Why do we find so many troubles in the world? The five types of Maya and how to remove them| Ramana Maharshi

Ramana letters.jpg

Tom: the following text is from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 21st May 1947. In the first part Ramana will tell us the basic theory. In the second part he will tell us how to realise this truth for ourselves:

Yesterday morning at 8 o’clock, Dr. Syed who is a worker for Arya Vignana Sangha and one of the disciples of Bhagavan, came here for Bhagavan’s darshan and asked “Bhagavan says the whole world is the swarupa of Atma. If so, why do we find so many troubles in this world?”

Tom: Swarupa, literally meaning form of the self (Swa = self; rupa = form), usually is translated as ‘essential nature’ or ‘true nature’. Atma or Atman means Self. The questioner above is therefore asking about the true nature of the Self – “if all is Atma Swarupa, then why all this trouble in the world?”

With a face indicating pleasure, Bhagavan replied “That is called Maya. In Vedanta Chintamani, that Maya has been described in five ways. One by name Nijaguna Yogi wrote that book in Canarese. Vedanta has been so well dealt with in it, it can be said to be an authority on the Vedanta language.

There is a Tamil translation. The five names of Maya are, Tamas, Maya, Moham, Avidya and Anitya.

Tamas is that which hides the knowledge of life.

Maya is that which is responsible for making one who is the form of the world appear different from it.

Moha is that which makes a different one look real: sukti rajata bhranthi — creating an illusion that mother-of-pearl is made of silver.

Avidya is that which spoils Vidya (learning).

Anitya is transient, that which is different from what is permanent and real.

On account of these five Mayas troubles appear in the Atma like the cinema pictures on the screen. Only to remove this Maya it is said that the whole world is mithya (unreal).

Atman is like the screen. Just as you come to know that the pictures that are shown are dependent on the screen and do not exist otherwise, so also, until one is able to know by Self-enquiry that the world that is visible is not different from Atma, it has to be said that this is all mithya.

But once the reality is known, the whole universe will appear as Atma only. Hence the very people who said the world is unreal, have subsequently said that it is only Atma swarupa. After all, it is the outlook that is important. If the outlook changes, the troubles of the world will not worry us. Are the waves different from the ocean?

Why do the waves occur at all? If asked, what reply can we give? The troubles in the world also are like that. Waves come and go. If it is found out that they are not different from Atma this worry will not exist.”

Tom: How many times have we heard the above metaphor about the movie and the screen? But do we truly understand? Are we truly free? The questioner therefore asks the following:

That devotee said in a plaintive tone, “However often Bhagavan teaches us, we are not able to understand.”

“People say that they are not able to know the Atma that is all-pervading. What can I do? Even the smallest child says, ‘I exist. I do; and this is mine’. So, everyone understands that the thing ‘I’ is always existent. It is only when that ‘I’ is there, the feeling is there that you are the body, he is Venkanna, this is Ramanna and the like. To know that the one that is always visible is one’s own self, is it necessary to search with a candle? To say that we do not know the Atma swarupa which is not different but which is in one’s own self is like saying ‘I do not know myself ’,” said Bhagavan.

Tom: Ramana above is stating that the Self is always realised – it is the knowledge ‘I am’. Everyone knows they exist! This is self-knowledge or self-realisation! However the problem is when you identify as being the body the trouble starts. Now the questioner has figured out the path laid out before him, and Ramana confirms the way forwards in order to secure removal of this wrong identification with the body. There is no need to gain self-knowledge, just to remove wrong identification (ignorance):

That means that those who by sravana (hearing) and manana (repeating within oneself) become enlightened and look upon the whole visible world as full of Maya, will ultimately find the real swarupa by nididhyasana [meditation],” said the devotee.

“Yes, that is it. Nidi means swarupa; nididhyasana is the act of intensely concentrating on the swarupa with the help of sravana and manana of the words of the Guru. That means to meditate on that with undeflected zeal. After meditating for a long time, he merges in it. Then it shines as itself. That is always there. There will be no troubles of this sort if one can see the thing as it is. Why so many questions to see one’s own self that is always there?” said Bhagavan.

Kashmir Shaivism, Tantra and Advaita Vedanta – Ramana Maharshi’s view

ramana-maharshi face
Sri Ramana Maharshi

Kashmir Shaivism is a non-dual tantric tradition in which Pratyabhijna or ‘recognition’ is the goal. In Kashmir Shaivism, the absolute is termed ‘Shiva’ and the relative world of people and objects is termed ‘Shakti’ (which means energy or power). Shiva and Shakti are given equal status and are said not to exist apart from each other – where one exists, the other also exists.

In Non-Dual (Advaita) Vedanta, the Self (Atman) is the Absolute (Brahman) and it is said to project Maya-Shakti which in turn projects the world of people and objects. Maya is said to be dependent on the Absolute Self and not vice-versa, so the two are not given equal status.

This obviously causes confusion in some seekers, so here Ramana explains them both:


The following is an excerpt from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 288:

Explaining Maya of Vedanta and swatantra [tantra] of Pratyabhijna (independence of recognition), Sri Bhagavan said:

The Vedantins say that Maya is the sakti of illusion premised in Siva. Maya has no independent existence. Having brought out the illusion of the world as real, she continues to play upon the ignorance of the victims. When the reality of her not being is found, she disappears.

‘Recognition’ [ie. Kashmir Shaivism] says that Sakti (power) is coeval with Siva. The one does not exist without the other. Siva is unmanifest, whereas Sakti is manifest on account of Her independent will swatantra. Her manifestation is the display of the cosmos on pure consciousness, like images in a mirror.

The images cannot remain in the absence of a mirror.

So also the world cannot have an independent existence. Swatantra becomes eventually an attribute of the Supreme. Sri Sankara says that the Absolute is without attributes and that Maya is not and has no real being. What is the difference between the two? Both agree that the display is not real. The images of the mirror cannot in any way be real. The world does not exist in reality (vastutah).

Both schools mean the same thing. Their ultimate aim is to realise the Absolute Consciousness. The unreality of the cosmos is implied in Recognition (Pratyabhijna), whereas it is explicit in Vedanta. If the world be taken as chit (consciousness), it is always real. Vedanta says that there is no nana (diversity), meaning that it is all the same Reality.

There is agreement on all points except in words and the method of expression.

Q: If all is one, why is there this duality? Does consciousness really want to know itself?

Yin Yang Tao

Q. This has been a source of confusion to me. If Brahman, Presence, whatever you want to call it is unconditioned, one without a second, then why do teachers go on to explain how it manifests the universe. Or, encloses itself in matter. Once an action takes place, it is no longer unconditioned…So then what is this dream, and why do so many non-dualists talk about it as though it is the Source wanting to know itself, or something like that. Thank you.

Tom: In my view, and also in the view of many of the traditional scriptures, nobody really understands Maya. It is mysterious. How can the unconditioned give rise to the conditioned? How can One appear to be many? It’s a mystery.

And why does it (appear to) happen? Again, it’s a mystery.

However, to please seekers of differing levels of understanding, different explanations are given, such as ‘consciousness wanting to know itself’, etc. The various theories are given to appease the seeker’s mind and stop the questions so that the seeker can then get on with the real work of turning inwards and keeping quiet.

That is what all the teachings are pointing to:

Be still.
Be unconcerned with the world.
Be unattached and happy.
All is well.
No need to worry.
Have faith.

Best wishes and pranams
🙏