Perspectives on Maya

Perspectives on Maya

Somedays... by Mark Gunn
Somedays… by Mark Gunn

I recently saw a reference to six ways maya is described and experienced. I thought this was worth exploring.

First, maya is defined as the appearance of the world. It comes from the root ‘to build’ aka creation.

Six Perspectives:

1) Maya is the appearance of a created world through the play of the 3 gunas. When we see the world as real in itself, we are deluded. Rather, the world is an appearance of Brahman and non-separate from it. Maya can appear as other than what it actually is.

The famous Shankara quote illustrates this:
“The world is unreal
Only Brahman is real
The world is Brahman”

Maya is often translated to mean illusion, but I’ve found that misleading. As Shankara also observed, it depends on our dominant guna how we see the world.

The three gunas or fundamental qualities:
Sattva: purity or clarity (golden)
Rajas: energy or fire, transformation (red)
Tamas: inertia, resistance (blue)

Most people have Tamas dominant. From a Tamas perspective, the world behaves like a covering over its source. The physical world seems real and the subjective or inner world unreal. The world is heavy, solid, dark, and inflexible.

When Rajas becomes dominant, it has the effect of “burning” or purifying tamas. In this stage, we see the world as an illusion, as if it’s a movie. This is a common symptom of good spiritual progress. However, it is the truth of the stage, not the nature of reality.

When Sattva becomes dominant, we recognize the illusion as ‘created by’ and is now seen as Lila, the divine play. Subtle beings and the divine become apparent to us.

“The face of truth is hidden by a covering of gold [sattva guna]” – Isha Upanishad 15

When we go beyond the gunas, we can discover consciousness in its pure state. And then beyond consciousness, Brahman.

2. Prior to the Unity stage, we also use Maya as an idea to understand the relationship between the absolute and the relative, changing world. The term “gap” is also used for the interface between this primary duality.

However, in the Unity stage, inner and outer, absolute and relative, subject and object collapse into one wholeness.

3. Maya has the quality of chhandas or covering. The world appearance covers the source and the Divine behind the play of the three gunas. Prakriti or nature hides Purusha, the Self.

Consciousness knows itself globally and at every point. But for the details to emerge, those points (you and I) have to go into the details. In the process, we get lost in the world appearance. So we engage in a spiritual journey to return home and integrate the inner and outer together. We pierce the covering to find our true nature.

4. As we deepen into our true nature, maya comes to be seen as the Divine play (see sattva guna above). We see maya as arising from the play of consciousness within itself. Deeper still, we see this is due to its nature as Brahman. And finally, as an expression of Divinity itself.

As consciousness is infinitely creative, so too is maya.

5. From a Brahman perspective, the world is seen to be an uncreated appearance. It’s not real in itself. This is called Vivartvad, the transformation in appearance. No actual change or transformation occurs, called Parinamvad. Brahman remains Brahman.

Brahman means the great, the totality which is more than everything. They sometimes describe it as saguna and nirguna, with and without qualities aka an appearance. Nirguna is without form, whereas saguna leads to maya, the appearance of the world.

6. Deepest, maya is recognized to be real because it is a direct expression of source itself. And source is driven by the Divine.

We still know it to be an appearance, but its nature and thus reality is now fully known.

We can reframe all this as our evolving experience of and relationship with the world.

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  1. Sharon

    Such a full and lovely description, thank you so much, D. It also reminds me of something I learned from the Veda via Dr. Egenes, the nutshell version: Brahman says, “My indestructible maya!”

  2. Peter

    “Consciousness knows itself globally and at every point. But for the details to emerge, those points (you and I) have to go into the details. In the process, we get lost in the world appearance. So we engage in a spiritual journey to return home and integrate the inner and outer together. We pierce the covering to find our true nature.”

    Is something gained in consciousness by this exploration of detail, or is it just a cyclical illusion of forgetting to remember, and remembering to forget again? (through the ages) i suppose true liberation doesn’t occur until we clearly see our id as beyond consciousness itself…

    1. Hi Peter
      This changes a bit with perspective. But we can say that consciousness is wishing to emulate Divinity, so it adds the detail through the points to its wholeness.

      The point goes through cycles of forgetting and remembering on one scale, and consciousness does the same thing on a larger scale.

      Liberation happens with Self Realization in consciousness, but it goes deeper in higher stages. And then through healing and the falling away of artificial boundaries, still further. Just as there are many layers of being, so too are there many layers to fully liberate,

  3. K

    Chhandas also means meter (like meter of a poem ). I believe all Vedas and many other Sanskrit prayers have a Chhandas. I think at one point you did explain how the two meanings were linked – covering and meter but I do not quite recall that now.

    1. Right, K.
      The Vedic verses name the Rishi (seer), devata, and chhandas (meter). These are the subject, process, and object of experience, the 3-fold dynamics in self-aware consciousness. And the verses can be used to enliven the original experience in cosmic memory so we can have it too. Brahman stage is said to be a prerequisite, but stable refined perception and a resolute intellect can do it a little sooner.

      Meter could be described as the vibratory signature that structures the experience. Because vibration is the start of form, it disturbs silent being. This is like when we throw a pebble into a pond. The ripples block seeing through the water to the bottom. Hence it behaves like a covering. The gunas are another way to describe this. (see the quote at the bottom of the web site.)

      In some ways, the stages of enlightenment can also be seen as stages in removing the coverings. First, the cover over the Self is removed and it sees itself. In Unity, the covering that separates subject and object is removed, uniting them. In Brahman, the covering of consciousness is pierced to reveal Brahman.

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