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Thread: 'The Doctrine of Maya' by Prabhu Dutt Shastri: A Compilation

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    Light 'The Doctrine of Maya' by Prabhu Dutt Shastri: A Compilation

    This is a compilation from the captioned book, which can be downloaded at: (138 pages, 10.0 MB).

    This rather long compilation includes most of the scriptural quotes employed by the Author, under convenient sectional headings (which are not in the book) so as to serve as a quick reference.


    In this book, the Author gives a philological survey of the word 'maya' and a philosophical survey of the idea behind it. He traces these two developments from the Vedic times down to the times of Sankara.

    In his investigations, the Author reaches the following conclusions:

    1. That the conception of Maya is as old as some of the later books of the Rig Veda where its forms are clearly noticeable, and that it gradually developed through the speculation of the upanishads, and passing through the hands of Gaudapada and Sankara was crystallized into a technical form, elaborated more and more as time went on;

    2. That the word 'Maya,' in the sense of 'illusion' of course, occurs later for the first time in the Svetasvatara upanishad (iv.10); and

    3. That most of the critics of Maya have started with gratuitously assuming Maya to be a concrete reality, standing face to face with the Absolute as it were, a tertium quid between the Absolute and the Universe and this has made their whole criticism futile and irrelevant.

    After investigating the origin and development of the term and concept of Maya, the Author deals with the objections of Ramanuja and Madhva to the Doctrine of Maya and establishes where they go wrong.

    Chapter 1: History of the Word 'Maya'
    Maya in the Vedas

    The word 'Maya' prominently figures in the vocabulary of Vedanta philosophy but the term in its many derivations assumed various shapes of meanings which seem to contradict each other.

    1. The Nighantu, which is one of the earliest collections of Vedic homonyms, mentions 'maya' as one of the eleven names of 'prajnA' (intelligence).

    2. The author traces the frequency of occurrence of the word maya and its derivatives in the Rig Veda and other texts. He also traces the associated deities in the Rig Veda and says, for example, that Indra has 35 references of maya addressed to him, Agni 8 references and so on.

    3. The two chief meanings of the word maya as employed in the Rig Veda are: 'power' ('prajnA') and 'deception' ('kapaTa'). The idea of 'mystery' goes with the meaning 'power' because the power is not physical but a 'mysterious power of the will', which we would translate into such Sanskrit expressions as 'sankalpa shakti' and 'icchA shakti'.

    In R.V. iii.53.8, for instance, Indra is spoken of as 'assuming many different forms,' and it is not done by his 'physical' power but simply by his wonderful and extraordinary 'will-power' (aneka-rUpa-grahaNa-sAmarthya). He wills that he may assume such and such forms and it is realized; hence Indra is very frequently termed 'mAyin' in the Vedic hymns. Ordinary human understanding with its inherent limitations is apt to be 'deceived' by such phenomena, and thus the transition from the 'mysterious will power' to 'deception' is achieved. In fact the two ideas interpenetrate each other, so much so that it seems to us rather a forced distinction to make when we speak of the transition.

    From this it can be inferred that the singers of the hymns and the Indians of the Vedic age were aware of the one becoming many and the latter being a deceptive creation of a mysterious power.

    4. From the very nature of the content of the Atharva Veda the word maya as mysterious power means 'magic' throughout, hence 'illusion', with stronger emphasis on the 'supernatural' element.

    5. The word maya has these meanings in the BrahmaNAs: 'prajnA' with its synonym 'buddhi', 'supernatural or magical skill', 'divine power', 'supernatural power'.

    Maya in the Upanishads

    BrhadAraNyaka upanishad (oldest and most important in many ways)
    'mAyAbhih' (ii.5.19)
    This is the famous quotation from R.V. vi.47.18, which also occurs in Sat. Br. xiv.5.5.19; also in Jaimimya-upanishad Br.i.44.i.

    Prasna Upanishad
    'mAyA' (i.16)
    Here Maya is spoken of as a defect along with 'jihmam' (moral crookedness) and 'anrtam' (telling a lie). It is itself 'mithyAcArarUpadoSa' (the defect of hypocrisy).

    Svetasvatara Upanishad
    'mAyA' (i.10)
    Here 'maya' means the great cosmic illusion. In his commentary on the passage Sankara adds, 'sukha-duhkha-mohAtma-kaseSa-prapanca-rUpa-mAya,' i.e., the whole world as a sum-total of pleasure, pain, delusion, etc.

    'mAyAm, mAyinam' (iv.10)
    Here the Prakrti of the Sankhya is spoken of as maya.
    Cf. 'mAyAm tu prakrtim viddhi mAyinam tu maneSvaram.'

    'mAyi, mAyayA' (iv.9)
    The Great Lord is called 'mAyI' here and in the following stanza. He is said to create the universe only by his 'mAyA-shakti'.

    Later Upanishads

    Among the later Upanishads too the word occurs:

    Nrsimha-Tapani Upanishad
    (iii.i; v.i) - the forms 'mAyA, mAyam, mAyayA'
    Nrut. Up.
    (Khanda 9) and (i and 5) - 'mAyAmAtram'

    As these and other minor upanishads are not easily available we give the following quotations in full:

    'Maya va esa narasimhi', 'natmanarn maya sprSati', 'Ksetram ksetram va mayaisa sampadyate', 'maya ca tamorupanubhuteh', 'evam evaisa maya', 'maya cavidya ca svayam eva bhavati', 'mayam etam saktim vidyat', 'ya etam mayam saktim veda', 'mayaya va etat sarvam vestitam', 'mayaya vahirvestitam', 'mayaya hy anyadiva', 'mudha iva vyavaharann aste mayayaiva', 'mayaya nasamvittihsvaprakaSe', 'trayam apy etat (and trayam atrapi) susuptam svapnam mayamatram,(Nrut i)', 'idam sarvam yad ayam atma mayamatram (Nrut. 5)'.

    In Culika Upanishad we read:

    'vikAra-jananIm mAyAm ashta-rUpam ajAm dhruvam'

    where Maya is spoken of as bringing about the existence of the phenomenal world.

    The Sarvopanisatsara Upanishad (a small prose-treatise containing only five sections) reads:

    'katham pratyagAtmA paramAtmA AtmA mAyA ceti'

    where an inquiry is made into the meanings of these four terms including maya, and the answer is given in section 4:

    'anAdir antarvatnI pramANA-pramANAsa-dhAraNA na satI nAsatI na sadasatI svayam avikArAd vikArahetau nirUpyamANe satI, anirUpyamANe satI lakSanaSUnyA sA mayety ucyate'

    where the mysterious nature of maya is described.

    The Ramapurvatapaniya Upanishad, which is one of the sectarian upanishads, containing ninety-four slokas divided into ten khandas, speaking of Rama and Sita as Prakrti and Purusa, reads thus:

    'tato RAmo mAnavo mAyAyAdhyAt' (17)
    'koNapArsve ramAmAye' (61)
    'mAyAvidye ye kalApAratattve'(89)
    'namo mAyAmayAya ca' (30)

    The Gopicandana Upanishad reads"

    'mAyA-sahita-brahmasam-bhogavasAt' (4)
    'mAyA-sabalitam brahmAsit' (Ibid.)

    The Krsna Upanishad also reads:

    'mAyA sA trividhA-proktA' (5)
    'mAyA tredhA hy udAhrtA' (6)
    'ajayyA VaisnavI mAyA' (7)
    'Harih sAkSan mAyAvigrahadhAraNah' (11)
    'mAyayA mohitam jagat' (12)
    'tasya mAyA jagat katham' (13)

    In all these passages maya means 'appearance', 'illusion', etc. The same sense is further found in 'sa evam mAyAparimohitAtmA' (Kaivalya Upanishad 12), and 'indrajAlam iva mAyAmayam' (Maitri Upanishad iv. 2).

    Gaudapada's Karikas

    One of the most brilliant and important works on Advaitism is Gaudapada's Karikas on the Mandukya upanishad. These are divided into four parts
    (prakaranas): (i) Agama; (2) Vaitathya; (3) Advaita; (4) Alata-shanti, each of which is regarded as a separate upanishad.

    The Karika contains sixteen passages altogether in which the word maya occurs. Out of these, Part III contributes no less than six passages, Part IV
    contributing four, and each of the other two parts contributing three,

    'svapnamAyAsarUpeti srStir anyair vikalpitA'

    where the world is likened to a world of dreams and to illusion, both of which are false.

    'anAdimAyayA supto yadA jIvah prabudhyate'(i. 16)

    where the cosmic illusion--under the influence of which the individual feels as if 'asleep'--is spoken of as beginningless.

    'mAyAmAtram idam dvaitam advaitam paramArthatah' (i- 17)

    where the duality, i.e., the multiplicity of which the world is composed, is declared mere illusion.

    'kalpayaty AtmanAtmAnam AtmA devah svamAyayA' (ii. 12)

    where maya is said to be the Lord's own 'wondrous power'. Here the sense of such a supernatural power is maintained. But, as will be shown presently, the two ideas are closely allied to each other. The sense of 'illusion' is a natural
    development of the idea of such a 'power'.

    'mAyaisA tasya devasya yayA sammohitah svayam' (ii. 19)

    where maya is spoken of as the Lord's great illusion.

    'svapnamAye yatha drSte gandharvanagaram yathA' (ii. 3i)

    where again maya is collated with svapna, and it is said that the waking world has no substantiality, like a dreaming world or like a 'fata morgana'.

    'samghAtAh svapnavat sarve AtmamAyAvisarjitAh (iii. 10)

    where the so-called objective existences in this world are declared false and mere creations of the Atman's maya (avidya).

    'mAyayA bhidyate hy etan nAnyathAjam kathamcana' (iii. 19)

    where the differences or the plurality are said to be due to mere illusion. The same thought is repeated in

    'neha nAneti cAmnAyAd indro mAyAbhir ity api ajAyamAno bahudhA mAyayA jAyate tu sah' (iii. 24).

    Further, in the following two passages it is discussed how the world is created not from not-being but from being--not 'in reality' but 'as it were':

    'sato hi mAyayA janma yujyate na tu tattvatah' (iii. 27)
    'asato mAyayA janma tattvato naiva yujyate' (iii. 28).

    In Part IV we find--

    'upalambhAt samAcArAn mAyAhastI yathocyate' (iv. 44)

    where the empirical existence of the world is granted like the one granted to an illusive elephant.

    'janma mAyopamam teSAm sA ca mAyA na vidyate' (iii. 58)

    where maya is said to have no real existence at all.

    'yathA mAyAmayAd vijAj jAyate tanmayo nkurah' (iv. 59)

    where the creation, destruction, etc., of the worldly objects is described as maya, an appearance, seeming true only in the realm of appearance.

    'yathA svapne dvayAbhAsam cittam calati mAyayA,
    tathA jAgrad dvayAbhAsam cittam calati mAyayA
    ' (iv. 61)

    where the seeming duality is spoken of as mere vijnAnamaya, and the waking and the dreaming states are compared in this regard.


    The same sense is observed in the great epic, the Mahabharata. For instance

    'purA vikurute mAyAm (i.6,029) Cf. also i. 7,631, iii. 2,557, xiii. 7,595,
    'mAyAm mohinIm samupAsritAh' (i.1,156),
    'apsarA devakanyA vA mAyA' (iii.15,580).

    Bhagavad Gita

    Now we come to the Bhagavad Gita, which is the finest gem in our New Testament of the Upanishads, and which contains the essentials of all our philosophy.

    'prakrtim svAm adhiSthAya
    sambhavAmy AtmamAyayA
    ' (iv. 6).

    Here it means 'will-power'.

    'daivi hy eSA gunamayI
    mama mAyA duratyayA,
    mAm eva ye prapadyante
    mAyAm etAm taranti te
    ' (vii. 14).

    Here it means 'illusion', which being dependent on God is spoken of as 'divine'.

    Asuram bhAvam AsritAh
    ' (vii. 15).

    Here, too, the same sense of 'illusion'.

    'bhrAmayan sarvabhUtAni
    yantrArudhAni mAyayA
    ' (xviii. 61).

    Here, too, it means the great 'illusive Power'.

    Now let us turn to the System of the Vedanta, properly so called as one of the six systems or schools of Indian philosophy. The Sutras (aphorisms, condensed formulas) which constitute this system are called the Brahma-Sutras or the Vedanta-Sutras, and are 555 in number. The word maya, however, occurs only in one of these (iii. 2. 3), which runs thus

    'mAyAmAtram tu kArtsnyena anabhivyakta-svarUpatvAt'

    where, speaking of the nature of a dream, the dream world is pronounced to be mere 'illusion'. Max Muller seems to be incorrect when he says that the word 'need not mean more than a dream'. In that case the sutra would mean that the dream world is a dream, which hardly has any sense. Doubtless the word means 'illusion' here, as it is quite in keeping with the spirit of the preceding two sutras, which also bear on the same subject of the unreality of the dream-world.

    sArIraka bhASya: Sankara's Commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras

    The most important, authoritative and popular, as well as the oldest, commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras is the one by Sankara (otherwise called Sankaracarya) called the 'Sariraka-Bhasya'. This Bhasya has so much been respected that it forms a part and parcel of the technical system of the Vedanta together with the Sutras. ... the term maya is found in the commentary fifteen times in the
    following passages, and it invariably has the sense of 'illusion'.

    [Refer to pages 24-25 of the Book for the passages]

    It is true beyond doubt that Sankara means by maya nothing but 'illusion'.

    Vedanta After Sankara's Time

    From Sankara's time downward the phraseology of the Vedanta was more and more settled technically, and even modern writers on the Vedanta use the word maya in the same sense of 'illusion' which was so clearly brought out by Sankara. After his time there has not been any desire to change the meaning of the term by a different usage.

    A glance through such works as the Pancadati, the Vedantasara, the Vedantaparibhasha, the Atmabodha, the Vivekacuddmani, etc., will amply endorse this fact. We may, therefore, safely close our survey of the meanings of the term when we have come down to Sarikara s time.

    Maya Meaning Other Ideas

    Apart from its philosophic use, the word maya is used in modern classical Sanskrit to convey some other ideas also. Sometimes it means 'a female juggler' (Amarakosa: Dictionary of the Sanskrit Language, by Amara Simha).

    Again it means 'deception' or fraud (kapata) or hypocrisy (chadma), e.g., in the Mahabharata:

    'sevetAm amAyayA gurum' (xiii.7,595)

    i.e., 'let both of them serve the teacher without any deception'.

    It also means 'illusion' in an 'unphilosophical' sense, i.e., in an ordinary way free from the technical shade of the philosophical idea. For example, in the Raghuvamsa we read--

    'mAyAm mayodbhAvya parIkSito si' (ii. 62)

    i.e., you have been tested by me creating 'illusion'.

    The word is also used sometimes as a proper name. Buddha's mother was called 'maya' (full name: 'maya Devi'), as 'mAyAdevisuta' is one of Buddha s names mentioned in the Amarakosa.

    Even at the present day in India some girls are actually named 'Maya-Devi' or 'Maya-vati' or 'Maya-Kaur.' The chief reason why they are so named is that they are looked upon as auspicious if their name means 'wealth' or 'a bringer of wealth' etc., everything bearing on wealth being supposed to be auspicious. In India almost all names mean something definite most of them are after the designations of some gods or goddesses. It is supposed that if a girl is named 'maya' she will ever be abounding in riches.

    Maya in the Sankhya System

    In the Sankhya system Maya is identified with Prakrti (the primordial 'matter') as the source of the universe, with the distinct difference that the latter is real. It is the equilibrium of the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. It is also called Pradhana. It has a real and independent existence and brings about the evolution of the whole world in company with the Purusha. In other words, the Sankhya system is based on an out-and-out dualism. This dualism is questioned and finally solved by the Vedanta in so far as the Prakrti is transformed into Maya, and the Purusha into Brahman, and so the mutual opposition of the two is destroyed.

    Derivation of the Word Maya

    The word 'Maya' is derived from 'ma', to measure 'mIyate anAya iti,' i.e., by which is measured, meaning thereby, as tradition has it, that illusive projection of the world by which the immeasurable Brahman appears as if measured.

    The same root gives further the sense of 'to build', leading to the idea of 'appearance' or illusion. Sayana, in his commentary on R.V. i.II.7, too derives the word from 'mAa mAne' (i.e., 'ma', to measure).

    Further on, while explaining the form 'mAyayA ' in R.V. iii.27.7 he derives it from 'ma', to know, or to measure, and adds 'mimIte jAnIte karma mIyate anayeti vA mAyA karmaviSayAbhijnAnam,' i.e.,, (1) 'ma', to know by which the ritual, etc., are known, (2) 'ma', to measure by which the ritual, etc., are measured (i.e., understood, or performed); hence maya = the knowledge of the object of the ritual, etc.

    Another way to derive it would be 'mati (svAtmAnam) darshayati iti mAyA,' i.e., 'that which shows itself that which appears to our view (without having any real existence).' This will be from 'ma', to show. Hence, the conception of maya as the causal will power ('icchA-shakti' or 'prajnA') may be derived from 'ma', to know; and, as the effectual state of the world as illusion, from 'ma', to measure, to build, etc.

    Summing Up

    To sum up: we have seen that the word 'maya' meant in R.V.--

    (1) Supernatural power, mysterious will-power, wonderful skill, and that the idea of the underlying mystery being more emphasized later on, it came to mean in A.V.--

    (2) Magic, illusion. And, further, we saw that in the Brahmanas and the Upanishads also it meant--

    (3) illusion, and that this meaning was more and more fixed subsequently, till in the time of Sankara it was established beyond doubt. The sense of 'illusion' may easily be found to exist in form even in the Vedic usage of the term, e.g., where in the R.V. it meant 'power or skill' it always meant 'supernatural' or 'wondrous' power and not the ordinary physical power.

    The idea of mystery or 'wonder' always was present, and it is this very element that in its developed form gives the sense of 'illusion' or 'appearance.' The idea of 'magic' in A.V. formed a link between the old meaning of 'supernatural power' and the modern one of 'appearance' or 'illusion.' As we have, already pointed out, 'maya' has been viewed principally from two aspects--

    (1) As the principle of creation maya as a cause corresponding to the sense of shakti (wondrous power), or

    (2) As the phenomenal creation itself maya as an effect corresponding to the sense of 'illusion,' 'appearance,' etc.

    This short summary, we hope, will suffice as an introduction to the conception of maya in the following chapter. The meaning of the term having been discussed, we will now attempt to trace the development of the theory or the idea of Maya from the Vedic times down to Sankara's, when its usage was finally settled, limiting ourselves to the system of the Vedanta proper.

    Chapter 2: Development of the Conception of Maya
    Idea of maya older than the word

    The word maya and the idea are not to be confused; since such a confusion is productive of various false assumptions as to the doctrine of maya in relation to its place in Indian thought.

    The idea of Maya is very old--certainly older than the word maya. The word in its usual sense, of course, occurs for the first time in the Svetasyatara upanishad (iv. 10), but the idea may be traced to the later stage of the Vedic civilization. We shall endeavour to show that the conception, though not in a systematic and organic form, is already found in the R.V. and the upanishads.

    Philosophy as 'thinking consideration of things' did actually begin with things. As with all higher development from the concrete to the abstract, thought also followed the same course, and after passing through the stages in which the different forces of nature, or various other elements, such as water, air, fire, etc., began to be imagined as the chief source of all existences, the point was reached where the 'many' was found to yield no satisfactory explanation of its being, and a desire was felt to know the mystery, the underlying unity.

    Rig Veda
    Multiplicity due to a mode of speech only

    With the advance in thought, the principle of unity attracted more and more attention, so much so that as early as in R.V. i.164 ('ekam sad viprA bahudhA vadanti' i.e., the poets speak of the One Being under various names), the multiplicity was felt to be due to a mode of speech only, not real in itself, only the One having real existence.

    The innumerable Vedic gods began thus to be conceived as not at war with one another, but only manifestations of One God. Monotheism conquered Polytheism in its exclusive sense. The last book of the R.V. is particularly rich in philosophic hymns, many of which strike a chord of the same sentiment of 'unity underlying diversity'. The bold speculation of the ancient Vedic people is picturesquely portrayed in R.V. x.129 one of the earliest records known of an attempt at explaining the cosmogonic mystery by grasping the idea of unity.

    The Being and the Non-being

    The undeveloped state, known as kAranAvasthA, is spoken of as Non-Being--it does not mean the negation of Being--,while the manifested state is called by the name of Being.

    This also explains why Being is said to be born of Non-Being in R.V. x.72.2-3, and the root of the former is discovered in the latter (R.V. x.129.4).

    Nature of the Unity

    Now, after attaining a consciousness of the oneness of all things, the next step was naturally a quest after the nature of this unity. An attempt is made to determine it in R.V. x.121, where, after describing the majesty and wonder of the vast network of creation, the poet at last names Prajapati as the unknown god, the ultimate unity of all creation.

    'Prajapati, than thou there is no other,
    Who holds in his embrace the whole creation.'

    This idea of Prajapati is subsequently transformed under the name of Brahman or Atman in the upanishads. However, in another Vedic hymn (R.V. x.90) we see the same power attributed to 'Purusha' (who, we believe, is one with Prajapati in general conception), and in R.V. x.81 and 82 to Visvakarman. In R.V. x.72 the same functions are referred to Brahmanaspati:

    'Brahmanaspati like a smith Together forged this universe; When gods existed not as yet, Then Being from Non-Being did arise.'

    Later on, Prajapati is identified with the creating word (the Greek 'Logos') in R.V.x.125, and with 'the sacrifice and the year' as principles of the world, R.V.x.190.

    The unity of existence could not be more simply and emphatically pronounced than in these hymns. (R.V.x.125) When the goddess Vac says in stanza 3,

    'Me have the gods in many forms displayed,
    Me, living everywhere and entering all things,'

    she repeats the same thought we have already referred to, which again is expressed by the Rsi Dirghatamas while praising Agni

    'Of the one existence, the sages speak in diverse ways.' -- R.V.i.164.

    Some of the other Vedic hymns in which this conception of the underlying unity of being is brought out are R.V. x.81,82,90,121, etc. All this clearly shows that this idea of unity is as old as the Vedic civilization, that
    the ancient Indian Rsis were quite aware of the oneness of being and gave a poetic expression to the same thought in many beautiful strains.

    Atharva Veda

    This idea is continued in many passages of the Atharva Veda:

    'Aditi is heaven, Aditi atmosphere,
    Aditi mother, she father, she son;
    All the gods are Aditi, the five races,
    Aditi is what is born, Aditi what is to be born.' -- A.V.vii. 6.i.1

    'Whoever know the Brahman in man, they know the most exalted one; whoever know the most exalted one, and whoever know Prajapati, whoever know the chief Brahmana, they know also accordingly the Skambha.'

    'The great being (Yaksa) is absorbed in austere fer vour in the midst of the world, on the surface of the waters. In it are set whatever gods there are, as the branches of a tree around the trunk.' -- A.V. x.7.17, and 38.

    'Prajapati goes about within the womb;
    Unseen, yet is manifestly born.' -- A.V.x.8.13.

    'Knowing the soul, free from desire, wise, immortal, self-existent, satisfied with the essence, not deficient in any respect, one is not afraid of death.'-- A.V. x.8.44.

    'They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; likewise he is the heavenly-winged eagle; what is one the sages name variously; they call him Agni, Yama, Matarisvan.' -- A.V.ix.10.28.

    The transition from the earlier thought of the Samhita to that of the
    Brahmanas may be noticed, for instance, in R.V.x.81, where the question is asked--

    'Which was the tree, which was the wood, of which they hewed the earth and heaven?'

    This question is repeated in the text of the Taittiriya Brahmana, and is followed by the answer

    'Brahman was the tree, the wood from which they hewed the earth and heaven.'

    The conception of Prajapati and of Purusha is also developed in the Vajasaneyi Samhita and the Taittiriya Brahmana. The simple note of unity is also sounded, for instance, in the Satapatha-BrAhaNa, iv.2.2.i.--

    'sarvam hy ayam AtmA', i.e., 'this soul is everything.'


    We are, however, mainly concerned with the upanishads, which are, as a rule, the final positions of the Brahmanas. The word is derived from the root 'sad', to sit, with the prepositions 'upa', near, and 'ni'=very (adverbial), and conveys the sense, 'that which is imparted to a pupil when he sits very near his teacher' hence, 'secret doctrine'.

    The upanishads may, therefore, be said to embody the esoteric doctrines of the Vedas. They mostly contain philosophical expositions, elucidations and discussions on some Vedic passages, and by themselves form a more or less complete and comprehensive philosophical system, which is the kernel of the whole of the later philosophy. Their idealism is the groundstone of the later Vedanta. They are canonical, and quotations from them are held by tradition ever complete and self-sufficient and require no further support. They are final authorities.

    The general trend of their thought is towards a thorough-going monism, which in its germinal form existed even in the Vedas, as we have shown above. Their fundamental formula may be expressed in a well-known distich

    'brahma satyam jagan mithyA
    jIvo brahmaiva nAparah.

    'Brahman is the Reality, the universe is false,
    The Atman is Brahman, nothing else.'

    In other words, there is only one Reality, call it Brahman or Atman what you will, and the world around us which appears so real is not so. This is the central thought which has been so admirably expanded and developed in various ways in the upanishads, and what we call the doctrine of Maya is nothing more than an attempt to explain this fact in detail, to show how it is impossible for the world to be anything more than an 'appearance' as distinguished from 'Reality,' which strictly speaking is only Brahman.

    We now come to one of the most important parts of our present subject, viz., the development of the theory of Maya through the upanishads down to Sarikara. We may remark at the outset that the theory may be enunciated in two ways: (1) That the world is an illusion or appearance, and (2) That the only reality is the Atman. These two statements mean the same thing, so that the passages which emphasize the statement that the Atman is the only reality mean most transparently that all else (i.e., other than the Atman, viz., the world, etc.) is not real.

    The upanishads when read through without any guiding principle seem to bristle with startling contradictions. The world is described as pervaded by the Atman, and it is said that all this is Brahman, while at the same time it is asserted that the world is unreal; again, it is declared that the Atman created the world, while yet it is true that there is no world besides Brahman.

    Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

    In the Brh. upanishad are found certain passages, chiefly in the first four chapters, which are connected with the discourse of Yajnavalkya, and which furnish the oldest idealistic conception as far as we know.

    His dialogues with his wife Maitreyi and with the king Janaka appeal to us as the clearest enunciations of the true standpoint of Idealism, which on account of its extremely monistic conception cannot be surpassed, a more thorough-going monism being prima facie impossible. The burden of the whole throughout is that

    'the Atman is the only reality,'

    which at once implies that the world is not real.

    'The Atman is to be seen, heard, understood, meditated--O Maitreyi; by seeing, hearing, understanding and realizing the Atman, all this world is known.'

    So is the Atman the key to the all, viz., to the universe; when the Atman is known then there is nothing else that is worth knowing; the multiplicity perishes and the unity asserts its sway.

    A most remarkable passage, which in the clearest phraseology endorses the conception of Maya, is found in Brh.ii.4.14. It runs thus--

    "For where there is duality, as it were, there sees another another thing, there smells another another thing, there hears another another thing, there speaks another of another thing, there thinks another of another thing, there knows another another thing; but where all has become nothing but the Atman, there how can one smell anything, how see anything, how hear anything, how speak of anything, how think of anything, how know anything. By what shall one know him, by whom knows one this all? By what shall one know the knower?"

    The word 'iva' (=as it were) is important here. "Where there is duality, as it were" shows that duality, which refers to the multiplicity ('nAnAtva') in the world, is unreal; in other words, it is only an appearance. The conception of subject and object is only possible when each of them has at least a distinguishable existence. But when all this 'otherness' is found to be false, that which was called the 'object' disappears and only the one Atman remains as the knower. In that sense even the word 'subject' (in the current sense) would be inadmissible, since it is only a relative term, and when the object perishes, the idea of the subject also goes with it. The distinction is lost, that which was real remains as the one, and the unreal, which never did actually exist, is found to be a nullity. The Atman being itself the Knower, the self-luminous, the Universal Spirit, does not require any medium to be known. That is the idea which Yajnavalkya so simply and yet so forcibly conveys when he says

    'vijnAtAram are kena vijAnIyAt?'
    i.e., By what shall the knower be known ?

    Further on Yajnavalkya, while instructing the sage Ushasta on the nature of the Atman, says--

    'Thou couldst not see the seer of sight, thou couldst not hear the hearer of hearing, thou couldst not think the thinker of thought, thou couldst not know the knower of knowing. This thy Atman is within every being, all else is full of sorrow (Artta).' -- Brh.Up.iii.4.2.

    Here it is shown how the Atman is so near within one s self that one does not need to go a long way to search for it. So exactly is the Atman always in us. In fact we are never justified in saying 'in us' as truly speaking 'it is ourself,' not 'it is in us'; the latter would imply that we are different from the Atman. The sage here declares, therefore, that this Atman is the subject of all knowledge, hence unknowable.

    In Brh. Up.iv.4.4, again, the simile of a goldsmith is employed. As he by taking a bit of gold moulds it into various newer and more beautiful forms,, so the Atman is supposed to create through 'avidyA' various forms, such as the Pitris, the Gandharvas, the gods, Prajapati, Brahma, etc. Here all the variety of forms is spoken of as 'avidyA', hence unreal. It may, however, be pointed out that similes illustrate only a special aspect of truth and should not be carried beyond their legitimate sphere.

    Another remarkable passage that lends a decisive support to this pure idealism occurs in Brh.iv.4.19--

    "It is to be perceived by the mind alone, there is here no multiplicity whatever; who sees here as it were 'many' passes from death to death."

    That multiplicity, the characteristic of the universe, is false is the high-sounding note here, and it is still further emphasized by saying that he who sees as it were a plurality actually existing is never saved, but is over and over subject to the pangs of birth and death in this 'samsAra'. The conception of Maya exhibits itself in such passages clearly, and yet many do not see it. Here also attention may specially be drawn to the word iva--'as it were'--which implies that the multiplicity is only an appearance, an 'as it were.' Truly speaking, this 'as it were' should be supplied in almost all passages where the Upanishads speak of 'the other.' It would be quite in keeping with the spirit of true idealism.

    This exactly is the highest (and the truest) stand point of the upanishads. When they deny in such clear and distinct terms the existence of 'the many,' it means that they refuse to concede any reality to the world from that standpoint, the idea of the world being meaningless without all this 'nAnA' (multiplicity). Abstract 'the many' and you bring the world to a zero-point, nothing remains behind; all vanishes.

    All the words which we use in our every-day life to express the various distinctions among objects, or 'the many,' are mere abuses of our speech, since they are ill-spent or wasted, 'the many' having no existence at all. Only 'the One' exists, and when that is known all else is known, and the use of words breaks down. This idea is expressed in Brh.iv.4.21--

    "Knowing him alone let the wise Brahmana form his 'prajnA' (understanding), let him not meditate on many words, for that is simply the fatigue of 'vAc' (speech)."

    This in brief is the spirit of Yajnavalkya's Idealism. It may conveniently be viewed in three aspects:

    1. The Atman is the only reality.
    2. The Atman is the subject of knowledge in us (cf. iii.4.2, iii.7.23, iii.8.II), hence
    3. The Atman is itself unknowable. (Cf. ii.4.14, iv.5.15, etc.)

    Chandogya Upanishad

    The sage Aruni teaches Svetaketu by the following concrete examples--

    "As, O good one, by (the knowledge of) one ball of earth everything of the nature of earth is known; the change (or modification) is an extension of words, a mere name, only the earth is true." -- (

    Some critics interpret this passage as corroborating the theory of Parinamavada and say that since the jar, pot, etc. made of earth are transformations of the earth ('sat' coming out of 'sat' only), so is the world as 'sat' a development of a subtle 'sat'. But the passage seems to us to endorse the purely idealistic standpoint, making the world, to use later phraseology, a 'vivarta' (appearance) instead of a 'vikAra' (transformation).

    In, where the process of creation is described from the empirical standpoint, the words 'ekam-eva-advitiyam' ('the only one without a second') occur, which point out the essential oneness of the Atman.

    Again, in Ch.Up.vii.23.i we read

    'yo vai bhUmA tat sukham |
    nAlpe sukham asti |
    bhUmaiva sukham |
    bhUmA tv eva vijijAsitavya iti |
    bhUmAnaM bhagavo vijijAsa iti ||

    "That which is the Bhuma (the Great) is happiness, there is no happiness in the small. Only the Bhuma is happiness. The Bhuma is therefore to be searched after."

    In this passage Brahman is spoken of as Bhuma (the Great), and only He is said to be bliss, all that is not Brahman (=the Atman) is 'alpam' (little) and misery. Only that Bhuma is worthy of being known. The words 'tu eva' are important, since they emphasize the exclusive knowledge of the Atman alone.

    Taittiriya Upanishad

    The Taitt. Up. does not contain much on the subject. It is mainly concerned with the more realistic conception of the creation of the world from the Atman. There is of course a famous passage on the unknowableness of the Atman.

    'Yato vaco nivartante aprApya manasA saha
    Anandam brahamaNo vidvAn na bibheti kadAcana

    "Whence words return with the mind without having reached it, knowing the bliss of that Brahman, one never fears."

    Aitareya Upanishad

    So, too, the Ait. Up. has very little to contribute to the subject. In one place (iii.1-3) the Atman is denned as consciousness ('prajnAna'), and then elephants, cows, men, trees, animals, etc., are called the names ('nAmadheyAni') of consciousness, which is identified with Brahman ('prajnAnam Brahma'). This means that all things exist only so far as they are my consciousness, which is a unity; hence the multiplicity which seems to exist independent of my consciousness is not real, but only a mere name.

    Katha Upanishad

    In i.2.5, the god of Death points out to Naciketa how the ignorant in their 'avidyA' follow one another like the blind.

    'avidyAyAm antare vartamAnAH svayaM dhIrAH paNDitaM manyamAnAH | dandramyamAnAH pariyanti mUDhAH andhenaiva nIyamAnA yathAndhAH ||'

    "Dwelling in the midst of darkness, 'wise in their own conceit,' and taking themselves to be very learned, the ignorant go round and round, staggering to and fro, like blind men led by the blind."

    The most satisfactory passages, however, come later in Katha ii. The one is almost identical with Brh.iv.4.19, which has already been quoted above.

    'yad eveha tad amutra, yad amutra tad anviha,
    mrtyoH sa mrtyum Apnoti ya iha nAneva pasyati.
    ' -- ii.4.10

    "What is here, the same is in the next world; and what is in the next world, the same is here; he who sees here, as it were, 'differences' (or 'the many') goes from death to death."

    Here, as we have already seen, the multiplicity is pronounced false; he who even imagines it to be true does not attain liberation. The same thought is stated in the next mantra--

    'manasaiva idam avAptavyam
    neha nAnA asti kincana
    mrtyoH sa mrtyum Apnoti ya iha nAneva pasyati.
    ' -- ii.4.11

    "Only by the mind this is to be obtained; there is no multiplicity here whatsoever; he goes from death to death who sees any multiplicity here."

    Here again the fact that there is no multiplicity whatever is particularly emphasized, hence the universe, which is the embodiment of this idea of multiplicity, is false.

    The conception of the Atman is further explained in ii. 5. 13

    'nityo anityAnam cetanas cetanAnam
    eko bahunAm yo vidadhAti kAmAn
    tam atmastham ye anupashyanti dhIraH
    teSAm shAntiH shAsvatI netareSAm.

    "Eternal of the transient, Soul of the souls, who though one, fulfills the desires of many; the wise who perceive Him residing in the Self, to them belongs eternal peace, not to others."

    The passage distinguishes the eternal and changeless nature of the Atman from the transient nature of the world, adding that only those are saved who know the Atman, since that is the only true knowledge. All others who will hold fast to the sense of plurality, taking the fleeting shadows for eternal realities, will never find rest and peace but will ever be rolling to and fro, confused and puzzled.

    Svetasvatara Upanishad

    The Svetasvatara Up., composed still later and tinged with rather sectarian ideas, speaks of the whole cosmic illusion as capable of being removed (visva-mAyA-nivrttih) by a true knowledge of the one God Hara (i.10). Again in iii.8 it is said that there is no other way of conquering death except by knowing the ever-luminous Atman. If the world were real or true, its knowledge could save people from the clutches of death. In iii.10 it is said that only they who know the Atman, who is beyond the Purusha, formless and pure, attain immortality, all others for ever plunge into misery.

    That the Atman in us is the subject of knowledge and itself is consequently unknowable is clearly brought out in--

    'sa vetti vedyaM na cha tasyAsti vettA tam Ahur agryaM purushhaM mahAntaM.' (iii.19)

    "He knows what is to be known, but no one knows him; they call him the first, the great Purusha."

    In vi. 8-12 is a beautiful description of the nature of the Atman--

    'na tasya kAryaM karaNaM ca vidyate ... netareSAm' vi.8-12

    "There is no effect and no cause of him, no one is seen like unto him or better; his high power is revealed as manifold, as inherent, acting as power and knowledge.

    There is no master of him in the world, no ruler of him, not even a sign of him; he is the cause, the lord of the lords of the organs, and there is of him neither parent nor lord.

    That only god who spontaneously covered himself, like a spider, with threads drawn from Nature (PradhAna), grant us the imperishable Brahman.

    He is the one God, hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the self within all beings, watching over all works, dwelling in all beings, the witness, the perceiver, the only one, free from qualities.

    He is the one ruler of the many who are free from actions, he who makes the one seed manifold; the wise who perceive him within their self, to them belongs eternal happiness, not to others."

    Accommodating the Lesser Minds: From the Pure Idealism to Pantheism

    An examination of the other upanishads also will bear out that the conception of the sole Reality of Brahman is not missing in them. In some it is more strongly emphasized, in others it is clouded over by more realistic tendencies.

    The pure idealism of Yajnavalkya seem hardly to convey any meaning to minds steeped in the hard reality of the empirical world. The old sages of these other Upanishads accommodated such minds by granting the existence of the world and yet maintaining at the same time that the sole reality is the Atman. This was a sort of degeneration of Idealism into Pantheism, with its doctrine "All this is Brahman" (Chan.iii.14.i).

    The difference between the two views is rather subtle. The one--Idealism--maintains that Atman alone is real and nothing else exists besides it; while the other--Pantheism--holds that the world does exist and yet it does not affect the principle of the sole reality of the Atman; since it itself is nothing different from the Atman; both are identical, one with the other. The Atman is called 'the reality of this reality' ('satyasya satyam') in Brh.Up.ii.i.20. It is immanent in the world and pervades even the minutest particle. This view is strictly speaking untenable, yet to satisfy the gross and empirical instincts of human beings, this is the very idea that finds expression in the greater part of the Upanishads as a whole.

    The idea is chiefly represented by the Chand. Up. The well-known condensed word 'tajjalAn' is significant in the following passages from the Sandilyavidya, and means: From Brahman is all this born ('tasmAt jayate'), into Brahman all this is reabsorbed ('tasmin lIyate'), and in Brahman all this breathes ('tasmin aniti'), meaning thereby that all-in-all is Brahman.

    'sarvam khalu idham brahma
    tajjalAn iti SAnta upAsIta

    "All this is Brahman. Let a man meditate on that as beginning, ending and breathing in It."

    Further on Brahman is called "the all-effecting, all-wishing, all-smelling, all-tasting, and all this" (Ibid., iii.14.2 and 4).

    Again, in the very interesting narration in PrapAthaka vi., where UddAlaka teaches his son by means of the parables of honey (vi.9), streams (vi.10),a large tree (vi.11), the nyagrodha tree (vi. 12), salt (vi. 13), a blind man travelling towards the GAndhAra (vi.14), etc., etc., the Atman is spoken
    of as penetrating "the all"--

    'sa ya eso animA etadAtmyam
    idam sarvam tat satyam sa AtmA
    tat tvam asi Svetaketo iti

    "That which is the subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it."

    Other eloquent passages in the Chandogya Upanishad:

    "Self is below, above, behind, before, right and left Self is all this." --(vii.25.2)

    "The Self which you meditate on is the Vaisvanara Self, called Visvarupa."--(v.13.1)

    Prajapati said: "The Self which is free from sin, freed from old age, from death and grief, from hunger and thirst, which desires nothing but what is to be desired, imagines nothing but what is to be imagined, that it is which we must search out, that it is which we must try to understand. He who has searched out that Self and has understood it obtains all worlds and all desires."--(viii.7.1 and 3)

    "We both see the Self thus All, a representation even to the very hairs and nails."--(viii.8.1)

    We only say that the Chan. Up. may be taken to be the chief representative of this stage of thought. It of course is found in almost all the other Upanishads as well, and contributes the largest bulk of the whole Aupanishadic literature. Even the Brh. Up., which we have taken to be the chief exponent of pure idealism, contains many passages agreeing with the pantheistic conception.

    'brahma tam parAdAt yo anyatra Atmano Brahma veda . . . sarvam yad ayam AtmA'--Brh.Up.ii.4.6. Cf. Ibid. iv.5.7.

    'brahmaivedam sarvam'--Brh.Up.ii.5.2.

    'brahmaitat sarvam'--Ibid. v.3.i. i.e., "All this is Brahman."

    'Ayam vA AtmA sarveshAm bhUtAnAm lokaH'--Brh.Up.i.4.16.
    i.e., "This Atman is the support of all creatures."

    The Taittiriya Upanishad too says--

    'om iti brahma, om iti idam sarvam'--Taitt.i.8.i.

    The Katha Upanishad too has the following--

    'tasminl lokAh sritAh sarve'--Katha ii.5.8. Cf. ii.6.i.

    That the one Atman, like the fire, the air and the sun, assumes manifold forms, forms the subject matter of Katha ii.5.8-12.

    Even the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which is fundamentally theistic, contains passages like the following--

    'sarvavyApinam AtmAnam,' etc.--Svet.i.16.
    'sarvAnanasirogrIvah ... sivah'--Ibid.ii.n.
    'sarvataH pAnipAdam ... tisthati'--Ibid.ii.16.

    The reason why the largest portion of the upanishads is pantheistic in this sense is twofold. In the first place, it is not too abstruse to escape the understanding of those who take some pains to inquire into the knowledge of the Atman. By not denying the existence of the world it does not arouse the hostility or opposition of the general thinker. Secondly, it is not far from the real truth as given in the 'pure idealism,' e.g., that of Yajnavalkya. Granting as it does 'a world,' it boldly says that 'All is the Atman,' that the only reality is the Atman, even though the world may be taken to possess some kind of existence.

    If we analyse this form of Pantheism we find that it is not far removed from the original Idealism, since the oneness of the Atman is still maintained and all this diversity in the world is said to be only a name depending on the Atman for its existence; and as the name is unreal, it follows that even this doctrine indirectly comes to the same truth.

    But a further abuse of the doctrine reduces it to what we may call 'the lower Pantheism,' according to which each and every 'material' thing is also the Atman, the horse is the Atman, the rider is the Atman, the table is the Atman, etc., so that when a man kills a snake 'the Atman has killed the Atman' would be the vulgar way of expression; and losing sight of the original idea on which this conception is based, it is liable to be laughed at and pooh-poohed by the man in the street. But we must carefully note that this sort of Pantheism is not the essential doctrine of the Upanishads. It rests on a mere misunderstanding of the position, which implies that all is the Atman, since nothing can exist (or have a sattA) independent of the Atman.

    From Pantheism to Cosmogonism

    The degeneration of Pure Idealism the kernel of the Upanishads did not stop here. It went so far as to turn into ultra-Realism and further on even into Atheism, Deism, etc. The natural course for Pantheism was to turn into what we may call Creationism (Cosmogonism). The identity of the Atman and the world, though granted, was yet far from being transparent to many who had a craze for the concrete. They would argue thus: "The Atman is One, and the world is the Many; how then could the Atman be one with the world?" The notion of identity, therefore, not being transparent, lost its force, and was supplanted by a still more empirical conception, viz., that of causality, according to which the Atman is the cause and the world proceeds from it as an effect. This stage of thought prominently appears in Taitt. Up.; in this the chief passages are--

    'tasmAt etasmAd va AtmanaH ... purushaH'--Taitt. ii.i.i.
    'so kamayata bahu syAm ... tat srstvA tad evAnuprAvisat'Ibid. ii.6.
    'yato va imAni bhUtAni ... tad Brahmeti'--Ibid. iii.i.
    'sa imAn lokAn asrjata.'--Ait.Up.i.2.

    Such ideas are also found scattered over almost all the other Upanishads. The most eloquent passage on the subject is the analogy of the spider and the sparks. Just as the spider goes forth from itself by means of its threads, as from the fire the tiny sparks fly out, so from this Atman all the spirits of life spring forth, all worlds, all gods, all living beings (Brh.ii.i.20). The same illustrations are further set out at length in Mund.Up.i.i.7 and ii.i.i.

    Brahman and Atman

    The one notable point in this connexion is that at this stage the Atman who creates the world is identical with that who lives in it. Brahman is the Atman. The universal Self, the creator of the world, is not different from the individual Self within each of us. Brahman is thus the psychic principle. It is not in any way divided into so many Atmans, but is present as a whole within each of us. It is not an aggregate of the Atmans but the whole of the Atman. The well-known Vedantic formulas 'tat tvam asi, 'That art thou' (, and 'aham brahmAsmi,' 'I am Brahman' (Brh.i.4.10), amply corroborate the idea. We have already referred to a passage (Brh.iii.4, and iii.5), where the inquiry as to the 'Brahman that is within all as soul' is answered as 'It is thy soul that is within all,' which as the knowing subject is itself unknowable.

    From Cosmogonism to Theism

    Now, the adaptation of the higher truth to the empirical understanding went still further. This identity of the creative principle with our inner self was not so attractive to the hard-headed men accustomed to look always to the external. They failed tp understand how the great and infinite Brahman who created the world could be the same as the little Atman within us of the size of a thumb ('angusthamAtrah').

    This necessitated a further concession to suit the innate empirical tendencies of such people--in fact, all of us as men do have such tendencies, and our inefficient intellect fails to grasp this higher truth--and it was held that the Atman who creates the world may be distinguished from that who is within us. The former was called the Paramatman (the Great Atman) or the Isvara (the Governor), and the latter, the Jivatman (the individual Atman). Cosmogonism thus paved the way to Theism.

    The distinction between the two Atmans begins to appear in the KAthaka Up., and continues in some of the later Upanishads. Even as early as in the Brh. Up. some tendencies towards this position are noticeable:

    "At the bidding of this imperishable one, O Gargi, sun and moon are held asunder," etc. Brh.iii.8.9.

    "Here within the heart is a cavity, therein he dwells, the lord of the Universe, the governor of the Universe, the chief of the Universe; he is the bridge that holds asunder these worlds, and prevents them from clashing together." Brh.iv.4.22.

    This is not yet Theism, but a preparation to it. Real Theism begins with a contrast between Brahman and the individual Self. This first appears in the Katha Up., where the distinction between these two Atmans is likened to that between light and shadow==

    'rtam pibantau sukrtasya loke
    guhAm pravishtau parame parArdhe
    chAyAtapau brahmavido vadanti
    pancAgnayo ye ca trinAciketAh
    '--Katha i.3.i.

    "The two, enjoying the fruits of their good deeds, being lodged in the cavity of the seat of the Supreme, the knowers of Brahman call shadow and light, as also do those who maintain five fires and have thrice propitiated the Naciketa fire."

    The chief exponent at this level of thought is the Svetasvatara Upanishad, in which though the original identity of Brahman and the individual Atman is not denied, yet a distinction is clearly drawn out, e.g., in the chief passage of Svet.Up.iv.5,6,7 (page 81 of the book for actual quotes).

    From Theism to Sankhya, Buddhism and Carvaka

    But how long and how far could such a separation between the Lord (Isvara) and the soul exist? The natural consequence was a further degeneration, which in a clever way solved the dualism by striking out one of its components, viz., the former. One had to give way, and the empirical instinct in man would rather believe in the existence of the soul than of the Isvara, which seemed more remote and was not witnessed by the soul. In this struggle therefore the conception of the Paramatman was ousted. There remained only the individual soul (named now the Purusha) and the external 'real' world (called the Prakrti). This is known as the Sankhya standpoint, and may be called Atheism for want of a better word. It may also be added very briefly that the progressive realism further manifested itself in two more aspects.

    The first was the denial even of the individual soul. The existence of the world could not be denied, since it is perceived; but one could doubt the reality of the soul. Let us call those who did so 'Apsychists. This denial of the soul and the belief in an external world only, which was more or less a stream of perceptions, changing and momentary, found its place in Buddhism.

    The second aspect was the furthermost degeneration into gross materialism, which would even rob Buddhism of all idealistic leanings (or tendency). Only matter exists, and what is called mind is a mere product of it. Perception is the only way to knowledge, and all else is unreal. Such thoughts constituted the School of Carvaka.

    Here we may stop so far as the degeneration of the Pure Idealism is concerned; it was impossible for this degeneration to go further than the Carvakas, who are regarded as the extreme realists of Indian philosophy.

    Beginning of the Synthesis of the Schools of Thought: Gaudapada's Karikas

    For Sankara's synthesis of the different schools of thought into their proper places under the framework of Pure Idealism, his 'parama guru' (guru's guru) Gaudapada's great work called the 'Karikas on the Mandukya Upanishad' paved the way.

    Maya is not a Reality

    In the first part of his 'Karikas' called 'Agama', Gaudapada boldly and truly asserts the world does not exist in reality; hence this Maya cannot be literally removed or destroyed even. All this is mere appearance, in sooth it is Advaita. In other words, the metaphysical truth is that the world does not exist, the multiplicity is false, hence being not a reality it does not stand in need of removal (i.17). Nobody ever MADE 'maya'; it is not a reality, hence it is meaningless to speak of it as 'to be removed.' When the highest truth is realized the illusion itself is destroyed (i.18).

    All this Many is Only a Dream World

    In the second part Gaudapada explains the un reality ('Vaitathya') of all multiplicity by showing that the world which people call real is no more real than a dream-world. The two worlds are alike in this respect, the only difference is that the wakingworld is external, while the dream-world is internal. But as witnessed by the same self they are the same, both being within the body in a subtle form (ii.i).

    Atman as the Substratum Unaffected by Multiplicity

    The third part ('Advaita') begins with the idea that the Atman, though appearing to give birth to the multiplicity of things all about us, is not in the least affected by any such thing (iii.2). Multiplicity is only due to self-imposed and imagined limitations. The individuation of the Atman into the Jivas is not a process of division. The division appears as real. For instance, the Atman, being indivisible and all-pervading, may be compared to ether ('AkASa') . It is not different from the ether enclosed in a jar; the enclosure being destroyed, the limited akasa merges into 'mahAkASa'. So is Jiva merged in the Atman on the dissolution of the self-imposed ad juncts (iii.3.4). Differences are only in form, capacity, name, etc., but that does not imply any real difference in 'AkASa' itself. This illustration may fully apply to Jiva (iii.6). As, again, 'AkASa' inter cepted by a 'jar' is neither a part nor an evolved effect of 'AkASa', so is Jiva neither a part nor an evolved effect of the Atman (iii.7).

    alAta Shanti: Quenching the Fire-brand

    The fourth part, called 'alAta-shAnti', i.e., 'Quenching the Fire-brand,' is the final pronouncement of Gaudapada, which is intended to destroy the illusion of the 'fire-brand.' The relation between cause and effect is examined, and it is shown how it breaks down while applying to the Atman (iv.11-19). Nothing is produced either of itself or by some thing else, nor, in fact, is anything produced, whether it be being, non-being, or both (iv.22).

    Sankara's Final Synthesis

    In discussing Sanakara's synthesis and his giving the final shape to the doctrine of Maya, the author excludes Badarayana's Sutras from his scope of discussions for the reason, "The Sutras, as they stand apart from Sankara's commentary or any other exposition of them, may hardly be said to yield one definite, fixed and indisputable interpretation, either in favour of or against any doctrine of the Vedanta."

    Reconciling the Vaidic Contradictions

    As an interpreter of the Vedic tradition and the Vedanta of the Upanishads, Sankara had to reconcile their seeming contradictions without ignoring them, because they were 'Vaidic' (based on the Sruti). Making a clean sweep in his synthesis, he asserted that knowledge is of two kinds: 'parA' (higher) and 'aparA' (lower), the former referring to the unqualified Brahman, and the latter including all else; that is to say, 'para vidyA' means only the highest metaphysical Vedanta such as is given in the pure idealism of Yajnavalkya, Gaudapada, etc. The other parts of the upanishads, which deal with more realistic or empirical views, as well as the whole ritual canon of the Vedas, with its things commanded and forbidden under promise of reward and punishment in another world, the Smrtis, etc., are all labelled as 'apara vidyA'.

    This thought is the great dynamic force in Sankara, and it is this that led him to base the whole of his system as reflected in the Sarirakabhasya on the fundamental concept of the illusory nature of all our empirical and physical knowledge and the true nature of the higher metaphysics.

    Thou and the I: the Object and the Subject

    Object ('vishaya') and Subject ('vishayin'), he says at the beginning of his work, indicated by the 'Thou' (the not-I) and the 'I,' are of a nature as opposed as are darkness and light. If it is certain that the being of the one is incompatible with the being of the other, it follows so much the more that the qualities of the one also do not exist in the other. Hence it follows that the transfer (superimposition, 'adhyAsa') of the object denoted by the 'Thou' and its qualities to the pure spiritual object indicated by the 'I,' and conversely, the transfer of the subject and its qualities to the object, are logically false. Yet in mankind this procedure, resting on a false knowledge pairing together the true and the untrue, is inborn or natural ('naisargika'), so that they transfer the being and qualities of the one to the other, not separating object and subject, although they are absolutely different, and so saying, for example, 'This am I,' 'That is mine,' etc. This transference thus made the wise term 'avidyA' (ignorance), and, in contradistinction to it, they call the accurate determination of the true nature of things ('the being-in-itself' of things, 'vastusvarUpam') 'vidyA' (knowledge). If this be so, it follows that that to which a similar false transfer is thus made, is not in the slightest degree affected by any want or excess caused thereby.

    From this it may rightly be inferred 'that the ground of the erroneous empirical concept is to be sought for solely in the knowing subject; in this subject the 'avidyA', as repeatedly asserted, is innate ('naisargika'); its cause is a wrong perception; its being is a wrong conception.

    One Cause Masquerading as the Many Effects

    Now we proceed to an examination of some of the typical passages in Sankara which sum up his whole position with respect to Maya.

    One of the most important passages, which sums up Sarikara's view, viz., Brahman alone is the reality ('Brahmavyatirekena kAryajAtasyAbhAvaH') and is found in his commentary on ii.i.14 ('tadananyatvam ArambhanasabdAdibhyaH') runs thus--

    "The effect is this manifold world consisting of ether and so on; the cause is the highest Brahman. Qf the effect it is understood that in reality it is non-different from the cause, i.e., has no existence apart from the cause. How so? On account of the scriptural word origin ('Arambhana') and others. The word 'Arambhana' is used in connexion with a simile, in a passage undertaking to show how through the knowledge of one thing every thing is known, viz., The objects made of clay are only its modifications that are just names having their origin in speech are in reality only clay; this reality is known just by one clod of clay.

    This parallel instance is given with reference to Brahman; applying the phrase 'vAcArambhana' to the case illustrated by the instance quoted, we understand that the entire body of effects has no existence apart from Brahman. Later on again the text, after having declared that fire, water and earth are the effects of Brahman, maintains that the effects of these three elements have no existence apart from them (Chand. On any other assumption it would not be possible to maintain that by the knowledge of one thing every thing becomes known.

    In the same way as those parts of ethereal space which are limited by jars and waterpots are not really different from the universal ethereal space, and as the water of a mirage is not really different from the surface of the desert--for the nature of that water is that it is seen in one moment and has vanished in the next, and, moreover, it is not to be perceived by its own nature (i.e., apart from the surface of the desert)--so this mani fold world with its objects of enjoyment, enjoyers, etc., has no existence apart from Brahman.' (Sankara on ii.1.14)

    Realizing the Advaitic Unity

    Sanakara uses further analogies to show how the individual soul is bound by Maya which prevents it from realizing that it is Brahman only:

    "As the magician is not at any time affected by the magical illusion produced by himself, because it is unreal, so the highest Self is not affected by the illusory visions of his dream because they do not accompany the waking state and the state of dreamless sleep; so the one permanent witness of the three states (the highest Self) is not touched by the mutually exclusive three states. For that the highest Self appears in those three states is a mere illusion, not more substantial than the snake for which the rope is mistaken in the darkness. On this point teachers knowing the true tradition of the Vedanta have declared: When the individual soul which is held in the bonds of slumber by the beginningless Maya awakes, then it knows the eternal, sleepless, dreamless nonduality."

    If the ultimate reality is nothing but the One Atman, how is it that we perceive multiplicity here? How do we find so many Jivas? Are they different from the Absolute, or are they parts of it, or what? What is this differentiation due to? What is the principle of individuation? To all such questions Sarikara answers with the aid of the theory of Maya. All these differences are only due to the imposition of name (nama) and form ('rUpa') Here he says in the course of his exposition on ii.1.14--

    "Belonging to the Self, as it were, of the omniscient Lord, there are name and form, the creations of 'avidyA', not to be defined either as being Brahman nor different from it, the germs of the entire expanse of the phenomenal world, called in Sruti and Smrti the power of Illusion ('mAyAshakti') or Prakrti. ... Thus the Lord depends as Lord upon the limiting adjuncts of name and form, the products of 'avidyA'; ... while in reality none of these qualities belong to the Self whose true nature is cleared, by right knowledge, from all adjuncts whatever. ... In this manner the Vedanta-texts declare that for him who has reached the state of truth and reality the whole apparent world does not exist."

    Summing Up

    Sankara's greatness as a synthesiser of Advaitism lay, as we have already remarked, in two things: first, in the important and useful distinction he drew between 'parA' and ' aparA vidyA', which gave a rational explanation of all the so-called conflicting statements in the Vedas, etc.; secondly, in his emphasis on the distinction between the empirical ('vyAvahAriki') and metaphysical ('pAramArthiki') exist ence, which was in some way an improvement upon Gaudapada. The distinction is implicitly observed in the upanishads and in Gaudapada s Karikas too, but nowhere is it more clearly and emphatically brought out than in Sankara. For in stance, he remarks on page 488--

    "All empiric action is true, so long as the knowledge of the Self is not reached, just as the action in dreams before awaking takes place. As long in fact as the knowledge of unity with the true Self is not reached, one does not have a consciousness of the unreality of the procedure connected with standards and objects of knowledge and fruits of works, but every creature, under a designation of I and mine, mistakes mere transformations for the Self and for charac teristics of the Self, and on the other hand leaves out of consideration their original Brahman-Selfhood ; therefore before the consciousness of identity writh Brahman awakens, all worldly and Vaidic actions are justified."

    With Sankara closes our survey of the doctrine of Maya. The theory as held to-day is in no way con flicting with the views of Sankara. After having been made the object of polemics from different quarters, this theory was again revived with full force and vigour though it has never been dead in its influence by modern writers on the Vedanta.

    The religion of the cultured Indians in modern times is identical with their philosophy, which has two aspects: exoterically, it is monotheistic, with the belief that the one Atman manifests itself in various forms, which are taken as 'means' (sadhanas) or 'symbols' of attaining the Atman this is the lower aspect of the two; esoteric ally, monotheism has no place to hold, since it is not the final truth; the only meta physical reality of the Absolute, Sat, Cit and Ananda, is held to be no other than the Self, and all exertions are directed towards realizing this very fact. The conception of Maya has comforted many a perplexed mind.

    Chapter 3: Objections to the Doctrine Within the Vedanta

    I have posted the author's criticism of Ramanjua's refutations in:

    For other discussions on the subject of this Chapter, please refer to the original book from page 113 onwards.

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    Re: 'The Doctrine of Maya' by Prabhu Dutt Shastri: A Compilation

    Quote Originally Posted by saidevo View Post
    In this book, the Author gives a philological survey of the word 'maya' and a philosophical survey of the idea behind it. He traces these two developments from the Vedic times down to the times of Sankara.

    In his investigations, the Author reaches the following conclusions:

    1. That the conception of Maya is as old as some of the later books of the Rig Veda where its forms are clearly noticeable, and that it gradually developed through the speculation of the upanishads, and passing through the hands of Gaudapada and Sankara was crystallized into a technical form, elaborated more and more as time went on;

    2. That the word 'Maya,' in the sense of 'illusion' of course, occurs later for the first time in the Svetasvatara upanishad (iv.10); and

    3. That most of the critics of Maya have started with gratuitously assuming Maya to be a concrete reality, standing face to face with the Absolute as it were, a tertium quid between the Absolute and the Universe and this has made their whole criticism futile and irrelevant.

    After investigating the origin and development of the term and concept of Maya, the Author deals with the objections of Ramanuja and Madhva to the Doctrine of Maya and establishes where they go wrong.
    Namaste saideveo,
    Thank you for the synthesis of this information... Now that you have consumed this, has it changed you or your opinions on maya?

    If you reflect on all the information you have reviewed, what would be the 2 or 3 salient things you encountered that were:

    • most insightful, or revealing i.e. an ahhh-ha! moment
    • most stunning or most contrary to your mind or knowledge set you possess today
    • anything that just did not pass your common sense test?
    pranams and thank you for a most comprehensive post.

    knowledge is the greatest purifier.... Upanishads
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva


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    Re: 'The Doctrine of Maya' by Prabhu Dutt Shastri: A Compilation

    Namaste Yajvan.

    I understand the purport of your probing questions. To put it plainly, "To what extent have I understood the discussions in this very long compilation? To what extent do I subscribe to them and practice them?

    Before answering your queries, let me first explain why I have posted such a long compilation, which is after all available in the book in the same words.

    When reading a book which gives me knowledge that could be useful to others also, I usually make a compilation of the book, and share it with people who can be benefited by the knowledge. In this particular instance, my compilation is about 12,000 words long; that would be about 1200 lines or 30/40 pages, from a space of 110 pages in the book (the first two chapters). Thus I have made a precis of the book for my own ready reference. Since HDF also serves as a repository/library of reference on Hindu knowledge, I thought it fit to share it here.

    Making this compilation has given me an opportunity to go through most of the book twice, so I think I have a fair idea of what is discussed and how they stand in relation to each other. Let me now try to answer your questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by yajavan View Post
    Now that you have consumed this, has it changed you or your opinions on maya?
    Since the days of my taking up my own 'svAdhyAya' (reading and study) of Hindu texts and 'satsang' material, I have always believed 'maya' to be a conditional reality caused by a divine power that is capable of creating such illusion at all levels, except the most lofty ('turiya'). So the two sides of maya as both power and illusion did not come as a surprise and has strengthened my own impressions about it.

    I was in fact a bit surprised by your insistent and exclusive definition of maya as 'the infinite measured out' as taught by your guru (I think). I was not sure how that could make maya an illusion: if the infinite is measured out into (again) infinite numbers of concrete units of matter and consciousness, how can it all be an illusion, because once something is measured out there must be something that separates one unit measured from the other, and the whole picture becomes concrete and digital.

    This book has made me understand the appropriateness of such a definition of maya, which in itself is an oxymoron. Now I understand that the very process of measuring out is a ritual (similar to the Vedic rituals), an abuse of speech (to call the measured out units by different names) and is a necessity because human mind needs to think in concrete terms to be comfortable with the underlying reality, but then this also makes the mind forget the underlying abstract reality and just live in the concrete reality around. If the mind is silenced, the 'buddhi' (intellect) will be able to appreciate the Advaitic Unity better because it receives its light of knowledge from the Atman.

    Another way to view the 'infinite measured out' is like trying to measure light by darkness. When light is shone on darkness, the darkness fades into shadows of varying degrees--umbra, penumbra, etc. What is infinite here and what is measured, the light or darkness? If I think it is the light that is measured by the amount of darkness left behind, it means that I am in darkness. If I think the other way, I can be sure of getting enlightened. I am more and more learning to think of it in this other way!

    Quote Originally Posted by yajavan View Post
    If you reflect on all the information you have reviewed, what would be the 2 or 3 salient things you encountered that were:

    -- most insightful, or revealing i.e. an ahhh-ha! moment
    -- most stunning or most contrary to your mind or knowledge set you possess today
    -- anything that just did not pass your common sense test?
    most insightful, or revealing i.e. an ahhh-ha! moment

    1. In my limited reading of parts of the Upanishads, my first impressions were if the several truths presented in them are not in stark contrast to each other and confuse the final message of the upanishads. How can the enlightened Rsis present contradicting views? Does it indicate the varying levels of liberation attained by them? As the author of the book has pointed out, bristling contradictions describe world as pervaded by Atman, which are all Brahman, so the world is pervaded by Brahman, and yet it is unreal!

    This book has given me an insight as to how to understand the different messages in the Upanishads, how they have 'degraded' or 'reduced' (or 'measured out') the Pure Idealism of 'ekam sat' (the Truth is One) into conditional, concrete realities with the underlying unity, to accommodate the different spiritual propensities of mankind. This is what makes the Vedas and Upanishads a Sanatana Dharma.

    2. Another most insightful message is that "'the many,' are mere abuses of our speech".

    One Truth has become the 'many', not in reality, but only in the abuses of our speech ('vAc'). Let us have some lateral thinking to understand this truth: suppose the whole world of mankind is as dumb as the birds and beasts, shall we find any differences among ourselves?

    most stunning or most contrary to your mind or knowledge set you possess today

    The 'mahAvAkya' 'tat tvam asi' ('That art thou') is the most stunning one to me, most contrary to the mind or the current level of knowledge of mankind. I can understand Brahman/Atman but how do I realize (rather than imagine) the Brahman/Atman in me, in you and in everything else as one and the same? Much as we would like to, everyone of us cannot become an enlightened in just this single birth: 'vasanAs' and karma retard our progress. We try hard not to increase them but we find it increasingly more difficult in this 21st century world of materialism. So, how do I plan my path to Self-realization over the forthcoming births? I understand of course that I need to do the maximum 'sadhanA' in this birth itself, which in turn, could place me in more congenial circumstances in the next birth.

    It would be interesting and instructive if we discuss the practical, step by step ways of 'sadhanA' to realize the truths in the Upanishads in a progressive manner, instead of just intellectually pondering on the message 'tat tvam asi'.

    anything that just did not pass your common sense test?

    One God, many gods, 'prakrti', 'purusha', maya, karma, and the eternal, recurring drama of life: a 'lIlA' or sport for Brahman, but why all this toil and trouble?

    The teachership in you is amazing. Trust I pass your test!
    Last edited by saidevo; 08 November 2007 at 07:53 PM.

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    Re: 'The Doctrine of Maya' by Prabhu Dutt Shastri: A Compilation

    An excellent post.

    That which is without letters (parts) is the Fourth, beyond apprehension through ordinary means, the cessation of the phenomenal world, the auspicious and the non-dual. Thus Om is certainly the Self. He who knows thus enters the Self by the Self.

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    Re: 'The Doctrine of Maya' by Prabhu Dutt Shastri: A Compilation

    Hari Om
    Quote Originally Posted by saidevo View Post
    Namaste Yajvan.

    Another way to view the 'infinite measured out' is like trying to measure light by darkness. When light is shone on darkness, the darkness fades into shadows of varying degrees--umbra, penumbra, etc. What is infinite here and what is measured, the light or darkness? If I think it is the light that is measured by the amount of darkness left behind, it means that I am in darkness. If I think the other way, I can be sure of getting enlightened. I am more and more learning to think of it in this other way!

    most insightful, or revealing i.e. an ahhh-ha! moment

    1. In my limited reading of parts of the Upanishads, my first impressions were if the several truths presented in them are not in stark contrast to each other and confuse the final message of the upanishads. How can the enlightened Rsis present contradicting views? Does it indicate the varying levels of liberation attained by them? As the author of the book has pointed out, bristling contractions describe world as pervaded by Atman, which are all Brahman, so the world is pervaded by Brahman, and yet it is unreal!

    This books has given me an insight as to how to understand the different messages in the Upanishads, how they have 'degraded' or 'reduced' (or 'measured out') the Pure Idealism of 'ekam sat' (the Truth is One) into conditional, concrete realities with the underlying unity, to accommodate the different spiritual propensities of mankind. This is what makes the Vedas and Upanishads a Sanatana Dharma.
    Namaste saidevo,

    I have been rewarded by reading this post... a most excellent, well thought out offer, with succinct and insightful conclusions, and purna (complete) in thinking.

    You have benefited from this reading and now others will benefit from your svadyaya:
    • accommodate the different spiritual propensities of mankind. most insightful.
    • trying to measure light by darkness - yes, so upside down.
    • If I think it is the light that is measured by the amount of darkness left behind, it means that I am in darkness. If I think the other way, I can be sure of getting enlightened - these are svaprakasa [self-revealing and self-luninous] insights; I am really happy you shared this with us, and that you have the writing skills to articulate these ideas.
    Thank you again saidevo,

    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva


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