Implications of the Illusionist (Mayavada) Approach to Rebirth

The starting point for the illusionist view of rebirth is in many respects similar to the starting point of the Buddhist view. The mechanical process of rebirth, ever-repeating the same basic round of birth, life and death is the underlying experience. As with the Buddhist view, also, there is a sense that this mechanical round is something to be escaped or liberated from. Where it differs to some degree is the understanding it brings to what happens after successfully achieving that liberation. The illusionist view holds out that there is a Reality that exists separate and apart from this world of illusion and that upon liberation, we eternally partake of that Reality.

As with the Buddhist view, it treats the world of life that we normally experience as something either unreal and illusory, and our effort needs to be to disentangle ourselves from this present external life and world so as to achieve the liberation.

Sri Aurobindo points out that such a view does not provide any answer to the question of “why” there should be an external world within which we live if there is no ultimate meaning or reality to it. He quotes from the Koran when he cites: “Thinkest thou that I have made the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in a jest?”

While the soul, burdened by the experience of suffering and the sense of the unreality of the world, experiences a relief when it finally escapes, this does not actually resolve the cosmic riddle, simply avoids it.

Sri Aurobindo describes the issue: “But it gives no real, because no fruitful answer to the problem of God and man and the significance of life; it only gets away from them by a skilful evasion and takes away from them all significance, so that any question of the sense and will in all this tremendous labour and throb and seeking loses meaning. But the challenge of God’s universe to the knowledge and strength of the human spirit cannot in the end be met by man with a refusal or solved by an evasion, even though an individual soul may take refuge from the demand, as a man may from the burden of action and pain in unconsciousness, in spiritual trance or sleep or escape through its blank doors into the Absolute. Something the Spirit of the universe means by our labour in existence, some sense it has in these grandiose rhythms, and it has not undertaken them in an eternally enduring error or made them in a jest. To know that and possess it, to find and fulfil consciously the universal being’s hidden significances is the task given to the human spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo,