This is a summary of comments I posted in a facebook thread. (Click Here => http://goo.gl/oRNa1x )
Normally Maya of Advaita Vedanta (AV) is said to be representing a non-existent thing. But in fact its meaning is different. Maya in AV denotes the ‘relative plane of ultimate reality’. Phenomenal world is not a ‘non-existing’ thing in AV. But it exists as REAL for a person who is devoid of Brahma-Vidya. Then he thinks that this phenomenal world itself is the Ultimate Reality. But when he acquires Brahma-Vidya, he realizes that phenomenal world is not ultimately real, but dependent of the Brahman. Brahman only is ultimately real. Brahman only exists independently.
So for an Advaitin phenomenal world is not ‘non-existent’, but it is relatively real. this itself is the meaning of the term Maya.
Now my comments are given. I did not edit them. This blog post is a comment repository.
There are three levels in Advaita Vedanta regarding reality. They are ‘Pratibhasika’, ‘Vyavaharika’ and ‘Paramarthika’.
(This classification have parallels in Sunya – Vijnana vada as follows: Samvriti, Paramartha in Sunyavada and Parikalpita, Paratantra and Parinispanna in Vijnanavada.)
Of these Pratibhasika is the most unreal appearance (even though it may have a name). Dream is in Pratibahsika level.
Vyavaharika is relative plane of reality. In this plane causes and effects takes place and human intellect works here. Phenomenal world is in this level. When we reach in the Paramarthika level by acquiring proper knowledge (Brahma Vidya) we understand that this level is ‘Relative/dependent’ in nature (((((not as Imaginary. But as ‘relative in nature’. Imaginary level is dream level. Dream world and phenomenal world is not in same plane in Advaita Vedanta. But Gauda Pada and Vijnanavada have that opinion. Sankara don't follow Gauda Pada or Vijnanavada in this area. Kumarila have utterly destroyed the Vijnanavada arguments of the dream - phenomenal world equation. I am not mentioning it here))))) and thus is not ultimately real. But when we have no Brahma Vidya, we will think that this Vyavaharika itself is the Ultimate.
Paramarthika is the ultimate truth level. It is REAL and Independent. It can exist by itself without anything’s help. (on the other hand ‘Pratibhasika’ depend on phenomenal experience for its existence and ‘Vyavahara’ depends on ‘Paramarthika/Brahman’ for its existence). This is spiritual in experience and subject – object duality is not here. This is beyond the realm of Intellect. Intellect can not grasp this state. This can be realized by direct experience when we get Brahma Vidya.
We can understand the unreality of Pratibhaasika (dream) only when we are in Vyavaharika level. And we can understand about the relative nature of vyavaharika (phenomenal world) only when we reach Paramartika level.
In short, Pratibhasika is ‘devoid of existence’; Vyavaharika is ‘devoid of Independent existence’ (it is an appearance) and Paramarthika only have independent existence and it is beyond thought construction.
From the above, we can know that Maya means ‘relative/dependent existence’. It is not ‘asat’ (non-existence).
When we misunderstand a rope for snake, we will continue to think the rope as a snake as long as the light is dim and will behave accordingly. We can't understand then that it is rope. (This is Vyavaharika / phenomenal world as per AV. When we are in Vyavaharika we think that Vyavaharika itself is the Paramarthika/Ultimate reality. ie, it is snake only, not rope).When the light dawns we will understand that it is rope, not snake. ie, snake was dependent on rope and snake was not real in its own. In the same way when we get Brahma Vidya we can understand that phenomenal world is not ultimate but dependent on Brahman for its existence. (Same as snake - feeling is depended on Rope, when lights flashed). This does not mean that phenomenal world doesn’t exist. But it means phenomenal world is dependent on Brahman and thus ultimately not Real. When we live in PW we have to live it with the thought that it is real.