Posted by: adbhutam | July 18, 2009


श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः

Who creates the World – Ishwara or Maya?

A three-stage approach to Reality

The Upanishads and other Scriptures generally teach that the universe is created by Brahman.  This position is generally accepted while trying to know the cause of creation, sustenance and resolution of the world.  But the aim of Vedanta is not to stop with just this teaching about Brahman.  The ultimate teaching of Brahman that constitutes in presenting Brahman as the Reality transcends this incidental function of creation, etc.  The most popular instance of the Upanishad teaching Brahman thus is seen in the crucial 7th mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad:

नान्तःप्रज्ञं ……प्रपञ्चोपशमम् …अद्वैतम् …स आत्मा स विज्ञेय:

In the cited portion, the first word is a sample of other words that negate Brahman as in any way connected with creation, both in the individual and cosmic aspects.  The second crucial word teaches that the Ultimate Reality is totally free of the created world.  The third word shows that It is Non-dual in nature.  This means that there is none other than Brahman that is apart from It.  The last expression confirms that this Truth is none other than the  Self which has to be realized as such for liberation to ensue.

This raises an important question:  If Brahman does not create, who or what does the job of creation, etc.?  Vedanta readily answers this question:  It is Maya, Prakriti, that creates, etc.  And Maya does so not independently but in association with Brahman.  This is because while on the one hand Brahman is NirvikAra,  NiShkriya (immutable and actionless) and therefore cannot perform any function,  Maya being an inert principle, cannot engage in creation, etc. independently either.  By being dependent on the Consciousness Principle Brahman, Maya creates.  Says Sri Shankara in the Brahmasutra Bhashya:

//Without Prakriti, the Upanishadic Brahman cannot engage in creation…//

The Three Inevitable Approaches:

With a view to arrive at the above truth, the Vedanta takes a three-stage approach.  These are:

  • God creates the world
  • God becomes the world
  • God appears as the world

There are Shruti passages to support each of the above:

  • यतो वा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते….(Whence these beings are born…) Taittiriya Upanishad, तत्तेजोऽसृजत (It delivered/created tejas – fire..) of the Chandogya Upanishad VI chapter are some of the passages to show that Brahman/God creates the world.
  • तस्मात्तत् सर्वमभवत् (It became all..) of the Taittiriya Upanishad is a passage that teaches that  Brahman becomes the world.
  • ‘ब्रह्मैवेदं अमृतं पुरस्तात् ब्रह्म पश्चात् ब्रह्म दक्षिणत: उत्तरश्च ।

अधश्चोर्ध्वं च प्रसृतं ब्रह्मैवेदं विश्वमिदं वरिष्ठम् ॥

[All this that is in front is but Brahman, the Immortal.  Brahman is at the back, as also on the right and the left.  It is extended above and below, too. This world is nothing but Brahman, the Highest.]

Passages such as these teach that Brahman alone appears as the world.

For functional reasons, we shall term the three approaches as dvaita, vishishtaadvaita and advaita respectively.

At the beginning stage of a person’s spiritual evolution,  it is impossible to grasp the truth of the third stage : God appears as the world.  So, the first step becomes inevitable.  When sufficiently trained in this step, he graduates to the next understanding: God becomes the world.  A rigorous exercise in this stage enables him to grasp the final teaching: God appears as the world.

The inviolable law:

While the first stage is incomplete in itself unless the second and the third are walked, it is also true that the third stage is impossible without first having trained in the earlier two stages.  The beauty of the three stages is that the stages that are required for fulfillment are in-built within each stage itself.  Thus we have, for example, in the ‘Dvaita’ stage, the culmination where Brahman alone is held to be the Independent Ultimate Reality.

Again, in ‘Advaita’, the method is: ‘karma’ –  ‘bhakti’/upasana – jnanam.  In this method, the first preparation is the performance of all duties as an offering to Ishvara, without an eye on the fruits of the actions.  This first step helps in cleansing the mind of gross desires and other undesirable emotions like hate, malice, envy, etc.  The next step is predominantly devotion-oriented by reducing actions and concentrating on meditation, upasana.  This step prepares the mind by sharpening it and making it one-pointed.  This indispensible preparation, that makes the mind subtle, is to enable the next stage of grasping the Truth.  The whole process involves first looking at creation as that of Ishwara’s and next adoring creation as a manifestation of Ishwara and finally realizing creation to be none other than Ishwara Himself.

The above scheme of the Vedanta makes it clear that ‘creation’ is only a via media, a bridge, as it were, to help the aspirant reach the Ultimate Reality which is free of creation.  The purpose of assigning creation to Ishwara’s authorship is only to turn the aspirant’s attention away from the created objective inert world to the Creator, the Consciousness Principle.  When this is accomplished, the final step of showing that the subject  that objectifies the inert world is none other than the Consciousness Principle.  The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.11 denies any seer, hearer, thinker, etc. other than Brahman:

नान्यदतोऽस्ति द्रष्टृ नान्यदतोऽस्ति श्रोतृ…

[Other (than the Akshara Brahman) there is none that is the seer, the hearer…]

That the above is the sole objective of all the three schools named above is quickly evident from the well-known fact that none of them hold the world/creation as the ultimate goal.  The Ultimate Reality to be realized is Ishwara/Hari/Narayana/Brahman alone as free of the created world.  This is called Mukti, liberation.  That such a Mukta, a liberated being, is not in contact with the material, created world is clear from this statement of the Dvaita school:

Says the site (under the question: Why does Tattvavada deny Jivanmukti?)

/// Because a mukta, or liberated person, should not even be physically present in the material universe, unlike the un-liberated. A person who is living in the world cannot be said to be free of sorrow born of material contact, and also cannot be said to experience the joy of his own nature at all times. The very act of living in a gross material body entails things such as eating, sleeping, pleasure and pain, etc., which cannot be accepted in a mukta. ///

With this background let us take a look at a few passages that teach that Brahman does not indeed create anything.

The Upanishads:

  • In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishat 2.5.19 there occurs a mantra:

रूपं रूपं प्रतिरूपो बभूव…इन्द्रो मायाभिः पुरुरूप ईयते….

[The Lord, on account of Maya, takes on manifold forms]

  • In the Purusha SUkta (Yajurveda 31.19) we have:

अजायमानो बहुधा विजायते

[Though unborn, It appears to be born in diverse ways]

Shankaracharya comments for the Mandukya karika III.24 where Gaudapadacharya quotes the above two passages:

//….’birthlessness’ and ‘birth in various ways’ cannot be reconciled in the same thing like heat and cold in fire.  (Therefore, creation by the Supreme is not to be seen as  real.//

’यत्र हि द्वैतमिव भवति तदितर इतरं पश्यति’ इत्यविद्याविषये सर्वं व्यवहारं दर्शयति ।  ’यत्र त्वस्य सर्वमात्मैवाभूत् तत्केन कं पश्येत्’ इति विद्याविषये सर्वं व्यहारं वारयति ।

[‘Because when there is duality, as it were, then one sees something (other than himself) (Br.Up. II.4.14), shows that all dealings, vyavahara, are possible within the range of ignorance; and the text ‘But when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one see through what?’ (ibid.), precludes all dealings within the sphere of illumination. ]

This shows that creation consisting of duality is not a real creation coming from Brahman.

  • मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यान्मायिनं तु महेश्वरम्

[Know then that Maya is the Prakriti and the Supreme Lord is the wielder of Maya.] Shvetashvatara Upanishat 4.10.

This makes it clear that it is with the Shakti, power, of Maya, that Brahman is said to create.

  • This very Upanishad 6.8 also says:

परास्य शक्तिः विविधैव श्रूयते  [His great power alone is described in the Vedas to be of various kinds] and देवात्मशक्तिं स्वगुणैर्निगूढाम् 1.3 [The Self-power of the Divine hidden in Its own qualities…]

All these passages confirm that Brahman is just a passive witness in the act of creation that is carried out by Maya.

The Bhagavadgita:

  • मयाध्यक्षेण प्रकृतिः  सूयते सचराचरम् ।

हेतुनानेन कौन्तेय जगद्विपरिवर्तते ॥ 9.10 ||

Under Me as the supervisor, the Prakrti produces (the world) of the moving and the non-moving things. Owing to this reason, O son of Kunti, the world revolves.

Note: The word ‘adhyaksha’ means ‘a witness, a Super-Visor’.

  • मम योनिर्महद्ब्रह्म तस्मिन्गर्भं दधाम्यहम् ।

संभवः सर्वभूतानां ततो भवति भारत ॥ 14.3 ||

My womb is that great Brahman (mAyA); in that I place the germ; thence, O Bharata, is the birth of all beings.

  • सर्वयोनिषु कौन्तेय मूर्तयः सम्भवन्ति या: ।

तासां ब्रह्म महद्योनिरहं बीजप्रदः पिता ॥ 14.4 ||

Whatever forms are produced, O son of Kunti, in any wombs whatever, the Maya is their womb, I the seed-giving Father.

  • Again, the Lord says:

दैवी ह्येषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया ।

मामेव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायामेतां तरन्ति ते ॥ 15.14 ||

14. Since this divine Maya of Mine which is constituted by the gunas is difficult to cross over, (therefore) those who take refuge in Me alone cross over this Maya.

Here the Lord states that Maya, creation, is to be transcended in order to attain the Lord, Liberation.  Certainly, if it were His own creation, He would not want people to transcend it; it would not be a bondage.  This itself clearly shows that He has not created the world.

  • Again He says:

…..न कर्मफलसंयोगं स्वभावस्तु प्रवर्तते  5.14

14. The Self does not create agentship or any objects (of desire) for anyone; nor association with the results of actions. But it is Nature that acts.

Shankara comments:

//Objection: If the embodied one, Atma,  does not do anything himself, and does not make others do, then who is it that engages in work by doing and making others do?

The answer is: Tu, but; it is svabhavah, Nature- one’s own (sva) nature (bhava)-characterized as ignorance, Maya, which will be spoken of in, ‘Since this divine Maya’ (7.14); pravartate, that acts.//

  • Incidentally, it would be interesting to have a look at the Gita verse 13.26:

Yaavat sanjAyate kinchit sattvam sthAvara-jangamam

kShetra-kShetrajna-sanyogAt tadviddhi bharatarShabha

(O Scion of the Bharata dynasty, whatever moving or non-moving comes into being, know that to be from the association of the field and the knower of the field.)

In this verse the Lord categorically states that creation is a product of ignorance, superimposition, undoubtedly, by Maya.  The Pure Consciousness, Brahman, has no active role in this process.

In all the above verses it is clear that Brahman stands apart from the actual act of creation.  It is only Maya, Prakriti, that plays the active role; Brahman’s being just a passive role.  It is to be understood from this that ‘passive role’ is just being as the Conscious Principle, lending consciousness to the inert Prakriti to carry on the creation process.   Shankaracharya clarifies often that the ‘passive role’ is to be understood by the analogy of a magnet passively activating the iron filings, by its mere presence.  Again, it is like a King or Chieftain, by his mere presence, activates those who are in his service.

Let us consider the following ‘statement’ on Tattvavada, sourced from a site:

[Open in new window]

“Though Brahman can do very well without prakrti or purusa (Dependent
Realities), it prefers, in its infinite glory and inexorable will, ‘to
do with them’. Such dependence (apeksa) of Brahman on things which are
in themselves dependent on It, is no mark of inferiority or limitation’’

(emphasis mine)

@  @    @   @

This ‘statement’ on Tattvavada very clearly translates into: ‘Brahma satyam jagan mithyA, jIvo Brahmaiva na aparaH’ (Brahman alone is Real and the world is unreal.  The jiva, soul, is none other than Brahman) and implies  ‘AtmasambandhI kimapi nAsti’ (There is nothing other than Atman).

An Advaitin would see the above ‘statement’ as largely depicting the essence of the Advaita Brahman.  In Advaita, Brahman is One Only without a second  in its absolute nature, Paramarthika.  By the association of Maya, prakriti, the world is created.  Yet, since this creation is only maayika, Brahman remains asanga always. The very accepting of the possibility of Brahman doing very well without prakriti or purusha (jiva) implies Its eternally asanga and essentially Advaita svabhAva.  Again, accepting this possibility of Brahman being a ‘Great Stand-Alone’ results in the natural conclusion of a situation where the prakriti and jiva are not there.  And Its ‘preference’ to ‘do with them’ is not difficult to explain as it is due to Brahman’s icchA.  Brahman’s icchA and mAyA are one and the same.  Advaita views the ‘dependents on It’ (paratantra) as what is/are superimposed on It and hence the substratum Brahman is not limited by the superimposed prakriti and the samsara born of it.  Such a Brahman/Atman is not related to anything, in reality, is borne out by the above ‘statement.’ Again, the purport of the words ‘…. is no mark of inferiority or limitation’ of the above ‘statement’ is expressed by Sri Shankaracharya in the preamble to His Bhashya on the Brahmasutras thus:

//tatraivam sati yatra yadadhyAsaH, tatkRtena doSheNa guNena vaa aNumAtreNApi sa na sambadhyate…// [‘This being so, the locus (Atman/Brahman) is not affected in any way either by the merits or demerits of the things superimposed.’]

Thus, even though the language used to give expression to the ‘Brahman/jagat/jiva triad’ is different in the two schools, essentially they mean the same.  Recognizing and accepting this would lead to harmony; the opposite is only acrimony. (This is one area where scholars could focus upon so as to work out a harmony.)


The above study was taken up to conclude that the world, a creation of Maya, and not that of Brahman, is not the goal pointed to by the Scripture.   All the Acharyas have categorically stated that Brahman alone, and not the world, is the goal to be realized.  Any assertion by various non-Advaitic schools and even by Advaita to the effect that the world is satya, real, is only in the relative plane and not absolute.  No school accords equal status for Brahman and the world.  Terms like ‘vyavaharika satyam’ and ‘paratantra satyam’ are invariably appended to the world.  This clearly distinguishes the world from the Paramarthika or Swatantra Satya status that is accorded only to Brahman by the various schools.

The Upanishads and the Gita and all the Puranas and Itihasa-s exhort humans in no uncertain terms to gradually but surely turn away from the world, however beautiful (?) it might be, and put in great efforts to realize the Self.  Towards this end, the Scripture never tires of showing the painful, binding nature of samsara.  The Upanishads, the Gita, The Bhagavatam and other Puranas abound in verses that talk about the ills and miseries of the world.  This manner of portraying the world is by no means cynicism or negativity for this charge will render the Upanishadic Seers, Bhagavan Krishna and Veda Vyasa the greatest protagonists of  gloom.  Quite contrary to this, these very Scriptural works abound in verses that encourage, enthuse and fill the aspirant with hope, cheer and optimism to walk the path of liberation with brimming confidence.

A detailed consideration of such passages concerning the insubstantiality of this Maya-created world and those invigorating passages addressed to the seeker is beyond the scope of this article and thus is left for an elaborate treatment in a later essay.

मायातीतं माधवमाद्यं जगदादिं मानातीतं मोहविनाशं मुनिवन्द्यम् ।

योगिध्येयं योगविधानं परिपूर्णं वन्दे रामं रञ्जितलोकं रमणीयम् ॥

[ I bow down to Rama, Madhava, the Source of the world, who is beyond Maya,  the dispeller of delusion, worshipped by Sages, the goal of Yogis, the Proponent  of the path of Yogasadhana, the Complete Being, who brings joy to the world and is adorable.]

The above verse, found in the AdhyAtma Ramayana, is itself a pithy Vedantic verse:  It portrays Brahman as the VivartopaadAna of the world, as it shows Brahman as beyond Maya and yet as the source of the world.

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