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Maya (Sanskrit माया māyā[1] ), in Hinduism, is a term describing many things. Maya is the phenomenal world of separate objects and people, which creates for some the illusion that it is the only reality. For the mystics this manifestation is real, but it is a fleeting reality; it is a mistake, although a natural one, to believe that maya represents a fundamental reality. 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 HinduismEdit

In Hinduism, Maya must be seen through in order to achieve moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth) - ahamkar (ego-consciousness) and karma are seen as part of the binding forces of Maya. Maya is seen as the phenomenal universe, a lesser reality-lens superimposed on the one Brahman that leads us to think of the phenomenal cosmos as real. Maya is also visualized as part of the Divine Mother (Devi) concept of Hinduism. 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. Shri Ramakrishna 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 Hindu philosophyEdit

In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya is believed to be an illusion, a veiling of the true, unitary Self—the Cosmic Spirit also known as Brahman. The concept of Maya was expounded in the Hindu scriptures known as the Upanishads. Many philosophies or religions seek to "pierce the veil" 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 cannot be untrue. Hence, Maya is described as indescribable. She has two principle functions—one is to cover up Brahman and hide it from our mind. The other is to present the material world instead of Brahman. She is destructible. Consider an illusion of a rope being confused as 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 transendental knowledge. A metaphor is also given—when the reflection of Brahman falls on Maya, Brahman appears as God (the Supreme Lord). In the pragmatic level, where the world is regarded as true, Maya becomes the divine magical power of the Supreme Lord, to create and rule the world. Maya is God's pious servant. God is not bound by Maya, just as a magician is not illusioned by their own magic. Hence, God is Bliss. However, unenlightened jiva are the servants of Maya, hence they are in misery.

In Hinduism, Maya must be seen through in order to achieve moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle samsara) —ahamkar (ego-consciousness) and karma are seen as part of the binding forces of Maya. Maya is seen as the phenomenal universe, a lesser reality-lens superimposed on the one Brahman that leads us to think of the phenomenal cosmos as real.

By Sri Sankaracharya

  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. As there is the emission of the generative fluid on to a good garment on account of the experience of copulation in a dream, the pollution of the garment is seen as real on waking while the copulation was not true, the man in the dream was real (while) the woman was unreal and the union of the two was false (but), the emission of the generative fluid was real, so does it occur even in the matter in hand.
  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 Edit

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 4. "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".

Maya in Hindu MythologyEdit

Maya is also the name of an Asura, who was the father-in-law of the Lord of Lanka, Ravana and the father of Mandodari. He is the archnemesis of Vishwakarma, the celestial architect of the Gods. His knowledge and skills are compatible with Vishwakarma. When Lanka was destroyed by Hanuman, it was the King of Demons, Maya, who had re-installed the beauty of that Island Kingdom.

Maya as the GoddessEdit

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.

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 BuddhismEdit

There is a range of beliefs in Buddhist thought regarding the question of the reality of the world. Some schools in the Tibetan tradition espousing the doctrine of Dzogchen posit that the world is illusory, as a dream.

Concepts analogous to MayaEdit

Some dialogues of Plato also contain ideas reminiscent of Maya, especially the famous "Allegory of the cave".

La vida es sueño ("Life is a dream") is a play by the Spanish Baroque playwright Calderón de la Barca derived from the Legend of young Buddha and the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat. From a Catholic Counter-Reformation position, Calderón explores the concept of free will and moral behaviour in a world of illusion.

Arthur Schopenhauer uses the term "Veil of Maya" to describe his view of The World as Will and Representation.

A Course in Miracles regards the perceptual world as an illusion. Its metaphysics comes close to Advaita Vedanta.

Christian Science teaches that the physical world is "error" and the reality is actually entirely spiritual.

There are numerous adaptations and references to the concept in popular culture, notably in The Matrix trilogy.

ReferencesEdit

  1. 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.
  • J. Gonda, Four studies in the language of the Veda, Disputationes Rheno-Traiectinae (1959), pp. 119ff, 139ff., 155ff., 164ff.
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