The Self-Defeating Philosophy of Mayavada

Sep 18 2007 - Krishna Talk 70

Adi Sankara AcaryaThe idea of Mayavada has always been present since the decline of the Vedic age. It is born from the minds of those jivas who have been envious and desired to usurp the position of God. These jivas, having lost touch with the highest ideal of serving God as an individual part and parcel, have fallen into this man-made plane of thought. Unlike this idea, the Vedic literatures are eternal and apauruseya (descended to this world untouched by the faulty thought process of the human mind). Those unfortunate people who deviate from the teachings of the Vedas invariably fall away from their eternal position as a servant of God into lower planes of consciousness.

The word 'Mayavada' does not appear in any of the authorized Vedic literatures. This makes it clear that Mayavada did not appear before or even during the Vedic age. It is a man-made concoction, that manifested in a post Vedic era. The conditioned human mind and intelligence are imperfect, thus making any so-called knowledge that is independent from the Vedas, fallible at best. Anything that is man-made in this world is temporary, because it has a beginning and if there is a beginning, then there will surely be an end. If such is the case, then this temporary man-made philosophy will not bring anyone closer to the truth - instead it will blind them and take them far away.


The Mayavada philosophy had its beginning before the time of Sankaracarya, but it only became famous and renowned due to his preaching. Sankaracarya is in fact a manifestation of Siva, who descended to this world to spread the false philosophy of Mayavada. Siva spoke to Parvati as follows:

mayavadam asac-chastram pracchannah baudham ucyate
mayaiva kalpitam devi kalau brahmana-rupina

O Goddess, in the age of Kali I shall descend in the form of a brahmana to spread this Mayavada philosophy which is actually covered Buddhism. (Padma Purana)

Some may ask why Siva carried out such a nefarious deed - he is after all the greatest of the Vaisnavas, so why would he want to draw people's attention away from the Lord and mislead them? There are actually two reasons culminating in Siva's descent as Sankara and the widespread preaching of this Mayavada philosophy. Those of demoniac mindsets had taken to the Vaisnava philosophy and were causing trouble for the true and faithful Vaisnavas of the Lord. Being all-merciful the Supreme Lord ordered Siva in this way:

svagamaih kalpitais tvam ca janan mad-vimukhan kuru
mam ca gopaya yena syat srstir esottarottara

Make the general public averse to Me by some imaginary hypothesis from you. Also camouflage me, so that the public will be deluded gradually by desire for material advancement. (Padma Purana)

Also, in the Varaha Purana Lord Visnu instructs Siva saying:

esa moham srjamy asu yo janan mohayisyati
tvam ca rudra maha-baho moha-sastrani karaya

O mighty-armed Siva, please write books filled with lies, and thus bewilder the people.

atathyani vitathyani darsayasva maha-bhuja
prakasam kuru catmanam aprakasam ca mam kuru

O mighty-armed one, please preach a collection of lies. Place yourself in the forefront, and conceal Me.

In this way the Lord ensured that only his true devotees would be able to recognize the pure path of devotion and those of a demoniac mindset would be led astray by this false philosophy.

The second reason for the Mayavada philosophy was to bring back attention to the Vedas. In his previous incarnation as Buddha, the Lord descended to stop the unnecessary slaughter of animals that had become prevalent in the name of Vedic sacrifices. Many so-called brahmanas were slaughtering multitudes of animals in order to satisfy their tongues and justifying it on the basis of the Vedas. Buddha came and preached an atheistic message of non-violence, taking the focus off of the Vedas. Sankaracarya carried out the order of the Supreme Lord to propound this Mayavada philosophy which is much like Buddhism. Due to the strong influence of the non-existence doctrine (Sunyavada) of the Buddhists, the Vedas were being ignored and had become almost forgotten. Vedic study was not considered an essential daily requirement and the activities of varnasrama-dharma had become degenerated and degraded. At this time most of the brahmanas had become Buddhists, totally shunning sanatana-dharma. What Sankaracarya accomplished was a successful transformation of Buddha's Sunyavada into the Brahmavada of his Mayavada hypothesis. Sankara's philosophy guided the people back to the Vedic way of life. Thus, ultimately Lord Siva was following the direct order of the Supreme Lord for a greater good.


As stated by Siva in Padma Purana, Mayavada is considered to be pracchannah-baudham or covered Buddhism. This is because Mayavada philosophy has many concepts identical with Buddhist philosophy. In fact Mayavada was openly denounced as 'crypto-Buddhism by early philosophers like Bhaskaracarya, Partha-sarathi Misra, Yadava-prakasa, Ramanuja and Madhva. There are differences between the Mayavadis and the Buddhists so far as the external rules of social conduct go, yet as far as their philosophies are concerned, there is absolutely no difference between these two schools. There are various reasons for this.

1. Buddha says that the world is Sunya-tattva (non-existent) in all three phases of time (past, present and future). Sankara says the world is mithya (non-existent), devoid of past, present and future.

2. Buddhism says that the way to achieve nirvana is prajna-paramita (knowledge of reality) and to understand that the world is full of suffering. Mayavadism says that tattva-jnana (true knowledge of reality) is the method to attain moksa.

3. There is no difference between Buddhas Sunya and Sankaras Brahman. Sunya according to the Buddhist text Prajna-paramita-sutra is unimpeded, imperishable and immeasurable. It is untainted, causeless, unborn, non-existent, without support and inexpressible. The Buddhists say that Sunyam is mano-vacam agocara - not describable by either mind or words. Mayavadis say the same about Brahman.

4. The concepts of liberation according to Buddhism and Mayavada are the same. In Buddhism it is conceived of as the removal of samvrti (the veil of illusion), while in Mayavada it is the removal of avidya (ignorance). Both samvrti and avidya are Sanskrit terms with the same meaning.

5) Both the Brahman of the Mayavadi and Sunyam of the Buddhist have no attributes. Therefore, both must be identical.

6) Both Mayavadis and Buddhists believe that creation is illusory. The Buddhist says that creation appears due to the covering of samvrti on sunyam, whereas the Mayavadi states that it is due to ignorance superimposed upon Brahman. In this respect also there is no difference between the two.

In other words, while the Mayavadis claim that their doctrine is originating from Vedic scriptures, they are actually propagating atheistic Buddhist philosophy.


There are actually two different types of Mayavadis - one is known as the Brahma-parinamavadi and the other as the Vivartavadi. The Brahma-parinamavadis consider that Brahman has undergone some transformation (parinama) and becomes everything in creation, including the jivas. They try and prove this theory with a verse from Chandogya Upanisad (6.2.1) - ekam evadvitiyam, which they translate as, "Before creation there only existed the non-dual Absolute."

Does this verse mean to say that, nothing else exists at all besides Brahman? If so, then where has maya come from? Whom does maya bewilder, if not Brahman? If maya does bewilder Brahman, then they are rendering Brahman impotent. The true translation of this verse is, "The absolute is one without a second."

The Vivartavadis consider that there is no transformation whatsoever - everything is an illusion (vivarta). Anything we perceive as change or transformation is actually ajnana (ignorance). To prove this they cite their famous analogy of the 'rope and snake.' If in the darkness, somebody comes upon some rope lying on the pathway, they may perceive it to be a snake.

rajjva jnanat ksane naiva
yadvadrajjur hi sarpini

A rope may be momentarily perceived as a snake before ignorance is lifted. (Sankaras Aparoksanubhuti, verse 44)

In other words, this world and everything in it, although non-existent, is taken to be real, when actually it is only the superimposition of maya on Brahman. In reality, only Brahman is real. Maya deludes us and makes us believe that the world and its variety is real.

However the rope-snake parallel is a weak analogy to prove vivartavada, because snakes and ropes both exist. A person who mistakes a rope for a snake must have previously experienced a real snake, and he only mistakes the rope as a snake due to imperfect conditions (in this case darkness). His prior experience of snakes, therefore, will cause his mind to superimpose the impression of a snake on the rope in semidarkness. By contrast, someone who has no experience of snakes will never mistake a rope for one. A baby, for example, will never mistake a rope for a snake.


As mentioned above, in order to explain the obvious variety in this world, Mayavadis are forced to introduce the concept of maya - a beginningless entity, that they cannot define as either existent or non-existent, which covers Brahman. If they conclude that maya is real, then their non-dualism (advaita) falls into the category of dualism (dvaita). If they conclude that maya is unreal, then how does the unreal cover the Absolute Reality with illusion? In an attempt to solve this problem, Sankara devised a theory that maya is neither existent nor non-existent nor both. Of course, this is a contradictory idea - maya cannot be neither existent nor non-existent. This is impossible. Something either exists or it doesn't, there is no middle ground. So in order to overcome this, Sankara describes maya as anirvacaniya (indescribable). Sankara's theory of anirvacaniya is very convenient, besides the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever! In the Bhagavad-gita (2.16) Krsna clearly recognizes only two categories - sat and asat.

nasato vidyate bhavo nabhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drsto ntas tv anayos tattva-darsibhih

Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that the unreal (asat) has no existence and that the real (sat) has no nonexistence.

There is no mention here or in any other bona-fide sastra of an inexplicable third mode. Thus there is no third mode in material existence, as the Mayavadis claim.


The Mayavadis have concluded that everything in this world is false (brahma-satyam jagat-mithya). Everything that interacts with your senses is ultimately the covering of maya. When one gains liberation, then one realizes that those trapped in this world are part of the whole Brahman in a covered state of being. Brahman is nirguna (without qualities), nirupa (without form or character), nothing at all exists besides Brahman, whether inside it (as its part or attribute), or outside it. Brahman is supposed to be all pervading, yet maya somehow manages to find her niche somewhere. However, if Brahman was all pervading, then how could maya exist? Not only does maya exist, but she is above and beyond Brahman because she has control over some portion of it (the ignorant jivas). Thus Brahman is categorized into two separate factions - saguna-brahman (realized Brahman) and nirguna-brahman (ignorant Brahman). The same Brahman cannot be the controller as well as the controlled, because ignorance and knowledge cannot exist simultaneously in the one undivided reality, just as light and darkness cannot occupy the same point in space. The theory of oneness is thus lost. Mayavadis see no difference between the Whole and it's parts. A portion of the Whole can never be equal to the Whole.

According to the Mayavadis the jiva merges into ananda-svarupa-brahman (the blissful state of Brahman) upon obtaining liberation. At the same time these cheaters state that Brahman is nirguna (without qualities). If Brahman has no qualities then how can it possess such a quality as bliss? Putting this issue aside then we move on to the fact that the jiva apparently merges completely into this blissful Brahman to experience the ultimate happiness. How will the jiva experience this bliss if he has become one with it? For example, if you wish to taste sugar then you must remain as a separate entity. If you become sugar then how can you taste your own sweetness?

The Mayavadi method of attaining Brahman is through meditation and jnana. They say that through knowledge one becomes Brahman. Yet at the same time they say that both jnana (knowledge) and ajnana (ignorance) are maya and ultimately false. If through knowledge, ignorance is removed, what then will you do to remove the jnana which is also false? Their answer to this question is that, "It is the mercy of Brahman." Once again they fall back into the same trap - how does a formless, homogenous mass of spiritual substance with no qualities, suddenly show the quality of daya (mercy)? They say that Brahman has no form and no qualities, yet they continuously project qualities and personality unto it, whenever they deem it convenient to suit their purpose.


Mayavada is not limited to the shores of India. In this day and age many concepts, philosophies and religions throughout the world have been polluted by Mayavada.

This doctrine of Mayavada is so harmful to the jiva that Mahaprabhu Himself has warned us by saying, "Mayavada bhasya sunile haya sarva nasa." -- "One who hears the commentaries of the Mayavadis, will ruin his spiritual life." The Mayavada philosophy is certainly a great threat to all conditioned souls who have not taken full shelter of the previous acaryas.

Mayavada philosophy has been decimated by numerous Vaisnava acaryas throughout history. Such acaryas as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Jiva Gosvami, Baladeva Vidyabhusana, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada and many more have given strong arguments to help us cross over the poisonous ocean of Mayavada. Ultimately our acaryas have proven that Mayavada is a self-defeating philosophy, that is continuously in the process of killing itself.