Maya: The Illusion Of The World

readings“Wake up o man, at least now, wake up.  Consider this whole creation as a mere dream. This world is like a flower in bloom;  as you watch it, it wilts right before your eyes. Why are you so attached to it?—  Brahman Anda”

Being an illusion does not make it unreal. The term Māyā, in Indian philosophy, refers to the deity who creates both dreams and illusion—primarily referring to the illusion of duality in the phenomenal universe caused by the false perception of a distinct self.

The eastern philosophers believe that the illusion of self, Māyā, veiled the oneness of the universe.

“The phenomena of life can be compared to a dream, a ghost, an air bubble, a shadow, glittering dew, the flash of lightning and must be contemplated as such. — Buddha”

Without an understanding of the illusory nature of this world, we can’t fully enjoy even the blessings that come our way, because there are so many underlying fears for the future.  Without an understanding of the nature of Māyā, even success can bring unhappiness, because there is so often an underlying fear of loss. 

“With enjoyment, comes fear of disease
With social position, fear of disfavor
With riches, fear of hostile people
With honor, fear of humiliation
With power, fear of enemies
With beauty, fear of old age
With scholarship, fear of challengers
With virtue, fear of traducers
With the identification with body, fear of death
Everything in this world is done with fear
Renunciation alone makes one fearless.
—  Bhartruhari”

In the same time, Nietzsche posits that truth wears masks of individuality, which are veils of illusion that conceal the fact that man exists as expressions of an underlying primordial energy impulse of nature. There, the reflection on dream images trains the aesthetic man for his life. In his dreams, both joyful and troubling, the dreamer can experience “the whole divine comedy of life” passing before him in illusory form.

“He who… is the ‘shining one,’ the deity of light, is also ruler over the beautiful illusion of the inner world of fantasy. The higher truth, the perfection of these states in contrast to the incompletely intelligible everyday world, this deep consciousness of nature, healing and helping in sleep and dreams, is at the same time the symbolical analogue of the soothsaying faculty of the arts generally, which make life possible and worth living.”-  Nietzsche

Schopenhauer’s principium is based on the concept of Māyā, the “veil of illusion.” Schopenhauer explains that in a world of torments, man is able to exist calmly and rationally because of a trust in his own existence as a distinct individual, separate and unique from the rest of the world. This is the illusion of Māyā, which is overcome by reaching enlightenment, or in Nietzsche’s case, Art.

So, what is that nature of illusion or Māyā what helps us to achieve an attitude of faith and renunciation? If with these gems we can witness the events of life from a higher viewpoint, even while we continue to play the game…

“The Tricks of Maya”
by Meher Baba

All human beings – whether they are  conscious of it or not – want to realize the ultimate Truth; but Truth  cannot be known and realized as Truth, unless ignorance is known and  realized as ignorance; it is therefore of vital importance that man  understand Maya – the principle of ignorance in Creation. To understand Maya is to know half the Truth of the universe.  It is  necessary for man to know that which is false – for unless he knows it,  he cannot get rid of it; and rid himself of it he must if he is to  achieve spiritual redemption.

They do not seek God to satisfy  an inner hunger for spiritual Truth. They long for all things except for  the only Truth which they ignore as wholly unimportant. They pursue  happiness through everything except the Truth of God, the only unfailing  source of Abiding Joy.

The apparent existence of the duality of a God Infinite and a world finite is illusory; for in Infinite hood there is in  truth no room for anything else or anyone else. How then does the  false world of finite phenomena come into existence?  It is created by  Maya. Maya eludes the comprehension of the finite mind; its  very existence depends on eluding it.  For if the finite mind of man  could readily grasp the meaning of Maya, the whole intricate scheme of  deception, which is Maya’s stock-in-trade, and with which it has held  all of man-kind in its grip from time immemorial, would instantly  disintegrate; it would in fact have been unable to hoodwink man in the  first place.  So it is innate in the very nature of Maya to have placed  itself beyond the pale of the human mind.  In whatever manner the  limited intellect tries to understand or explain Maya, it falls short of  the truth.  Maya is as unfathomable as God; Maya is God’s shadow.   While both God and Maya are beyond the comprehension of the limited  intellect functioning in the world of duality, they come to be  thoroughly understood in the clear light of spiritual realization.  Not  until then is the enigma of Maya completely and finally solved for man. Maya itself is not illusion; it is the creator of  illusion. Maya is not false; it is that which creates false  impressions.  Maya is not unreal; it is that which makes the real appear  unreal, the unreal appear real. Maya is not duality; it is that which  causes duality.

Maya becomes irresistible by taking possession of the  very seat of knowledge – the human intellect. Maya is difficult to  surmount, because under its sway the intellect – so dear to man –  creates and upholds false beliefs and illusions with insidious logic  that on the surface seems the last word in wisdom. The intellect which  functions in freedom, prepares the way and assists the aspirant in the  realization of the divine Truth; but the intellect that is slave to  Maya, concentrates all its vast capacity and cunning on preventing true  understanding. Falsehood consists of taking the true as being false,  or the false as being true; in other words considering anything to be  other than what it intrinsically is. Mistakes in valuation can be  committed in three ways Taking as important that which is unimportant;  taking as unimportant that which is important; attributing to something  as importance which is other than its true significance. All these  falsehoods are creations of Maya.

The value of sense-objects is great or small according  to the intensity or urgency of the lust and longing of the individual.  They have potential value when the lust or longing are latent; they  assume actual value when they become active. But every one of these  values is false; for when ultimately all lust and longing disappear,  these pseudo-values are stripped of their borrowed importance; they  stand naked in their true light : empty, unreal deceptions. A characteristic example of attributing importance to  that which is unimportant, is the prevalent attitude toward death. When a  loved one dies, it usually rouses a feeling of sorrow and loneliness.  This sense of grief for the deceased, whom one had been accustomed to  seeing so often in the flesh, is, however, rooted in attachment to the  form, not the soul of the departed. In his ignorance, man is not aware  that even though the form – the outer garment – has vanished, the soul  is not dead, has in fact not even passed away; because the soul is  imperishable, ever-present, everywhere. The feeling of loneliness, the  lingering memory of the beloved, the longing for his presence, the tears  of bereavement and sighs of separation – are all due to false  valuation; they are the product of Maya.

There is but one effective  counter force that can thwart the design of Maya and guide the aspirant  to divine safety: the grace of the Perfect Master, who alone knows all  the tricks of Maya and who alone on this earth is impervious to the  wiles of Maya.

Few are interested in God for His own sake.  If the  worldly-minded turn to God at all, it is mostly for their own selfish,  mundane purposes.  They seek gratification of their cravings, hopes and  even spites, through the intervention of a god of their own conceit — or  of a deity who is the special fabrication and exclusive monopoly of the  church or cult to which they happen to belong. They do not seek God to satisfy an inner hunger for  spiritual Truth. They long for all things except for the only Truth  which they ignore as wholly unimportant. They pursue happiness through  everything except the Truth of God, the only unfailing source of abiding  joy.  This distortion of man’s vision into considering as unimportant  that which is important, is also the device of Maya. An example of giving an importance to a thing other  than its intrinsic significance, is when rituals, ceremonies and other  routine religious practices are considered ends in themselves. They have  their own value as means of expression, as vehicles of spiritual  conditioning, but as soon as they are permitted or encouraged to assume  claims in their own right, they are vested with an importance which does  not belong to them and to which they have no rightful claim.  When thus  clothed by Maya with an importance beyond their true measure, they bind  and atrophy life, rather than quicken and help unfold it. False beliefs too are among the tricks Maya uses to  hold the soul in ignorance and bondage.  The false beliefs created by  Maya are so deep-rooted and powerful that they assume in the average  consciousness the status of self-evidence; they masquerade in the garb  of veritable truths and are accepted by the mass of mankind without  question. For example, man believes that what he is, is  represented by his physical body. It never occurs to him that he might  be something other than what seems embodied in his tangible form.   Identification with the body is accepted by him instinctively, without  further proof. All his mundane senses and his ego-mind constantly attest  what he has always regarded as an incontrovertible ‘fact’; and he holds  the belief all the more strongly because so sure is he of his premise  that he needs no further rational proof to support it. To give up the belief that he is the body, would  involve the renunciation of all his desires pertaining to the physical  body, and all the false values spawned by them. That is why the belief  that he is his physical body becomes natural to man; it is easy to hold,  difficult to uproot. On the other hand, belief that man is something  other than his physical body seems unnatural and to call for convincing  proof; it is difficult to hold, easy to resist. Yet, when the mind is  ultimately freed of all physical desires and attachments, the belief  that man is his physical body proves to be utterly false, and the  revelation that he is something wholly other than his physical body  emerges as the truth. This is equally true of man’s subtle and mental  bodies.

Man cherishes his false beliefs because he has come to  relish them. Maya has succeeded in so thoroughly indoctrinating him,  that through his long life as an individual soul, man has fondly clung  to the false idea of his separate existence. All his thoughts, ideas,  emotions, experiences and activities have ever assumed, confirmed and  demonstrated to him the existence of the separate ‘I’. To give up this  deep-rooted Belief – which he does not even suspect to be false – to  yield what he believes to be the core of his identity, would mean to  surrender all that seems to constitute his very existence. This is a  prospect utterly beyond the capacity of the unenlightened even to  contemplate, let alone to accept. To shed this last vestige of falsehood – to yield  one’s cherished identity – is therefore the most difficult of all tasks.  Yet, in truth, this falsehood has no more substance than any of the  earlier deceptions, which prior to awakening had seemed to the aspirant  such unchallengeable certainties. Identification with the ego-mind too  must eventually come to an end; it meets its doom when the soul  renounces all craving for separate existence. Countless are the falsehoods which Maya-ridden man, in  the stupor of his ignorance, is duped into accepting; but from the very  beginning all falsehoods carry within themselves the seeds of their own  unmasking. Sooner or later in the evolutionary progress of the  aspirant, their hollowness becomes evident and he recognizes them in  their true colors for the innate falsehoods they are. Even in the very depths of ignorance, at the inception  of man’s evolution, there is a faint stirring of challenge to the first  falsehood that fastens itself upon the soul. However feeble and  inarticulate this slender beginning of a protest, it is the dawn of that  quest for the final truth which will ultimately lead to the  annihilation of all ignorance, all falsehood. The usurpation of every  subsequent falsehood is accompanied by a spontaneous, though slow growth  of inner restlessness – a slight tremor of suspicion, a vague quiver of  fear-born of the divine ferment implanted in the depth of the soul for  its ultimate salvation. Identification with the body, for example, brings with  it the fear of one’s death, the fear of losing others. And in the very  profundity of this fear — in man’s heart of hearts — is seeded the first  little sapling of suspicion that depending for abiding happiness merely  upon the possession of perishable forms is building castles of hope on  shadows of sand. This is true of reliance on earthly possessions for  security, and of all the other false premises with which Maya so  enticingly paves the road of deception on which it is its diabolic  business to lead man to his undoing. By the grace of God, however, there  is a hollow sound to every flagstone of falsehood over which man is  lured to walk toward his doom. The false note in the very sound, the  sense of walking on camouflaged pavement of thin ice, betrays the fancy  trappings of Maya to the growing spiritual intuition of the victim and  eventually leads him to full consciousness of the Truth. To achieve this, however, the aspirant must retrace  his steps over the treacherous road he had traveled, and this is a task  fraught with the most acute dangers. For not only is the surface flimsy  and slippery, but Maya has cunningly changed the camouflage and shifted  the landmarks, so that the victim now finds himself tragically lost in  the labyrinth of a wilderness. Frantically now he tries to escape, and in his anxiety  is again and again fooled into following the innumerable false Maya  lights that beckon him to bogus safety. Maya’s task now and it is expert  at it — is to conceal from the aspirant the one and only path that  leads to his redemption. There is but one effective counter force that  can thwart the design of Maya and guide the aspirant to divine safety:  the grace of the Perfect Master, who alone knows all the tricks of Maya  and who alone on this earth is impervious to the wiles of Maya.

Through the grace of the Master  the aspirant is enabled to distinguish the one true light from the  myriad false ones, and to find his way out of the karmic wilderness into  the eternal stronghold of God’s Truth which is impregnable to the  assaults of Maya.

Not until then does the soul become lucidly aware of  the all-absorbing Truth that in the divine fact of Reality, Maya, and  the whole universe of deception created by it, do not exist.  Not until  then does the soul know itself to be what it has always been eternally  self-realized; eternally infinite in all-knowledge, all-bliss, all-power  and all-existence; eternally free from duality; eternally, inseparably  all-one in God.

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