Chapter 8 of Prabodha Sudhākara contains 15 couplets and this section proves the presence of māyā. This is one of the best chapters of Prabodha Sudhākara.

Brahman or the Self or the Consciousness, when bound becomes “I” consciousness. We have to understand the meaning of bound. Bound here means limitation, which is opposed to infinity. Brahman is infinite and he is not bound and hence He is called as Omnipresent. Brahman is limitless and pervades the entire universe; hence He cannot be limited. Then what is the limiting factor? Limitation happens, when one says “I am” or “I”. Before the descent of limitations, everything was Brahman without any manifestation and this can be explained for the purpose of easier understanding, mahāśūnyā or the great void. At that time creation was not there and this is known as Purest form of Consciousness and this state is explained as sat-cit- ekaṁ-Brahma (Mahānirvāṇatantra III.12 says first recite praṇava and then saccit – सच्चित् then ekaṁ and then Brahma; this means Brahman is infinite and intelligent and He is one without a second). This is different from Saccidānanda, where ānanda or Bliss is present. There is difference between Saccit Ekaṁ Brahma and saccidānanda. Again for the sake of understanding Saccit Ekaṁ Brahma, it is the state of Paramaśiva, where Śakti is integral and not denotative. But when it comes to the state of Śiva, He carved out His Powers and created Śakti. Śiva is masculine energy and Śakti is the feminine energy. From this logic, Prabodha Sudhākara takes the clue and explains this chapter.

Verse 2 says that Nirguṇa Brahman and Saguṇa Brahman (Śiva and Śakti or Prakāśa and Vimarśa) are like husband and wife. In other words, Nirguṇa Brahman is the cause of creation and Saguṇa Brahman is the effect. Pure Consciousness gets bound and becomes limited consciousness or “I” consciousness. Pure Consciousness or Nirguṇa Brahman always remains only as a witness. The first state of dualism happens when Pure Consciousness becomes limited and multiplies as numerous I consciousnesses (different beings). From the Blissful state of Brahman (this Bliss is different from Saccidānanda discussed above; here it refers to the state of Brahman, His own happiness and joy) arises a state of deep trance (samādhi). From deep sleep state or samādhi, arises dream state. Without deep sleep state, dream state cannot be reached. Similarly, without the Self (Prakāśa), individual souls cannot exist as individual souls are nothing but the reflection of Brahman (Vimarśa). The only difference between the Self and the self is the sheath of māyā is present in the individual soul encasing it, where as in the case of Supreme Self, māyā is inherent and inseparable. The question that logically arises is how from the dream state, universe originates? In the dream state, we see many humans, either known or unknown, animals or other objects. When we wake up, the dreams no longer exist. Similarly, when we realize the Self, duality is dissolved. How? It is similar to entering deep sleep state from the dream state. In other words, creation happens (dream state) from Brahman (deep sleep state).

Is māyā different from Brahman? No, māyā is not different from Brahman. Māyā is the power of Brahman and this concept is to be understood thoroughly as without understanding māyā, it cannot be transcended. So what is māyā?  Māyā is illusion. The root of māyā is ma.  Ma means ‘to measure’. It also means ‘leading to the idea of illusion’.  Brahman is immeasurable but due to the influence of māyā, Brahman appears to be measurable.  In other words, Brahman is beyond time and space but due to the influence of māyā, Brahman appears as if bound by time and space.  For easier understanding, Brahman is said to have two aspects – saguṇa (with attributes) and nirguṇa (without attributes).  Nirguṇa Brahman in conjunction with māyā becomes saguṇa Brahman.  The appearance of the universe is due to the projection by māyā. 

From the point of view of Vedānta consciousness is the subtlest of all existents.  Pure consciousness is the basis of varied existence of the universe.  All these variations are due to the superimposition of names and forms by māyā which is the principle of appearance that is neither real nor unreal. The Self-illuminating Brahman which is pure and limitless consciousness manifests as manifold souls in living organisms.  The manifestation of the Brahman is noticeable only in the living beings, whereas it stands hidden in non-livings.  In the case of human beings, the pure and limitless consciousness manifest as self with independent mind.  Māyā is a mystery of omnipresent power that works like a supreme faculty of self- transformation. It appears in the form of deceptive masks producing only illusionary effects.  Māyā covers Brahman that exists in all beings in this universe.  This covering is like a sheath or a veil.  Unless this veil is removed, the Brahman cannot be realized.  For removing this veil, knowledge is required.  As long as the veil continues to remain, one continues to remain ignorant (avidyā). Macro-cosmic reflection of Brahman is māyā. 

Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gīta (VII.14) “For this most wonderful māyā of Mine, consisting of three guṇa-s (sattva, rajas and tamas), is extremely difficult to break through.  Those who constantly adore me are able to cross it.” 

Māyā operates through three types of guṇa-s or qualities viz sattvic, rajas and tamas.  Sattva guṇa means the quality of purity and knowledge.  The presence of other two guṇa-s is not very prominent in sattva guṇa as this guṇa is endowed with the highest purity.  Rajo guṇa is the activity of passion. Tamo guṇa is inertia or ignorance.  These two guṇa-s have higher trace of other guṇa-s.  Guṇa-s are the inherent qualities of prakṛti.  Ego and intellect originate from guṇa-s that are present in all the evolutes of prakṛti at once, but distributed in unequal proportions in each individual.  The predominant guṇa that prevails in an individual is reflected through his thoughts and actions. 

Kṛṣṇa explains guṇa-s in Bhagavad Gīta (IV.6 - 9) “Sattva, rajas and tamas - these three qualities born of prakṛti (Nature) tie down the imperishable soul to the body.  Of these, sattva being immaculate, is illuminating and flawless; it binds through identification with joy and wisdom.  The quality of rajas, with is of the nature of passion, as born of avariciousness and attachment.  It binds the soul through attachment to actions and their fruits.  Tamas, the deluder of all those who look upon the body as their own self, are born of ignorance.  It binds the soul through error, sloth and sleep.  Sattva drives one to joy, and rajas to action, while tamas clouding the wisdom incites one to err as well as sleep and sloth.”  Chapter of Bhagavad Gīta XIV extensively deals with guṇa-s.  Kṛṣṇa again says (Bhagavad Gīta XIV.20) “Having transcended the aforesaid guṇa-s, which have caused the body, and freed from birth, death, old age and all kinds of sorrow, this soul attains the supreme bliss.”

Now a new question arises which is very logical. We say māyā is invisible, as only Her manifestations are visible. How is it possible for someone to produce something that is visible when the cause is invisible? How can a cloth be manufactured when the thread is invisible? The text quotes certain examples. The point is that when māyā is the cause, which is subtle in nature, how the gross senses can realize the material world. Let us take the example of a balloon, which expands after pumping of air that is invisible. The cause may be subtle and invisible, but effect is always visible. When one understands that the balloon floats only because of the air, he understands māyā and after understanding māyā, he can transcend māyā, which leads to the Self. When māyā is realized to the core, māyā moves away, revealing the true nature of the Self. What happens at this time? The three factors of antaḥkaraṇa (mind, intellect and ego) are annihilated and get absorbed into Supreme Consciousness. When antaḥkaraṇa experiences Consciousness, it is Self-realization. In other words, the mind which is always active is pervaded only by the Purest form of Consciousness (Brahman) and this is called Self-realisation and not Liberation.

Next verses give some examples. Space in a pot is not different from the space in a vessel. But only the names and forms differ and what is within is always the same, the space. Similarly, shapes and forms of human beings differ, but the Self within is always the same. When space is bound by pot it is called pot; when space is bound by a vessel it is called vessel. Similarly, when the Self is covered by māyā, it is called jīva (individual soul; it is nothing but the Self veiled by māyā). Darkness of the night is removed at the time of dawn. Darkens of the night is māyā which is nothing but spiritual ignorance or avidya. When Brahman is realized, spiritual ignorance goes away. It is also said that Brahman cannot be superimposed by avidya, as Brahman is beyond any veiling. Therefore, it also goes to prove that māyā is nothing but His own Power. Another comparison is drawn here. The sun shines bright. Suddenly dark clouds cover the sun and even then, the sun still shines giving light to the world. Similarly, the Prakāśa (Self-illuminating) form of Brahman cannot be veiled by anything else except His Own Power called māyā, which is nothing but part of Brahman only.

Suggested further readings:

Shiva in conversation with Shakti

Guruji speaks

Prabodha Sudhakara - Part 6