Maya and Aesthetics in
by Virendra Qazi
full moonlit night, devotees of Swami Vivekanand were gazing at the resplendent
sky from the yatch in the mid sea. They invited Swam’ji, who was inside,
to share their joy at the fascinating sight.
Swamiji remarked, “If God’s
creation, His Maya Shakti is so fantastic, can we ever surmise His glory
and His greatness”!
This message, indeed, should
permeate all of us. We should endeavour to think - whether we think this
way? The simple and frank answer is - no. Perhaps, we face
insurmountable problems at individual, social and still higher levels,
totally making us to lose our confidence. That is why we call the world a
great paradox, a maze, beyond any body’s comprehension.
We take the help of God to
escape the stark realities of the World. We hold Him high with due
eulogy, but we have unkind words for His Creation - the manifested World, called
MAYA. We call it illusion, deluding, transitory, etc. Still, we have
to reconcile with this situation.
As an endeavor to understand
this puzzle, we can take recourse to and seek guidance from our ancient
philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. This universal philosophy focuses on
relation between God, Nature and Man, which transcends all the barriers of time,
place and diverse human cultures. At individual level it provides the
complete analysis of human personality and all the aspects of life are
integrated and taken in totality.
To understand Maya as per
Kashmir Shaivism first we have to seek the nature of Ultimate Reality called
PARAM SHIVA who manifests the total Bliss and Who is all complete in Himself.
From Him emanates everything. He is beyond description, beyond all
manifestation, beyond limitation of form, time and space. He is eternal,
infinite, all pervading, all knowing and all powerful. In fact, this
reality is ineffable and beyond all descriptions.
PARAM SHIVA AND HIS UNIVERSAL
This manifested material world
called Maya is part of the great process of universal manifestation which we can
call “evolution” and “involution”. Kashmir Shaivism
postulates 36 categories or “tattvas” to explain the process of cosmic
evolution. Let us keenly focus our attention to this process of universal
evolution or universal experience, i.e. from God hood to Maya Shakti which is
the veiling or obscuring force of nature leading to various psycho - physical
elements and finally the Panch Mahabhutas - five great gross elements : Earth,
Water, Fire, Air and Ether.
The first outward manifestation
of the divine creative energy in the process of cosmic evolution is called Shiva
- Tattva. It is the initial creative movement of Paramasiva. It is the
static aspect of consciousness or like support of all things in the manifest
world. It is like the bed of a river or the canvas of a painting. It
can never be seen, it can only be known by its effects. In this condition,
the emphasis is on the subject without any awareness of the existence of the
Since the Shiva Tattva
represents the passive aspect of the pure consciousness, it is dependent upon
the active or dynamic aspect to bring it into being. This is called Shakti
Tattva. Shakti is the active or kinetic aspect of consciousness.
This Shakti Tattva or cosmic
energy represents the force that produces a strain or stress on the surface of
the Universal consciousness. It is said to have three principal forms to
account for the three fundamental psychological steps that precede every action.
Technically the first one is called ICHCHA SHAKTI, the power of feeling oneself
as supremely able and of an Absolutely irresistible will. Second one is
the JNANA SHAKTI, the power of knowledge or knowing of consciousness. The
KRIYA SHAKTI is the power of supreme action, creating or assuming any and every
form. One follows the other in logical succession.
Just as an artist pours out his
delight in a poem, picture or song, even so the Supreme pours out his delight in
this manifestation called Shakti. When Shakti is predominant, supreme
bliss is experienced. Mahesvarananda puts is beautifully in
Maharthamanjari. “He (i.e. Shiva) Himself full of joy enhanced by the
honey of the three corners of His heart, viz ICCHA, JHANA AND KRIYA, raising up
His face to gaze at His own splender is called Shakti”.
MAYA AND FIVE KANCUKAS
Now let us come to evolution of
material universe. The power of consciousness to separate and divide is
called Maya Shakti. This is the power to perceive differences. The
term “Maya” means illusion. Here it is used to refer to the veiling or
obscuring force of nature which creates a sense of differentiation. As
such, it makes universal consciousness which is unity, appear as duality and
The category of Maya is
postulated to account for the manifestation of “form” out of “Formless”,
the finite out of infinite. So Maya is considered not as a separate
reality, but as the gross power of consciousness and is referred to as Maya
Shakti. Maya is defined as the limiting principle which reduces the
universal powers of consciousness and produces the state of limited experience.
It divides and disperses divine unity of the God head and brings into existance
the mind and matter.
The products of Maya are the
five kancukas or coverings which are KALAA (limitation of authorship or
efficacy) VIDYA (limited knowledge), RAGA (from all satisfaction to feeling of
interest and desire) KAALA (from eternity to limitation in respect of time i.e.
past, present and future) NIYATI (limitation in respect of cause and effect).
PURUSHA AND PRAKRITI
The result of Maya and its five
coverings as referred above are PURUSHA and PRAKRITI. Here the dual world
of mind and matter is permanently established. In order words, although
the Lord is absolutely free, He puts on Maya and her coverings (five cloaks),
forgets His true nature, limits His power and reduces Himself to an individual
soul which is called Purusha and its objective manifestation PRAKRITI.
BUDDHI, AHAMKARA AND MANAS
Now, let us come to the tattvas
of mental operation i.e. BUDDHI, AHAMKARA AND MANAS. Buddhi is the
ascertaining intelligence which can be external i.e. a jar perceived through eye
or internal, like images built out of the impression left on mind.
Ahamkara is the product of buddhi. It is the I - making principle and the
power of self - appropriation. Manas is the product of ahankara. It
co-operates with the senses in building up perceptions, and by itself, it builds
images and concepts.
We are continuing to focus on
the cosmic manifestations. The products of AHAMKARA are five powers of
sense perception or JNANENDRIYAS, five powers of action or KARMENDRIYAS and five
primary elements of perception or TANMANTRAS. The process of inevolution
is complete finally with panch Mahabutas as referred earlier.
Frankly, very important position
is given to Ahankara. In fact, it is the product of SHAKTI through the
intermediate Prakriti which obviously is a mode of the Divine Energy.
Rajas gunas is prominent here and other gunas are in subdued form. One can
understand significance of Ahankara by the story of the Buddha Bhikshu Upasena.
As he tried to over come this tattva by his “sadhana”, his body got
scattered because there was no Ahankara up-holding it.
It is Important to understand
that, according to Kashmir Shaivism, this analysis of all phenomena into
thirty-six tattavas has been worked out as a tool of understanding for the
ever-active and inquiring mind and as a form for contemplative meditation.
At higher sadhana the number of tattvas may get reduced. Finally a highly
advanced Shiva Yogin may see only the Shiva Tattva in the whole of creation.
DOCTRINE OF THE FOUR STAGES IN
THE MANIFESTATION OF SPEECH
To understand the manifestation
of Maya Shakti from the level of Param Shiva, it is important to consider the
process and stages in the manifestation of speech. Bharatrhari, the
originator of the philosophy of Sanskrit grammer, says in his Vakyapadiya:
“The eternally existent Brahman, being the changeless essence of speech
appears in the form of the phenominal substance out of which the process of
universal existence proceeds”. The authors of Kashmir Shaivism have
explained in detail the concept of SABDABRAHMAN.
Speech is not only the means to
convey one’s ideas to others, it is also a way to understand things
personally. When we choose to convey ideas to others, we generally use
spoken language, known as VAIKHARI. A finer form of speech that serves as
the medium for thinking and understanding, through which a person forms definite
and indefinite ideas about words and their meanings, is the mental speech called
MADHYAMA. It is an internal reflection of manifestation of awareness
taking the form of ideas. There is a still finer level of speech, far
subtler in character and resides in the inner-most part of our being. It
is called PASYANTI. It is known as the “be-holding speech” because
through its medium enlightened people can behold all objective existence within
themselves. Beyond this is PARAVAC the supreme speech or the
transcendental speech. This consists of pure awareness of the self.
It is also called PARAVANI.
This doctrine can also be
understood by the example of an artist’s creation from the grossest to the
finest level. His tangible creation like a painting etc. can be VAIKHARI
and the images formed mentally, where his creation shines within him in the form
of MADHYAMA. Before even this exists a subtle creative urge like a stir,
or restlessness or inward flutter which is PASYANTI. Finally, at the
most subtle level, the original seed of the artistic creation lies in the inner
most center which is shining as PARAVAC, the Supreme speech.
MAYA AND WORLD
For centuries Indian
philosophers have been debating whether this world is real or an illusion.
Many schools of philosophy have interpreted the nature of Maya in various ways.
As explained, Kashmir Shaivism maintains Maya is based nether on the imagination
nor any finite being nor on any flux of mind. Maya is Siva-Mayi: Divine
and perfectly real. The universe is not mithya. The universe
is Siva-rupa and therefore real. It is a display of the glory of the
Having recognized Maya as
creation of God, we should accept the world in totality. No problem of
society, state, nation and individual is to be ignored. A person cannot
succeed in any aim of life if he shuts his eyes towards these problems.
Besides, there should be greater understanding of others views based on sense of
accommodation. This will develop correct perception and contribute to
furthering of human understanding. Verily it can be called practical
After a detailed analysis of
Maya Shakti as per Kashmir Shaivism let us come to development of aesthetic
principles in religious rituals. In fact, in Indian thought aesthetics has
always played an important role in the development of various schools of
philosophy. Frankly, we do not see God at some distant
disciplinarian ruler of the universe. He is thought of as an intimate and
loving master who is extremely beautiful and lovable.
Even in ancient times Indus
Valley people worshiped their deities with dance. Vedic fire altars were
constructed according to aesthetic norms. Rigvedic poetry, sung in praise
of various forces of nature, personified as gods with human like forms, is rich
in aesthetic valve. Music and song are still a central part of the
spiritual practice among Vaisnava devotees. Cave paintings at Elora and
Ajanta testify to the importance attached to beautiful religious images in india
during the Buddhist age. Ancient temples and images at places like
Khajuraho display a highly developed aesthetics sense in the art of stone
Kashmir Shaivism is a philosophy
that embraces life in its totality. Unlike puritanical systems it does not
shy away from the pleasant and aesthetically pleasing aspects of life as somehow
being unspiritual. On the contrary, great importance has been placed on
the aesthetic quality of spiritual practice in Kashmir Shaivism. In fact,
recognizing and celebrating the aesthetic aspect of the Absolute is one of the
central principles of this philosophy.
In this way, the aesthetic
outlook of Indian philosophers and thelogins reached its full expansion in the
Tantric system of sadhana or spiritual practice. It is indeed difficult to
find any Tantric deity who does not posses some powerful aesthetic charm for the
Kashmir Shaivism is propagated a
spiritual path that focused on the simultaneous attainment of enjoyment (bhukti),
and liberation (mukti). It accepted both of them as the goal of human
life, and developed philosophies and methods that could be followed equally by
both monks and householders. It did not approve of any form of forcible
control or repression of the mind, emotions, and senses, but rather emphasized
that such practices could create adverse reactions that might simply deepen a
In aesthetics music has a very
special role. The power of music is highly appreciated in Kashmir Shaivism.
It is included as an important aid to spiritual attainment and forms an
important sadhana in the process of spiritual growth. In the process of
universal manifestation explained earlier, ETHER (Akasa) is the finest of the
categories of physical objects (Panch Mahabutas). Similarly, sound is the
finest of the five specific sense perceptions (tanmatras). Thus sound or
music is most effective in subduing body - consciousness and arousing the
dormant blissfulness of pure consciousness.
As per Vijnanabhairava, the
pleasure aroused by song and music is accepted as a means to enter into the
state of pure and blissful consciousness.
their oneness with some incomparable pleasure aroused by the experience of
objects like sweet songs etc. and fixing their mental attentiveness on it, find
unity with the Absolute Lord through a practice of absorption in this kind of
phenomenon (Vijnanabhairava, 73)”
The great scholar Abhinavgupta
always used to keep a vina by his side and would occasionally play it. He
must have found vina as powerful aid in the practice of withdrawing his
awareness from the world around him and focusing within on the purer
consciousness of the Self.
Concluding, it would be
pertinent to add a word of caution. A practitioner should not fall into a
web of sensual enjoyments and thereby lose sight of the higher spiritual goals
of life. In fact whenever there is something of real merit and truth available,
there are usually false forms of it being offered by hypocrites who may try to
deceive people by ostentitious displays of Tantrism and through misleading
information about these practices. False gurus existed even in ancient
Finally all of the
blissful and beautiful aspects of the God are present in each and every person
and living thing, but they remain dormant because they are hidden behind the
mask of maya. In other words, we are all blinded to this inner bliss and
beauty by our limited sense of who we are, and by the habit of directing so much
of our attention out into the world. We pursue the outer object in an
attempt to rediscover the blissful state, not realizing that the source of
bliss is within and need not be attached to an outer stimulus or some outer
source at all. This inner beauty can be discovered and contacted at will
through simply turning our attention within and through the various practices of