Question: I understand you to say that some spiritual figures in India claim that today you are here, tomorrow you are not here, that the world is an illusion. But aren't those so-called spiritual figures actually corrupting the pure teaching of Shankara on the question of Maya? Shankara never really disavowed the existence of this phenomenal world. Am I right in saying this?Sri Chinmoy: Yes, you are right. But the general conception of Maya has been misinterpreted in the East. Even now ninety-nine percent will say that Shankara advocated Maya, the doctrine that the world is an illusion.
What Shankara wanted to say, if I am correct, is: "The world is not an illusion, but we must not give importance to the transitory things. There is something eternal, perpetual, everlasting and we must try to live in the Eternal and not in the transitory."
Now at present, or very recently, you can say, about eighty years ago, some of the modern Indian thinkers came to the conclusion, after throwing considerable light on Shankara's philosophy, that he did not actually mean that — that the world is a colossal illusion.
"Neti, neti," "Not this, not this," the Upanishads cried and Shankara echoed. But what is that "this"? It is something that is finite, it is something that is binding us all the time. So people thought that if we leave the world, perhaps there would be a better world somewhere else. It is just like standing on one shore and thinking that the other shore is safe and full of joy and delight. But it is not true.
Each person has his own way of understanding the truth. You are at perfect liberty to understand it in your own way. How many people can go into the deeper meaning of the Truth? Some people think that the world is an illusion while others feel that it is not an illusion. It is deplorable that we do not or cannot see the world in its totality. We look at the truth with our finite consciousness, with our limited understanding. When we do that, we see that the world is nothing but an object of ignorance. We feel that we must enter another world, the world of Bliss and Perfection.
To come back to your question, Shankara's very short earthly existence was surcharged with dynamic energy. He strode the length and breadth of India on foot, preaching his philosophy; he set up temples in key parts of the country. What he offered to the world at large was, in fact, dynamic Truth and not the so-called illusion which the world so forcefully associates with his teachings.