V Subrahmanian, Monday, January 24, 2011 10:55 am

The Scriptural teaching of mAyAvAda and brahmavAda (3 of 3)

Having seen a sample of passages in support of the brahmavAda and mAyAvada in the upaniShads, let us have a look at some verses in the  bhagavad gItA depicting this very twin-stream:

???? ?????? ?????? ?? ???? ????????? 
????? ?? ??????????? ????????? ?????? ????7.14??

DaivI hyeShA guNamayI mama mAyA duratyayA;
mAmeva ye prapadyante mAyAmetAm taranti te.

[Since this divine mAyA of Mine which is constituted by the guNa-s is difficult to cross over, (therefore) those who take refuge in Me alone cross over this mAyA.]

? ??? ?????????? ????? ??????????? ????????
??????????????? ????? ??????????????7.15??

na mAm duShkRRitino mUDhAH prapadyante narAdhamAH;
mAyayA apahRRita~jnAnAH Asuram bhAvamAshritAH.

[The foolish evildoers, who are the most depraved among men, who are deprived of (their) wisdom by mAyA, and who resort to demoniacal ways, do not take refuge in Me.

?????? ????????????? ???????????????? ??? ?
???????? ???????????? ????????????????? ?

ajo’pi sannavyayAtmA bhUtAnAm Ishwaro’pi san;
prakRRitim swAm adhiShThAya sambhavAmyAtmamAyayA

Though I am unborn and of imperishable nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet, ruling over My own Nature, I am born by My own mAyA.

?????? ??????????? ?????????????? ??????? ?
???????? ?????????? ????????????? ????? ? (18.61)

IshwaraH sarvabhUtAnAm hRRiddeshe’rjuna tiShThati
bhrAmayan sarvabhUtAni yantrArUdhAni mAyayA.

[O Arjuna, the Lord resides in the region of the heart of all creatures, revolving through mAyA all the creatures (as though) mounted on a machine! ]

???? ??????? ??????? ???????????????
??????? ?????????? ???? ?????????????7.25??

nAham prakAshaH sarvasya yogamAyAsamAvRRitaH;
mUDho’yam nAbhijAnAti loko mAmajamavyayam.

[Being enveloped by yoga-mAyA, I do not become manifest to all. This deluded world does not know Me who am birthless and undecaying.]

  1. In all the above verses, the mAyAvAda aspect is very explicit. Apart from these, there are several instances of the use of the word ‘prakRRti‘ which also denotes mAyA. Also are quite a few references to avidyA, a~jnAnam, moha, tamas, AvRRita, etc. which mean mAyA. All these instances are examples of mAyAvAda  in the bhagavad gItA.
  2. The brahmavAda delineation in the gItA is quite explicit. For example, in the verse (7.14) that we have seen above, there is the teaching of seeking the Lord/brahman as the goal to be reached by crossing over mAyA. In the verse (7.15) too, the Lord refers to Brahman as the refuge one ought to have. In (18.61) quoted above, we see that the Ishwara/Brahman is taught as the One residing in everyone’s heart as the Indweller. This is akin to the Taittiriya upaniShad teaching: ?? ???? ?????? ??????? ???? ??????? [yo veda nihitam guhAyAm parame vyoman [He who knows the One residing in the space in cave of the heart..] 
  3. Here is another unique verse in the gitA containing the two streams of teaching in one place: ?????????-????? ????? ?????????????? ???????? ? (2.45) traiguNyaviShayA vedA nistraiguNyo bhavaarjuna [O Arjuna, the Vedas meaning only the portion dealing with rituals and duties (karma-kANDa). have the three qualities as their object. You become free from worldliness, free from the pairs of duality, ever-poised in the quality of sattva, without (desire for) acquisition and protection, and self-collected.] Here the first half of the quoted line represents mAyAvAda as it is about the world/other worlds, the means to reach them, the fruit experienced there, etc. The second half of the verse explains the state of brahman.
  4. Yet another unique verse of the gitA is:

    ????? ??????? ???? ?????? ??????? ??? ?
    ??????? ??????????????????? ?????????????: ? (2.16)

    nAsato vidyate bhAvo nAbhAvo vidyate sataH;
    ubhayorapi dRRiShTo’ntastwanayos tattwadarshibhiH

[Of the unreal there is no being; the real has no nonexistence. But the nature of both these, indeed, has been realized by the seers of Truth.]  The word ‘asat‘ is mAyAvAda and the word ‘sat‘ is brahmavAda.

Having seen a number of instances of the teaching of the two streams of mAyAvAda and brahmavAda teachings in the bhagavadgitA, we shall have a short look in the brahma sUtra-s:

  1. The very second sUtra: ??????? ???? ??? [janmAdi asya yataH] is a combination of the two streams: The words ??????? ???? denote mAyAvAda, being the reference to the creation, etc. of the world. The word ‘yataH‘ there refers to brahmavAda, being the teaching of the source/ Cause of the world.
  2. The sUtra (3.2.3):  ?????????? ?? ????????????? ?????????????????????? [mAyAmAtram tu kArtsnyena anabhivyakta-svarUpatvAt] teaches the unreal nature of the dream objects and the dream experience. The commentary brings forth the purpose of delineating the dream in the Upanishad: It is to show the ‘svayam-jyotiShTvam‘, self-luminous nature of the jIva/Atman. The jIva’s ultimate non-difference from the Supreme is also brought out here. The creation of the various elements is also not absolutely real. Extending the dream illustration the unreality of the entire world is taught in this sUtra that is although teaching only the unreality of the dream-world. Thus, in this important sUtra we come across both the mAyAvAda and the brahmavAda streams embedded.
  3. The sUtra (2.1.14) ?????????? ????????????????? [tadananyatvam AmrambhaNa-shabdAdibhyaH] teaches that the perceived universe is non-different from the substratum brahman. This automatically renders the nature of the world mAyAmaya and brahman as the absolute Truth. Thus, this is another important sutra that has within its scope the teaching of both mAyAvAda and brahmavAda.
  4. The sUtra ????????????? ?? ?? ?????? ?????? [anArabdha-kArye eva pUrve tadavadheH](4.1.15) brings out the nature of the j~nAni and the Atma j~nAnam. Upon realization of the Truth, the jIva‘s past karma that has not yet begun to operate will be destroyed. Nor will he accumulate future karma as he realizes his non-doer nature. However, the karmA that has started giving its fruit, prArabdha, will have to be experienced. The fall of the body, death, of the j~nAni determines the extent to which this prArabdha karma is experienced. In order to enable this experiencing, the world inclusive of the j~nAni‘s body, will continue to be experienced by the j~nAni, although with the firm conviction of its unreality. Thus, this sUtra has the mAyavAda teaching (pertaining to the world as viewed by the j~nAni) and brahmavAda as experienced by the j~nAni. The importance of this sUtra lies in the fact that the paramArtha dRRiShTi pertaining to the world is brought out as the experience of the j~nAni. For, only that view could be taken as true which is of the j~nAni i and not the view of the aj~nAni. For him, the world is mAyA even as it is perceived and the Real is Brahman, his Self.

As a sample, here is a verse from the mahAbhArata that also contains the teaching of mAyAvAda that we have seen extensively above, although as a sample:

tamaH shvabhranibham dRRShTam varShabudbuda-sannibham |
nAshaprAyam sukhAddhInam nAshottaramabhAvagam ||
[Chapter No. 197 of the shAnti parva, verse no. 58.]

This verse is quoted by shaMkarAcharya in His commentary to the mANDUkya kArikA (2.31): The translation of the above by Swami Gambhirananda in the Advaita Ashrama publication of the mANDUkya upaniShad (in ‘Eight upaniShad-s’) is:

//This universe is viewed by the wise as unreal like a crack on the ground that a rope appears to be in darkness, or as always unstable like bubbles created by rain, devoid of bliss and ceasing to exist after dissolution.//

There is a verse in the mahAbhArata/ViShNupurAnam that teaches the universe is nothing but a mAyA-creation of brahman:

???? ?????? ??? ?????? ?????? ?????? ???? ?
??????????????????? ???? ??? ???????????? ?

[Showing His vishwarUpa to Narada the Lord says:  This is My form created by Me out of mAyA. *You ought not to know Me as endowed with all this.*] The message is: In My absolute Nature I am devoid of any of these forms/attributes. And this includes all the forms of gods, humans, etc. None of these is brahman.]

In the SrImadbhAgavatam, there is a verse denoting mAyA at the very beginning of the work:

Let there be the salutation of the original appearance of Him, Vasudeva, the Fortunate One, from whom,, being present here and in the beyond, for the purpose of recollection and full independence, the Vedic knowledge was imparted in the heart of the first created being [Lord Brahma]. About Him the enlightened [as surely also the ordinary] souls are, like with a mirage of water to the [fire of the] sun, in a state of illusion wherein, through the action and reaction of the modes of material nature, there is the illusion of the factual. I meditate upon Him who is always self-sufficient, the transcendental [supreme and absolute] truth and the negation free from illusion.

The words in Sanskrit for denoting illusion in the above verse are: ‘mRRiShA’ and ‘kuhakam’.

Here is another verse on mAyAvAda from the above work: (10.14.25)

AtmAnam evAtmatayAvijAnatAM
tenaiva jAtam?M nikhilam?M prapancitam
j’nAnena bhuyopi ca tat praliyate
rajjvAm aher bhoga-bhavAbhavau yath?A

A person who mistakes a rope for a snake becomes fearful, but he then gives up his fear upon realizing that the so-called snake does not exist. Similarly, for those who fail to recognize You as the Supreme Soul of all souls, the expansive illusory material existence arises, but knowledge of You at once causes it to subside.

The uddhavagItA too has several verses on mAyA and brahma vAda (8.23). Since the bodies of all beings are composed of the five elements, and since they are the same in reality, your question, ‘Who art Thou?’, is a mere effort of speech and is altogether meaningless.  

[The last words of the above verse are denoted in Sanskrit as ‘vAchArambhaH‘, a word from the chhAndogya upaniShad (6.1.4,5)]

(8.24). Understand this rightly that by mind, speech, sight, and the other organs I alone am cognized, and nothing else.

[Here, both brahmavada and mAyAvAda are depicted as the one really underlying the many apparent manifestations.]

Verses 31, 32, 33 speak of the unreality of the experienced objects. Verse 34. One should look upon this universe as a hallucination, being a phantasm of the mind, now seen and the next moment destroyed – like dream, and extremely shifting like a circle of fire. It is the One Consciousness that appears as multiple in form. The threefold distinction due to the transformation of guNa-s is mAyA.

This verse has the word ‘alAtachakram’ which means a circular motion created by a fire-brand. This analogy is used in the fourth chapter of mANDUkya kArikA by Sri GauDapAda.   

While mAyAvAda is explicit here, that the wise see it so, knowing it to be so is what brahmavAda is.

The adhyAsa bhAShya:

After having appreciated the place of mayavAda and brahmavada in the upaniShad-s, the bhagavadgItA and the brahmasUtra-s, one can now have a quick look at the adhyAsa bhAShya of shaMkarAcharya. The very opening sentence of this document that stands as a preamble to the brahmasUtra bhAshya, proclaims to the student this message about the twin-teaching streams of the Scripture:

??????????????????-??????? ????-???????? ????????????????????????????…

// It being an established fact that the object and the subject, that are fit to be the contents of the concepts ‘you’ and ‘we’ respectively, and are by nature as contradictory as light and darkness, cannot logically have any identity….//

The words ‘yuShmat’, ‘viShya’, ‘tamas’ represent mAyAvAda. The words ‘asmat’, ‘viShayI’, ‘prakashaH’ represent brahmavAda.
Atman is real, and is the eternal subject ‘I’- This is brahmavAda. Everything else is not real, and is perceived as a separate object ‘you’ (yuShmat). This is mAyAvAda.

is the subject  –  brahmavAda. Everything else is the object – mAyAvAda

Atman is like the light – brahmavAda. Everything else, the object, is like darkness – mAyAvAda

Thus one can appreciate how shaMkara has captured the two-stream teaching of the scripture in even the very first two words of His opening sentence of the preamble. 


The Scripture contains the inseparable pair of teaching of mAyA and brahman. It is important to note that in the absence of the teaching of mAyA, the teaching of brahman would be impossible. This impossibility is both at the level of teaching the tattva and at the level of grasping the teaching by the aspirant. However, the Scripture makes it clear that brahman is the ever true and mAyA is the never true. This is the method of adhyAropa-apavAda that the Scripture uses: first posit the creation, teach that as based on brahman, enable the aspirant to purify the mind by looking upon brahman as the Creator and finally negate the world as a result of the gaining of Atman knowledge.

The sAdhana involved in the two-stream teaching of the scripture is: The aspirant sees the mAyA as the adhyAropa, to be carefully avoided. In every thought, word and deed, the mAyA aspect is to be discerned and known to be false, an appearance. The Consciousness substratum is discerned and one learns to identify with it. Thus, the subtle ego onwards up to the gross body and the objects have to be discarded as ‘neti, neti’ (not this, not this) and the un-discardable, un-negatable, Self, Brahman, is to be identified as ‘I’.

It is interesting to note that the above teaching of mAyAvAda in the Scripture is unknown to the author who has interpolated the following verse in the padmapurANa:

mAyAvAdam asachchAstraM prachchannaM bauddham ucyate |
mayaiva kathitaM devi kalau brAhmaNarUpiNA || padma purANa (6.236.7) ||

The doctrine of mAyA (illusion) is a wicked doctrine and said to be pseudo-Buddhist. I myself, of the form of a brAhmana, proclaimed it in kali (age). (padma purANa, uttara-khaNDa, (236.7))

Without knowing that mAyAvAda is the legitimate Scriptural teaching along with the brahmavAda, the interpolator has, in the delusion that he is caricaturing advaita, ended up denigrating the very Scripture by portraying it as pseudo-Buddhism and a wicked doctrine. Blind to the innumerable references in the Scripture to the mAyic nature of the observed world, the interpolator has indicted the Scripture as ‘mAyAvAda‘ in a deprecating way. Above all, we have cited the bhAgavatam verse on mAyAvAda with the rope-snake analogy which contradicts the alleged padmapurANic verse deprecating mAyAvAda. Veda VyAsa is admitted as the author of both the bhAgavatam and the padmapurANa. He would not be contradicting himself by teaching mAyAvAda in the former and by deprecating it in the latter.

As a teaching, mAyAvAda and brahmavAda are like two sides of the same coin. Once the teaching has succeeded in generating the direct experience of the Truth in the aspirant, the entire teaching recedes into mAyA, leaving neither of the vAda-s behind. For, a vAda is a presentation, a means, and not an end.   


Part 2, Part 1

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