Sources for understanding MAYA

Stanley Rice srice at
Sat Mar 25 20:54:17 UTC 1995

Dear Dr Bryson,

My daughter Leslie also has a real desire to know the nature of
"maya". She read some, but was puzzled. She read Sri Ramana
Maharshi and was intrigued but still mystified. After she heard a
realized disciple of the Maharshi speak it has become clearer
to her. Now she knows by direct experience (but not continuously)
that the world is only thoughts occuring within herself,
representing no self-existent reality or entities. She has little
interest in conceptual formulations, including much of what is 
quoted below, though she reveres the Maharshi. The world is often
experienced as in her, not she in the world. This is happiness.
For this she has great interest, especially to make it permanent,
since there is relative pain when it is absent.

  Those who even doubt the conventional naive "reality" are
lucky. Most have no interest or curiosity, of course. For a
certain kind of investigation it may be useful to see that one
cannot be what one perceives (especially the body and thoughts.)
The knower cannot be what is known--as has been pointed out for
millenia. For my part, just to notice that we have not the least
notion or suspicion as to what occurs between sensory stimulus
and resulting "idea" raises logical doubt. (Dan Dennett et al
notwithstanding.) But if it lodges in a verbal framework it goes is "already familiar". One might say that ignoring
the evidence, or simple lack of curiosity, is maya. Or as
Socrates said in refusing to discuss the nonduality of Parmenides
(in spite of his supposed reverence for Parmenides)--in effect, 
we have more entertaining things to discuss. It seems that only
when we see the effects in a living Sage do we suspect that we
are ignoring the only satisfaction, as well as the truth.

  Our daughters have the curiosity, which is grace in itself. I
hope yours is a blessing, as is mine. For what it may be
worth...some words of three Sages, probably well known to you.

  Best wishes, Stan Rice


 [From Sri Ramana Maharshi, in "Talks..."]

  D.: What does Maharshi think of the theory of universal
illusion (Maya)?
  M.: What is Maya? It is only Reality.
  D.: Is not Maya illusion?
  M.: Maya is used to signify the manifestations of the
Reality. Thus Maya is only Reality.
  D.: Some say that Sri Sankaracharya was only intellectual and
not realised. Is it so?
  M.: Why worry about Sankaracharya? Realise your own Self.
Others can take care of themselves.

.  .  .

  D.: What is the goal of this process?
  M.: Realising the Real.
  D.: What is the nature of the Reality?
  M.: (a) Existence without beginning or end - eternal.
      (b) Existence everywhere, endless, infinite.
      (c) Existence underlying all forms, all changes, all
      forces, all matter and all spirit. The many change 
      and pass away (phenomena), whereas the One 
      always endures (noumenon).
      (d) The one displacing the triads, i.e., the knower, the
      knowledge and the known. The triads are only appearances 
      in time and space, whereas the Reality lies beyond and 
      behind them. They are like a mirage over the Reality. They 
      are the result of delusion.

  D.: If 'I' also be an illusion, who then casts off the
  M.: The 'I' casts off the illusion of 'I' and yet remains as
'I'. Such is the paradox of Self-Realisation. The realised do
not see any contradiction in it. Take the case of bhakti -
approach Iswara and pray to be absorbed in Him. I then
surrender myself in faith and by concentration. What remains
afterwards? In place of the original 'I', perfect self-
surrender leaves a residuum of God in which the 'I' is lost.
This is the highest form of devotion (parabhakti), prapatti,
surrender or the height of vairagya.
  You give up this and that of 'my' possessions. If you give up
'I' and 'Mine' instead, all are given up at a stroke. The very
seed of possession is lost. Thus the evil is nipped in the bud
or crushed in the germ itself. Dispassion (vairagya) must be
very strong to do this. Eagerness to do it must be equal to
that of a man kept under water trying to rise up to the surface
for his life.

  .  .  .

  199. The ladies later asked several questions relating to
their present inability to realise the already realised,
eternal Self. The sign of Realisation would be Bliss, which was
  Maharshi said : There is only one consciousness. But we speak
of several kinds of consciousness, as body-consciousness, Self-
consciousness. They are only relative states of the same
Absolute consciousness. Without consciousness, time and space
do not exist. They appear in consciousness. It is like a screen
on which these are cast as pictures and move as in a cinema
show. The Absolute consciousness is our real nature.

  D.: From where do these objects arise?
  M.: Just from where you rise. Know the subject first and then
question about the object.
  D.: It is only one aspect of the question.
  M.: The subject comprehends the object also. That one aspect
is an all-comprehensive aspect. See yourself first and then see
the objects. What is not in you cannot appear outside.
  D.: I am not satisfied.
  M.: Satisfaction can be only when you reach the source.
Otherwise restlessness exists.
  D.: Is the Supreme Being with or without attributes?
  M.: Know first if you are with or without attributes.
  D.: What is samadhi?
  M.: One's own true nature.
  D.: Why then is effort necessary to attain it?
  M.: Whose is the effort?  
  D.: Maharshi knows that I am ignorant.
  M.: Do you know that you are ignorant? Knowledge of ignorance
is no ignorance.
  All scriptures are only for the purpose of investigating if
there are two consciousnesses. Everyone's experience proves the
existence of only one consciousness. Can that one divide itself
into two? Is any division felt in the Self? Awaking from sleep
one finds oneself the same in the wakeful as well as in the
sleep states. That is the experience of each one. The
difference lies in seeking, in the outlook. Because you imagine
that you are the seer separate from the experience, this
difference arises. Experience shows that your being is the same
all through.

.  .  .

  D.: From where did ignorance come?
  M.: There is no such thing as ignorance. It never arises.
Everyone is Knowledge itself. Only Knowledge does not shine
easily. The dispelling of ignorance is Wisdom which always
exists - e.g., the necklace remaining round the neck though
supposed to have been lost; or each of the ten fools failing to
count himself and counting only the others. To whom is
knowledge or ignorance?
  D.: Can we not proceed from external to internal?
  M.: Is there any difference like that? Do you feel the
difference - external and internal - in your sleep? This
difference is only with reference to the body and arises with
body-consciousness ('I'-thought). The so-called waking state is
itself an illusion.
  Turn your vision inward and then the whole world will be full
of Supreme Spirit. The world is said to be illusion. Illusion
is really Truth. Even the material sciences trace the origin of
the universe to some one primordial matter - subtle,
exceedingly subtle.
  God is the same both to those who say the world is real and
to their opponents. Their outlook is different. You need not
entangle yourself in such disputations. The goal is one and the
same for all. Look to it.

.  .  .

  323. While explaining stanza 6 in Arunachala Ashtaka,

[6. Thou art Thyself the One Being, ever aware as the self-
luminous Heart! In Thee there is a mysterious Power (Shakti)
which without Thee is nothing. From it proceeds the phantom of
the mind, emitting its latent subtle dark mists, which,
illuminated by Thy Light of Consciousness reflected upon them,
appear within as thoughts whirling in the vortices of prarabdha,
later developing into the psychic worlds and projected outwardly
as the material world, transformed into concrete objects which
are magnified by the outgoing senses and move about like pictures
in a cinema show. Visible or invisible, O Hill of Grace, without
Thee they are nothing!]

  Sri Bhagavan observed as follows:-

  The final word in the previous stanza asks, "Is there one?"
The initial words in the present stanza answer, "Yes, there is
the One....." It proceeds, "Though it is the only One, yet by
its wonderful power it gets reflected on the tiny dot 'I' (the
ego) otherwise known as ignorance or the aggregate of latent
tendencies; this reflected light is relative knowledge. This,
according to one's prarabdha (past karma now fructifying),
manifests the inner latent tendencies as the outer gross world
and withdraws the gross external world as the subtle internal
tendencies, such power is called mind in the subtle plane and
brain in the physical plane.

  This mind or brain acts as the magnifier to that Eternal One
Being and shows It forth as the expanded universe. In the
waking and dream states the mind is out-ward bent and in sleep
it is in-ward bent; with the mind as the medium, the one
Supreme Being seems diversified in the waking and dream states
and remains withdrawn in the sleep state, or swoon, etc.
Therefore you are only That and cannot be otherwise. Whatever
the changes, the same one Being remains as yourself; there is
nothing besides yourself."

  The previous stanza says : Once exposed to sunlight, a
sensitive plate cannot take on images; similarly, the mind (the
sensitive plate), after exposure in Your Light, cannot reflect
the world anymore. Moreover, the Sun is of You only. Should his
rays be so powerful as to prevent images being formed, how much
more so should Your Light be? It is thus said that there is
nothing apart from the One Being, Yourself.

  In the present stanza the tiny dot = the ego; the tiny dot
made up of darkness = the ego consisting of latent tendencies,
the seer or the subject or the ego rising, it expands itself as
the seen, the object or the antahkaranas (the inner organs).
The light must be dim in order to enable the ego to rise up. In
broad daylight a rope does not look like a snake. The rope
itself cannot be seen in thick darkness; so there is no chance
of mistaking it for a snake. Only in dim light, in the dusk, in
light darkened by shadows or in darkness lighted by dim light
does the mistake occur of a rope seeming a snake.

  Similarly it is for the Pure Radiant Being to rise up as the
Ego - it is possible only in Its Light diffused through
darkness. This darkness is otherwise known as the Original
Ignorance (Original Sin). The Light passing through it is
called Reflected Light. The Reflected Light on its own merits
is commonly known as the Pure Mind or Isvara or God. Isvara is
well-known to be unified with Maya : in other words the
Reflected Light is Isvara.

  The other name - Pure Mind - implies impure mind also. It is
the rajasic or active mind or the ego; this too can be
projected from the former satvic mind through another
reflection only; thus the ego is the product of the second
darkness (avidya) Then comes the tamasic or the dull mind in
the shape of antahkaranas (the inner organs); this appears as
the world.

  From the standpoint of the gross body it may be said to shine
forth externally as the world by means of the brain. But the
gross body is of the mind only. The mind may be said
to consist of four inner organs, or the principle composed of
thoughts, or the sixth sense; or combining intellect with the
ego, and chitta with the mind (i.e. memory-faculty with the
thinking faculty), it may be taken to consist of two parts (the
ego and the mind). In the latter case the vijnanatma (the
intellectual Self) or the ego or the seer forms the subject,
and the mental sheath or the seen, the object.

  The waking, dream and sleep states have their origin in the
Original Darkness (mula avidya). With the mind outgoing and
deriving experiences from its modes in the waking and dream
states, and indrawn in sleep, experiencing with modes of Maya,
a unique power regulates all activities of the individuals and
of the universe. All these are only phenomena passing through
the Reflected Light on the substratum of the Self-radiant

    Just as a rope-snake cannot be seen in broad daylight, nor
rope itself in thick darkness, so also the world appears
neither in the samadhi state of Self-shining pure Being or in
deep sleep, swoon, etc. Only in Reflected Light (Light mixed
with Darkness or knowledge soiled by Ignorance) can the world,
not independent of its Source, seem to rise up, flourish and be
resolved. Its diversity too cannot be exclusive of the Reality,
the original Source. Here a play is going on in which the One
Single Being becomes manifold is objectified and then
withdrawn. There must be a Sakti (Power) to do it, and
wonderful too! She cannot also be independent of Her origin. In
the Self-shining Pure Being this Sakti cannot be seen.
Nevertheless, Her actions are only too well-known. 
   How sublime!

  From Her sublime original activity (i.e., power vibrating)
satva-filled reflection results; from it the rajasic ego; then
tamasic thought-forms which are commonly known as knowledge, or
the light corresponding to the magnifying lens. Just as the
artificial light is projected through a lens on to the screen,
so also the Reflected Light passes through thought (the
magnifier) before expanding as the world beyond it;
furthermore, thought, itself the world in-seed form, seems to
be the wide external world. Such is the extraordinary Power! In
this way Isvara, individual and the world are only of the
Reflected Light, having the Self-shining Single Being for the

.  .  .

  288. Explaining Maya of Vedanta and swatantra of Pratyabhijna
(independence of recognition), Sri Bhagavan said :

  The Vedantins say that Maya is the sakti of illusion premised
in Siva. Maya has no independent existence. Having brought out
the illusion of the world as real, she continues to play upon the 
ignorance of the victims. When the reality of her not being
is found, she disappears. 'Recognition' says that Sakti (power)
is coeval with Siva. The one does not exist without the other.
Siva is unmanifest, whereas Sakti is manifest on account of Her
independent will swatantra. Her manifestation is the display of
the cosmos on pure consciousness, Iike images in a mirror. The
images cannot remain in the absence of a mirror. So also the
world cannot have an independent existence. Swatantra becomes
eventually an attribute of the Supreme. Sri Sankara says that
the Absolute is without attributes and that Maya is not and has
no real being. What is the difference between the two? Both
agree that the display is not real. The images of the mirror
cannot in any way be real. The world does not exist in reality
(vastutah). Both schools mean the same thing. Their ultimate
aim is to realise the Absolute Consciousness. The unreality of
the cosmos is implied in Recognition (Pratyabhijna), whereas it
is explicit in Vedanta. If the world be taken as chit
(consciousness), it is always real. Vedanta says that there is
no nana (diversity), meaning that it is all the same Reality.
There is agreement on all points except in words and the method
of expression.

.  .  .

  289. While discussing Karma, Sri Bhagavan said : "Karma has
its fruit (phala). They are like cause and effect. The
interrelation of a cause and its effect is due to a Sakti whom
we call God. God is phala data (dispenser of fruit).

  A visitor had been speaking of the Self having forgotten its
true nature. Sri Bhagavan after some time said : "People speak
of memory and oblivion of the Fullness of the Self. Oblivion
and memory are only thought-forms. They will alternate so long
as there are thoughts. But Reality lies beyond these. Memory or
oblivion must be dependent on something. That something must be
foreign too; otherwise there cannot be oblivion. It is called
'I' by everyone. When one looks for it, it is not found because
it is not real. Hence 'I' is synonymous with illusion or
ignorance (maya, avidya or ajnana). To know that there never
was ignorance is the goal of all the spiritual teachings.
Ignorance must be of one who is aware. Awareness is jnana.
Jnana is eternal and natural. Ajnana is unnatural and unreal.

  D.: Having heard this truth, why does not one remain content?
  M.: Because samskaras have not been destroyed. Unless the
samskaras cease to exist, there will always be doubt and
confusion (sandeha, viparita). All efforts are directed to
destroying doubt and confusion. To do so their roots must be
cut. Their roots are the samskaras. These are rendered
ineffective by practice as prescribed by the Guru. The Guru
leaves it to the seeker to do this much so that he might
himself find out that there is no ignorance. This truth
mentioned is in the stage of the hearing of the Truth
(sravana). That is not drdha (firm). For making it unshaken,
one has to practise reflection (manana) and one-pointedness
(nididhyasana). These two processes scorch the seeds of vasanas
so that they are rendered ineffective.
  Some extraordinary persons get drdha jnana (unshaken
knowledge) even on hearing the Truth only once (sakrchhravana
matrena). Because they are krthopasakah (advanced seekers),
whereas the akrthopasakah (raw seekers) take longer to gain
drdha jnana (unshaken knowledge). People ask : "How did
ignorance (avidya) arise at all?" We have to say to them :
"Ignorance never arose. It has no real being. That which is, is
only vidya (knowledge)."

  D.: Why then do I not realise it?
  M.: Because of the samskaras. However, find out who does not
realise and what he does not realise. Then it will be clear
that there is no avidya (ignorance).

SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI (all above, from "Talks with ...")


[Is consciousness really of "other" things?]

This is a question very often asked. Now, examining the question
itself we find that it is asked from the position that such an
identification exists, and this question also conceded the
existence of body, senses, and mind, besides that of
Consciousness transcending all these.

Consciousness and everything other than Consciousness exist in
two different planes. When we look from the plane of
Consciousness we find there is nothing other than Consciousness,
and there this question cannot arise. When looked at from the
mind's plane, and conceding the existence of both world and
Consciousness, it has been proved that Consciousness can be there
only as witness. The witness witnesses only perceptions and not
objects. It has also been proved that perception is nothing other
than Consciousness itself.

For this reason also the world is an illusion, and the question
cannot arise. The question cannot arise in Consciousness since
the world is not there. Nor can it arise in the mind's plane
since you cannot drag down Consciousness to the mind's level and
make it part of the apparent world.


.  .  .

What is Pure Existence? The Self, the supreme Spirit, call it
what you will. That which you variously name God (Bhagavan),
Divine Majesty, Glory or Splendor, is only He, the One. Very
well, God is immutable, the non-doer, since He does not act. Only
one who engages in action may be described as the doer of that
action. Since He Himself is present in all causes and effects,
how can one speak of Him as controlling or not controlling them?
Thus, here He is actionless. But where His Maya is, where the
display of His Divine Power and Majesty is perceived, and where
nature functions according to fixed laws, who manifests there?
The One of course. Mutable and immutable--these one-sided views
of yours belong to the veil of ignorance. You speak of Him as the
doer or non-doer, trying to limit Him to the one or the other.
>From your angle of vision it is but natural to perceive
differences. He is whatever you take Him to be; you see Him
according to your way of thinking, and as you portray Him, so He

Stan Rice, Autospec Inc, srice at  


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