The Cosmic Illusion and the Cosmic Reality

As Sri Aurobindo has pointed out at length in the discussion of dreams and hallucinations, both of which are frequently cited as analogies to help us understand the working of Maya, the cosmic illusion, the analogy breaks down quickly and does not really help us get a sense of what is meant by the concept of maya.

In each case presented, we find that a failure of sense perception, or a failure of interpretation of the sense impression leads to a wrong conclusion, but in each case, the wrong conclusion is nevertheless based on an actual real experience or impression, but manufactured “out of thin air”. Whether we look at poetic imagination, visions, dreams, artistic conception, we still come back to the underlying reality that is the basis of the activity. Thus, the analogies have no relationship to the phenomenon we are trying to explain.

When we look at the operation of Maya, however, we see a vast cosmic illusion that allegedly DOES appear out of “thin air” with no basis for the creation in anything preceding it. Mayavadins hold that this illusion is an imposition on the sole Absolute, the Real, the One; but they do not provide any rationale or basis on which this should occur. Sri Aurobindo holds that both the Oneness and the Multiplicity are REAL. Sri Aurobindo explains his view of the creation of the universe of forms as follows: “What we see in the universe is that a diversity of the identical is everywhere the fundamental operation of cosmic Nature; but here it presents itself, not as an illusion, but as a various real formation out of a one original substance. A Reality of Oneness manifesting itself in a reality of numberless forms and powers of its being is what we confront everywhere. There is no doubt in its process a mystery, even a magic, but there is nothing to show that it is a magic of the unreal and not a working of a Consciousness and Force of being of the omnipotent Real, a self-creation operated by an eternal self-knowledge.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pp. 431-432


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