Maya – “All Duality Is Falsely Imagined”

This post is in response to Delineation.


“Translated into conventional and – let it be repeated – mytho-poetic language, the knowledge of Brahman is represented as the discovery that this world which seemed to be Many is in truth One, that ‘all is Brahman’ and that ‘all duality is falsely imagined.’  Taken as statements of fact, such utterances are logically meaningless and convey no information.  Yet they seem to be the best possible expression of words of the experience itself, though it is as if in the moment of saying the ‘last word’ the tongue were paralyzed by its own revelation, and compelled to babble nonsense or be silent.

Moksha is also understood as liberation from maya – one of the most important words in Indian philosophy, both Hindu and Buddhist.  For the manifold world of facts and events is said to be maya, ordinarily understood as an illusion which veils the one underlying reality of Brahman.  This gives the impression that moksha is a state of consciousness in which the whole varied world of nature vanishes from sight, merged in a boundless ocean of vaguely luminous space.  Such an impression should be dismissed at once, for it implies a duality, an incompatibility, between Brahman and maya which is against the whole principle of Upanishadic philosophy.  For Brahman is not One as opposed to Many, not simple as opposed to complex.  Brahman is without duality (advaita), which is to say without any opposite since Brahman is not in any class, or for that matter, outside any class.

Now classification is precisely maya.  The word is derived from the Sanskrit root matr – ‘to measure, form, build, or lay out a plan,’ the root from which we obtain such Greco-Latin words as meter, matrix, material, and matter.  The fundamental process of measurement is division, whether by drawing a line with the finger, or marking off or by enclosing circles with the span of the hand or dividers, or by sorting grain or liquids in measures (cups).  Thus the Sanskrit root dva – from which we get the word ‘divide’ is also the root of the Latin duo (two) and the English ‘dual.’

To say, then, that the world of facts and events is maya is to say that facts and events are terms of measurement rather than realities of nature.  We must, however, expand the concept of measurement to include setting bounds of all kinds, whether by descriptive classification or selective screening.  It will thus be easy to see that facts and events are as abstract as lines of latitude or as feet and inches.  Consider for a moment that it is impossible to isolate a single fact, all by itself.  Facts come in pairs at the very least, for a single body is inconceivable apart from a place in which it hangs.  Definition, setting of bounds, delineation – these are always acts of division and thus of duality, for as soon as a boundary is defined it has two sides.”

-Alan Watts

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3 Responses to Maya – “All Duality Is Falsely Imagined”

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