Sri Guru Granth Sahib – Concept of Maya
Dr. Gurnam Kaur
Sikh religion is a ‘Revealed Faith’, the revelation of which was had when Guru Nanak entered the Veyin Nadi (a stream near Sultanpur). This revelation continued from Guru Nanak upto the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh in the form of a jyoti (light). The revelation of ‘Truth’ which the Gurus had has been brought out in their Bani. Thus, in Sikh faith, the revelation, which was not had in the form of historical events or incarnations, assumed the form of Bani. But the revelation of every faith has its independent existence as also its establishment. Therefore viewing it in its continuity is not appropriate as it stands in the way of building its correct context. This view is also commonly held that Sikh philosophy was born as the need of the time; it is the creation of history. This view too does not hold water as the earlier one. Being revealed, the revelation of the Sikh faith is unique in itself. The uniqueness of any revelation can be seen from the type of personality it builds. The Gurus expressed the revelation of Truth that they had through the culture and the language of this place. Therefore, it is but natural that they made use of the common vocabulary. Because of the common vocabulary many scholars wittingly or unwittingly begin to regard this as a continuity of the old Indian religious philosophy. Therefore, it has to be kept in mind that some misunderstandings may crop up in the present study that discusses this concept as it is occurs in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Maya is a Sanskrit word and its Punjabi form too is Maya. Defining Maya, Sir Monier Williams (1) has given its primary meaning as art, wisdom, special or supernatural power. Doubt, falsehood, deceit, ostentation, cleverness, magic, etc. have also been stated to be its meaning. In Buddhist faith, it has been defined as ‘Deception’ as one of the twenty-four base instincts. In philosophy it has been regarded as ‘Deceit’ (In Sankhya Shastra as also Vedanta, it has been identified with nature as the cause of the visible world). In Shaivism, it has been regarded as one of the traps which ensnares a person. According to Vaishnavism, it has been regarded as one of the nine powers of Vishnu. (2) Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha has called it a noun and on the basis of Gurbani, has interpreted it as mother, deceit, wile, ignorance, wealth, cause – form of divine, or the primordial power of God, etc.
It appears from the above analytical study that it has been used in Indian theology in a big way and in various contexts and the concept of maya has been accepted as the main concern of Indian theology. We find this presented in both a positive and a negative sense and it has influenced the way of life of people throughout. Every religious philosophy influences the earlier or later society and the social life of the contemporary world of which it is a part. Philosophy which has no effect on social life cannot survive for long. To understand a society and its culture, it is very necessary to study the philosophic view of the people about life. From this point of view, the philosophic context of maya from the Gurmat angle is the main purpose of this paper. Vedanta has had a deep impact on the social life of the people of India and Sikh philosophy has several points of convergence with Vedanta. Therefore, it would not be out of place here to go into the concept of Maya in the Vedanta to make a comparative study; it would rather be necessary to do so.
As stated above, Maya is a Sanskrit word and its Punjab form is also Maya. Therefore, the word Maya has been used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Maya has been used at many places along with other words also, as maya-trishna (craze for maya), maya haumai (ego and maya), maya dhanda (involvement in…), mad maya (intoxication of maya), maya sanch (amassing of ….), maya moh (attachment with …), maya sut dara (son, wife all are maya), maya manhu (it remains in mind), maya mamta (attachment too is maya), mansa maya (desire of ….), maya silk (fetter) , maya nagini (maya is a female serpent), maya mayee (goddess maya, Laxmi), etc. It appears from the use of all these words that as a concept, maya has been used in its various meanings and it has numerous layers which have been fully unravelled in Gurbani.
According to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the ultimate truth or the greatest truth is regarded as God. In the beginning itself, attributes of God have been described, ‘He is Omnipresent, True, manifests as Name and Omnipotent, Who makes everything move and delights in pervading in His creation, He is Fearless and without ill-will, He is Eternal and Ever-Constant as He has no physical form, He is Himself, He is Timeless. Despite this, He is not born nor does he die, He is self existent. With the grace of the Guru one can become one with Him.’ (3) According to Sikh philosophy, Akal Purakh (Timeless God) is the Greatest Truth. He is Attributeless and has attributes. Before the creation of the universe, He was in deep meditation which is called the Zero State of the Timeless. We cannot call it a fully Zero State because God is Sat Chit and Ananda (Satchitananda – truth, intellect and bliss). It was a Zero State because God had not yet manifested in His ‘Phur’ or intuitive form. It was the state when there was darkness and dust and the thought of time and space had not evolved. This is God’s attributeless form. He remained in this state for many eons. According to Gurmat (Sikh philosophy), One God’s (Ik Onkar’s) manifestation from the hidden form to the visible form, is His attributelessness assuming form. (5) To have a grasp of the concept of Maya, the concept of Timelessness has to be briefly stated in the light of Gurmat philosophy and logic. The word Maya has been used in Gurmat for God’s power, duality, desires, wealth, etc, in numerous senses. As a concept, we would go into all these aspects for our study.
According to Gurmat, this world has been regarded as being governed by the three traits, viz. raja, tamo and sato and Maya has these three traits. In other words Maya is the combination of these three traits. (6) Therefore it is a power which has three attributes. This power is believed to have five sons, viz., kama, krodha, lobha, moh and ahankara (passion, anger, greed, attachment and ego) which take birth through it. According to Gurmat, these are five evils. These five live together with the other three i.e. raja, tamo and sato. Thus maya has been regarded as a power born out of these three gunas. Timeless God Himself is above the impact of Maya; Eternal and Beneficent as He is. (7)
Being a three-pronged power, Maya is the creation of God, His own power created by him, by which He creates the world and sustains it. God created the universe and kept its going through the process of sanyog and viyog (union and separation). It is accepted in Gurmat that when God left the Zero State to enter the ‘active’ state or that of creation, the first thing that happened was His Command (Hukam) and through His Hukam only did the creation and development of the universe begin. He created the universe by Himself from Himself and placed His Light in. All the light there is because of His Light which can be seen with the grace of the Guru. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who are respectively called the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer, were assigned the three roles by God Himself. In other words, like other creation, these three have also been created with three traits to perform their roles. Thus God created the root of the universe through the three attributes and also created the fourth state, the Turia State, which is ‘risings above these three’ – State of Bliss. (8)
According to Gurmat, Maya is duality also. Maya is such a power as creates ego in man which further creates a gulf between man and God and creates duality in him. Here Maya is likened to the fire in the mother’s womb which is very painful. Maya is a power through which man gets attached to the world, desires arise within him and his attunement with his Creator is broken. He begins to think of himself as a separate entity and forgets his origin. (9) According to Gurmat, getting entangled in births and deaths is bondage and the cause of this bondage is the ego and maya. It is because of Maya alone that attachment and desires are created in man and he begins to distance himself from God. The destination for man, according to Gurmat, has been assumed as:
Man too jot saroop hain, apna mool pachhan.
Thou art formed of His Light,
O my mind, know thy origin.
Through this experience only can man get closer to God and be one with Him. Maya is a hindrance in the way of this experience. Therefore it becomes the cause of his births and deaths and bondage.
There are two kinds of men, according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Gurmukh and Manmukh. Gurmukh is an ideal man who treads the path shown by the Guru, ponders over the Guru’s Word and bears it in mind. Manmukh is the one who, disregarding the Gurus’ teachings, follows his own mind and acts according to his own desires and turns his back on the Word. Manmukh is a person in deep sleep under the influence of maya and ego. Because of maya, he is not conscious of himself or his reality for which he has to suffer ultimately. Thus maya is a web of illusion, which hides from man the reality of his origin and his being part of the Divine Light. Through Maya are born many kinds of attachments, love and cravings because of which man always gropes in the dark. (11) The trap of illusion laid by maya is so strong that it has entrapped the entire universe in it. Because of this, one loves one’s father, mother, wife, sons, daughters, etc. – the bondage of attachment. Caught in this trap, everything appears to him to be his own except God, his origin in reality. (12)
The illusion of Maya is held to be ignorance-based because of which man is always engrossed in attachment, etc. It is stubborn and powerful too which makes it difficult for man to leave the path of sin. Swimming across the ocean of births not only becomes difficult for him but impossible. Though this illusory trap has been called ‘difficult to leave’, a way has been shown to get out of it. Only those can swim across this ocean of births, who remain devoted to God and whose mind is purified by the Guru’s word by purging it of greed, attachment and ego, and they are able to get across the difficult vale. Service to the Guru helps to dispel one’s doubts. This grants one the awareness of truth, and this spirit of service makes one’s life worthwhile and truthful. (13) According to Gurbani, even Siddhas and Jogis are not able to remain unaffected by the influence of maya and they cannot concentrate on their meditation easily. What is maya and what is its role? Maya, in fact, is the bondage of joys and sorrows and one is driven by ego to act in the manner which leads one astray. Without the Word, illusion and ego cannot be driven away.
Another form of maya is money and wealth, which one goes on amassing and remaining attached to, and forgets God. Maya is multi-hued and enchants one’s mind in many ways. It doesn’t accompany man when he leaves this world; only God’s Name goes with man. Maya is not killed by subduing the mind. Mind has to be purified only by the Guru’s Word dwelling on His Name. As one’s desires arise, so does he sink deeper into the mire. Actions mould the man and his intellect.
It has become clear from this discussion that according to Gurmat, maya is a three-pronged power which has been created by God Himself. From this are born evil instincts like greed, attachment, ego, passion, anger, etc. Maya’s origin is ignorance; it drives human mind towards the ego and distances one from God. It is, of course, His creation. God creates the universe through Maya and makes it move according to His own directions. According to Gurmat, one cannot get free of the bondage of maya by suppressing one’s mind because it can’t be suppressed just as a serpent is not killed by demolishing an anthill. The mind needs to be shown the direction through knowledge which can help him to rise above the bondage of maya and experience the light of his Creator. To attain this, one has to leave the ways of a Manmukh and become a Gurmukh, and to recite His Name. Therefore the guidance of the Word and pondering over the word are absolutely necessary. According to Gurmat, actual Word is Guru because the word is infallible, eternal, and it can be attained through the congregation (of righteous ones). Thus the approach of Gurmat is not individual but congregational or social. According to Gurbani, salvation is possible:
pehandyaan,vichai hovai mukt.
Laughing and dressing happily
Does one attain salvation.
Man has not to strive only for one’s own liberation but has to adopt the policy of ‘Aaap tarai sagal nistarai’ (While getting across himself, he has to help all others also do so; he has to strive for others).
In Vedic Indian philosophy, maya has been mentioned at several places but it is explained in an explicit manner in Shankar’s ‘Advaitvad’ (Non-dualism). A brief mention of this is necessary because scholars often try to see Gurmat as an extension or continuity of the ancient Indian philosophy. According to Shankar, Brahm is the only truth which is visualized as the universe, creatures and God and that maya and Brahm are one and the same as in fact maya is non-existent, it’s all Brahm and maya is only an illusion. Brahm is attributeless but because of Maya, he is conceived as having attributes of God. Shankar does not regard the universe as the creation or created because the world is visible because of the impact of maya. One finds this through knowledge only that the supreme reality is Brahm but this reality is beyond imagination. For him, Gyata (knowledgeable), Gyan (knowledge) and Gyat (object of knowledge) are all within Brahm in one form or the other. We see the difference only because of the illusion. Through knowledge do we come to know that the universe is Brahm, through knowledge does one have God-realization because soul is one with Him but because of the illusion it seems separated. From a spiritual point of view the world is false. Shankar’s concept of maya is closely connected with the concept of ignorance. One can find such references in his writings as the experience and knowledge have been connected with the power of ignorance. But its visibility is taken as a part of the nature of intellect and not that of Brahm. Shankar regards maya as ‘beyond description’ and ignorance as absence of knowledge or illusory knowledge or defective knowledge. Thus Shankar’s philosophy favours renunciation (because the world is a falsehood) and exhorts one to attain salvation through sanyas. Shankar’s Brahm is not Omnipotent, Doer of everything, because the universe is not a creation or created by anyone. Gurmat philosophy and Shankar’s philosophy move in different directions from each other. One gives birth to renunciation and the other makes man social. Renunciation of the world means to subdue the mind. Being social means to live in the world, regard it the abode of the True One, to realize Him by rising above worldly bondages. Gurmat has provided the infallible model of ‘The Word’, instead of the path of renunciation, by which one can give right direction to one’s mind. In this way the concept of Maya in Gurmat philosophy is nowhere the continuity of the Indian philosophy. Had it been so, it would merely have been an addition to the cult of sanyasis, the path of renunciation.
Sir Monier Williams – Sanskrit English Dictionary (Moti Lal Banarsi Das) Maya – p. 811.
Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Mahan Kosh, Maya – p. 958 (Bhasha Vibhag, Punjab)
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1. (Ik Onkar Satnam Karta Purkh Nirbhau Nirvair Akaal Moorat Ajoni Saibhang Gur Prasad.)
Ibid, “Ketai Jug vartai gubarai. Tari lahi apar aparai. Arbad narbad dhundukara dharan na gagna hukum apara. There was mist and dust for many eons when He, beyond reach, remained in meditation. There was haze and darkness, no earth or the skies but His Will.
Guptahu pargataiyeda – Becomes visible from nowhere
Ibid, p. 865 – ‘Panch poot janey ik maye.
Utbhaj khel kar jajagat vyaye.
Teen guna kai sang rach rasai
In kau chhod oopar jan basai.
A mother gave birth to five sons; different species were born through different processes of birth.
A three-attribute nature was also introduced
But one could rise above these three attributes.
Ibid p. 868 – Teen guna ik sakat upaiya.
Mahamaya taa ki hai chhiya.
Achhal achhed abhed dayal.
Deen dayal sada kirpal.
Through the process of the three
Attributes was created a power the
Mahamaya (Great Maya)’shadow.
Eternal, kind, whole and indistinct
Always merciful, and benevolent
Ibid, p.509. Sanjog vijog upaiyan sristi ka mool rachaiya.
Hukmi sristi sajian, joti jot milaiya.
Joti hoon sabh chanana satgur sabad sunaiya.
Brahma bisan mahes trai gun sir dhandai laiya.
Maya ka mool rachaiyan turiya sukh paiya. (Explained above in the text).
Ibid, p.921. Jaisi agan udar mahi taisi bahar maya. Maya agan sabh iko jehi kartai khel rachaiya.
The maya outside is like the fire in the womb.
Maya and fire are the same, God’s own design.
Ibid, p.1041. Upjahi binsai bandhan Bandai.
Haumai maya kai gal phandai.
Jis Ram Naam nahi mat gurmat
So jam pur bandh chalaiya.
In the bondage of births and deaths
The noose of ego is around the neck
Without Ram’s Name and Guru’s Word
Has to suffer indignities at reckoning.
Ibid, p. 1049. Manmukh haumai maya sootai.
Apna ghar na samalai ant vigootai.
Parninda karhi bahu chinta jalai
Dukhai dukh nivasi hey.
The manmukhs sleep in the ego of maya.
Don’t safeguard their abodes and suffer
They indulge in vilification of others
Suffer the pain of worries all the time
Ibid, p. 1342 Maya moh sagal jag chhaiya.
Kamini dekh kaam lubhaiya
Sut kanchan sio het wadhaiya
Sabh kichh apna ik Ram praiya.
Love for maya is seen all around in the world.
Passion is aroused at the sight of an enchantress
Too much attachment with sons and gold is bad.
Everything is one’s own, but Ram is regarded ‘another’.
Ibid, p. 509
Maya moh agyan hai bikham ati bhari
Pathar pap bahu laiya kiyo tariai tari.
Hari Naam na dhiyayiai Har Hari nistari.
Love for maya is ignorance great and heavy
How can you swim with heavy load of sin?
Didn’t have His Name which helps to swim
Shabadarth, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p.66-67.
Dubidha bauri man bauraiya.
Jhhothai lalach janam gaviya.
Maya mamta hai bahu rangi.
Bin navai ko sath na sangi.
The mad duality has made one mad
Wasted life in false objects of greed
Maya and attachment of many hues
Without His Name, none is of help
Dr. S. Radha Krishnan, Indian Philosophy
(Vo.II) (Black and Sons Publishers Pvt. Ltd.) pp. 565-576.