What is Maya?
Essentially, godly and divine, the human mind seems to fall under a self-delusion, which, when analyzed, becomes perfectly evident by its effects. The cause of delusion is conceived of as the indestructible power of Maya. Like unmanifested electricity, Maya in itself is not perceptible except in its various manifestations. It is a phenomenon that can be fully estimated and accounted for only through its varied expressions.
Observing and analyzing the effects of Maya within the constitution of all individualized and embodied souls, the Vedantic masters concluded that it comes to play in two distinct modes of expression, at two different levels of the human personality. Thus, at the intellectual level it expresses itself as a film of doubts and hesitation; the intellect’s capacity to understand or experience the higher is thwarted. this expression of Maya is termed by the masters as the veiling power (avarana shakti).
Due to the mist of ignorance that evekips the intellect when it is unconscious of the spiritual reality behind it, the mind starts projecting forth the world of the not-Self and superimposes upon it two firm ideas:
a) that “it is real” and
b) that “I am nothing but the body, mind, and intellect.:
This is Maya’s expression as the “projecting power” (vikshepa shakti). Because of these two effects of Maya, the intellect, ignorant of its spiritual destiny, surges forward seeking satisfaction among the finite sense objects of the world. When we act in the world, the resulting reactions and impressions get stored as vasanas in our subconscious personality. the vasanas manifest as our individual habits and desires, and then perpetuate our continuous struggle of seeking fulfillment in an unpredictable world.
Ordinarily, our entire attention is always engaged with the sense-organs and their respective objects. When the intellect is purified and withdrawn from its preoccupation with the world outside, the Self shines forth in its own resplendency. that which makes us strangers to ourselves is our preoccupation with our false identity and our wasteful play with the senses…
Mind is Maya at play. Therefore, conquest of the mind is the conquest of Maya; and unless one constantly turns one’s attention to the higher Self within, unless one has a deep devotion to the Lord, unless one learns to glimpse His glory in the world of being around, one muse necessarily succumb to the enchantments of one’s own mind. But when one is inspired with deep devotion to the Self and pursues the Self alone, one is no more a victim of the sensuous pleasures and world preoccupations and all the illusions created bu the mind.
– excerpted from ‘Fall of Man’ written by Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda
compiled in the Mananam series book ‘The Choice is Yours – Ethics in Vedanta’