis. What has actually happened to us? How could it be that we make such a blunder in common-sense perception when we say “This body exists, I exist” etc.? Existence is considered as a predicate even in the case of our own individuality. Therefore, both in the case of the objective world of the five elements and in the case of the subjective world of the five sheaths, a thoroughgoing analysis is to be conducted in order to separate Pure Existence from the imagined externality, temporality and objectivity—which subject is taken up in the following verses.