mAyA - illusion - unreal

Gummuluru Murthy gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA
Tue Feb 17 12:59:54 CST 1998


The upanishhads, in Sanskrit, give us a glimpse of the Truth experienced
by the sages. There are many words in Sanskrit which do not have an exact
English equivalent word and hence, quite often, our understanding is
distorted not only by our lack of understanding of the topic, but also
because of the use of the incorrect word in another language.

The word mAyA, so much a central theme of advaita, is an example. Quite
often, the word illusion, or unreal is used as an equivalent of this; but
illusion is not the right equivalent. As far as I understand, there is no
equivalent word for mAyA in the English language. I like to expand on this
by using the following upanishhadic statements.

Brahmaivedam viswamidam varishhTham [MuNDAka u. II.2.12]
All this (manifested) universe is verily the supreme Brahman.

... Idam sarvam yadayamAtmA [Br^had. u. II.4.6]
All this (manifested) universe is this Atman. (Because everything springs
from this Atman, is dissolved in It and remains imbued with It during
continuance, for it cannot be perceived apart from the Atman. Therefore
everything is the Atman). [YAjnavalkyA's teachings to Maitreyi]

... tat etat brahma apUrvam anaparam anantaram abAhyam, ayamAtmA brahma
sarvAnubhUh ... [Br^had. u. II.5.19]
This Brahman is without a prior or a posterior (cause or effect), without
interior or exterior (no other species within It or without It), this
Atman is Brahman, the perceiver of everything.

All the above statements say unequivocally that everything is Atman
(Brahman) i.e. the universe (jagat) that we see cannot be an illusion.
But the jagat is a product of mAyA i.e. mAyA is not illusion. MAyA is a
statement of fact of what we are and what we see around us. It(mAyA)
refers to the inner contradictions (pairs of opposites) we see all
around us. All our experiences in the realm of mAyA are experiences coming
through the sense organs. They are not illusory, but true. Knowledge of
the not-Self (the jagat) is still truth. But the Self or Atman or Brahman
is the Truth of the truth (satyasya satyam). Br^hadAraNyaka (II.1.20) says

... tasyopanishhat satyasya satyamiti; prANA vai satyam; teshhAmeshha
Its (Atman's) intimate name is the Truth of the truth. The cosmic energy
(prANa) is verily truth, and This (the Atman) is the truth of that.

The best understanding of mAyA, apart from upanishhads, (it is debatable
whether the word mAyA appeared in the upanishhads or not) is Shri
VidyAraNyaswamI's pancadasI verse (given by Shri Vidyasankar Sundaresan in
thread bhagavadkr^pa recently) and worth repeating here:

if one correctly understands the vedas (Srauta), it (mAyA) does not exist
(asat); by reasoning (yuktita) using intellect, we conclude that it is
indetereminate (anirvacanIya); but for the worldly-minded (laukika), it
is real (vAstavI) indeed.

We also use the word unreal rather liberally. Is the world unreal ? The
upanishhadic quotes above say that the jagat is not untrue, but is a fact.
But, the only satyasya satyam (Truth of the truth) is Atman.


The Br^hadAraNyaka upanishhad, with the commentary of ShankaracArya:
translated by Swami MadhavAnanda; Advaita Ashrama

The Message of the upanishhads: by Swami Ranganathananda; Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, Bombay

Gummuluru Murthy
Yadaa sarve pramucyante kaamaa ye'sya hr^di shritaah
atha martyo'mr^to bhavatyatra brahma samashnute   Katha Upanishhad II.3.14

When all the desires that dwell in the heart fall away, then the mortal
becomes immortal, and attains Brahman even here.

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