Truth and ‘Maya’ in Theosophy
Esoteric Philosophy Teaches Wisdom, Not
Illusion; and Symbols Must Not Be Taken Literally
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Front cover of “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”
The following text reproduces Chapter Six of
the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical
Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline, The
Aquarian Theosophist, Portugal, 255 pp., 2013.
“Light is cold flame, and flame is
fire, and fire produces heat, which yields
water: the water of life in the great mother.”
(H.P. Blavatsky) 
Theosophy sees words as sacred tools. They often carry fire and light and help us attain direct wisdom. The actual meaning of words must therefore be examined.
The unwise use of the term “Maya”, for instance, is dangerous. It easily misleads. And danger, if perceived, is a teacher. By understanding it, we get to a wider and better view of things.
The Sanskrit word “Maya” literally means “Illusion”, and it applies to the Universe and to Nature as we know it on our planet. The Theosophical Glossary (Theosophy Co. edition) adds:
“In Hindu philosophy that alone which is changeless and eternal is called reality.”
This axiom, if rightly understood, does not condemn human beings to a hopeless situation in which one would think that “since all is illusion, it should be OK for us to delude ourselves while misleading others”.
Far from it.
The Law of Karma is eternal and changeless: therefore it is real. And we can know the karmic law. We can study it, we can sense it, we can see it working in our lives and in Nature around us. The three laws of Newton are aspects of the law of karma. Reincarnation is an aspect of it, and so is the law of cycles, the law of symmetry, and so on.
Adepts, Initiates and Mahatmas are subject to the tides and workings of Karma. But they fully understand the Absolute Law of Justice that rules the universe, and they cooperate with it.
Since we not only know but can gradually verify by ourselves that everything is governed by the One Law, the idea that the universe and nature could be an Illusion, in the common sense of the word, makes no sense. The Universe is not to blame if humans delude themselves. The universe is truth in movement. And it moves according to Law.
In the legend of the Buddha, Maya is the name of Gautama’s mother. The idea of a mother is a symbol for selfless love. Affinity and love move Nature and its inhabitants, and Love is inseparable from Truth. Nature is only illusory in its outer aspects or when seen by individuals who cannot perceive the Law of Equilibrium and Symmetry silently ruling themselves and their actions, and everything around them.
Let’s suppose, however, that we leave the idea of Law entirely aside for a moment, and say that “only the unfathomable Absolute is Reality, all else being Illusion”.
In this case we must honestly admit the fact that such a notion is adopted merely on hearsay by us, since we are not anywhere near the Absolute, in our reasoning capacities.
Who is it that has ever visited the Absolute and came back to say that “only the Absolute is real”? And what evidences does such an individual have?
The poetical phrase about “Illusion” can be accepted on tradition. In this case, however, we are not thinking of anything that makes sense in a literal way from the point of view of our own learning. Philosophically, to say that “we live in Illusion” must be a symbolical expression, a phrase actually meaning that “we live in an ever-renewing reality”. Otherwise it is worse than useless and pure nonsense.
Each cycle of space-time has its own verifiable reality, or levels of reality. The universe is not unilinear. It is septenary, to start with, and each of its seven levels is also septenary, and so on. The universe includes an infinite number of karmic lines of septenary evolution, each with its own varied timelines and cycles. There are therefore multiple realities, all in an eternal dialogue and closely united by Law.
It is also useful to examine the word “reality”. It comes from the Latin, “res”, meaning “thing”, so that the word “republic”, for instance, means “the public thing”.
To say that “Only the Absolute is Real” is therefore a contradiction in terms, an absurdity, if meant literally, for it would signify that “Only the Absolute is a Thing”. It is well-known that the Absolute cannot be a thing, or object. The Absolute is far beyond any “res”. It transcends any “reality” or “condition of things”. It cannot be speculated upon. It is an undue speculation to say that only the Absolute is true and real. The word “only” means separation, exclusiveness, and no one can say that the Absolute is separated or apart from the Universe.
Truth and Law being universal, they are everywhere, and we can learn to perceive it by ourselves.
Humans are surrounded by things, objective and subjective. They are surrounded by realities. If we leave Sanskrit poetical expressions aside, there is something better than to say that our reality is “an illusion”.
It is more efficient to say that our reality is dynamic; that it changes; that it is cyclic, and therefore impermanent in its outer effects. It is quite real, though, within its own evolving space-times and cycles.
Each living being exists and acts in its own “individualized reality” or condition-of-things, up to a certain degree. The same being also shares degrees of reality, and realities, with all other beings and orders of beings. The mosquito and the human being live in different realities, in different space-times, but they may interact. In the book “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge” (Theosophy Co.) and in “The Secret Doctrine Commentaries” (I.S.I.S. Foundation), H.P. Blavatsky talks about the intelligence of the ants. Although ants are highly intelligent, their space-time reality is quite different from the space-time of humans. It is no use for ants to say our human space-time is an illusion. It is different, instead. It is no use for humans to say the space-time of an anthill of aggressive habits and skills is “an illusion”, while having to carefully avoid stepping on it, as they walk. The space-time of anthills is not an illusion; it is different from ours, and both can interact in various ways.
Just as there is an unknown number of anthills on our planet, there is also an unknown number of universes, along an unknown number of pralayas and manvantaras, in an unlimited Duration.
While living in its own dynamic reality or changing condition of things, each and every being in the universe can make progress towards theosophy, which could be described as the knowledge of the unlimited aspects of life. Such knowledge is not attained by dreaming that we live “in an illusion”. The dream of illusion would only lead us to live as irresponsible mediums. Progress towards theosophy is made by taking steps from smaller circles and cycles of known reality towards wider and greater ones, and by gradually grasping something of that Unlimited Abstract Space which is free from common cycles, and with which our own Higher Self has been already in perfect tune and harmony for ages.
Theosophy can be learned through the right and humble perception of the One Law, and through cooperation with it as much as possible in every aspect of daily life. One name for this “strategy” is universal ethics. Another one is Duty. It can also be called Wisdom or Self-knowledge. The thing itself, however, is beyond names. If we are humble enough, patient enough and audacious enough, we can make progress toward its living flame.
 “The Secret Doctrine”, by HPB, volume I, Stanza III, 9.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).
Truth and ‘Maya’ in Theosophy