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Maya (Sanskrit माया māyāa[›]), has multiple meanings, within a Hindu or Sikh context, the word refers to concepts of "illusion". Maya, is the principal concept which manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion and dream of duality in the phenomenal Universe. For some mystics this manifestation is real. [1] Each person, each physical object, from the perspective of eternity is like a brief, disturbed drop of water from an unbounded ocean. The goal of enlightenment is to understand this — more precisely, to experience this: to see intuitively that the distinction between the self and the Universe is a false dichotomy. The distinction between consciousness and physical matter, between mind and body (refer bodymind), is the result of an unenlightened perspective.

Maya in Illusional Hinduism

The word origin of maya is derived from the Sanskrit roots ma ("not") and ya, generally translated as an indicative article meaning "that." The mystic teachings in Vedanta are centered on a fundamental truth that cannot be reduced to a concept or word for the ordinary mind to manipulate. Rather, the human experience and mind are themselves a tiny fragment of this truth. In this tradition, no mind-object can be identified as absolute truth, such that one may say "That's it." So, to keep the mind from attaching to incomplete fragments of reality, a speaker could use this term to indicate that truth is "Not that."

In Hinduism, Maya is to be seen through, like an epiphany, in order to achieve moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of samsara). Ahamkar (ego-consciousness) and karma are seen as part of the binding forces of Maya. Maya may be understood as the phenomenal Universe of perceived duality, a lesser reality-lens superimposed on the unity of Brahman. It is said to be created by the divine by the application of the Lila (creative energy/material cycle, manifested as a veil - the basis of dualism). The sanskaras of perceived duality perpetuate samsara.


Maya in Hindu philosophy

In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, Maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya is held to be an illusion, a veiling of the true, unitary Self — the Cosmic Spirit also known as Brahman. The concept of Maya was introduced by the great ninth century Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara.[2] Many philosophies or religions seek to "pierce the veil" of Maya in order to glimpse the transcendent truth, from which the illusion of a physical reality springs, drawing from the idea that first came to life in the Hindu stream of Vedanta.

Maya is neither true nor untrue. Since Brahman is the only truth, Maya cannot be true. Since Maya causes the material world to be seen it is true in itself but is untrue in comparison to the Brahman. On the other hand, maya is not false. It is true in itself but untrue in comparison with the absolute truth. In this sense, reality includes maya and the Brahman. The goal of spiritual enlightenment ought to see Brahman and maya and distinguish between them. Hence, Maya is described as indescribable. Maya has two principal functions — one is to veil Brahman and obscure and conceal it from our consciousness. The other is to present and promulgate the material world and the veil of duality instead of Brahman. The veil of Maya may be pierced and with diligence and grace, may be permanently rent. Consider an illusion of a rope being mistaken for a snake in the darkness. Just as this illusion gets destroyed when true knowledge of the rope is perceived, similarly, Maya gets destroyed for a person when they perceive Brahman with transcendental knowledge. A metaphor is also given — when the reflection of Brahman falls on Maya, Brahman appears as God (the Supreme Lord). Pragmatically, where the duality of the world is regarded as true, Maya becomes the divine magical power of the Supreme Lord. Maya is the veritable fabric of duality and she performs this role at the behest of the Supreme Lord. God is not bound by Maya, just as magicians do not believe the illusions of their own magic.

By Sri Shankaracharya

  1. The Supreme Self (or Ultimate Reality) who is Pure Consciousness perceived Himself by Selfhood (i.e. Existence with "I"-Consciousness). He became endowed with the name "I". From that arose the basis of difference.
  2. He exists verily in two parts, on account of which, the two could become husband and wife. Therefore, this space is ever filled up completely by the woman (or the feminine principle) surely.
  3. And He, this Supreme Self thought (or reflected). Thence, human beings were born. Thus say the Upanishads through the statement of sage Yajnavalkya to his wife.
  4. From the experience of bliss for a long time, there arose in the Supreme Self a certain state like deep sleep. From that (state) Maya (or the illusive power of the Supreme Self) was born just as a dream arises in sleep.
  5. This Maya is without the characteristics of (or different from) Reality or unreality, without beginning and dependent on the Reality that is the Supreme Self. She, who is of the form of the Three Guna (qualities or energies of Nature) brings forth the Universe with movable and immovable (objects).
  6. As for Maya, it is invisible (or not experienced by the senses). How can it produce a thing that is visible (or experienced by the senses)? How is a visible piece of cloth produced here by threads of invisible nature?
  7. Though the emission of ejaculate onto sleeping garments or bedclothes is yielded by the natural experience of copulation in a wet dream, the stain of the garment is perceived as real upon waking whilst the copulation and lovemaking was not true or real. Both sexual partners in the dream are unreal as they are but dream bodies, and the sexual union and conjugation was illusory, but the emission of the generative fluid was real. This is a metaphor for the resolution of duality into lucid unity.
  8. Thus Maya is invisible (or beyond sense-perception). (But) this universe which is its effect, is visible (or perceived by the senses). This would be Maya which, on its part, becomes the producer of joy by its own destruction.
  9. Like night (or darkness) Maya is extremely insurmountable (or extremely difficult to be understood). Its nature is not perceived here. Even as it is being observed carefully (or being investigated) by sages, it vanishes like lightning.
  10. Maya (the illusive power) is what is obtained in Brahman (or the Ultimate Reality). Avidya (or nescience or spiritual ignorance) is said to be dependent on Jiva (the individual soul or individualised consciousness). Mind is the knot which joins Consciousness and matter.
  11. Space enclosed by a pot, or a jar or a hut or a wall has their several appellations (eg.,pot space, jar space etc.). Like that, Consciousness (or the Self) covered here by Avidya (or nescience) is spoken of as jiva (the individual soul).
  12. Objection: How indeed could ignorance become a covering (or an obscure factor) for Brahman (or the Supreme Spirit) who is Pure Consciousness, as if the darkness arising from the night (could become a concealing factor) for the sun which is self-luminous?
  13. As the sun is hidden by clouds produced by the solar rays but surely, the character of the day is not hidden by those modified dense collection of clouds, so the Self, though pure, (or undefiled) is veiled for a long time by ignorance. But its power of Consciousness in living beings, which is established in this world, is not veiled.

Understanding Maya through Bhagavad Gita verses

Spoken by Krisna (also spelled Krishna) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra Bhagavad Gita, Ch.14, Verse 3. "My womb is the great Nature (Prakriti or MAYA). In that I place the germ (embryo of life). Thence is the birth of all beings".

Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 14, Verse 4 "Whatever forms are born, O Arjuna, in any womb whatsoever, the great Brahma (Nature) is their womb and I am the seed-giving father."

Explanation: Prakriti (Nature), made up of the three qualities (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas), is the material cause of all beings.

In the great Prakriti, I place the seed for the birth of Brahma (the creator, also known as Hiranyagarbha, or Ishwar, or the conditioned Brahman); and the seed gives birth to all beings. The birth of Brahma (the creator) gives rise to the birth of beings.

The primordial Nature (prakriti) gives birth to Brahma, who creates all beings.

(I am the father; the primordial Nature is the mother).

Bhagavad Gita, Ch.13, verse 26. "Wherever a being is born, whether unmoving or moving, know thou Arjuna, that it is from the union between the field and the knower of the field". (Purusha is the knower of the field; Prakriti is the field; Shiva is another name for the knower of the field and Shakti is the field; Spirit is another name for the knower of the field and Matter (Prakriti) is the field).

Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 7, Verse 5. "I am endowed with two Shaktis, namely the superior and the inferior natures; the field and its knower (spirit is the knower of the field; matter is the field.) I unite these two".

Bhagavad Gita Ch.7, Verse 6. "Know these two- my higher and lower natures- as the womb of all beings. Therefore, I am the source and dissolution of the whole universe".

Bhagavad Gita, Ch.13, Verse 29. "He sees, who sees that all actions are performed by nature alone, and that the Self is action less".

(The Self is the silent witness).

Bhagavad Gita, Ch.9, Verse 17. "I am the father of this world, the mother, the dispenser of the fruits of actions and the grandfather; the one thing to be known, the purifier, the sacred monosyllable (AUM), and also the Rg, the Sama and the Yajur Vedas".

Bhagavad Gita, Ch.18, Verse 61. "The sovereign Lord dwells in the heart space of beings and moves them to act by his divine Maya, as though mounted on a machine".

Maya in Hindu Mythology

Maya may also be visualized as a guise or aspect of the Divine Mother (Devi)or Devi Mahamaya concept of Hinduism.

In Hinduism, Maya is also seen as a form of Laksmi, a Divine Goddess. Her most famous explication is seen in the Devi Mahatmyam, where she is known as Mahamaya. Because of its association with the goddess, Maya is now a commonly used girl's name in India and amongst the Indian diaspora around the world [3].

Essentially, Mahamaya (great Maya) both blinds us in delusion (moha) and has the power to free us from it. Maya, superimposed on Brahman, the one divine ground and essence of monist Hinduism, is envisioned as one with Laxmi, Durga, etc. A great modern (19th century) Hindu sage who often spoke of Maya as being the same as the Shakti principle of Hinduism was Shri Ramakrishna.

In the Hindu scripture 'Devi Mahatmyam,' Mahamaya (Great Maya) is said to cover Vishnu's eyes in Yoganidra (Divine Sleep) during cycles of existence when all is resolved into one. By exhorting Mahamaya to release Her illusory hold on Vishnu, Brahma is able to bring Vishnu to aid him in killing two demons, Madhu and Kaitabh, who have manifested from Vishnu's sleeping form. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa often spoke of Mother Maya and combined deep Hindu allegory with the idea that Maya is a lesser reality that must be overcome so that one is able to realize his or her true Self.

Maya, in Her form as Mahalaxmi, also known as Durga, was called upon when the gods and goddesses were helpless against the attacks of the demon Mahisasura. The combined material energy of all the gods, including Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, created Her. She is thus said to possess the combined material power of all the gods and goddesses. The gods gave her ornaments, weapons, and her bearer, the lion. She was unassailable. She fought a fierce battle against the demon Mahisasura and his huge army. She defeated the demon's army, killed the demon, and hence restored peace and order to the world. Thus She is, even now, the protector of the Universe, which is lying in her lap.

Devi Mahamaya is also a Kuldev of the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins of Goa, India.

Maya in Sikhism

In Sikhism, the world is transitory and a passing phase. However, it is viewed as relatively real.[4] God is viewed as the only reality, but within God exist both conscious souls and unconscious objects; these created objects are also real.[4] The events which occur in nature are real but the effects they generate are unreal. Maya is as the events are real yet Maya is not as the effects are unreal. Consider the following examples. In the moonless night, a rope laying on the ground may be mistaken for a snake. We know that the rope alone is real, not the snake. However, the non-apprehension of the rope gives rise to the misapprehension of the snake. Once the darkness is removed, the rope alone remains; the snake disappears. Similarly, in the darkness of the night, a pole may be mistaken for a ghost. As the darkness is removed, the ghost disappears; only the pole remains as reality.

  • Sakti adher jevarhee bhram chookaa nihchal siv ghari vaasaa.
    In the darkness of Maya, I mistook the rope for the snake, but that is over, and now I dwell in the eternal home of the Lord .
    (sggs 332).
  • Raaj bhuiang prasang jaise hahi ab kashu maram janaaiaa.
    Like the story of the rope mistaken for a snake, the mystery has now been explained to me. Like the many bracelets, which I mistakenly thought were gold; now, I do not say what I said then . (sggs 658).[5]

One understanding of the snake or serpent is its relation to money, it is said even in the story of Adam and Eve that they were tempted by the devil in the form of a serpent, in other ancient mythologies the symbol of the snake was affialated with money, even today the double serpent symbol is present in the symbol of the dolar, when we think money we think of $, which was formed by snake symbols. Maya in modern Punjabi refers to Money, however in Guru Granth Sahib is referring to the granded scheme of the illusion of the world of what we see, touch, i.e. Materilism, and from this Maya everything else of evil, indulgence and raviishing evil lusts are born, but rejecting Maya a person of secularity can take first steps towards spiruality.

Janam baritha jāṯ rang mā▫i▫ā kai. ||1|| rahā▫o.
You are squandering this life uselessly in the love of Maya.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M.5 Guru Arjan Dev ANG 12

The teachings of the Sikh Gurus push the idea of sewa(selfless service) and simran(praying/praying to God/Meditating/remembering ones true death hence remembering God). The depths of these 2 and the answer to all of Sikhism comes from Sangat(congregation), by joining the congregation of true Saints one is saved. The extract(shabad) from Guru Granth Sahib is talking about how the world is indulged in Materilism and all wonder around.

Mā▫i▫ā mohi visāri▫ā jagaṯ piṯā parṯipāl.
In attachment to Maya, they have forgotten the Father, the Cherisher of the World.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M3 Guru Amar Das ANG 30

Ih sarīr mā▫i▫ā kā puṯlā vicẖ ha▫umai ḏustī pā▫ī.
This body is the puppet of Maya. The evil of egotism is within it.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M3 Guru Amar Das

Bābā mā▫i▫ā bẖaram bẖulā▫e.
O Baba, Maya deceives with its illusion.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M1 Guru Nanak Dev ANG60
"For that which we cannot see, feel, smell, touch, or understand, we do not believe. For this, we are merely fools walking on the grounds of great potential with no comprehension of what is."

- Buddhist monk quotation[6]


^ a: From a Proto-Indo-Iranian *māyā, cognate to Avestan māyā with an approximate meaning of "miraculous force", of uncertain etymology, either from a root may- "exchange", or from a root mā- "measure", among other suggestions; Mayrhofer, EWAia (1986-2001), s.v.[7]


  1. ^ Brodd, Jefferey (2003). World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5.  
  2. ^ Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy. Cambridge University Press Archive, 1955, page 1. "He [Bhaskara] speaks in very strong terms against the commentator [Shankara] who holds the maya doctrine and is a Buddhist in his views. But, though he was opposed to Shankara, it was only so far as Shankara had introduced the maya doctrine, and only so far as he thought the world had sprung forth not as a real modification of Brahman, but only through maya."
  3. ^ Most Popular Indian Baby Names in US
  4. ^ a b Surinder Singh Kohli, Guru Granth Sahib: An Analytical Study. Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 1992, page 262.
  5. ^ Deceptive Maya
  6. ^ extracts on Maya from Guru Granth Sahib (please handle with resepct, cover head, do not consume meat, intoxicant (drugs, alcohol)
  7. ^ J. Gonda, Four studies in the language of the Veda, Disputationes Rheno-Traiectinae (1959), pp. 119ff, 139ff., 155ff., 164ff.

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