‘Ma’ means not and ‘Ya’ means that, “Not That” is Maya, the illusory power of Brahman, the cause of the creation. It is sat-Asat Vilakshana Anadi Bhavarupa Anirvachineeya Maya. It is neither Sat as Brahman not Asat as the horns of a rabbit because you sense the objects ‘not Asat’. But, if Maya is “Not That”, who is Mahamaya? Why do we worship her as a Devi or Goddess?
Before we try to understand who Mahamaya is, let us first understand what is Brahman.
The Puruṣa Sūkta (hymn 10.90 of the Rigveda) says that whatever that there was, is and will be, is Purusha alone. Various upaniṣadic texts declare that everything is Brahman. In Bhagavata Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Nothing is there other than Me.”
Brahman has been described in the “Taittariya Upanishad” II.1 as “satyam jnanam anantam brahma”. This translates to:
Brahman is of the nature of truth, knowledge, and infinity.
Thus, Brahman’s very reality secures the infinite positive qualities and states to have their existence. Brahman is everywhere, present everywhere, in the realm of materiality, penetrating the whole of reality as the essence that provides the structure, meaning and existence to everything, and yet, Brahman is the transcendent origin of all these things.
Vedic scriptures describe Brahman as nameless, formless, changeless, devoid of any action, eternal, all-pervasive, free from all contamination, pure consciousness, full of bliss, one, without a second.
But, when we actually look around, we get confused to hear all these things about Brahman. Humans have been experiencing so much diversity, forms, actions, etc around the world for ages. If Everything is Brahman, or if Brahman is only the truth, or if Brahman is absolute, why so many relative things around us?
Lord Krishna said in Bhagavat Gita, everyone is part of Him, (Krishna as a Brahman). If everyone is part of him why so much misery and sadness around the world? Why hatred and war? Krishna also spoke that he is the cause for all those, not just happiness but also for the sadness. Who causes all this if not him?
If nonduality is the only truth, why do all these differences exist? If I and you are but one, where does this sense of individuality come from?
Why there seem to exist everything but Brahman?
Those Jñānins and enlightened humans who are supposed to be self-realized and devoid of any sense of duality, won’t they react if you smile? or won’t they move when they know something is coming towards their direction to harm the physical body?
Who is the one that is causing all this?
jñāninām api cētāṃsi dēvī bhagavatī hi sā |
balād ākṛṣya mōhāya mahā-māyā prayacchati ||
[She snatches away by force the minds of Jñānins, and puts them into extreme delusion. Indeed, that Bhagavatī is Mahā-māyā, the Great Illusion!]
Mahamaya is the one by whose virtue that eternal, changeless, uncontaminated by any thought or action, nameless, formless, ever-liberated Brahman appears as this phenomenal world. She is the reason why that Brahman, desire-less, one without a second, desires to be many. She is the reason for the existence of all names and forms.
Maya is the reason why you think, and therefore you are!
Millions of stars and galaxies are being created and destroyed every minute because of Maya. She is the reason why you are living on this tiny blue mass of dust revolving around a glowing sphere which itself is revolving around the center of a galaxy.
She is the reason for love and hate. She is the reason for pleasure and pain. She is the reason for fear and courage. She is the reason for ‘me’ and ‘mine’. She is the reason why there seems to exist everything but Brahman.
Like the heat of a fire, Māyā is the Śhakti of Brahman. Just as through its heat, the fire burns things, in a similar manner, through Māyā does Brahman express and experience itself, in the form of this world.
Maya and Brahman aren’t separate
Māyā and Brahman aren’t separate. Can there be any heat without fire? And what is fire without heat? Does that even make sense?
As fire is characterized by heat, Brahman is characterized by Māyā. Without Māyā, there is no Brahman. Brahman is known through Māyā alone. Without Māyā, there would be no individuality. Who would know Brahman, then? Who would be the knower, and what would be to known?
Mahamaya puts Brahman into delusion. Through Her, Brahman manifests as this world. Through Her, It becomes an individual self and experiences Itself. Through Her, It realizes Its own true nature as Brahman and through Her, Brahman attains Mōkṣa!
brahma-viṣṇu-śivādīni nāma-rūpāṇi yāni vai |
yayā vinā na vartantē namas tasyai namō namaḥ ||
[The names and forms like Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva can’t even exist without Her. Salutations, salutations to that Mother!]
māyayā tu yayā brahma jagad-rūpaṃ pratīyatē |
namas tasyai namas tasyai namas tasyai namō namaḥ ||
[Through that Māyā the Brahman is experienced (or appears) as this world. Salutations, salutations, again and again salutations to Her!]