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.
Prasaranti hi codyāni jagat vastutva vādiṣu, na codanīyaṁ māyāmāṁ tasyā ścodyaika rūpataḥ (137). People put all kinds of questions about maya. Does it reside in Brahman or does it reside outside Brahman? Did it exist prior to Brahman or did it exist posterior to Brahman? Does it exist far from Brahman or near to Brahman? Is it identical with it or is it separate from it? These questions should not be raised because it is like asking about a problem before us: Is this problem a part of us or is it outside us? We cannot say anything about it because it is not actually there, perceived as some thing or an object. It is a situation that is created in the consciousness and, therefore, we cannot raise questions as to where it is located. It is not located anywhere, yet it is experienced.
Codye’pi yadi codyaṁ syāt tvaccodye codyate mayā, parihāryaṁ tataś codyaṁ na punaḥ prati codyatām (138). The question cannot be questioned. Maya itself is a great question mark, and we are putting a question about it. As the question itself cannot be questioned, the reason for the appearance of maya cannot be queried. Can I ask how this question arose? Who raises the question, etc? Questions will not be answered because there is a reason for raising a question. And there also is a reason for making a statement.
Parihāryaṁ tataś codyaṁ na punaḥ prati codyatām. Don’t raise the question again, because the very process of questioning is involved in the untenable doctrine of cause and effect relationship, which by themselves do not exist.
Visma yaika śarīrāyā māyāyā ścodya rūpataḥ, anveṣyaḥ parihāro’syā buddhimat bhiḥ prayatnataḥ (139). In the Yoga Vasishtha, Rama is supposed to have raised a question to Vasishtha, the sage: How did maya come? “Maya, how did it come, you are asking? Don’t ask me,” is Vasishtha’s reply. “Don’t ask me how it came. ‘How can I get over it’ – ask this question. I can give you suggestions which are of practical utility to you in overcoming this problem, but you should not ask how it arose.”
The same thing is quoted here. Wonder is this maya, and its nature cannot be ascertained, but we can consider the ways and means of overcoming it in our daily spiritual meditations.
Māyātva meva niśceyam iti cet tarhi niścinu, loka prasiddha māyāyā lakṣaṇaṁ yat tadī kṣyatām (140). If we say we have to deeply consider the pros and cons of the arising of maya, we can go on arguing like that. This kind of problem that we are posing is intellectually also a part of maya itself. It presents a situation which cannot be understood and then it also compels us to raise a question as to how it arose, not permitting us to get an answer to it. Such is the work of maya. It compels the question to rise but will not allow us to answer it.
Na nirūpayituṁ śakyā vispaṣṭaṁ bhāsate ca yā, sā māyetīndra jālādau lokāḥ saṁprati pedire (141). Nobody can clearly say as to what it is, though it is visible to the eyes, like a magician’s performance. We can see the magician’s performance. Very clearly we can see it in a solid form. But how it arose? From nowhere something is presented by the magician. How does he effect it? This we cannot understand. ‘Magic’ is the word that is used to describe what maya is. It is a trick, as it were, of consciousness, and tricks cannot be explained logically. It is a sleight of hand, as they say.
Spaṣṭaṁ bhātī jagaccedaṁ aśakyaṁ tannirūpaṇam, māyā mayaṁ jagattasmāt īkṣasvā pakṣa pātataḥ (142). Very clearly we can see the world but we cannot say how it came, from where it arose and what is its real cause. There our intellect ceases to function. We can only be contented by the conviction that it is beyond us.
Nirūpayitu mārabdhe nikhilai rapi paṇḍitaiḥ, ajńānaṁ purata steṣāṁ bhāti kakṣāsu kāsucit (143). We had many learned people in ancient days who tried to understand what this maya is. They wrote many books but came to no conclusion finally, because all intellectual processes which endeavour to understand this mystery arise on account of the existence of this mystery itself. Maya cannot be questioned, because the very process of questioning is caused by maya itself. And when they try to understand it, they face a thick curtain in front of them as ajnana, an impossibility to understand. Everybody has failed in properly explaining how this world came.
Dehendri yādayo bhāvā viṛyeṇot pāditāḥ katham, kathaṁ vā tatra caitanyaṁ ityukte te kimuttaram (144). We see that a little drop of liquid-like substance manifests itself into a baby, and then we see that it walks with two legs and raises its head and begins to appear to be a totally independent important entity in this world, while its origin is so very mysterious. How can we explain this great wonder?
Vīryasyaiva svabhāva ścet kathaṁ tadviditaṁ tvayā, anvaya vyatirekau yau bhagnau tau vandhya vīryataḥ (145). We cannot say how consciousness enters into this substance. Sometimes it enters, and sometimes it does not enter and we find the birth of the child does not take place as expected. We have only to say that we don’t understand.
Na jānāmi kimapyetad ityante śaraṇaṁ tava, ata eva mahānto’sya pravadantī ndra jālataṁ (146). Indrajala is the magic of Indra. He can conjure up appearances. Brahman, like Indra, conjures up this world. What do we say about it? Na jānāmi kimapyetad: I don’t understand what is happening; I am bewildered. How does the magician suddenly project a solid substance in front of us? He throws up a rope and climbs up to heaven. How is it possible, sir? We can see it, but our seeing it is not a proof of its existence. What a wonder!
Etasmāt kimivendra jāla maparaṁ yad garbha vāsa sthitaṁ, retaś cetati hasta mastaka pada prod bhūta nānāṅ kūram, paryāyeṇa śiśutva yauvana jara veṣai ranekair vrtaṁ, paśya tyatti śṛnnoti jighrati tathā gaccha tyathā gacchati (147). What a wonder! What can be a greater wonder than this peculiar phenomenon, for instance, that some mysterious thing that appears to be inside the womb of the mother begins to assume intelligence and starts moving. How does it move? From where has the intelligence come? Nobody knows from where the intelligence arose and started making it move about. And then it manifests certain limbs – head, hands, feet. Like tendrils of a plant manifesting shoots in different ways, the limbs of the little would-be baby start projecting themselves.
How does this happen? Who is the cause behind this? What kind of intelligence is there to see that only a requisite number of limbs and only in a particular manner should be manifested? Afterwards what happens? It grows into a little baby, and it becomes a young person; it becomes old, and it passes through all sorts of experiences in this world. It eats, it sees, it hears, it smells, it goes and comes. What is this that is happening? From where has this little phenomenon cropped up suddenly? From unknown sources it has come, and to unknown sources it vanishes. Its peculiar phenomenon-like existence in this world is only for a few years, but it vainly puts on the contour of something great and important. Such is human life. What can be a greater wonder than this? Etasmāt kimivendra jāla maparaṁ: What can be a greater magic or a wonder than this little explanation of human life itself?
Dehavad vaṭa dhanādau suvicārya vilokyataṁ, kva dhānā kurta vā vṛkṣaḥ tasmāt māyeti niścinu (148). Have you seen the banyan tree? Have you seen the seed of a banyan tree, how small it is? You cannot even see it with your eyes. In that littlest of tiny particles – the seed of the banyan tree –is hiddenly present that mighty giant that shakes up our buildings with its roots. What a wonder! How can we explain that a mighty giant rises up from this little invisible seed? Where was it sitting inside? Where is the place for that tree to sit inside that seed? Can we apply our reason and give a satisfactory answer? A wonder indeed is this also; a great miracle it is.
Nirūktā vabhimānaṁ ye dadhate tārkikā dayaḥ, harṣa miśrā dibhi stet u khaṇḍandādau suśiksitāḥ (149). Logicians still persist in arguing, and want to somehow or other satisfy themselves that things can be explained by mere argument only. That all logic is finally futile has been established by great thinkers like Shri Harsha, who wrote a masterly logical text called Khandana-Khanda-Khadyam. He refutes all the validity of logical arguments presented by logicians, or the Naiyayikas and the Vaiseshikas. You may say anything, but there is a defect in your saying. You may try to prove anything, but there is also some defect in that proof. And if you say that your finding a defect in me also is full of defect, he accepts that also, so that there is nothing that can be clearly said in this world. Thus all logical arguments are set aside, and what this two-volume book finally says is that we can say nothing except that we know that nothing can be known.
We can know that nothing can be known, that is the only certainty; but any other thing cannot be known. Only consciousness remains. Harsha Misra establishes the unitary nature of consciousness by refuting every kind of argument of the logicians. Khaṇḍandādau suśiksitāḥ: Khandana is the name of the book. Khanda-khadyam means sweetmeat, and khandana means refutation. It is the sweetmeat of refutation. Such a difficult language it is that nobody can understand what he is saying. And he mentions in one place, “Deliberately I have made this book immensely difficult for people to understand so that fools who think that they are wise may not touch it.”
Acintyāḥ khalu ye bhāvā na tāṁstarkeṣu yojayet, acintya racanā rūpaṁ manasā’pi jagat khalu (150). Therefore, don’t be proud in this world; don’t be so proud as to imagine that you can answer every question. Even by the furthest stretch of the imagination, you cannot know how this world appeared. Why do you argue unnecessarily?
Acintya racanā śakti bījaṁ māyeti niścinu, māyā bījaṁ tadevaikaṁ suṣuptā vanubhūyate (151). This indescribability, as has been mentioned already, is maya. It is not existing anywhere as something solid, like an object, but it is there as a tremendous problem before us which we cannot face easily.
The seed of this maya is experienced in the state of deep sleep every day. We cannot see maya with our eyes, but we can feel it in one condition at least, in deep sleep. We do not know what is happening to us. We go to sleep every day without bothering as to what is actually happening and why it happens. Why is it necessary for us to sleep every day? It is as important as life and death. We may have nothing else but only a good sleep, and that is enough. But if we have everything else minus sleep, it is like hell or worse than hell.
What is the importance of sleep? This, logic cannot explain. We enter into our deepest source in the state of deep sleep, and in all other conditions of dream, waking, etc., we come out of our real nature and become other than what we are; we become a not-self, an artificial self, a false self, in perceptions that we have in dream and waking. It is only in sleep that we really become what we are. That is why we are so happy. To be one’s own self is really a great thing, and to be other than one’s self is the sorrow of life.
Jāgrat svapna jagat tatra līnaṁ bīja iva drumaḥ, tasmā daśeṣa jagataḥ vāsanā starta saṁsthitāḥ (152). As the whole banyan tree can be said to be inherently, potentially present in the little seed, waking and dream experience is hidden in deep sleep. All the causes that are responsible for our dreaming and waking experience are potentially present in sleep. Because every kind of cause is present there, we are unable to locate that distinction between one and the other, so it looks like a homogeneous darkness. Everything is heaped up in a hodgepodge manner. Therefore, it is impossible to decipher any particular vritti distinctly. The distinctness of vrittis, or mental functions, arises only in dream and waking; then this distinctness vanishes and everything becomes indistinct in sleep. That is why the intellect does not function there. And so, intellectual consciousness not being there, and no other consciousness being with us, we know nothing there. All the potentials for creation cosmically can be found in maya, and all the potentials for human experience can be found in the state of deep sleep.
Yā buddhi vāsanā stāsu caitanyaṁ prati bimbati, meghākāśa vada spaṣṭa cidābhāso’nu mīyatām (153). As particles of water constitute a cloud, little particles of ideation constitute our intellect; and through this screen of water particles of intellectual ideation, consciousness reflects itself and then presents the variety of this world, as we can have a kind of false variety made visible if we put on glasses which are broken or dented.
Sunlight is vaguely and indistinctly seen when clouds are covering the sky, and sometimes we can see varieties of colours and features falsely imputed or transferred to the existence of the sun on account of the movement of clouds. We have seen that when the cloud is moving, it looks as if the moon is moving. If we go on looking at the moon on a bright night when clouds also are there, we will see that the moon is moving a little. The moon is not moving; the clouds are moving.
This is what happens to us when we intellectually perceive this world which is, after all, a water particle-like screen through which the consciousness of Kutastha manifests itself. We are muddled in our perception on account of the identification of consciousness with the intellect. The intellect also is not a solid substance. It is made up of little bits.
Even thought is not a solid substance. It is made up of little, little bits of thinking process. They are so many in number and they are so consecutively arranged, with such rapidity of movement, that it looks as if we have one solid mind. Actually, it is chanchala; movement is its nature, fickle is its essentiality. It is made up of little particles. As threads constitute the cloth, little mental functions constitute what is called the psyche. We are always restless on account of there being no internal solidity in us. We feel very unhappy, as if we are moving but not really existing.