note: The following is from http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sathyasaibaba2/message/44488 (posted Sep 29, 2005), posted by "sai". It is reproduced here as it gives a very good overview of different approaches to Creation in Advaitin philosoophy.
Sri Ramana adopted three different standpoints when he spoke about the nature of the physical world. He advocated all of them at different times but it is clear from his general comments on the subject that he only considered the first two theories given below to be either true or useful.
1. Ajata vada or the theory of non-causality. This is an ancient Hindu doctrine which states that the creation of the world never happened at all. It is a complete denial of all causality in the physical world. Sri Ramana endorsed this view by saying that it is the jnani's (Man who is Self-realised) experience that nothing ever comes into existence or ceases to be because the Self alone exists as the sole unchanging reality. It is a corollary of this theory that time, space, cause and effect, essential components of all creation theories, exist only in the minds of ajnanis (ignorant) and that the experience of the Self reveals their non-existence.
This theory is not a denial of the reality of the world, only of the creative process which brought it into existence. Speaking from his own experience Sri Ramana said that the jnani is aware that the world is real, not as an assemblage of interacting matter and energy, but as an uncaused appearance in the Self. He enlarged on this by saying that because the real nature or substratum of this appearance is identical with the beingness of the Self, it necessarily partakes of its reality. That is to say, the world is not real to the jnani simply because it appears, but only because the real nature of the appearance is inseparable from the Self.
The ajnani on the other hand, is totally unaware of the unitary nature and source of the world and, as a consequence, his mind constructs an illusory world of separate interacting objects by persistently misinterpreting the sense-impressions it receives. Sri Ramana pointed out that this view of the world has no more reality than a dream since it superimposes a creation of the mind on the reality of the Self. He summarised the difference between the jnani's and the ajnani's standpoint by saying that the world is unreal if it is perceived by the mind as a collection of discrete objects and real when it is directly experienced as an appearance in the Self.
2. Drishti-srishti vada. If his questioners found the idea of ajata or non-causality impossible to assimilate, he would teach them that the world comes into existence simultaneously with the appearance of the `I' –thought and that it ceases to exist when the `I' –thought is absent. This theory is known as drishti-srishti, or simultaneous creation, and it says, in effect, that the world which appears to an ajnani is a product of the mind that perceives it, and that in the absence of that mind it ceases to exist. The theory is true in so far as the mind does create an imaginary world for itself, but from the standpoint of the Self, an imaginary `I' creating an imaginary world is no creation at all, and so the doctrine of ajata is not subverted. Although Sri Ramana sometimes said that drishti-srishti was not the ultimate truth about creation he encouraged his followers to accept it as a working hypothesis. He justified this approach by saying that if one can consistently regard the world as an unreal creation of the mind then it loses its attraction and it becomes easier to maintain an undistracted awareness of the `I'-thought.
3. Srishti-drishti vada (gradual creation). This is the common-sense view which holds that the world is an objective reality governed by laws of cause and effect which can be traced back to a single act of creation. It includes virtually all western ideas on the subject from `big bang' theory to the biblical account in Genesis. Sri Ramana invoked theories of this nature when he was talking to questioners who were unwilling to accept the implications of the ajata and drishti-srishti theories. Even then, he would usually point out that such theories should not be taken too seriously as they were only promulgated to satisfy intellectual curiosity.
Literally, drishti-srishti means that the world only exists when it is perceived whereas srishti-drishti means that the world existed prior to anyone's perception of it. Although the former theory sounds perverse, Sri Ramana insisted that serious seekers should be satisfied with it, partly because it is a close approximation to the truth and partly because it is the most beneficial attitude to adopt if one is seriously interested in realising the Self.]
Question: How has srishti (creation) come about? Some say it is predestined. Others say it the Lord's leela or sport. What is the truth?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Various accounts are given in books. But is there creation? Only if there is creation do we have to explain how it came about. We may not know about all these theories but we certainly know that we exist. Why not know the '`I'' and then see if there is a creation?
Question: In the Vedanta of Sri Sankaracharya the principle of the creation of the world has been accepted for the sake of beginners, but for the advanced the principle of non-creation is put forward. What is your view on this matter?
Maharshi: "There is no dissolution or creation, no one in bondage, nor anyone pursuing spiritual practices. There is no one desiring liberation nor anyone liberated. This is the absolute truth." This sloka (verse) appears in the second chapter of Gaudapada's Karika. One who is established in the Self sees this by his knowledge of reality.
Question: Is not the Self the cause of this world we see around us?
Maharshi: Self itself appears as the world of diverse names and forms. However, Self does not act as the efficient cause (nimitta karana), creating, sustaining and destroying it. Do not ask `Why does the confusion of Self, not knowing the truth that it itself appears as the world arise?' If instead you enquire `To whom does this confusion occur?', it will be discovered that no such confusion ever existed for Self.
Questioner: You seem to be an exponent of ajata doctrine of advaita Vedanta.
Maharshi: I do not teach only the ajata doctrine. I approve of all schools. The same truth has to be expressed in different ways to suit the capacity of the hearer.
The Ajata doctrine says, `Nothing exists except the one reality. There is no birth or death, no projection or drawing in, no seeker, no bondage, no liberation. The one unity alone exists.'
To such as find it difficult to grasp this truth and who ask, `How can we ignore this solid world we see all around us?', the dream experience is pointed out and they are told, `All that you see depends on the seer. Apart from the seer, there is no seen.' This is called the drishti-srishti vada or the argument that one first creates out of one's mind and then sees what one's mind itself has created. Some people cannot grasp even this and they continue to argue in the following terms:
`The dream experience is so short, while the world always exists. The dream experience was limited to me. But the world is felt and seen not only by me, but by so many others. We cannot call such a world non-existent.'
When people argue in this way they can be given a srishti-drishti theory, for example, `God first created such and such a thing, out of such and such an element, and then something else was created, and so on.' That alone will satisfy this class. Their minds are otherwise not satisfied and they ask themselves, `How can all geography, all maps, all sciences, stars, planets and the rules governing or relating to them and all knowledge be totally untrue?' To such it is best to say, `Yes, God created all this and so you see it.'
Question: But all these cannot be true. Only one doctrine can be true.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: All these theories are only to suit the capacity of the learner. The absolute can only be one.
The Vedanta says that the cosmos springs into view simultaneously with the seer and that there is no detailed process of creation. This is said to be yugapat-srishti (instantaneous creation). It is quite similar to the creations in dream where the experiencer springs up simultaneously with the objects of experience. When this is told, some people are not satisfied for they are deeply rooted in objective knowledge. They seek to find out how there can be sudden creation. They argue that an effect must be preceded by a cause. In short, they desire an explanation for the existence of the world which they see around them. Then the srutis (scriptures) try to satisfy their curiosity by theories of creation.
This method of dealing with the subject of creation is called krama-srishti (gradual creation). But the true seeker can content with yugapat-srishti, instantaneous creation.
There may be any number of theories of creation. All of them extend outwardly. There will be no limit to them because time and space are unlimited. They are however only in the mind. If you see the mind, time and space are transcended and the Self is realised.
Creation is explained scientifically or logically to one's own satisfaction. But is there any finality about it? Such explanations are called krama-srishti (gradual creation). On the other hand, drishti-srishti (simultaneous creation) is yugapat-srishti. Without the seer there are no objects seen. Find the seer and the creation is comprised in him. Why look outward and go on explaining the phenomena which are endless?
Where are you now? Are you in the world or is the world within you? You must admit that the world is not perceived in your sleep although you cannot deny your existence then. The world appears when you wake up. So where is it? Clearly the world is your thought. Thoughts are your projections. The "I" is first created and then the world. The world is created by the "I" which in its turn rises up from the Self. The riddle of the creation of the world is thus solved if you solve the creation of the "I". So I say, find your Self.
Again, does the world come and ask you `Why do "I" exist? How was "I" created?' It is you who ask the question. The questioner must establish the relationship between the world and himself. He must admit that the world is his own imagination. Who imagines it? Let him again find the "I" and then the Self. Moreover, all the scientific and theological explanations do not harmonise. The diversities in such theories clearly show the uselessness of seeking such explanations. Such explanations are purely mental and intellectual and nothing more. Still, all of them are true according to the standpoint of the individual. There is no creation in the state of realisation. When one sees the world, one does not see oneself. When one sees the Self, the world is not seen. So see the Self and realise that there has been no creation.
Question: "Brahman is real. The world is illusion" is the stock phrase of Sri Sankaracharya. Yet others say, "The world is reality." Which is true?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Both statements are true. They refer to different stags of development and are spoken from different points of view. The aspirant starts with the definition, that which is real exists always. Then he eliminates the world as unreal because it is changing. The seeker ultimately reaches the Self and there finds unity as the prevailing note. Then, that which was originally rejected as being unreal is found to be a part of the unity. Being absorbed in the reality, the world also is real. There is only being in Self-realisation, and nothing but being.
Question: Sri Bhagavan (Ramana Maharshi) often says that Maya (illusion) and reality are the same. How can that be?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Sankara was criticised for his views on Maya without being understood. He said that
1. Brahman is real, 2. The universe is unreal, and 3. The universe is Brahman.
He did not stop at the second, because the third explains the other two. It signifies that the universe is real if perceived as the Self, and unreal if perceived apart from the Self. Hence May and reality are one and the same.
Question: So the world is not really illusory?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: At the level of the spiritual seeker you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way. When a man forgets that he is a Brahman, who is real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion. Why? Because his vision which has forgotten its own Self is dwelling in the external, material universe. It will not turn inwards into introspection unless you impress on him that all this external material universe is unreal. When once he realises his own Self he will know that there is nothing other than his own Self and he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman.
There is no universe without the Self. So ling as a man does not see the Self which is the origin of all, but looks only at the external world as real and permanent, you have to tell him that all this external universe is an illusion. You cannot help it. Take a paper. We see only the script, and nobody notices the paper on which the script is written. The paper is there whether the script on it is there or not. To those who look upon the script as real, you have to say that it is unreal, an illusion, since it rests upon the paper. The wise man looks upon both the paper and script as one. So also with Brahman and the universe.
Question: So the world is real when it is experienced as the Self and unreal when it is seen as separate names and forms?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Just as fire is obscured by smoke, the shining light of consciousness is obscured by the assemblage of names and forms, the world. When by compassionate divine grace the mind becomes clear, the nature of the world will be known to be not the illusory forms but only the reality.
Only those people whose minds are devoid of the evil power of Maya, having given up the knowledge of the world and being unattached to it, and having thereby attained the knowledge of the self-shining Supreme Reality, can correctly know the meaning of the statement "The world is real." If one's outlook has been transformed to the nature of real knowledge, the world of the five elements beginning with space (akasha) will be real, being the Supreme Reality, which is the nature of knowledge.
The original state of this empty world, which is bewildering and crowded with many names and forms, is bliss, which is one, just as the egg-yolk of a multi-coloured peacock is only one. Know this truth by abiding in the state of Self.