Strange it might seem, there is a mantra in the Rg Veda that speaks about the characteristics of MAyA. Strange because we normally think that MAyA is a subject belonging to the realm of Vedanta. The mantra reads thus:
चतुष्कपर्दा युवतिः सुपेशा घृतप्रतीका वयुनानि वस्ते ।
तस्यां सुपर्णा वृषणा निषेदतुः यत्र देवा दधिरे भागधेयम् ।
एकः सुपर्णः स समुद्रं आविवेश स इदं विश्वं भुवनं विचष्टे ॥। (10.114.3,4)
The essence of the above mantra has been captured by Shankaracharya in the Shatashloki, a book of a hundred verses on the causes of bondage and the means to transcend it. Every verse is based on the Veda and what could be derived from the teaching of the Veda. The 26th verse here reads thus:
चत्वारोऽस्याः कपर्दा युवतिरथ भवेन्नूनता नित्यमेषा
माया वा पेशला स्यादघटितघटनापाटवं याति यस्मात् ।
स्यादारम्भे घृतास्या श्रुतिभवयुवनान्येवमाच्छादयन्ती
तस्यामेतौ सुपर्णाविव परपुरुषौ तिष्ठतोऽर्थप्रतीत्या ॥ (२६)
The ‘glories’ of mAyA are depicted in a four-fold manner:
- MAyA is ever youthful. She never becomes old. She is never affected by old age. The body and senses become decrepit, yet She remains young and energetic. MAyA never tires of giving a never-ending supply of objects and occasions for people to enjoy and experience.
- MAyA is very efficient, smart. She is an expert in projecting to us what is impossible to happen. What could be the greatest impossibility? She makes us believe what we are not really. While our true nature is Consciousness-Bliss, She succeeds in conceiving for us a body-mind apparatus and a world to enjoy through this apparatus and experience the results thereof. What greater example can there be of her capacity to make the impossible as though it is true! Shankaracharya’s ‘mAyA-panchakam’, a pentad of verses on the ‘Glories of mAyA’ has the line: अघटितघटनापटियसी (She is an expert in making the impossible appear as though it is real) for its refrain. The full text and the translation of the ‘mAyA-panchakam’ is available here: http://stotrarathna.blogspot.com/2009/07/adhi-shankaras-maya-panchakam.html
- She is very charming and sweet to start with. The mantra as well as the verse use the expression ‘ghRutaasyaa’. This means: The one whose ‘mouth’ is smeared with ghee, clarified butter. Ghee is something that is tasty. This simile conveys the idea that the joys of the world are very attractive to start with but end up delivering pain to the enjoyer. The Bhagavadgita verse:
विषयेन्द्रियसंयोगात् यत्तदग्रेऽमृतोपमम् ।
परिणामे विषमिव तत्सुखं राजसं स्मृतम् ॥ 18. 38
[The pleasure born of the contact of the senses and the objects will be nectarine in the beginning but end up becoming a poison. This is the characteristic of a raajasik pleasure.]
explains this feature of MAyA.
4. mAyA’s most destructive ‘glory’ is Her ability to cover the wisdom of the Upanishads from our vision. The Upanishads teach us about the true nature of the Self and the means to realize it. mAyA, however, succeeds in keeping that teaching out of our understanding. First, we are ignorant about the very existence of such a treasure of teaching. Most people are not even aware that there is such a thing called MOksha and that it can be had by resorting to the Upanishads through a Guru. The Kathopanishad 1.2.7. and the Bhagavadgita 2.29 and 7.3 say this most emphatically:
श्रवणायापि बहुबिर्यो न लभ्य:
शृण्वन्तोऽपि बहवो यं न विद्युः
[The Supreme Teaching is extremely rare even for hearing and even when heard most do not grasp the teaching….] The reason for this is the deluding and projecting powers of Maayaa.
Now, summing up, the Rg Vedic mantra and the Shatashloki say: The jivAtmaa, soul, ‘and’ the ParamAtmA, the Lord, are stationed in this four-gloried mAyaa. In what way are they stationed there? While MAyA is the one that envelops everything, the Paramatma is the illuminator of everything. By implication, the jivatmaa is the enjoyer, experiencer of the world phenomenon. This reminds us of the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1) mantra: द्वा सुपर्णा.. where the two-bird imagery is employed to depict the jiva-Ishwara combine in the body-tree. There, the jiva bird is shown as the one experiencing the fruits of samsara and the Ishwara bird is the passive witness to this. Of course, the illuminator-principle is the ParamAtma, the Consciousness. Jiva is the reflecting consciousness and through the set of his sense-organs and mind the ParamAtmA illumines the objects of the world and enlivens everything. When the jiva turns to ParamAtmA, the Mundaka Mantra continues, eventually realizing that the witness-state is its natural state and the samsari state is not its true state, there occurs an identity with the ParamAtmaa, ending the samsaric state.