Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

avidyA and mAyA

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Definition - S. N. Sastri

In the bhAShya on gItA, 4.6 Shri Shankara says: “prakRRiti, the mAyA of ViShNu consisting of the three guNa-s, under whose spell the whole world exists, and deluded by which one does not know one’s own Self, vAsudeva”.

From this it is clear that it is because of mAyA that one is deluded and does not know one’s own real nature.

In the bhAShya on gItA, 7.14 mAyA is described as ‘that which deludes all creatures’.

In the bhAShya on gItA, 5.15 it is said that discriminating wisdom remains covered by ignorance (aj~nAnena AvRRitam j~nAnam) and so all people become deluded thus—‘I do; I make others do; I eat; I make others eat’. That is, they are deluded by ignorance (avidyA) into looking upon themselves as performers of action, whereas they are really the actionless Self.

In the bhAShya on gItA, 7.25 it is said that Krishna who is brahman is veiled by mAyA and so does not become manifest to all in the world. For this reason this deluded world does not know brahman. Thus mAyA veils the nature of brahman

Thus mAyA and avidya are both described as covering the true nature of brahman and deluding the world.

In the bhAShya on gItA, 18. 61 Shankara explains the term mAyA as delusion.

bhAShya on kaTha Up. 1.3.12—It is indeed by being deluded by the supreme mAyA that the whole world revolves.

mANDUkya kArikA, 1.16—The bhAShya says: The jIva is under the influence of mAyA which is beginningless and which has the two facets of non-perception of the Reality and perception of some thing else (as real)”.

Thus it is clearly stated here that mAyA veils the Reality and projects the unreal.

mANDUkya kArikA, 3.10— In the bhAShya on this it is said—“ mAyA avidyA tayA pratyupasthApitA”. That is, conjured up by mAyA which is the same as avidyA. Thus mAyA and avidyA are clearly equated here.

mANDUkya kArikA, 3.19— The bhAShya says: “The highest Reality is differentiated because of mAyA, like a rope appearing diversely as a snake, a line of water, etc.

kaTha up. 1. 2. 5—The bhAShya on this says that avidyA is like thick darkness, leading to entanglement in hundreds of fetters, forged by cravings for sons, cattle, etc. Thus avidyA conceals the real nature of the individual and deludes him.

Thus it is seen that both mAyA and avidyA are described at different places as the power that deludes all human beings and makes them ignorant of their real nature. This shows that mAyA and avidyA are the same.

Some AchArya-s make a slight distinction between mAyA and avidyA by saying that mAyA is the upAdhi of Ishvara while avidyA is the upAdhi of the jIva. But even according to them they are essentially the same.

mAyA is dependent on brahman. It is not absolutely real like brahman, nor is it unreal like a rabbit’s horn. It is therefore categorized as ‘anirvachanIya’ or ‘mithyA’.

avidya in sleep--- ch. up. 8.3.2- The bhAShya on this says that during deep sleep the jIva is dragged away from his real nature by such defects as avidyA, etc. Thus it is specifically mentioned here that there is avidyA in sleep.

There is avidyA in deep sleep and that avidyA is positive (bhAva rUpa). This is the view held by all the traditional AchArya-s after Shri Shankara.

The following may be taken as a definition of avidyA:--

upadesha sAhasrI—Prose portion, para 50—

The teacher said, "You are the non-transmigratory supreme Self, but you wrongly think that you are one liable to transmigration. Though not an agent or an experiencer, you wrongly consider yourself to be so. You are eternal but mistake yourself to be non-eternal. This is avidyA.

Definition of avidyA according to Patanjali's Yoga sutra 2. 5:--

avidyA is looking upon what is ephemeral, impure, painful and non-Self as eternal, pure, joyous and the Self.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012