QUESTION: Dear sir,

as per advaita, there is only one reality, that is Brahman. Prakriti is an illusion pervaded by Brahman. Prakriti can be compared as imaginary snake pervaded by Brahman, the real rope. The causal factor is known as Maya. But to perceive rope as snake, there has to be someone else other than the rope. Brahman, being Nirguna, cannot be in illusion. But it is a fact that I witness Prakriti and therefore I am in illusion. 'I', the Brahman cannot be in illusion. Hence, 'I' must refer to 'jiva' i.e. reflection of Brahman in mind-intellect-vasna. However, jiva is nothing but prakriti. That means prakriti is in illusion of prakriti.

This above mentioned logic doesn't seem tenable. Kindly explain!!

ANSWER: Dear Mr. Shekhar,

Thank you for your question.

Just as human beings generally speaking have two aspects, male and female, so also Consciousness (चित्) has two aspects. One aspect called Brahman or Shiva observes and another aspect called Prakṛti, Māyā, or Shakti manifests. The Shakti aspect through its own power of Māyāshakti becomes the phenomenal universe through an act of playful will.

We can observe these two aspects of Consciousness within our own being. Mind constantly generates thoughts that manifest as different forms or concepts and the Knower within perceives these changes though remaining unchanging. It is analogous to a movie. One Light projects all the forms and dramas of the movie, being both the Source and Substance of all the movie images, while yet remaining unaffected by anything that happens in the movie. Sri Ramakrishna compared this to the way ice forms appear in the ocean through the power of cold. The liquid water and ice are One Substance but appear as different for a time.

What seems to defy logic is the coexistence of formless, unmanifested Being with the myriad forms of manifestation as a single Reality. Yet this is the fact that mystics realize in samādhi. The Bhagavad-Gita calls this "astonishing," āścaryavat. (2:29)

Best wishes,

Brother William

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QUESTION: Dear sir,

as per your answer, since the prakriti coexists along with Brahman, i.e. like  ice on water, it follows that it cannot be an illusion. That it is as much real as Brahman.

That goes against advaita Vedanta, doesn't it?

ANSWER: Dear Mr. Shekhar,

Thank you for your follow-up question.

It is a common misconception that Advaita-Vedanta asserts that the world, Prakriti, or Maya is unreal. There are several schools of non-dual Vedanta, the most commonly known being Adi Shankara's Māyāvāda or doctrine of Māyā. Shankaracarya considered Māyā neither real nor unreal. He called it inexpressible. The practical problem with Shankara's philosophy is that the very mind that thinks Māyā is somewhat less than real is also a product of Māyā. Therefore one has to assert there must be two kinds of Māyā, vidyā and avidyā Māyā. Sri Ramakrishna compared avidyā to a thorn that got stuck in your foot and vidyā another thorn you use to remove the first one. Both get discarded when avidyā is removed. Both thorns are real enough in a pragmatic sense.

The philosophy of Sri Ramakrishna, however, derives from Shaktivāda which itself derives from Kashmiri Shaivism, the non-dual philosophy than underlies most Tantric schools. Māyāshakti is the aspect of Consciousness that manifests the universe. Ramakrishna called it the Power of Brahman. He said one cannot separate Māyāshakti from Brahman any more than one can separate heat from fire or whiteness from milk. Shaktivāda does not require us to think of the world as unreal in any sense. It is a very real manifestation of Consciousness. Although the names and forms of the universe are non-eternal, they are real enough when we experience them.

“By knowing one lump of clay, we come to know all things made of clay; and we realize that in essence they are the same, differing only in name and form. By knowing one gold nugget, we come to know all things made of gold; and we realize that in essence they are the same, differing only in name and form. By knowing one tool of iron, we come to know all tools made of iron; and we realize that in essence they are the same, differing only in name and form. In the same way, through spiritual wisdom we come to know that all life is one.” Mandukya Upanishad 3:2.3–8

Furthermore, Māyā personified as the Great Goddess has the power to liberate as much as to delude. Again, Sri Ramakrishna gave the example of Laksmana, Sita, and Rama walking along the forest path. Lakshmana could not see Rama because Sita was in the way. Requesting Sita kindly to step out the way, however, Lakshmana could see Rama by her grace. Thus devotees humbly request the Mother to remove delusion and reveal her full nature.  Ramakrishna's own Vedantic Guru, Tota Puri, realized the supremacy of the Mother when he discovered he could not drown himself as he wished in the Ganga when the pain of blood dysentery prevented him from meditating properly. It is all fine and good to call the world unreal when you are feeling good, as Swami Vivekananda said, but when he had a stomach ache, he prayed, "O, Mother, save me!"

Best wishes,

Brother William

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear sir,
Can you please tell me if I am correct:-

Avidya= Maya (at the macrocosm)
Avidya= Vasna (at the microcosm)

Maya and Vasna are the causal forces responsible for creation of Plural world and Individual respectively.

There is fundamental difference between analogies {( ghost in a post) and (ornaments from gold) to understand Prakriti and Brahman}

Can Brahman be with some 'power', wouldn't it render contradiction vis-a-vis the very definition of Brahman.

I just want to know whether our understanding matches in above mentioned concepts, so that I can learn from you in a more fruitful manner.

Sudhanshu Shekhar.

Dear Sudhanshu Shekhar,

Thank you for your follow-up question.

Avidya in essence is dehātma-buddhi, i.e., the limited and limiting experience-consciousness that the body, both gross and subtle, is the Self. Vāsana, or thirst for experience, arises from this fundamental condition. From this condition also arises the experience of an inner versus an outer world. Therefore, pragmatically speaking, this is what must be addressed if one is to understand both the philosophy and practice of non-dualism.

We begin our inquiry from within a dualistic experience, from dehātma-buddhi, and therefore it is only in the language of dualism that we can authentically begin to move toward a deeper, more comprehensive understanding and experience. From the perspective of dehātma-buddhi we experience Consciousness, which I'm using here as a synonym for Brahman, in two aspects, a Witness or sākṣī, i.e., Pure Consciousness, and the content of Consciousness, i.e., all phenomena, both psychic and physical, i.e., samsāra or jagat. This is a pragmatic way of beginning to understand how the One appears first as a duo, Shiva/Shakti, or Brahman/Maya, and then as many, i.e., the phenomenal world. Sri Ramakrishna's example of Brahman and its Power analogous to milk and whiteness or fire and its heat gives us real-world examples of a single thing experienced in two aspects. Tantra uses gender as a metaphor to illustrate this. We are all one as humans but we find among humans both men and women, two aspects of the same thing. If these examples contradict your definition of Brahman, then perhaps your definition needs revision.

Shankaracarya's Māyāvāda, a derivation and modification of Sāṇkhya's Prakṛti, attempts to avoid dualism by denying any definite reality to Māyā, but as I pointed out in my first response, this linguistic sleight-of-hand creates a pragmatic problem of a relatively unreal mind trying to comprehend a relatively unreal world. Kashmiri Shaivism's non-dualism, that allows co-equal reality of Shiva and Shakti, corresponds more closely with our actual experience and therefore is more pragmatic as a starting point for sādhana, which is the main focus of Tantra.

I, for one, have little interest in metaphysics disconnected from spiritual practice. For me it must be pragmatic, directly applicable to sādhana. If you have further questions for me, perhaps you can relate them to your own spiritual practice.

Best wishes,

Brother William  


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William Schindler, a.k.a. Brother William


I can answer questions about Vedanta philosophy, Patanjali Yoga philosophy and practice, Tantra, Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads, Vivekachudamani (Shankara`s Crest-jewel of Spritual Discrimination), Advaita (non-dualism), the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda tradition, Goddess worship, meditation practice, Hindu monasticism (sannyasa), and Sanskrit.


I've been studying and practicing Vedanta and Tantra since 1969.

I'm the founder and spiritual director of Ashram West, a gay spiritual community based on traditional Hindu Tantra. I have been a member of the Vedanta Society of Southern California since 1969.


I hold a B.A. in Sanskrit (UC Berkeley 1975) and an M.A. in clinical psychology (Antioch University 1986).

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