Gist: Understanding Prakriti or Maya. Is she Jada or chetana or both. Since supreme goddess is Maya, Maya is not necessarily a bad or scary thing as is commonly stated. this answer too speaks very highly of her.
Puri Shankaracharya says:
When Brahman wants to become sākāra and saguna (with form and attributes), his shakti known as Maya or Prakriti must be accepted. As per Śvetāśvatara Upanishad, this Maya a.k.a shakti of Brahman is composed of three forms viz. iccha, jñāna and kriya shakti through which he becomes saguna. (Forgot why I quoted the above, if I remember I’ll edit it)
Puri Shankaracharya says
Maya is beyond tattvas. The Śvetāśvatara Upanishad, says माया तु प्रकृतिं विद्यात् - Know Maya to be Prakriti. Prakriti as exists in the Sankhya philosophy, when conceived as the shakti of Brahman in Vedantic philosophy is called Maya, the shakti that brings about creation, through which jiva jagat and paramatma are conceived.
From this we can understand the importance of Maya. Often, the Purusha is associated with the male god and his Shakti or Maya with his ‘wife’ or the supreme goddess. Quoting an example from Ramcharitmanas:
आगें रामु लखनु बने पाछें। तापस बेष बिराजत काछें॥ उभय बीच सिय सोहति कैसें। ब्रह्म जीव बिच माया जैसें॥१॥
In front was Ramaji and behind was Lakshmana. In the guise of ascetics they had lustre. Between both, Sita looked charming like Maya in the middle of Brahman (Ramaji) and Jiva (Lakshmana).
Ayodhyakanda Doha 123.1
The Devi Bhagavata Purāṇa says:
the Devī Bhāgavatī, the Prime Śakti ... There is oneness always between me and the Puruṣa; there is difference whatsoever at any time between me and the Purusha (Male, the Supreme Self). Who is I, that is Puruṣa; who is Puruṣa, that is I. 3.6
You have seen the Śakti (the Prime Energy) personified the Saguṇa energy, the Supreme Goddess, having hands and feet; but cannot understand of what kind is that Nirguṇa Śakti which cannot be seen and which is devoid of all Prākritic qualities. 3.7
(Note: Yes I know the Devi Bhagavata has Devi as supreme but this question is centred around the Prakriti aspect. Then again the Devi Bhagavatham talks of the inseparability of Purusha and Prakriti and this answer too talks of when either of them is considered supreme, they’re spoken of together (supreme male and supreme female))
Questions: (Note some questions may sound stupid, please don’t downvote trying to understand something here)
- Is Maya to be conceived as the supreme female goddess as merely shakti of Brahman, as per the quotes above? Or is Maya to be conceived as the shakti of the supreme goddess who herself is Brahman? (Refer Note). Can I attribute Saguna aspect to both OR only to Brahman (see Q3 for saguna aspect to jada)? For example can I say shiva is Brahman or Purusha and Devi Parvati is Maya or Prakriti OR do I say something like Narayana is the supreme, without any attribute to Mahalakshmi? similar to Q1
- If Maya is conceived as the supreme female goddess, is Maya, jada (insentient) only or does she too have chetana like Purusha; instead the tattvas like manas, buddhi, ahankara she produces are jada? similar to Q3
- If Maya is jada (answer to 1 above is affirmative), then why is an ‘only insentient thing’ (or how can he be/whats the logic for being) personified her as the supreme goddess? (God should be both jada chetana, she can’t be only lifeless matter)
Note: I would prefer not to have an answer with something like Brahman and Maya are same although it’s welcome. Trying to understand Prakriti or Maya here. Please keep the language as basic (baby level) as possible and provide little explanation to understand something like GIRIBLR’s answers. Taking names of gods (eg. Narayana Mahalakshmi) to explain is also welcome. Also I’d prefer answers from a vedantic perspective i.e. Maya and the supreme goddess. Related
Note for Q1: See I know Prakriti is an aspect of Brahman indeed but it has been described elaborately and separately. While differentiating between why not conceiving Maya as supreme Goddess, please explain the nature/ job of Maya, besides inconceivable and above 3 gunas.