By Patrick Horn (“Rishi”)

Swami Vivekananda says, “coming to our philosophers, we find that this word Maya has been manipulated in various fashions, until we come to the great Shankaracharya.” The infinite, undivided, unchanging sat-chit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss) is the only Reality. The empirical world (vyavaharika) is an appearance due to ignorance (avidya); it is not unreal but it is not what it appears to be. Erroneous perception mistakes Brahman as finite, divided, and changing. Shankaracharya famously uses the analogy of the rope and the snake. If you mistake a rope for a snake, you didn’t see the rope and there is no snake. Though seemingly affected by space, time, and causality in manifold names and forms, Brahman remains the same, and Thou Art That – tat tvam asi. It is due to lack of discrimination that the self is entangled with external objects and conditions and falsely identified with a limited body and its various mental states and moods.

Swamiji teaches, “the theory of Maya was manipulated a little by the Buddhists too, but in the hands of the Buddhists it became very much like what is called Idealism, and that is the meaning that is now generally given to the word Maya.” Idealism asserts that reality is immaterial and doubts the possibility of knowing anything beyond the mind. According to Buddhists, the world is “empty,” but this is not a nihilistic void. It means that forms have no independent existence. The goal of nirvana is liberation from the apparent cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) and suffering caused by desire and attachments. The Buddha, son of Queen Maya, taught an eightfold path to freedom: wisdom through Right View (inquiry and aesthetic) and Right Intention (sincerity and correct aim), virtue though Right Speech (mastery of thought and word) and Right Action (skillful means) and Right Lifestyle (ethical conduct), and Right Effort (discipline and renunciation), Right Concentration (correct practice and context), and Right Mindfulness in meditation.

Swamiji suggests the idea of God changes and grows but always within māyā. He says, “let us go back a little to those early ideas of God and see what became of them.” According to the myths of the Western esoteric tradition, the Original Knowledge was corrupted and lost. The Book of Enoch describes the election of the guardian of celestial treasures, chief of archangels, and scribe of God; in the Abrahamic sects, he is the keeper of the secrets, the “voice” of God, architect of the Tree of Life shown by angels to mortals, the lesser Jehovah called Metatron or Metator, meaning guide, messenger, or measurer. He was the son of the Greek goddess Maia. He was also linked to the planet closest to the sun, Mercury. In Sanskrit, the name of the planet closest to the sun is Budha. The cross-fertilization between the religious myths of the ancient world is evident as the Egyptian god of writing, math, astronomy, and magic named Thoth (“thought”) fused with the Greco-Roman Mercurius to become Hermes Trismegistus (“the thrice-great” philosopher, priest, and king).