Ch 18 Yoga of Single-pointed Surrender (Part 14)

This article is part 109 of 135 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

In the phrase, īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānām, īśvara is not to be taken as the same as the absolute aspect of Parabrahma. Īśvaratva is an aspect or a state of Parabrahma’s līlā. It is normally referred to as kārya-Brahma (Brahma as an effect). Supreme Brahma is without activity. When it appears to be active in the world, it is known as kārya-Brahma or īśvara. Whenever we consider either activity or the world, an element of māyā is involved. Volition, activity and such transactions have māyā as their origin. Therefore īśvara is the state of Brahma when conjoined with māyā. It is because of this that īśvara becomes the cause of māyā.

Īśvaraḥ...bhrāmāyān sarvabhūtāni...māyayā ||

Māyā is the set of attractions and repulsions in the world. Where is the origin of these attractions and repulsions? In the objects of the world? Or in the jīva who is in contact with those objects through his sense-organs? The answer is - in both. Just as humans have two feet, māyā too has two parts - one established in the structure of the world and another in the perceiver of world-objects. Māyā can show her influence when she is firmly standing on both her feet. What are those effects? Māyā’s influence is in concealing an object’s true nature while projecting another object’s form. A cataract-afflicted person walking in a moonlit night mistakes an approaching saṃnyāsi for his household’s lady cook. Such is the effect of māyā.

A man is walking through the woods at dusk. His eyes perceive a swirling snake. He scampers away. Another passerby hits that object with his stick. It becomes clear that the object was not a snake but a rope. This is known as the fallacy of the rope and the snake. There are two effects involved here. The first is the concealment of the object’s innate rope-ness. The second is the projected snake-ness of the object. Concealing an object’s true form is the āvaraṇa power of māyā. Projecting the appearance of another object is māyā’s power of vikṣepa. Māyā has this effect of not showing things that exist and projecting things that do not exist. This is similar to an artifice described by lawyers - “suppressio veri, suggestio falsi” (suppressing truth, suggesting untruth). Māyā’s effect is such. A man is walking on the sea shore in the afternoon. He sees a shiny trinket at a distance. Thinking it to be a jewel, he rushes toward it. But all he sees is a piece of glass. The smooth surface of glass surrounded by the sandy expanse, the rays of the sun from above, and a limitation of the perceiving eye - all combine to create this illusion. It was māyā that concealed the object’s glass-ness that was present and projected a jewel-ness that was non-existent.

Several such examples can be given. A stainless steel dinner plate used by a man perceived to be wealthy can be mistaken to be made of silver! The power of circumstance is such that it can project a different metal than there actually is.
We feel happy whenever we stand in Lalbagh and look around. The lush greenery, the creepers undulating in the breeze, the dancing blossoms and the flowers - all seem to be calling out to us, talking to us, showering their affection on us, and playing with us. But in reality, what we have there are just bark, fibre, resin, twigs, leaves, and dirt! It is māyā that shows us soft loveliness in this gross material.

Let’s look now at the allure of anatomy. Skin, flesh, blood, and bones are the same in all bodies. What then is the basis of our saying that one face is more attractive than the other?  It cannot just be physiological as all bodily material is similar in all humans. It is a positional arrangement of facial components which might appeal to the eyes of some, not to everybody. It is just an appearance. For those who think that this arrangement is beautiful, it is māyā. For those unaffected by it, it is the usual modification of flesh and skin.

mukhaṃ śleṣmāgāraṃ tadapi ca śaśāṅkena tulitam
stanau māṃsagranthī kanakakalaśāvityupamitau[1]

Vairāgyaśatakam, Bhartṛhari

Such is the effect of māyā. The author of the Bhāgavata defines māyā thus:

ṛte’rthaṃ yatpratīyeta na pratīyeta cātmani ।
tadvidyād ātmano māyām…. ||

Bhāgavata 2.9.33

The word artha in the above refers to yathārtha or reality - the nature of a thing as it actually exists. Pratīti refers to its appearance to our mind in whatever form. Artha is its true form; independent of our perception. Pratīti is the apparent form that is dependent on our mind and sense-organs.

“Instead of a thing’s true form, another object might appear to us. Upon investigation, however, if the other object that appeared is not perceived or validated in the self, the experience of the appeared object is considered māyā.”
What can be concluded from this? That it is impossible to exactly delineate māyā.

Is māyā false? Not entirely. It is not without basis and not without effect.

Is māyā true then? Again, not entirely. When we focus on the basis of māyā, it melts away. The edifice of its effect collapses when we touch it.

The world, its creation, its sustenance, as well as its destruction - are all appearances due to māyā. The world itself is māyā because it does not have an independent existence. The world’s form itself is not firm. The world exults, undulates, roams around, dries up, evaporates, or appears manifold. Its form does not endure even for a single moment. The world is thus momentary. But we cannot deny its existence. Neither can we say with certainty that it exists. If we deny its existence, several objects including our body stage a protest - “Aren’t we here? Look, we will eat you up. We will beat you up. We will bite you” - and come fight with us. This is something that is obvious to us during every moment. How can we deny its existence? It is not possible!

Can we then believe that the world exists? It slips away the moment we extend our hands to grasp it. Physicists have realised the difficulty in perceiving the exact nature of the universe. Suppose we attempt to estimate the distance to the moon while standing on planet earth. At that instance, we adjust the telescope to point to the moon at position A. But, in that time, the moon moves to position B. In the time we try to fix the telescope to point to B, the moon would have moved to C. Thus, attempts to measure the physical world become slippery. Its nature changes before we can ascertain its characteristics. The same water does not touch a person standing in a river for more than a moment. The world is thus constantly changing. How can one truly grasp it?

Just as it is impossible to prove that the world does not exist, it is equally impossible to prove that it exists. Leave alone the physical perspective. Even from an ādhyātmic perspective, the world does not endure. What is it that is eternal in the world? Youth? Health? Wealth? Power? Pleasure? Love? All of these thrive for a while and on one fine day, give up their places for their opposites to occupy. How can we then establish that the world exists?

The world is neither existent nor non-existent. The world exists if it is considered existent. It does not exist if it’s not considered to be existent. For one who considers it existent, it eventually becomes void. For one who considers the world a void, it immediately looms large and challenges him.

Whatever does not display complete existence or complete non-existence is māyā. Māyā cannot be considered absolute non-existence or completely false - like a hare’s horns. It has a partial reality that is vyāvahārika (transactional). As long as we are embodied, we are in the transactional world at least with reference to our bodies. dharma is created for such a transactional personality. If one transacts in the world with an understanding of dharma, life’s burden becomes light. The world will not be a load of logs but a garland of flowers. The burden becomes a garland of blossoms for a jñānī or a yogī. Such a person would have transcended māyā. Having lived a life following the transactional dharma of the world, he crosses the bounds of the world and ascends higher. Until such a crossing, however, the world - and dharma - exist. dharma too is included under the ambit of māyā. For one who is beyond māyā, there is neither the world nor the limits of dharma. Such a person is an adhidharmi, an avadhūta[2], nothing other than the Self, the seer only of Brahma, and a jīvanmukta (liberated while still living).

The life of māyā is of a moment. But if we forget ourselves in that moment, māyā becomes all-powerful and engulfs us. If, however, we are cautious, it will not show itself and moves away by itself.

bhūyaścānte viśvamāyānivṛttiḥ
(In the end is the cessation of the universal māyā)

Śvetāśvatara Up.

It is if you think it isn’t and isn’t if you think it is - such is the strange nature of māyā. Therefore it is designated anirvacanīya - which means that it is beyond definitions such as - “it is thus” - something whose nature cannot be described exactly.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.


[1]The face is a store of phlegm, yet is compared to the moon. Bosoms, mere sacs of flesh, are described as golden orbs!

[2]Lit. one who has cast off everything



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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