by Jayaram V
In Hinduism maya is used to denote both Prakriti or Nature and
power. Prakriti is the dynamic energy of God. According to some
schools of Hinduism, Prakriti exists eternally as a separate entity
from God. Just like Him, it is unborn, uncreated, independent and
indestructible. It either acts independently of Him or acts in unison
with Him as a co-creator or partner. According to other schools,
Prakriti is the dynamic energy of God, either latent or created
on purpose. It comes into existence during the act of creation,
as a manifestation of His Will, to envelop the beings He creates
and subject them to the state of duality. Whether it is independent
of Him or dependent, all schools of Hinduism, with a few exceptions,
recognize God as the Creator. In His role as Iswara, the Lord of
the visible and invisible universe, God undertakes five different
functions, namely, Creator, Preserver, Destroyer, Concealer and
Bestower of grace. In His role as Concealer, He unleashes the power
of Maya, through Prakriti, to conceal Himself from what He creates
and delude all the living beings (jivas) into thinking that what
they experience through their senses is true and that they are independent
of the objects and other beings they perceive through their senses.
Maya therefore causes ignorance and through ignorance perpetuates
the notion of duality, which is responsible for our bondage and
mortality upon earth.
When we know that maya is the power that blinds us, binds us
and deludes us, we become aware of the extent of its influence and
its role in our lives. Out of this awareness comes a sense of caution
and discriminating, which ultimately leads to our salvation. But
till we reach that stage, we remain in the grip of maya, like fish,
caught helplessly in a net. Saivism recognizes maya as one of the
pasas (bonds) or malas (impurities). It is responsible for our animal
(pasu) existence or beingness and becomingness. It causes in us
ignorance and egoism and binds us to the objects we desire and seek.
It makes us believe that the objective world in which we live and
experience alone is true. It draws us outwardly and binds us to
the things, we love or hate or we want to possess or get rid of.
It is responsible for our experience of time and space which otherwise
do not exist. It conceals our true nature and makes us believe that
we are mere physical and mental beings. Through its powerful pull,
it draws us forcefully into the objective reality of the world in
which we live and binds us to things and events through our thoughts
and desires. Unlike the western religion, in Hinduism God is not
separate from His creation. His creation is an extension of Him
and an aspect of Him. This world comes into existence, when God
expands Himself outwardly, like a web woven by a spider. In His
subjective and absolute state, His creation is unreal and illusory,
but in our objective and sensory experience and in our beingness
it is very much real and tangible. It is a projection or reflection
of Him, like the objects in the mirror and the mirror itself, different
from Him somewhat, but also not so different, dependent but virtually
distinct. He uses the concealing power of His own maya to draw Himself
into Prakriti and conceal Himself in it as a limited and diluted
How the beings are subjected to delusion? It is through the senses
and their activity. The Bhagavadgita explains the process thus,
"By constantly thinking of
the sense objects, a mortal being becomes attached to them.
Attached thus he develops various desires, from which in turn ensues
anger. From anger comes delusion, and from delusion arises confusion
of memory. From confusion of memory arises loss of intelligence
and when intelligence is lost the breath of life is also lost (2.60-63)."
So the sense first draw out and involve us with what we see and
experience. Through this constant contact with the sense objects,
we develop attachment with them. This attachment in turn causes
desires. Because of the desires, we want to own and possess things,
we develop likes and dislikes, attraction and aversion. We draw
ourselves into situations and relationships we believe will lead
to our happiness and fulfillment. We become so involved in the process
and with Prakriti that we forget who we are and why we are here
or what we need to do in order to be ourselves.
Maya causes delusion in many ways. Under the influence of Maya
an individual loses his intelligence and power of discretion. He
forgets his true nature. He loses contact with his true self and
believes that he is the physical self with a mind and body that
are subject to constant change, instability, and birth and death.
In that delusion, he believes that he is doer of his actions, that
he is responsible for his actions, that he is alone and independent,
that he cannot live with or without certain things and so on, where
as in truth he is an aspect of God, who has concealed himself, who
is actually the real doer, and for whose experience all this has
been created. Because of his ignorant thinking, he develops attachment
with worldly objects and wants to possess them. He spends his life
in the pursuit of unworthy objectives in the world considering them
to be imperative for his success, survival, happiness and personal
He accepts as true what his senses perceive, ignoring the truth
that is hidden in every thing or that lies beyond his mind and senses.
Driven by passions and emotions, instincts and desires, he suffers
from the conflicting experiences and sensations of heat and cold,
happiness and sorrow, success and failure, and union and separation
from what is desirable and undesirable. He becomes restless, driven
by the passions and emotions of his unstable and undisciplined mind.
Deluded thus, he pursues wrong aims, indulges in wrong actions and
suffers from the consequences of his own actions and gets caught
in the cycle of births and deaths. One can overcome the power of
maya, by developing detachment, by withdrawing the senses from sense
objects, by surrendering to God and by performing desireless actions
accepting God as the doer.
Nature of Reality
Does Hinduism consider the world in which we live as real or
unreal? Hinduism considers the world in which we live as a
projection of God and unreal. It is unreal not because it does not
exist, but because it is unstable, impermanent, unreliable and illusory.
It is unreal because it hides the Truth and shows us things that
lead to our ignorance. It is unreal because it changes its colors
every moment. What is now is not what is next.
In one moment so many things happen here. Many new souls enter.
Many depart also. Friends become enemies and enemies friends. The
sun and the earth change their positions continuously in space and
time, while the wind moves, the rivers flow and the oceans shift
their currents. The people who live on earth are also
very fickle. Their minds are never stable. Their thoughts never
cease. They seem to live today and disappear tomorrow. While all
this is going on in the whole wide world, at the microscopic level,
millions of atoms, cells and molecules in the bodies shift and change
their positions or get destroyed.
The world in which we live gives us an apparent illusion of stability,
where as in truth it is not. It is an illusion to believe that this
world is the same always, or that the people we deal with are the
same all the time. The world is therefore an illusion, not because
it does not exist in the physical sense, but because it is unstable,
ever changing, impermanent, unreliable and most important of all
never the same. Ask yourself this question. Are the same person
you were a minute ago?
The scriptures say that it would be unwise on our part to center
our lives around such an unstable world, because if you spend your
precious life for the sake of impermanent and unreliable things,
you are bound to regret in the end for wasting your life in the
pursuit of emptiness. The real world lies beyond our ordinary senses
where our existence would be eternal and where things would not
change the way they do in this plane.
The philosophy is very simple but difficult to follow. After
all what is illusion? It is something like a mirage which misleads
you into wrong thinking and wrong actions. This world precisely
does that. It offers you happiness but leads you into the darkness
of suffering. It tempts you with many things and when you run after
them you find them to be unreal and incapable of quenching your
thirst for stability and permanence.
Suggested Further Reading