Vedānta Series 27

Taatvabodha says, “Brahmāśrayā sattvarajastamoguṇātmikā māyā asti ब्रह्माश्रया सत्त्वरजस्तमोगुणात्मिका माया अस्ति” Brahma + āśraya – depending on the Brahman; sattvarajastamogṇātmikā – sattva + rajas + tamo + guṇa + ātmikā – the existence of three guṇa-s viz, sattva, rajas and tamas; māyā – illusion and asti – exist. This verse says that māyā originates from the Brahman and that māyā exists in the nature of three qualities or guṇa-s, sattvic, rajasic and tamasic which are also known as pure, active and inert qualities. Māyā, which is the nature of threes qualities depends on the Brahman for its existence. Without Brahman, māyā cannot exist or māyā exists with the support of the Brahman.

Brahman is full of inexplicable and inexhaustible energy. The significant part of his energy is known as His illusionary aspect or māyā. Through this illusionary power, He throws a veil around Him, so that, His true nature is concealed.  What is not seen is His Reality and what is seen through His illusionary aspect is the worldly existence. His power of māyā is His very own undifferentiated power. The nature or Prakṛti has two types of powers. One is undifferentiated and the other differentiated and the former leads to the latter.  The three guṇa-s or attributes lie in equal proportion in undifferentiated nature. This is the state of Prakṛti just before the creation begins. When the equilibrium of guṇa-s is disturbed, the creation begins to happen, leading to different creatures, where one of these guṇa-s predominate.

Brahman, the highest Reality of the universe. The Brahman in unconditioned state is known as Para-Brahman or the Supreme Spirit.  This Supreme Sprit is beyond normal human consciousness. He is called unconditioned because, He has not manifested yet. The Brahman has two aspects - kāraṇa (cause) or nirguṇa (devoid of attributes) and kārya (effect) or saguṇa (with attributes). Nirguṇa Brahman is devoid of any attributes and is the purest form of Consciousness. He is the cause or source of creation. He is the One, who is beyond normal human comprehension.  He is devoid of shapes and forms. He is also changeless and infinite. He is beyond time and space. He is the passive energy and is Self illuminating. The other aspect of the Brahman is saguṇa Brahman who is full of attributes and qualities. He is the effect of nirguṇa Brahman. Without nirguṇa Brahman, saguṇa Brahman cannot exist. Saguṇa Brahman is the active part of Pure Brahman. Māyā is the mysterious power of saguṇa Brahman that makes it possible for the universe to appear.  Universe is nothing but reflective image of the Brahman also known as His power of projection, which is known as māyā. 

Māyā is full of ignorance. For easy understanding, a rope is normally cited. We see a piece of rope in darkness and mistake it for a snake. Though it is only a rope, it gives us a deceptive look as snake. When we put on the light, we find that it is only a rope and not a snake.  What is the state of our mind when we look at the rope as a snake?  Fear engulfs us. When we find that it is not a snake and only a rope, our mental condition suddenly changes from fear to happiness. The deceptive look of the rope as snake is māyā. Therefore māyā is a factor that causes ignorance in us and makes us to believe the real as unreal.  Let us take another example of a film.  In a movie there are actors.  These actors are known in the movie by different names and qualities.  The inherent quality of a person who acts will not be the same as that of the character he plays, as he merely projects the character of a hero or a villain. When we see the person on the screen we mistake him for the role he assumed on the screen forgetting his true nature.  Identifying the actor with the role he assumed for the movie is māyā. When the movie is over, what we see is only the white screen. The white screen does not change and it remains the same always, even when a movie is being projected. What we see on the screen is only the movie and not the white screen behind the pictures. The white screen is the Brahman. White screen always remains the same, without modifications. Though māyā and ignorance are identified as the same, in reality they are not. Ignorance is the quality of an individual. We can’t call the world as ignorant, whereas we can call a person as ignorant. Māyā is slightly different from individual ignorance. It functions both on the cosmic plane and on individual plane.  

We often talk about projecting power of the Brahman. Let us understand this with an example. The potential form of a huge tree remains in its tiny seed. This potential state of the tree is the causal state. When the seed begins to sprout, the causal state of the tree undergoes change to become the effect. Cause is the seed and the effect is the tree and this is called projection. This transition between cause and effect is called projection. Knowledge of understanding the potential state of the tree is intellect. This is called transcending māyā. Understanding the tiny seed behind the huge tree is intellect. The universe appears gross in nature. To understand the potential state of the gross form of the universe is Realisation.

The gross form of the universe that we see is not real!  What we see is a veiled Reality.  Brahman is omnipresent and He alone is omnipresent. When He is omnipresent, what we should see will be only the Brahman and nothing else. Then why do we call people by names and forms? This is the power of māyā. It deceives us; it conceals the Reality from us.  It reveals only the projection and not the source.  By trusting our sensory organs we believe in what we see. We know people only by their names and forms. We trust our senses and we do not want to go past the senses. We continue to stay with the senses as we do not want to use our intellect. Intellect has the capacity to discriminate.  It can tell us what is real and what is not.  We are not making attempts to understand the reality. Hence, we continue to remain confused and perplexed. We are only using our influenced mind. Our mind is influenced by our sensory organs, and in this case our eyes influence our mind by identifying a person known to us by his name. We do not want to put into use our intellect. Intellect alone has the capacity to discriminate and realise the One, who is the cause for the entire creation. Intellect would have told us that he is a soul like us. It would have used its discriminatory abilities.

Brahman also called the Supreme Sprit or the Self is hidden in all the beings. Without the presence of that Supreme Spirit, existence is not possible.  It is the force behind all our activities. This Supreme Spirit can be realized only through the process of looking within with absolute confidence that He can be found. What we are seeing with our biological eyes is nothing but the illusionary aspect of māyā. We can be pardoned for mistaking a rope for a snake for the first time, second time or even the third time.  If we still insist that it is only a snake and not a rope, then the problem is with our mind.  Someone could even call us as a person afflicted with schizophrenia. To understand that it is not a snake and it is only a rope, we need intellect. Intellect alone has the capacity to discriminate between real and unreal. We cannot continue to remain in the grip of spiritual ignorance. The human life is the precious gift of God and no time should be wasted in knowing our Creator. When we realize Him, we will be relieved from the pains of transmigrations. Life is always a misery, whether rich or poor. The intensity of the misery alone differs.

Māyā has two types of powers. One is the concealing power and another is the projecting power. Let us take the example of rope. The real nature of the rope is concealed and projected as snake. The Brahman is concealed by māyā and projected as objective world. To realise the reality, one has to overcome both the concealing and projecting powers of māyā successively.  The concealing power is more dangerous than the projecting power, because it always makes us to misidentify an object, leaving aside its originality. The concealing not only conceals, but also induces the projecting power to show the superimposed object as the real, thereby causing obstruction to the realisation of the Reality.

Māyā is not something that is considered as an evil. Māyā is inherent in creation. It is also Brahman’s own power. Māyā can be removed only by spiritual knowledge and repeated affirmations.  We have to negate māyā and only our own intellect can do that. Intellect is not our birth right. Intellect is to be acquired. We have to learn to negate the illusionary aspect of the Brahman in the form of māyā and go past it to realize Him.  There is no other way the Brahman can be realized except by transcending His own projecting power of māyā.  When we want to go past māyā, the first thing that we should do is to get rid of attachments and bondage. These two make us to get engrossed in gross forms.  When we are so attached to the gross forms, we are deluded by the gross forms.  We call them as our father, mother, wife, daughter, son, friend, foe, etc.  They are the results of the projecting power of māyā.  Their real form, the Self is concealed from us.  If we choose to ignore the gross shapes and forms and look for the inner Self, we are bound to transcend māyā and at this stage, we have crossed the greatest hurdle in our spiritual path. The final liberation for us is not far away from this point.

Further Readings:

Components of Maya

Manifestation vs Maya

Types of Vedanta Philosophy