10 Most Important Characteristic of Maya in Advaita Vedant

Read this article to learn about the important characteristic of Maya in Advaita Vedant!

Maya and Avidya:

Avidya and Maya are the subjective and objective forms of the same phenomenon. Avidya is in the Jiva.

It is the characteristic of its intellect. Maya is the creative power of the world of name and form. As knowledge dawns, ignorance disappears but Maya is eternal like Brahman, since it is the power of attributed Brahman i.e., Ishwara.

But in another context, Avidya has also been said to be eternal, since in it, Maya exists in the second form.

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As a matter of fact, just as there is identity between the self and the Brahman, similarly Maya and Avidya are the same. Both are personal and universal. Really speaking, Samkara has used the following terms in almost identical meaning—Maya, Avidya, Ajnan, Adhyaropa, Vivart, Bhranti, Bhrama, Nama, Rup, Avyakta Aksara, Beej, Sakti, and Mool Prakriti, etc.

The words Maya, Avidya, Adhyasa and Vivart have been particularly used in almost the same sense. But some of the post-Samkarite Vedantins have distinguished between Avidya and Maya. According to them, Avidya is negative and in the individual, while Maya is positive and all-pervading.

Maya and Ishwara:

The Brahman together with Maya is Ishwara. Maya is its power. It is the origin of the world of name and form. Names and forms are neither existent nor non-existent. They are the seed forms of the universe. They are the constituents of the Prakriti of Ishwara. The creatorship of God depends upon the sprouting of these seeds of ignorance.


He knows them even before creation. It is due to them that he is omniscient. His omnipotence also depends upon them. It is through them again that he creates all the elements and beings. Apart from God there is no existence of names and forms, though God himself is different from them, since He is pure consciousness.

The world is merely a play or Lila of Ishwara. Due to this Maya, the inactive God becomes active. Maya is said to be Maha Maya. God is called Maha Mayin. Maya is not independent like the Prakriti of Samkhya; it depends upon God. It is due to ignorance and Maya that one God is seen in many forms. Maya is deep sleep or universal ignorance in which the ignorant jivas remain immersed. This is the condition before creation. It is from this that God creates the universe.

Characteristics of Maya:

Samkara has described the following characteristics of Maya:

1. Maya is God’s Power (Ishwara Shakti):

Maya is the power of God. It absolutely depends on him and cannot exist separately. It is not separate from God, and there is a relation of identity between the two.

2. Maya is eternal (Anadi):


Since Maya is the power of God, it is through Maya that God creates the universe. Hence, like God, it is also eternal. Even after destruction, it remains in the God in seed form.

3. Maya is material and unconscious:

Like the Prakriti of Samkhya, Maya is material and unconscious. It is opposed to the nature of Brahman, in the same way as the Samkhya Prakriti is different from Samkhya Purusa. But unlike Prakriti, it is neither real nor independent.

4. Maya is Bhava Rup:

Maya is Bhavarupa though it is not real. By calling it Bhavarupa, i.e., of the nature of existence, it is shown that it is not negative. As a matter of fact, Maya has two aspects. In the negative aspect, it is the covering of reality and keeps it covered. In the positive aspect, it creates the universe as the reflection of Brahman. It is ignorance as well as false knowledge.

5. Maya is destructible through knowledge:

As knowledge dawns, Maya disappears. The liberated soul is beyond the influence of Maya. With the ap­pearance of knowledge, ignorance disappears. As soon as rope is known, the illusion of the snake disappears. Similarly, as soon as the real nature of the self is known, the world of name and form i.e., Maya ceases to have any existence.

6. Maya is vyavaharika:

Maya is vyavaharika or merely pragmatic reality. It is of the nature of reflection. On the transendental level, only the Brahman is true. Maya is its reflection in the practical world.

7. Maya is indescribable:

Maya is existent, because it is eternal like God. It is the creative power in the universe. It is non-existent because apart from God it has no existence. It is real since, it is existent in the state of ignorance. It is unreal, since it disappears with the dawn of knowledge and does not limit the Brahman. Lastly, it can neither be said as existent nor non-existent (Sad Asad), because these are mutually contradictory terms. Hence, Samkara has called Maya to be existent- non-existent-indescribable. Thus, Maya cannot be described.

8. Maya is of the nature of Adhyasa (Adhyasa Rup):

Just as the snake is imposed on the rope and the silver on nacre, similarly, the jiva engrossed by Maya sees the attributeless Brahman as the world of many names and forms. Adhyasa is due to Maya and Avidya. Hence Maya is said to be Mula Avidya or the basic ignorance. In the form of Avidya, it is also said to be Tula Avidya.

9. Maya is the substratum and object of Brahman:

Maya is the substratum and object of Brahman, but just as the imposition of the blue colour on the colourless sky does not affect the sky itself, or just as the magician is not influenced by his magic, in the same way the Brahman is not influenced by Maya.

10. Maya is Avidya:

Avidya is unmanifested and God-dependent. It is of the nature of Maya, the eternal sleep. All the distinctions are due to Avidya. Maya is of the nature of false conception. The nature of Avidya is to cover knowledge. This is done in three ways—

(a) In the form of knowledge,

(b) In the form of doubt,

(c) In the form of ignorance.

But it does not affect Brahman. Avidya is not non-existent like the son of a barren woman. Since it is experience, it is not absolutely existent as it is destroyed by immediate experience. Had it been non-existent, nothing could have come out of it. Had it been existent, all the objects created by it should also have been existent.

Hence, like Maya, Avidya also cannot be called existent or non-existent, or both or neither. Avidya is indescribable. What is Avidya? How, when and why the jiva is caught in it? How the Brahma and Avidya go together? Whose Avidya is it? These are the questions which Samkara has not answered, because they are beyond the limits of philosophy. Ultimately, the human being cannot claim complete knowledge.

At least, it is not possible through reason. Brahman is the object of immediate experience. The expression of this immediate experience has its own limitations in philosophy. Not only the Indian philosophers but also the Western philosophers like Bergson, Bradley and Kant have admitted these limita­tions. As a matter of fact, there is identity between the world and the Brahman, and they are the same.

Hence, the question of their relation does not arise. The world is a reflection of Brahman. The reflection is not independently existent. It is Real itself, though in essence it is seen as separate. Samkara has logically criticised all other explanations of the relation of Brahman and the world and proved that this relation is indescribable and beyond the limits of logic. The causal relation cannot be applied in the case of Brahman and the world.

Samkara admits the doctrine of Ajati of Gaudpada. Evolution, change, progress and becoming—all are mere illusions. The term Maya represents the limits of human knowledge. Human knowledge is limited to this world alone. The eternal Brahman is an object of immediate experience. The solution of this “Why” is beyond the limits of philosophy. The world is not the result but a reflection.

In Parinama or result, the cause and effect have the same nature, while in Vivaria or reflection they are different. Maya is not a substance, hence, it cannot be the material cause of the universe. It is merely the instrumental cause of the universe. Like the warmth in the fire, it remains with God. It can be inferred by its effect.

Samkara has used different analogies to explain the nature of the world. Of these the most important are those of the rope and the snake, of the city of Gandhara, of the dream, the foam, the Maya, of the Alat Chakra, the seeing of double moon, of the illusory elephant and the jugglery, etc. These analogies have been used to point out that the Brahman is the only reality and whatever is different from Brahman is unreal.

According to the logic of the Advaita philosophy, ‘ Brahman cannot be one and many, Being and becoming at the same time. As samkara points out, if both were true, the worldly men would not be caught in the mire of untruth. Nor can it be said that liberation is attained by knowledge and in that condition the knowledge of one should not surpass the knowledge of many.

But this does not mean that Samkara has taken the world as mere dream or mental concept. Samkara’s efforts for social and religious reformation in India are ample proof that he did not believe the world to be a dream. To understand the real meaning of Maya, Samkara’s doctrine of Vivarta should be clearly understood.

Samkara has clearly distinguished between the philosophical and the worldly standpoints and also synthesized both. He is not prepared for any compromise in the field of philosophy. The world is unreal and hence it cannot find any place in reality. But then the unreal too has its degrees. There is distinction between the Vyavaharika and the Pratibhasika unreality.

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