Maya

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Maya (devanāgarī: माया māyā) is a Sanskrit word that in Indian religions has multiple meanings. Usually translated as "illusion" (from "not" and "this"), it points out the fact that we do not experience the reality but only a false image perceived by our minds, as when one pursues a mirage in the desert or mistakes a rope for a snake.

It is also regarded as "the cosmic power which renders phenomenal existence and the perceptions thereof possible."[1] Thus, in early Vedic mythology, maya was the power with which the gods created and maintained the physical universe.

Both in Hindu philosophy and in Theosophy only that "which is changeless and eternal is called reality; all that which is subject to change through decay and differentiation and which has therefore a begining and an end is regarded as mâyâ—illusion."[2] As H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

The Universe is called, with everything in it, MAYA, because all is temporary therein, from the ephemeral life of a fire-fly to that of the Sun. Compared to the eternal immutability of the ONE, and the changelessness of that Principle, the Universe, with its evanescent ever-changing forms, must be necessarily, in the mind of a philosopher, no better than a will-o’-the-wisp. Yet, the Universe is real enough to the conscious beings in it, which are as unreal as it is itself.[3]
Maya or illusion is an element which enters into all finite things, for everything that exists has only a relative, not an absolute, reality, since the appearance which the hidden noumenon assumes for any observer depends upon his power of cognition. To the untrained eye of the savage, a painting is at first an unmeaning confusion of streaks and daubs of colour, while an educated eye sees instantly a face or a landscape. Nothing is permanent except the one hidden absolute existence which contains in itself the noumena of all realities. The existences belonging to every plane of being, up to the highest Dhyan-Chohans, are, in degree, of the nature of shadows cast by a magic lantern on a colourless screen; but all things are relatively real, for the cogniser is also a reflection, and the things cognised are therefore as real to him as himself. Whatever reality things possess must be looked for in them before or after they have passed like a flash through the material world; but we cannot cognise any such existence directly, so long as we have sense-instruments which bring only material existence into the field of our consciousness. Whatever plane our consciousness may be acting in, both we and the things belonging to that plane are, for the time being, our only realities. As we rise in the scale of development we perceive that during the stages through which we have passed we mistook shadows for realities, and the upward progress of the Ego is a series of progressive awakenings, each advance bringing with it the idea that now, at last, we have reached “reality;” but only when we shall have reached the absolute Consciousness, and blended our own with it, shall we be free from the delusions produced by Maya.[4]
Concrete realities for the Entities of whose experience they form a part, in the same manner as the rocks and rivers around us, are real from the stand-point of a physicist, though unreal illusions of sense from that of the metaphysician. . . . From the stand-point of the highest metaphysics, the whole Universe, gods included, is an illusion. . . . The pure object apart from consciousness is unknown to us, while living on the plane of our three-dimensional World; as we know only the mental states it excites in the perceiving Ego. And, so long as the contrast of Subject and Object endures—to wit, as long as we enjoy our five senses and no more, and do not know how to divorce our all-perceiving Ego (the Higher Self) from the thraldom of these senses—so long will it be impossible for the personal Ego to break through the barrier which separates it from a knowledge of things in themselves (or Substance).[5]

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Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 211.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 211.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 274
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 39-40
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 329-330.