Update 08 12 07

Note: My maya-gaia website is a chronicle of my maintaining an open-minded but healthy skepticism as I pass any considered opinion through the lens of my Nirvikalpa Samadhi

The Symbolism of Maya...with excerpts* from The Power of Myth
by Joseph Campbell

*"The notion of this universe, its heavens, hells, Mother Earth and everything within it, as a great dream dreamed by a single being in which all the dream characters are dreaming too, has in India enchanted and shaped the entire civilization." Our frontispiece is a free adaptation of a classic representation of the ultimate dreamer as Lord Vishnu attended by his wife the goddess Shri Lakshmi, "Beauty and Good Fortune," who is known also as Padma, "Lady Lotus" (for it is actually she who has appeared symbolically in her husband's dream as the lotus wherein Brahma thrones). It is through her loving nurture that Vishnu's dreams are stimulated so that (consistant with the Tantric ideal) together they personify the ultimate source of Maya, the force which creates our illusions. There is a hymn however addressed to her alone as the matrix of phenomenality:

It is alone by Thy power
That Brahma creates, Vishnu maintains
And at the end of all things,
Shiva annihilates the universe.

They, but for Thine aid were powerless.

Hence, Thou alone art the Creator,
And Destroyer of this World.

The Hindu pantheon of gods, avatars and demons,at first appear an absurdity unless they and their drama are appreciated as symbols in the theater of our human egos and intellects as we conflict, interface and ultimatly connect with cosmic consciousness. *"The sculpture pictured provides a synopsis of the Vedic creation myth presenting Vishnu as the ultimate dreamer, floating on the cosmic Milky Ocean, couched upon the coils of the abyssal serpent Ananta, the meaning of whose name is "Unending". In the foreground stand the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharata, with Draupadi, their wife: allegorically, she is the mind and they are the five senses. They are those whom the dream is dreaming. Eyes open, ready and willing to fight, the youths address themselves to the world of light in which we stand regarding them, where objects appear to be distinct from each other, an Aristotelian logic prevails, and A is not not-A. Behind them a dream-door has opened, however, to an inward, backward dimension where a vision emerges against darkness. Are these youths, we might ask, a dream of that luminous god, or is the god a dream of these youths? "The dream," wrote C. G. Jung, as though in elucidation of this Hindu work of art,

"is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psychc no matter how far our ego-consciousness may extend. For all ego-consciousness is isolated: it separates and discriminates, knows only particulars, and sees only what can be related to the ego. Its essence is limitation though it reach to the farthest nebulae among the stars. All consciousness separates, but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole in him, indistinguishable from the nature and bare of all egohood.

It is from these all-uniting depths that the dream arises, be it never so childish, grotesque, and immortal. So flowerlike is it in its candor and veracity that it makes us blush for the deceitfulness of our lives."

A lotus hovers above the dreaming Hindu god, as tho growing from his body, and seated on its corolla is Brahma, the lord of light, apparent creator of this visable world, who with four radiant faces illuminates the quarters, giving visable shape to the figures of day as they rise from the night below. At his left is the frightening god Shiva, destroyer of illusions, riding with his goddess Parvati on their milk-white bull Nandi and followed by a member of his howling host, a young wind god or Marut; while at the Creator's right are the gods by whom the world-illusion is maintained: mighty Indra, the Indian counterpart of Zeus, on his four-tusked elephant Airavata (the rain-bearing cloud from which the god lets fly his fiery bolts) and beside him on a peacock, the young war god, Shiva's son, who is called Kamara, the "Chaste Youth", because weded alone to his army.

The figure at Vishnu's feet in the role of the virtuous Indian wife, massaging his right leg and so stimulating his cosmic dream, is the goddess Shri Lakshmi."

In the image below, the divine couple is shown seated on Ananta with a diminutive Siva (Vishnu) cradled in the lap of a supreme Devi (Lakshmi).

"The philosophies originating in India are a museum of the human mind." -E. R. Wilson, The Flame and the Lotus

There is a vast continuium of symbolism, imagery and ritual grown not only from our human history and pre-history but likely extending in our subconscious back through our phylogeny to our earliest sentient, cyanobacteria-like forms and beyond to our cosmic origins. All of this stuff can impinge on our consciousness to evoke that response which is fairly described as spiritual, religious, awe-inspiring, ecstatic, etc. to one degree or another. Prehistoric tribes employed sounds, chanting, dance and a variety of rituals while "pagan" civilizations evolved more sophisticated events called the Mysteries. Later, the great religions orchestrated elaborate theater and architecture to enthrall their audience. But the meditative traditions of the east (as well as the gnostic and similar mystical traditions in the West) offer better templates for us to build an enlightened spiritual/scientific portfolio.

UPDATE 10/05/06: This page on Maya was created in 1997 and at the time I was unaware that not all Vedic or Buddhist religious schools indorse the principle of Maya. The origin is obscure as the early Upanishads make no reference to the principle and the later editions may be due to Buddhist influence. Even in Advaita where it is a most central concept as well as various Buddhist schools there is ambiguity as to the certainty that reality is only an illusion created by Maya. Some Tantra hold that the matter we experience via our senses is real and is most fully validated and confirmed through the sexual union of male and female, Shiva and Shakti. More about Tantra concepts at Tantra and Kundalini

The Real Meaning of "Maya", A Comment on the Theos-Talk Dialogue about Maya by Bhakti Ananda Goswami: "Maya does not mean ‘mother’ in Sanskrit. This is an associative meaning from the fact that MAYA is the personal name of Vishnu’s or Shiva’s Feminine Shakti as YOGA MAYA (the ‘Mother of Devotion’), or MAHA MAYA (Durga), Who is the ‘Mother’ of the material universes. MA or MATA does mean MOTHER, but this is nowhere given as the root of the ancient Sanskrit word MAYA. The following are some corrections regarding modern misperceptions about MAYA. These are from my long experience in studying early Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti Traditions."

The Oneness/Otherness Mystery: the synthesis of science and mysticism by Sutapas Bhattacharya, 1999. Opens at chapter: The Emerging Picture - maya. This is a work about our very existence, about Reality, about the relationship between the individual personality and the cosmos in which that personality exists, showing how the person is a microcosm, a little part of the cosmos, subtly reflecting his `world` however autonomous or independent he may believe he is.

Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real. This philosophy begins with the premise that there is only one Reality that is infinite, non-dual, and blissful. But the phenomenal reality of which we are normally aware is just the opposite: finite, dualistic, and full of pain and suffering. And since the Absolute is the only reality, that means that everything that is not-Absolute cannot be real. Thus, according to this viewpoint, the phenomenal dualistic world is ultimately an illusion (maya to use the technical Indian term), irrespective of the apparent reality it possesses at the mundane or empirical level.

Solipsism Wikipedia - Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. The term comes from the Latin solus (alone) and ipse (self). Solipsism as an epistemological position holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure. The external world and other minds cannot be known, and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist. As such it is the only epistemological position that, by its own postulate, is both irrefutable and yet indefensible in the same manner. In the history of philosophy, solipsism has served as a skeptical hypothesis. As a metaphysical concept of reality it is reflected in the Vedic concept of maya that holds that our self and the material universe is an illusion that the goddess Lakshmi veils over our dual consciousness that obscures the singularity of Brahman non duality.

Dhamma and Non-duality by Bhikkhu Bodhi - An intimate examination of issues facing Theravada Buddhism in the encounter between classical Theravada vipassana meditation and the "non-dualistic" contemplative traditions best represented by Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism.

Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends. Joseph Campbell


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