When I consider myself as a limited being with a limited body, mind and Intellect, separate from the rest of the universe, those are my current notions. When I look at the universe which is unlimited, I wonder where did it come from. To account for the universe, I bring in Isvara or God, who is the creator of this universe. To create this he needed:
1. Material to create
2. Power to create and
3. Knowledge or know-how of how to create.
Since I cannot bring in another God to create all of these, I have to endow my God with all these powers and knowledge. I can decentralize this concept and say I have three Gods – one to create, one to maintain and one to recycle – and each god is endowed with their needed powers to accomplish these tasks.
To make sure (at least in my mind) that these three different portfolios do not conflict with each other, I can invoke another supreme power overseeing all these subsets. This building of the castle can go on – as my imagination expands.
All this arises because I consider myself as a limited entity and therefore I have to bring in the concept of Isvara to account the presence of an unlimited universe.
But when I recognize that I am not this body, mind and intellect, but consciousness that cannot have any limitations, then all the above concepts also topple down along with my notions of separateness from the rest of the universe.
It is like pot space thinking that it is only a space limited by the pot and that the outside space is different and then imagining that there is a super pot that created the whole universal space different from the tiny pot space that I am. But when the pot space recognizes that I am ‘The Space’ and that space is single and not plural i.e. space in the pot is the same as the space everywhere – then the concept of superpot also goes away.
The bottom line is these are concepts in the mind and one can devise one God, many gods and supergods with mahaashakti’s etc, as long as one does not question the validity of even the existence of the universe separate from me. Scripture ultimately declares you are that Brahman and there is nothing other than Brahman. Then all others concepts drop out as just notions of the ignorant jiiva.
We create God and endow Him with all super powers so that He can create us and the universe. Now who is the mahaashakti? – the God or the one who created even the God with all those powers! One can invoke mahaashakti to create the God, but who created that mahaashakti? – Another mahaashakti. One can go on but the buck has to stop somewhere. Mind always seeks something supreme, but ultimately one has to examine carefully what is that mind itself that is seeking. Then the very seeking itself dissolves.
Q: How can ignorance can arise if we are ultimately Brahman or Consciousness?
When the concept of jiiva – and thus Isvara – drops, even the notion that I am (or was) ignorant also drops. Ignorance is ontologically of the same status as the jiiva notion. mAyA is also mAyA (that which is not there).
Let me give you a simple example – A strict bachelor dreams that he has many wives and children (assuming he is from Utah!) and is worried to death about how he is going to support all these wives and children. When he awakes, how much should he worry about those dream children and wives? He does not have to worry when he got married and when he ended up with so many wives and children, etc. They are as real as his dream itself. But as long as the dream lasts, the experience and suffering are real. During the dream state he is ignorant of the fact he is actually a waker and not a dreamer. The non-apprehension of his true nature as a waker leads to the misapprehension that he is a dreamer with so many wives and children to support. Now as a dreamer, if he asks when this ignorance started or who has this ignorance, the waker or dreamer (when he is actually a bachelor) or how he ended up with so many wives and children, how are you going to answer?
Obviously the dreamer has the ignorance about his waker status but the dreamer himself is the product of the ignorance too. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. The problem is that an ignorant dreamer is trying to analyze the ignorance of the dream-state while he is drowned by that ignorance. When he awakes, he has no question whatsoever about the whereabouts of those wives or children that he had to support.
From the dreamer’s point of view – there is no beginning for the dream – he will never know when the dream started. One simply finds oneself in the dream – unless it is a day-dream! For a dreamer, that life is real. You cannot tell him that he is actually a bachelor and that he does not have to worry about supporting all those wives and children.
Ignorance itself is unreal. It is a concept like Isvara, only brought in to explain that which cannot be explained otherwise. Concepts are in the mind – their validity is as real as the mind itself. But the ignorance as well as the explanation all tumble down in the awakening. One is back to perfect bachelor status when one is awakened!
Hence Shankara rightly says all of this cannot be explained (anirvachaniiyam) since even the explanation is by the mind to the mind and is ontologically of the same status as the mind itself.
Therefore there is no real problem. The only problem is in giving importance to it as real and then asking how Brahman can have ignorance. If ignorance is other than Brahman, then Brahman is no more Brahman (one without a second). The jiiva has the ignorance since he is searching for happiness thinking that he is unhappy – like our bachelor worried about his wives and children.