Māya (farce) and guṇa (attributes of cognition)

School of Yoga explains recaps concepts leading up to māya:

  • As soon as we become conscious, we first look for confirmation that we exist (our cognition of our Self or asmitā).
  • As soon as someone confirms our existence, we form a bond (bandhana) with that person or entity.
  • However, our conditioning (dharma) may not synchronise with the other person or entity, so we are constantly experiencing like (rāga) or dislike (dveṣa) in our transaction with the other entity. 
  • When we like something, we try to bring it closer. Similarly, when we dislike something, we try to push it away. This causes movement/ doing or action (karma) and debt (ṛṇa).
  • All action (karma) results in experience (anubhava) which is dependent on our situational awareness (prajñā). 
  • Situational awareness consists of two components:
    • Awareness of the situation by the Self during the transaction (vijñāna).
    • Awareness of changes to the Self due to the transaction (jñāna).
  • Awareness changes depending on permutations and combinations of 3 attributes of cognition (guṇa).

School of Yoga explains guṇa – attributes of cognition and the driver of māya:

During any transaction, our awareness moves from confusion, to active effort and finally harmony. 

  • The three attributes are called guṇa. 
  • The components of these attributes are tamas (inertia), rajas (passion) and sattva (harmony).
  • Finally, these 3 attributes are constantly changing in composition depending on the state of awareness of the Self with the subject.

Tamas (inertia): This aspect is characterised by fear, laziness, indolence, confusion, delusion etc. and is governed primarily by the physical/ static element of our Self. So, a person with predominance of this state generally is confused, lazy, indecisive and will not do work unless pushed or monitored.

Rajas (passion): This state governs nearly all forms of action, driven primarily by emotions. Also, this aspect drives our orientation towards results and desire for achievement. So, a person in this state would typically be result oriented, dominating, driving, aggressive, brooking no resistance, impatient etc.

Sattva (harmony): This occurs when a person tries to balance result with resource, process, tries to balance task result with quality & relationships. This is driven by a need for balance. So, this person avoids confrontation unless absolutely required. When in a conflict situation, the person is calm and absorbs emotions. Also, this person avoids personal & and judgmental remarks.

Anecdotes, experiences and situations to help understand guṇa…

Example: A person is using an ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) for the first time. The bank has issued a new ATM card to the person. 

Imagine the person’s state when he/she has to withdraw money from the ATM for the first time. Initially, there is confusion – “How am I going to do this?” or anxiety/ fear “What will happen if…?” This is tamas.

Then comes anger or irritation – “This is ridiculous! How do they expect me to operate this machine without training?” This is rajas. Then, there is effort… “let’s see what we can do”.

Finally, there is acceptance and ownership. Here, the person hacks around and finds a solution, either by doing it himself or by asking someone. Value is added and this is sattva.

Consequently, an awareness of having found a solution builds in the person. This is vijñāna. This results in increased confidence in the Self, an increase in asmitā (I am this) which is called jñāna.

School of Yoga explains the relationship between asmitā, tantra (weave) and māya…

  • Tantra means “weave”. It is the weave of the Self or identity with its actions.
  • The Self is called Siva or Puruṣa and the manifestation of Self is called Shakti or Prakriti. Siva is the quanta or unit identity while Puruṣa is the composite of many Siva identities. So, one might say that Siva is the building block of Puruṣa, Puruṣa is any identity that comprises two or more Siva identities and parama-puruṣa is the universe, in which sada-siva means that the identity is continuously generating and dissolving identities,
  • Siva/ Puruṣa has no identity without Shakti/ Prakriti and Shakti cannot manifest without Siva/ Puruṣa. They weave with each other continuously and this is called tantra.
  • First, when Siva manifests with Shakti, the initial experience is awareness of its own identity (existential identity).
  • Next, the need is confirmation of existence forces Siva to find another Siva to acknowledge its existence.
  • When this happens, Siva experiences both, happiness at confirmation of existence and fear of loss of this confirmation of identity.
  • The fear of loss of this confirmation forces the manifesting identity (Siva) to latch on to receiving identity (Siva). 
  • Consequently, this bond is not broken until either finds an alternative confirmation of existence.

Siva’s manifestation is asmitā (cognition of Self). The conditioning is svadharma (personal conditioning) and behaviour is svabhāva. Finally, the weave of conditioning with behaviour is called svatantra or personality.

The transaction between the manifesting Siva and receiving Siva is called māya (illusion/ farce).

School of Yoga explains māya (farce) and prajñā (awareness).

In any transaction:

  • Our behaviour is called darśana (that which is shown).
  • What others see is called dṛṣṭi (that which is seen)
  • The seer is called dṛṣṭu (one who sees)

During the transaction, the manifesting Siva transmits its identity only to the level of its cognition, this is never complete. Similarly, the receiving Siva is receiving information only to the extent supported by its identity. However, each thinks that its own as well as the other’s manifestation is complete which leads to significant differences in perception.

The resulting relative difference between perception of sender and receiver as well as the way feedback is received and decoded is māya (illusion).

It’s important to realise that additionally, various parameters of decision-making are continuously changing.

  • Conditioning (dharma) of the sender and receiver is continuously changing
  • Dharma of others in the environment is continuously changing
  • Both, sender and receiver are getting inputs from multiple sources
  • Everyone’s self-worth (asmitā) is continuously changing
  • The environment or framework of the transaction is continuously changing

Comment: It is very important to understand how māya drives our existence. Our manifestation is the expression of our identity (asmitā). However, the feedback we get may or may not be in congruence with how we perceive our Identity. Consequently, when there is congruence between our manifestation and the feedback we receive, our asmitā expands and there is rāga (attraction-karma) occurs. But, when it is dissonance between the feedback and our Identity, then our asmitā contracts and dveṣa (repulsion-karma) results.

Points to ponder about māya;

Internal Tags: Conditioning or Dharma, Self Awareness or Asmita,  Guna in Bhagavat- Geeta chapter 14

External Tags: Stress

  • How do you recognise your value system or conditioning (dharma)?
  • When you are stressed, how do you know?
  • How do you recognise that your coping actions are not adequate?
  • What would svatantra mean for your team, your company, your state or country.

Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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[…] these reference points begins to increase in complexity with each experience. Consequently, our cognition begins to try and keep all the variables in perspective and this slows down our awareness. Finally, […]

[…] continuously, sometimes a little or sometimes a lot! This is a phenomenon called Maya (farce). Maya is that aspect of nature (shrishti) that induces continuous change. This forces us to think that […]

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