I myself am an admirer of the Bhagavad Gita, and am a strong believer of its teachings. There is something, however, that still raises a question in my mind, that I cannot answer fully. I however believe that it arises because I have not yet fully understood its essence. It is said in Gita, that the Aatma (soul) is supreme, in the sense that it cannot be scorched by the fire, pierced by the weapon, dried by the wind,or soaked by the water. In other words, in its very true form, it is unaffected by any sort of external physical force.

Why is it then the situation, that when it resides in a mortal body, it forgets its true nature and falls prey to the trigunas (sattva, raja, tama) of maya?

If this did not happen, then there would not be any necessity for the Lord Himself to be incarnated and teach the supreme lesson to the trapped soul! Or, is it something, that is beyond the limits of our thoughts?

  • 1
    Actually this so called 'why does maya exist' is an unanswerable question in religion. The traditional answer is that nobody really knows why or how maya exists. Different schools of thought propose different ways of saying that 'there is no explanation'. Some say it is God's leela, some say it is an eternal energy of God, some say it is sat asat vilakshana, some say it is illusion, etc. etc. Rather the best thing to do is realizing that we are not the body and that we are the immortal soul. Such questions are dealt with in Gaudapada's Karika. All the best!! – Sai Mar 6 '15 at 6:01

You are not in the body, you are only apparently in the body. There is no need for the Lord to do anything, you are already free. You cannot become something which you are not. If you were not already free, you could never become free. The Asthvakra Samhita (1.11) says - "A man who considers himself free is free indeed, a man who considers himself bound remains bound. This popular saying is true - as one thinks so one becomes."

Questions such as why...? can only be asked in the relative universe. There are no questions, no why, from an Absolute standpoint.

From an advaitic standpoint, you only apparently exist in a body. This is called vivarta vada - apparent manifestation. The universe only apparently exists. Does the lake in a mirage wet the earth below? A cloud only apparently covers the Sun...can a cloud of a few hundred meters really cover something which is millions of miles in diameter?

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    You're saying that from an absolute standpoint, you're already free. But that doesn't really answer the question. From a relative standpoint, what is it that causes avidya arise in the first place? – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 6 '15 at 18:18
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Sankara says it is logically impossible to determine the exact relationship between Brahman and the relative universe. This is called maya. The nature of maya is that it is neither real nor is it unreal. What is the relationship between a desert and a mirage on the desert? What is the cause of the rise of a mirage in the first place? A desert is unaware of a mirage. Brahman is unaware of the universe. If you know Brahman, the universe disappears. – Swami Vishwananda Mar 7 '15 at 4:59
  • @KehavSrinivasan One can also argue also that there is no first place. Maya, Avidya, is eternal, it always has been and always will be. There is no 'cause' to Maya. Desa, kala, and nimitta - time, space, and causality - are produced by Maya. Causality lies within Maya. – Swami Vishwananda Mar 7 '15 at 5:05
  • "Sankara says it is logically impossible to determine the exact relationship between Brahman and the relative universe." That's interesting. Where does he say that? – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 7 '15 at 5:12
  • @KeshavSrinivasan It is more a question of where does he not say it. References: 1) Sankara's intro to the Svetasvatara Upanishad (Sv.U.) 2) Sv.U. I. 3. 3) Sv.U. IV. 19-20. 4) Atmabodha 13. 5) Upadesa Sahasri II. 19. 22-27. 6) In Vireswarananda's Brahma-Sutras with Sankara's commentary, there is a section starting on page 8 called 'Adhyasa or Superimposition'. – Swami Vishwananda Mar 8 '15 at 10:53

The thing is, it is not the soul or atma which is bound by maya, but it is the jivatma which falls prey to it. Atma means the true self devoid of mind, body and senses and jivatma means atma along with mind, body, senses, etc. which can be gross or subtle.

The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind. [BG - 15.7]

Atma can be considered as a spark of God which is eternal and ever free, but apart from this jiva shakti, God has another energy potency known as prakruti or maya. Jiva shakti and maya shakti being energies of God are also eternal. And from this prakruti or maya alone originate the mind, senses, etc. When these two energies associate jivatma is formed and because mind is made from prakruti it has natural attraction and inclination towards prakruti. Hence, it is the mind alone who is naturally a prey of maya, not the atma. That is why it is said, mind alone is the cause of bondage and liberation:

mana eva manuṣyāṇāṃ kāraṇaṃ bandhamokṣayoḥ [Brahmabindu Up. - 2]
- Mind alone is the cause of bondage and liberation of man.

So in brief, the soul is ever free as it is irrespective of whether it lies in the body or somewhere else. It is the mind which is in bondage. So when Gita speaks of the indestructibility of the soul it is referring to atma and else where when it is said the soul is in bondage it means jivatma, the embodied being. Please contemplate over the verses of chapter 13 and the following verses of Gita as well: 7.4-5, 15.8-9. Also please refer to this answer for some more info about maya and how it affects the jiva.

And regarding God taking incarnations, there are multiple reasons behind it apart from teaching lessons to the jivas which you can read in this answer.

  • Are you implying that Prakruti and Maya are one and the same? – gaj Dec 1 '15 at 10:49

Good question. My understanding is this - the only thing in this universe that is eternal and free from illusion is God himself. It is him doing everything. It is him who has created this illusory world of Maya. And it is him who is experiencing the world through "You" and "Me". Truth is - it is only "him" yet we are in the illusion of thinking "I", "I" and "I". Do you get what I am saying here? This whole lila is of God himself. It is him who is acting as our Guru, it is him who is punishing us when we do wrong things, because he is the Great Observer as well. The main purpose of the soul is to therefore learn to detach from this illusory world of "Maya" and follow the path of Dharma, righteousness, so that this mind-body can recognise, understand and appreciate the greatness of the one and only GOD, who is the creator, maintainer and destructor of the universe.


Your question was discussed by Swami Vivekananda at World Parliament of Religions, Chicago in 1893. Here (Addresses at The Parliament of Religions) are the words when Swamiji read his paper on Hinduism:

Why should the free, perfect, and pure being be thus under the thraldom of matter, is the next question. How can the perfect soul be deluded into the belief that it is imperfect?

And here is what Swamiji said in answer:

But the Hindu is sincere. He does not want to take shelter under sophistry. He is brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion; and his answer is: “I do not know. I do not know how the perfect being, the soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as joined to and conditioned by matter."But the fact is a fact for all that. It is a fact in everybody's consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the body. The Hindu does not attempt to explain why one thinks one is the body. The answer that it is the will of God is no explanation.

Therefore, there is no answer to any such question and as Swamiji said that things should not be complicated by citing unnecessary things in answer.

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