[Advaita-l] FA & AQ on MAAYAA

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Fri Aug 10 00:30:01 CDT 2012


Here is a reproduction of a post that appeared in the Advaitin List
recently.  It is on the topic of Frequently Asked & Answered Questions on
mAyA in Advaita.  I thought the members here might be benefited by the post
and a part of the discussion that followed this.


[ Source: 'Enlightening Expositions' by Swami abhinava vidyAthIrtha of
Sringeri Peetham]


Some raise objections against the vEdAntic postion that on account of mAyA
or avidyA, Brahman appears as the world just as, in dim light, to one who
fails to perceive correctly, a rope appears as a snake. We shall consider
the major objections and the answers to them.

1.      1.  For a rope to be mistaken for a snake, it is essential that
there exist a perceiver distinct from the rope and the snake. Since no
entity apart from Brahman is admitted by the vEdAntin, the rope-snake
example is inappropriate.

Answer: This is not so. An example cannot match what is meant to be
illustrated in all its aspects. If it did, it would be indistinguishable
from the original and would not be just an illustration. In the present
case, the analogy servers to indicate how something may be mistaken for
something else and not to indicate the presence of the distinct perceiver.

2. A snake must exist if a rope is to be mistaken for a serpent. So also,
the world must exist apart from Brahman if Brahman is to be mistaken for it.

Answer: If one entity is to be mistaken for another, say a rope for a
snake, it is necessary that one have a knowledge of the superimposed
entity, such as the snake. This, in no way implies that a real snake must
exist, for the knowledge of the snake may be false knowledge. For instance,
a person may see a monster in a dream. It is possible for him, after waking
up, to mistake a tree in dim light to be that monster and to flee in
terror. This mistaken cognition requires a knowledge of the monster but
does not demand the reality of the monster. Since samsAra is beginningless,
it cannot be argued that at the very beginning there was only Brahman and
no possibility of any knowledge of an earlier world, real or false, which
could serve as the basis for the subsequent misconception of Brahman as the

3.    3. For a superimposition like that of a snake on a rope to occur, it
is essential that the entity on which something is superimposed be distinct
from and visible to the perceiver. For instance, the rope must lie in front
of a person, who can see it, for the person to mistake it for a snake. In
the case of Brahman, the vEdAntin holds the Supreme to be the inner Self of
everybody. As Brahman is never separate from or visible to anyone, a world,
real or false, cannot be superimposed on the Supereme.

Answer: It is not a rule that the object on which we superimpose something
else be perceived by us. For instance, AkAsha is invisible; it does not
fall within the ken of our five senses. Yet, ignorant people impute a blue
colour or a spherical shape to it and make statements such as, “The sky is
blue”. It is also not true that we can only mistake something distinct from
us to be something else. For instance, does not a person mistake himself to
be the body and say, “I am tall”?

4.       4. Is the Veda real or not? If it is, Brahman cannot be non-dual
as claimed by advaitin. If it is unreal then it is meaningless for the
advaitin to base his philosophy on it and declare that destruction of
avidyA and consequent liberation can be effected by knowledge generated by
the scripture.

Answer: Even an unreal entity can produce a true effect. For instance, the
fear that arises in a dream in which one is chased by a tiger can cause on
to wake up and perspire. The cold sweat and the waking up are real but the
tiger is not. Thus, though not real, the vEda can produce true-knowledge.
This apart, the advaitin does not assert that the world is unreal from the
vyAvahArika or empirical standpoint. To the extent tha the world is
empirically real, so is the vEda. Knowledge produced by the vEda too has
empirical validityand is adequate to destroy avidyA.

5.       5. The advaitin does not give a logically impeccable, direct
answer to the question, “Why is mAyA present?”

 Answer: The fault lies in the question, which is illogical. Suppose a man
dreams that he is flying through the air. If, in the dream, he were to pose
the question, “How is it that I, who am a man and not a bird, am able to
generate an upward thrust and achieve flight”? He would not get an
appropriate answer. If he were to make the enquiry after waking up, he
would merely conclude that he never actually flew. That is, he would not
have directly explained his flight either while dreaming or while awake.
Similar is the position with regard to the questionabout mAyA. If one were
to realize the Truth, mAyA would vanish and the query, “Why is mAyA
present?” would be meaningless. On the other hand, if a person were to be
under the spell of mAyA, the world would appear real to him and not
illusory. So, he too cannot answer satisfactorily.

6.       6. We see the world and scientists are studying it. How then can
its reality be negated?

Answer: Cannot one have a dream in which one is a physicist working along
with several other researchers in a laboratory? Just because such
scientific investigation is carried out and some conclusions arrived at in
the course of the dream, it does not follow that the dream-world is real.
The dream-world, with its scientists, their experiments and their findings
and developments, does get negated when one awakens, but not before that.
The vEdAntin does not deny the empirical validity of the world and of
scientific analysis. An negation is only from the standpoint of the
absolute. Further, it is certainly untrue that scientific findings
contradict the principal import of vEda. The province of science does not
infringe on that of vEdAnta whose concern is with Brahman, which is

7.       7. The status of mAyA or avidyA is unclear. If avidyA is just lack
of knowledge then how can it make Brahman appear as the variegated cosmos?
On the other hand, if it be some positive entity, how can Brahman be
non-dual and totally devoid of attributes? Also, how can a positive,
beginningless entity cease to be on the dawn of knowledge?

Answer: mAyA or avidyA is not mere absence of knowledge; it is not asat or
non-existent. When the vEdAntin says that avidyA is a positive entity, he
does not mean that it is sat or real like Brahman. Thus, Brahman’s
non-duality is not compromised. The term ‘positive’ is used with respect to
mAyA to differentiate it from asat. mAyA is not asat as its effects are
seen nor it is sat as it is negated by knowledge; it is not simultaneously
sat or asat either.

 That mAyA or avidyA, though beginningless, can be negated is concluded by
the vEdAntin on the authority of the Upanishads and not by mere logic. For
instance, the SvetASvatara upaniSad declares: “The birthless one, mAyA, is
engaged to bring about the enjoyer, the enjoyable and the enjoyment”. In
the very next mantra of the SvetASvatara upaniSad, we encounter the clear
teaching, “ From repeated meditation on the Supreme, by union with and
contemplation on the Truth, there comes about at the end, the cessation of
mAyA in the form of the universe.”

Being neither sat or asat, uncaused and yet subject to eradication, it
achieves the inconceivable by making the non-dual Brahman as the world and
individual soul. Indeed, mAyA is the most mysterious paradox.


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