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(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated. See concordance for correlation with pages in the New Critique. The concordance is in pdf format.)

maya Opbouw articles by Dooyeweerd

Dooyeweerd uses the word ‘maya’ in some early articles that he wrote as a student in the journal Opbouw. In Vol. II. 1915 , there is an article by H. Dooyewaard [Sic]: “De Troosteloosheid van Het Wagnerianisme” [The Comfortlessness of Wagnerianism]. He says at p.100:

Wagner’s hoofdgedachte dan is deze: de mensch leeft een leven, jammerlijk verblind door de maya der verschijning. Dat maakt dat leven toonloos en dof, zonder muzikale verdieping, zonder doel ook. Daarom zoeke hij de wedergeboorte.

Wagner’s primary idea is then this: man lives his life, piteously blinded by the maya of appearance. That makes life toneless and dull, without musical depth, and also without a goal. That is why he seeks rebirth.

In the same article, Dooyeweerd says at p. 103:

Maar den fijngeaarden zachtmoedigen Indiër moest een dergelijke passietaal vreemd in de ooren klinken. In zijn ziel werd het pessimisme tot een subtiel vreugde, het zich losweten van de schijnwereld, verheven boven de hartstochten, die den sluier van maya weven, het ware leven onder den glans der eeuwigheid.

But such passionate language would sound strange to the sensitive gentle Indian. In his soul, pessimism becomes a subtle joy, a knowledge that frees him from the world of appearance, elevating him above the passions that weave the veil of maya to true life in the brilliance of eternity.

Dooyeweerd wrote another article in Opbouw about music. It concerns Richard Strauss, entitled, “Een oude schuld aan een paria” [An old debt to a pariah]. He refers on p. 169 to the Buddhist monks who were opposed to Indian theater, and he says that they had “torn open the veil of maya” [“zich der sluier van maya hadden uiteengescheurd”]. This is in the context of high mysticism, which views the “Diesseits” [this temporal side] of this world as of only temporary importance.

Dooyeweerd’s references to maya are therefore in the sense that the temporal world is considered as an illusion. Now it is true that advaita or nondualism is often associated with a view of temporal reality as illusion. But that may not be a correct view of nondualism. A view of temporal reality as illusion is associated with monism, where there is nothing but God and we are identical with God. But nondualism is not the same as monism. Nondualism can allow for the temporal world to be real.

But although the temporal world is real, it has only a relative reality. It does not exist in itself. As Dooyeweerd says, temporal reality exists as meaning, pointing to what is beyond. And because temporal reality has a relative reality, Dooyeweerd can emphasize the importance of science, of engaging with the temporal world. This is also why Dooyeweerd appreciated the writings of Frederik van Eeden, who spoke of a “scientific mysticism.” This interpretation of temporal reality as real and not illusory, but yet only as relatively real, is supported by some Hindu traditions of nondualism:

1. Even Ramana Maharshi says that the world has a relative reality. He says that the doctrine of maya is often misunderstood, and that Shankara did not deny the reality of the world. He only denied the world’s reality when it is considered apart from Brahman:

He made three statements: that Brahman is real, that the universe is unreal, and that Brahman is the universe. He did not stop with the second. The third statement explains the first two; it signifies that when the Universe is perceived apart from Brahman, that perception is false and illusory. What it amounts to is that phenomena are real when experienced as the Self and illusory when seen apart from the self. (The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, p. 16)

Ramana relies on a text, the Vivekacudamani, which may or may not be authentic Shankara.

2. Ramana was also influenced by tantra, which has this view of a relative reality of the world. In tantra, maya is not so much illusion as the creative power or shaktiof Brahman [or Shiva]. This power is seen as feminine, much like the Western tradition of Divine Wisdom or sophia.

3. Some neo-Hindus are use ‘advaita’ in this sense of ‘not-two’ but also ‘not one.’

4. There are many schools of nondualism in India, including modified nondualism [vishishtadvaita], which was the basis of Ramanuja’s philosophy. He is not nearly as well known in the West as Shankara. Ramanuja speaks of communion and not union, where some separateness of our selfhood remains in order to praise God.

It has become increasingly clear to me that much of Hinduism’s attractiveness to Westerners is in fact “neo-Hinduism” [Hinduism that has been highly influenced by Western Christian ideas. See the writings of Halbfass and Hacker]. Even Ramana Maharshi had many Christian influences, as is evident by his references to the Bible, which he probably learned as a boy in a Christian school. The same can be said of many Buddhist traditions. Most of what is attractive to the West, such as the Kyoto school, or the writings of D.T. Suzuki, can be shown to be highly Western. See James Heisig’s recent book, Philosophers of Nothingness.

Despite the difficulties in explaining nondualism, the alternatives of dualism or monism (whether materialistic or spiritualistic) are even worse. Most Western Christian thought is caught in a dualism that also tends to depreciate temporal reality. This is especially the case in pietistic and fundamentalist views. And modern scientific views are caught in either the modernist dualism dating from Descartes or else they have resorted to a denial of the spiritual. To speak of ‘Christian Nondualism’ helps to shock us out of our normal ways of thinking to a complete change of mind, a ‘metanoia.’ It is not an empiricistic view of reality.
The doctrine of creation ex nihilo, which I believe expresses our dependence on God, has been wrongly used in a dualistic way to suggest that the ‘nothing’ from which we are created is something other than God, thus setting up a dualism that ensures our separate individuality and existence in relation to God.

Dooyeweerd makes this point:

But it is well known that the words ex nihilo have turned out to be not entirely harmless in Augustine’s theological exposition of the doctrine of creation, since they foster the idea that nothingness would be a second origin of creaturely being bringing about a metaphysical defect in the latter (“Cornelius Van Til and the Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Jerusalem and Athens, p. 460, fn15).

And in his Second Response to Curators, Dooyeweerd says that the idea of a boundary between God and creation is a reference to our deep dependance on God, and not a separation between God and creature:

The creature on the other hand stands under the law. That means the deep dependence and limitation of the latter. Calvin keenly carries through this basic idea with respect to human knowing, as in his Inst. I, 10,2 and I, 5,7 he takes the field against the “vacua en meteorica speculatie” about the substantial being of God (“quid sit apud se” in opposition to the “qualis erga nos”). The idea of a boundary breaks through here clearly and brightly.


And that Mr. Hepp should subscribe to the remark made from a certain side, that the law boundary is a separation [scheiding] between God and creature, which would be in conflict with the community with God in Christ, is just as unlikely to be accepted.

So Dooyeweerd’s view differs from both the idea that the world is an illusion, and from the idea that the world has an independent existence. Rather, our present, day to day existence, has no existence or reality in itself, but only as it relates to God. Our experience is “from, through and to” our Origin (NC I, 9).

Revised Mar 11/06