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Beautiful, Intelligent Ignorance
Vana: Hi, Arlindo, how can Maya-Isvara sometimes be referred as ignorance and at other times as pure intelligence?
Arlindo: Hi, Vana. James Swartz sometimes refers to Maya as “beautiful, intelligent ignorance,” which presents us with a contradiction because how can something very intelligent be called ignorant? But he does not mean to say that Isvara is “ignorance.” In fact Isvara is pure intelligence, pure knowledge, pure sattva – it contains the knowledge of all objects ever created and to be created plus all principles, rules and laws necessary to create, govern, maintain, recycle and destroy the entire Creation.
How then to resolve this apparent contradiction? Very simple: we sometimes associate Maya with “ignorance” because it causes the human jiva, which fundamentally is the limitless Self, to see the world of objects as separate from itself by experiencing the world as the fundamental duality, subject-object, whereas the nature of itself or reality is non-dual.
It is important to understand that “ignorance” is only relevant to human jiva because all other creatures are mechanically operated by their subconscious vasanas (causal body). Without an intelligent, conscious mind and free will, the question of knowledge and ignorance does not come up.
In order to reflect pure consciousness, the constitution of the human subtle body requires a large predominance of sattvic energy, and sattva is the energy responsible for human intelligence, mental clarity, etc. But, unfortunately, the human mind is “contaminated” by the inclusion of rajas and tamas. It is important to understand that these constituents or impurities are a “must” since “everything” in Creation is made out of the combination of the three energies plus the five elements.
On the macrocosmic level of mithya, rajas and tamas are the energies responsible to propel sattva (pure intelligence) into creative motion, as well for the production of inert raw material (the five elements) to shape the Creation into a dynamic play of names and forms.
On the microcosmic level, the subtle body, being a mirror-like apparatus, reflects pure consciousness to produce what we sometimes refer to as “reflected consciousness,” the “jiva.”
Therefore the intelligence we find in the human jivas is not as intelligent as it seems since in its very constitution or design we find the inclusions of rajas and tamas. Rajas is the energy which extroverts and deceives the intellect to believe in the dualistic appearance of reality. Tamas, on the other hand, is a very dense energy which conceals or obfuscates the intellect’s ability to discriminate and apprehend the non-dual nature of reality.
The distinguishing issue regarding human jivas is that they are neither completely ignorant, nor completely knowledgeable. They are like creatures living in the twilight zone, a mixture of light and darkness which symbolizes the association of intelligent matter (subtle body) with pure spirit (awareness). We humans are the only jivas with an intellect capable of free will, the ability to “intelligently” respond to our environment to develop tastes, inclinations, preferences, tendencies, predispositions –which eventually will crystalize to become our hardwired likes and dislikes, our desires and fears, our vasanas, our self-perpetuating samskaras (bondage).
Hence Maya, the greatest illusionist, the mirror-like primordial energy, reflects pure awareness to create this mirage-like apparent reality composed by the three energies and the five elements. In doing so, it also produces human jivas with sophisticated subtle bodies which in turn reflects pure consciousness to produce the jivas’ free will with the potential to evaluate the environment to acquire knowledge and determine their response to it.
But after all, jiva’s intelligence is very limited in its capacity to evaluate its contact with the field of objects and gain clear objective knowledge as well self-knowledge, for as unfolded by the scriptures, due to the inclusions of rajas and tamas, human intelligence is but a mixture of knowledge and ignorance.