One thing many fellow traditional Hindus have found frustrating about me is my lack knowledge and lack of affinity for the advaita stream of vedanta, and more fundamentally me being a svatantra. My blasphemous views regarding vedas and their apauruSheyatva are also hardly appreciated in their midst. I am not shaken by their views because I am pretty firm in my convictions on these matters arising from ongoing study of the originals, and yAj~navalya always stands out as beacon. These are indeed matters of worthy of deep historical study by any Hindu and it is advisable that they take nothing for granted. The key to their study is comparative philosophy – a term first suggested by Brijendranath Seal, a modern va~Nga scholar of early Hindu thought. Just like comparative linguistics is central to the understanding of Sanskrit, the language of Hindu thought, comparative philosophy is central to understanding the evolution of Hindu thought. It should be amply clear that the fundamental aspects of Hindu thought cannot be understood without comparative linguistics and philosophy, a point so blithely neglected by many traditional Hindus. Of course like most other sketches presented here the below ramblings are not completely worked out pieces of research.
How many AstIka darshana-s exist? If you ask this to an average educated Hindu he will probably give you the answer 6. This number is widely cited and has even acquired some kind of legitimacy. Early in my existence I felt there were perhaps only 3. Some years later I noticed that the great scholar from mithilA ga~NgAnatha jhA was of a similar opinion. The pairing amongst the 6 darshanas is common knowledge amongst Hindus, but it is important to note that it goes beyond mere pairing — the pair are actually two sides of a coin. Further, more importantly, there is definitely an evolutionary relationship between the core 3 and oft cited 6, which is key to understanding their development.
The core problem tackled Hindu and early Greek philosophies was what can be termed “the many-one problem”. One way of stating it is that there are many identical, similar or congruent entities, that just appear to be multiple manifestations of one single prototype. In Sanskrit grammar we can reduce the various expressions of language to a small set of prototype rules. Similar we can classify the diversity of organisms to a few prototypes based on the principle of homology. Thus, many can be explained as few — but, can this be taken to the minimal prototype (may be just one) which is the only reality, and also explain the multiplicity logically. To this end the Hindus applied themselves diligently.
We have sAMkhya- it seems to have been there in the upaniShads because in 6.13 of the shvetAshvatara upaniShad we hear that sAMkhya is the basis of mokSha. The basic premise of sAMkhya’s explanation– mAyA, however, goes to the ancient Indo-Aryan past. It stems from a knowledge of the ways of gods! The gods exhibit mAyA- thus their one true or prototypic form appears in many diverse forms. This is true of indra in the R^igveda:
“rUpam-rUpaM maghavA bobhavIti mAyAh kR^invAnas tanuvaM pari svAM |” (RV 3.53.8).
In the itihAsas viShNu and rudra put forth their mAyA by means of their yoga to assume many forms. In the purANa this mAyA is the great goddess mAhAkAlI. Right from the beginning it appears to have meant a means by which the deva or dAnava creates many forms to “hide” his real one. Thus, the sAMkhyan solution appears to be actually a development of this original property of the divinities applied to describe the universe itself — the one puruSha shrouded by mAyA creates a multiplicity that is seen as the world. This connection between the mAyA of devas and sAMkhya ontology is very palpable in the explanation of saMkhya expressed in the mahAbhArata:
apAM phenopamaM lokaM viShNormAyA shatair-vR^itam |
chitta-bhitti pratIkAshaM nala sAramanarthakam || (Mbh-critical 12.290.57)
“The universe is like the foam of water enveloped by hundreds of mAyA-s of viShNu, like a painted wall and ephemeral as a hollow reed.”
So we feel sAmkhyan thinking was always there in some form in the Indo-Aryan mind from its earliest stages. There is no evidence for this being well-developed in the Iranians- though I could be mistaken. The term mAyA as far as we can see, seems to be mainly an innovation of the Indo-Aryans, though the basic concept as applied to the gods may have existed elsewhere amongst Indo-Europeans. The idea that deva-s use their yoga to effect their mAyA suggests that it is an evolute of sAMkhyA. This comes out strongly in the itihAsa and purANa — one of the most famous expressions of this known to most hindus is the statement of kR^iShNa in the bhagavad gItA:
nAhaM prakAshaH sarvasya yoga-mAyA-samAvR^itaH |
mUDho.ayaM nAbhijAnAti loko mAm-ajam-avyayaM || (BG7.25)
“I am not manifest to all veiled by the yoga of my mAyA. This deluded world knows not me unborn and unlimited.”
Again at sunset on the 14th day of the Great War devakI-putra turning to arjuna says: “arjuna, I have obscured the sun by the means of my yoga and the kauravas think it has set. Shoot jayadratha!”
Another poignant expression of the fact that the display of yoga is essentially the same as the display of mAyA is suggested by the story of the early bhArgava ushanA kAvya given in Mbh 12.278 (Critical). kAvya was enraged with the deva-s because viShNu had beheaded his mother who was a partisan of the asuras. kAyva used his yoga to enter into kubera, yakSha who was the treasurer of the deva-s and stole his wealth. Furious kubera went to rudra and told him that kAvya used his yoga to enter kubera’s body and having robbed him of his wealth came out of it and escaped. rudra himself of supreme yoga power raised his dreaded trident and sought kAvya with the intention of striking him. kAvya realized from a distance the intention of rudra of superior yoga powers and wondered whether he should flee or try some other trick. Then using his mighty yoga ushanA kAvya, that physician of the daityas, became small and went and sat on the tip of rudra’s trident. Unable to use his weapon he bent it with his arms to make it into the pinAka bow! At this point ushanA fell into shiva’s hand, who promptly swallowed him and returned to perform his yoga meditation. The bhArgava wandered endlessly in rudra’s stomach and was absorbed into shiva’s body. As shiva had shut all his outlets in practice of yoga he was unable to find an exit. Unable to escape he repeatedly worshiped the terrible mahAdeva who asked him to emerge from his semen. Thus, did bhR^igu drop out when rudra saw him and raised his trident to kill him. But umA intervened and asked him to spare the brAhmaNa.
The point of note here is that the famous bhArgava magic of parakAya-pravesha is effected by means of yoga, which is strikingly parallel to the ability of devas to exhibit mAyA. This is further clarified in the great itihAsa in course of the description of yoga:
brahmANam-Isham varadaM cha viShNum | bhavaM cha dharmaM cha ShaDAnanaM cha so brahmaputrAMsh-cha mahAnubhAvAn || 58
tamash-cha kaShTaM sumahad-rajash-cha sattvaM cha shuddhaM prakR^itiM parAM cha |
siddhiM cha devIM varuNasya patnIM tejashcha kR^itsnaM sumahach-cha dhairyaM || 59
narAdhipaM vai vimalaM satAraM vishvAMsh-cha devAn uragAn pitR^IMsh cha |
shailAMsh-cha kR^itsnAnudadhIMsh-cha ghorAn nadIsh-cha sarvAH savananghanAMsh-cha || 60
nAgAn-nagAn-yakSha-gaNAn-dishash-cha gandharva-sa~NghAn-puruShAn-striyash-cha |
parasparaM prApya mahAn-mahAtmA visheta yogI nachirAdvimuktaH || 61
The high-souled yogI filled with greatness, can enter into and come out of, at will, brahmA the lord of all, the boon-giving Vishnu, bhava, dharma, the six-faced kumAra, the sons of brahmA, tamas that results in much trouble, rajas, sattva and the pure prakR^itI, which is the foremost, the goddess siddhi – the wife of varuNa, and all energy, courage, the king, the sky with the stars, the universe, celestial snakes, the manes, mountains, all terrible oceans, all rivers, thick forests, serpents, plants, yakSha bands, the directions gandharva bands, and both males and females.
Thus it is clear the yoga was precisely the practical means of “effecting mAyA” — the yogI could literally enter into all possible rUpas. Hence, yoga was probably associated with the very same concept of saMkhyan mAyA right from its origins. We specifically see that it was a means of entering that prakR^iti which is [the cause of] mAyA as per saMkhya. sAmkhya and yoga appear to be two faces of the same darshana. The former stands for the siddhAnta or the theoretical framework and the latter for the practical means of achieving it. The earliest discoveries of importance in this direction were made by the Indo-Aryans probably in the late brAhmaNa period of the vedic era. We have no clear evidence if these discoveries were known before of not, but some back ground knowledge was probably there in the medical investigation of the atharva veda. One discovery was that there was something peculiar about the problem of consciousness and that it could be tackled in a special way by eliding the subject-object distinction. The second discovery was that this issue of consciousness could be understood only by some special physiologically alterations connected to the nervous system. This latter realization led to the primitive “kuNDalini system” [see the discussion in our note on the bhR^igu smR^iti]. This system’s earliest traces in the late brAhmaNa period are seen in the ideas of the bhArgava prAchinayogya and yAj~navalkya. It was further developed in the bhR^igu smR^iti, but still these ideas were not yet formal. An early synthesis was attempted by pata~njali in his system, but this was mainly an attempt to give yoga an independent darshana status by incorporating sAmkhya as its internal siddhAnta in a slightly modified form. The real task of synthesis was taken up the tantras, which formalized the whole practical system with its physical angles, the “kuNDalini system” and most importantly the mantra-shAstra which is the oldest tradition of the Hindus. It is this tantric synthesis that was one of the greatest achievements of Hindu thought in this direction, which until recently was neglected by most formal theoretical students of Hindu philosophies. The name of the great matsyendra, “the first guru of the kaliyuga”, is to be remembered by all.
If mAyA appears to be an Indo-Aryan innovation, how then does mAyA’s equivalent appear in Greek philosophy. An answer to this might solve a central issue in comparative philosophy.