Why are we limited as to what we can do and where we can be? Why is it that if the only reality is that of Shiva and All is Shiva that we must feel insignificant? How can it be, if Shiva is the only reality, that we should feel so distant, so far removed from that Reality?
The answer given in Shaivism to these questions can be summed up in one word: māyā. The term māyā, as used in Shaivism, does NOT indicate that the entire existence is unreal or illusion or false. Rather, in Shaivite teachings, māyā is that power which creates the notion of separation from the Lord, the notion of limitedness and individuality. According to the Shaiva Agamas and the philosophy therein, māyā along with the other impurities (malas; of which there are three – ānava, karma, māyā) are produced by the Shiva’s Tirodhana Shakti (Power of Concealment). Māyā in the Shaivite system, therefore, is not taken to as an unreal or beginningless entity that covers the Ultimate Reality. Rather, māyā is Shiva’s own inherent Power by which Shiva conceals His immanence within existence.
Shaiva Agamic theology teaches that māyā, which can be considered a veil of finiteness and limitedness on the Infinite and the Unlimited, produces five sheaths or coverings (kanchukas). The five coverings are as follows:
1. Kalā (creativity)
2. Vidyā (knowledge)
3. Rāga (desire)
4. Kāla (time)
5. Niyati (destiny)
These five coverings, together known as the progeny of māyā, cover the purusha, the individual entity or soul (or the perception thereof). As a result of these coverings, the individual entity feels himself limited in all these respects.
The covering of kalā limits the individual’s creativity. He is kept from sarvakartrtva, the ability to do everything (omnipotence). The covering of vidyā limits the individual’s knowledge. He is kept from sarvajnatva, the ability to know everything (omniscience). The covering of rāga limits the individual’s fulfillment. He is kept from purnatva, the ability to feel complete (fullness or perfection). The covering of kāla limits the individual within time. He is kept from nityatva, the ability to be timeless (eternity). The covering of niyati limits the individual within space. He is kept from vyāpaktva, the ability to be everywhere (omnipresence). As a result of these five coverings, the individual entity feels entirely restricted and bound, and develops the understanding that he is a separate or separable from Shiva. It is only when he is graced by Shiva’s Anugraha Shakti (Power of Revealment) that he is able to begin understanding the true oneness of it all.
Māyā and her five coverings are then, in the Shaiva Agamic scheme, the six tattvas that lie beyond twenty-five tattvas given by Sānkhya. The last tattva taught by Sānkhya is the purusha or individual entity, but the Shaiva Agamic scheme says that the purusha is actually not a liberated state of being at all, but something akin to an objective ego, himself limited by māyā and her five coverings. According to the Shaiva Agamic scheme, the twenty-four tattvas that constitute prakriti (see Sankhya System and the Tattvas) are referred to as the ashuddha (impure) tattvas as they are material in nature. Above these are the seven shuddha-ashuddha (pure-impure) tattvas consisting of māyā, the five kanchukas (kalā, vidyā, rāga, kāla, niyati), and purusha.
Below these are the 24 ashuddha tattvas of prakriti exactly as presented by Sankhya.
Aum Namah Shivāya.
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Related post: Sankhya System and the Tattvas