The idea of Māyāvāda has always been present since the decline of the Vedic age. It is born from the minds of those jivas who have been envious and desired to usurp the position of God. These jīvas, having lost touch with the highest ideal of serving God as an individual part and parcel have fallen into this man-made plane of thought. Unlike this idea, the Vedic literatures are eternal and apauruṣeya (descended to this world untouched by the faulty thought process of the human mind). Those unfortunate people who deviate from the teachings of the Vedas invariably fall away from their eternal position as a servant of God into lower planes of consciousness.
The word ‘Māyāvāda’ does not appear in the any of the authorized Vedic literatures. It is clear by this that Māyāvāda did not appear before or even during the Vedic age. It is a man-made concoction that manifested in a post Vedic era. The conditioned human mind and intelligence are imperfect, thus making any so-called knowledge that is independent from the Vedas fallible at best. Anything that is man-made in this world is temporary because it has a beginning and if there is a beginning then there will surely be an end. If such is the case then this temporary man-made philosophy will not bring anyone closer to the truth – instead it will blind them and take them far away.
The Appearance of Śaṇkara
The Māyāvāda philosophy had its beginning before the time of Śaṇkarācārya, but it only became famous and renowned due to his preaching. Śaṇkarācārya is in fact a manifestation of Śiva who descended to this world to spread the false philosophy of Māyāvāda. Śiva spoke to Pārvatī as follows:
māyāvādam asac-chāstraṁ pracchannaḥ baudham ucyate
mayaiva kalpitaṁ devī kalau brāhmaṇa-rūpinā
“O Goddess, in the age of Kali I shall descend in the form of a brāhmana to spread this māyāvāda philosophy which is actually covered Buddhism. (Padma Purāna)
Some may ask why Śiva carried out such a nefarious deed – he is after all the greatest of the Vaiṣnavas, so why would he want to draw people’s attention away from the Lord and mislead them? There are actually two reasons culminating in Śiva’s descent as Śaṅkara and the widespread preaching of this māyāvāda philosophy. Those of demoniac mindsets had taken to the Vaiṣnava philosophy and were causing trouble for the true and faithful Vaiṣnavas of the Lord. Being all-merciful the Supreme Lord ordered Śiva in this way:
svāgamaiḥ kalpitais tvaṁ ca janān mad-vimukhān kuru
māṁ ca gopaya yena syat śṛṣṭir eṣottarottarā
“Make the general public averse to Me by some imaginary hypothesis from you, also camouflage me so that the public will be deluded gradually by desire for material advancement.” (Padma Purāna)
Also in the Varāha Purāna Lord Viṣnu instructs Śiva saying:
eṣa mohaṁ sṛjāmy aśu yo janān mohayiṣyati
tvaṁ ca rudra mahā-bāho moha-śāstrānī kāraya
“O mighty-armed Śiva, please write books filled with lies, and thus bewilder the people.”
atathyāni vitathyāni darśayasva mahā-bhuja
prakāśaṁ kuru cātmānaṁ aprakāśaṁ ca māṁ kuru
“O mighty-armed one, please preach a collection of lies. Place yourself in the forefront, and conceal Me.”
In this way the Lord ensured that only his true devotees would be able to recognize the pure path of devotion and those of a demoniac mindset would be led astray by this false philosophy.
The second reason for the māyāvāda philosophy was to bring back attention to the Vedas. In his previous incarnation as Buddha the Lord descended to stop the unnecessary slaughter of animals that had become prevalent in the name of Vedic sacrifices. Many so-called brāhmanas were slaughtering multitudes of animals in order to satisfy their tongues and justifying it on the basis of the Vedas. Buddha came and preached an atheistic message of non-violence taking the focus off of the Vedas. Śaṇkarācārya carried out the order of the Supreme Lord to propound this māyāvāda philosophy which is much like Buddhism. Due to the strong influence of the non-existence doctrine (śūnyavāda) of the Buddhists, the Vedas were being ignored and had become almost forgotten. Vedic study was not considered an essential daily requirement and the activities of varnāśrama-dharma had become degenerated and degraded. At this time most of the brāhmanas had become Buddhists totally shunning sanātana-dharma. What Śaṇkarācārya accomplished was a successful transformation of Buddha’s śūnyavāda into the brahmavāda of his māyāvāda hypothesis. Thus Śaṇkara’s philosophy guided the people back to the Vedic way of life. Thus ultimately Lord Śiva was following the direct order of the Supreme Lord for a greater good.
Why Māyāvāda and Buddhism are Identical
As stated by Śiva in Padma Purāna, Māyāvāda is considered to be pracchannaḥ-baudham or covered Buddhism. This is because māyāvāda philosophy has many concepts identical with Buddhist philosophy. In fact māyāvāda was openly denounced as ‘crypto-Buddhism’ by early philosophers like Bhaskarācārya, Pārtha-sārathī Miśra, Yādava-prakāśa, Rāmānuja and Madhva. There are differences between the māyāvādīs and the Buddhists so far as the external rules of social conduct go, yet as far as their philosophies are concerned there is absolutely no difference between these two schools. There are various reasons for this.
- Buddha says that the world is śūnya-tattva (non-existent) in all three phases of time (past, present and future). Śaṅkara says the world is mithya (non-existent), devoid of past, present and future.
- Buddhism says that the way to achieve nirvāna is prajña-paramita (knowledge of reality) and to understand that the world is full of suffering. Māyāvādīs says that tattva-jñāna (true knowledge of reality) is the method to attain mokṣa.
- There is no difference between Buddha’s śūnya and Śaṇkara’s Brahman. Śūnya according to the Buddhist text Prajna-paramita-sutra is unimpeded, imperishable and immeasurable. It is untainted, causeless, unborn, non-existent, without support and inexpressible. The Buddhists say that Śūnyam is māno-vācam agocara – not describable by either mind or words. Māyāvādīs say the same about Brahman.
- The concepts of liberation according to Buddhism and māyāvāda are the same. In Buddhism it is conceived of as the removal of samvṛti (the veil of illusion), while in māyāvāda it is the removal of avidyā (ignorance). Both samvṛti and avidyā are Sanskrit terms with the same meaning.
- Both the Brahman of the māyāvādī and thee śūnyam of the Buddhist have no attributes. Therefore, both must be identical.
- Both māyāvādīs and Buddhists believe that creation is illusory. The Buddhist says that creation appears due to the covering of samvṛtti on śūnyam, whereas the māyāvādī states that it is due to ignorance superimposed upon Brahman. In this respect also there is no difference between the two.
In other words, while the māyāvādis claim that their doctrine is originating from Vedic scriptures, they are actually propagating atheistic Buddhist philosophy.
The Two Types of Māyāvāda
There are actually two different types of māyāvādīs – one is known as the Brahma-parināmavādī and the other as the Vivartavādī. The Brahma-parināmavādīs consider that Brahman has undergone some transformation (parināma) and become everything in creation including the jīvas. They try and prove this theory with a verse from Chāndogya Upaniṣad (6.2.1) – ekam evādvitīyaṁ, which they translate as, “Before creation there only existed the non-dual Absolute.”
Does this verse mean to say that nothing else exists at all besides Brahman? If so, then where has māyā come from? Whom does māyā bewilder if not Brahman? If māyā does bewilder Brahman then they are rendering Brahman impotent. The true translation of this verse is, “The absolute is one without a second.”
The Vivartavādīs consider that there is no transformation whatsoever – everything is an illusion (vivarta). Anything we perceive as change or transformation is actually ajñāna (ignorance). To prove this they cite their famous analogy of the ‘rope and snake’. If in the darkness somebody comes upon some rope lying on the pathway they may perceive it to be a snake.
rajjva jñānāt kṣane naiva yadvadrajjur hi sarpinī
“A rope may be momentarily perceived as a snake before ignorance is lifted”. (Śaṇkara’s Aparokṣānubhuti, verse 44)
In other words, this world and everything in it, although non-existent, is taken to be real when actually it is only the superimposition of māyā on Brahman. In reality, only Brahman is real. Māyā deludes us and makes us believe that the world and its variety is real.
However, the rope-snake parallel is a weak analogy to prove vivartavāda because snakes and ropes both exist. A person who mistakes a rope for a snake must have previously experienced a real snake, and he only mistakes the rope as a snake due to imperfect conditions (in this case darkness). His prior experience of snakes, therefore, will cause his mind to superimpose the impression of a snake on the rope in semidarkness. By contrast, someone who has no experience of snakes will never mistake a rope for one. A baby, for example, will never mistake a rope for a snake.
The Problem of Māyā
As mentioned above, to explain the obvious variety in this world māyāvādīs are forced to introduce the concept of māyā – a beginningless entity that they cannot define as either existent or non-existent which covers Brahman. If they conclude that māyā is real then their non-dualism (advaita) falls into the category of dualism (dvaita). If they conclude that māyā is unreal then how does the unreal cover the Absolute Reality with illusion? In an attempt to solve this problem Śaṅkara devised a theory that māyā is neither existent nor non-existent nor both. Of course, this is a contradictory idea – māyā cannot be neither existent nor non-existent. This is impossible. Something either exists or it doesn’t, there is no middle ground. So in order to overcome this, Śaṅkara describes māyā as anirvacaniya (indescribable). Śaṇkara’s theory of anirvacanīya is very convenient, besides the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever! In the Bhagavad-gītā (2.16) Kṛṣna clearly recognizes only two categories – sat and asat.
nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ
ubhayor api dṛṣṭo ’ntas tv anayos tattva-darśibhiḥ
“Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that the unreal (asat) has no existence and that the real (sat) has no nonexistence.”
There is no mention here or in any other bona-fide śāstra of an inexplicable third mode. Thus there is no third mode in material existence, as the māyāvādīs claim.
Liberation According to Māyāvāda
The māyāvādīs have concluded that everything in this world is false (brahma-satyam jagat-mithya). Everything that interacts with your senses is ultimately the covering of māyā. When one gains liberation then one realizes that those trapped in this world are part of the whole Brahman in a covered state of being. Brahman is nirguṇa (without qualities), nirūpa (without form or character), nothing at all exists besides Brahman, whether inside it (as it’s part or attribute), or outside it. Brahman is supposed to be all pervading, yet māyā somehow manages to find her niche somewhere. However, if Brahman was all pervading then how could māyā exist? Not only does māyā exist, but she is above and beyond Brahman because she has control over some portion of it (the ignorant jīvas). Thus Brahman is categorized into two separate factions – saguna-brahman (realized Brahman) and nirguna-brahman (ignorant Brahman). The same Brahman cannot be the controller as well as the controlled, because ignorance and knowledge cannot exist simultaneously in the one undivided reality, just as light and darkness cannot occupy the same point in space. The theory of oneness is thus lost. Māyāvādīs see no difference between the Whole and it’s parts. A portion of the Whole can never be equal to the Whole.
According to the māyāvādīs the jīva merges into ānanda-svarūpa-brahman (the blissful state of Brahman) upon obtaining liberation. At the same time these cheaters state that Brahman is nirguṇa (without qualities). If Brahman has no qualities, then how can it possess such a quality as bliss? Putting this issue aside then we move on to the fact that the jīva apparently merges completely into this blissful Brahman to experience the ultimate happiness. How will the jīva experience this bliss if he has become one with it? For example, if you wish to taste sugar then you must remain as a separate entity. If you become sugar then how can you taste your own sweetness?
The māyāvādī method of attaining Brahman is through meditation and jñāna. They say that through knowledge one becomes Brahman. Yet at the same time they say that both jñāna (knowledge) and ajñāna (ignorance) are māyā and ultimately false. If through knowledge ignorance is removed, what then will you do to remove the jñāna which is also false? Their answer to this question is that, “It is the mercy of Brahman.” Once again they fall back into the same trap – how does a formless, homogenous mass of spiritual substance with no qualities suddenly show the quality of dayā (mercy)? They say that Brahman has no form and no qualities yet they continuously project qualities and personality unto it whenever they deem it convenient to suit their purpose.
The māyāvāda philosophy has been utterly decimated by numerous Vaiṣnava ācāryas throughout history. Such persons as Rāmānuja, Madhvācārya, Jīva Gosvāmī, Baladeva Vidyābhuṣana, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda and many more. Ultimately the māyāvāda philosophy holds no firm ground in a serious discussion. Even without drawing from scriptural evidence any person can hear the conclusions of the māyāvādīs and soundly beat them with simple logic. It is a self-defeating philosophy that is continuously in the process of killing itself.