The Meaning of "Maya"
by Fr. E.S.Q.S.
A while back, while meditating upon the unity of life, all of a sudden and quite “out of the blue” (so to speak) the meaning of “maya” became clear. As such, after considerable deliberation, I have decided to share my insights with the community of seekers here, on esotericlaw.com. Before beginning, I suppose it would probably be best to start by sharing a few definitions of “maya”:
“Maya, (Sanskrit: ‘magic’ or ’illusion’) a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta. Maya originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion” (Encylcopeadia Britannica).
“Maya (Sanskrit) Māyā (from the verbal root mā to measure, form) Illusion, the non-eternal; in Brahmanical philosophy, the fabrication by the human mind of ideas derived from interior and exterior impressions, as it tries to interpret and understand the universe. While the exterior world exists — or it could not be illusory — we do not see clearly and as they actually are that which our mind and senses present to us. A traditional Vedantic illustration says that at twilight a person sees a coiled rope on the ground and springs aside, thinking it is a snake; the rope is there, but no snake” (The Theosophical Glossary).
“MAYA (Skt) Illusion. Particularly in the sense that the perception of reality is supposed to be illusory because matter would not be real. The doctrine of maya is not part of esoterics but is a misconception of esoteric teaching. (K 4.7.2, 7.2.13f; P 2.62.7ff)” (The Basic Esoteric Dictionary).
Basically, the meaning of “maya” – according to the above definitions – is “illusion”; however, that tells us very little about the actual meaning of “maya”.
NOTE: All said and done, I am no expert in Hindu terminology. Please take what I say in the following article with a grain of salt as I have, undoubtedly, erred in some manner. Probably it will not be too big of an error.
“Maya” as “Illusion”
Nearly every single definition of “maya” will result in “illusion”. This is not actually incorrect; however, it is an incomplete answer. Most definitions do not tell us what is meant by “illusion”, which is probably why so many people like using the word (i.e.: they like its obscurity). The definition according to the Encyclopeadia Britannica leaves much to be desired; the definition according to the Theosophical Glossary is probably much better and indicates, more or less clearly, the Hindu stand-point; whereas, the definition according to the Basic Esoteric Dictionary spells it all out quite plainly when it states that:
“The doctrine of maya is not part of esoterics but is a misconception of esoteric teaching”.
Of “Maya” and Matter
Subjectivists love the doctrine of maya – or, rather, what they think the doctrine of maya really says: that the perception of reality is illusory (which they assume means that matter is, itself, illusory). In any case, it all seems a very hopeless task trying to convince them of the existence of something that should be as obvious as matter: one the three fundamental aspects of reality. A few problems with subjectivism and its denial of matter:
1. If matter was, indeed, illusory and as unstable as imagination, then technology should not exist, for technology – to work at all as it should – requires stability.
2. If matter was, indeed, illusory and as unstable as imagination, then prediction – of any sort and measure – should be utterly impossible. As with technology, prediction requires stability.
What I Learned of “Maya”
A while back, while meditating on the unity of life, all of a sudden and quite “out of the blue” (so to speak) the meaning of “maya” became clear. In the first case, it became obvious to me that “maya” was a word which had more meaning to a second-self, was a word stemming from their own experience of reality: “maya” indicated the limited perception, and – therefore – inherently incorrect perception, of the first-self (which they can now see, being second-selves). More importantly, however, “maya” – as I had understood it at the time - indicated the first-self’s incorrect perception of its own isolation; the illusion of separation. Thus, the second-self – when speaking of “maya” or “illusion” – is not indicating that matter is illusory (as the subjectivists would have us believe); rather, the second-self is indicating that our perception, limited as it is, is inherently incorrect – not least of all our perception of our own isolation. This is the great “maya” - the great “illusion” - that we must all eventually confront: we must discover the “truth”, “reality” – and that is the unity of life.
Thanks for your time,