Appearance and Reality- Concept of Maya

Bhagavad Gita                           
In the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Krishna explains that he is able to become immanent in the physical world through the power of Maya. He syas ‘Though I am unborn and eternal by nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, subjugating My Prakriti, I accept birth through My own Maya.’ (4.6) Thus, Maya has a positive aspect in its ability to generate Bhagavan’s avatars who come to the aid of humankind for the protection of dharma.

However, the Bhagavadgita also states that Maya is a negative concept, as its production of the physical world deprives human beings of insights into the true nature of the universe. The positive aspect of Maya is seen in the teachings and actions of Krishna and the negative aspect is seen in the delusion and grief of Arjuna in the Mahabharata.

The law of karma governs the birth of a human being while the Lord is not subject to the law of Karma. He assumes the human form (avatar) retaining His power over the inscrutable Maya by which other beings are bound. This Maya remains as a self-imposed limitation of the Lord as long as he chooses to dwell in a human form. On account of Maya He acts like a human being; but it does not affect His nature. After His mission in the world is over, He Himself withdraws Maya and regains His incorporeal nature. His activities in the world are for setting up an example to ordinary men.

The embodiment of the Lord is only an appearance. A created being is under the control of Maya while the Lord is the controller of Maya. The birth and death of the Lord depends on His own will but the birth and death of an embodied being are due to the law of Karma. This is the difference between the Lord and the embodied being.

The Bhagavad Gita starts with the melancholy of Arjuna, which demonstrates the negative effect of Maya. Arjuna, even though well known for his nobility and bravery lost his discriminating wisdom under the influence of sorrow and delusion which were caused by affection and attachment arising from such ideas as, ‘I am theirs and they are mine’ with regard to kingdom, teachers, friends, relatives, kinsmen and so on. As a result he desisted from the battle which was his duty as a Kshatriya and to which he himself came forward on his own accord but later started thinking of living like a mendicant depending on alms. Thereby, he sank into a great mental malevolence overpowered by the veil of Maya under its avarana and viksepa sakti.

“Delusion caused by ego and attachment, is the cause of samsara, the incessant round of birth and death in the relative world. Only by knowledge of Reality can it be destroyed.”
After receiving such enlightening Knowledge from Krishna, Arjuna got rid of sorrow and delusion, regained his composure and engaged himself in winning the war which was his natural duty. This is the positive element of Maya.  We have seen that Maya consists of three gunas and going beyond Maya or the three gunas is liberation. Bhagavan tells us how we can cross over the three gunas.

He who worships Me with the Yoga of undeviating love rises above the gunas and becomes fit to be one with Brahman. (14.26)
Verily, this divine Maya of Mine, made up of the gunas is difficult to overcome; those who take refuge in Me alone, shall cross over this Maya. (7.14)

This divine Maya is inscrutable to human reason and it is hard to overcome by one’s own effort unaided by Divine Grace. Hence Bhagavan says abandoning all duties one should become devoted to Him alone who is the Lord of Maya and the innermost Self of every being and he shall be liberated from the bondage of Maya. If by worshipping the Lord anybody can get rid of Maya, why do not all worship Him?

Bhagavan answers ‘The evil-doers, the deluded, the lowest of men, do not seek Me, deprived of knowledge by Maya and following the way of the asuras.’ (7.15)

He continues ‘I am not revealed to all veiled by My Maya born of the Gunas. This deluded world knows Me not, the Unborn and eternal.’ (7.25) Ignorant persons do not recognise an incarnation of God on account of the veil of Maya and regard him as an ordinary mortal.

The Lord Himself, through His grace, gives right knowledge to those who worship him with love. He says ‘On those who are ever devoted to Me and worship Me with love, I bestow the Yoga of understanding, by which they come to Me.’ (10.10) Yoga of understanding means a superior and exalted condition of the mind produced by meditation on the Lord by which the aspirant realizes the real nature of the Lord, through His grace alone free from all limitations. This is the ultimate goal of all spiritual endeavors.

Bhagavan concludes his teaching with the clarion call to all of us by telling Arjuna: ‘The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, O Arjuna, and by His Maya causes them to revolve as though mounted on a machine’ (18.61). As in a puppet show the strings controlling the dolls are manipulated by their master behind the scenes the created beings move and act on the stage of this relative world under the control of the Lord seated in the hearts of all.

‘Priority, under His guidance, gives birth to all things, moving and unmoving; and because of this, the world revolves.’ (9.10) and therefore, ‘abandoning all rites and duties take refuge in Me alone. I shall free you from all sin. Therefore do not grieve. (18.66)

Here rites and duties mean all actions, good or evil, which create bondage and therefore are incomparable with the supreme liberation taught by Bhagavan. Sri Krishna lays down renunciation of all actions and surrendering to Him as the means of ultimate liberation or moksha. According to Sankara liberation can be attained only by removing ignorance through knowledge of Brahman as darkness can be destroyed only by light.

Sri Krishna again and again tells “Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me. Having thus disciplined yourself and regarding Me as the Supreme goal, you will come to Me.” (9.34). This advice is also repeated in Chapter 18 Verse 65 as “Fix your heart on Me, give your love to Me, worship Me, bow down to Me; so shall you come to Me. This is My pledge to you, for you are dear to Me.”

Bhagavan reiterates “O scion of Bharata dynasty, he who being free from delusion, knows Me thus as a Supreme Person (Purushottama), he is all knowing and adores Me with his whole being.” (15.19) and “Take refuge in Him alone with your whole being, O scion of Bharata dynasty. Through His grace, you will attain the supreme Peace and the eternal abode.”(18.65)

Thus Devotion and Knowledge destroy the illusion of the very existence of the relative universe and reveals the Reality which is the One without a second. This destruction of Maya is simultaneous with the revelation of the ever existing Reality.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa on Maya
Sri Ramakrishna says “The universe is created by the Mahamaya of God. Mahamaya contains both Vidyamaya, the illusion of knowledge and Avidyamaya, the illusion of ignorance. Through the help of Vidyamaya one cultivates such virtues as the taste for the holy company, knowledge, devotion, meditation, love, and renuncition. It includes discrimination and dispassion (Viveka and Vairagya) - i.e. God is real and the world illusory.

‘Avidyamaya consists of the five elements and the objects of the five senses viz.sound, touch, form, taste and smell (shabda, sparsha, roopa, rasa and gandha). These make one forget God.’ A question was raised if the power of Avidyamaya is the cause of ignorance, then why has God created it? The reply given by the sage was ‘That it is His play. The glory of light cannot be appreciated without darkness. Happiness cannot be understood without misery. Knowledge of good is possible because of knowledge of evil.’

‘He who has knowledge has ignorance also. Therefore go beyond knowledge and ignorance. Suppose a thorn has pierced a man’s foot. He picks another thorn to pull out the first one. After extracting the first thorn with the help of the second thorn he throws away both the thorns. Similarly, one should use the thorn of knowledge to pull out the thorn of ignorance. Then one throws away both the thorns – knowledge and ignorance and attains Vijnana.’

‘What is Vijnana? It is to know God distinctly by realizing His existence through an intuitive experience and to speak to Him intimately. In order to attain Vijnana one has to accept the help of Vidyamaya. That is why Sri Krishna said to Aruba: Go beyond the three gunas.’

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