According to this system of thought, the whole Universe, including Prakrti, is conceived as having been evolved out of the Supreme Purusha alone. The energies of life, according to it, are as follows, the higher being transformed into one lower in the scale:
- (1) Purusha;
- (2) Prakrti;
- (3) Atman;
- (4) Bhutatman or Elemental self;
- (5) Buddhi;
- (6) Mind;
- (7-11) Five subtle elements;
- (12-16) Five gross elements;
- (17-21) Five senses of Knowledge;
- (22-26) Five senses of Action.
In this system we have a complete set of Purushic and Prakrtic energies, all evolved out of one Supreme Eternal. They may be arranged as follows:
|Five subtle elements||Five gross elements|
|Five senses of Knowledge||Five senses of Action|
Character of the Supreme Purusha: The character of the Supreme Purusha has already been described; and, in this system, inasmuch as he is related to the unmanifest energy of the Heart, he is regarded as possessed of "Lightning of the Heart". As "Lightning" or electricity is characterised by a dual aspect, positive and negative, or Purushic and Prakrtic, we get from this the idea of the union of Purusha and Prakrti, from which all universe is made manifest. Further, the Supreme Purusha has Buddhi for his first manifest energy, and Buddhi or Sun is characterised by Tapas or Heat, which, unlike Electricity, is devoid of a dual aspect; accordingly, in his first manifest form the Supreme Purusha in this system is conceived as the sole creator, devoid of all duality, one without a second, and the creator of Prakrti herself.
Further, this system is connected also with the Mind, the energy lower than Buddhi; and Mind has many characteristics of the original Heart-energy to which it is akin.
It is in the light of these three aspects of the question, viz. In connection with Heart-energy, Buddhi, and Mind, that we have to study the Vedanta system of thought, and also its corresponding religion, associated with the name of Vishnu or Krshna, and it is in the light of these that we have to understand the "incarnations" of Vishnu, and the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The latter will be examined in detail in due course.
Purusha, Prakrti, and Maya: It has been said that the Supreme Purusha in this system of thought .is regarded as the Creator of Prakrti herself, and Prakrti is characterised by Maya, which, in its original conception, is not illusion but a creative energy of life; and so Purusha is characterised by Maya too, being the creator of Prakrti. For the same reason he is characterised by action, which is associated with Maya. Indeed, there is nothing which cannot be attributed to the Supreme Purusha in this system of thought, because he is conceived as the creator of everything in the universe.
From another point of view, however, the Supreme Purusha, even in this system, is devoid of all attributes, devoid of Maya and Action too for since he alone, without a second, is the true reality, and all things, being created out of him, are again merged into him at the time of dissolution, he alone remains, unchanging, and eternal; and so is above all attributes, free, unaffected, undisturbed. If one might compare small things with great, even as Radium gives out the energies of Heat and Electricity, without itself undergoing appreciable change, even so may the Purusha be regarded as giving out unremitting energy of life without himself undergoing or being affected by any change.
Maya in Vedanta: The idea of Maya is so often associated with the system of Vedanta that it needs to be examined in some detail. It should, in this connection, be borne in mind that the system of Vedanta, as understood at this day, is largely post-Vedic, though the original ideas are Vedic in character; and for a true conception of it we have to go to the original sacred works and not later commentaries, however learned they might be.
Maya is commonly understood to be Illusion or Delusion or both; but the original conception is something very different. The present day idea of Maya as Illusion or Delusion is of comparatively recent years, and is due to a misunderstanding of the original conception as well as to a substitution of the secondary for the essential idea.
Original Idea of Maya: Maya, in its original sense, is conceived as a creative energy, ascribed to Prakrti, resulting in the manifestation of life, action and change. But, inasmuch as Prakrti herself is conceived as created out of Purusha in the system of Vedanta, the Supreme Purusha himself is characterised by this energy; and so he is spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita and other sacred works of the Hindus as characterised by Maya, creating the universe thereby and engaging in all actions himself.
How the Misunderstanding Arose: But, while the original idea of Maya is one of creative energy, it is not difficult to understand how it came to be regarded as an Illusion. It is noteworthy that this idea of Maya as an Illusion is specially connected with Buddhism and its association with Vedanta is mainly due to Sankaracharya, the great commentator and religious teacher of comparatively recent years. But this idea of Maya was rejected even by Ramanujas, another great teacher of Vedanta; and it would appear as if Sankaracharya, having to combat the doctrines of Buddhism, had to speak in the language of the times, and could not go back to the original conception of Maya as a creative energy of life.
Maya in Buddhism: It has already been observed that Buddhism has its roots in the Sankhya system of thought, and the association of Lord Buddha, the accepted founder of that faith, with Kapilavastu. The subject matter of Kapila, the teacher of the Sankhya system, is significant, and Maya in the Sankhya system is identified with Prakrti, while the name of the mother of Buddha is Maya too. But, though it is sometimes denied that Buddhism has any connection with the conception of Maya as an illusion, it is undoubted that Buddhism teaches that there is an eternal flux or change of everything that exists in the universe, and that is at the foundation of the conception of Maya as an illusion. Further, Buddhism teaches the theory of Nescience or universal Nothingness, and there is no distinction between Maya and Nescience. Thus, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the doctrine of Maya is closely associated with the teachings of Buddhism.
Maya in the Sankhya System: Now, according to the Sankhya system the universe is conceived as created by Prakrti alone; or, if there is a Purusha, he has little to do with the actual work of creation, and is a mere onlooker and spectator of the work done by Prakrti. It is obvious, therefore, that Prakrti in this system is characterised by Maya or active, creative energy; and it has already been pointed out that Maya is identified with Prakrti of the Sankhyas.
Prakrti and the Individual Soul: While Buddhism and the Sankhya system agree in the main with regard to the idea of Maya, they hold different views with regard to the existence of the soul. The Buddhas do not admit the existence of any permanent intelligent being, such as either an enjoying soul or a ruling Lord; while the Sankhya holds that, whether there is a Supreme Soul or Purusha or not, each living being consists of an individual self or soul, and so there are innumerable souls in the universe, each distinct from the other. All these souls are chained to Prakrti which has created them either by herself or in association with the Supreme Purusha as a mere onlooker and spectator, and the end of each is freedom from the bonds of Prakrti which is the womb of pain. In this respect, however, both the Sankhya system and Buddhism agree, for the chief aim of life according to the teachings of Buddhism also is to escape from old age, disease, and death.
How to Secure Freedom of the Soul: Thus, the chief aim of life is to secure freedom from the bonds of Prakrti. If the individual soul has been created by Prakrti alone and the Supreme Purusha does not exist, there can be no freedom for the individual soul, for he cannot make himself free from his creator. But if there is a Supreme Soul, whose presence even as a spectator is necessary for purposes of creation, each individual soul can be released from the bonds of Prakrti only when he frees himself from her, and becomes, like the Supreme Purusha himself, a mere onlooker and spectator of her work and as Prakrti is characterised by Maya and its counterpart, Action, an individual soul must shake himself free from both in order to be released from the bonds of Prakrti. This is done when he has seen her in all her manifestations, and their further association is unnecessary; when Prakrti has nothing to show, and he has nothing to see. This is according to the Sankhya system of thought.
Maya as Flux or Change: Action as Cause of Change: It has been observed that, according to Buddhism, the chief aim of life is to escape from old age, disease, sorrow, and death. But the essence of all sorrow, suffering and pain, disease and death is flux or change. Were there no change, were life unchanging, permanent and everlasting, all these evils would cease. This change is the result of Action, for there can be no action without change; and no one can rest even for an instant without performing action. This is also the character of Maya and the three Gunas; they all imply modification or change from one condition to another, to which all life is subject. Thus, in order to escape from sorrow and death, the individual soul must escape from Maya and action, the two essential characteristics of Prakrti.
Maya as an Illusion: It is now easy to understand how Maya came to be regarded as an Illusion. An illusion is an image of unreality: and a condition of life which is subject to unceasing change from one state to another, cannot be regarded as permanent or real, however much it might appear to be so. Its apparent sameness (as in the case of a person answering to a certain name for a considerable time) was regarded as an illusion of the mind, an image of unreality; for, being subject to change, it could never be the same for any two conceivable moments of time. Thus Maya came to be regarded as an Illusion and all Action as bondage.
Real and Original Meaning of Maya: It has already been pointed out that the real, original teaching of Vedanta in regard to Maya is very different. It is conceived as a creative energy, and the Supreme Purusha himself is characterised by it, for it is his own creation, and he himself takes part in Action, which is his own creation too. Yet with all these energies of change born of him, he is ever the same.