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Maya in Hindu Teachings
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THEMES: Notables on Maya: Shankara, Ramakrishna, and Vivekananda. Very old Vedic teachings on Maya related to central Bible facets.

"So much knowledge".   - Swami Harinanda

Maya as art
Maya as art


Maya Maya is a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy. Its meaning has changed over time, and there are different views of it in different schools of philosophy. To some it has come to mean the very subtle force that creates the grand illusion that the phenomenal world is real. For the Nondualists, maya is that grand force that presents Being as the finite phenomenal world. Maya may in reality be identical with Brahman. [EB "maya"]

Appearances are tackled by sound measures. They include measurements. All "that" is maya.

Your own vigour contains seeds of some maya or measures. A constructive tradition shows both the fit way to heaven with clarity and sane ways to work and appear financially well, instead of getting undermined.

Often surprising teachings about maya have come down to us from ancient traditions.

Appearances (one form of maya) require measures, and measuring is of maya too.

In ancient teachings, as in Hinduism, we are told that maya is all (including that statement). Now as you may glimpse below, maya contains a constructive facet (side). Accordingly, some appearances empower, are constructive, and function as the sources of often stunning businesses, including stunning ways to attain heaven - which should be of maya as well.

What do you think? There are old and more recent sayings about maya on this page - a rare find it is.


Notables on Maya

According to Dr Heinrich Zimmer (1890-1943),

Maya is the end of any death - all sorts of food for thought - Maya is the showing agency - the mother aspect of absoluteness [Daff 25] - inscrutable [Daff 31] - is Figure etymologically akin to 'to measure', 'show forth' [Daff 24] - and thus Maya is art too - and what seems lovely and beautiful as well [Daff 25] - and by imaginative activities Maya may foster the will - is ideation, forestilling (Norwegian).

Thus, very good Maya - that is, figuring, which such as developing understanding is rooted in - needs to be schooled so that men and women can make a success out of life.

Dr. Paul Deussen shows maya to be the Mother that brings up human individuals. [Puh 384]

Maya as All-Mother shows the food that fits us.

Adi Sankara on Maya

L. Thomas O'Neil presents how the ancient Indian philosopher and monist Shankara views maya in Shankara's commentary of the Brahma Sutra, an ancient work ascribed to the rishi called Veda-Vyasa. [Cf. Bik] In his work, O'Neil surveys maya in the early Indian tradition along with that. [Mii] Conclusions:

"In the Advaita ['monism'] of Sankara these four (analogue, name-form complex, language, and maya) are necessarily connected." [Mii 189]

"Maya is the matrix or frame in which the name-form complex finds its base". [Ib]

"Maya is discourse about Brahman [or God] (. . .) indefinable." [Mii 192]

"Monier-Williams etymologically defines maya as deriving from the root ma or "measuring". When one adds the suffix ya to the root ma it can be defined as "relating to measuring". . . . maya can also be understood in this manner in Sankara's Advaita Vedanta [a religious-speculative system]." [Mii 202]

"Maya is provisional [providing]". [Mii 202]

"Maya measures out the the name-form complex, language, and maya itself so that . . . knowledge of Brahman [gnosis] can be actualised." [Mii 203]

"Analogues . . . allow maya to fulfill its necessary function . . . that is to make itself transparent to Brahman [the Godhead itself]". [Mii 204]

Maya also provides what may be actualised.

The next two personages to quote on maya are Paramhansa Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

Ramakrishna on Maya

Paramhansa Ramakrishna (1836-1886) advocates such as "Do not count too much upon the fruits of your action". - [Summarised by Swami Lokeswarananda of the Ramakrishna Order. ◦More]

Maya releases from bondage. [Rap 30]

Ramakrishna was all love and reverence for maya . . . a majestic expression of Divinity. [Rap 30]

According to him [Ramakrishna], Maya projects and withdraws the world. [Rap 30]

To Ramakrishna maya itself was God - everything was God - [maya] was one of the faces of [the Godhead]. [See Rap 30]

Maya can not be distinguished from the supreme [Godhead]

The mighty weaver (Maya) is none other than the Divine Mother. [Rap 30]

"I tell you the truth: there is nothing wrong in your being in the world." - Ramakrishna [◦Link]

Maya lies on top of all the concepts of God -

Some Words by Vivekananda

Vivekananda (1863-1902) was Ramakrishna's disciple. "The secret of religion lies not in theories but in practice." [Complete-Works, Vol 6: Epistles - 2nd Series, No. 36. [◦Source]

"Who serves jiva, serves God". [Complete Works, Vol. 7: Conversations and Dialogues, No. 29: "From the Diary of a Disciple"] [◦Source]

NOTE. Jiva is the individuality as soul. Combining the two tenets yields for example: Serve your perhaps dormant individuality by living well and advancing toward Awakening in meditation. That is a vital part of doing good, or of religion - it is serving one's individuality (and soul) very well.

The tricky parts are what practices and how to serve in very fit way - the ways encompass deep meditation and "doing good" as outlined in moral standards of ashtanga yoga, of general Buddhism and other places too. For advancing, good yoga standards and also the Eightfold Path offer fair-looking routes of personal improvements too. Further details abound on the linked-up pages. Best of all is deep meditation, we are told. I recommend TM a lot.

Maya becomes beautiful . . . with own real self. [Cf Via 243] [Cf. Vivekananda's Complete Works (on-line)]

Maya is a statement of . . . how it is going on." - Vivekananda [Via 222]

This universe is maya. - Vivekananda [Via 227]

Maya is used incorrectly to denote illusion or delusion. - Vivekananda [Via 219]

To be real is also beautiful.


Ramakrishna on Maya

Ramakrishna (1836-86) had a disciple, Mahendranath Gupta, who was known as M, and also was called Master Mahasaya. He wrote down many conversations of Ramakrishna. They became a five-volumed biography of Ramakrishna. [◦On-line]. Books: [Rap; Goa; another on-line Ramakrishna Biography].

Ramakrishna talked well of Maya, and his chief disciple Vivekananda did too. Below are a few stories of the Ramakrishna take.

Totapuri got astonished

Once the yogi Totapuri strolled into the life of Rakrishna. Totapuri asked Ramakrishna to withdraw his mind from all objects of the relative world and to concentrate on the Absolute. Ramakrishna tried and said: "It is hopeless. I cannot raise my mind to the unconditioned state and come face to face with Atman."

The other grew excited and sharply said: "What? You cannot do it? But you have to." He cast eyes around. Finding a piece of glass he took it up stuck it between Ramakrishna's eyebrows. "Concentrate the mind on this point!" he thundered, and Ramakrishna lost consciousness of the outer world for three days.

"Is it really true?" Totampuri cried out in astonishment. Great God! It is nothing short of a miracle!"

Maya - existence of forms

Ramakrishna acknowledged the power of maya in life. He was all love and reverence for maya, perceiving in it a mysterious and majestic expression of Divinity. To him maya was God. Through it he also recognized divine immanence. Even those who realize the absolute in nirvikalpa samdhi are under its jurisdiction as long as they live on the relative plane.

"Like the effulgent sun, bringing into existence clouds of different colours and shapes, shining through and standing behind them and thus conjuring up wonderful forms in the blue autumn heaven".

Ramakrishna laughing

Some time later, while Totpuri and Ramakrishna were discussing Vedanta, a servant of the temple garden came there and took a live coal from the sacred fire that had been lighted by the great ascetic. He wanted it to light his tobacco. Totapuri flew into a rage at the act and was about to beat the man.

Sri Ramakrishna rocked with laughter. "What a shame!" he cried. "You have explaining to me the reality of Brahman and the soriness of the world; yet now you have so far gotten yourself as to be about to beat a man in a fit of passion. The power of maya is indeed inscrutable!"

Totapuri was embarrassed.

According to Ramakrishna (above), [God] Mother is Maya [also].

More on Maya

In Sanskrit works there are many terms that include 'maya'. One such term is 'mahamaya', which means great maya. Originally 'maya' signified comprehensive and creative knowledge, wisdom from of old; afterwards it came to be taken in its second and derivative sense as cunning, magic, illusion, phenomenal consciousness, the power of self-illusion in Brahman.

A mayavadin professes that the world is maya. Such a teaching would be wholly included in world-maya - and hence be illusory. Few all-is-maya teachers think of that and stand up to the hard consequences.

'Para maya', the supreme maya, stands for higher divine Nature.

'Vidya-avidyamayi maya' is maya composed of Knowledge and Ignorance. 'Vidyamaya' is the maya of Knowledge (gnosis). 'Avidya' is non-vidya, that is, not-knowing, ignorance.

In the guru Ramakrishna's experience, Maya is divine. Ramakrishna "did not, like a Vedantic scholar, repudiate the world as maya, but gave it a spiritual status, seeing in it the manifestation of Chit and Ananda." Ramakrishna had a "vision of the divine Maya, the inscrutable Power of God, by which the universe is created and sustained [Goa 34, 35]."

His biographer, Nikhilananda, writes further that Ramakrishna "acknowledged its power in the relative life. He was all love and reverence for maya, perceiving in it a mysterious and majestic expression of Divinity. To him maya itself was God [Goa 50]."

Further, "Maya . . . is the Mother of the Universe, identical with the Brahman of Vedanta and with the Atman of Yoga. [Goa 51]."

Ramakrishna discovered that maya operates in the relative world in two ways and he termed these "avidyamaya" and "vidyamaya.' Avidyamaya sustains lower planes, but vidyamaya is enlightening, including qualities like kindness. Vidyamaya elevates a man to a better consciousness. With the help of vidyamaya he then gets free of maya, if only for a while. The two aspects of maya are two forces of creation [Goa 51, 52].

Ramakrishna further: "When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive - neither creating nor presenting nor destroying - I call Him Brahman or Purusha . . . When I think of Him as active - creating, preserving, and destroying - I call Him Sakti or Maya or Prakriti, the Personal God [Goa 54]."

Maya and the Bible

Maya is a concept that is not used in the Bible at all. However, many of the key elements in the most ancient Vedic understanding of it, are found in the Bible too, for example:

  • Extensive wisdom is much praised in the whole Bible as valuable to man, and coming from God, and maya is wisdom.
  • Special art was made use of to design and form a goat-skin covenant tent and its artifacts and utensils - and maya is art.
  • Extraordinary power(s) can be said to accompany the chosen ones of God in both the Old and New Testament - such prowess may be of maya.

The three emphasised keynotes above are part-definitions of maya from very old times in Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary]

Maya in Hindu scriptures, Literature  

Bik: Gambhirananda, Swami, tr. Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracarya. 4th ed. Calcutta: Advaita, 1983.

Daff: Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen Series/Princeton University Press, 1972.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007.

Goa: Nikhilananda, Swami, tr. The Gospel of Ramakrishna. Abr. ed. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, 1974.

Ha: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 12th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), 1981.

Ma: Pargiter, Frederick Eden, tr. Markandeya Purana. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1904.

Mii: O'Neil, Louis Thomas. Maya in Sankara: Measuring the Immeasurable. Delhi: Banarsidass, 1980.

Pa: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 11th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), 1971.

Puh: Deussen, Paul. The Philosophy of the Upanishads. New York: Dover (Reprint of Clark's 1906-ed), 1966.

Rap: Gupta, M. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, 1942.

Say: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Sayings of Yogananda. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1958.

Via: Nikhilananda, Swami. Vivekananda. The Yogas and Other Works. Rev. ed. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, 1953.


1. Paramhansa Yogananda. "Is God a Father or a Mother?" Inner Culture magazine, October 1939.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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