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How Maya and Lila explain the Hindu view of Universe's creation
One of the questions that seekers, philosophers, scientists and theologians world over have involved themselves from time immemorial is about the origin of the universe. The views vary from our Universe coming out of Big Bang to creationist views of world being created one fine day by God. It is only in Hindu religion that one finds a comprehensive analysis and explanation of various aspects and realms of Cosmos and its origin.

To understand the creation or the origin of the Universe, it is important to understand the relationship between World and God according to Hindu philosophy. God and World, the Creator and the Created are not two distinct entities but only appear to be so.

In the Vyavahrika plane (1) (the Mundane/Relative), the Man, World and the God appear and function as distinct from one another, but in Paramarthika plane (The Absolute plane) there is only One, call it God or Brahman or Atman. In other words, God is the sum total of all existence.

Chandogya Upanishad proclaims “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma(2)” meaning “Everything is Brahman/God”. All the existence, the entire cosmos, everything that ever existed is nothing but Brahman. The same has been more explicitly mentioned in Taittiriya Upanishad-

“yatO vA imAni bhUtAni jAyantE

yEna jATAni jIvanti
yat prayant-yabhi-sam-vishanti
tadvijigyasasva tad brahmeti” (3)

“From which all the creatures (bhUta) are born, being born by which they sustain and into which they merge back, Know that as Brahman.”

The world/cosmos with all its multiplicities are not separate from God but have their origin in him and they sustain in him and merge back into him. Brahman is both the material and intelligent cause for this universe. To accomplish any work (Karya) - For example creating a pot, a base material (Soil) called as “Upadana” in scriptures and a person (the potter) who accomplishes the task called as “Karta” is needed.

Shastras term this as “Upadana Karana/material cause” and “Nimmita Karana/Intelligent or Efficient cause”. In case of the Universe, Brahman is both the Upadana Karana and the Nimmita Karana. That is, God does not create any universe separate from it but only has manifested it out of his own-self in other-words God has himself become Cosmos.

To the question, “How exactly does Brahman manifest Universe?” The Shastras explain two ways in which an already existing entity (Karana/Cause) has become another entity (Karya/Effect) - The Parinama Vada and the Vivarta Vada. “Parinama vada(4)” refers to a real transformation of an object into another object, Ex: Milk turning in Curd, mud becoming pot etc. “Vivarta vada” refers to an apparent transformation of one object into another, Eg. a rope being mistaken for snake, a mirage in a desert, etc.

In the case of Universe, the “Parinama vada” does not hold. If God has indeed undergone complete and real transformation and become Cosmos, the way milk becomes curd, then there would have been no difference between God and World in Vyavaharika state. Then in Vyvaharika State, there would not have been any God instead only sensory world. Just as once Milk turns into Curd, it ceases to be milk and cannot turn back into milk, so also God will cease to exist once it transforms completely into Universe.

But such a materialistic view is not supported by Hindu Shastras which proclaim Brahman as being- “Nithya(Eternal), Nishkalam(Without parts/divisions), Nishkriyam (without action) Shantham(Calm), Niravadhyam (Flawless), Niranjanam(Stainless)”. Instead, Vedanta Philosophy explains that the Brahman manifests Universe, just as rope appears snake (Vivarta vada). That is, there is only an apparent transformation of God into Universe. In case of snake, rope was the Upadana Karana/Material cause and in case of universe, Brahman is the Upadana Karana. This phenomenon of Apparent Manifestation is termed as “Maya” and the Power of Brahman to achieve it is termed as “Maya Shakti”. Adi Shankaracharya in Maya Panchakam says-

“nirupama nithya niramshakeepyakhande
mayi chiti sarva nikalpanaadishunye |
ghatayati jagadeesha-jeeva-bhedam
tvaghatita ghatanaapatiiyasi maaya ||”(5)

In Brahman who is Unique, Eternal, without parts, Absolute, It is Maya which creates the distinctions of Man, World and God. There is nothing impossible for Maya.

Hence, it is Brahman who creates/manifests this universe using his power of Maya. Hence, Lord Krishna was described as Mayapati- Lord of Maya.  In Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna says-

“ajo ’pi sann avyayatma
bhutanam isvaro ’pi san |
prakritim svam adhisthaya
sambhavamy atma-mayaya ||”(6)

Though I am birthless, undecaying by nature, and the Lord of beings, (still) by subjugating My Prakriti, I take birth by means of My own Maya.

Lord Krishna, an Avatara of God himself is proclaiming that he creates the whole universe by his power of Maya. But now a question arises, why did Brahman need to manifest this Apparent Universe? To achieve what goal?

The Shastras say that for God, the whole manifestation is just Lila/ a Divine play. It is a spontaneous manifestation for Brahman. This manifestation is not an activity/kartattva as in Paramarthika state, there is no duality of Karta and Karya. Brahman himself is Karta-doer, Karana-cause and the Karya-activity. Hence, the whole manifestation of Universe has been described as Lila - a spontaneous play. Further, because it is a Lila and not a Karya, there is no end goal or results to achieve because Brahman intends to achieve nothing as he is everything. It is Brahman’s very Svabhava/nature to continuously manifest and dissolve and re-manifest the cosmos. Hence, God is also called as “Lalita” meaning “She who plays” by Shaktas stressing the fact that playing Lila is God’s very own Svabhava.

Many people have this misconception that Maya and Lila are different and at times contradictory. But it is not so. They both refer to the same phenomenon but only stressing on two different aspect of it. Whereas the term “Maya” stresses that Brahman is the Upadana Karana of this Universe, the term “Lila” stresses that Brahman is the “Nimitta Karana” of the Universe. “Maya” answers the question “How the Universe was created” and “Lila” answers the question “Why the Universe was created”.

(This article has references from multiple Hindu and vedic texts)

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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