The Gita says Brahman/Atman is simply a witness and its the Maya or prakriti that acts. The Advaitins also holds the same belief.

If Maya is not a separate entity, i.e. if Brahman and Maya are inseparable, just like the sun and its rays are inseparable, then isn't it Brahman who's the doer of all deeds?

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    Shiva and shakti are one. Imagine a ocean of water with ripples waves and small small bubbles and ocean of water without waves. You can understand advaitic answer here Sep 28, 2021 at 16:33
  • brahman and mAyA are not inseparable. What is mentioned as nirguna brahman can and does exist without mAyA. But mAyA cannot exist apart from brahman.
    – user23407
    Sep 28, 2021 at 16:41
  • @zero, I'm confused. You're saying Brahman and Maya are NOT inseparable. While user Jyoti says they're one and the same. Can you explain how does all the activities in this universe takes place? Is it Brahman who does all activities or Maya? Sep 28, 2021 at 17:40
  • (For comments of other members, please enquire with them). nirguNa brahman is actionless as mentioned at multiple places by Shankara. Any sort of an action implies a change and a changeless brahman has to be necessarily actionless. Action is within the sphere of avidyA. One can either say it is mAyA or conditioned brahman that is responsible for actions.
    – user23407
    Sep 28, 2021 at 17:50
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    “ So if maya is responsible for actions, and if Brahman simply remains actionless, then how exactly does the inert/jada/insentient maya performs all actions? –” <—- Yeah this is the problematic aspect of Advait Vedant. This question has kept me up at night so much ! 😭 I’d like to understand what Tantra says on this exactly but huge improvements in my Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali are required for that. Nov 29, 2022 at 9:41

1 Answer 1


This is a very important question and has been subject of fierce debate. Let me first lay out what the critics of Advaita Vedanta's inert Brahman say about the issue.

It is because Sankara Vedanta considers Brahman to be only prakasa or jnana (light or illumination) without any vimarsa or activity that it has to invoke the help of Maya for the manifestation of the universe. Brahman is devoid of any activity; it is, therefore, impotent to create. It is, only Isvara or mayopahita caitanya that can manifest the universe. But whence does this maya drop in? If it is some power extraneous to Brahman or Isvara, then Sankara Vedanta is reduced to dualism. If Maya is only an expression of the power of Brahman, then Brahman cannot be divested of activity. Both Sankhya and Vedanta consider the Purusa or Atma to be niskriya or inactive, because they take the word 'activity' in a very crude sense. Surely, Brahman or Atma does not work like a potter or watch-maker. The very Vimarsa, the very Iccha (will) of the Divine is spiritual energy of incalculable force that can proliferate into any form from the subtlest to the grossest.

Introduction by Jaideva Singh to Siva Sutras, The Yoga of Supreme Identity, Commentary Vimarsini of Ksemraja

The above criticism is from the point of view of Kashmiri Saivism and pretty accurately sums up the puzzle of Maya. Is Maya a part of Brahman? Basically who ordered it? The question about whether Brahman is inert boils down to what is the nature of Maya.

The Advaita Vedanta answer is that the question regarding Maya is ill-posed. One cannot know the nature of Maya while we are inside it. The question ceases to exist once we attain Moksha and we find that Brahman is all.

From the Advaita Vedanta point of view Kashmiri Saivism's 'Parama Siva with will' has mental state associated with it and hence cannot be Impersonal. Brahman as the Impersonal Reality cannot by definition have any mental state associated with it and must be inert.

From the point of view of Advaita Vedanta, maya and avidya are the same. Just as avidya or ignorance has the powers, as it were, to hide Brahman and project something else, such as the world, on it, so also maya, as it were, can cover up Brahman and project the world onto it.

Maya cannot really cover the Reality that is Brahman. A patch of cloud can never cover the sun. It only covers the eyes of those who are looking at the sun. In the same way maya covers our knowing ability and thus obstructs our knowledge of Brahman.

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 one to many essentials of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Bhaskarananda

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    @TheCrimsonUniverse, A liberated soul does not experience any universe during samadhi. Since there is no creation the question about Maya disappears. What happens in non-dual realization cannot be expressed in human words since the subject object distinction vanishes. Sep 29, 2021 at 12:03
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    @TheCrimsonUniverse, I don't think (not completely sure) that KS thinks of Parama Siva as a Personal God with form. Param Siva has two aspects, transcendental and immanent or creative. The creative aspect of Parama Siva is Siva tattva while Sakti tattva is the energy of Siva. Sakti tattva can not be separated from SIva tattva. Param Siva manifests the universe through the Sakti tattva although Siva and Sakti tattva can not be separated. It seems to me KS thinks that Brahmana or Parama SIva has its creative nature in built and AV makes a mistake in making Brahmana inert. Sep 29, 2021 at 12:13
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    @TheCrimsonUniverse, Sri Ramakrishna has tried to harmonize the KS and AV positions. He accepts the KS position that Brahmana and May Sakti are inseparable. So how can AV aspirants experience inert Brahman? According to Sri Ramakrishna, Maya Sakti realizing that the aspirant wants to experience inert Brahman inactivates herself and allows the aspirant to realize inert Brahman. Sep 30, 2021 at 3:37
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    It's nice to go through your old posts. :=) Where can i read more of Ramakrishna's teachings in English? Should I start with the "Gospel of Ramakrishna"? Dec 11, 2022 at 15:10
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    Thanks. Yes, reading 'The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna' is a must. Another book you can read is 'Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master' by Swami Saradananada. Both can be read on line in the following web site:ramakrishnavivekananda.info. You can get the books from amazon or from vedanta.com. You can supplement all this by listening to Swami Sarvapriyananda in You Tube. Dec 12, 2022 at 4:14

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