MAYA (IAST: māyā), literally "illusion" or "magic", has multiple meanings in Indian philosophies depending on the context. In ancient Vedic literature, Māyā literally implies extraordinary power and wisdom. In later Vedic texts and modern literature dedicated to Indian traditions, Māyā connotes a "magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem". Māyā is also a spiritual concept connoting "that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal", and the "power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality".
In Buddhism, Maya is the name of Gautama Buddha's mother. In
Hinduism , Maya is also an epithet for goddess, and the name of a
* 1 Etymology and terminology
* 2 Hinduism
* 2.1 Literature
* 2.2 Schools of Hinduism
* 3 Buddhism
* 9 References
* 9.1 Bibliography
ETYMOLOGY AND TERMINOLOGY
Māyā (Sanskrit: माया) is a word with unclear etymology, probably comes from the root mā which means "to measure".
Monier Williams , māyā meant "wisdom and extraordinary
power" in an earlier older language, but from the Vedic period
onwards, the word came to mean "illusion, unreality, deception, fraud,
trick, sorcery, witchcraft and magic". However, P. D. Shastri states
that the Monier Williams' list is a "loose definition, misleading
generalization", and not accurate in interpreting ancient Vedic and
According to William Mahony, the root of the word may be man- or "to think", implying the role of imagination in the creation of the world. In early Vedic usage, the term implies, states Mahony, "the wondrous and mysterious power to turn an idea into a physical reality".
Franklin Southworth states the word's origin is uncertain, and other possible roots of māyā include may- meaning mystify, confuse, intoxicate, delude, as well as māy- which means "disappear, be lost".
Jan Gonda considers the word related to mā, which means "mother",
as do Tracy Pintchman and
Adrian Snodgrass , serving as an epithet
for goddesses such as
A similar word is also found in the Avestan māyā with the meaning of "magic power".
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Words related to and containing Māyā, such as Mayava, occur many
times in the
पतंगमक्तमसुरस्य मायया हृदा पश्यन्ति मनसा विपश्चितः । समुद्रे अन्तः कवयो वि चक्षते मरीचीनां पदमिच्छन्ति वेधसः ॥१॥ पतंगो वाचं मनसा बिभर्ति तां गन्धर्वोऽवदद्गर्भे अन्तः । तां द्योतमानां स्वर्यं मनीषामृतस्य पदे कवयो नि पान्ति ॥२॥ अपश्यं गोपामनिपद्यमानमा च परा च पथिभिश्चरन्तम् । स सध्रीचीः स विषूचीर्वसान आ वरीवर्ति भुवनेष्वन्तः ॥३॥
The wise behold with their mind in their heart the Sun, made manifest by the illusion of the Asura ; The sages look into the solar orb, the ordainers desire the region of his rays. The Sun bears the word in his mind; the Gandharva has spoken it within the wombs; sages cherish it in the place of sacrifice, brilliant, heavenly, ruling the mind. I beheld the protector, never descending, going by his paths to the east and the west; clothing the quarters of the heaven and the intermediate spaces. He constantly revolves in the midst of the worlds. — Rig veda X.177.1-3, Translated by Laurie Patton
The above Maya-bheda hymn discerns, using symbolic language, a contrast between mind influenced by light (sun) and magic (illusion of Asura). The hymn is a call to discern one's enemies, perceive artifice, and distinguish, using one's mind, between that which is perceived and that which is unperceived. Rig veda does not connote the word Māyā as always good or always bad, it is simply a form of technique, mental power and means. Rig veda uses the word in two contexts, implying that there are two kinds of Māyā: divine Māyā and undivine Māyā, the former being the foundation of truth, the latter of falsehood.
Elsewhere in Vedic mythology,
She rose. The Asuras saw her. They called her. Their cry was, "Come, O Māyā, come thou hither" !! Her cow was Virochana Prahradi. Her milking vessel was a pan of iron. Dvimurdha Artvya milked this Māyā. The Asuras depend for life on Māyā for their sustenance. One who knows this, becomes a fit supporter . — Atharva veda VIII.10.22
The contextual meaning of Maya in
Atharvaveda is "power of creation",
not illusion. Gonda suggests the central meaning of Maya in Vedic
literature is, "wisdom and power enabling its possessor, or being able
itself, to create, devise, contrive, effect, or do something". Maya
stands for anything that has real, material form, human or non-human,
but that does not reveal the hidden principles and implicit knowledge
that creates it. An illustrative example of this in Rig veda
VII.104.24 and Atharva veda VIII.4.24 where
M. C. Escher paintings such as the Waterfall – redrawn in this
sketch – demonstrates the
The Upanishads describe the universe, and the human experience, as an interplay of Purusha (the eternal, unchanging principles, consciousness) and Prakṛti (the temporary, changing material world, nature). The former manifests itself as Ātman (Soul, Self), and the latter as Māyā. The Upanishads refer to the knowledge of Atman as "true knowledge" (Vidya), and the knowledge of Maya as "not true knowledge" (Avidya, Nescience, lack of awareness, lack of true knowledge). Brihadaranyaka Upanishad , states Ben-Ami Scharfstein, describes Maya as "the tendency to imagine something where it does not exist, for example, atman with the body". To the Upanishads, knowledge includes empirical knowledge and spiritual knowledge, complete knowing necessarily includes understanding the hidden principles that work, the realization of the soul of things.
Hendrick Vroom explains, "The term Maya has been translated as 'illusion,' but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here 'illusion' does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned." Lynn Foulston states, "The world is both real and unreal because it exists but is 'not what it appears to be'." According to Wendy Doniger, "to say that the universe is an illusion (māyā) is not to say that it is unreal; it is to say, instead, that it is not what it seems to be, that it is something constantly being made. Māyā not only deceives people about the things they think they know; more basically, it limits their knowledge."
Māyā pre-exists and co-exists with Brahman – the Ultimate Principle, Consciousness. Maya is perceived reality, one that does not reveal the hidden principles, the true reality. Maya is unconscious, Atman is conscious. Maya is the literal, Brahman is the figurative Upādāna – the principle, the cause. Maya is born, changes, evolves, dies with time, from circumstances, due to invisible principles of nature, state the Upanishads. Atman- Brahman is eternal, unchanging, invisible principle, unaffected absolute and resplendent consciousness. Maya concept in the Upanishads, states Archibald Gough, is "the indifferent aggregate of all the possibilities of emanatory or derived existences, pre-existing with Brahman", just like the possibility of a future tree pre-exists in the seed of the tree.
The concept of Maya appears in numerous Upanishads. The verses 4.9 to 4.10 of Svetasvatara Upanishad , is the oldest explicit occurrence of the idea that Brahman (Supreme Soul) is the hidden reality, nature is magic, Brahman is the magician, human beings are infatuated with the magic and thus they create bondage to illusions and delusions, and for freedom and liberation one must seek true insights and correct knowledge of the principles behind the hidden magic. Gaudapada in his Karika on Mandukya Upanishad explains the interplay of Atman and Maya as follows,
The Soul is imagined first, then the particularity of objects, External and internal, as one knows so one remembers. As a rope, not perceived distinctly in dark, is erroneously imagined, As snake, as a streak of water, so is the Soul (Atman) erroneously imagined. As when the rope is distinctly perceived, and the erroneous imagination withdrawn, Only the rope remains, without a second, so when distinctly perceived, the Atman. When he as Pranas (living beings), as all the diverse objects appears to us, Then it is all mere Maya, with which the Brahman (Supreme Soul) deceives himself. — Gaudapada , Māṇḍukya Kārikā 2.16-19
Sarvasara Upanishad refers to two concepts: Mithya and Maya. It defines Mithya as illusion and calls it one of three kinds of substances, along with Sat (Be-ness, True) and Asat (not-Be-ness, False). Maya, Sarvasara Upanishad defines as all what is not Atman. Maya has no beginning, but has an end. Maya, declares Sarvasara, is anything that can be studied and subjected to proof and disproof, anything with Guṇas . In the human search for Self-knowledge, Maya is that which obscures, confuses and distracts an individual.
The Puranas And Tamil Texts
Puranas and Vaishnava theology, māyā is described as one of the
nine shaktis of
In Sangam period Tamil literature,
Maya, to Shaiva Siddhanta sub-school of Hinduism, states Hilko Schomerus, is reality and truly existent, and one that exists to "provide Souls with Bhuvana (a world), Bhoga (objects of enjoyment), Tanu (a body) and Karana (organs)".
SCHOOLS OF HINDUISM
Need To Understand Māyā
The various schools of Hinduism, particularly those based on
naturalism (Vaiśeṣika ), rationalism (
Samkhya ) or ritualism
Mimamsa ), questioned and debated what is Maya, and the need to
understand Maya. The
The need to understand Maya is like the metaphorical need for road. Only when the country to be reached is distant, states Shankara, that a road must be pointed out. It is a meaningless contradiction to assert, "I am right now in my village, but I need a road to reach my village." It is the confusion, ignorance and illusions that need to be repealed. It is only when the knower sees nothing else but his Self that he can be fearless and permanent. Vivekananda explains the need to understand Maya as follows (abridged),
Just as when the dirt is removed, the real substance is made manifest; just as when the darkness of the night is dispelled, the objects that were shrouded by the darkness are clearly seen, when ignorance is dispelled, truth is realized. — Vashistha , Yoga Vasiṣṭha
The early works of Samkhya, the rationalist school of Hinduism, do
not identify or directly mention the Maya doctrine. The discussion of
Maya theory, calling it into question, appears after the theory gains
Vedanta school of Hinduism.
James Ballantyne , in 1885, commented on Kapila's Sánkhya aphorism 5.72 which he translated as, "everything except nature and soul is uneternal". According to Ballantyne, this aphorism states that the mind, ether, etc. in a state of cause (not developed into a product) are called Nature and not Intellect. He adds, that scriptural texts such as Shvetashvatara Upanishad to be stating "He should know Illusion to be Nature and him in whom is Illusion to be the great Lord and the world to be pervaded by portions of him'; since Soul and Nature are also made up of parts, they must be uneternal". However, acknowledges Ballantyne, Edward Gough translates the same verse in Shvetashvatara Upanishad differently, 'Let the sage know that Prakriti is Maya and that Mahesvara is the Mayin, or arch-illusionist. All this shifting world is filled with portions of him'. In continuation of the Samkhya and Upanishadic view, in the Bhagavata philosophy, Maya has been described as 'that which appears even when there is no object like silver in a shell and which does not appear in the atman'; with maya described as the power that creates, maintains and destroys the universe.
The realism-driven Nyaya school of Hinduism denied that either the world (Prakrti) or the soul (Purusa) are an illusion. Naiyayikas developed theories of illusion, typically using the term Mithya, and stated that illusion is simply flawed cognition, incomplete cognition or the absence of cognition. There is no deception in the reality of Prakrti or Pradhana (creative principle of matter/nature) or Purusa, only confusion or lack of comprehension or lack of cognitive effort, according to Nyaya scholars. To them, illusion has a cause, that rules of reason and proper Pramanas (epistemology) can uncover.
Illusion, stated Naiyayikas, involves the projection into current cognition of predicated content from memory (a form of rushing to interpret, judge, conclude). This "projection illusion" is misplaced, and stereotypes something to be what it is not. The insights on theory of illusion by Nyaya scholars were later adopted and applied by Advaita Vedanta scholars.
The concept of
Maya is a prominent and commonly referred to concept in Vedanta philosophies. Maya is often translated as "illusion", in the sense of "appearance". Human mind constructs a subjective experience, states Vedanta school, which leads to the peril of misunderstanding Maya as well as interpreting Maya as the only and final reality. Vedantins assert the "perceived world including people are not what they appear to be". There are invisible principles and laws at work, true invisible nature in others and objects, and invisible soul that one never perceives directly, but this invisible reality of Self and Soul exists, assert Vedanta scholars. Māyā is that which manifests, perpetuates a sense of false duality (or divisional plurality). This manifestation is real, but it obfuscates and eludes the hidden principles and true nature of reality. Vedanta school holds that liberation is the unfettered realization and understanding of these invisible principles – the Self, that the Self (Soul) in oneself is same as the Self in another and the Self in everything (Brahman). The difference within various sub-schools of Vedanta is the relationship between individual soul and cosmic soul (Brahman). Non-theistic Advaita sub-school holds that both are One, everyone is thus deeply connected Oneness, there is God in everyone and everything; while theistic Dvaita and other sub-schools hold that individual souls and God's soul are distinct and each person can at best love God constantly to get one's soul infinitely close to His Soul.
Vedanta philosophy, there are two realities: Vyavaharika
(empirical reality) and Paramarthika (absolute, spiritual reality).
Māyā is the empirical reality that entangles consciousness. Māyā
has the power to create a bondage to the empirical world, preventing
the unveiling of the true, unitary Self—the Cosmic Spirit also known
Brahman . The theory of māyā was developed by the ninth-century
Māyā is a fact in that it is the appearance of phenomena. Since Brahman is the sole metaphysical truth, Māyā is true in epistemological and empirical sense; however, Māyā is not the metaphysical and spiritual truth. The spiritual truth is the truth forever, while what is empirical truth is only true for now. Since Māyā is the perceived material world, it is true in perception context, but is "untrue" in spiritual context of Brahman. Māyā is not false, it only clouds the inner Self and principles that are real. True Reality includes both Vyavaharika (empirical) and Paramarthika (spiritual), the Māyā and the Brahman. The goal of spiritual enlightenment, state Advaitins, is to realize Brahman, realize the fearless, resplendent Oneness.
Vivekananda said: "When the
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Buddhism māyā is the name of the mother of the Buddha.
This name may have some symbolic significance given the place of
māyā in Indian thought, but it does not seem to have led this
tradition to give to the concept of māyā much of a philosophical
In Mahayana Buddhism , illusion seems to play a somewhat larger role. Here, the magician's illusion exemplifies how people misunderstand themselves and their reality, when we could be free from this confusion. Under the influence of ignorance, we believe objects and persons to be independently real, existing apart from causes and conditions. We fail to perceive them as being empty of a real essence, whereas in fact they exist much like māyā, the magical appearance created by the magician. The magician's illusion may exist and function in the world on the basis of some props, gestures, and incantations, yet the show is illusory. The viewers participate in creating the illusion by misperceiving and drawing false conclusions. Conversely, when appearances arise and are seen as illusory, that is considered more accurate.
Altogether, there are "eight examples of illusion (the Tibetan sgyu
ma translates māyā and also other
Depending on the stage of the practitioner, the magical illusion is experienced differently. In the ordinary state, we get attached to our own mental phenomena, believing they are real, like the audience at a magic show gets attached to the illusion of a beautiful lady. At the next level, called actual relative truth, the beautiful lady appears, but the magician does not get attached. Lastly, at the ultimate level, the Buddha is not affected one way or the other by the illusion. Beyond conceptuality, the Buddha is neither attached nor non-attached. This is the middle way of Buddhism, which explicitly refutes the extremes of both eternalism and nihilism .
Nāgārjuna 's Madhyamaka philosophy discusses nirmita, or illusion closely related to māyā. In this example, the illusion is a self-awareness that is, like the magical illusion, mistaken. For Nagarjuna, the self is not the organizing command center of experience, as we might think. Actually, it is just one element combined with other factors and strung together in a sequence of causally connected moments in time. As such, the self is not substantially real, but neither can it be shown to be unreal. The continuum of moments, which we mistakenly understand to be a solid, unchanging self, still performs actions and undergoes their results. "As a magician creates a magical illusion by the force of magic, and the illusion produces another illusion, in the same way the agent is a magical illusion and the action done is the illusion created by another illusion." What we experience may be an illusion, but we are living inside the illusion and bear the fruits of our actions there. We undergo the experiences of the illusion. What we do affects what we experience, so it matters. In this example, Nagarjuna uses the magician's illusion to show that the self is not as real as it thinks, yet, to the extent it is inside the illusion, real enough to warrant respecting the ways of the world.
For the Mahayana Buddhist, the self is māyā like a magic show and so are objects in the world. Vasubandhu's Trisvabhavanirdesa, a Mahayana Yogacara "Mind Only" text, discusses the example of the magician who makes a piece of wood appear as an elephant. The audience is looking at a piece of wood but, under the spell of magic, perceives an elephant instead. Instead of believing in the reality of the illusory elephant, we are invited to recognize that multiple factors are involved in creating that perception, including our involvement in dualistic subjectivity, causes and conditions, and the ultimate beyond duality. Recognizing how these factors combine to create what we perceive ordinarily, ultimate reality appears. Perceiving that the elephant is illusory is akin to seeing through the magical illusion, which reveals the dharmadhatu , or ground of being.
The concept that the world is an illusion is controversial in Buddhism. The Buddha does not state that the world is an illusion, but like an illusion. In the Dzogchen tradition the perceived reality is considered literally unreal, in that objects which make-up perceived reality are known as objects within one's mind, and that, as we conceive them, there is no pre-determined object, or assembly of objects in isolation from experience that may be considered the "true" object, or objects. As a prominent contemporary teacher puts it: "In a real sense, all the visions that we see in our lifetime are like a big dream ". In this context, the term visions denotes not only visual perceptions, but appearances perceived through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations.
Different schools and traditions in Tibetan Buddhism give different explanations of the mechanism producing the illusion usually called "reality".
“ The real sky is (knowing) that samsara and nirvana are merely an illusory display. ”
Even the illusory nature of apparent phenomena is itself an illusion. Ultimately, the yogi passes beyond a conception of things either existing or not existing, and beyond a conception of either samsara or nirvana. Only then is the yogi abiding in the ultimate reality.
Maya, in Jainism, means appearances or deceit that prevents one from Samyaktva (right belief). Maya is one of three causes of failure to reach right belief. The other two are Mithyatva (false belief) and Nidana (hankering after fame and worldly pleasures).
Maya is a closely related concept to Mithyatva, with Maya a source of wrong information while Mithyatva an individual's attitude to knowledge, with relational overlap.
Svetambara Jains classify categories of false belief under Mithyatva into five: Abhigrahika (false belief that is limited to one's own scriptures that one can defend, but refusing to study and analyze other scriptures); Anabhigrahika (false belief that equal respect must be shown to all gods, teachers, scriptures); Abhiniviseka (false belief resulting from pre-conceptions with a lack of discernment and refusal to do so); Samsayika (state of hesitation or uncertainty between various conflicting, inconsistent beliefs); and Anabhogika (innate, default false beliefs that a person has not thought through on one's own).
Digambara Jains classify categories of false belief under Mithyatva into seven: Ekantika (absolute, one sided false belief), Samsayika (uncertainty, doubt whether a course is right or wrong, unsettled belief, skepticism), Vainayika (false belief that all gods, gurus and scriptures are alike, without critical examination), Grhita (false belief derived purely from habits or default, no self-analysis), Viparita (false belief that true is false, false is true, everything is relative or acceptable), Naisargika (false belief that all living beings are devoid of consciousness and cannot discern right from wrong), Mudha-drsti (false belief that violence and anger can tarnish or damage thoughts, divine, guru or dharma ).
Māyā (deceit) is also considered as one of four Kaṣaya (faulty passion, a trigger for actions) in Jain philosophy. The other three are Krodha (anger), Māna (pride) and Lobha (greed). The ancient Jain texts recommend that one must subdue these four faults, as they are source of bondage, attachment and non-spiritual passions.
When he wishes that which is good for him, he should get rid of the four faults — Krodha, Māna, Māyā and Lobha — which increase evil. Anger and pride when not suppressed, and deceit and greed when arising: all these four black passions water the roots of re-birth. — Ārya Sayyambhava, Daśavaikālika sūtra, 8:36–39
Sikhism , the world is regarded as both transitory and relatively
real . God is viewed as the only reality, but within God exist both
conscious souls and nonconscious objects; these created objects are
* Sakti adher jevarhee bhram chookaa nihchal siv ghari vaasaa.
In the darkness of māyā, I mistook the rope for the snake, but that
is over, and now I dwell in the eternal home of the Lord.
Guru Granth Sahib
In some mythologies the symbol of the snake was associated with money , and māyā in modern Punjabi refers to money. However, in the Guru Granth Sahib māyā refers to the "grand illusion" of materialism . From this māyā all other evils are born, but by understanding the nature of māyā a person begins to approach spirituality .
* Janam baritha jāṯ rang mā▫i▫ā kai. 1 rahā▫o.
You are squandering this life uselessly in the love of māyā.
Guru Granth Sahib
The teachings of the Sikh Gurus push the idea of sewa (selfless service) and simran (prayer , meditation , or remembering one's true death ). The depths of these two concepts and the core of Sikhism comes from sangat (congregation): by joining the congregation of true saints one is saved . By contrast, most people are believed to suffer from the false consciousness of materialism, as described in the following extracts from the Guru Granth Sahib:
* Mā▫i▫ā mohi visāri▫ā jagaṯ piṯā parṯipāl.
In attachment to māyā, they have forgotten the Father, the
Cherisher of the World.
Guru Granth Sahib
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba stated that Maya is not the illusion of creation but the ignorance that makes one see the illusion as real: "How does the false world of finite things come into existence? Why does it exist? It is created by Maya or the principle of ignorance. Maya is not illusion, it is the creator of illusion. Maya is not false, it is that which gives false impressions. Maya is not unreal; it is that which makes the real appear unreal and the unreal appear real. Maya is not duality, it is that which causes duality." Ultimately, one finds that Maya itself is not real: "From the point of view of the last and the only Truth of realisation, nothing exists except infinite and eternal God. There the illusion of finite things as separate from God has vanished, and with it has also vanished Maya, the creator of this illusion."
* ^ प्रकृतिपुरुष योरन्यत्सर्वमनित्यम् ॥७२॥
* ^ Buswell & Lopez 2013 , p. 535.
* ^ A B Lochtefeld, James G. (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia
of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 433. ISBN
* ^ A B C Teun Goudriaan (2008), Maya: Divine And Human, Motilal
Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120823891 , page 1, and 2-17
* ^ A B C D Bhattacharji, Sukumari (1970), The Indian Theogony: A
Comparative Study of Indian Mythology from the
* ^ Tracy Pintchman (1994), The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu
Tradition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791421123 ,
Donald Braue (2006), Maya in Radhakrishnan's Thought: Six Meanings
other than Illusion, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120822979 , page
101, Quote: "Etymologically, the term māyā is derived from the
* ^ A B Laurie L. Patton (2005). Bringing the Gods to Mind:Mantra
and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice. University of California Press.
p. 132. ;
SANSKRIT ORIGINAL: ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं
१०.१७७ Wikisource * ^ Laurie L. Patton (2005). Bringing
the Gods to Mind:
* ^ ORIGINAL SANSKRIT: अथर्ववेद: काण्डं
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Atharva Veda Ralph Griffith (Translator), verse
22 (page 423), pages 421-426
* ^ J. Gonda (1952), Maya, Tijdschrift voor Philosophie, 14de
Jaarg., Nr. 1 (MAART 1952), pages 3-62;
English excerpted version: J. Gonda (1962), Some Notes on the Study
of Ancient-Indian Religious Terminology, History of Religions, Vol. 1,
No. 2 (Winter, 1962), pages 243-273; Gonda's interpretation of Maya in
Vedic texts is on page 248 * ^ Teun Goudriaan (2008), Maya: Divine
And Human, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120823891 , page 4
* ^ J Brodd,
Buswell, Robert ; Lopez, Donald S. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3 .
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