Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 33

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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Go to Part 32

- The role of Maya

Mäyä [227] is avidyä [228] or ignorance. The äçraya (locus) of mäyäis Brahman [229]. But, Brahman is not its cause. Mäyä has no cause to account for its origination and is without a beginning (anädi). But ignorance is not endless, as it can exist only until the rise of knowledge. It is not a negative entity signifying the absence of knowledge. It is bhävarüpa, which means that it is somewhat existent. It has the powers called as the ävaraëa-çakti and the vikñepa-çakti. Ävaraëa-çakti, which is usually translated as concealing power, does not fully conceal. Anything unknown through concealment cannot be the locus of error. [230] What it does is to obscure the knowledge of the true nature of satyaà jïänamanantaà brahman. It is vikñepa, which makes it appear to be different from what it is, like the flower that makes the colorless crystal appear as red in color. Mäyä by being the limiting adjunct to Brahman makes it appear as the manifestation. At the individual level, all of us also wrongly identify the self as the body-mind-sense-complex and create endless problems for ourselves. The root cause of the ignorance and error is mäyä.


The components of mäyä are three fold. They are (i) sattva or intelligence, knowledge and purity; (ii) rajas or desire, energy and action; and (iii) tamas or ignorance, grossness and inaction [231]. These are called guëas and every manifestation has all the three cohering in differing measures. They are not qualities but components of mäyä, which bind ätmä to the body [232].  Sattva leads to the experience of the pleasure (sukha) and makes the experiencer identify ätmä with the experiencer and say, “I am happy”. Rajas gives rise to a more deeply entrenched sense of bondage through similar identification of ätmä with the likes and dislikes and the actions arising from them. Tamas binds through the inability to acquire discriminative knowledge and the incapacity to do what is to be done.


Mäyä has the powers of jïäna (knowledge), icchä (desire) and kriyä (action). The power of knowing is related to sattva-guëa and the power of desiring and acting is related to rajoguëa. The disinclination for knowledge and action is related to tamoguna.


Mäyä cannot be logically categorized. It is neither sat (real) nor asat (unreal). It is not sat, as it does not exist independently, being dependent on Brahman for its existence. It is not non-existent asat, as, if it were so, there would be no effect from it. We cannot also say that it is both sat and asat, as no existent thing can coexist with a non-existent thing. It is also not a part or quality of Brahman, since Brahman is without parts and without qualities. Even though it is beginningless in the sense that it has no cause, it is not endless, since it is resolved by knowledge. Viewed in any manner, it does not lend itself to any categorization. Therefore, it is called anirvacanéya or not logically categorisable. As it is different from sat and asat, it is called sad-asad-vilakñaëa. What is sad-asad-vilakñaëa and anirvacanéya is called mithyä. This aspect is true not only of mäyä but also of everything in the manifestation, which is its effect.


The projection of mäyä is the causal, undifferentiated state of manifestation. It is called avyaktam [233] Differentiation from this potential state takes place by passing through the subtle and gross states [234]. If we look at the manifestation from the standpoint of mäyä, it becomes the pariëämi-upädäna-käraëam, as it is the material source, which undergoes actual change to produce the effect. Brahman in the upädhi of mäyä is called Éçvara [235]. It is thus that Éçvara is considered to be the creator, sustainer and resolver of the universe. However, viewed from the angle of Brahman, Brahman is the ultimate upädäna-käraëam, as mäyä is dependent on Brahman for its existence. But, Brahman is only the apparent cause or the vivarta-upädäna-käraëam, as it is only mäyä, which undergoes actual change to produce the effect, and not Brahman. Brahman in the upädhi of mäyä when looked upon from the standpoint of consciousness is the intelligent cause or nimitta-käraëam. It is thus that Brahman itself is both the nimitta and upädäna-käraëam or the abhinna-nimitta-upädäna-käraëam. This accords with the statements in the çruti, “My dear, in the beginning all this was existence (sat or Brahman) alone” [236] and“It thought. May I become many”. [237]


Avidyä and mäyä are identical. Avidyä is used generally with reference to jéva. Mäyä, which is universal, is individualized and personal in the jéva. Avidyä and ajïäna are synonymous. The upädhi of jéva has low sattva or knowledge component and jéva becomes a victim of the ävaraëa-çakti of mäyä. It results in non-apprehension, misapprehension and doubt [238] and the jéva considers himself to be limited in every sense. The upädhi of Éçvara, on the other hand, is predominantly sattva and the ävaraëa-çakti does not function. That is why he is omniscient or all-knowing, omnipotent or all-powerful and omnipresent or all- pervading.


227.Yä mä sä (That which is not) is mäyä. It means, “that which has no independent reality” or “that which does not really exist”.
228. This is called fundamental avidyä or mülävidyä. Particular ignorance is called tülävidyä.
229. Brahmäçraya. Åg veda (10.129.2.) says: “There existed the one (tadekam), which is free from activity and which is associated with mäyä.
230.Ävaraëa is vastu-agrahaëai.e., non-recognition of the vastu¸ which is Brahman.
231. This is why mäyä is called triguëätmikä.
232. Bhagavadgétä, 14.5.
233. The projection viewed as the material basis of the various forms is called as prakåti. This is not the same as prakåti of Säìkhya school of thought where it is considered to be capable of independently creating.
234. It is called hiraëyagarbha in the subtle state and virät in the gross state.
235. Muëḍaka Upaniñad, (1.1.1) refers to it as Brahma (Brahmaji).
236. Sat-eva somya-idam-agra asét-ekam-eva-advitéyam.  Chändogya Upaniñad, 6.2.1.
237. Tadaikñata bahu syäm prjäyeyeti..
Chänḍogya Upaniñad, 6.2.3.
238. Non-apprehension is agrahaëa; misapprehension is viparéta-grahaëa; and doubt is saàçaya.

Go to Part 34


Page last updated: 30-Sep-2016