THIS WORD is used extensively by Indians all over the land, usually to signify the allurements of the material world. When someone forgets his or her real duties and chases material and sense gratification, that person is declared to be in “maya”.
Since this word comes from the Sanskrit, let us see what a Sanskrit dictionary says about it. Several meanings are given: cheating, magic, what is not real, political manoeuvres, illusion, material nature and compassion. Therefore, it is clear that this word has many more meanings and connotations than just ‘illusion’.
Scripture informs us that this material word is created by the energy of the Lord, called maya and that it consists of three modes, goodness, passion and ignorance. The material world is made up of eight basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego (Bhagavad-Geeta 7.4). Advaita scholars, those who believe in the oneness of individual souls (jivatma) with God (the Paramatma), describe maya as ‘ignorance’, also understood as attachment to things material. Just as gravity pulls down objects, maya causes people to fall down, due to such attachments (moham).
The downside of maya is that one forgets one’s true identity, of being an immortal soul and spends one’s entire life seeking true bliss in sense objects. Thus one misses out ‘real bliss’, real security and real knowledge. In the process, one also suffers greatly and takes repeated births. So, one who forgets God under the influence of maya wastes his or her precious human life.
However, one can transcend the influence of such ignorance by several ways. The first and foremost method is to take shelter in God.
But why did God allow the creation of sense-objects that deflect us from the right path, God’s path? How does one triumph over this energy of the Lord? It seems God has allowed us limited freedom, otherwise there would have been no meaning to ‘free will’. An intelligent person therefore uses this free will to choose the path of God. Maya then become harmless, a lila (God’s play).