The Gurbani asserts that we all are in the grip, spell, grasp, hook, net (Jaal), claws, hands, or talons of Maya (illusion).
- ਕਹਿ ਕਬੀਰ ਜਿਸੁ ਉਦਰੁ ਤਿਸੁ ਮਾਇਆ ॥: Kahi Kabeer jis udar tis maya: Says Kabeer, whoever has a belly to fill, is under the spell of Maya (sggs 1160).
What is illusion? Illusion is that phenomena which produces the impossible. That is, it gives the impression of being something it is not. This is exactly what the “Maya” is. The word, “Maya” literally means “that which is not” – in Sanskrit “ma” means “not”, “ya” means “that”. It is the imagination of the deluded (conditioned, etc.) mind which never ends and never exists! Thus, it continually baffles humanity, and poses the greatest roadblock in the path to Spiritual Enlightenment by making the mirage-like attractions of the material world appear real (permanent, everlasting, etc.)
- ਮਾਧਵੇ ਕਿਆ ਕਹੀਐ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਐਸਾ ॥ ਜੈਸਾ ਮਾਨੀਐ ਹੋਇ ਨ ਤੈਸਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Maadhve kiya kaheeyai bhram aisaa. Jaisaa maaneeyai hoi na taisaa ||1||Rahaaou||: O Lord, what can I say about this illusion; what we deem a thing to be, in reality, it is not like that ||1||Pause|| (sggs 657).
- ਮਾਈ ਮਾਇਆ ਛਲੁ ॥: Maayee Maya Chhall: O my mother, the Maya is deceitful (sggs 717).
An example will help to explain.
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 (the Gurmukh) came that way riding on an elephant. He inquired the three sons the cause of their argument. After ascertaining the cause of their argument, 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 the provisions of 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 (the Man of Light), and his elephant played the role of Maya (illusion). Once the Wise Man solved the problem, Maya (illusion) rode away with him!!
The sons were happy that the division was in accordance with their father’s will. However, was the division indeed in accordance with their father’s will?
It was not. It was a mere illusion that they had kept to the provisions of their father’s will. Such is the nature of illusion that we take comfort from what we see as conducive to our liking and get angry, insecure, and restless over what we perceive as contrary (unconducive, unfavorable, etc.) to our liking.