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Article By:Kundali Dasa & Satyanarayana Dasa. 1996

On Srila Jiva Goswam’s Bhagavad-Sandarbha Section 18

“The Two Division of Maya”

Edited & Formatted by Upendranath Dasa 2022 09 16

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Maya Devi is the personification of the energies that bind a soul to this material world.  Many vaisnavas think that maya potency is one-dimensional so to speak. 

The truth is that according to Srila Jiva Goswami, Maya has two divisions.  While we are thinking that we are only concerned with one Maya, there is actually two Maya’s to be concerned about.  I sincerely believe that a better understanding of Maya is inherent to the advancement of one’s bhakti.  It is kind of like looking at Maya as your enemy.  The best way to defeat an enemy, is to know the workings, and organization of the enemy, and thus one can proactively protect oneself, and devise means to defeating her. 

As a conditioned jiva, we cannot defeat Maya on our own.  However, we still can put-up a good fight.  This fighting will allow our bhakti to grow, and in due course of time, Krishna will instruct/order Maya-devi to lay-off, and skedaddle. 

Having this knowledge and using it, is just one little part of showing Srila Prabhupada, that we are sincerely trying to surrender to him.  Srila Prabhupada once stated, that if a disciple sincerely surrenders ‘completely’ to him; he would kick Maya in the head.

Srila Jiva Goswami wrote in his Bhagavad-Sandarbha section 18:

The external energy is explained by the Supreme Lord to Brahma, in Srimad Bhagavatam (2.9.34):

“That which is perceived in the absence of My realization, but perceived in My presence, know that to be My Maya, the external energy.  It manifests like a reflection and like darkness.”

Artham means “the Supreme object, the Lord”.  That which is perceived without Me, and not perceived when I am perceived, i.e., which is perceived by herself, without My support, an object having such characteristics is called My; the Supreme Lord’s Maya-sakti.  

It has two features, jivamaya, and gunamaya.  In this analysis, the pure jiva is counted in the same category, as the Lord, because of it being likened to a ray particle of the Sun like the Lord, and because of being conscious like Him”.

The names of Maya, having two parts, are known by the two examples in the verse.  Out of these two, the above stated qualities, are shown in the first part called jivamaya, by the example of reflection (yathabhasa), and such an impossibility is dispelled.  

A reflection, abhasa, is the light somehow bounced into an area, which is separated, from the light of an effulgent source of light.  Just as a reflection exists outside its source, yet is imperceptible without the source, jivamaya also exists similarly.  This quality of prati-cchavi, synonymous with abhasa, implies that Maya is also called abhasa.  Therefore, sometimes its manifestation is also called abhasa, such as in Srimad Bhagavatam (2.10.7.), abhasacaca-nirodhaccam, the creation, and dissolution of the universe.

“The supreme one who is celebrated as the Supreme Being or the Supreme Soul is the supreme source of the cosmic manifestation, as well as its reservoir and winding up.  Thus, He is the Supreme Fountainhead, the Absolute Truth.”

When a splendorous brilliant sun shines into someone’s eyes, it covers the vision, after by its dazzling brilliance, causes pain in the eyes, and produces from within, a polychromatic[1] effect.  Sometimes the sun produces diverse forms in this polychromatic vision. 

Similarly, Maya also covers the real consciousness of the living entity, and manifests from within herself the inert material nature called gunamaya, consisting of the three modes of material nature; in their balanced state.  Sometimes she transforms the different modes into various forms.  This is stated in the Visnu Purana (1.22.54.), “As the fire situated in one place. …”

Similarly, the experts in ayur-veda say,

“Like the reflection of the sun, this eternal material nature is the reflection of the Personality of Godhead, who is purely transcendental, inconceivable and the source of the universe”.  

Although she is inert herself, like a mask in a play, she has manifested this ephemeral, (Lasting for a markedly brief time), universe, by the association of the conscious potency of the Lord.

In this way the efficient or sentient aspect, is called jivamaya, and the material or insentient aspect, is called gunamaya. This will be again analyzed later on.  Thus, the portion of Maya called jivamaya has been explained.

The second portion called gunamaya is clarified with the example of darkness (yatha-tama), The word tama refers to the previously mentioned darkness, like polychromes.  Just as this polychromatic effect can neither exist in the light source nor without it, similarly, Maya also cannot exist in the Lord nor without His support.

Both of these examples separately describe Maya and not her two divisions.  The example of reflection, abhasa, is the same as explained above. The example of darkness is as follows:

Darkness is perceived only in a place devoid of light, but not without the help of light.  It is perceived by the eye, is the embodiment of light, and not by the back or any other sense organ.  Maya is to be understood similarly.  The two divisions of Maya, are understood by their different functions, and not by the different examples.  In the former case of two examples meaning two divisions, sometimes jivamaya is called chaya, a synonym for abhasa and gunamaya called only by the word tamas.  The Srimad Bhagavatam (3.20.18) states:

“First of all, Brahma created with shadow, chaya, the five coverings of ignorance of the conditioned soul, called tamisra, andha-tamisra, tamas, moha, and maha-moha.”

Again, in the Tenth Canto (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.14.11):

“What am I, a small creature measuring seven spans of my own hand? I am enclosed in a pot-like universe composed of material nature, tama, the total material energy, false ego….”

In the first verse, the Maya referred to is jivamaya, because its subject is the jiva, being the potency of efficient cause in the form of knowledge and ignorance.  

The second verse describes gunamaya, being the material cause in the form of the mahat and other elements that are composed of her three modes.

The verse 3.20.18, described that Lord Brahma at the dawn of creation manifested ignorance with the support of Maya called the shadow energy, chaya-sakti. The Srimad Bhagavatam (11.11.3) states:

“O Uddhava, both knowledge and ignorance, being products of Maya, are expansions of My potency.  Both knowledge and ignorance are beginningless and award liberation and bondage respectively to embodied living beings.”

In addition, the different appearances of these two divisions of Maya are described in the scriptures.  The manifestation of the first division is described in the Padma Purana (Uttara khanda 104.23-24) in a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Satyabhama concerning the glories of the Kartika month in which prayers the demigods once offered to Maya are cited.  

While the demigods were thus eulogizing her, they saw an effulgent aura in the sky, illuminating all the directions. From the being they heard the voice which filled the sky “Divided by the three modes, I am situated in three ways.”

The second (division of Maya), is described in the Padma Purana (Uttara khanda)

“Unlimited are the places of material nature, all imperishable and pitch dark.” 


[1] pol-y-chro-mic or pol-y-chro-mous adj. 1.  Having or exhibiting many colors.  2. Of or composed of radiation of more than one wavelength: polychromatic light.

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