What is Maya?
Brahman is the substance where the manifest and unmanifest are present. This unmanifest names and forms are avyakta Nama rupani is given the name Maya. Brahman the substance plus avyaktaha Nama rupani (the Maya) is equal to Ishwara. There is only Brahman and nothing else that exists.
Maya is a Shakti. It is power and is unmanifest. Power cannot exist independently. E.g. the power of seeing, can it exist independent of the eye? Can the stillness exist independent of the ocean? Power of speech, power of hearing, touch. You always refer power to something. So the Maya is the Shakti which is no independent existence. Maya is unmanifest names and forms. Unmanifest jagat is equal to Maya. It needs a support or adharaha. What is the substance which is the support for Maya to exist? The substance is Brahman where in the unmanifest jagat, the Maya exists. Maya is equal to trigunas i.e. sattva, rajas and tamas. The whole jagat is the manifest of the tri gunas.
The 3 powers together (gyana Shakti, iccha Shakti, kriya Shakti) which are manifest are trigunas. The 3 powers when are in unmanifest stage is Maya. Powerful is not created, power also is not created. Powerful exists because power is there first. Can powerful term exist without the power being present? Can Shakti exist without the existence of Brahman? No.
This Maya has 2 powers. Vikshepa Shakti and Avarana Shakti. Maya can be destroyed by the realization of the pure Brahman, the one without a second, just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed by the discrimination of the rope. She has her gunas as rajas, tamas and sattva, named after their respective functions. Rajas have Vikshepa Shakti or projecting power, which is of the nature of an activity, and from which this primeval flow of activity has emanated. From this also, mental modifications such as attachment and grief are continually produced. Lust, anger, avarice, arrogance, spite, egoism, envy, jealousy, etc., – these are the dire attributes of Rajas, from which the worldly tendency of man is produced. Therefore Rajas is a cause of bondage.
Avarana Shakti or the veiling power is the power of Tamas, which makes things appear other than what they are. It is this that causes man’s repeated transmigrations, and starts the action of the projecting power (Vikshepa). This power creates an illusion in a person that Brahman is separate from the world by virtue of which, the person thinks he belongs to this physical world. It is just like a person having a dream where he is the creator of the dream and the actors in the dream are his own chosen people, but his body is at rest. But when he wakes up, he sees that he had a dream and it is not real. Just like that Maya creates a illusion that the prakruti is separate from the Brahman, whereas it is not.
Maya is the material cause of the universe. What is superior to Maya is the Brahman, purusha or pure consciousness. Are there 2 different things in Maya and Brahman? No. We saw that Maya needs a substance to exist and without Brahman Maya cannot exist. So Brahman is Nitya and Maya is anitya. Maya is mitya and brahma satyam. When there is still water, I can say that there is stillness of water. Is the stillness separable from the water? Does the stillness exist independent of the water? No. Then we see the big waves and stillness is not there. What is a wave? Modified form of stillness is waves. As still water or as waves, the water is still there. It is the only substance and the waves and the stillness are names and forms.
Maya is nothing but another name of the universe but in unmanifest form. It is just a name or form of the universe but in seed or potential form. When the total jagat is unmanifest means that there is no knowledge being manifest. The knowledge that there is jagat is missing and is called ignorance. When knowledge is not manifest, we call it as ignorance as the universe being there.
When you wake up from sleep, you will know that there was no knowledge of this universe being existent when you were sleeping. But there was something which was always there when you were in deep sleep. That is pure consciousness. But when you wake up and see the universe, you take it as real as though all those things which did not exist in deep sleep state have come to life. This is because of the ignorance or avidya which we call as Maya. We see duality when we wake up and we think this world is real, but it is not. If it was real, how come in deep sleep state, you had no perception of this. Therefore, the whole jagat is Maya or avidya. The Ardhanarishwarar which we see as shiva-parvati (half human/half woman) is a symbol of the inseparability of the consciousness and the prakruti. The prakruti or the nature is made up of three gunas. The inseparability of the consciousness and Maya is depicted in Ardhanarishwarar. The male half represents the consciousness and the female half represents Shakti, the power to create. Because Shakti needs a substratum called substance, this explains that Brahman and Maya are inseparable. Maya is Brahman but Brahman is not Maya. Power needs a locus to exhibit as we saw earlier and Brahman itself does not do anything. So Maya as the power aspect of Brahman does the veiling and unveiling of the Brahman which once we understand and gain knowledge this bhedha is gone.
Based on the above definitions the nature of Maya can be summarized as:
1. Brahmasraya – That which has Brahman as its substratum. Maya is not separate from Brahman.
2. Trigunatmika – Made up of the three gunas i.e. sattva, rajas and tamas
3. Anirvachaniya – Indescribable
4. Jnana Virodhi – Antagonistic to knowledge. Because it has the power to conceal the Brahman it
is said that it is antagonistic to knowledge.
5. Vikshepa & Avarana Shakti – Projecting and concealing powers
6. Anadi –Beginning less. It is part of Brahman and since Brahman is endless, Maya is also