Maya and Meta
By Anusha Jaishankar
Semiconductor Engineer, Explorer, Bangalore
Foreword by Venkat
The title ‘Maya and Meta’ may conjure a picture of this being a story of two sisters bearing those names. Maya refers to the illusory sense perception of the world we consider as the reality and Meta is a short form for Metaverse – a framework to experience the virtual techno-based world through our senses as a reality. While this is not a story about two sisters, Maya and Meta seem to have a deeper blood relation as two grandiose veils pushing us away from the Vedantic absolute reality (the underlying substratum of the apparent reality called Mithya).
Anusha draws parallels between Maya and Meta with insightful explanation and examples. Illusions come from various seeds such as ignorance, opinion, attachments etc. and in various intensities from simple misconceptions to addictions. Indeed, it may be possible that reality has a relative scale like the pH value of acids and bases across various dimensions bound in the limits of our sensory perception. Anusha persuades well on the ‘dangerous curve’ the Metaverse might posit humanity into in the future.
Inspire yourself by the juxtaposition of the unreal reality of our perception and the unreal creation of reality by technology in relation to our mental well being expressed so poignantly by Anusha.
Anusha is an engineer and explorer who lives for music, reading, writing and travel. After a fulfilling career in semiconductor engineering and founding a community program called Positive Strokes, she now enjoys learning as well as teaching music and shlokas.
Maya and Meta
Maya is succinctly defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the sense-world of manifold phenomena held in Vedanta to conceal the unity of absolute being.
Advaita (non-dualist) Vedantic philosophy reveals to us the path to enlightenment in Mahāvākyas or great pronouncements scattered throughout various Vedas and Upanishads. One of these is ‘tat tvam asi‘. This means that ‘that and you are one and the same’ – that ‘the one’ is no different from ‘the absolute’.
Adi Shankara, considered to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva himself, was a proponent of the Advaita philosophy. The dakshiNamUrthy stotram, one of Adi Shankara’s most profound and important texts encapsulates within it the entire Advaita Vedanta in eight brief verses. In fact, the crux of this philosophy is simply postured, rather anticlimactically, in the first two verses of this short stotram or hymn.
In the opening lines of this stotram, Adi Shankara compares the world to the reflection of a city in a mirror. An enlightened person knows that the reflection in the mirror is nothing but an artifact of the mirror – an illusion that has no separate existence outside of the absolute. Vedanta refers to this illusion as Maya.
In the second verse, Adi Shankara points out that all of creation is the manifestation, in time and space, of the sprout that is within the seed. He says that a great magician or a great yogi, may use his powers of Maya to create worlds, just because he can and because he wishes to.
The overarching teaching of the Vedanta is that once we wake up to the fact that we live in a world of Maya, that our relative successes and failures are but an illusion, we may be able to navigate through life with a certain sense of detachment that enables us to take the good and the bad with equanimity and thereby live happier, more contented lives. Realizing that we are one with the absolute releases us from the sufferings of life.
This ideology is also captured beautifully by Rudyard Kipling in his (almost Vedantic) masterpiece poem ‘If’
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Meta is an abbreviation for the Metaverse. This is a relatively new word with origins in the 1990s from sci-fi novels for an imaginary computer generated universe. This word has recently been in the news a lot on account of Facebook rebranding itself as Meta.
Reading about the advances in Artificial Intelligence, I cannot help but be struck by the parallels between these age-old Vedantic revelations about Maya and a new world, the Metaverse, that we are on the brink of creating.
Metaverse is a virtual environment. Right now, it is imagined to be a collection of discrete three-dimensional virtual social environments, that are interconnected. In a metaverse, one exists as an avatar, a symbol for an individual in the virtual environment. Using Augmented Reality headsets and other Virtual Reality hardware, one may walk into a store, try on different clothes, make purchases with virtual money, walk out, go to a party or concert in these virtual new clothes, meet other virtual people. All this, without ever leaving the comfort of one’s home.
One of the aims of the metaverse is to enable people an escape from reality into an imagination that can be as rosy as one can think up. To be whatever you dream of, to do whatever your wildest figments of thought drive you to do. The tech world is committed to making these experiences as rich and real as possible. There is an entire economy that is expected to come into existence due to the metaverse – a thing that is on the verge of jumping out of sci-fi novels into well, reality.
To some extent, we know the effects that extreme gaming can have on gamers. It disconnects people from the here-and-now. There are more negatives than positives on balance, in activities that take people away from what we regard as reality.
Be that as it may, why again do we want to do this? Very simply, because we can. The most profound ideas are the ones that can be stated in the simplest terms. And yet, it may take intense, austere and deep reflection to truly understand these ideas.
Vedantic scholars and seekers’ ultimate aim is to rid ourselves of this world of Maya and realize our oneness with the absolute.
Do we understand the lessons that are being conveyed to us from time immemorial by scholars and thinkers? Do we even understand what we have seen for ourselves in more recent times as the virtual world takes over more of our mindspace and time than the real world?
Should we pause a bit before jumping onto this metaverse bandwagon? Are we creating a new illusion, a new Maya? Would we reach a stage far into the future, when it would take deep contemplation and an awakening to realize that this metaverse that we are creating is only an illusion, and that to rid ourselves of the things we might hold to be real, it would require us to realize that we are but a reflection of some other reality? How long would it take to come to realize that our metaverse avatars are all nothing but a creation of Maya, or in this iteration, Meta.
By Anusha Jaishankar