Awhile back, I wrote about the 3 forms of Maya described by Shankara. The way we perceive the world is dependent on the dominant guna or quality through which we experience it.
Guna means string or strand but abstractly, it refers to a quality or distinction. Triguna is used to describe the 3 tendencies or qualities of prakriti (nature). Broadly, they are creation, maintenance, and destruction. Much of what we experience as change is the gunas coming out of and back into balance again. Internally we experience them as clarity, movement, and inertia or sattva, rajas, and tamas.
In Ayurveda (Vedic medicine), they describe how we come into this lifetime with influences of 6 bhavas (houses). Half of these are from the bodies bloodline, the other half from our soul (jiva). Two of the second are Atman (Self, spirit) and sattva, the guna. Whatever development of these we cultured prior, we bring into this life and pick up where we left off. Hence, some seem to come in a little ahead of the game.
This brings us to a review of Maya. Contrary to popular translation, Maya means “to build.” However, how that “build”, creation, is perceived by us depends on our dominant guna. Maya stays the same but how we perceive it evolves.
1) The dominant way creation is perceived is through Tamas or inertia. The world behaves like a covering over it’s source. The physical world seems real and the subjective world unreal.
2) When Rajas becomes dominant, it has the effect of “burning” or purifying tamas. In this stage, the world is seen as an illusion, a common symptom of good spiritual progress and typical of Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness.
3) When Sattva becomes dominant (and we’re speaking on inner levels, not necessarily obvious yet on the surface), the illusion is recognized as ‘created by’ and is now seen as Lila, the play. This is more typical of God consciousness or, if delayed, in unity.
Here, it’s good to differentiate clearly between sattva and atman. Someone can awaken and still be lower on the guna scale and thus not have refined perception. They’ll tend to describe a black and white reality of inner spirit/ Self and separate, outer, illusory world. This is dwaita or duality, not non-duality as some suggest. Someone more up the guna scale but lower on the Atman scale will not be awake but have many “spiritual” or refined experiences of subtle realities. The best for progress is of course both.
There are various prescribed ways to increase sattva but many edicts for living a pure life are difficult in our culture. The key ones are widely-held rules across cultures, like the golden rule and early to bed. The best way though is transcendence; a daily connection to source purifies the physiology & mind, and opens us to spirit (atman) as well. Transcendence itself or samadhi triggers the physiological production of Soma (Amrita), a refined product that much increases sattva. You may notice it as a sweet taste in the mouth during a deep meditation. It also produces a lustre on the skin via ojas.
4) So, what is the 4th Maya? No maya, the absence of maya. The recognition that nothing has ever happened. No creation, no you and I, nada. However, this is not the same thing as neti, neti (not this, not this), the illusion stage. Paradoxically, it is this and this but it is neither also. It is a wholeness more than everything, more than either being or non-being (which have become recognized as another subtle duality). It is Brahman, contemplating within itself but never creating, never doing.
So- not really 4 Mayas, unless we’re counting digitally from 0. 😉