Of all the aspects of Advaita philosophy that of Maya is the most difficult to understand, still more to explain. Some interpret it as ignorance, others as dream, others still as illusion, and nothing but experience can explain it satisfactorily. In the meantime considerable misunderstanding is created by explanations – the more it is explained, the more obscure it becomes.
In one of the Ashrams I visited in 1939 I met a Canadian lady. She had come to India “in search of Truth,” and had visited many yogis and Ashrams, the last of which was the Ramakrishna Mutt in Madras. We talked as usual on yoga, meditation, etc., but when I mentioned the word “maya”, she gasped, clutched her throat, and dropped her voice: “Don’t say it,” she whispered, “those people of Ramakrishna Mission were about to destroy me, but God came to my rescue and I escaped.”
I: How do you mean, did they want to kill you? They are sannyasis.
She: Not my body, but my soul. They told me that nothing exists: no world, no human beings, no trees, nothing, nothing – all is illusion, all my own imagination and that I cannot kill the illusion till I surrender myself. Where will I be without my soul and mind?
I had no alternative but to change the subject.
But Sri Bhagavan’s explanations are superb, as will be seen from the following dialogues.
15th April 1937
1. Mr. C. wanted to know the mystery of this gigantic world illusion.
C. We speak of the world as illusion, yet everything in it follows rigid laws, which proves it to be well-planned and well-regulated.
Bhagavan: Yes, he who projected the illusion gave it the appearance of order and sound planning.
C. All spiritual institutions except the Advaitic give prominence to the creative aspect of Reality, which they name God. They speak of prophets, saints, scriptures, etc. Are they all illusion?
Bhagavan: They all exist in the same way as you, the questioner, exist. You are in the relative world, so they are; or else you would not have known of them. In dreams, one also sees a well-regulated world with saints, scriptures, etc., but the moment one wakes up they all disappear. So also waking from this dream world into the Supreme Consciousness causes them all to disappear.
C: But how out of Truth does illusion, falsehood spring up?
Bhagavan: Maya is not falsehood, although it has the appearance of it, but the active side of Reality. It is the maker of forms in Consciousness and form means variety, which causes illusion – mind you, all this variety is in consciousness and nowhere else; it is only in the mind. One jiva, seeing another jiva, forgets its identity with it and thinks of it as separate from itself.
But the moment it turns its attention on its own nature as consciousness, and not as form, the illusion of diversity or separateness breaks as a dream breaks when waking takes place.
C. It is hard to conceive God, the formless, giving rise to forms.
Bhagavan: Why hard? Does not your mind remain formless when you do not perceive or think, say, in deep sleep, in samadhi, or in a swoon? And does it not create space and relationship when it thinks and impels your body to act?
Just as your mind devises and your body executes in one homogeneous, automatic act, so automatic, in fact, that most people are not aware of the process, so does the Divine Intelligence devise and plan and His Energy automatically and spontaneously acts – the thought and the act are one integral whole. This Creative Energy which is implicit in Pure Intelligence is called by various names, one of which is maya or shakti, the Creator of forms or images.