MAYA: The instrument of the One
VSF: In the west the Sanskrit word mAyA is often translated as illusion. This is incorrect in the sense that mAyA is far more than illusion. The 1991 book ‘MAYA in Physics’ by N.C. Pandit explains Maya in very clear terms. N.C. Pandit received his Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Missouri, USA. Not only a scientist, his field of specialization in Biochemistry, N.C. Panda is also a Sanskrit scholar and has a “deep insight in the theory and practice of Yoga and Tantra.”
The explanation given by Panda is particularly good in regard to succinctly explaining Maya. This is an explanation from the school of Advaita Vedanta, which differs in subtle ways from Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmir Shaivism accepts the world as more than mere illusion and states that everything is SHIVA. I also include a further review of the Shaivite viewpoint using the Paramarthasara of Abhinavagupta.
However, the discussion of Maya by N.C. Pandit is very useful. Vedanta uses the term BRAHMAN as the One, the One God that pervades and permeates All. So bear in mind that when N.C. Pandit uses the word Brahman, he means the One. Here I will quote N.C. Panda verbatim and offer my comments in italics.
N.C. Pandit: In Advaita Vedanta, only Brahman is real and nothing else; the world we see and live in is an illusion.
VSF: The world is temporal, in constant change, ever moving from that which is created, to sustained, and inevitably dissolved. This temporal condition of the world is the source of this theory of the world being mere illusion. Nothing exists except the One. There is only the One.
NCP: Brahman is pure Consciousness. The Taittiriya Upanishad declares that Brahman is existence (satya), Consciousness (jnana), and endless (ananta). It does not undergo any modification. It is changeless. It neither has a precedent stage or a consequent stage — and therefore is birthless, deathless, and eternal (nityam).
Brahman is uncaused. Brahman is not the material cause of any product. Being without attributes and action less, Brahman is not an agent of any action — and thus cannot be the efficient cause of any product. Therefore the sacred scriptures declare that the uncaused Brahman is not the cause of anything.
VSF: As we shall see, Maya is the instrument of Brahman, the immeasurable immutable imperishable eternal One.
NCP: Brahman cannot be perceived by our five senses. Anything that is formless, attribute-less, and action-less cannot be perceived by any of our senses. Brahman is not only un-graspable, it is unthinkable.
VSF: By understanding that the One immeasurable Source of All that pervades and permeates all is beyond our five-sense perception, we can understand why those individuals who accept only five-sense perceptions as being Real are limited to a very narrow spectrum of our universe.
NCP: Maya is the instrument of Brahman. Maya is the POWER (SHAKTI) of Brahman [Shiva-Shakti in Kashmir Shaivism]. Maya is also termed as PRAKRITI, Avyakta, and Avidya.
Maya exists — but Maya does not exist as an independent entity second to Brahman. The existence of Maya is dependent on the existence of Brahman.
VSF: Here we begin to encounter the limitations of words to describe what exists beyond five-sense perception – and how Maya’s existence is interconnected and dependent on Brahman, the One-ness. There is only the ONE! So what is useful to us as we approach an understanding of the mechanics of God’s Creative Powers?
NCP: Because the existence of Maya is dependent on Brahman, Maya is different from Brahman, non-different from Brahman, and neither different or non-different from Brahman. Maya as the power of Brahman, has no independent existence. Maya exists, does not exist, and exists and does not exist.
VSF: While this may appear confusing to the linear mind, consider that there is only the One — and that every appearance in multiplicity is temporal, having a finite limited existence and therefore does not exist in the same way that the One, which has no attributes, is formless, and performs no acts. The use of seeming contradictions often achieves a kind of disconnect in the linear mind that allows for deeper perception.
NCP: Before producing multiplicity, Maya exists in an unmanifested form and is therefore termed AVYAKTA, the unmanifest. Maya is also said to be AVIDYA, meaning Ignorance.
VSF: AVIDYA is the condition of the manifested world. We all exist in matrix of Ignorance of out true nature. Only the One, Brahman, the eternal imperishable is beyond Ignorance, which serves to conceal or true nature from us so that we may project various adventures in time and space — pretending that we are individuals and not the One God. Thus Avidya as Ignorance of who we are and have always been, allows the manifestation of multiplicity by Maya as the Instrument of the One God, here termed Brahman.
NCP: Brahman is eternal and timeless. Brahman is without beginning and without end. Maya in her original form, before generating the multiplicities of manifestation, is called MULAPRAKRITI and in this stage is as yet undifferentiated.
Maya consists of the three constituents (the GUNAS): SATTVA (serenity), RAJAS (activity), and TAMAS (inertia). In the undifferentiated and unmanifest stage, Maya’s three constituents, the gunas are kept in equipose.
By the help of the guna tamas (inertia), Maya has the veiling or concealing power. It acts as a cover. Truth [that we are the One] is not revealed to us because of this cover, [this concealment of our Real Being.] Our vision is blurred. Reality, the REAL remains concealed to us.
VSF: Without this concealment of our Real Being, we would quickly lose interest in our adventures in Time & Space. The Veil of a Limited Consciousness is what allows us the play in the Divine LILA, God’s own Play.
NCP: We perceive the world projected by Maya in various ways. This projecting power works through the guna RAJAS (activity). Maya deludes every being by this power.
Before the manifestation of the Cosmos, the universe was potentially existent in Maya in an unmanifested state. As long as the three constituents — the three gunas sattva, rajas, and tamas — were in equilibrium, there was no manifestation. God creates a vibration in Maya, and due to this vibration, the three gunas of Maya lose their equilibrium.
In the rajas-predominant stage, the dormant potential, unmanifested universe became manifested. This was the emanation which was not creation ex nihilo. The preservation of the universe in the manifested state in effected in a stage that is sattva-predominant. During the tamas-predominant stage, the processes of dissolution [pralaya] become operative. The processes of dissolution are the reverse of manifestation.
The three processes of emanation (srishti), preservation (sthiti), and dissolution (pralaya) cannot be operative when the three gunas, the constituents of Maya are in equilibrium,.
The first product that emanates from Maya is space — AKASHA. Maya is the material cause of the universe. Maya is insentient. Maya is not omniscient. God is the efficient cause of the universe, but without the help of Maya, God cannot work as the Creator.
Maya may be considered as the instrument of God. It works as the material and it works as instrument. Maya works under the control of God. God is not controlled by Maya — or affected by Maya. By exercising supreme control on Maya, God creates the universe, supports it, and brings about the dissolution of it.
The universe, everything and everyone of the universe are under the control of Maya. They are deluded by the influence of Maya. Unless the Veil of Maya is thrown out, experience of Reality [Enlightenment that we are the One] will be impossible.
Maya is the limiting adjunct of God.
VSF: The concept of Maya is also in Kashmir Shaivism. Here I will quote the great Kashmir Shaivite Saint and genius Abhinavagupta from his ‘Paramathasara, The Essence of the Exact Reality’. The eternal One as Brahman is termed Paramashiva in Kashmir Shaivism. Shiva is the Life Force.
Abhinavagupta: That supreme self-dependence of Paramashiva, through which he brings about even that which is not possible, is known as the deity named Maya-Shakti. It serves Paramashiva as a Veil to hide himself.
VSF: Thus we are all Veiled portions of the Almighty One, Paramashiva, Brahman, the all pervading Presence and Source of all that is – was – and will be.
Abhinavagupta: Maya, the divine power of the Lord, reflected by him externally, appears as Maya-Tattva [tattva is the essence of things, the essential being of a thing — ‘that-ness’], the sixth one in the process of phenomenal evolution. The Lord, covering himself with it, conceals His nature of absolute purity and divinity. Making a show of his involvement in it, He sees everything through a viewpoint of diversity and forgets the divinity of His I-consciousness.
Besides, Maya-Tattva serves as the inanimate objective substance out of which all other insentient elements evolve. It is thus the substantive cause of numerous universes floating in it like bubbles in an ocean.
Maya-Tattva is also a creation of the Absolute God. It is His impure creation. Further creation out of Maya is conducted by Lord Anantanatha, one of the agents of God.
VSF: To my knowledge, this Lord Anantanatha is mentioned only by Kashmir Shaivism. I have not come across this term in any of the other schools. However it does resonate with the Systems Lords that are described by E.M. Nicolay.
Abhinavagupta: The pure consciousness, having adopted Maya as a part and parcel of itself, becomes impure and appears like a finite subject known as Purusha, who is bound like a beast with (the chains of bondage consisting) of kAla – the sense of time, kalA – the limited capacity to do just a little, niyati – the law of natural causation, rAga – the limited interest in a particular something, and Avidya – the limited capacity to know just a little.
Pursha is the finite subject who takes individual I-consciousness, having limited powers to know and to do, as his self. Having lost his infiniteness, he is known as ‘anu’ a finite being. He sees everything and everyone as different from him. Such viewpoint of diversity and such finitude are the main impurities of such individual I-consciousness, which being fastened by the chains of ignorance and finitude, is known as a Pashu, a bonded [bound in the chains of ignorance] being.
VSF: Maya is the instrument of the One God. We understand that Space is the first creation of Maya. And Time is the creation of Maya’s imagination.
Abhinavagupta: Time, according to Shaivism, is an imagined sense of succession with regard to events and actions. Such sense of time is based on the imagination of the finite being living at the plane of Maya.
VSF: I hope these descriptions of Maya [mAyA] have helped to illumine our understanding of this power — which is so much more than mere illusion. The Sanskrit words Maya and Shakti, meaning power, are often coupled as Shakti-Maya or Mayashakti. The term matrix only means the womb. Maya is the matirx, the womb of all things, all worlds, all universes. Without Maya, the ubiquitous One, Brahman, Paramashiva, the Almighty that pervades and permeates all, would not be manifesting Its magnificent Divine Potency and infinite diversity.
As long as we do not realize the mechanics of ‘appearances’ we may be trapped in a kind of self-delusional bondage by the attachment to our own five-sense based projections. When we fully realize that we are the One — “beneath the curtain of each atom” — it is then that we find Truth and lasting Freedom. Both Abhinavagupta and the Bhagavad Gita tell us that after this Realization of Truth, “No other aim in life remains to be accomplished.” We may say, by the Grace of God and from the Heart, as Abhinavagupta recommends: “I am infinitely potent and absolutely pure Consciousness.”
Bhagavad Gita VII.2
To you I shall explain in full this Wisdom-Knowledge,
Along with Discrimination, understanding and Realization,
Which having been understood, nothing further
Remains to be known here on Earth.
Maya in Physics
By N.C. Panda
Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1991, 2005, Delhi.
Essence of the Exact Reality or Paramarthasara of Abhinavagupta
English translation and notes by Dr. B.N. Pandit
Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1991, New Delhi.