Brahman with unmanifest power of Maya is Nirguna Brahman, while Brahman with manifest power of Maya is called Saguna Brahman or Iswara. In the unmanifest state all the three constituent gunas, satva, rajas and tamas are in equilibrium. When the equilibrium is disturbed, creation takes place. Everything in creation including Jiva, the individual, has all the three gunas but in varying proportions. This point is emphasised by Sri Krishna in Gita, where He affirms that there is no entity on earth, or heaven, that is devoid of these three gunas (18-40). The functional equivalents of satva, rajas, and tamas are knowledge, action and inertia, in short. Sri Krishna analyses gunas in the context of Jiva, the individual, with regard to Jiva's actions and qualities in chapters 14, 17 and 18.
All the three gunas have one thing in common in that these three qualities, satva, rajas and tamas, born of prakriti, that is Maya, bind the imperishable Athma to body (Gita14-5). The difference is the one abiding in satva evolves to a higher super-human, divine state, one abiding in rajas stagnates at the present human level and the one abiding in tamas degenerates to sub-human level (Gita14-18). So Sri Ramakrishna calls the Maya where satva element is more than the other two combined as Vidya Maya and where, either by themselves or together, other two elements are dominant as Avidya Maya. Avidya Maya drags one down towards sensory level and below, and that one is endowed with qualities that Sri Krishna describes as asuri sampath in chapter 16 of Gita. So we should strive to change to and be in Vidya Maya that makes one pure, moral and ethical, concerned with others etc. by cultivating qualities that Sri Krishna catalogues as daivi sampath in the same chapter. Only from Vidya Maya, one can strive to overcome Maya, by transcending the three gunas, as prescribed by Sri Narada in his Bhakthi sutras (sutra 47).
Vidya Maya has also to be transcended as Vidya Maya still has rajas and tamas. Tamas veils the Real, causing non-apprehension of the Real and rajas projects the Unreal as the Real, causing misapprehension of the Unreal as Real. The need for transcending satva also, Sri Ramakrishna explains through a story. A traveller was going through a forest to his home in the village beyond the forest. Three robbers attacked him on the way, tied him up and robbed him of his belongings. Then one of them said “Let us kill him and leave”. Another said ”Let us not kill him but leave him tied up. The animals in the forest will finish him off in the night”. Then they left. As the traveller was struggling fruitlessly to free himself, the third robber returned, untied him and took him to the edge of the forest where the village was visible and told him “There is your place. Go home. Good-bye”. The traveller thanked this robber and pleaded with him to come home and have dinner. That robber politely declined saying “I am also a robber, who is wanted by the police. So I cannot come into the village” and left. The traveller in this story is Jiva, and the three robbers are three gunas.The one who wanted to kill him is tamas, the one who said it is enough to leave him tied up is rajas and the third who untied him and took him to the edge of the forest and showed the village is satva. However beneficial satva is, this also is to be transcended. Sri Ramakrishna also says “Through Vidya Maya transcend Avidya Maya and then transcend Vidya Maya also. It is like removing a thorn with another thorn and then throwing away both of them”.
Sri Adi Sankara calls Iswara a Mayavi, magician, in his Dakshinamurthy stotram(Sloka 2). If Iswara is magician, Maya is His magic. The magic is so powerful that it has not spared Sri Narada himself. To illustrate this Sri Vivekananda narrates an incident from puranas. Once Sri Narada asked Sri Krishna, as they were walking along, to explain to him the power of Maya. Sri Krishna said “I feel thirsty. First let me have a glass of water and then I will explain to you the power of Maya”. Sri Narada looked around and saw a house in a village nearby. He went there to get a glass of water. As he knocked at the door, a beautiful young girl opened the door. When Sri Narada saw her, he forgot all about the water and asked for her father. When the father came he asked for the girl’s hand in marriage. The father agreed and Sri Narada got married, had children and completely forgot all about Sri Krishna and his request for water. Twelve years passed this way and then there was a violent storm and heavy rains and the river waters rose so high that Narada’s house got submerged and Narada with his wife and children tried to escape the floods in a boat. The boat capsized and Narada’s wife and children were drowned and Narada only miraculously escaped drowning and was tossed by a wave to the dry land unconscious. When he regained consciousness and realized that he only had survived, he started crying aloud for his drowned wife and children when there was a pat on the shoulder. Narada turned round and there was Sri Krishna standing. Sri Krishna asked him “Where is the water? How long are you going to keep me waiting ” Sri Narada fell down at Sri Krishna’s feet and said “ My Lord, now I understand the power of Maya”
Sri Krishna who deals in detail how these three gunas are reflected in various actions and behaviour patterns of Jiva also shows the way to transcend the three gunas. When one perceives and stays in the perception that the three gunas are the forces that cause all one’s activities inside and outside and not the Athma, which is one’s real Self and which is also beyond all the three gunas, then that one attains liberation, transcending the three gunas (Gita 14-19). Such an individual transcending the three gunas, out of which the body is evolved, is freed from birth, death, old age and sorrow and attains immortality (Gita 14-20).