by Swami Krishnananda
Māyā ceyaṁ tamo rūpā tāpanīye tadīraṇāt, anubhūtiṁ tatra mānaṁ prati jajñe śrutiḥ svayam (125). There is a power of Ishvara which is known as maya, which manifests itself as avidya in the human individual. It cannot be described in ordinary language. It cannot be established by logic or argument. It cannot be proved or disproved. Such a peculiar phenomenon is this shakti, and the only proof of its existence is one’s own experience. For instance, in the state of deep sleep we have an experience of there being such a thing as darkness, an enveloping power which prevents the consciousness from knowing itself and knowing anything else. By any other proof, we cannot establish its existence. Everyone knows that such a thing is there, for what reason no one can understand. There is inability of one’s knowing one’s own self even in the state of deep sleep. Let alone knowing other things, we cannot know even our own self. Such an obscuring of consciousness in the individual is the work of avidya, and cosmically it is known as maya.
The definition of maya is given in Tapaniya and other Upanishads as: jaḍaṁ mohātmakaṁ tat ca ityanubhāvayati śrutiḥ, ābāla gopaṁ spaṣṭatvāt ānyantyaṁ tasya sā’bravīt (126). It is inert in its nature. It covers consciousness in a tamasic way, and therefore it is defined as jada or unconscious and deluding in its character. It is not merely inert in the sense of an obscuration of consciousness; it is also confusing in the presentation of illusions in front of us, such as the varieties of forms and distinctions of things in the world – one differing from the other in every way, causing distraction of consciousness in respect of this variety of things and making one believe that there is something outside.
This is the work of maya. It doesn’t allow us to be conscious of the universality of God. It compels us to know what un-God is – the anti-Christ, as they call it – which is the consciousness of objects rather than the consciousness of a universal subject. Everyone knows that it exists by direct experience. Even children know it.
Acidātma ghaṭādīnāṁ yat svarūpaṁ jaḍaṁ hi tat, yatra kuṇṭhi, bhaved buddhiḥ sa moha iti laukikāḥ (127). People say that inertness is that peculiar feature where consciousness is never manifest in any way whatsoever – as, for instance, we will not see consciousness manifest in a clay pot. Where the intellect fails to understand the actual position and we face a dark wall, as it were, in front of us in understanding anything whatsoever – logic fails, understanding doesn’t work anymore – that state is a kind of manifestation of maya.
There are things in the world which cannot be properly understood. Any amount of argument will not bring us to any conclusion. Cause and effect relationship, the origin of things, the reason for bondage and liberation – all these are questions which are beyond the human intellect. Reason is not to be applied here, where the subject of discussion is something that is prior to the manifestation of reason itself. The question ‘why’ arises on account of an affirmation of duality of cause and effect and seer and seen. Having already run into the duality of the seer and the seen which is really not there, we raise a question as to why it originated. That will be like begging the question; hence this noumenon cannot be explained except by direct experience.
Itthaṁ laukika dṛṣṭyaitat sarvai rapyanu bhūyate, yukti dṛṣṭyā tvanir vācyaṁ nāsadā sīditi śruteḥ (128). Ordinary people with their worldly understanding can say only this much about maya – that we cannot understand what it is. Yet we experience that something is there. Everybody has some occasion when they can say, “I cannot understand this. This is beyond me.” Everyone has to say this some time or the other. That thing which prevents us from knowing features correctly and compels us to say, “Oh, it is beyond me. I cannot understand,” that moha shakti, deluding factor, is the maya shakti of God.
It is indescribable if we try to understand it by logic, like darkness. We cannot say whether darkness is existing there as a substance or it is not there. We cannot say darkness is something like an object; we cannot touch it. But it is so very deeply and concretely present in front of us that we seem to be seeing it.
We are seeing darkness. Actually, we are seeing absence of light. It is a negative perception that is taking place. We are not seeing anything particularly specifically there. Darkness is not seen, just as blueness in the sky is not seen. There is no blueness in the sky. It is a peculiar phenomenon of light action that causes us to perceive a colour of the sky. So is the case with the definition of super-intellectual phenomena.
Nāsadā sīt vibhā tatvāt no sadā sīcca bādhanāt, vidyā dṛṣṭyā śrutaṁ tucchaṁ tasya nitya nirvṛttitaḥ (129). There is a great mantra of the Rig Veda, called Nasadiya Sukta, where the Veda says a non-existence was not there. Now, for instance, in deep sleep, we cannot say that ignorance was non-existent, because we can experience ignorance there. As it is a factor that is a content of actual experience by someone, we cannot call it non-existent because it is experienced. Nor can we say it really exists, because it is refuted on awakening.
When consciousness manifests itself properly, this ignorance is dispelled. We cannot say that it is existing there. As it is subject to sublation, it cannot be said to be existing. But as it is daily experienced by people, it also cannot be said to be non-existing. Vidyā dṛṣṭyā śrutaṁ tucchaṁ tasya nitya nirvṛttitaḥ: Only in the light of great knowledge, spiritual illumination, it flees completely, as darkness before the rising sun.
Tucchā’nirvacanīyā ca vāstavī cetyasau tridhā, jñeyā māyā tribhir bodhaiḥ śrauta yauktika laukikaiḥ (130). There are three definitions of maya: tuccha, nirvachaniya, and vastavi. For some people, maya is non-existent. For some people, it is indescribable. For some people, it is very real. For people like us who are totally ignorant mortals, it is very real indeed. This world is very real. Attachments to things also are very real. Desire for things is very real. Entanglement is very real; freedom from entanglement is also a real aspiration in us. All things look real. The creation of the world also is very real. This is the definition of maya by an ignorant person.
But for a logician, philosopher, it is an intellectual full stop. He cannot say anything as to what it is. It is an indescribable thing; neither is it existing, nor is it non-existing. It cannot be said to be non-existing because it is experienced in the form of ignorance of things. It cannot also be called existing because it vanishes in Self-realisation. This is the philosopher’s definition. But for the person who has actually entered into the nature of Brahman, it does not exist, tuccha. Futile, meaningless, is its existence.
Jñeyā māyā tribhir bodhaiḥ śrauta yauktika laukikaiḥ: To the person who is endowed with the wisdom of the Veda (indirect realisation), it is tuccha; for the logician, it is ‘nirvachaniya; for the laukika, or the worldly man it is vastavi, or very real.
Asya sattvama sattvaṁ ca jagato darśaya tyasau, prasāra ṇācca saṅkocāt yathā citra paṭa stathā (131). It can manifest the world and also withdraw the world. It unfolds the world and also enfolds the world. As a painted picture drawn on a canvas can be made visible or invisible by opening or folding the canvas, so does maya play with this creation. It can fold it up and then not allow it to be seen by anyone, or it can unfold it and we will see all the variety here.
Asvantantrā hi māyā syāt apratīter vinā citim, svatantrā’pi tathaiva syāt asaṅgasyā nyathā kṛteḥ (132). Independently, it does not exist, because if it exists totally independent, it will be a contender to Brahman. It cannot be experienced unless there is a consciousness that experiences it. Inasmuch as it is dependent on consciousness, it cannot enjoy an independent existence.
It appears to be sometimes independent because it has the capacity to twist consciousness into the belief of things which are not really there; unattached consciousness, asangatata, is made to believe that it is attached. Consciousness cannot be attached to anything because it is not of the nature of any substance or object. Attachment is possible only if there is something in the object of attachment, a character which is similar to consciousness. But that consciousness which is of the nature of pure subjectivity cannot be expected to become an object of itself. It is like one thing becoming another thing – consciousness becoming an object, or thought becoming matter.
It is therefore, from one point of view, totally dependent on consciousness. On the other hand, it sometimes appears to be very independent, causing the mischief of the externalisation of consciousness.
Kūṭasthā saṅga mātmānāṁ jagattvena karoti sā, cidābhāsa svarūpeṇa jiveśā vapi nirmame (133). Kutastha chaitanya, which is the deepest Atman in us, is bewildered by the perception of the world caused by this action of maya. It causes a distinction between Ishvara and jiva. Cosmically, it veils Brahman, and that reflected Brahman-consciousness in the veil is called Ishvara. It is also the cause behind the jiva consciousness in us, which is the product of its being a medium through rajas and tamas for the reflection of the very same Brahman. False distinction is created by the external and the internal, between the macrocosmic and the microcosmic, Ishvara and jiva.
Kūṭastha manupa drutya karoti jagadā dikam, durghaṭaika vidhā yinyām māyāyāṁ kā camat kṛtiḥ (134). Kutastha-chaitanya creates the world without affecting consciousness, really speaking. It may appear that consciousness is affected by the perception of things, but actually it is not so affected. If there has been a real change in consciousness, in the perception of an object, that change would be permanent. Bondage also would be there forever and there would be no hope of salvation. The fact that freedom of consciousness in its Universal state can be experienced one day or the other, shows consciousness was never non-Universal. It was always Universal, and it appeared falsely to be limited to certain particular conditions.
Durghaṭaika vidhā yinyām māyāyāṁ kā camat kṛtiḥ: What is the name of maya? Mystery. Actually, maya does not exist as an object. It is only a word that we use to describe a peculiar difficulty. Maya is a difficulty that we are facing, and difficulty is not an object. It is a situation. It is a consciousness, an apprehension of a condition taking place, an inability on our part to know the relation between appearance and reality. That inability is itself maya.
We are unable to distinguish between appearance and reality, or ascertain the relation between appearance and reality. This difficulty, this inability, this is maya. But it does not exist as a thing hanging on a tree. It is not an external object.
Dravatvam udake vahnāu auṣṇyaṁ kāṭhinyaṁ aśmani, māyāyāṁ durghaṭatvaṁ ca svataḥ siddhyati nānyataḥ (135). The liquidity that we see in water, the heat that we see in fire, and various characters that we see attached to things, these are the manifestations of maya itself, because when we reduce the effects to their original causes, these characters or things vanish. We can reduce water to its original cause, and we will find that it is not liquid; and fire is only a friction that is created by the movement of intensely moving particles in high velocity.
Solidity can be converted into energy by transference of property; yet when we perceive a thing with our own eyes, the thing appears to be quite different from what it is essentially in its basic substantiality. As long as people do not know what this mystery is, so long people are entangled in this world. Hence nobody can know what this maya is.
Na vetti loko yāvattām sākṣāt tāvat camat kṛtim, dhatte manasi paścat tu māyai ṣetyupa śāmyati (136). The Bhagavad Gita says, “This maya is a mysterious power wielded by God Himself and, therefore, it is as difficult to understand as God Himself is difficult to understand.” As long as this unintelligible, un-understandable mystery takes hold of a person, he suffers. And one does not know what really is there – na vetti. But once it is known by the flash of the light of consciousness, it subsides. This arising and subsiding is also a mystery by itself.