Hari-katha Articles The philosophy of Maya

The philosophy of Maya

Some say: “The beginning-less potency named Maya’ created all the worlds. This Maya exists in a subtle form. She gave birth to the two principles spirit and matter.” When the dry philosophy of Buddhism became prominent, this philosophy of Maya persevered, although it mutated into newer and newer forms.

Then Buddhism gradually became influenced by the Tantra-sastras. At that time the Mayavada philosophy was created. It was then that the name “Buddhism” became attached to the Tantric philosophy. Among the people who has not accepted Buddhism, the Mayavada philosophy, a philosophy that was actually Buddhism in disguise, was preached. When that philosophy based on the Vedas was preached, the activities of the Mayavadi-Vedanta philosophers began. In the mountainous part of India this philosophy was preached in a different form, in a form following the Tantras, preached by the Tantra acaryas who described the philosophy of Maya-sakti.

Many people say the Tantra philosophy comes from pseudo-Kapila’s philosophy. I do not agree with that view. Although pseudo-Kapila agreed that material nature (prakrti) is the creator of the world, he also affirmed that the spiritual truth is beginning-less. He said of the purusa: “As a lotus-petal is untouched by water, so the Supreme Spirit is untouched by the material world.” In my view it is the Saiva philosophy that has come from pseudo-Kapila’s Sankhya. However, because in the Saiva philosophy material nature (prakrti) is especially honored, undiscriminating persons often mistakenly think the Saiva and Tantric philosophies are the same. Although in the Tantric philosophy the purusa (the Supreme Spirit) and prakrti (material nature) are often compared to the two halves of a chickpea, in the end the Tantric thinkers say prakrti is the mother who has created spirit itself. The Tantric thinkers also imagine a kind of nirvana where the individual souls cease to exist.

Belief in God is not seen in the philosophy that worships the material potency. The worshipers of the Lord’s spiritual potency offer prayers to the all-knowing Supreme God. Imitating and mocking those prayers, the worshiper of matter sometimes also offer prayers to the material potency. The staunch atheist Baron d’Holbach offered these prayers to the material energy: “O Nature, O Goddess of all elements, O Piety and Truth, who are Nature’s two children, please always be our protectors. May the human race sing your glories. O Goddess of Nature, please set us on the path of Your happiness. Drive illusions far from our minds. Cast wickedness from our hearts. Keep us from falling as we walk the path of progress. Make for us a kingdom of true knowledge. Grant goodness to us. Place peace in our hearts.”

The Nature-philosopher Baron d’Holbach also says there is no soul, no God, and no afterlife. He says everyone should seek his own happiness. He says material nature is the supreme controller.

In the Maha-nirvana Tantra Lord Siva offers these prayers to the original material potency, Goddess Kali:

srsteradau tvam ekasit
tamo rupam agocaram
tvattojatamjagat sarvam
parabrahma sisrksaya

“In the beginning of material creation, You alone existed in the form of complete darkness. Then, when the Supreme Brahman desired to create, you gave birth to the entire material world.”

This Tantra preaches the idea of the sankhya philosophy, for it describes a purusa aloof from matter and a prakrti active in matter’s world. In that Tantra Lord Siva also tells Goddess Kali:

punah svarupam asadya
tamo rupam nirakrtih
vacatitam mano ‘gamyam
tvam ekaivavasisyate

“You manifest a form of darkness, and then, when the material worlds are dissolved, you are again formless. You are beyond the power of the mind to know or words to describe. When the world is unmanifest, you alone remain.

tvam evajivo loke ‘smims
tvam vidya paradevata

“In this world you are the living entities. You are knowledge personified. You are the supreme goddess.”

Here it is said that the individual living entities are not different from the potency of material nature. This contradicts the view of sankhya.

yavan na ksiyate karma
subham vasubham eva va
tavan najayate mokso
nrnam kalpa satair api

“As long as good and bad karma are not destroyed, there is no liberation for the conditioned souls, even after a hundred kalpas.”

kurvanah satatam karma
krtva kasta satany api
tavan na labhate moksam
yavat jnanam na vindati

“Even if he performs pious deeds again and again, and even if he performs a hundred harsh penances, if he has no transcendental knowledge, the living entity will not attain liberation.”

jnanam tattva vicarena
niskamenapi karmana
jayate ksina tapasam
vidusam nirmalatmanam

“They who are wise and pure hearted, and who seek after the truth and perform pious deeds without expectation of reward, attain transcendental knowledge.”

na muktir japanad dhomad
upavasa satair api
brahmaivaham iti jnatva
muktobhavati deha bhrt

“One does not attain liberation by chanting mantras or performing yajnas, or by fasting a hundred times. Only one who knows, ‘I am Brahman’, attains liberation.”

manasa kalpita muktir
nrnam cen moksa sadhani
svapa abdhena rajyena
rajano manavas tatha

“If the people could attain liberation by imagining themselves so, then they could also become kings simply by dreaming of kingdoms.”

jnanam jneyam tatha jnata
tritayam bhati mayaya
vicaryamane tritaye
atmaivaiko ‘vasisyate

“Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower are all manifested from illusion (maya). When these three are carefully investigated and properly understood, only the spirit self remains.”

jnanam atmaiva cidrupo
jneyam atmaiva cinmayah
vijnata svayam evatma
yojanati sa atmavit

“Knowledge is the spirit soul. The object of knowledge is also the spirit soul. The knower is also the spirit soul. One who knows this knows the truth of the spirit soul.”

The truth is that the different Tantras expound very different philosophies. It cannot be said that every Tantra teaches the worship of the material energy (sakti-vada). In some Tantras that philosophy is accepted, and in other Tantras it is not. It is vehemently opposed. In some Tantras it is said that the Supreme Brahman is the creator, in others that material nature (prakrti) is the creator, and in others that the individual soul (jiva) is the creator. In some Tantras it is said that the individual souls are illusory (mithya), and in other it is said that the individual souls are real (satya). In some Tantras it is said that the letter ‘m’ in the sacred syllable ‘Om’ is the creator, in other Tantras that the Supreme Person (purusa) and material nature (prakrti) are both the creators, and in other Tantras that material nature is the sole creator of all. In conclusion it may be said that so many different philosophies are taught in the Tantras that no one of them can be singled out as the only philosophy of the Tantras.

In the previously quoted verse beginning with the words “srster adau” it is said that before the material world was created, material nature alone existed, and that by the Supreme Brahman’s desire, the material nature created the material world. What is the material nature? Who is the Supreme Brahman? When he attains transcendental knowledge will the individual spirit soul become the Supreme Brahman? In the verse beginning with the words “Tvam evajivo loke ‘smin” it is said that the individual souls are identical with the material nature. Those words make no sense. In the Tantras are also described “lata-sadhana” (ritual illicit sex), “panca-makara-sadhana” (ritual activities of sex and consumption of flesh, fish, and wine), and “sura-sadhana” (ritual wine drinking). What kind of religious activities are these? I have no idea how these can be considered religious activities. These ideas are like the atheistic karma-mimamsa or the goddess of material nature imagined by Comte. This kind of Tantric worship was created in someone’s imagination. I will not say anything more about it.

Excerpted from the “Tattva-viveka” of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura,
Commentary on verse 14

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