What is Maya?

All awakening begins with an inquiring mind. The Gurbani provides answers to spiritual inquiries such as: (1) What’s Maya? (2) How does Maya subjugate mortals? (3) How can mortals transcend Maya? And so on…

What’s Maya?

Maya’s delusive or deceptive force makes us forget our (1) True Nature or Mool (“Hari Visrai“, Virtues , Wisdom, Truth…), (2) it gives rise to emotional attachment (“Moh Upjai“), and (3) it creates duality (“Bhaau Doojaa“, two-ness, double mindedness…) where there is none.

  • 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).

Consequently, beings live in doubts (“Bharam“),  false ego-sense (“Haumai”), illusion, ignorance, Bikaar

  • 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).
  • ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਗੁਬਾਰੁ ॥: Attachment to Maya (worldliness or illusion) leads to the darkness of ignorance (sggs 1262).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮ ਵਿਹੂਣੀਆ ਸੁੰਦਰਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਧ੍ਰੋਹੁ ॥: O Nanak! without the Divine Naam, the beauty of Maya’s illusion — the enchanting world-appearance — is fake (sggs 707).

In nutshell, Maya is a ocean (Bhav Saagar) of bad thoughts (ਵਿਚਾਰ) which makes us forget Virtues (ਗੁਣ) — Truth (ਸਤ), honesty (ਇਮਾਨਦਾਰੀ), contentment (ਸੰਤੋਖ), mercy (ਦਯਾ), patience (ਧੀਰਜ), Sahaj (ਸਹਜ-Natural State of Being), Wisdom (ਗਿਆਨ), humility (ਮਨ ਨਿਮਾਣਾ, ਬੁਧਿ ਗਰੀਬੀ), sweet speech (ਮਿਠ ਬੋਲੜਾ)…

  • ਮਤਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਰਤਨ ਜਵਾਹਰ ਮਾਣਿਕ ਜੇ ਇਕ ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸਿਖ ਸੁਣੀ ॥: If one hears the Gur-Sikhiaa (Giaan or Wisdom), then the gems, jewels and rubies (i.e., Virtues, Giaan or Wisdom…) awaken within the mind. (sggs 2).

However, the illiterate and crafty Pujaaree groups tell us that money (or currency) is Maya!

Not true at all.

No household can live without money! Money is essential to survive.

In fact, according to the Gurbani, a freeloader (who does not work to earn his living, ਵੇਲੜ, ਮੰਗ ਖਾਣਾਂ…) cannot perform Bhagti or be a Bhagat! In other words, there can be no Bhagti without “Kirati-ਕਿਰਤਿ” — honest work, labor, ਮਿਹਨਤ, etc. (e.g., Deraavaad Baabaa, Pujaaree groups, and so on.).

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਕੀ ਕਿਰਤਿ ਛੋਡਿ ਗਵਾਈ ਭਗਤੀ ਸਾਰ ਨ ਜਾਨੈ ॥: (A freeloader – ਵੇਲੜ, ਮੰਗ ਖਾਣਾਂ – who) renounces to work or earn his livelihood while living in the midst of Maya, he cannot know what Bhagti is! (sggs 381).

As a matter of truth, anything or any bad thought (ਅਉਗੁਣ: lust, anger, greed, etc.) that takes a person away from Virtues, Wisdom, Truth, etc., is Maya (“Hari Visrai“). That bad thought could be of money, power, education, spouse, children, business, wealth, property, pride of something, titles, social status, Jaat-Paat, selfishness, crookedness, jealousy, stubbornness, and so on.

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਮਮਤਾ ਤਨ ਤੇ ਭਾਗੀ ਉਪਜਿਓ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥: Attachment to Maya has run away from my body, since immaculate Wisdom has welled up (i.e., Awakened, within). (sggs 1186).

How does Maya subjugate mortals?

Maya’s material nature (including all matter) is composed of three modes or 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.

These three qualities of Maya 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).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਅਉਗੁਣ ਜੇਤੜੇ ਤੇਤੇ ਗਲੀ ਜੰਜੀਰ ॥ ਜੇ ਗੁਣ ਹੋਨਿ ਤ ਕਟੀਅਨਿ ਸੇ ਭਾਈ ਸੇ ਵੀਰ ॥: O Nanak! As many as are the demerits (Bikaar…), so many are the chains (bonds, Bandhan…) around (one’s) neck. If (one) possesses the Divine Virtues, then the chains are cut away; (hence Virtues) are (one’s) true brothers and mates. (sggs 595).
  • ਮਦਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਕੈ ਭਇਓ ਬਾਵਰੋ ਸੂਝਤ ਨਹ ਕਛੁ ਗਿਆਨਾ ॥: (Mind) intoxicated with Maya, does not understand even a bit of Giaan (Knowledge, Wisdom, ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਦੀ ਸਮਝ…). (sggs 632).

To Awaken the Wisdom in us (Brahm-Giaan), the Gurbani compares the world appearance to a mirage, which appears to be real to a deluded mind (mirage of Maya, illusion, “that which is not”…). This mirage (“ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ”…) analogy appears time and again in the Gurbani.

  • 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).
  • ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਜਿਉ ਜਗ ਰਚਨਾ ਯਹ ਦੇਖਹੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਬਿਚਾਰਿ ॥: Reflect in your Heart and see that this world creation (Maya) is like a deer’s illusion, a mirage (sggs 537).

Without Wisdom or Virtues, our minds become Maya’s “Muhtaaju-ਮੁਹਤਾਜੁ” (necessitous, needy, slave, ਅਧੀਨ, ਖੁਸ਼ਾਮਦੀ…).

  • 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).

The Gurbani on transcending Maya

From Bad thoughts (Maya, Bhav Saagar), the Gurbani ushers us into Good or Virtuous thoughts (Sukh Saagar).

  • ਸੁਖ ਸਾਗਰੁ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾਇ ॥: Hari Naam is the Sukh Saagar; it is obtained by becoming the Gurmukh. (sggs 29).

Our minds remain occupied by the mixture of the three modes of the material nature.

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 with the help of Naam (Wisdom, Virtues, Truth…):

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾ ਮਾਰਣੁ ਸਬਦੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾਇ ॥੨॥: O Nanak! Shabad is the killer of Maya (ਮਾਇਆ ਦਾ ਪ੍ਰਭਾਵ ਮੁਕਾਣ ਦਾ ਵਸੀਲਾ), and it is obtained by becoming the Gurmukh ||2|| (sggs 853).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾ ਮਾਰਣੁ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾਇ ॥੧॥: Naam (Wisdom, Virtue, Truth…) is an antidote to Maya and through the Guru, which is obtained or realized by becoming the Gurmukh. (sggs 513).
  • ਜਲਤ ਅਨਿਕ ਤਰੰਗ ਮਾਇਆ ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨ ਹਰਿ ਰਿਦ ਮੰਤ ॥: Maya’s (worldliness) Countless waves are burnt away, when the Divine Wisdom is enshrined in the heart, through the “Mant” (the Gurbani’s Upadesh, Wisdom or Giaan). (sggs 508).

Hence, the “shabad” (Naam, Upadesh, Wisdom…), “Naam” (Shabad, Truth, Wisdom, Virtues…),  or “Giaan” (Wisdom), “Satsangi” (Union with Truth…) is the ultimate medicine.

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਲਹਰਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਨਿਵਾਰੀ ॥: Deter the waves of Maya with Shabad (sggs 1049).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਨਿਕਟਿ ਨ ਮਾਏ ॥੭॥:  O Nanak! (Who is united with Truth) Maya does not even come near that person. ||7|| (sggs 251).


  1. Thanks for the reply Sunny. And welcome to the Gurbani blog

    i do not believe in god from beginning

    What kind of a god is it, that you don’t believe in from beginning?

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. SSA.

    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.

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