Creation According to Reason
Having looked at some of the statements from the scriptures, and confirmed that the message here is that there is no real creation, Gaudapada now turns to a consideration of what reason tells us on the matter.
The topic of Causality is not dealt with in depth until Chapter 4 of the kArikA-s but we are attempting to address topics in some sort of logical sequence so that Causality has already been covered by the section above. Nevertheless, it is impossible to talk about the origin of creation without asking about the cause of the world so that some overlap is inevitable. And Gaudapada speaks about this in Chapter 3. So I will briefly revisit some of the arguments so that his logical reasoning is not interrupted.
Firstly (K3.27), if the universe that we see is a ‘creation’ and has effectively been ‘born’, then there has to have been a creator or original cause. Gaudapada says that we only have two alternatives – either this creation is real or it isn’t. We certainly see it and interact with it but it could be like the illusion of the rope trick produced by the magician or like the snake that we believe to exist when there is really only a rope. Once we are aware of the rope or the magician, we can appreciate the illusion for what it is without taking it for reality.
If we accept that the world is not real, then we have to accept that there must be a real substrate (i.e. brahman) for the world illusion because we cannot have an illusory effect from a non-existent cause. When we see the rope trick, we know that there must be a magician behind it. The cause has to be real. But there is no ‘birth’ or creation here, since the effect itself is not real.
The other possibility is that the world is real, in which case a real creation will have to have taken place. If we claim that brahman is the creator, then this will be the cause for the world as effect. But this would mean that brahman would have to be subject to change, since the movement from cause to effect has to involve change. (If it didn’t, and the effect was identical with the cause, then nothing would have happened.) This would contravene all that has been discussed so far.
We have seen that ‘I’ am the unchanging witness of myself as child and then youth, through to middle and old age. I am the witness of myself as waker, dreamer and deep-sleeper. The point here is that the changing is only known from the standpoint of the changeless. If the witness changes with the witnessed, then no change is seen. The very concept of change is only meaningful against a changeless background. (See the description of ekAtmapratyayasAraM from the 7th mantra in Appendix 1.)
This means that, if there is a real creation and the creator necessarily changes, then this creator would also be subject to birth and death. This is explained in the Advaita Makaranda, a short text on Advaita by Lakshmidhara Kavi, who probably lived around the 15th century AD. He states that all witnessed things are subject to the ‘six-fold modifications’ (shad vikAra) whereas the witness is changeless (nirvikAra). These six stages of change (identified by Yaska around the 6th or 5th century BC) are: birth(jAyate), existence(asti), growth(vardhate), maturation(vipariNamate) decline, (apakShiyate) and death(nashyati).
If brahman were subject to change in this way, itself being born, then it would be an effect also and would require another cause to produce it. It would not be real according to Advaita’s definition of ‘real’ (that which is the same in all three periods of time). So we would be caught in a problem of infinite regress (the logical error called anavastha), with there being no ‘first cause’. Think of yourself, being the son or daughter of parents who were themselves son and daughter of parents, who were themselves…
Furthermore, brahman would also be subject to death. Being subject to birth and death means being subject to saMsAra and all that this entails. Clearly none of this would make sense. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita (2.20): “It is not born, nor does it die. After having been, it does not cease to be; unborn, eternal, changeless and ancient. It is not killed when the body is destroyed.” (Ref. 65). Accordingly, brahman cannot be the real cause of a real creation. It can only manifest a mithyA universe.
So the reasoned conclusion is that the birth of the universe is only illusory, for which we postulate the power of mAyA as an interim explanation. (But “Magical effects prove the existence of a real magician”, as Anandagiri puts it.)
Gaudapada next states (K3.28) that a non-existent creation could not be born either in reality or as a result of mAyA. And he cites the example often used in the scriptures of the son of a barren woman (vandhyAputra). Since a barren woman is, by definition, one who cannot have children, the son of such a person is a contradiction in terms. So, the analogy that such a person cannot be born either in reality or as a result of mAyA is a good one. This kArikA is refuting the belief of the nyAya philosophers and also the shunya vAda of the Madhyamika Buddhists. A non-existent thing cannot produce either a real or an unreal universe.