Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is Maya polytheistic or monotheistic?

Somebody asked this question on www.ask.com. I wonder what he/she meant by it.

Theism by definition is a belief in God.

The prefix poly or mono depends on how many Gods you believe in.

Maya means illusions or ignorance.

So, is there any relation between theism and maya? I do not see any but if there is any, I am open to answers and opinion. Let's flag off a discussion on this topic.


pooja said...

very interesting ...leaving the "poly" and "mono" aside...i wud like to think that there exists a relation between maya and ones belief in god... after all its also an attachment ...fr example - meera was devoted to krishna ..but look at it frm another angle, she was attached to him
God may be even quoted as an illusion ....a positive one maybe...

Karmasura said...

Hmm.. perhaps this can be true from the atheistic perspective.

Random Walker said...

Maya as it is defined in your post and in classic texts does literally mean illusion or ignorance. But illusion of what? Ignorance of what? Most practitioners or followers of this/Indian/sub-thought of Indian/human Philosophy believe that this ignorance is created because of Mind. The rope in the dark is confused with a snake... in which case the truth (rope) can only be ascertained by direct perception.

What Pooja seems to be pointing to is that the desire to be liberated or the desire to be united with God as a concept is also a DESIRE. She also points out that it may be a worthy desire or a positive desire, but it is a desire nonetheless. And, indeed how can it not be? Until it is a direct perception any concept is part of the illusion, including the concept of God or the name "God" which we use to describe something, because concepts are part of the mind created stuff... thoughts. This isn't so different from the Advaita thought...

Regarding your question if there is a connection between Maya and mono or polytheism, I would like to venture and say Yes and No.

As long as mono or polytheism is a concept which is the label obtained by a monstrous reduction of "direct experience" to name something that isn't directly experienced, then it is Maya because the word is uttered without experience of the knowledge contained within that label... so in that sense both these systems are a part of Maya.

From the perspective of a liberated soul like Ramana maharshi or Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, after having a direct experience they knew the roots of the concepts and words - so even these concepts and words are expressions of the awakened consciousness i.e., for them the various branches of hindu, buddhist, islamic, christian, bahai, poly or monotheistic systems of belief or whatever else are all the same truth expressed in different words - they are also aware of the limitations that a normal soul can be stymied by when these words are applied. So, for an awakened soul, these words ring with the same divine essence.. and do not form a part of Maya.


How should the knower be known?

Karmasura said...

Thanks for the participation Random Walker.. Now for some of my thoughts.

About Maya.. my meaning was generic, that it is illusion or ignorance of anything and not God in particular.

But after posting this, my thoughts started meandering around the question of existence itself.

What if God himself is a Maya? An illusion that was created to keep in order a population that was mostly illiterate?

Then that leaves us with what these people were thinking. Our thinking of the above would mean that all the sages prior to us were upto sinister motives, which might not be the case on a larger scale. And also it would mean that all of our ancestors over the millenia were fooled. Surely there was something out there that the ancients believed in and adhered to so closely?

But if we accept the existence of God, a completely new question arises of the difference in the portrayal of God in Abrahamic and Dharmic faiths. Why are some faiths inclusivist and allow the existence of the non-conformist, while some do not and propagate that he must be brought into the fold by any means whatsoever? How did the switch occur in these faiths and why so much of hatred for the 'other? And this being said by the Almighty himself? Were they really to be intended that way? Are they religions at all? Or something else in the name of imposing an idea of God, that cannot be grasped by many.

Random Walker said...

Karmasura (the mighty one of action),

The aim of your question seems to be to equate "ignorance" with monotheism, more particularly, with Abrahamic religions. If that is indeed so, I do not want to say anymore. It is quite dangerous to reduce an entire faith to a concept that we haven't understood ourselves.

"What if God himself is a Maya? An illusion that was created to keep in order a population that was mostly illiterate?"

The concept of God is in the domain of Maya (the spiritual ignorance) no matter which faith you come from... but the "reality of God" isn't in the domain of maya. for example, our concept of an elephant is not the same as the 'real' elephant or the reality of an elephant... and an elephant as a concept and visible reality can still be checked... whereas our concepts about "GOD" cannot be when we haven't realized IT. What you surmise about the "GOD as a concept" and not God as a reality...is true.

So, how come a blog named my experiments with bhagavad gita talk about religion and such.. i thought it was about spirituality and yoga :d you don't have to answer that :)

Gandaragolaka said...

This post is not about God's existence.

The notion that Maya is either Monotheistic or Ploytheistic is wrong.

Maya exists as just a dream, a "non-reality" of the Supreme-self.

There can be 2, 3, or infinite number of those Supreme-Selves orbiting each other, but it simply doesnt matter.


Because 'Advaita' means, 'Na dwayam':
It NEVER says, 'There is ONLY ONE'.
It ALWAYS says, 'This is not different from that, which is not different from the Supreme-Self'.

If there are more than one of such Supreme-Selves, they are so perfectly in harmony with each other that they are indistinguishable.

Hence, the idea of Shanmatha (six-religions) propagated by Sri Adi Sankara makes sence, because after reaching a certain level of philosophical thought, all the six beliefs, each having a different deity--Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti, Ganapati, Skanda, and Surya are NOT DIFFERENT from one another.

And regarding the God as an illusion:
Within the circle of Maya, buddhi is the supreme commander and it can prove and disprove anything.Untill and unless the reigns are handed over to Atma within ourselves, buddhi is correct.

Karmasura said...

Had to read up on Advaita and I feel the philosophy adequately explains it.

Thanks for putting it so succinctly.. I bet this can help reshaping the debate.

Gandaragolaka said...

Something left unsaid regarding the plausible logic that 'desire to be find God is also a desire' and 'God is a part of illusion':

The body is really a chariot with the five senses as the five horses, the mind as the charioteer, and the Atma as the actual traveller in the chariot.

This chariot, or rather charioteer, has a purpose: To lead the passenger to his destination-- the liberation.

Now mind is a really complicated thing and three kinds of thoughts/ desires are born in a Human mind:
1) The Taamasic
2) the Raajasa,
3) the Saatvika.

Yes, this mind is full of worldly desires, but it is entirely upto this mind to eschew other thoughts and hang on to the saatvik thoughts and lead the other-worldly Atma to its destination.

Hence, though the 'attachment to God' is indeed an attachment, once the connection is made between jiva-Atma and paramatma, the words 'attachment', 'illusion', etc cease to make sense for the liberated person. This can be explained as follows: When a water droplet rejoins the ocean, there is no longer any 'connection' between the droplet and the ocean. They are one now. Similarly, the person has surrendered his/her ego to that supreme ego and has already merged with it.

Random Walker said...


That aspect wasn't left unsaid in the discussion. In fact, it forms the basis of the thought I was trying to put across, albeit in a different terminology.

Consider: "but it is a desire nonetheless. And, indeed how can it not be? Until it is a direct perception any concept is part of the illusion, including the concept of God or the name "God" which we use to describe something, because concepts are part of the mind created stuff..."

The key word here is not God, but "concept of God". Indeed, GOD as a reality experienced/known after liberation is beyond concepts or theories... and, our species' current "concept" of God is still distinct from the actual experience of liberation itself... therefore, the "concept of God" belongs to the purview of Maya, not GOD-the-reality. And in this sense, it is a desire. Once the reality dawns as you succinctly put it as a drop merging with the ocean, the experience of God can only be explained to another drop (human soul/spirit) in its own terms and it does look like a desire...

This terminology is not meant for traditionalists...for the less technically inclined what it does is it charts its way around negative connotations some people may have about "the concept of God" and instead focus on the awareness that is God. Having a "concept of God" or not is not as important as being aware of the "journey" towards de-identification with mind and thoughts... i.e., instead of squabbling about what "our" God does beyond "their" God, this idea shows the way to get around 'labels' and focus beneath the surface...

Once this de-identification is brought about, then there is no duality or dwayam... it is in this sense that I used the term Advaita.. which isn't different from its original semantics. Perhaps, this will help to clarify my thought process.

Gandaragolaka said...

Some observations:
1) Maya is neither Good nor Bad. It is not a system to be fought against. It has a function to cull out those who are truly great.

2) The 'concept of God' and 'God' may be same, or may not be the same.After all, Maya is a dream of the Godhead.

3)Concept of God is within Maya, but Maya is not always Bad. It always tries to convey that it (and hence, we) does not exist.

4)So old is Indic culture that the traditionalists have been around for a long time, and so have been the modernistas. No single path towards liberation is favoured over others. All this is generally known.

5) I see where you are going from here on, regarding "My God vs. Your God". No use. We have done that before, thrice-- the shanmatha structure, and the integration of Jainism, and that of Buddhism.

But the Abrahamic religions are.. well different.


Because there is one more thing added to these religions along with the 'God' and the 'Concept of God': 'The book'.

'The book' is really the central characteristic of these religions. And one of the basic tenets of these religions is the attitude of the adherents towards non-believers mentioned explicitly in 'The book'.

'The book' is the real source of 'Us vs. Them', 'Our God vs. Their God' etc. This is not a clash of civilisations or religions. Its an imperialism in reality.

Take out 'The book' and you see a Hindu everywhere, regardless of his/her religion.

Karmasura said...


1) Thanks for bringing out the point of the book.. that thought was missing in my earlier comment.

2) Regarding fighting maya.. the tags that I used was my attempt at trying to convey that I was 'clearing maya'.. If something is an illusion, it can never be fought against, only cleared by learning and discourse.

I admit thus that the use of the word 'Combating' before Maya in my tags and in the post was wrong.

Changes have been made and this will not be repeated in the future. Thanks for pointing this out.

yadbhavishya said...

This is a very late comment.

Regarding the concept of "achieving/realising/'see'ing god" or in more famous terms, 'moksha/nirvana'; I have read and listened to great Hindu thinkers and they say it is definitely a desire and is not recommended in the very best interests of a truth-seeker. But it is not 'bad' in worldly or even spiritual terms.

In Vishishtadvaita, the concept of "Sharanagathi" deals with the same thing. As simply as, when you are going to reach him anyway, why 'bother to try' to reach him.

As for Maya, I am no expert, but look outside your window, the sun is actually not where it seems to be,the bird chirps you are hearing are not from 'now' etc. So the concept of absolute time is demolished and with it the concept of space. So what is left?

Karmasura said...

Thanks for the comments Yadbhavishya.. I will take some time to respond.