MAYA IS REAL
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Maya is a mighty touchy subject, difficult if not impossible to comprehend. “By his powers of maya, Indra goes around in many forms.” Alas, the heroic warrior-god Indra was not the only god with mayic powers. He supplanted the magnificent mayin, Varuna, god of justice and order, the guardian of fertile waters who had stood in the firmament and used his mayic power to measure out the earth, as it were, with a measuring stick – estimated to be about a yard long. And Indra himself would eventually be demoted to a relatively minor status within the pantheon.
The term ‘maya‘ is derived from ‘ma‘, meaning, to measure out, that which measures out and limits. Hence maya is the power of measurement. Man refers to his own mayic power with the term ‘manu‘ or ‘man’, meaning, he who measures out thought – a mother or mama measures out creation – her children. As Protagoras said, Man is the measure of all things, those that are, that they are, those that are not, that they are not; but Protagoras did not mean that subjective individuals are mayins or that man is the creator of the objective universe. The meaning of abstract maya is threefold: in maya we have a trinity: creative power, creating, creation. That is, the Maker, Making, Made. Or, Cause, Force, Effect.
Now we recall that some time after Varuna measured out the creation, Vrita the river-dragon had a considerable power of his own – the power of envelopment. Vrita seized the fertile rivers from their guardian Varuna and holed up with the treasure in his ninety-nine fortresses. Indra – properly known as the truth that makes the knowers of it immune from punishment no matter what they do – got drunk on soma and slew Vrita with a thunderbolt. Wherefore the just and sometimes merciful Varuna was demoted because he had failed to personally keep the rivers within their beds. Varuna – a white man in golden armor seen riding a sea-monster and carrying snake-lasso – would henceforth be a sort of watchman over the rivers and oceans, while Indra lorded it over the creation. Indra would eventually have to make way for Visnu and Siva – Indra was demoted to preside over lesser gods and over the weather.
Individual men have reason to believe that they own maya and are therefore able to craft creation as they wish. On second thought, we have sufficient cause to believe that maya is not possessed by men but that men are possessed by maya. Indeed, Maya’s fools are infinite in number. Even wise men have died in vain attempts to define maya. Just last week, two sages were mortally wounded when their dispute over maya‘s true nature came to blows. They had agreed, first of all, that maya was god’s power, and that it was indescribable. But then they tried to describe it, and got into a heated argument over whether or not maya can be terminated by right knowledge; whether or not it has a beginning; whether or not it both projects and veils the universe; whether or not it is the nature of existence; whether it is in the individual or the absolute or in both. And finally, they disagreed on their premise, that maya is indescribable, and went after each other with scissors.
Since all men and women are born of woman, woman originally gets the blame for such madness. The original mayas were gnas, the celestial wives of the gods. Abstractly speaking, gna is the feminine principle, a principle that is, according to the testimony of many men, far more deceptive than the male principle. Maya was first of all the cosmic mother and the world-goddess. Aristocratic mayas were the consorts of male gods. The ordinary maya is a temptress or feared woman. A woman who really knows her maya turn a warrior into a pussycat and have him eating out of her hand. In the Mahabhrata, the god uses his maya to delude mankind, to play with people as if they were toys. Of course women alone not to mention Venus are not really to blame for maya, the illusory, beguiling power, although their natural difference gives them cause to master it. Men of course have a hand in their own illusions and delusions – they are self-deluded to some extent. The erotic power makes two tangle. We are better off blaming our own ignorance than maya. Incidentally, according to some schools of thought, maya is a synonym for ignorance (ajnana and nescience (avidya).
Perhaps it is ignorance that leads men to believe that ignorance is caused by a certain and deliberate power, a divine power with two faculties: to project the world (viksepa), and cover or hide the truth (avarana). Some fakirs claim that this world is the one-god’s sport or play because god has a whim to be many instead of one; those of us who are many are bewildered as a consequence of the projected divisions of the one; the truth is hidden by a cosmic veil; only a few fakirs can pierce that veil and be liberated from this illusory grinding up of the one – we can thank god that they might choose to stay behind and lead the rest of us out of our confusion. If only we really understood that the apparent multiplicity of our world is ‘maya‘ – our ignorance and illusion – the unreality negating the one true reality – we could cast off nature-ignorance, the mass delusion of the space-time continuum, and reside in blissfull truth. How that bliss differs from death or nothingness is subject to further speculation.
With the advent of modern science, the term ‘maya‘ is most often employed in reference to feats of magic and illusionism. That is not to say that the prehistoric superstition attributing changes to the magical power of deities insteach of natural forces has been extinguished in the popular mind. A secret mayic cult in Manhattan limits admission to applicants who can jump through a plate glass door without breaking the glass.
Sri Tundraputa claims they are wasting plate glass, for anyone possessed of the yogic powers can, for example, transform themselves into a subatomic particle, race though the earth and come out the other side with the greatest of ease. The plate glass is an illusion, he says, but it is a real illusion, and should not be bother with as such. He pointed out that although the oldest scripture in the world, the Rgveda, sings of the power of deities to change shape and create illusory effects, nowhere do the Vedas question the reality of the illusory forms, no matter how incomprehensible those forms seemed at the time.
“Maya is the real cause of the material world,” insisted Tundraputa. “Maya is just another name for Siva’s guided energy, Sakti, or the mula-prakriti evolving as the phonomenal universe. Existence is necessarily restrained by maya. Time restrains eternity, hence we have mortality. Space restrains omnipresence, thus we have individuality. Desire restrains perfection, consequently we have incessant activity and suffering. Learning limits omniscience, therefore our ignorance. Dependence limits omnipotence, fatality is the result. Our relation to the Lord is restrained by limitations obscuring the Lord. The Lord’s creation is especially obscure for those Westerners whose knowledge is limited by subject-predicate linguistics and the logical subject-object or experiencer-experienced static dichotomy. Jumping through plate glass windows might get disillusioned kids into hospitals and mental wards, but they will soon be disillusioned with disillusionment or enslaved by insanity, an unwholesome liberation.”