[Advaita-l] clarification on terminology

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sat Sep 25 21:54:54 CDT 2004

This is an older post which I didn't get around to answering until now.

On Wed, 1 Sep 2004, Sanskrit Beginner wrote:

> namo namah
>  I would like to understand the differences between the terms
> used frequently in discussion on advaita vedanta. Request
> members' help, with establishing a context to understand it in
> as well.
> What is maya?

Maya refers to Ishwaras; (God as creators') power of avarana (projection)
and vikshepa (concealment)  It is a side-effect of existence.

> What is mithya? How is it different from maya?

Mithya is invalidity.  It refers to the ontological status of maya.  You
often see maya translated in English as "illusion" but that is a very
sloppy rendition in my opinion because it suggests that Advaitins think
the world doesn't really exist or something.  Instead what it means is
that the phenomenal world is misunderstood.

> What is avidya? How is it different from maya and mithya?

avidya is ignorance.  Because of the mithyatva of maya, the individual
doesn't have all the facts at his disposal and therefore comes to faulty
conclusions about his nature chief of which being that he is an

> What is satya? how is it different from asatya and mithya?

Satya is truth or existence.  It is the nature of Brahman.  It is
independent whereas asatya is dependent on externalities.  Thus only satya
is capable of providing true, unending bliss (ananda)  We are aware of
truth through consciousness (chitta)

> Is there a difference between jiva and atma?

atma or self is the conscious knower or witness.  Due to its befuddlement
by maya it wrongly considers itself a doer of actions (karma) and as a
result goes through an endless cycle of birth and death (samsara)  The
embodied atma is called jiva.

>What is the
> difference between jiva and paramatma?

Another aspect of the avidya caused by maya is that the jiva has a
seperate sense of self or ego (ahamkara) and thinks himself different from
all the other jivas.  He imagines a hierarchy of jivas at the top of which
is Ishvara (the creator)  But at the dawning of knowledge, he knows that
this soul or self (atma) is actually the same as the universal self

> What is a pramana?

A valid means of knowledge.  Advaita Vedanta following Bhatta Purva Mimamsakas
accepts 6: pratyaksha (perception,) anumana (logical inference,) shabda
(scriptural testimony,) upamana (simile or comparison), arthapatti
(postulation), and anupalabdhi (non-perception)

> Is there a difference between pramana and
> prameya?

Prameya is the object of knowledge.  The difference between pramana and
prameya is the difference between sight and a picture or smell and

> Is vidya merely knowledge of satya and knowledge of
> differentiating it from everything else?

Yes though I would hardly say "merely"

> Are these merely sanskrit terms to be understood, or are there
> historical/philosophical connotations behind these that one
> should be aware of as well?

Yes, words do not exist in a vacuum.  You need to understand the cultural
and historical context behind them.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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