What is Maya and how to transcend it

The Gurbani provides answers to spiritual inquiries such as: (1) What’s Maya? (2) How does Maya subjugate us mortals? (3) How can mortals transcend Maya?…

First, what’s Maya? Maya’s delusive or deceptive force makes us forget our True Nature or Mool (“Hari Visrai“), it gives rise to emotional attachment (“Moh Upjai“), it creates duality (“Bhaau Doojaa“) where there is none, mortals live in doubts (“Bharam“) and egotism (“Haumai”)…

  • ਏਹ ਮਾਇਆ ਜਿਤੁ ਹਰਿ ਵਿਸਰੈ ਮੋਹੁ ਉਪਜੈ ਭਾਉ ਦੂਜਾ ਲਾਇਆ ॥: This is Maya, by which (1) “Hari” (Mool) is forgotten; (2) (worldly) attachment is born, and (3) the love of duality is set (sggs 921).
  • ਮਾਇਆ ਕਿਸ ਨੋ ਆਖੀਐ ਕਿਆ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਇ ॥ ਦੁਖਿ ਸੁਖਿ ਏਹੁ ਜੀਉ ਬਧੁ ਹੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਇ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਬਦੈ ਭਰਮੁ ਨ ਚੂਕਈ ਨਾ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਹਉਮੈ ਜਾਇ ॥੬॥: What is called Maya? What does Maya do (through beings under its spell)? (The answer is that, under its spell) these beings are bound by pleasure and pain (i.e., the dualistic principle of Sukh and Dukh, etc); and they do their deeds in “Haumai” (false ego-sense). Without the (Realization of the) Shabad, neither the doubt is dispelled nor Haumai is eliminated from within. ||6||(sggs 67).

Second, how does Maya subjugate us mortals? Maya’s material nature (including all matter) is composed of three ingredients called “Gunas” in Sanskrit. In English “Guna” can be called “quality”. These three qualities or Gunas are Saatav, Raajas, Taamas (Sat, Raj, Tam or Sato, Rajo, Tamo). In English, these three modes can be called goodness, passion and ignorance, etc., respectively. They are like intertwined strands of the winding cord or rope of nature. These three qualities are inherent in the creation. Through these three qualities, Maya holds in bondage all embodied beings.

  • ਇਨਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਤ੍ਰੈ ਗੁਣ ਬਸਿ ਕੀਨੇ ॥ ਆਪਨ ਮੋਹ ਘਟੇ ਘਟਿ ਦੀਨੇ ॥:  This Maya has subjugated beings through the three qualities. Maya has infused its own attachment (love) in each and every heart. (sggs 251).

Third, How can we transcend Maya? Our minds remain occupied by the mixture of these three modes of the material nature (Maya). According to the predominance of one of these three modes of material nature acquired by our minds, one’s temperament can be considered as Saatavic, Raajasic, or Taamasic. In other words, these are the three thought-conditions under which the human mind functions. According to the Gurbani, the arduous ocean of this Maya can be swum across as follows:

  • ਕਰਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਸਤਸੰਗਿ ਮਿਲਾਏ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਨਿਕਟਿ ਨ ਮਾਏ ॥੭॥:  Showering Mercy, (the Supreme Lord) leads (Jeeva) to join the Satsang. O Nanak! Maya does not even come near (that Jeeva). ||7|| (sgga 251).

Here the word “Satsangi” (“ਸਤਸੰਗਿ”) is very significant. What is Satsang?

Since everything seen by our physical eyes is Maya, hence impermanent, the external or worldly congregation cannot be called true Satsang. The Gurbani’s Satsang is Omniscient (Niraakaar, of Antar Aatamaa – ਅੰਤਰ ਆਤਮਾ – mind’s abidance in Divine Virtues -ਆਤਮਕ ਗੁਣ, ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ…). Therefore, here the Gurbani’s indication (ਸੰਕੇਤ…) is towards Antar Aatamaa (ਅੰਤਰ ਆਤਮਾ) – Inner Satsang with our own True self, within. The following verses will clarify this point further:

  • ਅੰਤਰ ਆਤਮੈ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਨ ਚੀਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਿਆ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾ ਮੁਹਤਾਜੁ ਭਇਆ ॥੭॥: ||7||: Within Antar Aatamaa (ਅੰਤਰ ਆਤਮਾ, innermost self), you do not recognize Brahm; (consequently) you become necessitous of Maya. ||7|| (sggs 435).
  • ਅੰਤਰ ਆਤਮੈ ਜੋ ਮਿਲੈ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਕਹੀਐ ਸੋਇ ॥: Who unites deep within his Soul (ਜੋ ਅੰਤਰ ਆਤਮਾ ਵਿਚ ਮਿਲੇ – “Antar aatamai“), (only he) is said to be United (sggs 791).

Thus, to transcend Maya, we can only (ਕੇਵਲ) count on this “Antar” (Inner…) “Sang” (Association, Company…) of the “Sat” (ਸਚ, Truth, Mool, Joti-Svaroopa…). This is the Gurbani’s edict.

Filed Under: Gurbani, Maya, Illusion, Dream, Self, Soul
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5 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Sunny

    My name is sunny. Why i always feel empty inside me . Even i have everything sometimes i feel about to cry but for what. I feel sadness inside my soul and i do not believe in god from beginning.

  2. Ravneet Singh

    Imbibe “Guru’s Bani” as way of life
    keeps one away from Maya

  3. Navpreet


    I have always wondered what exactly is Maya and how can we differentiate between love and emotional attachments.
    If you can kindly go over the following scenario:
    We are very close to our friends but very soon we will be leaving the city and migrating to another country as our family lives in that country.
    I feel a lot for our friends as they will really be missing us and even we will be missing them but on the other hand we do not have a choice but to move.
    How exactly one should feel when leaving friends? Is it alright to feel sad and miss them? or is it Maya to be emotionally attached to them.
    Thanks and looking forward to your reply.

    • ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹ ਭੂਲੋ ਅਵਰੈ ਹੀਤ ॥ (sggs 673).
      ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਸੁਤ ਨੇਹੁ ਘਨੇਰਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਸਬਾਈ ॥ (sggs 75).
      ਜੋ ਦੀਸੈ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹ ਕੁਟੰਬੁ ਸਭੁ ਮਤ ਤਿਸ ਕੀ ਆਸ ਲਗਿ ਜਨਮੁ ਗਵਾਈ ॥ (sggs 859).
      ਮਾਇਆ ਹੋਈ ਨਾਗਨੀ ਜਗਤਿ ਰਹੀ ਲਪਟਾਇ ॥ ਇਸ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਜੋ ਕਰੇ ਤਿਸ ਹੀ ਕਉ ਫਿਰਿ ਖਾਇ ॥ (sggs 510).
      ਤਜਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਅਰੁ ਲਾਲਚੁ ਕਾਮ ਕ੍ਰੋਧ ਕੀ ਬ੍ਰਿਥਾ ਗਈ ॥ (sggs 1402).
      ਤ੍ਰੈ ਗੁਣ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਚਉਥਾ ਪਦੁ ਪਾਇ ॥ (sggs 30).

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