The Canvas of Maya: Universal Superimposition Explored in “Chitra Deepa Prakarana”

“Chitra Deepa Prakarana”

“Universal Superimposition”:

According to Advaita Vedanta, Nirguna Brahman is the supreme reality that transcends all qualities and attributes. Realizing one’s identification with this source, which is the origin of all life and consciousness, is the aim of spiritual practice. Nirguna Brahman is the source of all manifestation and change in the cosmos, which makes causality a subtle facet of Brahman. But in the end, even causality is a figment of Maya, the cosmic delusion that hides the fundamental essence of existence. As one advances along the Advaita Vedanta path, they see that all apparent boundaries—between the gross and the subtle, between cause and effect, and even between the self and the other—are ultimately unreal and melt into Nirguna Brahman’s oneness.


This passage is taken from The Sage Vidyaranya Swami’s “Panchadasi”: 

Written in the fourteenth century A.D., “Panchadasi” is a comprehensive text on Advaita Vedanta, or Prakarana Grantha. It is composed of fifteen chapters, three sections, and five chapters in each section. There are three sections: 1) Ananda (Bliss), 2) Deepa (Illumination), and 3) Viveka (Discrimination). The sixth chapter is in the “Deepa” section, where the Illumination part describes the universe’s fourfold manifestation process. We’ll discuss the sixth chapter. An easy way to understand the Advaita Vedanta concept is by an analogy with painting.

Sixth Chapter: “Chitra Deepa Prakarana”

Since the whole book "Panchadasi" is dedicated to Advaita Vedanta, the sixth chapter also highlights the essential idea of non-duality, stating that each individual soul (Atman) is identical to the ultimate reality (Brahman).

First step: Piece of white cloth, pure in its original state to start painting.

 Second step: The cloth is then stiffened with starch to turn it to a canvas.

Third step: Artist draw Outline of the painting according to his imagination in mind.

Fourth Step: Finally, the outline is filled with different colours and thus a complete picture appears on the canvas.

The Universe is like a vast painted picture:

Similar to the process of the painting, there are four stages in the process of creation of this Universe. There is an all pervading, unchangeable background, Pure Consciousness, known is “Brahman” which is the first stage of creation. As cloth has to exist for drawing painting, similarly, Pure Consciousness exists for the creation of Universe. That is the first stage. Second stage- stiffening of cloth is compared with the concentrated Will of Cosmic Being. In the pure Being, there is no question of Will.  The stiffened form is Ishwara, where The Maya is superimposed with pure Consciousness. The third stage, drawing outline is similar to faint picture of cosmos, can be seen as “Hiranyagarbha”. Fourth stage is the gross manifestation. The “Virat” (The Gross)

First Stage of Creation: 

Nirguna Brahman: Pure Consciousness. 

Pure white cloth is equivalent to Nirguna Brahman: Pure Consciousness.

Pure Consciousness~ Nirguna Brahman

Now, we will discuss on the analogy drawn:

Pure Consciousness which is the nature of Brahman, is the substratum of all things, and this may be compared with pure white cloth. Swami Vidyaranya says, for analogy, Pure white cloth is equivalent to Nirguna Brahman (Nirguna means~ Non-qualified Brahman). This is first unchanging stage of projection of Universe.

Second Stage of Creation:

Nirguna Brahma + Maya = Ishwara.

Starch which stiffened the white cloth is “Maya”.

Maya superimposed with Nirguna Brahman


The term “Maya” in Advaita Vedanta refers to the cosmic illusion or illusory force that conceals the true nature of existence and gives the appearance that the universe is distinct from the ultimate reality (Brahman). It is the principle that causes the phenomenal cosmos to manifest and gives rise to the perception of diversity and individuality. Realising the non-dual essence of reality, where the seeming diversity is ultimately an illusion and everything is interwoven as one undivided whole, requires an understanding of Maya.

Maya Upahita Chaitanya:

Nirguna Brahman, the absolute in itself is not projecting the universe. With the help of Maya, it is projecting itself as the universe. Just as in the rope-snake example, where rope appears to be snake. But it is actually rope. Due mistake it happens. Similarly, ignorance, the Maya plays the role of rope. Therefore, Brahman (Sat-Chit-Ananda) is projecting the Universe when Maya is superimposed with Pure Consciousness. This has been compared with the starched canvas. This is second stage of manifestation of Universe (Maya Upahita Chaitanya)

Third Stage of Creation:

Nirguna Brahma + Maya + Ishwara = Hiranyagarbha.

Third stage indicates drawing of the outline: That is “Hiranyagarbha”.

Nirguna Brahman, with the power of the Maya, with subtle bodies projecting as Hiranyagarbha.

Same Sat-Chit-Ananda, Nirguna Brahman, with the power of the Maya, associated with the subtle bodies are projected as “Hiranyagarbha”. Five subtle elements: known as Tanmatra  (तन्मात्र) out of which our mind, intellect, in the subtle body (Sukshma sarira ) is formed. Pranamaya kosha, ManoMaya kosha and VijnaMaya Kosha are created. Thus, the drawing of the outline is formed. This is third stage of projection of Universe.

Fourth Stage of Creation:

The same Hiranyagarbha with all physical bodies is Virat. 

Once the outline is drawn, the painter fills in the colour, Diverse colours. That completes the full painting. And that is gross body. Same is applicable to the formation of the Universe. Hiranyagarbha, associated with gross bodies becomes gross physical Universe. Same Consciousness which is Nirguna Brahman now with Maya is Ishwara and again associated with all subtle bodies is Hiranyagarbha. The same Hiranyagarbha associated with all physical bodies is Virat. This is final and changing stage of manifestation of Universe.


Thus, the analogy drawn by Swami Vidyaranya, is unique. Easy to understand the concept of “Nirguna Brahman” and “Saguna Brahma” White cloth is compared with “Nirguna Brahman”(Pure Consciousness~ Sachidananda Brahman).  And the Virat is Saguna Brahman.

Sachidananda Brahman associated with power of Maya is termed as Ishwara.

Now let us investigate into details of Virat. We see Virat as scattered. Now think I am an individual. And there are other beings, billions and billions of living beings, microorganisms, plants, oceans, mountains, microscopic elements, macroscopic materials, stars, planets, Sun moon galaxies etc. which all exists before us.  Though, they look separate, but actually not. Because all these appear in ONE PURE CONSCIOUSNESS. 

What lesson we get from four stages of painting with the analogy given by Vidyaranya Swami?

What is real is the cloth. The canvas. How can we say that? Because painting doesn’t exist without cloth.

Only Reality here is the cloth. Pure white cloth. No starch, no outline, no painting. Basically, it is cloth even after all association. Before association it is cloth. After all association, it is cloth. Suppose the completed painting shows nature, animals, people. Ultimately, if you think carefully, in the picture, each object of the painting is nothing but a piece of cloth. All characters, such as men, women, children, whatever be shown in the painting are basically a piece of cloth. We may even consider a movie hall. Where the screen is basically a cloth. Screen remains screen before and after the movie. What we see in the movie is known to us. Similarly, this Universe is a vast projection of Supreme Consciousness. What is that? Can we not say now that “YOU ARE THAT (TAT TVAM ASI)” That means each of us is Pure Consciousness, Brahman. Advaita Vedanta says us that in the background we are all pure Consciousness.

Famous Verse from “Viveka Chudamani” a Prakarana grantha(Sacred Text) is:  “Brahma Satya Jagat Mithya, Jivo Brahmaivanaparah.

“Brahma Satya Jagat Mithya”: It means Brahman is the only truth (the ultimate reality), the world is illusory, neither true, nor false (Mithya). Means the world is changing and what we see is just appearance. “ Jivo Brahmaiva naparah”:  Adi Shankaracharya is conveying that the realization of the individual Self, Atman, Life energy in its purest form (without the ego) is nothing but realizing brahman only. 

The entire Universe you are experiencing, all that you see, living, non-living, around you, that you interact, all the events, happenings in your life, are in reality Sat-Chit-Ananda, Brahman, the ultimate Reality. We are not body made of flesh and blood, not body and mind complex. We are actually Sat-Chit-Ananda. (Existence, Consciousness Bliss) appearing as this body and mind.  

We have to see through the experiences in our life. 

Vidyaranya swami explains, there are human beings shown in the picture wearing clothes and painted with different colours. These clothes on human being, are painted on real clothes. Think carefully here. There is a painted cloth, which is a Real cloth. People see the picture and put their comments on the colours, objects shown in the painting and discuss on their look. But nobody talks of clean cloth which first became canvas and then finally a painted picture. Same is true for all of us the human beings, having different qualities, different nature etc., we do not think of Chidatma, Brahman, the Pure consciousness. Reality is: “I am not the body not the mind. I am pure consciousness.” That is true for all of us. Background Consciousness: that is all of us. 

The Virat Rupa of Lord Krishna


The “Chitra Deepa Prakarana,” is an important part of the book “Panchadasi.” It’s easy to understand and follow Swami Vidyaranya’s lessons in this chapter because they are organized and build on each other. The process of “adhyaropa apavada,” which means “superimposition,” is at the heart of his work. Everything that is important about Vedanta is summed up in the first 17 shlokas. The way Swami Vidyaranya describes the making of the world is like drawing on a canvas. This shows how deeply all things are linked. The Apavada method becomes more important as the discussion goes on. It requires the mind to understand and, in the end, reject the whole external world. This kind of intellectual judgment is very important for understanding and realizing the ultimate truth, which is that we are witness awareness by nature.

Published by

Arun Singha

Retired from AIRPORTS AUTHORITY OF INDIA as Dy. General Manager (CNS).BSc(Mathematics Honors). Age 60years. Studying ancient Indian Philosophy along with modern physics and modern Biology. Follow Dr. Bruce H Lipton, Dr. JOE DISPENJA , Gregg Braden and Swami Sarvapriyananda among others. Writing consolidated articles on Upanishads, Advaita Vedanta and other ancient Indian Texts. Wish to work for the society to help people through personal guidance, motivation. Self has work experience of 36 years in the field of Air Navigation Service at different Airports in India. Gained vast experience in handling man and machine. Would like to reach to the people to share my life experiences, how I had overcome great challenges and difficulties at different times and positions.

17 thoughts on “The Canvas of Maya: Universal Superimposition Explored in “Chitra Deepa Prakarana””

  1. Sir, what a beautiful article loaded with important sections of Vedanta which can be used to enhance life skills. In addition to your criterion, Here is what Swami Dayananda says in the Bhagavad Gita intro “any knowledge that removes ignorance of self is shruti, regardless of the language it is in, or culture it is from?”

    Also, if anubhava is not a pramana for self-knowledge, by what means did the Rishis get knowledge? I was under the impression that being instructed by Sadashiva was a metaphor for direct knowing beyond words in a state of yogic samadhi. keep enlightening us and stay safe. 🙏

  2. Wonderfully presented post Sir. I am only learning few simple things which my brain can bear 🤗

    My overall understanding is, In the dance of creation and consciousness, we find the essence of existence. It’s the spark within us that connects us to the universe. Embrace this power within in the beauty of cosmos ❤🙏🙏

  3. Hello Arun. Great image of a painting that has fabric as its base. It was nice to read such a beautiful text that we are all the essence of a single consciousness, which can manifest itself in different ways and in the form of matter on earth.
    Your post echoes my post today about man’s mission on earth. These ideas are also based on the idea that spirit makes matter vital, gives it meaning and creates souls and bodies in order to evolve and absorb the experience of each soul for further development.
    Thanks for the post and good mood! 🌞🌞🌞

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback. I will read your post, which echoes my post.
      Your comments made me more encouraged to write abstract posts that are a mix of physics and philosophy.
      Have wonderful Sunday evening in a good mood.
      Arun. 🤝🙏😊

      1. I hope that the world has become kinder these days.
        I invite you to continue sharing your insights. It helps to move on and get to know yourself through the windows of others.
        Have a great week ahead, Arun! 🤝🌞☂

        1. Thank you so much, Olga, for your kind words. Post-training, I am feeling more energetic.
          In essence, renunciation through a vegetarian diet and abstaining from alcohol is a conscious and deliberate choice to lead a life of balance, compassion, and spiritual growth. It’s a daily practice of aligning my actions with my values, reaffirming my commitment to a path of simplicity, mindfulness, and inner peace.
          I am entitled to the next part of training after 3 months.
          I will share more and more of my thoughts. Definitely.
          Have a wonderful week ahead.
          Best wishes and regards.

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