The Indian Analyst

Mayavada of Advaita

Since time immemorial, the question that haunted the minds of scholars and philosophers was about the reality of the things and the objects of the world that we are experiencing. - by Prof. Y.S. Gowramma.

Since time immemorial, the question that haunted the minds of scholars and philosophers was about the reality of the things and the objects of the world that we are experiencing.  After striving a lot in knowing the meaning of the term ‘Real’, they came to a conclusion that what is real should be ‘permant’, ‘eternal’ and ‘unchangeable’.  As we all know that everything in this world is changing and momentary, it can not be ‘real’ in the true sense of the term.  Sankara, the great exponent of Advaita, goes to the extent of Saying that this world has no existence at all.  It is just an ‘appearance’, an ‘illusion’ and ‘Maya’. 

The concept ‘Maya’ occupies a significant role in the philosophy of Advaita.  The thing that appears to us as the world is the creation of ‘Maya’.  One should not confuse it as the cause of it, because illusion has no cause that one can account for.  It is just a descriptive name for illusion.  It has no being apart from the appearance.  It is a free effect, which is not necessitated by a cause.  It can not be explained by our intellect.  It can only be recognized and i.e. the mystery of it. 

The world which has no reality and just an illusion – is explained by an illustration ‘Rajju-Sarpa-Bhranti’. (Rope-Serpent-illusion)  The serpent which appears where there is only rope is neither existent nor non-existent, because, it is just a presented datum.  It is distinct from the real and the unreal.  It is not real (‘sat’) like the absolute Brahman nor unreal (‘Asat’) like the barren woman’s son.  As it is unique (‘Vilakshana’) in itself, it is described as ‘Sadasadvilakshana’. 

‘Maya’ is of the nature of super-imposition of one thing of the character upon the other.  Sankara calls it ‘Adhyasa’, ‘Bhrama’, ‘Error’, ‘Illusion’, ‘Maya’ or ‘Ignorance’.  It is nothing but mixing up of truth and error and coupling of the real and the unreal.  It is both a wrong cognition (misapprehension) like seeing silver in the shell and the non-apprehension of reality.  In other words it is not only the absence of right knowledge but also the existence of wrong knowledge.  This is because of ‘Maya’s’ ‘avarana shakti’ and ‘Vikshepa Shakti’.  The negative aspect of Maya, the ‘avarana shakti’ conceals the reality and acts as a screen to hide it and its positive aspect – ‘vikshepa shakti’ – projects the world of plurality on the Brahman ground.  So this is nothing but an imaginative perception and an erroneous perception called ‘Mithya-Jnana’. 

The locus of ‘Maya’ is Brahman yet Brahman is untouched by it as a magician is unaffected by his magic.  Brahman with ‘Maya’ is called ‘Isvara’.  So ‘Isvara’ is said to be associated with cosmic ‘Maya’.  This ‘maya’ is an inherent power or potency of Brahman which is absolutely dependent on Him and inseparable from Him.  The relation of ‘Maya’ and Brahman is unique which is neither identity, nor difference, nor both.  ‘Maya’ is energized and acts as a medium of the projection of this world of plurality on the non-dual ground of Brahman.  Though Brahman is the ground of this changing world, He transcends it. 

But as long as we are in this world, we can not take it to be unreal.  It is a practical reality.  In Sankara’s opinion, whichever appears is also real having some degree of truth in it, though it is not absolutely true.  In this context he says, this world is having only the ‘vyavaharika reality’ and not the ‘paramarthika reality.   Objects seen in the dream are quite real as long as dream losts.  It is only when we wake up from our dreams; we will come to know that it was unreal and realize the falsity of our dream state.  Thus from the vyavaharika standpoint, pratibhasika reality i.e. the dream state is not real.  Similarly so long as we are engrossed in ignorance, the world is quite real for us.  It is only when the true knowledge arises, then the world becomes sublated.  When ‘vidya’ dawns, the manifold world which is taken as real because of ‘avidya’ vanishes, just as snake vanishes when the rope is known.  Then only one can realize that this world is just an appearance and Brahman as the only ultimate reality.  The truth of the dictum – Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya – can be understood. 

This illusory appearance of the world which is called ‘vivarta’ has meaning only when we know the reality.  So when we know the ultimate reality of Brahman, then only we can know the illusoriness of this world.  When we see the truth, then only, we can say that we have seen the illusion.  So when we transcend the illusion and reach the higher standpoint, then we can say that the lower is illusory.  If we restrict ourselves only to the lower, then what all appearances that we perceive, are considered to be true only.  Thus this world is ‘Maya’ to him, who questions about its reality and stands in the Paramarthika level.  It is not an existent fact that everyone can recognize.  As it is just a deception and not an existing thing, it can not be destroyed.  With the help of right knowledge, just as illusory snake becomes the rope, the world becomes Brahman.  The negation of illusion takes the form of the affirmation of the ground.  Thus ‘Maya’ is that which is – never existed and can never exist.  Hence the world that we are experiencing is – never ‘was’, ‘is’ or ‘shall be’. 

Thus the concept ‘Maya’ is neither a dogura for advaitins which must be held at any cost, nor a theory which may be true or false but that which has only a hypothetical truth value.  The individual selves an account of ‘avidya’ imagine themselves as different from Brahman and mistakes Brahman as this world of plurality. 

Sankara advises us to be free from this false notion and thereby to realize the essential unity of the self.  When this is realized all adjuncts of ignorance vanish when the soul is liberated from its limiting adjuncts, then it realizes the true that Brahman is the ultimate true, world is false and individual souls are non-different from Brahman – ‘Brahma Satyam, Jagan Mithya, Jeevo Brahmaiva na paraha’.  In this state of realization the soul realizes that this world is only a manifestation of Brahman and everything as Brahman only – ‘Sarvam khalu idam Brahma’.