Adi Shankara's doctrine of Maya is very widely known specially among the Vedantins; according to which all the dualities are perceived by self owing to ignorance(avidya) and that self is one without a second.

My question is regarding Shankara's commentary on Bhagvad Gita 13th chapter verse 2. i'm reading translation of Alladi Mahadev Shastry. (check page 334)

Here Purvapaksh raises a question regarding relation of self and avidya. In reply this is what Shankara says:

It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidya, at the same moment (that your Self cognises avidya); for, the cogniser (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidya. Neither can there be a (separate) .cogniser of the relation between the cogniser (the Self) and avidya, nor a separate cognition of, that (relation) ; for then you would commit the fallacy of infinite regress (anavastha). _ If the relation between the cogniser (the Self) and the cognised could be cognised, another cogniser should be supposed to exist; then another cogniser of that cogniser ; ,then another of that again; and so on; and thus the series would necessarily be endless.

So here my question is regarding part in bold. Why Shankara thinks that Percipient cannot perceive a relation between himself and the perceived?

Ex say. I cognize my mother and at the same time cognize the relation between us as that of son-mother.

But from my understanding of Shankara's comment it appears to me that Adi Shankara doesn't think this is possible. He thinks that a relation of son-mother can only be perceived by some third person(other then mother and son).

So why does Shankaracharya think that such a case is impossibility?

  • What is the meaning of this word : congnised ?
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jul 10, 2018 at 10:28
  • @thelittleNaruto cognize means to become aware of, or to know or to perceive. Jul 10, 2018 at 13:23
  • Nope! Not cognise but co'n'gnised.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jul 10, 2018 at 15:01

3 Answers 3


Let's just consider that you are in the state of dream -

It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to dream, at the same moment (that your Self cognises dream); for, the dreamer (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of dream. Neither can there be a (separate) .cogniser 【Within you】of the relation between the dreamer (the Self) and dream, nor a separate cognition 【Within you】of, that (relation) ; for then you would commit the fallacy of infinite regress (anavastha). _ If the relation between the dreamer (the Self) and the dream could be cognised, another cogniser【Within you】 should be supposed to exist; then another cogniser of that cogniser ; ,then another of that again; and so on; and thus the series would necessarily be endless.

Simply put, the dreamer can know the dream, but at the same time cannot know that he is dreaming. If we say that someone else within him cognises that he is dreaming, then we enter an infinite regression. Why your analogy of son-mother fails is because the son is at the same level of reality as the mother, while the relation of maya-Self is like the dream-dreamer relation.

  • There is a way the dreamer can know that he/she is dreaming. It is called Lucid Dreaming. A raw example with relation to Hinduism is Yoga Nidra. Dreaming, I don't think, fits as an example in this case, although your specific case might involve mundane people, in which case mention it.
    – user9072
    Jul 13, 2018 at 10:35
  • I suspected someone would mention lucid dreaming, but I don't mean to say that in no kind of dreaming one may not know that he is dreaming. I am just providing normal dreaming as an analogy to explain the argument.
    – SMJoe
    Jul 13, 2018 at 11:26
  • So then its for mundane people, you should mention such specifics to avoid such comments as mine before lol.
    – user9072
    Jul 13, 2018 at 16:38

It is not possible to perceive the relationship between us and avidya or maya as we are creatures living within the domain of maya.

In any act of knowing, the ‘knower’ and the object known’ have to be separate from each other. They cannot be the same. In order for us to know maya, it has to be separate from us. Individuals like us are the products of maya and we are all posited within the domain of maya. Maya and we individuals are not separate from each other, just as chocolate and a bear-shaped chocolate candy are not different from each other.

As we are identical with maya, we cannot know maya. For this reason, maya is not only unknowable; it is inexplicable as well (anirvachaniya).

Journey from many to one Essentials of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Bhaskarananda

What does it mean to say that we live within the domain of maya or we are products of maya? The answer given by Advaita is that we are really Brahman but we think of ourselves as human beings. What does one see when one goes beyond maya?

The Master wanted to train Narendra in the teachings of the non-dualistic Vedanta philosophy. But Narendra, because of his Brahmo upbringing, considered it wholly blasphemous to look on man as one with his Creator. One day at the temple garden he laughingly said to a friend: "How silly! This jug is God! This cup is God! Whatever we see is God! And we too are God! Nothing could be more absurd." Sri Ramakrishna came out of his room and gently touched him. Spellbound, he immediately perceived that everything in the world was indeed God. A new universe opened around him. Returning home in a dazed state, he found there too that the food, the plate, the eater himself, the people around him, were all God. When he walked in the street, he saw that the cabs, the horses, the streams of people, the buildings, were all Brahman. He could hardly go about his day's business. His parents became anxious about him and thought him ill. And when the intensity of the experience abated a little, he saw the world as a dream. Walking in the public square, he would strike his head against the iron railings to know whether they were real. It took him a number of days to recover his normal self. He had a foretaste of the great experiences yet to come and realized that the words of the Vedanta were true.

Introduction (Narendra) to The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna translated by Swami Nikhilananda

So when we live within maya then we see ourselves as sons who have mothers and fathers and wives etc. These relationships are all within maya. When we go beyond maya then we see everything as Brahman. What we cannot know is how maya makes relationships between mother and son possible even when both mother and son are nothing but Brahman. We cannot also know how maya is related to us.

  • What does ot mean to say "we are identical with maya?". Aren't we 1 woth Brahman as per advaita? Jul 12, 2018 at 17:47
  • We realize we are Brahman only when we attain the Advaita moksha state when we finally succeed in going beyond maya. Normally we are products of maya, i.e. identify ourselves as jiva due to the influence of maya shakti. This false identification as a mere Jiva and not Brahman due to maya is the meaning of 'we are identical with maya'. Jul 13, 2018 at 14:59

The reason the percipient cannot cognize any relationship is because for Shankara everything is Brahman; in other words everything is A-dvaita = not two.

Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says,

दैवी ह्येषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया |
मामेव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायामेतां तरन्ति ते || 14 ||

daivī hyeṣhā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te

Verily, this divine illusion of mine, made up of the three qualities of nature is difficult to cross over, those who take refuge in Me alone, cross over this illusion.

The line "Cross over this illusion" points out that we all are deluded in Maya, wherein we perceive plurality, which is the cause for cognizing something in relation to something. What is the base of that relation? Material bodies and everything under the influence of Maya. We cognize ourselves as a son with respect to our mother, because we identify a certain flesh-and-bone body as our mother, whereas in reality, our Atman has taken many bodies and have had many mothers, be it human, dog, insect, plant etc.

Vivekachudamani describes Maya as:

अव्यक्तनाम्नी परमेशशक्तिः
अनाद्यविद्या त्रिगुणात्मिका परा ।
कार्यानुमेया सुधियैव माया
यया जगत्सर्वमिदं प्रसूयते || 108 ||

avyaktanāmnī parameśaśaktiḥ
anādyavidyā triguṇātmikā parā |
kāryānumeyā sudhiyaiva māyā
yayā jagatsarvamidaṃ prasūyate

It is undifferentiated and undivided. Nobody can define what it is, but it has the power of God. Beginning less and yet, also called ignorance, it has three qualities; sattva, rajas and tamas. It cannot be understood except by its actions, and that, only by the illumined ones. It has created all this universe – produced it all. It is Maya. (Verse 108).

Maya is ephemeral.

Maya has two powers – concealing power (avarana shakti) and projecting power (vikshepa shakti). Maya with these two powers conceals the reality and projects the non-reality. The power of projection creates the world.

The foams and bubbles in the ocean are nothing but the ocean water in another form. The foams and bubbles conceal the ocean and project it in another form as foams and bubbles. Similarly, the world is a manifestation of Brahman. Brahman is limitless, unchanging consciousness. Like foams and bubbles in the ocean, names and forms become manifest. (Drig Drishya Viveka, Verse 14).

So the cognizing ability of Jivas is only present due to plurality, within Maya, since Shankara expounds Advaita. Once the Jivas are liberated, they see everything as Brahman, so there is no cognizing to be done.

As mentioned in Avadhuta Gita, a text promoting mainly Advaita -

मनो वै गगनाकारं मनो वै सर्वतोमुखम् |
मनोऽतीतं मनः सर्वं न मनः परमार्थतः || 9 ||

mano vai gaganākāraṁ mano vai sarvatomukham |
mano'tītaṁ manaḥ sarvaṁ na manaḥ paramārthataḥ ||

The mind indeed is of the form of space. The mind indeed is omnifaced. The mind is the past. The mind is all. But in reality there is no mind. (Chapter 1, Verse 9)

Also as a final statement I would like to quote Isha Upanishad.

यस्मिन्सर्वानि भूतानन्यात्मैवभुद्विजानतः |
तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः || 7 ||

yasminsarvāni bhūtānanyātmaivabhudvijānataḥ |
tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvamanupaśyataḥ ||

To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness? (Verse 7)

  • 1
    Also to perceive that you are in Avidya, you need to be outside the system. While you're in Avidya, you cannot be liberated from it just like that, unless you receive a momentum (moksha / Brahmagyan).
    – user9072
    Jul 11, 2018 at 7:37
  • I had rolledback my upvote since i was not sure if it wud give you the bounty. I like the answer, but dint want to give the bounty. Anyways i upvoted again Jul 11, 2018 at 10:32
  • @Arka As far as I understood, according to Advaita Vedanta Maya is not real nor it is Brahman but just a Illusion. Right ?
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jul 11, 2018 at 14:52
  • Maya can be compared to clouds which cover the sun: the sun remains in the sky but a dense cloud cover prevents us from seeing it. When the clouds disperse, we become aware that the sun has been there all the time. Our clouds—maya appearing as egotism, selfishness, hatred, greed, lust, anger, ambition—are pushed away when we meditate upon our real nature, when we engage in unselfish action, and when we consistently act and think in ways that manifest our true nature: that is, through truthfulness, purity, contentment, self-restraint, and forbearance.
    – user9072
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:07
  • 1
    @ArkaprabhaMajumdar We may discuss further in Agama chatroom
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Jul 12, 2018 at 12:30

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