In the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad
"I will explain to you how to know me
fully and clearly. I will give
you the knowledge, after knowing which, nothing more will remain to be
known by you. It is only the rarest of men who come to know me in my
true essence." (7.1-3).
Having made this exciting promise,
Krishna begins His explanation by
"I have two kinds of Maya –
lower (apara) and superior
(para). The first is the cause of the inert world, and the second is my
shakti in the form of prana which sustains this world. Because My Maya,
in these two forms, is the cause of this entire world, it is actually
Me, who is the ultimate source and dissolution of the world." (7.4-5)
Promising to give a 'full and clear'
description of Himself, Krishna
Actually, this is the only way we can understand God. The Upanishads
'The speech and mind return without
reaching the ultimate God' (Taittriya
The implication thus is that our
sense organs are not capable enough to
discern the ultimate God. Therefore, the only way to understand Him is
through His creation, namely this world, which is perceptible to our
mean to say that that the One
God can be known through this infinitely varied world? How is this
Resolution: The Shrimad
the One God has become many through His Maya (12.9.6). The
'God takes on many forms through His Maya. He takes on these various
forms to reveal His own self' (2.5.19). The great Shankaracharya,
on this Upanishad verse says: "If these various names and forms had not
been made manifest, then it would not have been possible to realize
Thus this world is but the manifest
form of God, created by Him to
facilitate our realization of Him. Moreover, it is this Maya, which,
during creation, takes on the form of the world: 'It is God's Maya
which takes on the shape of the world. The purpose of this
transformation is to facilitate both, the reaping of the fruits of our
karma, and also to facilitate our Moksha (God-realization)',
Shankaracharya's Introduction to the 13th Chapter of the Gita.
Since the supremely compassionate God
is ever interested in the Moksha
of all human
of whom is conditioned by a different set of samskaras and backgrounds,
it is but imperative that there be as many means to realize God as
there are variety of people. Hence the diversity in this world.
Gita verse 7.4-5 you have
quoted above contains the word Prakriti, which you have interpreted as
Maya. How do we know they both mean the same?
clearly states: "Know Maya to be the same as Prakriti."
Shankaracharya Ji puts it as follows
'Maya means showing oneself as something else from the outside'
(Commentary on the Prashna Upanishad, 1.16).
We know from the example of science
that even as water is opposed to
fire, its cause, namely hydrogen and oxygen, both are supporters of
combustion. To explain this transformation, science postulates a force
named valence bond. Any science, in order to explain the transformation
of a cause to an effect different from it, has to postulate a force
characteristic of the cause. Vedanta
too is an
science. Therefore, there comes into play Maya, which efficiently
explains the transformation of the non-inert, unchanging Brahman, into
the inert, changing world. Maya is that which hides the fundamental
transcendental form (svarupa) of God and presents it as something else.
Without this Maya, or Shakti, it is
not possible to prove God as
creator of the world – 'Without Shakti
or Maya, God
cannot be the
creator, because in absence of Maya, there cannot be an inclination
(pravritti) to create in God' (Shankaracharya's commentary on the Brahmasutras
Shankaracharya Ji has been much
castigated and it has been insinuated
that he is the one who has laid undue stress on the term Maya. However,
this is not justified because it is the scriptures themselves which use
this word to explain the power or Shakti of God (Brahman
Brhadaranyaka and Prashna
use it while
mentions it several times. The Bhagavad Gita uses the word Maya four
times, and its synonym Prakriti more than 20 times. In fact, in
addition to Prakriti, all sacred scriptures use the word Maya in one or
more of the following synonyms:
1)Shakti: Because it is the power of
God which creates the world.
2)Akasha: Because of its unlimited
extent, or because it is the cause
3)Akshara: meaning indestructible.
4)Maya: Because of this wonderful
creation, which shows God in a form
discernable to us.
5)Avyakta: Meaning unmanifest,
because at the time of dissolution
(pralaya), it remains latent inside God.
This world is created by Maya to
facilitate the reaping of our karma.
attached to Maya, attempting to 'lord' over it or possess it, we
perform various karma, accumulating both Dharma
in the process
and thus are forced to take birth again and again. In this manner, all
beings are under the control of Maya. However, Krishna says:
“I take Avatara
My Maya under
control” (Bhagavad Gita 4.6). Thus, unlike the jivas, Maya is
under the command of God.
We have seen above Krishna
this world using His two types of Mayas, lower and superior. The first,
called in Bhagavad Gita as the 'apara prakriti', is responsible for
creation of the material world, which is inert. The second superior
Shakti, known as 'para prakriti', upholds and sustains the world
through 'prana', or life breath. The former is contaminated, while the
second is pristinely pure.
Actually, the ultimate reason behind
the creation of this world is
avidya, our ignorance about our true status as being one with God. Due
to avidya we see the world as different from God (ourselves), and thus
get entangled in a plethora of attachment (raga) and hatred (dvesha).
Inspired by these emotions, we perform more and more karma to bring
that which we like near us, and push what we dislike away from us. To
reap the fruits of these new actions God has to create this world again
for us. It is like the father who gets his wailing child a toy to play
with, even though he is himself totally uninterested in the toy itself
(udasin). The desire for this world is ours; the capability to create
it is God's.
'First prana is created by the
superior form of Lord's Maya. It is our
avidya which then actuates the lower form of Maya This Maya creates the
various bodies fit enough to reap the fruits of the karmas of our
previous lives. Thus the para prakriti sustains this world through
prana or 'life breath', and the apara prakriti is responsible for the
bodies, which if it hadn't been for the prana would have been lifeless'
(Shankaracharya's Commentary on Bhagavad Gita 7.5).
Doubt: It is
still not clear why one of the
Maya is called lower (impure) and the other pure?
Apara prakriti is said to be the
inferior form of the Lord's Maya because it is actuated by our avidya.
Para prakriti is pure, uncontaminated by our avidya. Even though the
exhortation (pravritti) to create the world comes from avidya, the
power to create is solely God's. This apara power, because of this
association with our avidya is called impure.
Shri Shankaracharya says clearly:
'Within Maya is avidya, the impure
seed of the world' (Commentary on
the Gita: 12.3).
'Even though God (Brahman) is
essentially quiet and neutral, It creates
the world by this Maya which is joined with the avidya of beings'
(Commentary on the Brahmasutras 2.2.2).
'The avidya of beings situated inside
Maya is responsible for the
creation of the world' (Gita Commentary 13.21).
We know that this world was created
to reap the fruits of karma
performed by us in previous lives. Similarly, the world before this,
was created for the fruits of our karma of lives previous to that and
so on. Therefore, there is no world which can be said to have been
created 'first of all'. A few rare beings may be able to overcome their
avidya and become free from this cycle of life and death. They will not
be born again, that is why they does not need the world again. However,
the number of beings is infinite (Atharvaveda
how so many people may become free, there will always remain many who
would be bound to the circle of life. Thus, the creation and
dissolution of the world too is a never-ending process, and this
timeless cycle is both beginningless and endless.
'As tiny sparks come forth from fire,
so does this diverse world always
come forth from God, sustains in It and also dissolves back into It'
(Shankaracharya's Commentary on Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.20). Since
the world is continuously being created and dissolved, the Maya
required for this cyclic process too is eternal.
Bhagavan Shankaracharya puts it
'Shakti is fundamentally the same as
its cause' (karanasya atmabhuta
shakti), Commentary on the Brahmasutras 2.1.18.
'Shakti is none other than God,
because Shakti is non-different from
the one who wields it.' (sa shakti Brahm ev, shakti shaktimato
ananyatvat), Gita Commentary 14.27.
'It is My Maya, which is non-different from Me (svabhuta), which
creates all beings', (Commentary on the Gita 14.3)
'That which is called as
Mula-prakriti, it is the same as our God
(Brahman)', Commentary on the Brahmasutras 2.3.9.
We go and lift a stone. Can we say
that the power (Shakti) we used to
achieve the task is different from us? Similarly, Brahman, the Supreme
God, and His Maya are one and the same.
God and His Maya are one and the
same, why introduce the concept of Maya at all?
know that God created this
world. We also know that this world is extremely different from the
nature of God as stated in the ancient scriptures, which are
infallible. Therefore, Maya is the force, power or Shakti, which
efficiently explains the transformation of the non-inert, unchanging
Brahman, into an inert, changing world.
Maya thus presents the cause as an
effect having a nature different
from the cause. It is the latent force which is activated every time
God creates this world prompted by our avidya. When we speak solely of
God, there is no need to bring in Maya, but as soon as we talk of this
world or its creation we cannot communicate without understanding the
concept of Maya.
God wants the jivas to understand
Him, therefore, He dons that form
which they can understand and comes before them in the form of this
world. After that, He provides them with the Shastras (Vedic Scriptures),
which explain how to realize Him by understanding how He is
non-different from the world.
However, the world is very
attractive, and we get bound to its outward
appearance, failing to apprehend its Ultimate Source.
Actually, the world is like a
language and God is its meaning. We
concentrate on the beauty of the language, rather than look at the
meaning behind it. When can we understand the meaning? When we give
less importance to the language (world), keeping our interaction with
it to the bare, minimum necessity, and fix our attention solely on the
meaning (God). However, at the same time we have to realize that
meaning cannot reveal itself without the word; God cannot be known
without the world.
Doubt: All this
talk about going beyond Maya
is all very good. However, it has still not been explained how one
actually goes about achieving this?
is a very important question.
Krishna answers it in the Bhagavad Gita in a manner which is beautiful
in its simplicity, yet profound in implication. He says:
"Only those who take refuge in Me can
cross over My Maya." (7.14)
Consider this: We believe the peak of
our pleasure to lie between the
legs of a woman. It is highest form of pleasure we know. However, have
we ever paused to reflect why God has located the locus of this
pleasure at the dirtiest spots in the bodies of the two partners? Even
if we have pondered on this question, have we still not failed to
overcome our intense physical desires? After trying our best and still
not being able to win over our desires, what way other than praying and
surrendering to God remains for us? Our revered saints, the ones that
have crossed over Maya, are unanimous in declaring that taking refuge
in Krishna and sincerely praying to Him to help us overcome our desires
is the only sure shot way to succeed.
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam Krishna
says to His Maya: "People will
worship you with much fanfare and gifts. You will grant people whatever
boons they ask for”. In addition, in Gita 7.14, Krishna calls
His Maya divine (daivi). Would Krishna call an 'illusion' divine,? Or,
can something which is mere illusion, be capable of fulfilling our
wishes and desires?
Nearly all Vedantic Texts translated
into English read Maya as
'illusion'. This is very disturbing. God has many a times called it 'My
Maya'. When we speak of a compassionate God, will such a God subject
His beloved beings to illusion? Such a God would be malicious and not
benevolent. Maya is real (bhava-rupa). It is there for us to perceive
the reality of God in terms we can understand. Thus in India women are
named after Maya, considering it to be sacred. Numerous temples
honoring her adorn this land from top to bottom. Ultimately, we have
seen, Maya is non-different from God. Does this mean God is an illusion
too? There is no substance in such an interpretation.
The desire for the world is ours, but
the capability to create it is
God's. Maya not only just does its job – create the world for
us to reap the fruits of our pervious karma, but at the same time also
facilitates our Moksha by presenting God in terms we can understand.
For this we need to be grateful to Maya. That we get attached to Maya,
and create more karma in order to possess it is but our own faulty
ignorance. The Mahabharata
'It is not the fault of Maya but
mine, that, looking away from God, I
became attached to it' (Moksha Dharma 307.34).
This article is based
almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand
Bharati Ji. However, any error is entirely the author's own.
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