The Nature of Illusion: Part 1

The Gurbani asserts that we all are in the grip, spell, grasp, hook, net (Jaal), claws, hands, trap or talons of Maya (illusion).

  • ਕਹਿ ਕਬੀਰ ਜਿਸੁ ਉਦਰੁ ਤਿਸੁ ਮਾਇਆ ॥: Says Kabeer, whoever has a belly to fill, is under the spell of Maya. (sggs 1160).

As indicated in the following verse of the Gurbani, 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‘).

  • 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).

What is illusion? Illusion is that phenomena which produces the impossible.

In short, it gives the impression of being something it is not. Literally, this is exactly what the word ‘Maya’ means — ‘that which is not’. In Sanskrit ‘Ma’ means ‘not’, ‘ya’ means ‘that’.

It is the imagination of the deluded 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 enchanting world appear as real (permanent, everlasting etc.)

  • ਮਾਧਵੇ ਕਿਆ ਕਹੀਐ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਐਸਾ ॥ ਜੈਸਾ ਮਾਨੀਐ ਹੋਇ ਨ ਤੈਸਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: O Maadhav! 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 ॥: O mother! Maya is deceitful. (sggs 717).
  • ਬਾਬਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਰਚਨਾ ਧੋਹੁ ॥: O brother! Deceitful (fleeting etc.) is the worldly splendor. (sggs 15).

An example may help to understand:

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 (not conducive, unfavorable, etc.) to our liking.


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