[Advaita-l] The Four 'Glories' of Maya - A study of a Rg Vedic mantra

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Mon Mar 29 12:38:50 CDT 2010

ShrIgurubhyo namaH
The Four ‘Glories’ of MaayA

Strange it might seem, there is a mantra in the Rg Veda that speaks about
the characteristics of MAyA.  Strange because we normally think that MAyA,
also known as Prakriti, is a subject belonging to the realm of Vedanta. (Of
course, the famous 'nAsadIya sUktam' is there.) The mantra reads thus:

चतुष्कपर्दा युवतिः सुपेशा घृतप्रतीका वयुनानि वस्ते ।

तस्यां सुपर्णा वृषणा निषेदतुः यत्र देवा दधिरे भागधेयम् ।

एकः सुपर्णः स समुद्रं आविवेश स इदं विश्वं भुवनं विचष्टे ॥। (10.114.3,4)

The essence of the above mantra has been captured by Shankaracharya in the
Shatashloki, a book of a hundred verses on the causes of bondage and the
means to transcend it.  Every verse is based on the Veda and what could be
derived from the teachings of the Veda.  The 26th verse here reads thus:

चत्वारोऽस्याः कपर्दा युवतिरथ भवेन्नूनता नित्यमेषा

माया वा पेशला स्यादघटितघटनापाटवं याति यस्मात् ।

स्यादारम्भे घृतास्या श्रुतिभवयुवनान्येवमाच्छादयन्ती

तस्यामेतौ सुपर्णाविव परपुरुषौ तिष्ठतोऽर्थप्रतीत्या ॥ (२६)

The ‘glories’ of mAyA are depicted in a four-fold manner:

1.    1. MAyA is ever youthful.  She never becomes old.  She is never
affected by old age.  The body and senses become decrepit, yet She remains
young and energetic.  MAyA never tires of giving a never-ending supply of
objects and occasions for people to enjoy and experience. Lord Krishna says
in the Bhagavadgita 10.40 that there is no end to His vibhUti-s, splendors.
All these splendors are due to His Maya (7.14).

The Lord, in the VishNu-purANam, displaying His VishvarUpa, addresses

माया ह्येषा मया सृष्टा यन्मां पश्यसि नारद ।

सर्वभूतगुणैर्युक्तं मैवं मां ज्ञातुमर्हसि ॥

[Narada, what you now behold, is a false appearance that I have created.  Do
not know Me thus as endowed with the universal form.]

The Lord is cautioning Narada that the universal form that the Lord creates
is not His true nature.  What is seen is only an appearance.  This is the
Vedantic view of Advaitic NirguNa Brahman. The appearance of the world is
only a creation of Maya, the Lord’s Shakti.

Veda Vyasa, in the above Vishnu PurANam indicts dvaita-darshanam in the
strongest possible terms:

अविद्यामोहितात्मानः पुरुषा भिन्नदर्शिनः [It is men of deluded intellect that
see duality, dvaita.]

2.    2, MAyA is very efficient, smart.  She is an expert in projecting to
us what is impossible to happen.  What could be the greatest impossibility?
She makes us believe what we are not really.  While our true nature is
Consciousness-Bliss, She succeeds in conceiving for us a body-mind apparatus
and a world to enjoy through this apparatus and experience the results
thereof.  What greater example can there be of her capacity to make the
impossible as though it is true! Shankaracharya’s ‘mAyA-panchakam’, a pentad
of verses on the ‘Glories of mAyA’ has the line: अघटितघटनापटियसी  (She is an
expert in making the impossible appear as though it is real) for its
refrain. The full text and the translation of the ‘mAyA-panchakam’ is
available here:

3.    3. She is very charming and sweet to start with.  The mantra, as well
as the verse, uses the expression ‘ghRutaasyaa’.  This means: The one whose
‘mouth’ is smeared with ghee, clarified butter.  Ghee is something that is
tasty.  This simile conveys the idea that the joys of the world are very
attractive to start with but end up delivering pain to the enjoyer.  The
Bhagavadgita explains this feature of MAyA. :

विषयेन्द्रियसंयोगात् यत्तदग्रेऽमृतोपमम् ।

परिणामे विषमिव तत्सुखं राजसं स्मृतम् ॥ 18. 38

[The pleasure born of the contact of the senses and the objects will be
nectarine in the beginning but end up becoming a poison.  This is the
characteristic of a raajasik pleasure.]

4.    4. mAyA’s most destructive ‘glory’ is Her ability to cover the wisdom
of the Upanishads from our vision. This She does by deluding people to think
that She, Prakriti, is real. The Upanishads teach us about the true non-dual
nature of the Self and the means to realize it.  mAyA, however, succeeds in
keeping that teaching out of our understanding.  First, we are ignorant
about the very existence of such a treasure of teaching. This is because,
thinking Prakriti to be real, one is engrossed in the duality, dvaita, that
Prakriti projects and the tendency to look within is never developed. Most
people are not even aware that there is such a thing called MOksha and that
it can be had by resorting to the Upanishads through a Guru.  The
Kathopanishad 1.2.7. and the Bhagavadgita 2.29 and 7.3 say this most

श्रवणायापि बहुभिर्यो न लभ्य:

शृण्वन्तोऽपि बहवो यं न विद्युः

[The Supreme Teaching is extremely rare even for hearing and even when heard
most do not grasp the teaching….]  The reason for this is the deluding and
projecting powers of Maayaa.

Now, summing up, the Rg Vedic mantra and the Shatashloki say:  The jivAtmaa,
soul, ‘and’ the ParamAtmA, the Lord, are stationed in this four-gloried
mAyaa. In what way are they stationed there?  While MAyA is the one that
envelops everything, the Paramatma is the illuminator of everything.  By
implication, the jivatmaa is the enjoyer, experiencer of the world
phenomenon.  This reminds us of the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1) mantra: द्वा
सुपर्णा..where the two-bird imagery is employed to depict the jiva-Ishwara
combine in the body-tree.  There, the jiva bird is shown as the one
experiencing the fruits of samsara and the Ishwara bird is the passive
witness to this.  Of course, the illuminator-principle is the ParamAtma, the
Consciousness.  Jiva is the reflecting consciousness and through the set of
his sense-organs and mind the ParamAtmA illumines the objects of the world
and enlivens everything.  When the jiva turns to ParamAtmA, the Mundaka
mantra continues, eventually realizing that the witness-state is its natural
state and the samsari state is not its true state, there ‘occurs’ an
identity with the ParamAtmaa, ending the samsaric state.

The above Rg Vedic mantra is the proof of the ‘jiva and Ishwara residing and
operating in the realm of Maya’.  The post titled ‘An Advaitin’s assessment
of some Dvaita remarks’ deals with this concept and can be seen to be an
elucidation of the above mantra as the scriptural authority for the concept.
Swami Vidyaranya’s verse therein from the Panchadashi, is:

मायाख्याया: कामधेनो: वत्सौ जीवेश्वरावुभौ ।

यथेच्छं पिबतां द्वैतं तत्त्वं त्वद्वैतमेव हि ॥

*mAyAkhyAyaH kAmadhenOH vatsau jIveshwaraavubhau |*

*yathEccham pibatAm dvaitam tattvam tu advaitameva hi ||*  (VI.236)

 [Jiva and Iswara, the two calves of the celestial cow called Maya, may
enjoy the duality as they like.  But the non-dual alone is the Reality.]

The above Rg Vedic mantra is yet another scriptural proof of the 'bhAvarUpa'
nature of mAyA/avidyA.

*Jagadguru Shankaracharya values the Rg Vedic passage and pays the richest
possible tributes to this mantra by elucidating it in the Shatashloki verse
we saw above.*

*श्रुतिस्मृतिपुराणानां आलयं करुणालयम् ।*

*नमामि भगवत्पादशंकरं लोकशंकरम् ॥*

*[My humble prostrations to Acharya Shankara, the benefactor of the whole
world (the word ‘shankaraH’ means: शं निरतिशयं सुखं करोति इति शंकरः He who
brings about unsurpassable bliss is ’Shankara’.  Bhagavan Krishna
says: रुद्राणां
शंकरश्चास्मि ‘I am Shankara among the Rudras’ Gita: 10. 23), the ocean of
mercy and the rich repository of the Veda-s, the Smriti-s and the PurANa-s.


Om Tat Sat

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