[Advaita-l] Mithya and Maya

S.N. Sastri sn.sastri at gmail.com
Wed Sep 2 05:17:53 CDT 2009

Meaning of ‘mithya’--

Five definitions of ‘mithya’ have been taken from various works and given by
Madhusudana Sarasvati in his work known as ‘Advaitasiddhi’. The meaning
conveyed by all these definitions is that mithya is that which does not
exist in all the three periods of time in the locus in which it appears. One
example is the rope-snake. When a rope is mistaken for a snake, the snake
appears to be real. But when the rope is known, it is found that the rope
never existed. Thus, the snake appears to be real as long as its substratum,
rope, is not known. Once the rope is known, it is realized that the snake
never existed. The snake is therefore mithya. Similarly, the world appears
to be real to us as long as we do not know Brahman. Once Brahman is known,
it will be found that the world never existed either in the past or in the
present, and will not exist in future also. Thus mithya is different from
‘transient’. A thing that exists for some time and then perishes is
transient. But ‘mithya’ is what never exists but appears to exist, like a
rope-snake or nacre-silver.

‘Asat’ or ‘non-existent’ is also different from ‘mithya’. The horn of a
rabbit is non-existent or asat, since it does not appear anywhere at any

Advaita Vedanta says that the world does not exist in the absolute sense
even when it is actually experienced, and that is why it is called mithya.

Brahman alone is real in the absolute sense. Everything else is mithya.
There are two categories in mithya—vyAvahArika or empirical and prAtibhAsika
or illusory.

vyAvahArika is what appears as real but is found to have never existed when
the knowledge of Brahman (Self) dawns. The world is vyAvahArika.

prAtibhAsika is that which is found to be non-existent when its substratum
is known, example, rope-snake.

Meaning of Maya--

Maya is itself mithya, because it is found to be non-existent when knowledge
of Brahman dawns.

In the Bhashya on GIta, 4.6, Sri Sankara says: “Prakriti, the maya of Vishnu
consisting of the three gunas, under whose spell the whole world exists, and
deluded by which one does not know one’s own Self, Vasudeva”.

In the bhAshya on gItA, 7.14 mAya is described as ‘that which deludes all

Gita, 7.4—Bhashya--Prakriti, My divine power called Maya.
Gita, 9.10—Bhashya-- Prakriti, My Maya consisting of the three gunas and
characterized as avidya.

Thus Maya is the power of Brahman.

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