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What Is Maya?
Govinda: Dear James, it was a great joy and honour to receive your email a couple of month back, thank you.
Many questions so far have surfaced, only to be resolved in the listening, reflecting and contemplation on your exposure of the Vedanta teachings. But a few have being lingering for the past weeks which could use some clarification, if I may.
It relates to the seemingly close relationship between the mental impressions in the jiva (vasanas) and the three gunas. It is my understanding that the gunas are the building blocks of creation, of the primary modifications taking place in maya. The doubt is whether it could be said that the gunas are responsible for the whole creation and therefore they are the cause or the seeds of all impressions and their development to become the world we experience?
James: Short answer: yes. There is actually no difference between the vasanas and the gunas. The gunas create everything out of awareness, so everything partakes in their nature.
Govinda: If that is so, our vasanas, being a result of karma and its field of operation, would not have the power to manipulate and condition the gunas in the jiva.
James: It is not the vasanas that manipulate. It is the self operating as a jiva with free will that makes choices that alter the gunas/vasanas.
Govinda: Could it be said then that it is the other way around, that the gunas in the jiva are the ones causing the certain kinds of vasanas to be produced and to surface?
James: You can look at this situation in several ways: from the point of view of awareness, from the point of view of maya (the three gunas), from the level of the microcosmic vasanas (the motivators of desire and action), from the level of the subtle body (fear and desire) and from the level of action. The creation is not actually temporal or causal. It is a projection, meaning that it happens all at once. We just give a concession to the idea of time and causation in order to explain things to the self that thinks it is a jiva to rid it of its ignorance of its nature. The purpose of all the teachings is to reveal the self, not to understand the creation, although you can’t understand the self without understanding the creation.
Govinda: Or are the vasanas affecting and conditioning the gunas as well? Is there a cause-effect in their relationship? If so, which one would come first? Or do they just coexist like the two faces of a coin but always modifying and conditioning one another?
James: Yes. See above.
Govinda: I also have a doubt regarding the concept of maya, how maya, creation or ignorance, comes into existence.
James: It doesn’t come into existence. It is anaadi, beginningless. This is why we can destroy the creation in an instant with the teaching. When you understand the self, it is clear that there is no creation. As I said, the creation is just a projection. It is just a word. Nobody ever saw the creation, apart from the idea of the creation. When did you become aware that you do not know the Gagaboogai? Igorance is not a thing. It is simply not knowing.
Govinda: How does it produce the appearance of the objective world in the human consciousness?
James: In the same way that a mirage is produced. It conjures it out of thin air. Inquiring into ignorance is fruitless. That it is exists is well-known, but how and why is not known. The one that wants to know is ignorant.
Govinda: Without the human mind, which is not conscious on its own, there is no world, there is no concept of maya. Maya exists only in the human mind.
James: Yes and no. Yes, if you look at reality from the point of view of the jiva. No, if you look at it from the point of view of Isvara. Are you saying that there is no creation without jivas? In one way that is true since no other conscious beings are concerned with the nature of reality. Ducks, for example, are not aware of a creation. On the other hand, if there are no human jivas, there is still a creation. All this assumes that the creation is real.
Govinda: But then what does it mean to say there is a creation without jivas? Or better yet, that there are other objects in the creation beside jivas. But jivas are purely conceptual. They only exist when maya… ignorance… is operating. They only exist when you think they exist. Most of your life as awareness illumining the subtle body is not concerned with the existence of jivas. There are many more objects appearing which you take to be real when they appear but cease to exist for you when they don’t appear. They are existent but not real. Maya is very difficult to understand because it is and it is not. How can the intellect, which wants definitive answers, make sense of the idea that something is, isn’t? Vedanta should not leave you with answers although you need answers to see that you are answer-free.
But the human mind is but like a mirror, an appearance in awareness, not real. At the most it can project/reflect the world or assimilate knowledge. But without the mind, maya does not exist at all. Therefore the existence maya with all its universes seems to be a concept in the apparent mind of the apparent jiva.
James: It is and it isn’t. See above.
Govinda: We are dealing with appearance within appearance here.
James: Yes, and the one that is dealing with appearances is apparently an appearance. ☺
Govinda: How then could the mind of the jiva, which is only an appearance, create maya, or the universe?
James: In the same way that Isvara creates the whole universe – assuming that jiva is real. Jiva is just a mini-Isvara. The empirical reality belongs to Isvara and the subjective reality belongs to jiva. From Isvara’s point of view there is no jiva-reality. But the jiva doesn’t create maya, the empirical reality. It creates Govinda’s world. Maya is a very tricky concept. It is only useful to explain the connection between jiva and Isvara. It shows the connection and the lack of connection. Jiva is not Isvara insofar as it does not create the macrocosm. It is a mini-Creator. It creates an individual life. Both jiva and Isvara are maya. They are not real because they can be negated when we consider their identity as awareness. They are upadhis of awareness. Seen through the idea of Isvara awareness appears as the creation, and seen through the idea of jiva awareness appears as a conscious being.
Govinda: Does maya really create the jiva?
James: It depends on what you mean by “really.” The answer is yes and no. No, as long as you think you are a jiva, and if you want an explanation for your existence you need maya. You – jiva – creates maya. But yes, insofar as you think you exist as a jiva, because you are not self-created. It all depends on who you think you are.
Govinda: It almost seems that jiva’s mind is the one creating maya.
James: It is. And it isn’t. See above.
Govinda: All universes appear and disappear every day in the mind of the jiva. How can maya (call it God, Isvara, the Creator, the creation, the dharma field) which is itself a concept in jiva’s mind have any substance when all of maya’s creation is only possible when awareness seemingly looks out through the mind of the jiva, which is not real. All of this seems to be nothing but magic tricks, a holographic reality projected by a holographic jiva, which came into creation by the power of an apparent force called maya. All seems to be only a creation of thought, of mind, which takes us to consciousness, to awareness, which is the only reality. Considering that creation depends on the mind and that only by the jiva’s mind it can be cognized and experienced, do we really need the concept of maya as a force producing the appearance of ignorance to justify this apparent creation?
James: You have it reasoned it correctly. There is only one difficulty with the paragraph above. Who is the “we”? You need it if you are a “we.” You don’t if you are awareness.
Govinda: The scriptures seems to indicate that pure awareness does not have the ability to perceive and experience objects because of its limitless non-dual nature, but it magically (with the appearance of maya/ignorance) produces a mirror-like apparatus called jiva’s subtle body which is capable of experiencing maya’s creation.
Govinda: If that is so, if the jiva, being only an insentient reflective apparatus just like our Moon in relation to the Sun, how could jiva’s reflective apparatus realize his own nature as the Sunlight? The jiva cannot recognize its nature as the Sunlight because he is not conscious.
James: So far, so good.
Govinda: Then the only other possible explanation to what happens in self-realization is that awareness itself realizes its own Sunlight through the apparent reflective mirror-like property of jiva’s apparatus, and therefore awareness becomes capable to indirectly perceive and experience creation yet retaining the knowledge of its true non-dual nature.
James: Got it in one! Good for you. You are a good thinker. All that is left is to know that you are awareness first and foremost, and an apparent jiva second.
Govinda: Please, I would appreciate your comments and clarifications on the above subjects.
James: It seems you don’t need clarifications, although I clarified. ☺
Govinda: With love and gratitude. PS: Are you ever going to settle down? ☺
James: Only Isvara knows. I am doing my best to achieve it.