Excerpts from writings by Paramahansa Yogananda

What is Reality?

The human body is a product of minute atoms and subtle forces. Scientists say that if the space in the atoms of a physical body weighing 150 pounds could be removed, the constituent atoms of the body would be condensed into a single invisible particle that would still weigh 150 pounds.* (p.871 Gita)

* If we could take all the empty space out of the atoms, all 7 billion people on Earth, would fit in a volume of a sugar cube.


The renowned astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington explains: "The world we see and experience in everyday life is simply a convenient mirage attuned to our very limited senses, an illusion conjured by our perceptions and our mind. All that is around us (including our own bodies) which appears so substantial is ultimately nothing but ephemeral networks of particle-waves whirling around at lightning speed, colliding, rebounding, disintegrating into almost total emptiness—so-called matter is mostly emptiness, proportionately as void as intergalactic space, void of anything except occasional dots and spots and scattered electric charges."! (p.812 The Second Coming of Christ by Paramahansa Yogananda)

Man thinks of his body as compact, solid matter; but science now defines the body as waves of electromagnetic energy. Matter has been dissolved down to photons. But what is the difference between light and consciousness; and what is the relation of consciousness and the body? ... The body is nothing but electrons and their subatomic magnetic companions whirling in empty space. (p.1508 The Second Coming of Christ by Paramahansa Yogananda)

To a materialist, the whole world—its complications of solids, liquids, fire, gases, and so forth—seems to be composed of real material substances: "This is the way I perceive it; therefore, it must be fact." But the advanced yogi, whose Self-realization has penetrated to the inner source of external matter, is able to say: "This world, this cosmos, are only shadows of life thrown on the screen of space, and reflected in our conscious and subconscious mental chambers." (bg p.123)

From science, then, if it must be so, let man learn the philosophic truth that there is no material universe; its warp and woof is maya, illusion. Under analysis all its mirages of reality dissolve. ... In his famous equation outlining the equivalence of mass and energy, [mc2] Einstein proved that the energy in any particle of matter is equal to its mass or weight multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. The release of the atomic energies is brought about through annihilation of the material particles. The "death" of matter has given birth to an Atomic Age. (aoy p.269)

Avidya — the Individual Cosmic Illusion

Traditionally the name Kripa is said to derive from the Sanskrit root krip, "to pity." But phonetically, which is the basis of pure Sanskrit, in transliteration the root corresponds to krip. From this root is the meaning "to imagine," the intent of author Vyasa in symbolizing Kripa as avidya, individual delusion—ignorance, illusion. The metaphorical derivation: Vastunyanyatvam kalpayati iti—"One who imagines matter to be other than what it is." Avidya is the first of the five kleshas. This individual delusion is the ignorance in man that clouds his perception and gives him a false concept of reality. Patanjali describes avidya in these words:

"Ignorance is perceiving the non-eternal, impure, evil, and what is not soul, to be eternal, pure, good, and the soul."
—Yoga Sutras II:5

Maya, cosmic delusion, is the universal substance of forms in the Infinite Formless. Avidya is the individual cosmic hypnosis or illusion imposed on the forms that makes them express, perceive, and interact with one another as though each has its own separate reality. God's omnipresent undifferentiated cosmic consciousness underlies its mayic separations into parts through which the Creator expresses His manifoldness. By the visualization of His thoughts, through the power of maya, "the magical measurer," God creates, sustains, and dissolves dream worlds and beings.

Similarly, man's unmodified divine consciousness, as the individualized soul, is the basis of all his expressions. God's mayic power of visualization has been inherited by man in the form of avidya. Through this personalized "measurer," man's one soul-consciousness becomes differentiated. By delusive imagination, the power of visualization or imaging the ego's concepts, man creates his own illusions of reality and "materializes" or brings them into being or expression through the instruments of his differentiated consciousness (mind, intelligence, feeling, and sensory organs of perception and action). Thus is he a miniature creator, fashioning good or ill for himself and the phenomenal world of which he is an operative part. It is this creative force inherent in man's thoughts that makes them so formidable. The truth in the adage "Thoughts are things" should be duly respected!

The influence of the force of avidya is such that no matter how irksome the illusion, deluded man is loath to part with it. Anyone who has tried to change the view of an opinionated person—or even to alter his own strong opinion, for that matter—knows how compelling the "reality" of avidya-fashioned concepts can be to the one who cherishes them. And therein lies the ignorance. The confirmed materialist, captive in his own realm of "reality," is ignorant of his deluded state and therefore has no wish nor will to exchange it for the sole Reality, Spirit. He perceives the temporal world as reality eternal substance— insofar as he is able to grasp the concept of eternity He imagines the grossness of sensory experience to be the pure essence of feeling and perception. He fabricates his own standards of morality and behavior and calls them good, irrespective of their inharmony with eternal Divine Law. And he thinks that his ego, his mortal sense of being—with its in flated self-importance as the almighty doer—is the image of his soul as created by God.

Avidya is a mighty archenemy of divine realization when under the negative influence of worldly sense inclinations. Yet in the Mahabharata epic, we see that Kripa, the Kuru warrior-general representing avidya, is one of the few survivors of the war of Kurukshetra; and that after the battle he makes peace with the Pandavas and is appointed a tutor to Parakshit, grandson of Arjuna—sole heir and progenitor of the Pandavas. The meaning is that in the creative sphere of relativity, naught can exist without this principle of individuality. If avidya is completely withdrawn, the form that it maintains would resolve again into formless Spirit.

Ordinary man is dumbfounded by the enticing propositions of illusory sense experiences, and clings to delusive material forms as though they were the reality and the cause and security of his existence. The yogi, on the other hand, is ever conscious inwardly of the sole Reality, Spirit, and sees maya and avidya—universal and individual delusion—as merely a tenuous web holding together the atomic, magnetic, and spiritual forces that give him a body and mind with which to play a part in the cosmic drama of the Lord's creation. (p.80 God Talks with Arjuna)


The Impermanent Is Not Real

Of the unreal, there is no existence. Of the real, there is no nonexistence. The final truth of both of these is known by men of wisdom.
—The Bhagavad Gita II:16

Alternative translation:
The impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal. Those who have seen the boundary between these two have attained the end of all knowledge.

The senses say that the flower that was never born has shed no fragrance; things that were never real have ever been nonexistent. But the garden rose, by its fragrance, and the stars, by their twinkle in the sky proclaim their reality. The seers of truth, however, know them all to be equally unreal; for the rose will fade away, and many a distant star whose glimmer dots the heavens has long since ceased to be. Could something become nothing?

Possessors of wisdom perceive as real only That which changes not—the Essence that became the star and the idea of the flower in the poet's mind. The wise alone know the mystery of the real and the unreal.


The ocean can exist without the waves, but the waves cannot manifest without the ocean. The ocean is the real substance; the waves are only temporary changes on the ocean, and therefore "unreal" (in themselves they have no independent existence). The ocean, in essence, does not change whether it is calm or restless with waves; but the waves change their forms—they come and they go. Their essence is change, and therefore unreality.

The eternal substance is said to be divided into two—the Sat or Changeless Spirit, and the Asat, the unreal or the ever-changing Nature, the Cosmic Mother of twenty-four attributes. [see below: 24 Veils of Maya]

There are two ways of perceiving Substance:
as the changeless Spirit, and
as the ever-changing creation.

...Those, therefore, who do not look into matter through the senses but who look through matter into Spirit, really know the mystery of the unreal and the Real. The Real, unchanged through eternity, is existent; the unreal, changeable, is only relatively existent. Substance exists; phenomena, which cannot exist without the existence of Substance, has no separate existence.

The ordinary individual considers matter as real (because manifest); he ignores the Spirit as unreal (because hidden). This delusion enshrouds him in ignorance and suffering. The wise man tears aside the appearance of delusive creation and, perceiving the Everlasting Reality, is permanently happy.

Sages behold the way in which the waves of unreality crop up from Reality and cover Its oneness—just as many waves hide the in-severable unity of the ocean. By this view, the wise ones become fixed in the unchangeable Spirit and ignore the changes of the so-called matter-of-fact world. Knowledge of Reality does not make one vague or visionary, shirking his duties! The knower of Reality may be said to be a sane person in the midst of lunacy! (God Talks with Arjuna p.206)


24 Veils of Maya (24 Principles of Creation)

The deluded man sees not his Source, the Spirit, but only the body, which is a mere conglomeration of the twenty-four inner elements of maya—twenty-four veils that shroud the Spirit. The scriptures call man "fallen" or "evil" when his consciousness is identified with "original sin"—the twenty-four-armed Mother Nature whose sole function is to divert man from Spirit to matter. (p.521 God Talks with Arjuna)

Prakriti is the creative power of God, the aspect of Spirit as creative Mother Nature—Pure Nature or Holy Ghost. As such it is imbued with the seed of twenty-four attributes, the workings of which give birth to all manifestation.

From Prakriti evolve

(1) chitta (intelligent consciousness, the power of feeling—the basic mental consciousness—Sankhya's Mahat-tattva), inherent in which are

(2) ahamkara (ego);

(3) buddhi (discriminative intelligence); and

(4) manas (sense mind). From chitta, polarized by manas and buddhi, arise five causal creative principles (panchatattvas) that are the quintessence and root causes of the remaining twenty evolutes of creation. These causal principles are acted upon by the three gunas, or qualities, of Nature (sattva, rajas, and tamas) and become manifested as

(5-9) the jnanendriyas (five instruments of sense perception);

(10-14) the karmendriyas (five instruments of action);

(15-19) the mahabhutas (or mahatattvas: earth, water, fire, air, and ether—the five subtle vibratory "elements" or individualized forces (motions) of the Cosmic Creative Vibration);

(20-24) the five pranas (five instruments of life force empowering circulation, crystallization, assimilation, metabolism, and elimination). The pranas, together with the five subtle vibratory elements, inform all matter in solid, liquid, fiery, gaseous, and etheric form.


See also:

The Upanishads and Maya

Theory of Maya