What is the cause of the creation? Ignorance!

gurudev (2)

दिर्घस्वप्ने स्फुरन्त्येते स्वगमोक्षादिविभ्रमा

 Atmajnanamhahanidrajrmbhite sminjaganmaye
Drghasvapne sphurantyete svargamoksadivibheamah

 एते = these, स्वर्ग-मोक्ष-आदि विभ्रमाः = delusions like heaven, liberation etc, अस्मिन् = in this, आत्मा-अज्ञान-महानिद्रा-जृम्भिते = projected out of the great sleep (called) ignorance of the self;  जगन्मये = of the nature of (this) universe; दीर्घ-स्वप्ने  = in the long dream; स्फुरन्ति;  = spring forth.

In this long dream of the nature of this universe projected out of the great sleep, called ignorance of the self, do all these delusions like heaven, liberation etc., spring forth. (Advaita Makaranda, 18)

दीर्घ-स्वप्ने  Dirghasvapne means in this long dream. How long is the dream? It is going on since time-without-beginning. What are we told about it? स्वर्ग-मोक्ष-आदि विभ्रमा Svarga-moksa aadi-vibhramah, that the delusions of heaven, liberation etc., appear in this long dream. स्फुरन्ति Sphuranti, and in this long dream do all these things shine. What is this sleep or this dream? आत्मा-अज्ञान-महानिद्रा Atma-agana-mahanidra, this long sleep is of the nature of the ignorance of आत्मा aatma or one’s true nature, and the long dream is the world, which arises out of this sleep. Ignorance is compared to sleep here.

Here sleep is not just deep sleep; it is sleep characterized by dream. In deep sleep, there is no संसार samsar, since the I-notion is absent. It is the dream in which projection takes place. Therefore, the Bhagavad Gita (2.69) says:

या निशा सर्वभूतानां तस्यां जागर्ति संयमी |
यस्यां जाग्रति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुने: ||

ya nisa sarva-bhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami
yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh !!

ya–what; nisa–is  night; sarva–all; bhutanam–of living entities; tasyam–in  that; jagarti–wakeful; samyami–the self-controlled; yasyam–in which; jagrati–awake; bhutani–all beings; sa–that is; nisa–night; pasyatah–for the introspective; muneh–sage.

In the reality to which all the creatures are sleeping, the wise person is awake. That which is night to the wise, there, the ignorant creatures keep awake.

Ignorance is often compared to the state of sleep or the darkness of the night; both deprive us of the perception of what truly is. In the case of sleep, there is often also a projection of the dream, comparable to the projection of a snake on rope. This projection is प्रातिभासिक सत्ता pratibhasika-satta or a subjective . projection, being the projection of the individual mind. Then there is the creation in the waking state, which is an objective reality, a projection of माया maya or the cosmic mind, the creative power of ईश्वर Isvara.

The individual projection, such as the dream, is called जीव श्रुष्टि jiva-srasti, and Isvara’s projection, viz., this objective world of names and forms, is called ईश्वर श्रुस्ष्टि Isvara-srsti. Being projections, both are मिथ्या mithya, and, very often, the individual projection is cited as an example to explain the reality of the creation, which is called a long dream, dirgha-svapna.

In the verse of the Bhagavad Gita quoted above, Lord Krishna says that the ignorant are asleep to the reality, meaning that they are unaware of the reality to which the wise are awake. That reality is the self, the consciousness or ब्रह्मन् brahman, the very substratum of the universe of names and forms. The universe exists and shines because of brahman, just as a projected snake exists and shines upon the rope, its substratum. The wise know brahman as the self that is self-shining and give no reality to the world of duality.

When it is said that the wise person is asleep to the world, what is meant is that he does not give reality to the world; he knows it to be mithya. On the other hand, the ignorant person gives reality to the world of names and forms, to the duality, which is a projection and is compared to a dream. In the dream state, a person is asleep to the reality of the waking world and awake to the dream world projected by his own mind. Similarly, the ignorant person is both sleeping and awake at the same time; he is asleep to the absolute reality that is brahman and awake to the objective reality or projection, in taking it to be real. The ignorant are all asleep to the reality of the self, but awake to this world, which they look upon as real.

What is the cause of the creation? Vedanta states that maya or ignorance gives rise to the creation. We call mithya the projecting power, while the scientists call it energy. There are two aspects to ignorance -its power to veil and its power to project. In the rope-snake example, there is delusion of there being a snake where there is only a rope; here the snake is a projection and the rope is veiled. In the same manner, the true nature of self is veiled by self-ignorance, while all kinds of false notions are projected upon it. The false notions about oneself are the reason for creation. If I knew myself correctly, there would be no need to create anything.

What is the purpose of the creation? The creation exists so that our desires may be fulfilled. What is the desire? It is that we should be free, limitless. How can there be a desire to be limitless, when one is already limitless? It is because we are not only unaware of this truth, but also take ourselves to be limited; hence, we are constantly striving to fulfill our desire to become limitless, to become free. The universe must necessarily be there to enable us to fulfill our desire to be limitless, which is indeed the desire behind all desires.

Desires are of two kinds: one is the desire for स्वर्ग svarga – heaven or material prosperity, and the other is the desire for moksa मोक्ष, liberation or spiritual prosperity. To some, moksa becomes very important, and, to some others, svarga. The desire for moksa indeed amounts to the limitless seeking limitlessness. The one who is of the very nature of आनन्द ananda searches in vain for happiness; this absurdly ridiculous situation in our lives is created by ignorance. Desire is thus the product of the ignorance of one’s true self.

Why do we say that the universe exists so that we may fulfill our desires? It is, because, to fulfill even a simple desire, such as for a cup of tea, you need the Whole universe to cooperate. For instance, you need tea, you need sugar, you need water, and perhaps milk, and then you need a stove on which to heat the water. Yet, come to think of it, you would also need gas to run the stove, and the gas comes from petroleum wells, and the sugar is extracted from sugarcane, which needs water, sunlight etc. to grow, which, in turn, will require the contribution of all the elements of the universe.

Indeed, therefore, to fulfill the simple desire for a cup of tea, you will find that there is an entire chain of requirements that depend on the help or contribution of the whole universe. It means that this entire universe is a product of countless desires, which have arisen from the primary desire to be free, which, in turn, is a product of ignorance.

Ignorance both exists and shines in consciousness. Therefore, consciousness or brahman is indirectly the reason for ignorance. The corollary is that consciousness is also the indirect cause of the creation and not the direct cause. Vedanta explains that the primary cause of creation is अविद्या avidya, ignorance or माया maya. However, maya is enlivened only in the presence of consciousness, and, therefore, in an indirect way, consciousness or brahman is also looked upon as the cause of the creation. God is called the creator, sustainer, and dissolver in an indirect sense; the universe is primarily created, sustained, and dissolved by maya. This is why the text describes universe as a long dream projected by the great sleep of ignorance.

The ignorance of the self is the great sleep because it is beginning-less. And it is called sleep because it veils the true nature of the self and projects the dream of the universe. In this long dream of the universe given reality by the ignorant do the delusions of heaven, liberation etc. shine. The dream world is real for one who is dreaming, and, similarly, the world of duality is real for the ignorant. He takes himself to be a limited being and entertains a desire to be free. Because of a lack of maturity, he looks upon svarga, the heaven or any other worldly or otherworldly achievement, as representing freedom and aspires to gain it. Another one, who has gained emotional maturity, understands the transient nature of all worldly and otherworldly achievements and desires; instead, he aspires to gain moksa or the permanent.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Advaita Makaranda of Sri Laksmidhara Kavi

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses


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