Q.547 – Māyā an attribute of Brahman?

A (Martin): Maya is not an attribute of Brahman. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept which gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from the psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives.

Purely from the standpoint of Shankara’s  Advaita Vedanta, Maya is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidya), which is prior to it; that is, avidya is the necessary condition for Maya. Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) points of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Sureshvara, who taught that Maya is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent. has defended the former, Shankarian position.

Maya can also be viewed as the power or energy of Brahman to create the world, and etymologically the word comes from ‘magic/magician’. But note that the (phenomenal) world is not pure illusion, as stated above, but mithyā (relatively real)

‘Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance. Or, ‘The world is not other than Brahman’ (one of the ‘great sayings’ – mahavakya-s).

Ishvara is Brahman considered as creator and ‘personal’ by those who need or are proclive to a devotional relationship (creator/creature). It is also known as ‘saguna brahman’ (Brahman with attributes), as (apparently) different from ‘nirguna Brahman’.

3 thoughts on “Q.547 – Māyā an attribute of Brahman?

  1. Hi Martin,

    This is a huge topic and cannot really be addressed or discussed in a few paragraphs. The second volume of my ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ deals specifically with avidyA, mAyA and associated aspects – and is 110,000+ words long!

    One of your sentences above leapt out for me: “Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears.” This harks back to the prolonged discussions we had about the alleged disappearance of the world on enlightenment. It could even be regarded as a major reason why a distinction IS made between avidyA and mAyA. AvidyA relates to the jIva, mAyA relates to Ishvara. And it ‘explains’ why the world does NOT disappear. Although the j~nAnI now knows that everything is Brahman, the *appearance* of differentiated name and form continues.

    Best wishes,

  2. I should have said: ‘… Maya disappears as something real, being only an illusory concept, or, simply, a concept’. Same as with ‘Ishvara’. —On the othe hand, ‘The world is not other than Brahman… Jivo Brahmaiva naparah’. It est, the world is more than just a concept.

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