Tag Archives: Maya

The Meaning of Non-Existence and its Implications on the Self’s Bondage

By Satyanarayana Dasa

In Indian Logic (Nyāya), non-existence is called abhāva. There are various divisions and subdivisions of non-existence.



Mutual Non-Existence (anyo’nya-abhāva)

“Mutual non-existence” means non-existence due to being different. For instance, a table is different from a chair. In a table, a chair does not exist. This is true for all three phases of time: A chair never existed within a table, nor does it currently exist within a table, nor will it ever in the future exist within a table. The chair and the table mutually demonstrate the non-existence of the other, because they are eternally different from each other.

Co-relational Non-Existence (saṁsarga-abhāva)

Another, more significant, type of non-existence is inherent within the object itself – not merely demonstrated by the object not existing within another object. There are three types of such “co-relational non-existence,” differentiated by the time at which the non-existence occurs.

Prior Non-Existence (prāg-abhāva)

Before an object came into existence, it was non-existent. That is “prior non-existence.” It implies that a non-existent object could be created, produced or generated in future.

Indian Logic accepts eight general and three specific causes of any creation. The eight general causes are:

1. God
2. God’s knowledge
3. God’s will
4. God’s effort
5. Fate
6. Prāg-abhāva
7. Space
8. Time

Prāg-abhāva is particularly significant, because if an object is not initially non-existent, there is no question of “creating” it. If there is no non-existence, it means that the object already exists.

To give an example: Before a cake comes into existence, its non-existence was prevailing without any beginning. This non-existence is called prāg-abhāva. However, when the cake is produced, its non-existence terminates.

Subsequent Non-Existence (pradhvaṁs-abhāva)

Continuing with the example of a cake, when it is entirely eaten the cake once again exists no more. This is “subsequent non-existence.” It implies that the object previously existed.

“Subsequent non-existence” has no end. Never again will that specific cake come back into existence. It will always remain non-existent. “Prior non-existence has an end, but no beginning; and “Subsequent non-existence” has a beginning but no end.

Eternal Non-Existence (atyanta-abhāva)

“Eternal non-existence” refers to things that never existed in the past and will never exist in the future, like the horns of a rabbit.

Implications for the “Fall of the Soul”

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says the living entity suffers because of an ignorance that has no beginning (prag-abhāva). Ignorance is merely the non-existence of knowledge, in this case of the Supreme Lord. In other words, the living entity suffers because of “prior non-existence” of divine knowledge.

This ignorance cannot be “subsequent non-existence of divine knowledge.” Because if it were so, then divine knowledge would have existed before the ignorance. However, it is a dictum that one who has knowledge of the Supreme Lord can never be put into ignorance. So Jīva Gosvāmī describes the soul’s ignorance as “beginningless” – the soul never possessed the divine knowledge to begin with. And this is why the jīva is called nitya-baddha, “ever-conditioned.”

When we apply this to the question of when, how or if the living entity fell from the spiritual world, we can conclude that he never fell, because his conditioned state has no beginning. This is the meaning of nitya-baddha. This also implies that it is possible to bring ignorance to an end. “Prior non-existence of knowledge” can be ended when one attains divine knowledge.

When divine knowledge comes into existence, it will never end. It puts ignorance into “subsequent non-existence” which is an endless condition. Therefore a person with divine knowledge is called nitya-siddha, “ever-liberated.” Such persons never fall down. This is the meaning of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s statement, yad gatvā na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṁ mama: “reaching which one never returns – this is my supreme abode” (BG 15.6).

This abode, the Lord’s planet (dhāma), is not physical. When we say, “after going there,” we think “going” means moving from one physical location to another, but this is not the case here. “Going” here refers to consciousness: When one’s consciousness “goes” transcendental, it cannot be lost, na nivartante.

Therefore, once a person becomes liberated, he cannot be bound again, and if someone is conditioned, there is no question that he or she was liberated prior to that.

That is the meaning of Jīva Gosvāmī’s statement in Priti Sandharbha (Anuccheda 1), saṁsargābhāva yuktatvena: A person’s pre-non-existence of knowledge implies that there is a possibility of acquiring knowledge. Although the ignorance has no beginning, it has an end.


Anything which has no prior non-existence, is called “eternal.” Things which were never created cannot be destroyed, they are outside the influence of chronology. Kṛṣṇa, for example, has no prior non-existence, therefore the terms “creation”, “existence” or “destruction” do not apply to Kṛṣṇa. To say Kṛṣṇa has existence implies in terms of Logic that prior to existence He did not exist, the non-existence was destroyed and then He came into existence. Obviously, this is not applicable to eternal objects.

Boat on the GangaHowever, this is not the case when it comes to ignorance, because ignorance itself is not a substance, it is merely the non-existence of another substance: knowledge. Thus, although it is beginningless, it has an end. Owing to our material conditioning, we think that everything has a beginning, and sometimes ācāryas may explain philosophy in terms implying that ignorance has a beginning, to circumvent the material conditioning that often prevents us from understanding the concept of “beginningless.”

Eternal beings like Kṛṣṇa and everything directly related to Him (e.g., His associates, His planets and His pastimes) have no beginning. Māyā and material nature are also related to Kṛṣṇa, and thus also have no beginning. We are also related to Kṛṣṇa, therefore we ourselves have no beginning and we seem to accept it without much thought. However, when it comes to our conditioned state, we somehow seem to object that our ignorance is beginningless.

Even though we may feel troubled by the thought that our ignorance has no beginning, we can rejoice to know that it can come to an end.


The Vaiṣṇava Concept of Māyā

Based on Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī’s Bhagavat Sandarbha

By Satyanarayana Dasa

The Lord has two types of energy: parā and aparā. Parā means distant, beyond, superior, and so on. The energy is called parā because it is superior to, or beyond, the material energy, which is thus called aparā, i.e. near or inferior. In the Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣṇa states that the living beings can be counted as parā, because of their conscious nature:

This eight-fold separated energy (the material nature) is called aparā, but different from it, O mighty-armed one, is the parā energy of mine, called the jīva (living being), by which this world is sustained. (Gītā 7.5)

In Śrī Bhagavat Sandarbha, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī explains these energies in detail. To understand parā, he first explains aparā because it is easier to understand. This is called candra-śākhā-nyāya or “the branch-moon principle,” by which one precedes the development of a more complex argument by first explaining an easier point, just as one might first point to the branch of a tree to show someone where the moon is.

To define the aparā, or external energy, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī cites one of the four seed verses (catu-slokī) of the Bhāgavatam that Lord Kṛṣṇa spoke to Brahmā at the dawn of creation. In this verse the Lord defines His external energy, māyā. The term māyā has various meanings, such as false, cheating, illusion, compassion, power, wisdom, entanglement, the goddess of fortune, magic and so on. Kṛṣṇa here uses it in the sense of the energy that causes bewilderment, the external energy.

According to this verse the basic characteristics of māyā are as follows:

1. Māyā does not exist within the Lord.

2. Māyā does not exist without the Lord.

3. Māyā exists outside the Lord.

4. Māyā is perceived when the Lord is not perceived.

A doubt may be raised concerning this definition. A conditioned living being also has the above characteristics and thus this definition has the defect of being too broad. To avoid this, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says that the jīva is conscious and has been counted in the same category as the Lord. Moreover, the above definition should include the jīva-māyā and gua-māyā features, which are indicated in the verse. Māyā is not in the parā-śakti. This also implies that it is not in the svarūpa of the jīva, or in the nature of the living being, and this is good news. Were māyā part of the jīva, there would be no question of being liberated from it.

This explanation of māyā defies the monistic view. Monists say that māyā is neither sat (real), asat (false), nor a combination of both. It is different from both, and yet not non-existent. Thus, it is inexplicable, or anirvacanīyā, and antagonistic to knowledge. Śaṅkarācārya describes māyā as follows:

Māyā is neither sat nor asat, nor is it a combination of sat and asat. It is neither different from, nor one with, Brahman, nor is it different from and one with It simultaneously. It does not have limbs or divisions, nor is it without them, nor is it a combination of both of these conditions. Māyā is most astonishing and inexplicable. (Viveka-cūāmai 111)

The reason for such an explanation is due to the fact that radical nondualists do not accept the potencies of Brahman. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, however, establishes that the Absolute is full of inconceivable potencies that manifest in multifarious ways. This is a simple fact, yet without acknowledging it, Absolute Reality cannot be comprehended. Because Advaita-vādīs cannot accommodate this fact, they are forced to manufacture complicated definitions. Instead of accepting inconceivable power (acintya-śakti), they are forced to accept a power that simply defies description (anirvacanīyā māyā), which is a convenient way not to have to adequately account for it. This strategy of theirs is itself inconceivable.

Advaita-vādīs also propose that both īśvara (the Lord) and jīva are products of māyā and at the absolute level there is only formless, unqualified Brahman. The Absolute Person, Śrī Kṛṣṇa however, does not agree with such ideas. Rather, He states that māyā is His energy and that it is beginningless (SB 11.11.3). Lord Brahmā also confirms this in the Second Canto, “The Lord is the support of both the vidyā and avidyā features of māyā” (SB 2.6.20).

The existence of an entity that can influence Brahman to turn into īśvara and jīva is impossible as well as inconceivable. We cannot invent a new category different from existence and non-existence (sat and asat). Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad Gītā that there is either sat or asat; there is no third category, as speculated by the monists:

The unreal (asat) has no existence and the real (sat) has no non-existence. The conclusion about both of these has been seen by the knowers of Truth. (Gītā 2.16)

This definition of māyā also invalidates the Śākta philosophy. The Śāktas consider Śakti or Devī, who has various forms, to be the supreme controller. She is the mūla prakti, original nature, and divides herself into purua and prakti. She is mahā-māyā, who creates Viṣṇu, Śiva and Brahmā out of herself and enables them to perform their respective duties. In her ultimate feature she is nirgua and called para-brahman. There are various branches of the Śāktas and they have various types of practices for attaining their goal.

In contrary, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam clearly indicates that māyā cannot exist without the support of Lord Kṛṣṇa. She cannot even face Him (SB 2.7.47). In Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣṇa says, “māyā is My divine material energy” (7.14). Since Bhagavad Gītā is accepted as authoritative even by the Śaṅkaraites, certainly the claim of the Śāktas is not supported by the prasthāna-trayī, the three sources of scriptural authority, which are accepted by all Vedic philosophers.

Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says that māyā can be subdivided into two categories based on her functions. The first is called jīva-māyā, the feature of māyā that covers the living being’s true nature, or svarūpa. He also uses the term nimittāśa, “efficient or instrumental aspect,” to refer to this subdivision due its being instrumental in covering the living being with ignorance. But it is not sufficient to cover consciousness, or the nature of the living being. To perfect the soul’s bondage she must also provide the material body, senses, and sense objects for the jīva’s enjoyment. This is called gua-māyā, because all this paraphernalia is a transformation of the guas of māyā.

The gua-māyā feature is also called upādāna, or the material aspect, because it supplies the material ingredients. Just as when a man goes to a nightclub, he first gets intoxicated, which covers his intelligence (like jīva-māya); then he gets allured by the sense objects, such as a young woman (comparable to gua-māyā). That makes his illusion complete. In this way, the attack of māyā is two-fold—internal and external. The two features complement and strengthen each other. Thus it is impossible for a conditioned soul to get out of her clutches without assistance from beyond the guas.

Although māyā is real and this world manifested by her is also real, the good news is that the bondage of the jīva is not real. Otherwise there would be no possibility of liberation.

Are Bliss and Knowledge Inherent?

By Satyanarayana Dasa

Among modern spiritualists there is a common belief that each individual being is full of bliss and knowledge. They claim that everyone is perfect, and it is just a matter of discovering one’s real nature.  The Self is part of God, as confirmed by Sri Krsna, “The living being in this world is My eternal fragment” (Bhagavad Gita 15.7). Just as a drop of the ocean has the quality of the ocean, they believe that the Self has the quality of bliss and knowledge. Somehow the bliss and knowledge have become covered by ignorance, but once ignorance is removed, the Self will shine in its own glory. The Self will be like God.

The Mundaka Upanisad (3.2.9) says, “One who knows Brahman verily becomes Brahman.”  In fact, some spiritual teachers even claim that we are all God but have forgotten it. We are like a lost young prince who is wandering in wilderness and suffering, not knowing that he is a prince. Once he is informed that he is a prince, he can return home and his suffering comes to an end. Or we are like a person who is wearing a golden necklace, but somehow doesn’t know it and is searching for it everywhere.  When someone points it out, the search is over. It was always there, but the person was ignorant about it.

Knowledge Covered by Ignorance?

A similar belief is that we are already perfect, but out of ignorance, we think of ourselves as limited and conditioned. Sri Krsna says in Bhagavad Gita (5.15), “The knowledge is covered by ignorance that bewilders the living beings.” If the ignorance is removed, the Self will shine in its own glory. Just as when a cloud covers the sun, there is darkness, but when the cloud is driven away by the wind, the sunlight pours through. Even when the sun was covered, it had not lost its brilliance. Similarly, they believe that the knowledge and bliss of the self are covered by ignorance; when the ignorance is removed, the Self realizes its own bliss and knowledge.

Some also argue that there is no need for gurus or teachers since all knowledge is within us. No two individuals are the same. Everyone has a distinct history, experiences and samskaras. What is applicable and beneficial for one may be detrimental to another. Indeed one man’s meat is another man’s poison. One has to walk from the place one is standing upon. The goal is one, but paths are many. Nobody should try to imitate another’s practice, because it will not suit him. Some protagonists of this theory decry even the scriptures. They say that scriptures are dead words of dead people. The scriptures only limit and bind us by imposing rules, which restrict our freedom.

These are some of the popular ideas floating around among modern spiritualists. Such theories are antagonistic to the common traditional and organized spiritual systems. At first, they may seem very logical and convincing, but when scrutinized with the proper logic and acumen, they collapse like a house of cards. They certainly do not stand against scriptural scrutiny.

Darkness Never Covers Light

If full of knowledge and bliss, then why does the Self never feel it? Why is the Self incessantly hankering for knowledge and bliss? In fact, all our actions are ultimately aimed at attaining these two goals.  Just as darkness can never cover light, ignorance can never shroud knowledge. Darkness is nothing but absence of light. It is not a positive entity. To cover something, the covering agent must have positive existence. When Krsna says that ignorance covers knowledge (Gita 5.15), He means ignorance covers the discriminating faculty. In other words, a person loses the ability to make proper decisions and is thus bewildered. Krsna Himself recommends approaching a teacher and acquiring knowledge from him (Gita 4.34).

If knowledge were inside the Self, He would have recommended to approach a teacher to get the covering of inherent knowledge removed. Indeed He would not even have recommended going to a teacher but to a peeler, who can peel away ignorance. Krishna specifically uses the words, “The teachers will impart knowledge to you.” In the same vein a few verses later (Gita 4.39), Krishna says that a man of faith who attains knowledge (jnana) become peaceful. If that knowledge were already there, there was no need to attain it in the first place. In verse 7.2. again, Krishna declares to Arjuna that He will now impart unto him this knowledge.

Inconceivable by Mind or Logic

The Self is meta-physical and thus beyond any sense perception and mind. It is not subject to logic. The only way it can be understood is through the scriptures. Sri Krishna describes the self as acintya, or inconceivable by mind or logic (Gita 2.25). Bhisma says, “That which is inconceivable, acintya, cannot be understood by logic. Metaphysical objects are called acintya” (Mahabharata, Bhisma Parva 5.12). The sun may be covered by clouds to others but it is never covered to itself. Similarly, if I were full of bliss and knowledge, then how could I lose sight of it even if I were covered by ignorance? Ignorance can only cover, but not take away, that knowledge. Even though there may be ignorance all around me, I would still be full of knowledge and bliss. But such is not our experience.

A drop of the ocean does not have all the qualities of the ocean. The ocean has waves, a drop does not. The ocean is full of aquatics, but not the drop. One can sail on the ocean, not on a drop.  If I have forgotten about my necklace around my neck and someone points it out to me, I immediately know it and give up my search. But no matter how many times someone tells me that I am full of knowledge and bliss, I realize no bliss and remain as ignorant or knowledgeable as I was before. Why? Because I do not have knowledge and bliss inherent in me. Such examples neither prove nor disprove anything. Examples only assist us in comprehending a known conclusion.

Jiva Gosvami

If I am a pauper, I remain a pauper, even though someone may repeatedly tell me that I am a prince. In Paramatma Sandarbha (28), Sri Jiva Gosvami explicitly says that the self is devoid of knowledge, although conscious by nature, and it lacks bliss although free of any material misery. In other words, it has the potential (svarupa yogyata) to get knowledge and bliss but not yet the functionality (phalopadhayi yogyata). To give an example, a child has the potential to be an athlete or a graduate, but that potential is not realized unless he practices on the track or goes to college and studies.

Only One of God’s Potencies

This explains why we have an innate drive for these two things. A baby is inquisitive from birth, and this inquisitiveness continues until death. Although the Self is part of God, it is only part of one of His potencies, i.e., intermediate potency, or tatastha sakti. It does not have in it the other two potencies, i.e., bahiranga or external and antaranga or internal. When it is said that a knower of Brahman becomes Brahman, it means that he becomes like Brahman.  He acquires some of the features of Brahman (Sadharmya Gita 14.2). Nobody can become Brahman. The Self is infinitesimal in size and does not have internal potency in it, hence it is prone to be influenced by the other two energies, i.e., bahiranga or antaranga. In the present state, it is under the influence of bahiranga, or external potency.

This influence is affected by the inconceivable power of God, called Maya. Maya belongs to God and for this reason one can become free of Maya’s influence only by the grace of God or His devotee. Even after being freed of this influence, the Self does not become God but remains a fragment of God—only now it has knowledge and bliss.