This Chapter is taken From The Book ”Guru Ramana – Memories and Notes” by S.S.Cohen

Of all the aspects of Advaita philosophy that of Maya is the most difficult to understand, still more to explain. Some interpret it as ignorance, others as dream, others still as illusion, and nothing but experience can explain it satisfactorily. In the meantime  considerable misunderstanding is created by explanations – the more it is explained, the more obscure it becomes.

In one of the Ashrams I visited in 1939 I met a Canadian lady. She had come to India “in search of Truth,” and had visited many yogis and Ashrams, the last of which was the Ramakrishna Mutt in Madras. We talked as usual on yoga, meditation, etc., but when I mentioned the word “maya“, she gasped, clutched her throat, and dropped her voice: “Don’t say it,” she whispered, “those people of Ramakrishna Mission were about to destroy me, but God came to my rescue and I escaped.”

I. How do you mean, did they want to kill you? They are sannyasis.

She. Not my body, but my soul. They told me that nothing exists: no world, no human beings, no trees, nothing, nothing – all is illusion, all my own imagination, and that I cannot kill the illusion till I surrender myself.

Where will I be without my soul and mind? I had no alternative but to change the subject. But Sri Bhagavan’s explanations are superb, as will be seen from the following dialogues.

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15th April, 1931. Mr. C. wanted to know the mystery of this gigantic world illusion.

C. We speak of the world as illusion, yet everything in it follows rigid laws, which proves it to be well-planned and well-regulated.

Bhagavan. Yes, he who projected the illusion gave it the appearance of order and sound planning.

C. All spiritual institutions except the Advaitic give prominence to the creative aspect of Reality, which they name God. They speak of prophets, saints, scriptures, etc. Are they all illusion?

Bh. They all exist in the same way as you, the questioner, exist. You are in the relative world, so they are; or else you would not have known of them. In dreams one also sees a well-regulated world with saints, scriptures, etc., but the moment one wakes up they all disappear. So also waking from this dream world into the Supreme Consciousness causes them all to disappear.

C. But how out of Truth does illusion, falsehood spring up? Bh. Maya is not falsehood, although it has the appearance of it, but the active side of Reality. It is the maker of forms in Consciousness and form means variety, which causes illusion – mind you, all this variety is in consciousness and nowhere else; it is only in the mind. One jiva, seeing another jiva, forgets its identity with it and thinks of it as separate from itself. But the moment it turns its attention on its own nature as consciousness, and not as form, the illusion of diversity or separateness breaks as a dream breaks when waking takes place.

C. It is hard to conceive God, the formless, giving rise to forms. Bh. Why hard? Does not your mind remain formless when

you do not perceive or think, say, in deep sleep, in samadhi, or in a swoon? And does it not create space and relationship when it thinks and impels your body to act? Just as your mind devises and your body executes in one homogeneous, automatic act, so automatic, in fact, that most people are not aware of the process, so does the Divine Intelligence devise and plan and His Energy automatically and spontaneously acts – the thought and the act are one integral whole. This Creative Energy which is implicit in Pure Intelligence is called by various names, one of which is maya or shakti, the Creator of forms or images.

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14th June, 1948

2. Mr. Subbaramayyah, the late Professor of English, is a frequent visitor. Whenever he comes he discusses ancient Vedantic books with the Master. Today’s talk is about Kaivalyam. Maya comes up in the middle and claims attention. Sri Bhagavan explains:

“Every plane has its own illusion, which can be destroyed only by another illusion on the same plane. For example, a man takes a full meal and goes to sleep. He dreams of being hungry in spite of the jagrat food in his stomach. To satisfy the dream hunger, he has to take dream food. A wound in dream requires dream treatment. A great king once dreamt that he was ill but was too poor to call a doctor. He had to beg the doctor’s fees from his friends to receive medical help. Although he had fabulous wealth in the waking state, it could be of no use to him in the dream state. Similarly the illusion of ajnana (ignorance) can be destroyed only by the illusion

of guru-upadesa (the Master’s teaching). Mukti (liberation) is ever-present and bondage ever-absent, yet the universal experience is the reverse.”

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16th February, 1937

3. A visitor remarks that it is cruel of God’s leela to make the knowledge of the Self so hard.

Bh. (laughing) – Knowing the Self is being the Self, and being means existence – one’s own existence, which no one denies, any more than one denies one’s eyes, although one cannot see them. The trouble lies with your desire to objectify the Self, in the same way as you objectify your eyes when you place a mirror before them. You have been so accustomed to objectivity that you lost the knowledge of yourself, simply because the Self cannot be objectified. Who is to know the self? Can the insentient body know it? All the time you speak and think of your ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’, yet when questioned you deny knowledge of it. You are the Self, yet you ask how to know the Self. Where then is God’s leela and where its cruelty? It is because of this denial of the Self by people that the Shastras speak of maya, leela, etc.

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15th April, 1937

4. A frequent visitor to the Ashram is cogitating over the problem of Maya and its relation to the waking and dream states.

V. Is there any genuine difference between the experience of jagrat and that of dreams?

Bh. None, except that jagrat appears to be more enduring than the other to the person who is in jagrat, though not so to the dreamer himself. The person in jagrat relates his dream to have sometimes covered hundreds of years, hence he calls it transitory, whereas actually there is not the slightest difference between the nature of the two states.

C. There is this difference: each time we return to jagrat, we come to the same place, same people, same activities and interests, which is not the case with going to the svapna state.

Bh. This is because things move very rapidly in dreams, as they appear now to you in jagrat. But each time you go to the dream world do you feel being a stranger in it? Do you not feel thoroughly at home with the people and places as you do here? Don’t you sometimes dream of being a minister, or meeting your father who had died in jagrat long ago, or seeing God seated on a throne, etc., without noticing any incongruity in it? The dream is as real then to you as jagrat is now. Where is the difference? If you call the dream illusion, why do you not do so to jagrat also?

V. Arjuna saw the Divine Form of Sri Krishna. Was that vision true?

Bh. Sri Krishna started the discourse in Chapter II of the Bhagavad Gita with: “I have no form,” etc., but in Chapter XI, He said: “I transcend the three worlds . . . ,” yet Arjuna saw these in Him. Again Sri Krishna said: “I am Time.” Does time have a form? If the universe is His form, should it not be uniform and changeless, He being the Changeless One? The solution to these apparent contradictions lies in His statement to Arjuna: “See in Me all you desire to see. . . ,” which means that His form varies according to the desires and conceptions of the seer. Men speak of divine visions, yet paint them differently with the seer himself in the scene. Even hypnotists can make one see strange scenes and phenomena, which you condemn as tricks and jugglery, whereas the former you extol as Divine. Why is this difference? The fact is that all sights are unreal, whether they come from the senses or the mind as pure concepts. THIS IS THE TRUTH.

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4th January, 1937

5. A disciple remarks that Sri Bhagavan often says that maya and Reality are the same. How can that be?

Bh. Shankara was criticised for his views on Maya without understanding him. He said that (1) Brahman is real, (2) The universe is unreal, and (3) Brahman is the universe. He did not stop at the second, because the third explains the other two. It signifies that the universe is real if perceived as the Self, and unreal if perceived apart from the Self. Hence Maya and Reality are one and the same.