mAyA - illusion - unreal

Gummuluru Murthy gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA
Wed Feb 18 13:33:21 CST 1998

On Tue, 17 Feb 1998, Ram Chandran wrote:

> Greetings Murthygaru:
> I agree with the essence of your statement  and assertions but I want to
> clarify your viewpoint with some additional observations.  Last year, in
> one of my Soc.Reiligion.Hindu postings,  I made a similar statement
> about the pitfalls of translating Sanskrit words into English and one
> person replied me that I am a fanatic!  I needed to sent several E-mails
> to explain and clarify what I really meant!   To the extent, the same
> word in any language does not mean the same at different contexts.  It
> is a well-known fact that Biblical English, Elizabethan English,
> Shakespearean English, English in England, US English and English spoken
> in non-English countries are different.  Languages that are both written
> and spoken differ in their usage and meaning across the time and across
> geographical regions within and outside countries.  Sanskrit has some
> additional difficulties.  The meaning of a Sanskrit word  depends more
> on how it was spoken that how it was written.  Most of the English
> translations are based on written texts of Sanskrit and are subject to
> serious deficiency.  Sanskrit has a great oral tradition and the
> meanings and interpretations were preserved and separated by the unique
> mouth to ear communication media adopted by our ancestors.  But with the
> modern technological revolution in the computers, exact translation can
> become feasible in the near future.  However, I may have to agree with
> your assertion about our limitation in understanding languages across
> the culture and time. I also want to admit that the errors of the
> translators are mostly unintentional.
>     Again, I agree that Maayaa is one of the most misunderstood terms of
> Advaita. Maayaa means that which is not absolutely real but which has
> the power to appear as real.  The root word for Maayaa is maya (with
> both vowels short), which has very much to do with magic.  Sankara
> explains Maayaa as yaa maa saa Maayaa, meaning, ^Ñthat which is not is
> Maayaa.'  According to Sankara, the world is a myth or a total dream.
> The word illusion can give a misleading meaning for the reasons that you
> have stated.

Namaste. I can certainly empathize with your views.

My concern is not that much about understanding across cultural
boundaries. Apart from the difficulties you mentioned (lack of exact
equivalent in the other language, importance of sound etc), our lack
of complete knowledge of the Sanskrit language is another problem.
With us being habituated to thinking in the English poses a problem
for proper understanding of the Vedas. The other day I was trying to
explain the word "shraddha" to a few children. I could not find either
the proper english equivalent word, or the proper combination of words
to explain that. I would take it that mithya is illusion, but the
concept of mAyA is not understood even by the Sanskrit scholars. Our
lack of full knowledge of Sanskrit and habituation to thinking in a
different language which does not have a proper word for it does not

I agree with you that translators do the best they can. I think it is
Charles Wikner who commented once (on this List) that the words the
translators use depend on their understanding of the advaitic concepts.
Thus, if their understanding (of the advaitic concepts, not the mastery
of Sanskrit-English) is not right, a wrong concept is unfortunately

Gummuluru Murthy
... aham bhAvodayAbhAvo bodhasya paramAvadhih ...
                        Shri Shankara in Viveka ChuDAmaNi (verse 424)

The end of the rise of the sense of "I" of the ego is the culmination
of knowledge.

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