What is MAYA


The word ‘maya’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘maya’ is illusion. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root. 

The word ‘maya’ is formed by adding yah and the suffix tap to the root word ma. The root word ma means to mete, to measure, to be contained, a prohibitive and negative particle, a particle implying doubt, Goddess Lakshmi, a mother, a measure, an elephant, authority, light, knowledge, binding, fettering, death, a woman’s waist, not, that not, lest, or would that not. The root word ma is to be taken in the meaning of measuring while forming the word ‘maya’. The word ‘maya’, which is in the feminine gender, means deceit, fraud, trick, trickery, a device, an artifice, jugglery, witchcraft, enchantment, an illusion of magic, an unreal or illusory image, a phantom, illusion, unreal apparition, a political trick or artifice, diplomatic feat, unreality, the illusion by virtue of which one considers the unreal universe as really existent. 

And as distinct from the supreme Reality, the Pradhana or Prakriti, wickedness, pity, compassion, the mother of Lord Buddha, extraordinary power, extraordinary wisdom, one of the four snares or pashas that entangle the jiva, a name of the city Gaya, a name of Goddess Lakshmi, a name of Goddess Durga, skill, art, supernatural power, sorcery, duplicity, one of the nine shaktis of Lord Vishnu, illusion personified, a daughter of Anrita and Nirnriti or Nikriti, mother of Mrityu, a daughter of Adharma, Convolvulus Turpethum or the plant called nishoth or pithori, name of a city, measure of two metres, the energy created by God with a view to creating the world, source of bondage, a mind-born mother from the heart of Lord Narasimha, a daughter of Maya, helpmate of Varaha-Vishnu, the essence milked by the asuras from the cow-earth, one of the kingly Upaya, or the lips of the Vedas.

According to Advaita Vedanta, maya is without beginning but ends for an individual soul, the jiva, upon the realisation of one’s true nature, Brahman. Maya is not non-existent and yet is not ever-existent. One cannot negate maya or assert its existence. Therefore, it is said to be inexplicable. That is why Swami Vivekananda called it to be a ‘statement of facts’. Maya is only existing as facts and since facts change, maya changes. It is the apparent that is mistakenly perceived, on the basis of the Real, because of ignorance. 

Acharya Shankara has been wrongly called as a maya-vadi, one who asserts the existence of maya. Acharya Shankara is not a maya-vadi but a brahma-vadi, one who asserts the existence of Brahman. Maya is only a means of explaining the universe that is perceived due to ignorance or avidya.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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