mAyA an attribute of Brahman

Q: Can Advaitins explain how Maya can be an attribute of the supposedly attributeless Brahman? Why was the creation needed if Brahman alone existed? What is Ishwara?

A (Martin):

 1) Maya is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept that gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from 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) point of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Suresvara, 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 mithya (relatively real)

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

3) 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’.

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 7

Mantra 6

*** Read Part 6 ***

एष सर्वेश्वरः एष सर्वज्ञ एषोऽन्तर्याम्येष योनिः सर्वस्य
प्रभवाप्ययौ हि भूतानाम् ॥ ६ ॥

eSha sarveshvaraH eSha sarvaj~na eSho.antaryAmyeSha yoniH sarvasya
prabhavApyayau hi bhUtAnAm || 6 ||

eSha – This (i.e. the universal deep-sleep state)
sarva Ishvara – (is) the Lord of everything;
eSha – This
sarvaj~na – (is) omniscient,
antaryAmin – the ‘inner controller’.
eSha – This
yoniH sarvasya – (is) the source of everything;
hi – (is) assuredly
prabhava apayayau – the place of the arising and dissolution 
bhUtAnAm – of all beings.

The macrocosmic deep-sleep state is the Lord of everything, omniscient; Ishvara, the source of everything; indeed the source and final resting place of all beings.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 5

Mantra 4

*** Read Part 4 ***

स्वप्नस्थानोऽन्तःप्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोन्विंश्तिमुखः प्र्विविक्तभुक् तैजसो द्वितीयः पादः॥ ४॥

svapnasthAno.antaHpraj~naH saptA~Nga ekonaviMshatimukhaH praviviktabhuk taijaso dvitIyaH pAdaH || 4 ||

dvitIyaH pAdaH – The second aspect (of the Self)
taijasa – is called taijasa.
svapna sthAna – (Its field of action is) the dream state.
antaHpraj~naH – (Consciousness is) turned inwards (as opposed to the waking state in the previous mantra, where it was turned outwards).
sapta a~Nga – (As with the waking state) (it has) seven divisions.
viMshati mukhaH – (and) nineteen interfaces.
praviviktabhuk taijasotaijasa is the enjoyer (bhug = bhuk = bhoktA; experiencer, enjoyer) of the private, internal world (pravivikta).

The second aspect of the Self is taijasa. This is the dream state in which one’s awareness is turned inwards. taijasa has seven parts and experiences the dream world via 19 interfaces.

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Q.526 MithyA

Q: In your comment on the article by Arun Kumar, I was confused but intrigued that you define Mithya as something that simply explains the fundamental nature of the Brahman in life and its objects. I have not so far found any dictionary that defines mithya as anything other than false or illusory nor discovered any major scholar-philosopher who thought that Shankara viewed this world as a reality – as real as the ornament in your metaphor. You say that Shankara himself by discriminating between the waking and dream states suggests that novel meaning of Mithya. Is this your own interpretation or does Shankara himself link the ability to differentiate between those states to explain mithya?

You raise the example of how jumping into the middle of traffic would help one realize why this world is NOT an illusion… but it is not convincing enough. Potentially, both a person jumping in front of a truck and his consequent “death” could be perceived as illusory events too. The real question I have is whether Shankara himself viewed this world as illusion and used Mithya to convey that or not. And, if it was an illusion for him, what did he think the meaning of life was? If on the other hand life was Not an illusion to him, as you seem to suggest, what was its purpose in that case?

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Mechanism of Superimposition

In Shankara’s explication of the Advaita Vedanta, as we all know, the concept of “adhyAsa” or “superimposition” plays a significant role. This technique of ‘superimposing’ a non-existing imaginary thing (adhyAropita mithyA vastu) on a really existing substratum (adhisThAna) and later rescinding or negating (apavAda) the superimposed object has been an age-old method of imparting the Knowledge of the Self (Atman / brahman) to an eligible student. Shankara himself reveals this fact in his commentary at 13.13, BGB.

Unfortunately in the present day, the ‘eligibility criteria’ for the student are so much discounted that one doesn’t often know whether a student truly obtained the intended ‘meaning’ of the teaching or goes away with his/her own ‘idea’ of what is taught because of the unprepared nature of and/or other prior notions cluttering up his/her mind. Continue reading

Book Review: Heart of Sri Shankara

Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji
(5 January 1880 – 5 August 1975) was the founder of the Adhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya in Holenarasipura, Hassan district, Karnataka, India. Born as Sri Yellambalase Subbarao, he worked as a school teacher in the Indian state of Karnataka. He gave many lectures and wrote many articles on the Vedanta in English, Kannada and Sanskrit.

Satchidanandendra Saraswati was a philosopher who dedicated all his life for the Vedanta sAdhana and attained brahma-j~nAna. He was known as a jIvanmukta sage. He was the best example of a Sanskrit saying, “One should spend one’s life until sleep and until death only in Vedantic contemplation”. (Wikipedia)

Heart of Shri Shankara Swami Satchidanandendra, translated by A. J. Alston. A detailed consideration of what Shri Shankara said about the nature of ignorance, and other views. A translation of a work by Shri Swami Satchidanandendra first published in 1929 under the title Refutation of Root Ignorance or The Heart of Shri Shankara. It considers the philosophical view that there is a ‘root-ignorance’ that ‘creates’ the phenomenal world and which in some sense really exists. The Swami sets out to show that this view arose among Advaitins after Shri Shankara and is contrary to his true teaching.

978-0-85424-050-0 £12.00 from Shanti Sadan in the UK, (Still £12 over 10 years after this review was written!) or available as a PDF download from

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Q.521 External Objects

Q: Do objects exist independently? For example, if one is not seeing the moon then does moon exist or not?

A: From the perspective of absolute reality (paramArtha), of course there is no problem; no question or answer! There is only Brahman; no creation and no objects. But I assume that your question relates to empirical reality (vyavahAra). Here, Advaita teaches that Ishvara governs the ‘creation’, setting and maintaining the physical laws that apply to the universe and the karmic laws that apply to the jIva-s. It is only some post-Shankara philosophers who try to make out that there is only one jIva so that, as soon as this jIva is enlightened, the apparent creation comes to an end. You can read all about the ‘world disappearing on enlightenment’ in the seemingly endless discussions we had on that topic beginning in 2020 (I think).

So, as regards your specific question, objects continue to exist when you go out of the room (for example). Otherwise, other jIva-s would not be able to enjoy them! Suppose that you go outside at night with a friend and both look at the moon. And suppose that you turn away but your friend doesn’t.  If the moon ceased to exist, so would your friend (who is also an object at the gross level).

Advaita is not subjective idealism. Objects are not ‘in the mind’ (although the names and forms that we give them ARE in the mind – hence we can see a rope as a snake). But the moon is not ‘real’ in an Advaitic sense; it is mithyA. The story of the sage and the wild elephant is relevant here. A seeker saw his guru run away when a rogue elephant charged. Afterwards he asked why his teacher had run when he would say that the elephant is mithyA. The teacher replied that the ‘running away’ was also mithyA. (At least, that is how I recall the story.)

Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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One to many to One – 2/2

Part – 1

The Redemption:

Suggesting a way out of this quagmire of samsAra, Shankara observes:

तं पुनर्देहाभिमानादशरीरस्वरूपविज्ञानेन निवर्तिताविवेकज्ञानमशरीरं सन्तं प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः 

Meaning: The same Being, however, when, Its “ignorance in the shape of Its notion of the body being the Self” has been set aside by Its Knowledge of its real “unbodied” nature, then pleasure and pain do not touch It.

धर्माधर्मकार्ये हि ते ; अशरीरता तु स्वरूपमिति तत्र धर्माधर्मयोरसम्भवात् तत्कार्यभावो दूरत एवेत्यतो प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः

Meaning: The reason for this (i.e., the absence of pleasure and pain) lies in the fact that pleasure and pain are the effects of merit and demerit, while the real nature of the Self is being unbodied, so, that merit and demerit being impossible in the latter, the appearance of their effect is still further off. Hence, the pleasure and pain do not touch It.

It is important to understand here that unlike the bodily pleasure and pain, the Bliss of the Self is something inherent to It. That Bliss is not a transient feature like ‘touch’ which appears and disappears. We have support for this contention from other shruti mantras too. Shankara writes: Continue reading

One to many to One – 1/2

Shankara’s genius in imparting the true unadulterated message of Advaita (a-dvaita) philosophy shines with the brilliance of thousand  Suns in his commentary at the mantra 8.12.1, chAndogya Upanishad.

Prof. M. Hiriyanna writes in his book, “Outlines of Indian Philosophy,” 1993, that “In some passages the Absolute is presented as cosmic or all-comprehensive in Its nature (saprapanca); in some others again, as acosmic or all-exclusive (niShprapanca).” The cultural Heritage of India,” Vol 1, 1937, observes that the chAndogya Upanishad “seems to teach mainly the ‘saprapanca’ view of Reality.”

Gaudapada, the first human preceptor of Advaita Vedanta, however, writes with unwavering certitude in his kArikA-s (3.48 and 4.71) on mANDUkya Upanishad, “No individual is ever born; there does not exist any reason which can produce an individual creature.”

The chAndogya, Upanishad, follows the popular teaching ‘methodology’ of Advaita, called the “Superimposition – Sublation model.” This model assumes that a world created by a Godhead pre-exists the seeker who is born into it. Thus, the very structure of the model requires positing Lord Ishwara as the Creator and a world for him  to ‘lord’ over. In line with this thinking, this Upanishad ends declaring that the seeker attains ‘brahmaloka‘ (the world where the Lord lives) on the death of the gross body. It says in its mantra, 8.15.1: Continue reading