What is Maya?

The four-letter word “Maya” originated from Sanskrit, and it is the most commonly used word in all of the eastern philosophies. The word maya is made from the combination of ‘ma’ meaning not and ‘ya’ meaning that. The literal meaning of the word is deceit or illusion, while it is also commonly used word for money. In the spiritual parlance, maya means unreality, distinct from the reality represented by God or Brahman. God in His eternal and absolute aspect is pure consciousness, while His creation is a mere formation within that consciousness. Everything in the creation is perishable and it exists so long as there is an Experiencer, distinct from what is being experienced. Guru Ji has defined maya as:

Eh maya, jit har visarai, moh upajai, bhaau dhoojaa laiaa.”
– (SGGS, Pg. No. 921)


Such is the nature of illusion, by which (1) ‘Hari’ (Superconscious Being) is forgotten; (2) (worldly) attachment is born, and (3) the love for worldliness wells in the mind.

In Guru Ji’s word maya is like a mirage. It gives impression of water to parched traveler in the desert but on getting closer only to be disappointed. It was an optical illusion not a reality. Guru Ji has clarified that this love of “maya” which wells up within torments everyone:

Biaapat harakh sog bisathaar. Biaapat surag narak avatar.
Biaapat dhan niradhan pekh sobhaa. Mool biaadhee biaapas lobhaa. 1.
Maiaa biaapat bahu parakaaree. Sant jeeveh prabh oT tumaaree. 1. Rahaau.
Biaapat aha(n)budh kaa maataa. Biaapat putr kalatr sa(n)g raataa.
Biaapat hasat ghoRe ar basataa. Biaapat roop joban madh masataa. 2.
Biaapat bhoom rank ar rangaa. Biaapat geet naadh sun(h) sangaa.
Biaapat sej(h) mahal seegaar. Panch dhoot biaapat andhiaar. 3.
Biaapat karam karai hau phaasaa. Biaapat girasat biaapat udhaasaa.
Aachaar biauhaar biaapat ieh jaat. Sabh kichh biaapat bin har ra(n)g raat. 4.
Santan ke ba(n)dhan kaaTe har rai. Taa kau kahaa biaapai mai.
Kahau Nanak jin dhoor sant payee. Taa kai nikaT na aavai maiee. 5. 19.88.”
– (SGGS, Pg. No. 182)


(Note: The translation will be initiated from the Rahaao (Pause) lines in bold as those provide the theme and the essence of the complete shabad) 

Mind gets tormented by maya in numerous ways. But the enlightened do not get blinded by it, because of their attunement with the Supreme Divine Being. 1. Pause.

Pleasures and pains in life blinds the mind in maya. Dwelling on the attainment of heaven as well as the fear of hell blinds the mind.

Seeing the stature of rich, the poor in wretched condition gets blinded (with greed) in maya. Greed is the source of all illnesses (which blinds the mind), it emanates from maya. 1.

Getting blinded by the intoxicating ego is maya. Getting blinded by the emotional attachment to children and spouse is maya.

Getting blinded by the expensive rides (horses, elephants etc. in those days) and beautiful clothes is maya. Getting intoxicated in the lust by the youthfulness and beauty (of other sex) is maya. 2.

Getting blinded in land possessions, (and) getting drowned in the misery of poverty is maya. Getting drowned in indulgences to poetry, and music is (also) maya.

Getting opulent lifestyle with exquisite beds, palaces, and cosmetic makeup is maya. Getting blinded by the five senses (lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride) is maya. 3.

Getting entangled by ego perform (the religious & philanthropic) acts. Getting mentally engaged in performing household affairs and (even) those running away from life responsibilities by becoming renunciate is maya.

Getting blinded in efforts to cloak as a person of character, high caste and imminent is maya. Getting drowned in indulgences of poetry, and music is maya.

Without being imbued in love of Supreme Being, rest everything else is blinding (maya) alone. 4.

Only the enlightened breakaway, becoming free of maya’s shackles with the grace of Supreme Consciousness. For them there is no Maya to torment them.

Says Nanak, Maya does not draw near those, who are sheltered by the enlightened. 5.19.88.

Guru Ji says that maya has eaten the entire world in these words:

Maya mamataa mohanee jin vin dha(n)taa jag khaiaa.
– (SGGS, Pg. No. 643)


Maya and its attachment (which generates the feeling of belonging to me) is very enticing; without teeth, it has devoured the world.

Guru Ji says that maya can only be burnt away in these words:

Gur kai sahbad parajaaleeaai taa ieh vichahu jai. Tun mun hovai ujalaa naam vasai man aai.
Nanak maiaa kaa maaran sabadh hai gurmukh paiaa jai.2.”
– (SGGS, Pg. No. 853)


Through the Word of the Guru's Shabad, when it is burnt away, then it departs from within. (Then) the body and mind become immaculate, and the Naam, the Name of the Lord, comes to abide within the mind. O Nanak, the Shabad is the slayer of Maya; obtained from the Guru. 2.

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More by :  Bhupinder Singh

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