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Maya and Avidya

by Swami Sivananda

he reflection of intelligence is Maya which has no beginning, which is indescribable, which is the source of inorganic world, and which is connected only with the intelligence called Isa or the Supreme Being. The reflections in numerous small portions of that Maya, which are possessed of two powers of enveloping and projecting and which are known as Avidya are said to be Jivas.

It may be noticed here that in this view Maya and Avidya are looked upon as one element, and are related with each other as the whole and its parts. The former is the adjunct (Upadhi) of Isa, the latter of Jiva (Prakartha Vivarana).

In Tattva-Viveka, a chapter of Panchadasi, the matter is thus elucidated:

The primitive non-intelligent principle (Mulaprakriti) which consists of three Gunas (Primordia rerum) has two forms, (1) Maya and (2) Avidya. According to the text, That non-intelligent principle divided itself into two forms named Maya and Avidya, which are the reflectors, as it were, of Isa and Jiva respectively.

Maya is that portion of the primitive non-intelligent principle in which pure Sattva is not subordinated to Rajas and Tamas. In other words, that portion in which Pure Sattva is predominant is called Maya, whereas that in which the Sattva is subordinated to Rajas and Tamas and is consequently impure, is known as Avidya. Reflections of intelligence in Maya and Avidya are Isa and Jiva respectively.

In some other places Maya and Avidya, the reflectors of Isa and Jiva, are thus distinguished:

The primitive dead principle, which is essentially one, is called Maya, when we take into account the predominance of its projecting power, and is called Avidya when we take into consideration the predominance of its enveloping power. Thus the material principle of which the projecting power is superior to the concealing power is the limiting condition of Isa; and the same principle with its concealing power predominant is the limiting condition of Jiva. The Avidya which forms the limiting adjunct of Jiva is otherwise called Ajnana.

That the projecting power is predominant in Isa follows from His being the creator of this great world. He is always conscious of His free state, and hence is untouched by the concealing power. Jiva, on the contrary, labours under ignorance of Brahman his true nature owing to the predominance of the concealing power of the material principle working in him. He is incompetent to create the great universe as he lacks the predominance of the projecting power. Vedanta-Siddhanta Bheda.

Just as the mirror is rendered dim by a layer of dirt attaching to it, so also Knowledge is veiled by Avidya. Therefore all people are deluded. They cling to things unreal and mistake the body for the pure Atman. They think that this illusory world of names and forms is quite real.

Mula Prakriti is the slumbering or latent state of the Universe called also Maha Sushupti when the Gunas are in a state of equilibrium. When the Gunas are disturbed, Mula Prakriti is called by the different names as Maya, Avidya, Tamas, etc. Brahman is beginningless and endless. Maya is beginningless but She has an end. She vanishes as soon as one gets the Knowledge of the Self.


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