Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 16 Feb 2021


To what extent can we cross maayaa, the strong illusion created by God?

Note: This article is meant for intellectuals only

[An online spiritual discussion was conducted on January 23, 2021, in which several devotees participated. Some of the questions of devotees answered by Swāmi are given below.]

[This question is based on the discussion of some devotees on a discourse given by Swami in response to Kum. Mohini’s question about māyā, maha māyā and mūla māyā.

Śrī Anil Anthony asked: Swami, is mūla māyā itself the awareness of God?

Śrī J. S. R. Prasad asked: Is the term mahā māyā the same as that the concept explained in the Gītā as “Prakṛtiṃ svāmadhiṣṭhāya sambhavāmyātmamāyayā”?

Śrī Bharath Krishna asked: I have read from Śrī Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s biography that with His blessing, Swami Vivekananda was able to experience this whole creation as energy. His experience was so intense that he could not even sense his own body. Is this true, Swami? If so, does this mean that Swami Vivekananda had crossed mahā māyā with the blessings of His Guru?]

Swāmi replied: Māyā is the illusion that can be crossed by human beings with their own efforts. Mahā māyā is the illusion created by God and examples of mahā māyā are God appearing as energy and energy appearing as matter. This mahā māyā is the basis of the entire creation. This mahā māyā makes this creation appear to be true. Śaṅkara said that mahā māyā is running this whole creation (Mahāmāyā viśvaṃ bhramayasi...—Saundarya Laharī). In the three-fold classification of māyā, mahā māyā and mūla māyā, the term māyā means a normal illusion of a soul like a rope appearing as a serpent in dim light. This individual illusion is actually called avidyā. As per the nomenclature followed in the scriptures, māyā is a term related to God (Māyinantu Maheśvaram—Gītā), whereas, avidyā is a term related to an individual human being (Māyāvacchinna Īśvaraḥ, Avidyāvacchinno jivaḥ). In the Gītā, all the three terms, māyā, mahā māyā and mūla māyā, are represented by the single term māyā. The word māyā comes from the root-word maya which means that which is wonderful (maya-vaicitrye). Since this creation is wonderful, it is called māyā (Māyāṃ tu prakṛtiṃ viddhi—Gītā). The word māyā also means that which does not exist for God (Yā mā sā māyā). Of course, māyā (creation) always exists for the soul because the soul itself is a part of creation. When you apply the word māyā to creation, it is to be taken in the sense that creation is wonderful and also in the sense that creation is non-existent for God.

The word māyā is also applied to the unimaginable and wonderful power of God. It is from this unimaginable power alone that this creation has evolved. Since two unimaginable items cannot co-exist, both the unimaginable God and His unimaginable power must be taken to be just one item. When we read the verse in the Gītā, “Māyāṃ tu prakṛtiṃ…”, it has two meanings. (1) The first meaning is that the world is wonderful. (2) The second meaning is that the wonderful and unimaginable power of the unimaginable God is the root cause for this world. These two meanings arise because the word prakṛti also has two meanings. (1) The first meaning of prakṛti is creation. (2) The second meaning of prakṛti is that which is the root cause (Prakṛtirmūlakāraṇe). The Gītā says that the unimaginable power of God can never be crossed by human beings (Mama māyā duratyayā). But elsewhere, the Gītā also says that māyā can be crossed by the grace of God (Māyāmetāṃ taranti te). It means that māyā cannot be crossed unless the soul gets God’s grace. When the Gītā says that māyā can be crossed by the soul, the word māyā in that context, can be taken to mean avidyā because avidyā can be crossed by human beings. In this context, māyā can stand as an alternative word for avidyā. Note that even to cross avidyā, God’s grace is required since, God’s grace is required for anything to happen. In the context of the other statement from the Gītā, which says that māyā cannot be crossed, the term māyā can be taken to mean mahā māyā. In fact, mahā māyā makes this unreal world to be real, so that even God gets entertained in the real sense. Even though the world by itself is unreal with reference to God, it becomes real to God due to His unimaginable power. As a result, even God experiences this unreal world as real and He gets full and real entertainment from it. From the standpoint of the soul, creation is always real and māyā (mahā māyā) can never be crossed. No soul can realize matter to be energy in practical experience. No soul can realize energy to be the unimaginable God because the unimaginable God can never be realized by any soul.

Only the unimaginable God can realize Himself. So, even energy can disapper in His view. But energy will never actually disappear because the unimaginable God never wishes to remain alone without creation. The first Energetic Incarnation (Datta) will never disappear and will always remain since that is the wish of the unimaginable God. The first Energetic Incarnation and the space occupied by Him, which is called parama vyoma will always continue to exist eternally. Hence, the disappearance of energy and the appearance of the unimaginable God alone can never happen. Therefore, crossing mahā māyā is permanently impossible for the soul. Crossing mahā māyā is also permanently absent, in the case of the unimaginable God. Although the unimaginable God can cross the mahā māyā, He never wishes to cross it. Even in the final dissolution, this entire gross creation gets converted into a very subtle state of energy, but it never becomes totally absent. If God wishes, even mahā māyā can disappear, but God never wishes so.

Therefore, by using the word avidyā instead of māyā, we can use the term mahā māyā for the unimaginable power of the unimaginable God. When the separate avidyā is used to mean the individual illusion that can be crossed by the soul, the word māyā can be used to mean mahā māyā. Then, only two terms remain, namely avidyā and māyā. The third term called mūla māyā means the root reason (mūla) for this wonderful creation (māyā). When God said that He incarnates using His māyā (Sambhavāmyātma māyayā), it refers to the process of the unimaginable God merging with the imaginable fertilized embryo in the womb of the mother, which also is an unimaginable process. The word māyā in this verse denotes the unimaginable power of God. Since both the power (māyā) and the possessor of the power (Māyī) are unimaginable, both māyā and Māyī are one and the same unimaginable God called Parabrahman.