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.

The Four Great Vedic Statements [ Mahavakyas]



What is our Self-identity?

In the profound wisdom of Vedanta, the essence of self-identity lies in recognizing the true nature of the Self. Beyond the transient roles we play and the ever-changing aspects of our existence, the Self is immortal and infinite. It transcends the limitations of time and space, existing beyond the confines of the physical realm.

Four MahaVakyas explain Self-identity.

Through four Mahavakyas, the Vedas guide us to discover our true self-identity, revealing that our essence is immortal, infinite, and beyond the limitations of time and space. Realizing this profound truth leads to liberation and the experience of ultimate bliss and unity with the universe.

Four “MahaVakyas”

There are four great statements (MahaVakyas– Great sayings), one each taken from each of four Vedas by ancient scholars. These are most famous mantras and gives the core knowledge of Veda. Traditionally these well known MahaVakyas are pointers for the aspirants seeking liberation from the cycle of births. Four MahaVakyas will be discussed in this post.

Before knowing the “MahaVakyas”, let us look into one sloka from Taittiriya Upanishad.

Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma”:- 

Above sentence literarily means ‘the knower of “Brahman” attains the Supreme.” Taittiriya 2.1.1 which is the opening sentence of Taittiriya Upanishad. We will try to understand the essence of this sentence.

“Satyam jnanam Anantam Brahman” which means “The knower of “BRAHMAN” attains the Supreme”.  BRAHMAN is Truth, knowledge, and Infinity, which is our own very Self, the Atman.  Brahman is not an object of knowledge.  It is always witnessing subject. (দ্রষ্টা~The Seer).

First of all, we need to know the true meaning of “Brahman”.

Brahman: IT is That which is Absolute, fills all space, is complete in Itself, to which there is no second and which is continuously present in everything, in every being and everywhere. It is homogeneous in nature.

Brahman: It is the key word here!

The word “Brahman” will be used repeatedly. Meaning of Brahman is VAST. This is to be noted here that the word “Brahman” does not refer to any Cast , Creed or Sect. According to Vedanta the word ” Brahman” has been derived from the root word “brh” which means growing or expanding and suffix “man” added to it signifies absence of limitations. In Vedanta, the word Brahman is a neuter gender and hence it is referred as pronoun ” That”. It is very difficult to describe Brahman, which is ultimately indefinable, indescribable, and utterly beyond all human comprehension. Brahman can not be described through senses alone. Vedanta has however taught us how to realize Brahman which is “Supreme Consciousness”. In this article I will try to explain what I understood after reading different Scriptures. Hope readers will find it interesting and worth reading.

From Upanishads we can learn about “Brahman”.  Founder of Advaita Vedanta, 8th century scholar, Shri Adi Shankaracharya said: ” there Exists one Absolute Brahman, who is “Sat-Chit-Ananda” and homogeneous in nature .” Vedanta philosophy is part of the four Vedas are believed to be composed and orally transferred, goes back to 5000 years. The oneness of Soul(Jiva~Atman) and GOD(Param Atman), the ultimate Truth is the principal essence of Vedanta philosophy. 

The Four MahaVakyas are as follows:-

Above photo has been taken from “ANANDA DHAM”, the Ashram of my father’s Guruji. I used to visit ashram since my teen age. That time I did not understand above statements(written in Bengali script). Since then, it was in my mind to know the famous statements:

1) ” prajnAnaM brahma “:Consciousness is Infinite.

This means consciousness is Brahman. This has been taken from Rig Veda ( Aitareya Upanishad): The essence is that Brahman is Supreme knowledge. The absolute reality is the essence of what you really are.

2) ” tat-tvam-asi”: That-Thou-Art.

It means “You are that” which is from Sama Veda (ChAndogya Upanishad).

3) ” ayamAtma brahma”: This Self is the Truth.

Which means This Self is Brahman. It has been selected from Atharva Veda ( maNDukya Upanishad). Atman and Brahman are the same like the waves and the ocean are one.

4) ” aham brahmAsmi”:- I am the Infinite Reality.

Here it means “I am Brahman”. This has been taken from Yajur Veda (bRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad ).   “I AM” is that absolute reality.

Importance of the MahaVakyas:- MahaVakyas contain the essence of ageless Wisdom and Absolute Truth regarding ” Brahman” which is “SAT-CHIT-ANANDA”

To understand above four MahaVakyas, one has to study Vedanta . Vedanta consists of three basic Texts. Together they are referred as ” PRASTHANA TRAYA” , triple canon of Vedanta.

  1. Upanishads ( Shruti Prasthana):

  2. Bhagavad Gita( Smriti Prasthana : Quintessence of the teaching of entire Veda: “samasta-vedanta-sarasangraha-bhutam”).

  3. Brahma Sutra (Nyaya-Prasthana also known as uttarmimamsa sutra).

Those who wish to study the philosophy of Vedanta, may read ” The Ten Principal Upanishads” and the “Brahma Sutra” after reading the “Bhagavad Gita”. In the following paragraphs, I will write brief introduction about Brahma sutra. Rather I will emphasize on Brahma sutra because it is essential to understand the concept of Advaita Vedanta. While explaining Brahma sutra, some references of Upanishads obviously will follow.

There are four chapters in Brahma sutra. First chapter unifies Brahman. Second chapter shows no conflicts between Vedanta and other sastras (sacred texts). The third deals with practice to attain Brahman and the fourth one is result of attaining Brahman which is nothing but fruits of Self realization. The first topic of first chapter of Brahma sutra is “Jijnasadhikaranam” [ Topic-1/first chapter] which means ” The enquiry into Brahman and it’s prerequisites”. The first sentence of this chapter is ” Athato Brahmajijnasa” (Hence thereafter a deliberation on Brahman.1.1.1)

Now, this Text is for whom? A little explanation is essential here.

The Vedanta is for the person who is competent to understand and study sastras(Scriptures) ,has tranquil mind, full of faith, consistently engaged in good thoughts and associates with the knower of Truth. After attainment of certain preliminary qualifications which are known as ” SADHANA CHATUSHTAYA”~ four salvations ,one can progress towards the direction of knowing Brahman. Four salvations are:

  1. “Nitya-Anitya-vastuveveka” which means discrimination between the eternal and non eternal.
  2. ” IhamutrarthaphalabhogaViraga” : Indifference to the joys in this life or in in Heaven, and of the fruits of one’s action.
  3. ” Shatsampat : Six-fold virtues that are : i) Sama (Control of mind), ii) Dama ( Control of senses),iii) Uparati (Cessation from worldly enjoyments), iv) Titiksha ( Endurance of pleasure and pain, heat and cold), v) Sraddha (Faith), vi) Samadhana (Deep concentration).
  4. “Mumukshautva” (Desire for liberation).

Even without possessing the knowledge of “Karma Kanda” (Rituals, religious ceremonies), a desire for attaining the knowledge of Brahman( Brahma Gyan) will arise direct from the study of “Srutis”. Therefore, I will recall here the sentence ” A man full of revelation, but without desire has equal joy.” which is written in Sanskrit as ” श्रोत्रियस्यचअकामहतस्य “ means well versed in “Srutis”. Hence it implies that the enquiry of Brahman does not depend on the performance of any act but through study of Vedas. That is the essence of the section ” Ananda Valli” of Taittiriya Upanishad.

Why should one enquire Brahman? Why?

Most of the religions believe that life in earth or life in heaven are attained on the basis of one’s virtuous deeds(“KARMA”) which is transient. But once you know Brahman, you will enjoy everlasting bliss and immortality. Knowledge of Brahman destroys ignorance which is the root cause of all sufferings.

We will continue our study of Vedanta a little more in the following paragraphs. I admit that this will be lengthy for the readers, but it is essential part of Vedas which needs to be presented.

“Janmadyadhikaranam“: Definition of Brahman[Topic-2/First chapter of Brahma sutra]. First sentence here is ” Janmadyasya yatah” 1.1.2(2) means Brahman is that from which the origin, sustenance and dissolution of this Universe proceed. Brahman is eternally pure, wise, and free. He is Omnipotent and Omniscient. One can attain knowledge of brahman through reflection on it’s attributes. Would like to refer here Taittiriya upanishad-iii-1: Conversation between Varuna and his son Bhrigu Varuni on enquiry into Brahman. Bhrigu is asking his father- ” Sir, teach me Brahman”. Varuna said, ” that from whence these beings are born, that by which, when born they live, that into which they enter at their death, try to know that“. That is Brahman.

Here the point to be noted is that the origin, sustenance, and dissolution of the Universe are characteristic of the Universe because of changing (cyclic) in nature. They do not pertain to the eternal unchanging Brahman, yet they indicate Brahman which is the cause of this universe. Sruti has another definition of Brahman. ” Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahman” means Truth, knowledge, Infinity is Brahman.

” Sastrayonitvadhikaranam” : Brahman is realizable only through the scriptures [Topic-3/First chapter of Brahma sutra]. “Sastrayonitvat”: 1.1.3(3) means the scripter is the source of right knowledge. The scriptures illumine all things like a search light. Through scripture only we get a comprehensive understanding of the nature of Brahman. Brahman is formless, colorless, attribute less. Hence it can not be grasped by the senses alone. Brahman is ONE, infinite and without second.

The Self is infinite.

There is in fact no multiplicity or plurality in that ONE, Homogeneous Being, the Supreme Being and the Ultimate. Because of superimposition and our ignorance, we have forgotten our true nature.  It alone
exists as the illuminator. This “Atman” the Real “Self” in its glorious existence, reveals its own “Sat-Chit” nature which is Anandamaya. The eternal nature of Self is Bliss only.

Vedanta says that the study of scriptures helps in realization of truth, when one is equipped with necessary fourfold discipline:-
1. Discrimination between real (Nitya নিত্য~ eternal) and unreal (Anitya অনিত্য~transitory).
2. Renunciation of the unreal (Viraga~বৈরাগ্য)
3. Six-fold qualities.
4. Longing for liberation (Moksha ~মোক্ষ প্রাপ্তি : to escape from the cycle of births and deaths)

The word “Self” is generally meant to “Atman” (soul). But the Sanskrit word is “Atman”, which cannot be translated.  This Atman is deathless, birthless, eternal and real for every individual.  It is the unchanging reality (sat ~সৎ) behind the changing body, sense organs, mind, and ego. It is Spirit, which is pure Consciousness (চিত্) and is unaffected by time-space causality. It is infinite and it is ONE without the second.
As the unchanging reality in the individual is known as Atman, same way the unchanging reality in the Universe is known as “BRAHMAN”. Vedanta says This BRAHMAN and ATMAN are one and the same.

Three key words are repeatedly used in Vedanta. Those are to be understood which are conceptual.1.Brahman: Discussed above. Next two are 2.Maya and 3.Atman; discussed below.

What is Maya? (~ Sanskrit word) :– Manifested Universe is all due to “Maya”

The appearance of this world is due to Maya-the illusory power of Brahman. Maya is neither “Sat” (existent) nor “Asat” (not existent). This world is unreal. According to Vedanta, our real nature is divine, pure, perfect, eternal, and free.  We do not have to become Brahman, because we are That. But Maya is the veil which covers our real nature. Maya is beginning less. Time arises only with Maya. It is unthinkable, indescribable (Anirvachaniya). The word illusion is often used as meaning of Maya, but scholars says it is improper. There is no equivalent word in English to mean it. What is known to us, according to ancient sacred texts, that Maya disappears when we realize our true nature.

Atman : –

Atman includes everything and everyone. It is the Total of all created beings, and so it is called Brahman. The ultimate in us is Atman. The ultimate in the cosmos is Brahman. Atman is Brahman. There can not be anything other than this Universal Reality.

According to Vedanta, The ultimate in us is ATMAN. The ultimate in Cosmos is BRAHMAN. This is the Universal Reality. Total Substance is Brahman. The same substance, when conceived as the essence of particular being is Atman. The Universe has been manifested out of this Total Substance can be said as Brahman. This is Atman, the Self of the universe. This Brahman is without a prior or a posterior, without interior or exterior. This Atman is Brahman, the perceiver of everything.


It is believed that Four MahaVakyas were chosen by Acharya Adi Sankara, and he attached 4 Mantras to 4 “Matha”s (Pitha)” in the four corners of India. Each four MahaVakyas are taken from each Veda. 

” prajnAnaM brahma “:Consciousness is Infinite [RIG VEDA]; It is connected to Govardhana Pitha

” tat-tvam-asi”: That-Thou-Art [ SAMA VEDA]; Connected to Dwarka Pitha

” ayamAtma brahma”: This Self is the Truth [ATHARVA VEDA]; Connected to Jyotirmath Pitha.                            

” aham brahmAsmi”:- I am the Infinite Reality [YAJUR VEDA]; It is connected with Sringeri Sharada Pitha

My request to the readers: Please go through some of my blogs which are relevant and specific to know more on the subject: Links are as below. 

  1. Essence of ChAndogya Upanishad: Part-6C of 6[END OF 6TH CHAPTER]
  2. Essence of Aitareya Upanishad: Part-B: 
  3. MaNDukya Upanishad- The Nature of OM: – Part-1
  4. The Divine Art !!!

Recommended readings:

  1. Back to the Truth: 5000 years of ADVAITA by Dennis Waite. **
  2. THE TEN PRINCIPAL UPANISHADS: Translated by Shree Purohit** Swami and W.B.Yeats
  3. Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya: Translated by Swami Gambhirananda.**
  4. Commentary of ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami Krishnananda.
  5. Mandukya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  6. BRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  7. Aitareya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  8. ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  9. EIGHT UPANISADS -VOL-1 with commentary of Sankaracharya, Translated by SWAMI GAMBHIRANANDA.
  10. THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD: SHIKSHAVALLI-ANANDAVALLI-BHRIGUVALLI with Sri Shankara’s Commentary By Sri Swami Satchidanandera Saraswati.
  11. A-U-M Awakening to Reality: By Dennis Waite***
  12. Panchadasi: Swami Vidyaranya:
  13. Information available on internet.

It is my sincere request to the esteemed readers to share their opinion or queries if any. Suggestions to make the site attractive will be incredibly helpful for me. Readers are requested to read all the posts to have continuation of the topic from the beginning. My mail ID is: