ਮਾਈ ਮਾਇਆ ਛਲੁ ॥: Maayee Maya Chhallu (sggs 717).

Maya is a Sanskrit word which literally means "that which is not" - "ma" means "not", "ya" means "that". It is the imagination of the deluded or conditioned mind which never ends and never exists! Thus, Maya is that phenomena which produces the impossible. The Gurbani defines Maya as follows:

Parameshar (God...) is a Shakti or energy. His limitless potencies or energies can be grouped in two headings: (1) Spiritual energy; (2) and material energy or Maya. Hence Maya is not separate or different than the Supreme Being. In fact, Maya is His inherent power, which is responsible for the rising of mirage-like phenomenal world of names, forms, time and space.

Anything that emanates from the Divine Factor is also Divine. Thus, Maya is said to be a Divine hypnosis or illusion (" ਛਲ"). Whatever takes us away from the Divine Consciousness (Mool, Source, Origin, etc.) becomes Maya for us. For example, if wealth takes us away from the Divine Nature, then the wealth becomes Maya; if the spouse, children, friends or relatives become the source of forgetfulness of our godly state, then they become Maya; if the house or other worldly possessions make us forsake the Truth ('"ਸਚ"), then they become Maya; and so on. In other words, the sense of one's existence separate from the Divine Essence is Maya, or the sense of existence founded on anything other than the Supreme Being is called Maya - "that which is not".

As defined in the Gurbani, the Maya is that Cosmic Illusion which makes us (1) forget our Mool ("Hari Visrai"); (2) gives rise to emotional attachment ("Moh Upjai"); and (3) creates duality ("Bhaau Doojaa") where there is none. Three qualities or 3 Gunas - Saatav (Goodness), Raajas (passion), and Taamas (ignorance) or Sat, Raj, Tam or Sato, Rajo, Tamo - are the flowers of this poisonous tree of Mayaic illusion or Avidya. Combination of these three qualities (three thought-conditions or states of mind) in various permutation, determine one's body-mind-intellect personality.

Our minds remain occupied by the mixture of these three modes of the material nature. According to the predomonance of one of these three modes of material nature acquired by our minds, one's temprament and faith can be considered as Saatavic, Raajasic, or Taamasic. In other words, these are the three thought-conditions under which the human mind functions.

Deeper Analysis of Maya's Deception

Based on Maya's definition above, it becomes clear that Maya's primary function is to allude mortals through her deceitful nature. Being attached to this cosmic delusion, the entire world is fallen into deep sleep of unenlightened existence. As a result, we are unable to apprehend the Mool (Source, Origin, Reality...). Fallen in the sway of Maya's illusion, we take an impermanent thing to be a permanent, a fake to be a real, a false to be a truth, an endfull to be an endless, an unlimited to be a limited, an infinite to be a finite, and so on.

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.

Maya is Spiritually ignorant. It is the ignorance of one's True Nature as Pure Consciousness (Joti-Svaroop...). Ignorance begets false ego-sense. In the foregoing example, due to ignorance of the rope and the pole, we superimposed our false egoistic ideas on the reality - the rope and the pole. The result was that our non-apprehension of the reality (i.e., rope and the pole) caused its misapprehension into a snake and a ghost. Similarly, our Mool (Source, Origin, Reality...) alone is Real. However, our non apprehension of this Changeless Reality causes its misapprehension into a phenomenal world. Thus, under the influence of this spiritually ignorant Maya, the Jeeva (unenlightened individual being) forgets the Reality and acts as his existence is separate from from his Mool.

The non-apprehension of the Mool (Source, Origin, Reality...) by an individual soul is called ignorance at the microcosmic level. However, the total non-apprehension of this by all beings is called ignorance at the macrocosmic level, which is also called Maya. For example, just as non-apprehension of the Reality is the cause of the creation of an individual's world, similarly, the total non-apprehension of the Reality by all individuals is the creation of the total world. This is why Maya is said to be the cause of the world-appearance. In the examples of the rope and the post, the ignorance of the rope or post is Maya, which is the cause of the creation of the apparent snake and ghost.Looking at Maya from an another angle, it can be seen as totality of all Vaasnaas (undigested desires). Vaasnaas are born of Self-ignorance. Each person creates its own world as a result of that individual's Self-ignorance. The sum of Vaasnaas of all individuals, born of Self-ignorance, is called Maya - the material universe or Jagat.

Parameshar, the Timeless Principle, is infinite, unlimited, changeless, permanent, immortal, pure, unborn, etc. As all beings are made in His true image (Joti-Svaroopa), the Spirit Soul is also said to have the same qualities. However, Maya makes our Pure and Unlimited Consciousness appear like a limited phenomenal world. As a result, we loose understanding of the Reality.

An infinite can not be reduced to finite. But, under the spell of Maya, an infinite Reality looks like some kind of limited phenomena. However, this emerging of unlimited as limited is only apparent to our conditioned vision or intellect since the Infinite Reality is still Infinite. This power of Maya is beyond the logic of our intellect.

The Gurbani calls this material world or Maya as "Jhooth" (false or fake), "Mithyaa or Bharam" (illusion), and " Sapnaa" (dream). Calling this world false, illusion and dream does not mean this world is unreal or non-existent. If this world was unreal or nonexistent then it would not have been experienced by us. Then is it real? According to our scriptures, no, it is not real. It can not be called real because it is subject to change every moment, like our mind. Thus, this material world is neither real nor unreal. Anything that can not be described as real or unreal is called "Mithyaa" or illusion in Indian scriptures. When we call this world illusion, it simply means that "what we deem it to be, it is not like that". We think it to be permanent, it is not; we think it to be nonperishable, it is not; we think it to be changeless, it is not; we think it to be eternal, it is not; we think it to be forever, it is not; we think it to be never-ending, it is not; we think it to be unlimited or infinite, it is not; we think it to be Reality, it is not. If a person mistakes a rope for a snake (or a pole for a ghost) in the darkness, then would the snake or ghost vision be real? No. Therefore, if if the man does not consider this world as Mithyaa (also spelt Mithya), then it will become the cause of his attachment and bondage, followed by the "greatest pain".

Many Forms of Maya's Deception

The Gurbani says: "Bahu rang Maya bahu bidhi pekhee", meaning, there are many forms of Maya, in so many ways. That is to say, Maya puppets mortals in many forms and ways. With the exception of Parameshar and His Gurmukhs, Maya spares none.

Maya Compared To

A fly is always attracted by a filthy environment. Maya is akin to that fly. As the environment becomes clean, the fly disappears from that place. Similarly, by nature, Maya is also attracted by a filthy mind. As the mind becomes clean or pure, Maya too disappears. With its departure, Jeeva (individual being) links back to his Original Source (Mool).

At times, though temporarily, clouds may cover the sun or the moon or stars from our vision. However, this covering is only apparent to our limited vision as the sun, the moon and stars are not actually covered. Maya is the power which brings about this apparent becoming. With this power, Maya makes an infinite appears like a finite phenomena. So, Maya is also likened to clouds.

Maya is like a she-elephant used for capturing he-elephant. Under the spell of lust, male elephant gets lured towards the she-elephant and gets captured and become slave. Similarly, Maya lures and entraps mortals.

Maya can also be compared with a mountain of smoke, which can create an illusion of a real mountain. However, in reality, it is just a smoke, not a real mountain.

Maya is akin to a net or trap utilized for capturing birds or fish. Maya uses her deceptive appearance as bait to snare the mortals.

Maya is also compared with sugar or molasses. As the sugar and molasses attract fly, Maya attracts mortals with the enchanting sense-objects.

The love for Maya or worldly valuables may also be compared with the love of an accursed, ugly, unchaste, sorcerer woman.

Yet, another way of looking at Maya is to see it as a serpent clinging to the world.

Maya: The Greatest Pain

Maya's offspring are false ego-sense and its countless faults or Bikaar (lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride (and their numerous variations like enviousness, jealousy, stubborn mindedness, etc.). These evil instincts loot our Spiritual heritage day and night, turning our attachment to Maya a greatest pain. Afflicted with this pain, man wanders like deer running after delusion of water in the desert. Caught up in the whirlpool of this Maya, mortals experience repeated suffering.

Mortals: Puppet of Maya

As indicated in the Gurbani , Maya is puppet of the Divine. On the other hand, Jeeva (unenlightened individual being) is puppet of this Maya. Upon inquiry, we will find that beyond senses there are sense-objects; beyond sense-objects there is mind; beyond mind there is intellect; beyond intellect there is soul; beyond soul there is Maya; and beyond Maya there is the Divine Principle. In other words, the Divine controls Maya, the Maya controls soul, the soul controls intellect, the intellect controls mind, the mind controls sense objects, and the sense objects control our bodily senses.

The Gurbani reminds us that even the so called demigods and goddesses are under the influence of Maya. This is the reason worship of demigods or goddesses is rejected not only in the Gurbani but also in the Vedic scriptures. People who worship them are called foolish, ignorant or spiritually blind. This is why a man under the influence of Maya cannot help others to attain Freedom from it.

Liberation From Maya

Liberation from Maya dose not constitute disappearance of material energy or world. It is the change in one's vision. It is the ceasing of the conditioned mind's imagining (ਫੁਰਨੇ, desires...). Thus, transcending Maya simply means living in the material world but not of it. It is liberation from ignorance: false ego-sense, bondage, or limitedness. As the lotus flower remains untouched by water and mud it grows in, similarly, the liberated man remains untouched or unaffected in the midst of Maya. However, out of millions, one is shrewd enough to seek that Higher State while living in the midst of happenings of the world. Rest of us choose to ceaselessly remain intoxicated and deluded with the vine of Maya. What a paradox that in spite of so much suffering and misery only one out of millions chooses Parameshar over matter!

Man is given the choice of Shabad-Vichaar. However, as the Gurbani points out, most of us choose to fall in love with worldly objects (Maya) instead. As a hypnotized person may be made to think, act, feel, and will according to the directions of the hypnotist, similarly, all senses of a person under the spell of Maya turn outward towards the perception of material objects instead of inward toward the Mool (Souce, Origin, Reality... ). As a result, man becomes habit-bound, just as an instinct-guided animal. To attain the precious state of Spiritual Realization in such a cynical state of mind is very difficult indeed.

How can one conquer the formidable fortress of Maya? This fortress is reinforced with double walls and triple moats. Lust is the window of this fortress; pain and pleasures are the gatekeepers; virtue and sin are the gates. Quarrelsome anger is the great supreme commander, and mind is the rebel king there. Their armor is the pleasure of taste and flavors, their helmets are worldly attachments; they take their aim with the bows of their corrupt intellect. The greed that fills their heart is the arrow. How mortals can conquer this impregnable fortress? The Gurbani tells us that - by becoming the Gurmukh (spiritual Being, etc.) - Maya can be killed with the Gur-Shabad.

As time and again mentioned in the Gurbani, if we intend to conquer the Maya, then we must transcend its three qualities. This can only be Realized by eradicating one's false "I-ness" - rising up to the platform of Divine Consciousness through Self-knowledge (Aatma-Giaan, Bibek-Budhi of the Gurbani). One can cultivate Self-knowledge by following the Shabad-Vichaar and living the Gurmat (Aatam-Giaan of the Gurbani).

An Old Man And His Seventeen Elephants

There is a legend to the effect that an old man had three sons and seventeen elephants. According to his will, the first son was to inherit one-half the elephants, the second son one-third, and the third son one-ninth. After the old man passed away, his sons began fighting among themselves as the number seventeen was not divisible by any number itself. As they were arguing, a Wise Man came that way riding on an elephant. He asked them the cause of their arguing. After inquiry, the Wise Man told them that he could solve their problem. He added his elephant to the seventeen to make the total of eighteen. According to their father's will, he gave the first son nine elephants (one-half of 18), the second son six elephants (one-third of 18), the third son two elephants (one-ninth of 18). Since the total of 9+6+2=17, his elephant was left over and he rode away on it. Here we can see that the Wise Man played the role of a Giaanee (Man of Light...), and his elephant played the role of Maya. Once the Wise Man solved the problem, the Maya rode away with him!

— T. Singh

Updated on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 1:37 PM (PST)

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