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Article LXXXIII: Maya and Moksha

"Knowledge of Brahman -- the One, pure, without a second -- destroys it [maya], as the illusion of the snake in the rope is destroyed when the nature of the rope is known." Shankaracharya (Vivekachudamani: 110), translated by Swami Turiyananda.

Shankaracharya is regarded as the foremost exponent on Advaita Vedanta, or Nondualistic Vedanta. His commentaries on the Upanishads, the Brahmasutra, and the Bhagavad Gita are renowned by Vedantins, but those writings are often somewhat esoteric. Vivekachudamani can be translated as "crest jewel of discrimination," and these 580 verses by Shankaracharya represent a more understandable treatise of Vedanta.

Discrimination refers to differentiating that which is unreal (mundane) and that which is real (divine) -- absolute, infinite, and eternal. Maya is often translated as illusion, but illusion does not capture maya in its entirety. Maya veils our true nature with ignorance, and by uncovering maya, one can discover enlightenment, by transcending that maya. The analogy of the rope and a snake is classic in Vedanta. In darkness, rope can be mistaken for a snake. However, its true nature is rope and the illusion of a snake does not make the rope a snake. When light is shed upon the illusion of a snake, the true nature of the rope is revealed. Similarly, when the light of knowledge is shed upon oneself, ignorance of maya is removed, and Brahman is realized -- enlightenment.

The relationship between maya, Atman, Iswara, and Brahman can be represented by an analogy with the ocean. Maya is a superimposing power, which gives name (nama) and form (rupa), thus creating the manifold universe as we experience it. However, by removing the ignorance of maya, one may transcend the body and mind, and one may realize ultimate Truth. Consider the ocean made up of waves. Each wave has a name and a form just as the ocean has a name and a form. However, when all waves subside, there are no waves, and there is no ocean. There is simply water. The wave is analogous to Atman, the ocean is analogous to Iswara, and the water is analogous to Brahman. Ultimately, Atman and Iswara are one and the same as Brahman. One must simply transcend the ignorance of maya, which gives name and form. The realization of the Self within as Brahman is the essence of enlightenment, leading to ultimate bliss and peace. The basis of this analogy is rooted in Swami Vivekananda's descriptions of maya.

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