What is the relationship between Maya and the Three Modes of Nature?

by Chaitanya CharanJuly 19, 2020

From: Muralidhara dasa

Is Maya one of the characteristics of the three modes of nature – the capacity to cover one’s ability to perceive the truth (avarna sakthi) and the capacity to projects other than the truth (viksepa sakti)? Is the mind the manifestation of this maya energy?

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Transcription :

Transcriber: Keshavgopal Das

Question: What is the relationship between Maya and the three modes of nature?

Answer: In scriptures, the word Maya is used differently depending upon the context. I will try to answer in principle from a broader perspective.

From linguistic point of view, Maya means “that (ya) which is not (ma)”. That means our ascribing to a property to an object which is not there in it. Maya does not mean that nothing exists. What Maya means is that we think of an object as something which the object is not. For example, when there is a mirage, a person may see water in a desert. It is not that the water or desert is not a reality, but seeing the water in a desert when the water is not present there is due to illusion. Similarly, thinking of material (temporary) to be spiritual (eternal) is an illusion (or Maya). Both material and spiritual are real, but to ascribe the property of one to the other is an illusion.

From the perspective of implementation mechanism, i.e. how this illusion is brought about, there is a complete process involve in it. In that process, Maya, three modes of material nature, mind form a hierarchy in the chain of command. You may have seen a picture in Bhagavad-gita, where three females are holding ropes and moving people around. So, these female personalities holding ropes are the modes. Maya Devi acts through these three females on our mind. From functional point of view, Maya and mind are non-different.

When we say somebody is falling in Maya, it means that the person’s mind is deluding the person. It is not that there is some place called Maya and the person is falling into a ditch. From ontological point of view, (ontology means what really exists), mind and Maya are different. Mind is subtle material energy of Krishna, which exists as part of our subtle body. Whereas Maya is another energy of Krishna, a very powerful demigoddess who is a person. She is not subtle matter, but a conscious living being. She is the consort of Lord Shiva. She is also the devotee of Supreme Lord. Her service to Krishna is to purify us by tempting us in the wrong direction to make us realize the futility of succumbing to the wrong temptations.

Maya acts upon us through three modes of material nature. Mode of goodness covers us in a certain way and make us think of as someone and makes us desirable of certain things. In mode of goodness, I can think myself as an intellectual, as a scholar, and start thinking that when I go around the world, I can impress people, and when people praise me then I feel so wonderful. If I am in passion, then I may start thinking that I am young, I need this to enjoy. When I am in ignorance, I just think that my body is so tired, and I just need to sleep. The modes shape our perception of who we are and what we think is desirable in this world.

How does this work out? From Vedic philosophical context, there are different classifications used for different purposes. One way of classification is sattva, rajas, tamas. Another classification is avaranatmika and prakshepatmika (or vikshepa) shakti. Each mode brings about a different kind of covering (avarana) and a different kind of throwing (prakshepa) into material existence. When a person is covered by goodness, there is a particular kind of self-conception, which is not necessarily enlightenment or spiritual. If a person is properly in goodness and guided by scripture, the person can think that he is a soul, servant of Krishna. Goodness, which is not necessarily God loving, that can still have a material conception that I am an intellectual. Getting awards, recognition is the prakshepatmika shakti. Avaranatmika makes us forget and prakshepatmika makes us think what is desirable for me. Both avaranatmika and prakshepatmika are intrinsic within each mode. Each mode creates an avarana and prakshepa.

In general, it is not a sound policy to superimpose different taxonomical schemes over each other (taxonomy means “a system of classification”). In Srimad Bhagavatam, 11th canto, Uddhava-gita, Krishna talks about sankhya. He says that different rishis analyse the world in a different way. This way they exhibit intelligence which is ultimately given by me. I am pleased by this. Some sankhya philosophers may say that there are twenty-four elements, some may say sixteen, some may say eight. If all these ultimately help people to become detached, and they help people to transcend the world and come back to Krishna, then Krishna is happy with that intelligence. Hence, these are two taxonomical schemata, and superimposing them creates confusion.

If we want to superimpose, then in general, every mode creates its own avarana and prakshepa. The mode is not a harmonious thing. Within the same mode, different people may have different type of avarana and prakshepa. One person in mode of passion may conceive of primarily as a male and may want to chase a female. Another person in mode of passion may have an avarana thinking that I am a millionaire and want to become a billionaire. It may vary according to person to person. Its better to classify them as two different classification schemata. One is talking about the way modes shape our perception and response and the other is talking about how the soul come under illusion.

If we want to take it entirely separately, avaranatmika simply means that we forget that we are souls or servant of Krishna, and prakshepatmika means we get another identity (e.g. I am Indian, male etc.). Whatever is the system, there is a hierarchy. Soul is covered by the mind, mind deludes the soul through the temptations, mind is influenced by the modes, and the modes are under the control of Maya Devi, and she is under the control of Krishna. If we surrender to Krishna, then we become free from the troubles of our mind. Krishna instructs Maya and she stops tempting and alluring us and the mind stop pestering us. That is why Krishna instructs us to surrender to Him and go beyond the influence of Maya.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan

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