Light on the analogy of painted picture: “Universal Superimposition”:
This is a text from “Panchadasi” composed by The Sage Vidyaranya Swami: —
“Panchadasi” is a comprehensive Text (Prakarana Grantha) on Advaita Vedanta, composed during 14th century A.D. It has fifteen chapters divided into three sections; Five chapters in each section: Sections are: 1. Viveka (Discrimination), 2. Deepa (Illumination), 3. Ananda (Bliss). Sixth chapter explains on the process of manifestation of the Universe which is fourfold. We will discuss on 6th Chapter. Analogy of painting of art explains the principle of Advaita Vedanta in quite simple manner.
Sixth Chapter: “Chitra Deepa Prakarana”
- 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 colors 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)
1. Pure white cloth is equivalent to Nirguna Brahman: Pure Consciousness.
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.
2. Starch which stiffened the white cloth is “Maya”.
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.
Nirguna Brahman (Pure Consciousness), 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)
3. Third stage indicates drawing of the outline: That is “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 ( sukshmah 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.
4. The same Hiranyagarbha with all physical bodies is Virat.
Once the outline is drawn, the painter fills in the color, Diverse colors. 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~ Sacchidanand Brahma). And the Virat is Saguna Brahman.
Sacchidanand Brahman associated with power of Maya is termed as Ishwara.
Consciousness associated with Maya, subtle bodies and with physical bodies is Virat the final form. What we see as Universe. This Virat Roopa was seen by Arjuna [ Bhagavad Geeta-eleventh chapter]. Arjuna asked Shri Krishna, I would like to see your Divine form.
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 colors. 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 colors, 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.
“Chitra Deepa prakarana” with 280 verses is particularly important and significant chapter of the Text Panchadasi. Teaching of Swami Vidyaranya is very systematic, consistent, and very progressive. Quite simple to understand the essence of the topic. Method is “adhyaropa apavada”. Adhyaropa apavada is the meaning of superimposition. Verse 1 to 17 gives the whole Vedanta in nutshell. Just as the canvas painting is created, same way the entire world is created. Slowly we can start negating Apavada method. Intellect has to discern, to falsify all the entire objective world. Entire objective world has to be falsified. That is what intellect has to be convinced to understand and realize the Ultimate Reality. That is our original nature. I am the witness Consciousness.