At a certain point of this constant unrest and travail even the physical mind loses its conviction of objective certitude and enters into an agnosticism which questions all its own standards of life and knowledge, doubts whether all this is real or else whether all, even if real, is not futile; the vital mind, baffled by life and frustrated or else dissatisfied with all its satisfactions, overtaken by a deep disgust and disappointment, finds that all is vanity and vexation of spirit and is ready to reject life and existence as an unreality, all that it hunted after as an illusion, Maya; the thinking mind, unbuilding all its affirmations, discovers that all are mere mental constructions and there is no reality in them or else that the only reality is something beyond this existence, something that has not been made or constructed, something Absolute and Eternal,—all that is relative, all that is of time is a dream, a hallucination of the mind or a vast delirium, an immense cosmic Illusion, a delusive figure of apparent existence.
Physical mind turns agnostic, vital mind gets frustrated, thinking mind discovers unreal nature of its constructions
We have seen that the physical mind relies solely on the senses, perceives the actual, the objective phenomena and accepts it as self-evident truth beyond question; the vital mind, driven by desire, creates dissatisfaction and unrest; the thinking mind never arrives at a settled reality of its own certitudes and convictions.
At a certain point of this constant unrest and travail, even the physical mind which bases itself on objective facts, loses its conviction of its objective certitude. It turns into agnosticism; it questions all its own standards of life and knowledge. It doubts the reality of things. It comes to the conclusion that everything is futile in the end, incapable of producing any results.
The vital mind gets baffled by life and frustrated with all its satisfactions. It is overtaken by a deep disgust and disappointment. It comes to the conclusion that all is a worthless botheration. Therefore, it is ready to reject life and existence as an unreality; all that we seek after is an illusion, Maya.
The thinking mind undoes all its affirmations. It discovers that all are mere mental constructions and there is no reality in them. Or if at all any reality, it has to be something beyond this existence; something that has not been constructed; something that is Absolute and Eternal. It concludes that all that is in the world, is relative and subject to time; therefore, it is a dream, a hallucination of the mind, an immense cosmic illusion.
The principle of negation prevails over the principle of affirmation and becomes universal and absolute. Thence arise the great world-negating religions and philosophies; thence too a recoil of the life-motive from itself and a seeking after a life elsewhere flawless and eternal or a will to annul life itself in an immobile Reality or an original Non-Existence.
Principle of negation prevails over the principle of affirmation
At the end the principle of negation has a stronger appeal than the principle of affirmation. The negation of the world becomes universal and absolute.
This gives rise to the great world-negating religions and philosophies. There arises a tendency of withdrawal of life-motive from life itself. It is thought that life elsewhere away from the world is flawless and eternal and to seek after it is thought to be an ideal (Mayavada). Or there arises a will to cancel life itself in an immobile Reality or in an original Non-Existence (Nirvana of Buddhism).
(At the level of the mind we have greater uncertainty because what is true today becomes untrue tomorrow; what is confirmed as reality today becomes an illusion tomorrow and we get completely disillusioned. Sri Aurobindo tells us that due to this in life every human being at some time or another reaches a stage of agnosticism, disgust, disappointment and vexation of spirit. It is nothing unnatural. This disappointment may be for a short while, may be for a week or it may be longer. Psychologists call it depression, but Sri Aurobindo would say it is natural because all our expansion – physical,vital, mental – at a certain point reaches a limit, thus far and no further, and we get a jolt there. This disappointment gives support to Adi Shankaracharya’s view of the world being a mithya, an illusion – Ananda Reddy, Deliberations of The Life Divine, Vol-7, p.5, SACAR)
In India the philosophy of world-negation has been given formulations of supreme power and value by two of the greatest of her thinkers, Buddha and Shankara. There have been, intermediate or later in time, other philosophies of considerable importance, some of them widely accepted, formulated with much acumen of thought by men of genius and spiritual insight, which disputed with more or less force and success the conclusions of these two great metaphysical systems, but none has been put forward with an equal force of presentation or drive of personality or had a similar massive effect.
The world negation of Buddha and Shankara had a greater impact than other spiritual personalities
In India the philosophy of negation has been accorded supreme power and value by Buddha and Shankara. Both of them were considered the greatest of her thinkers in the post-vedantic era. We may wonder why their philosophies have a larger appeal to human minds. Because they are not contradicting life in their philosophy, they are affirming our experience of disgust and disappointment with life. They have become so popular because they confirm the reality of life as it presently exists. Therefore, it would be natural for anyone who gets disgusted with life to say all this world is a Maya.
There were, of course, other philosophers of considerable importance intermediate or later in time (Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu etc.,). Their philosophies were widely accepted as they were formulated with much brilliance of thought. These saints were considered men of genius and spiritual insight. Their philosophies disputed with more or less force and success, the conclusions of Buddha and Adi Shankara.
But none of them has been put forward with equal force of presentation or drive of personality. They did not have a similar massive effect like the philosophies of Buddha and Shankara.
The spirit of these two remarkable spiritual philosophies —for Shankara in the historical process of India’s philosophical mind takes up, completes and replaces Buddha,—has weighed with a tremendous power on her thought, religion and general mentality: everywhere broods its mighty shadow, everywhere is the impress of the three great formulas, the chain of Karma, escape from the wheel of rebirth, Maya.
Chain of Karma, escape from birth, Maya ruled the Indian thought
In the spiritual history of India, it was Buddha who originated the world negating philosophy. It was subsequently taken up by Shankara and completed by him. The spirit of the philosophies of Buddha and Shankara has weighed with a tremendous power on India’s thought, religion and general mentality. Everywhere it has cast its mighty shadow.
Everywhere we find the three great formulas, the chain of Karma, escape from the wheel of rebirth, Maya have strongly affected the minds of Indian men and women.
(Sri Aurobindo gives tributes to both these as the greatest personalities of their times, and notes that in the historical processes, Shankara takes up where Buddha left, and completes it. Buddha does not describe this world as false or an illusion. All that he says is that this world is full of pain, misery, sorrow, grief. This is the central character of life on earth. And he prescribes a way to get out of this field of grief and sorrow. He analyses that the main motivating force of life here is desire. Desire drives you to fulfil it. If it is frustrated you are grief-stricken, depressed, unhappy. If the desire were to find its fulfilment, it leads to another desire. There is no end to it. Whatever has been already desired, whatever has already gathered in its momentum, leave that to itself, it is bound to exhaust itself one day, at some point of time, if continuous impulsion is denied. After the Karma of the previous impulsions exhausts itself, all comes to a standstill. You will find yourself in a state which has been variously described as Shunya, Zero, Nirvana, extinction.
Shankara came centuries later, he saw that Buddha’s thought, logic had completely demolished the ritualistic religion and beliefs of the Aryan people. He started talking the language of Buddha, he did not talk in terms of the Veda. But he went a step further and said there is no real world. All is maya, a seeming appearance. How does the maya come in if Brahman, the Reality, is the sole Reality? Shankara said it is inexplicable, anirvacaniya. He says, God belongs to the lower creation, Ishwara is saguna brahman, the highest is nirguna brahman, nirakara, the indescribable. So, on all fronts he went beyond Buddha, demolished the meaning of life, relevance of God – Shri M.P.Pandit: Talks on The Life Divine: Vol II: p. 70-71)
It is necessary therefore to look afresh at the Idea or Truth behind the negation of cosmic existence and to consider, however briefly, what is the value of its main formulations or suggestions, on what reality they stand, how far they are imperative to the reason or to experience. For the present it will be enough to throw a regard on the principal ideas which are grouped around the conception of the great cosmic Illusion, Maya, and to set against them those that are proper to our own line of thought and vision; for both proceed from the conception of the One Reality, but one line leads to a universal Illusionism, the other to a universal Realism,—an unreal or real-unreal universe reposing on a transcendent Reality or a real universe reposing on a Reality at once universal and transcendent or absolute.
The theory of illusion requires a fresh examination
Therefore, it is necessary to have a fresh look at the Idea or Truth behind the negation of cosmic existence. It is necessary to consider what is the value of its main formulations or suggestions. We must see on what reality they stand. We must examine how far they are imperative to the reason or to experience.
We must examine the principal ideas which are grouped around the conception of the great cosmic Illusion, Maya. We must set against them those ideas that are proper to our own line of thought and vision.
Both the negation and affirmation proceed from the conception of One Reality. One line leads to a universal Illusionism. The other leads to a universal Realism. The Illusionism is based on an unreal or real-unreal universe reposing on a transcendent Reality. The concept of world affirmation is based on a real universe reposing on a Reality at once universal and transcendent or absolute.