The Vedic conclusion is that the cosmic manifestation visible to the eyes of the conditioned soul is caused by the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, through the exertion of His specific energies, although in the conclusion of atheistic deliberations this manifested cosmic exhibition is attributed to material nature. The energy of the Absolute Truth is exhibited in three ways: spiritual, material and marginal. The Absolute Truth is identical with His spiritual energy. Only when contacted by the spiritual energy can the material energy work and the temporary material manifestations thus appear active. In the conditioned state the living entities of the marginal energy are a mixture of spiritual and material energies. The marginal energy is originally under the control of the spiritual energy, but, under the control of the material energy, the living entities have been wandering in forgetfulness within the material world since time immemorial.
The conditioned state is caused by misuse of the individual independence of the spiritual platform, for this separates the living entity from the association of the spiritual energy. But when the living entity is enlightened by the grace of the Supreme Lord or His pure devotee and becomes inclined to revive his original state of loving service, he is on the most auspicious platform of eternal bliss and knowledge. The marginal jīva, or living entity, misuses his independence and becomes averse to the eternal service attitude when he independently thinks he is not energy but the energetic. This misconception of his own existence leads him to the attitude of lording it over material nature.
Material nature appears to be just the opposite of the spiritual energy. The fact is that the material energy can work only when in contact with the spiritual energy. Originally the energy of Kṛṣṇa is spiritual, but it works in diverse ways, like electrical energy, which can exhibit the functions of refrigerating or heating through its manifestations in different ways. The material energy is spiritual energy covered by a cloud of illusion, or māyā. Therefore, the material energy is not self-sufficient in working. Kṛṣṇa invests His spiritual energy into material energy, and then it can act, just as iron can act like fire after being heated by fire. The material energy can act only when empowered by the spiritual energy.
When covered by the cloud of material energy, the living entity, who is also a spiritual energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, forgets about the activities of the spiritual energy and considers all that happens in the material manifestation to be wonderful. But a person who is engaged in devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness and who is therefore already situated in the spiritual energy can understand that the material energy has no independent powers: whatever actions are going on are due to the help of the spiritual energy. The material energy, which is a perverted form of the spiritual energy, presents everything pervertedly, thus causing misconceptions and duality. Material scientists and philosophers conditioned by the spell of material nature suppose that material energy acts automatically, and therefore they are frustrated, like an illusioned person who tries to get milk from the nipplelike bunches of skin on the neck of a goat. As there is no possibility of getting milk from these bunches of skin, there is similarly no possibility that anyone will be successful in understanding the original cause of creation by putting forward theories produced by the material energy. Such an attempt is a manifestation of ignorance.
The material energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is called māyā, or illusion, because in two capacities (by supplying the material elements and by causing the material manifestation) it makes the conditioned soul unable to understand the real truth of creation. However, when a living entity is liberated from the conditioned life of matter, he can understand the two different activities of material nature, namely covering and bewildering.
The origin of creation is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 9.10), the cosmic manifestation is working under the direction of the Supreme Lord, who invests the material energy with three material qualities. Agitated by these qualities, the elements supplied by the material energy produce varieties of things, just as an artist produces varieties of pictures by mixing the three colors red, yellow and blue. Yellow represents the quality of goodness, red represents passion, and blue represents ignorance. Therefore the colorful material creation is but an interaction of these three qualities, represented in eighty-one varieties of mixtures (3 x 3 equaling 9, 9 x 9 thus equaling 81). Deluded by material energy, the conditioned soul, enamored by these eighty-one varieties of manifestations, wants to lord it over material energy, just as a moth wants to enjoy a fire. This illusion is the net result of the conditioned soul’s forgetfulness of his eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When conditioned, the soul is impelled by the material energy to engage in sense gratification, whereas one enlightened by the spiritual energy engages himself in the service of the Supreme Lord in his eternal relationship.
Kṛṣṇa is the original cause of the spiritual world, and He is the covered cause of the material manifestation. He is also the original cause of the marginal potency, the living entities. He is both the leader and maintainer of the living entities, who are called the marginal potency because they can act under the protection of the spiritual energy or under the cover of the material energy. With the help of the spiritual energy we can understand that independence is visible only in Kṛṣṇa, who by His inconceivable energy is able to act in any way He likes.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the Absolute Whole, and the living entities are parts of the Absolute Whole. This relationship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the living entities is eternal. One should never mistakenly think that the spiritual whole can be divided into small parts by the small material energy. The Bhagavad-gītā does not support this Māyāvāda theory. Rather, it clearly states that the living entities are eternally small fragments of the supreme spiritual whole. As a part can never be equal with the whole, so a living entity, as a minute fragment of the spiritual whole, cannot be equal at any time to the Supreme Whole, the absolute Personality of Godhead. Although the Supreme Lord and the living entities are quantitatively related as the whole and the parts, the parts are nevertheless qualitatively one with the whole. Thus the living entities, although always qualitatively one with the Supreme Lord, are in a relative position. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the controller of everything, and the living entities are always controlled, either by the spiritual energy or by the material energy. Therefore a living entity can never become the controller of material or spiritual energies. The natural position of the living being is always as a subordinate of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When one agrees to act in such a position, he attains perfection in life, but if one rebels against this principle, he is in the conditioned state.