Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Purpose of Creation

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(Edited from a post to the Alan Watts List March 1996.)

A question which always arises when students begin to study Advaita is this: if our original, true nature is (was) knowledge-consciousness-bliss, why did ‘we’ give this up to enter a state of ignorance with all its attendant unhappiness etc.? i.e. how did man's 'fall' occur? I guess this is not an original question!

The best I could do at the time when I was first asked this question was to say that the comparison of 'enlightenment' to our present waking state is analogous to comparing our waking state to our dreaming state. We may have extremely vivid dreams in which all manner of apparently real events occur but, when we wake up, we wouldn't spend much time on attempting to pursue these events as though they were real. The example which occurred to me was that, if we dreamed we had murdered someone, we wouldn't, on waking, go to give ourselves up to the police. The dream has no more than an academic interest.

Similarly, it is said that when we move to the fourth plane of consciousness (turIya), this waking state has no more meaning for us than our dreams have in the waking state.

One key reference to this topic is in gauDapAda's kArikA, this being effectively a commentary on the mANDUkya upaniShad. Shankara has provided a commentary on both of these and I have a copy with commentaries (on the commentaries on the commentaries!) by Swami Nikhilananda.

He (Shankara) uses an example of an illusion performed by a magician. Someone throws a rope up into the air, proceeds to climb up it, disappears from sight and then severed limbs fall to the ground and he rises up again. He says that no-one believes that any of this is really happening and that they look to the hidden magician who stays on the ground if they want to discover the explanation. Similarly, those seeking enlightenment turn their attention towards turIya and do not concern themselves with creation. The other point which is made subsequently is that the 'Creator' is totally fulfilled and thus has no desires. Thus He cannot create the world for any purpose whatsoever. Any assumption of will, desire, enjoyment, diversion etc. is an imposition of our own as a result of our ignorance.

If all this sounds a bit heavy, I also came across, quite coincidentally, a different explanation by Watts in 'The Book'. He uses a myth, presented as a child's story to explain how God plays with himself (since there is no other). He plays Hide and Seek, hiding from himself by pretending to be us. The ignorance is there so that he doesn't find himself too quickly and thereby spoil the game. Of course, this is the lIlA theory which Shankara discounts above in the same way as any other theory which ascribes a purpose to God's behaviour.

I think the simplest explanation (as long as it isn't just viewed as a cop-out) is that the Self, and its actions (except that the Self doesn't act!) is far subtler than our mind and intellect and thus beyond our understanding.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012