Colloquially speaking, maya stands for extraordinary powers, magic, sorcery or illusion – as in the maya jaal, web of illusion, spun by the wicked witch from a Hans Andersen fairy tale, to trap many a young prince and princess and steal their powers. That’s how many of us have been introduced to maya. It primarily requires awareness and agility, care, concern, and compassion on the part of the prince and princess to free themselves from maya’s grip.
From children’s fairy tales to Indic philosophical texts, might seem like a big leap, but maya has raised similar concerns there too, deluding us into chasing that which is impermanent and changing, and getting bogged down by worldly issues, consequently losing our path to spiritual evolution, which is said to be the prime purpose of human existence.
This compelled Adi Shankara, one of the greatest philosophers of Vedanta, to declare that the world is maya, illusion, and the highest form of reality is non-duality – no duality separating the individual from the Supreme. It means that God and you are one, and we need to identify with the Atman and not with human limitations. It is an illusion to think that we are bound to this world. The world itself is an illusion, unreal, impermanent and changing. And when we are sweating over small, worldly issues that are not even permanent, we are not logged into the non-changing. Life then appears to be unstable and we are caught in the whirlpool of maya.
That world is an illusion is repeated ad nauseam, making maya the central theme of Advaita philosophy.
Conversely, it is maya that creates an illusion of duality where there is unity. Which in other words implies that maya is the power responsible for creation, for all that we see around us and experience. Krishn goes further and tells Arjun in the Bhagwad Gita verse 4:6-7 that though birthless and immortal and the Lord of all beings, he manifests himself through his own yogmaya, divine potency, keeping his prakrti, nature, under control, whenever righteousness is on the decline, unrighteousness is in the ascendant.
That is when Krishn reigns in the power of maya, and makes it work for him – becomes Mayapati – master of illusion, master of the world.
We all have it within ourselves the power, the divine potency, to overcome illusion, and not be subjugated by it or come under its spell, and become the master of illusion.
And how do we do that?
The answer lies in adhyatm, spirituality. Spirituality helps seek the truth, to know ourselves, who we are and what is our connection with the Supreme. And the first step towards becoming Mayapati is to ask ourselves the most profound spiritual question ‘Who am I?’
Ramana Maharshi says in your attempt to answer this question, when you realise you are not the gross body, the five cognitive sense organs, or the five vital airs, and more, the awareness which alone remains is your real self.
And what is the nature of awareness? Maharshi says that the nature of awareness is existence-consciousness-bliss — sat-chit-anand. Upon being asked when will the realisation of the Self be gained, he replies, “When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realisation of the Self which is the seer.” That is when you realise your innate divinity, your greatness.
And it all begins with an adhyatmic lifestyle. As Swami Sivananda puts it: “Develop dispassion, discrimination and enquire ‘Who am I?’ You will free yourself from Maya’s clutches. You will attain the eternal bliss of Brahmn. Persevere, plod on. March courageously. Be regular in your sadhana. Practise eternal vigilance and introspection. Pray. Do japa. Worship and meditate. Maya can never delude you. You will have ever the grace of Divine, all the veils will be torn.” That is your route to becoming Mayapati.