Lord Caitanya admitted that Śaṅkarācārya was an incarnation of Lord Śiva, and it is known that Lord Śiva is one of the greatest devotees, a mahājana of the Bhāgavata school. There are twelve mahājanas, great authorities on devotional service, and Lord Śiva is one of them. Why, then, did he adopt the process of Māyāvāda philosophy? The answer is given in the Śiva Purāṇa, where the Supreme Lord tells Śiva:
- dvāparādau yuge bhūtvā kalayā mānuṣādiṣu
- svāgamaiḥ kalpitais tvaṁ ca janān mad-vimukhān kuru
"In the beginning of Kali-yuga, by My order, bewilder the people in general with Māyāvāda philosophy." In the Padma Purāṇa, Lord Śiva tells his wife Bhagavatī Devī:
- māyāvādam asac-chāstraṁ pracchannaṁ bauddham ucyate
- mayaiva kalpitaṁ devi kalau brāhmaṇa-rūpiṇā
- brahmaṇaś cāparaṁ rūpaṁ nirguṇaṁ vakṣyate mayā
- sarva-svaṁ jagato ’py asya mohanārthaṁ kalau yuge
- vedānte tu mahā-śāstre māyāvādam avaidikam
- mayaiva vakṣyate devi jagatāṁ nāśa-kāraṇāt
"The Māyāvāda philosophy is veiled Buddhism. (In other words, the voidist philosophy of Buddha is more or less repeated in the Māyāvāda philosophy of impersonalism, although the Māyāvādīphilosophers claim to be directed by the Vedic conclusions.) As a brāhmaṇa boy, I manufacture this philosophy in the Age of Kali to mislead the atheists. Actually, the Supreme Personality of Godhead has His transcendental body, but I describe the Supreme as impersonal. I also explain the Vedānta-sūtra according to the same principles of Māyāvāda philosophy."
Lord Śiva continues speaking to Bhāgavatī Devī as follows:
- śṛṇu devi pravakṣyāmi tāmasāni yathā-kramam
- yeṣāṁśravaṇa-mātreṇa pātityaṁ jñāninām api
- apārthaṁśruti-vākyānāṁ darśayaḻ loka-garhitam
- karma-svarūpa-tyājyatvam atra ca pratipadyate
- sarva-karma-paribhraṁśān naiṣkarmyaṁ tatra cocyate
- parātma-jīvayor aikyaṁ mayātra pratipadyate
"My dear Devī, sometimes I teach Māyāvāda philosophy for those who are engrossed in the mode of ignorance. But anyone in the mode of goodness who happens to hear this Māyāvāda philosophy falls down, for when I teach Māyāvāda philosophy I say that the living entity and the Supreme Lord are one and the same."
Sadānanda Yogīndra, one of the greatest Māyāvādīācāryas, has written in his book Vedānta-sāra: "The Absolute Truth of eternity, knowledge and bliss is Brahman. Ignorance and all products of ignorance are non-Brahman. All products of the three modes of material nature are covered by ignorance, and all are different from the supreme cause and effect. This ignorance is manifested in a collective and individual sense. Collective ignorance is called viśuddha-sattva-pradhāna. When that viśuddha-sattva-pradhāna is manifested within the ignorance of material nature, it is called the Lord, and the Lord manifests all kinds of ignorance. Therefore He is known as sarvajña." Thus according to Māyāvāda philosophy, the Lord is a product of this material nature and the living entity is in the lowest stage of ignorance. That is the sum and substance of Māyāvāda philosophy.
If, however, we accept the import of the Upaniṣads directly, it is clear that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is a person with unlimited potency. For example, in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad it is stated, "The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the origin of everything, and He has multiple potencies. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is transcendental to the cosmic manifestation. He is the origin of all religion, the supreme deliverer, and the possessor of all opulences. I understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead to be just like the sun, profusely distributing His energies while situated beyond the cloud of this material cosmic manifestation. He is the master of masters, and He is the supreme of supremes. He is known as the greatest Lord, the Personality of Godhead. His multiple potencies are variously distributed." Also, the Ṛg Veda (1.22.20) states that Viṣṇu is the Supreme and that saintly persons are always anxious to see His lotus feet. And in the Aitareya Upaniṣad it is stated that the cosmic manifestation came about when the Lord glanced over material nature (1.1.1–2). This is confirmed by the Praśna Upaniṣad (6.3).
The negative descriptions of the Lord which occur in the Vedic literature (such as apāṇi-pādaḥ: "the Lord has no hands or feet") indicate that the Lord has no material body and no material form. But He does have His spiritual, transcendental body and His transcendental form. Because the Māyāvādī philosophers misunderstand His transcendental nature, they explain Him as impersonal. The Lord's name, form, qualities, entourage and abode are all in the transcendental world. How can He be a transformation of this material nature? Everything connected with the Supreme Lord is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge.
In effect, Śaṅkarācārya preached Māyāvāda philosophy to bewilder a certain type of atheist. Actually he never considered the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, to be impersonal, without body or form. It is best for intelligent persons to avoid lectures on Māyāvāda philosophy. We should understand that the Supreme Personality of Godhead Viṣṇu is not impersonal. He is a transcendental person, and the basic principle of the cosmic manifestation is His energy. Māyāvāda philosophy cannot trace the energy of the Supreme Lord back to its source, but all Vedic literatures give evidence of the Supreme Lord's various energetic manifestations. Viṣṇu is not a product of material nature, but material nature is a product of Viṣṇu's potency. The Māyāvādī philosophers understand Viṣṇu to be a product of material nature, but if Viṣṇu is a product of material nature, He can only be counted among the demigods. One who considers Viṣṇu to be a demigod is certainly mistaken and misled. How this is so is explained in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.13–14): "Deluded by the three modes of material nature, the whole world does not know Me, who am above the material nature and inexhaustible. My material nature is so powerful that it is very difficult to surpass its spell, even for the greatest scholar, but those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it."