Last minor update: 21st Mar. 2017
Given below are extracts from Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's discourse on Guru Poorinma, 9th July 1979, in Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi), http://www.sssbpt.info/ssspeaks/volume14/sss14-27.pdf. They provide very high level explanations of (existential) reality. The concepts explained include Brahman (Absolute divine reality) and Maya (worldly illusory reality) as well as Ishwara, jeeva and prakriti.
Note that the word 'God' given below can be a somewhat confusing translation from Swami's Telugu/Sanskrit to English. When time permits, I plan to locate the audio of the discourse, listen to it and provide clarifications if needed to 'God' translations below. Meanwhile, what is clear from the English translation given below is that Paramaathman/Brahman are the words Bhagavan uses for Absolute formless divine power also referred to as Absolute Reality. Note that Bhagavan also uses the term Sath-Chith-Ananda for Parmaathman/Brahman.
'Ishwara' is the word Bhagavan uses to refer to the manifestation (in Maaya/illusory world) of the Absolute formless divine power. 'Ishwara' seems to be also referred below as personalised God (which is nowadays referred as personal God).
Bhagavan explains that Maaya (illusory power) makes Brahman (Absolute Divine power/Absolute Reality) appear as Ishwara (personalised God), jeeva (individual) and prakriti (nature).
---- start extracts of Sathya Sai discourse ----
THE Macrocosmos and the microcosmos---the Brahmaanda and the pindanda---the Universal and the individual---all arise from the One Truth. They are manifestations and emergents of that Truth, which is not affected by either. That Truth is known as Brahman. When this unmodifiable, transcendent and immanent Brahman, instead of just 'being,' decides on 'becoming,' It is best designated as 'God,' 'Ishwara' (Almighty). The Divine ground of everything is the spiritual Absolute, called Paramaathman (Supreme Absolute Self). It is also the ground, the base, the core, the reality of man.
But in spite of 'becoming,' which is only an illusion imposing multiplicity on the One Being, It remains One. So long as inquiry is postponed, only the multiplicity is cognised. The multiplicity is neither real nor unreal. It is relatively real, temporarily real, pragmatically real, mithya---not sathya---but an amalgam of sathya (truth) and asathya (untruth), apparently real but fundamentally unreal, real for most practical purposes (vyavahaara) but unreal when the basic nature is unravelled. Mithya is the mixture of sathya and asathya, the knowledge of the serpent which is negated when the knowledge of the rope is won.
Maaya makes us believe the world is real
The clouds appear to be stuck to the sky; so, too, maaya (the tendency to conclude that what the senses tell us is true or to project our preferences and prejudices on to the world around us) gives us an untrue picture of Brahman. It makes us believe that the world is real. Its impact warps our reasoning process, our sensory impressions and our views on God, on creation and on man. It spreads before us a diversity which tantalises and deceives.
The basic Truth upon which maaya (divine illusion) projects its kaleidoscope is described by seers as Sath-Chith-Aanandha (Being-Awareness-Bliss Absolute). This does not mean that Brahman has three attributes, namely: It exists beyond time and space; It knows and can be known; It is the source and acme of Bliss. They are not three distinct characteristics; they indicate the One, of which the three can be grasped by experience---not by words, for words can only recoil before that Godhead. We cannot assert that Brahman (Supreme Being) belongs to a class or genes [Ravi: perhaps it should be genus], nor can it be defined by the three basic qualities. It cannot be described as performing any specific activity, for It is ever motionless. Nor can It be explained in terms of relationship with other entities for It is One, without a second.
Maaya is only the Divine Will that inaugurated the manifestation of the cosmos (Ekoham, Bahushyaam---I am one; I will be many). Maaya (apparent deluding reality) inheres in every being and every activity of that being; it has three aspects of achievement through the three modes and moods of that Will---the saathwik, the raajasik and the thaamasik (the calm, contented, equanimous mood; the potent, passionate mood; the inert, slothful, sluggish mood).
Maaya is the Will that causes the variety
When maaya prompts us into the saathwik mood of that Will, we become progressive seekers of jnaana (spiritual wisdom) that reveals the Unity. When we are overwhelmed by the raajasik quality of that Will, we are deluded into the pursuit of worldly victories and ephemeral wealth and renown. The thaamasik nature of that Will seeks the quickest and easiest ways of happy living. These are the reflections in our minds of the basic modes of the Will that Brahman assumes when It is moved by the primal urge to express Itself. The facets of that Will are called Jnaana shakthi, Icchaa shakthi and Kriyaa shakthi.
The three modes affect beings and things in various proportions and permutations, and so we have all the variety and diversity of the objective world. Aathman (whether individualised or universalised), is One only. The jeevaathman (individual soul) and the Paramaathman (Supreme Soul) are one and indivisible.
The philosophers of all lands and all times have sought to discover the truth about God, the objective world and man, as well as their mutual relationship. Maaya is the Will that causes all three. It is a clear flawless mirror. When the saathwik nature is reflected in that mirror, God results [Ravi: This 'God' may mean 'Ishvara']; when the raajasik nature is reflected, the jeeva (individualised Self) results. It is everanxious to grow, to grab, to survive and to be secure. When thaamasik nature is reflected, matter (the objective world) is the result. All three are Paramaathman, but they derive their reality as Its reflections. When undergoing reflections, they attain different forms and combinations of characteristics. The One becomes many; every one of the many is Real only because of the One in it. Maaya too is a component of the One; by the emphasis on that component, the One transformed Itself into the many.
The One comprehends all the images
We now know that maaya is like a mirror. The mirror reflects within itself all that is before it. The convexity or concavity of the mirror, or the covering of dust that might have settled on it, will certainly blur the reflected image, but it cannot distort the objects themselves. Ishwara, prakrithi and jeeva (the Almighty God, objective world and individualised self), all three are images of Paramaathman (Supreme soul) reflected in the mirror of maaya and warped by the gunas (qualities) that tarnish the surface of the mirror. It is the mirror that pictures the One as many. But the One is ever One.
The One is comprehensive of all this. So It has no wants, no desires and no activity to realise anything. Shri Krishna tells Arjuna, "Na me Partha! asthi karthavyam, thrishu lokeshu kinchana" (There is nothing I have to do in any of the three worlds), He has willed the world as His Sport. He has laid down that every deed must have its consequence. He is the dispenser of the consequences, but He is not involved in the deeds.
None can discover the beginning of maaya
Therefore it becomes plain that neither the personalised God, nor the individualised self, nor even the objective world can ever succeed in discovering the beginning of the maaya which brought them into existence and started the chain of 'act-consequence-act.' Nevertheless, one can succeed in knowing when maaya will end! When will it end? When the objective world is ignored, set aside, denied or discovered to be immanent in the Divine, the jeeva (individualized being) is no more. When the jeeva is no more, the Ishwara (Cosmic Being or personalized God) is also superfluous and disappears. And when the Ishwara has faded out, the Brahman (Absolute Reality) alone Is. Where there is no child, how can a mother exist? It is a word with no significance. When a personalised God, a personality separate from the rest, called jeeva, and the mental creation of that jeeva, called prakrithi (the objective world), are non-existent in the developed consciousness of man, maaya, the progenitor of all three, cannot persist.
When space is enclosed in a pot, it appears limited and small. But once released from the upaadhi (container), it again merges in the infinite sky. The sky is not reduced or transformed in shape or quality by being held in the upaadhi. So, too, the One Aathman that is pervading the bodies and lives of billions of beings does not get affected by the upaadhis (living beings) to which it adheres for some time.
Many are affected by the problem of what caused the Cosmos. How did it come into being? They advance various theories and lay down many opposing hypotheses. But there is no need for seekers to beat about the bush so much. Just as a dream results when one is cut off from reality in a state of sleep, the Cosmos is a result of being cut off from reality by maaya in a state of ignorance. The Cosmos is as ephemeral and as vagarious as a dream. It is difficult to discover laws that explain or govern its infinite mysteries. More profitable than inquiring into the mysteries is the inquiry into possible ways of benefitting by them and learning from them. It is mostly a waste of time to probe into the origin of the Cosmos or to determine how it will end. You are a part of creation, so try to understand yourself and keep your goal in view.
The individual has three qualities in him
The jeeva (individual) has the emotional, passionate and active qualities in his composition. The quality that is inferior is the thaamasik and that which is superior is the saathwik. Ishwara is the saathwik reflection of Brahman. Therefore man must strive to rise higher into the saathwik realm. He must be ever vigilant not to slide down into the lower realm---the thaamasik realm of matter and material pursuits. The Guru has to hold this ideal before the pupil and guide him towards it. He must encourage him to become aware of the God within man.
Embodiments of the Divine Aathman! In truth, man is the encased Aathman. He is the repository of the infinite, ever-full, One, Indivisible Aathman. Man, at best, remains man, satisfied with the rajoguna dominant in him. Many are content with their dealings with the objective, thaamasik world. Their ideal is only to amass material wealth and satisfy material needs. Examine yourselves and discover at what level you are by analysing your desires and activities. In this way you can yourselves sublimate your thoughts and urges.
Your revised urges must have a beneficial impact on your activities, for it is through activity that gunas are given up or gained. Activity causes birth and death and fills up the years of one's life. It supports good and evil, joy and grief.
However, man is willfully unaware of the activities that will lighten the burden of his life and also illumine the Aathman. It is the Aathman that illumines all, but man is in the dark about its existence. Just as everything sweet is sweet on account of the sugar it contains, all things and objects are cognized because the Aathman is behind the cognition. It is the Universal Witness. It is the Sun that activates all but never gets activated itself. You, too, must establish yourself in the position of a witness.
---- end extracts of Sathya Sai discourse ----
Readers may want to see my related blog post, Sathya Sai Baba's Advaita Teachings By John Hislop Ph.D. - Edited Transcript of Video, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/11/sathya-sai-babas-advaita-teachings-by.html, dated November 2013
[I thank sssbpt.info and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]