The Scriptural Teaching of mAyAvAda and brahmavAda (1 of 3)
All through the scriptural literature one comes across two distinct streams of teachings: one pertaining to the world and the other pertaining to the Truth. Sometimes these two come in one mode mingled, yet distinguishable. Sometimes they take separate forms and are clearly distinguishable. We can call these two streams of teachings as ‘mAyAvAda‘ and ‘brahmavAda‘. The purpose of delineation of the mAyAvAda in the scripture is only an adhyAropa, a superimpostion.
Since brahmavAda is extremely difficult to comprehend, the scripture adopts the adhyAropa-apavAda technique to posit the mAyA, in other words, the world, as an effect, creation, of brahman. With this platform, it becomes an easy task for the scripture to teach brahman with the ‘attribute’ of the creator/cause of the universe. Once the aspirant is prepared enough to receive the core teaching about brahman, the scripture shows brahman as totally free of any attribute (of creator/cause of the world) by negating the entire universe which was posited.
By this apavAda, negation, the nirguNa (attributeless) brahman is made possible to be apprehended by the aspirant. The gaining of this realization marks the attainment of freedom from samsAra. This is what mokSha is.
In the sequel is presented samples from the upaniShad-s, the bhagavadgIta, the brahmasUtra and the mahAbhArata to depict these two distinct streams. The purpose of this delineation is to enable the student of vedAnta to appreciate these two streams with greater clarity.
1. In the ShvetAshvataropaniShad we have this famous mantra:
मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यान्मायिनं तु महेश्वरम् (4.10)
mAyAm tu prakRRitim vidyAn mAyinam tu maheshvaram
[Know mAyA as the prakRRiti and the wielder of mAyA as the maheshvara, the Lord.]
Here the word prakRRiti denotes the world. This is the cause of the manifest world. The Lord says in the bhagavadgIta (9.10): ‘With Me as the overseer, prakRRiti brings forth the world of the moving and the unmoving. The world includes animate and inanimate beings. All the bodies of living beings belong to the prakRRiti, being products thereof. prakRRiti is the inanimate principle that is the material that goes into the making of the universe.’
The upaniShad teaches that this prakRRiti is the mAyA. This is the way the upaniShad says this world is mAyA. This is the mAyAvAda of this upaniShad. Contrasted with this is the teaching found in this very passage: ‘The Lord of mAyA is maheshvara. brahman in association with mAyA becomes the Creator, Cause, of the universe. brahman is the Consciousness Principle which is indispensible for the creation and administration of the universe.’
This is the brahmavAda teaching of this upanishad. In advaita, brahman is admitted to be the dual-cause of the creation: the efficient as well as the material. The latter comes about by the association with prakRRiti or mAyA. So, this causehood is also put in another way as: brahman is the vivartopAdAna kAraNa, the transfiguring cause and prakRRiti or mAyA is the pariNAmi upAdAna kAraNa, the transforming cause. Thus the world is an appearance of brahman and at the same time a transformation of mAyA. This is unlike the pradhAna, the cause of the world, of the sAnkhya system where the cause, is an independent entity.
2. The IshAvAsyopaniShat opens with this famous mantra:
ईशावास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् । तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीत…
IshAvAsyamidam sarvam yatkincha jagatyAm jagat. tena tyaktena bhunjItha…
[All this—whatever exists in this changing universe—should be covered by the Lord. Protect the Self by renunciation. Lust not after any man’s wealth.]
Here, the ‘idam sarvam jagat‘ is the reference to mAyAvAda. The Isha, the Lord, brahman, is taught to be viewed as the substratum of the world. The teaching in this mantra is: what appears as the world is in truth brahman. This is the teaching of brahmavAda. Mantras 4 and 5 too are the brahmavAda teachings here, specifying the nature of brahman for the purpose of Knowing It.
The fruit of knowing brahman as distinct from mAyA is given out in mantras 6 and 7: ‘The wise man beholds all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings; for that reason he does not hate anyone.’ To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: ‘What delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness?’ This constitutes the brahmavAda.
3. The KenopaniShat (1.2) reads:
श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्वाचो ह वाचं …चक्षुषः चक्षुः
shrotrasya shrotram manaso mano yadvAcho ha vaacham…cakShuShaH chakShuH
[It is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of speech, the Life of life and the Eye of the eye. Having detached the Self from the sense-organs and renounced the world, the Wise attain to Immortality.]
Here, the ‘Ear’ is brahmavAda teaching and the ‘ear’ is mAyAvAda teaching. We can see that both the streams are mingled in one mantra itself. We have another important mantra here:
अन्यदेव तद्वितादथो अविदितादधि…(1.4)
anyadeva tad viditAdatho aviditAdadhi
[It is different from the known; It is above the unknown.]
Here the ‘known’ is the manifest world and the ‘unknown’ refers to the unmanifest seed state of the manifest world. Both these come under the mAyAvAda. The words ‘anyat and tat‘ of this mantra denotes the brahmavAda. brahman is different from both the known world and the unknown causal state of the world. brahman is shown here as distinct, vilakShaNa, from mAyA, the world.
4. The KaThopaniShat (1.2.14) is a very famous mantra bringing out both the streams of teachings:
अन्यत्र धर्मादन्यत्र अधर्मात् . अन्यत्र अस्मात् कृताकृतात् . अन्यत्र भूताच्च भव्याच्च यत् तत्पश्यसि तद्वद
anyatra dharmAt anyatra adharmAt anyatra asmAt kRRitAkRRitAt. Anyatra bhUtAccha bhavyAccha yat tat pashyasi tad vada
[That which you see as other than righteousness and unrighteousness, other than all this cause and effect, other than what has been and what is to be—tell me That.]
Here again, we have these two streams presented in one passage, in a mingled manner. The words ’cause and effect’ refer to the manifest and unmanifest world alone. The teaching distinguishes brahman from this pair and other pairs and shows that such brahman alone is to be known/taught for the attainment of liberation. The pairs contained here pertain to mAyAvAa and the One that is different from these pairs is the subject matter of brahmavAda.
Of course there is another famous mantra here:
अशरीरं शरीरेषु अनवस्थेषु अवस्थितम्. महान्तं विभुमात्मानं मत्वा धीरो न शोचति (1.2.22)
asharIram sharIreShu anavastheShu avasthitam. mahAntam vibhumAtmAnam matvA dhIro na shochati
[Bodiless amidst bodies, permanent in the midst of the impermanent, great and pervasive, knowing which the wise man does not come to grief.]
The ‘Bodiless’ is the brahmavAda teaching and the ‘bodies and the impermanent’ refer to mAyAvAda teaching. In yet another famous mantra here we have the two streams of teaching mingled:
अशब्दमस्पर्शमरूपमव्ययं तथाऽरसं नित्यमगन्धवच्च यत् . अनाद्यनन्तं महतः परं ध्रुवं निचाय्य तन्मृत्युमुखात् प्रमुच्यते (1.3.15)
ashabdamasparsham arUpamavyayam thathA arasam nityam agandhavaccha yat. anAdyanantam mahataH param dhruvam nichAyya tat mRRityu-mukhAt pramuchyate
[Having realised Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odourless; having realised That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great and unchanging—one is freed from the jaws of death.]
Here the mAyaAvAda teaching can be seen expressed as the ones with sound, touch, form, odor, taste, and decaying, with a beginning. The Substratum of all these is presented as the Atman/brahman that is free from all these attributes. This is the brahmavAda teaching.
5. The MundakaopaniShat has this famous mantra:
परीक्ष्य लोकान् कर्मचितान् ब्राह्मणो निर्वेदमायात् नास्त्यकृतः कृतेन । तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत् समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्मनिष्ठम् ॥ (1.2.12)
parIkShya lokAn karmachitAn brAhmaNo nirvedamAyAt nAstyakRRitaH kRRitena. Tadvi~jnAnArtham sa gurumevAbhigacChet samitpANiH shortriyam brahmaiShTham.
[Let a brahmin, after having examined all these worlds that are gained by works, acquire freedom from desires: nothing that is eternal can be produced by what is not eternal. In order that he may understand that Eternal, let him, fuel in hand, approach a guru who is well versed in the veda-s and established in brahman.]
In this mantra the word ‘kRRitaH‘ refers to the created world of actions and fruits thereof. This is the teaching of mAyAvada. The word ‘akRRitaH‘ is the uncreated brahman, the Truth. This is the teaching of brahmavAda. The word ‘tat‘ here also refers to brahman alone. In this mantra we find the two streams: mAyAvada and brahmavAda presented together.
There is another important mantra too here:
दिव्यो ह्यमूर्तः पुरुषः सबाह्याभ्यन्तरो ह्यजः. अप्राणो ह्यमनाः शोभ्रो ह्यक्षरात् परतः परः ॥ (2,1,2)
divyo hyamUrthaH puruShaH sabAhyAbhyantaro hyajaH. aprANo hyamanAH shubhro hyakSharAt parataH paraH
[He is the self-luminous and formless puruSha, uncreated and existing both within and without. He is devoid of prANa, devoid of mind, pure and higher than the supreme Imperishable.]
Here, while brahmavAda is found explicitly in the major part of the mantra, the mAyAvada teaching is found in a hidden form: the words ‘akShara para‘ denote the mAyA, the material of the manifested world. The mantra teaches that brahman is beyond the causal mAyA.