The Concept of Maya According to Saiva Siddhanta
by Swami Krishnananda

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Maya helps a great deal in the liberation of the jiva from transmigration. Anava, karma and maya are said to be the malas of the jiva. Of these, anava (darkness) is the cause of repeated births of the soul by fostering ignorance. But maya helps the soul to get freed from ignorance and thus be liberated from births. That which propels the jiva through the inducement of darkness, having maya for its (jiva’s) prop, is karma.

How maya helps the jiva is described by Siddhantic scriptures thus:

“Maya, according to the karmas of the souls, becomes the body, etc. of the souls. Till the souls obtain the necessary knowledge to attain the Grace of God, maya helps the souls like a lamp (which gives light to people till the dawn of the sun).”

When the Lord’s grace is attained, the darkness of anava will totally vanish. Till then, the lamp of maya helps the souls not to suffer in the darkness of anava. This is the meaning of the text.

Since maya thus helps the jivas, maya is called ‘a good relation’. To regard such a maya as the cause of births would not be right.

“When will the three eshanas inseparable from maya cease?” says Arunagiri. By this he means, the three eshanas which cause attachment to the perishable universe of maya regarding it (maya) as permanent.

Thus, though maya helps the jivas. But knowing its unreal nature, it has to be abandoned; only then can liberation be attained. That which does not allow it to be abandoned is ignorance; and this ignorance is caused by anava (darkness) and not maya. Wherever and whenever there is ignorance, it is to be understood as an effect of anava. Therefore, maya is faultless; the anava that holds to it is at fault.

  1. The soul has, of necessity, to pass through the 84 lakh yonis, and only after obtaining a human birth it can attain God.

A soul takes a body only on account of karmas. Whatever be the body, on the exhaustion of karmas, the soul will attain liberation. Therefore, the number of births is dependent on the karmas of the soul. Souls that have less karmas can attain liberation even in one or two births. But if the karmas are not exhausted even after taking births in 84 lakh yonis, the souls take births again and again in those same yonis. Therefore, to say that souls have to pass through the 84 lakh yonis to attain liberation is not correct.

  1. Rare is a human birth, because only through it the soul can attain God.

It is not necessary that the knowledge necessary to attain God can arise in the soul only on obtaining a human birth. It can arise in births like an ant, etc. There are a number of instances where souls in the bodies of an ant, elephant, snake, etc. have attained such knowledge. Did these attain salvation through the human body, which you call “the doorway to salvation”?

  1. Souls have to take births in the ascending order of plants, animals, humans and Devas.

A student in Class 3 can be promoted to Class 5 through Class 4, as also directly. He can also be demoted, all dependent upon his intelligence. Similarly, the soul that is born as a plant can obtain a Deva’s birth, and a Deva may be born as a dog or fox. All depends upon the good-bad deeds.

  1. The law of karma comes into operation only at the human level.

Without a body, the soul cannot exist. And there can be no body without karmas. That a soul gets a body that will correspond to its karmas. Therefore, there is no body (for the soul) without karmas.

It may be asked: If so, the soul from its subtle condition, when it takes its first body, on what does its body depend (as it is held by some that there being no body for the soul in its subtle condition, it has no karmas, too)? The answer is: That also is depending in its Karmas! When the soul is in its subtle condition, the anava (darkenss) griping it will induce desire in it. That desire becomes karma and, as a result, the soul obtains a body in its first birth.

Therefore, to say that karmas obtain only in the human level and not in the lower yonis does not stand to reason.

  1. There is freedom for the soul (to do virtuous or otherwise deeds) only in the human birth.

The souls have no freedom in any birth. The only person who has freedom is God. (This is one of the fundamental truths of Saiva Siddhanta). The peculiar characteristic of the soul is that it partakes of the nature of that to which it gets united. Accordingly, when the soul tries to unite itself with the Pati, it gets a little enlightenment and performs good deeds; when it joins Pasas, it will perform evil deeds. To so join (the Pati or Pasam) is also due to its past karmas. Therefore, the soul has no freedom.