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Vidya and Avidya Shakti

The Divine Mother of the Universe, who contains these four marvelous shaktis, further perpetuates creation through two basic modes called vidya shakti and avidya shakti. The first is a power of ascension which takes all aspiring souls who desire to free themselves from cyclic rounds of birth and death in ignorance upwards towards remembrance and realization of their true nature. This is Vidya shakti which propels by revealing subtler and subtler gradations of higher knowledge leading to Paravidya. Paravidya contains the teachings of the divine incarnations, the truths of the scriptures, the words of the guru and the very presence of the Universal Wisdom Mother Herself. It has been described as divine recognition, called Pratyabhijna by the ancients. It encompasses everything one needs to know for liberation, namely: the knowledge of what the world consists of, awareness of the immortal Self within called Atman and realization of the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. For those who are still bereft of this divine recognition, it is necessary to rid the mind of the influences of avidya shakti and recognize Maya.

Avidya shakti, the downward moving force, accommodates all souls who desire to follow the way of Vyavaharika — the path of worldliness based upon sense-life. To facilitate the darker, denser aspects of Maya, avidya shakti breaks into two further powers called avarana and vikshepa, the former suited for veiling Reality and the latter effective in distorting It. Under the regime of these powers, and bereft of vidya shakti’s free and willing aid, human beings struggle helplessly against the many weights and chains of avidya shakti which adversely affect their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Before listing some of the evolutes of Maya and to help in the visualization of the Divine Mother’s complex design, a chart is shown which illustrates the workings of Mahamaya through Her many powers.

Maya’s powers act on two basic levels of the creation: cosmic, called samasti, and individual, called vyasti. The cosmic Maya facilitates all the various universal laws and creative principles such as the triple conception of time, space and causality (desha, kala and nimitta), and the three gunas of nature (sattva, rajas and tamas of Prakriti). Maya, in the individual consciousness, seeps into the awareness of living beings, causing them to lose subtle and intuitive perception and become attached to what is finite. Identifying these deceptive forces and reversing their effects is a prerequisite to enlightenment and is undertaken by all sincere seekers of Truth. When this task is completed, the experience of samadhi dawns upon the awakened consciousness of the aspirant.

This process may happen swiftly or take more time according to an aspirant’s karmic propensities, state of preparation, capacity for realization and the degree of intensity mustered for sadhana (spiritual disciplines) and spiritual life. Maya’s evolutes are formidable opponents which create barriers that are difficult to detect. Negative impressions from previous births, belief that the world is real, belief that God is unreal, presuming one’s present existence to be the only lifetime, nonacceptance of the law of Karma (cause and effect), preoccupation with the ego, its desires and the body — these and more hamper spiritual progress and make enlightenment impossible. In order to facilitate the transcendence of these negativities, it is necessary to identify the evolutes of Maya and thereby diminish their hold over human awareness. Though they are many, they can be condensed and classified in brief in a manner pertaining to this day and age. To do this, we must gaze back into an earlier age — an age where beings of great wisdom encountered Maya’s forces and, with much effort, austerity and concentration, transcended their effects. Abidance in the Atman, the sole Reality, was their reward.

The rishis of ancient India bequeathed the world an abundance of valuable teachings, gleaned from their one-pointed meditation on Brahman. They realized these truths through their love for true existence after renouncing mundane worldly life. They perceived the presence of Maya and applied their powers of discrimination to the pressing problems of humanity so as to blaze a trail out of ignorance and its related suffering. The purpose of this was twofold: to help the peoples of the world to live a pure and fulfilling existence and, more importantly, to help them gain the vision of Brahman and thereby receive the knowledge, wisdom, truth, love, devotion, peace, bliss and freedom that proceeds from that. It should be pointed out that suffering, in this context, includes enjoyment and the momentary happiness it brings, for joy and sorrow always come in turns and both produce suffering — one through ignoble whips of pain and the other through misleading strokes of pleasure. They are, as Swami Vivekananda points out, chains that hold — one of iron, the other of gold.

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