What is Maya?
Most often the Sanskrit word ‘maya’ is translated as ‘illusion’.
This is correct in a certain way because part of the Sanskrit root meaning of maya is ‘illusion’ yet the problem with limiting the translation to ‘illusion’ is that when folks apply the definition they most often do it from within the realm of maya. This leads to all sorts of negative conclusions that are also ‘maya’.
In the past I’ve shared the distinction between what may be called ‘reality’ and ‘Truth’. An example is fear; the sensations arising as fear are true yet the mental based reasons for fear may be completely false. A situation that illustrates this is the fact most people’s greatest fear is public speaking yet public speaking itself is not the source of the sensations that arise, rather it is the person’s mental response to the situation.
In the same way it is clear that negative conclusions like ‘it is all illusion’ are false when these are mental responses that are generated by your thinking mind as an interpretation of what ‘illusion’ means – that is maya.
The Sanskrit the root meaning of maya comes from a common source that means both ‘illusion’ and ‘measure’. In this light when you accidentially hit your shin against the sharp corner of a coffee table there is not the false conclusion that ‘it is all illusion’ rather ‘hitting your shin off a sharp corner is ‘lived’ as the truth of what arises in that situation (any mental representation of this event is maya).
Maya is the ability to acquire and use knowledge as the action of your thinking mind. When you see things through what you already know then your knowledge is a ‘veil’ or filter that alters what you see.
In this light maya is your thinking mind that is functionally very useful for naming things and making distinctions. This means that although maya as your mental representation is illusion it is also a very effective and real means of measuring things and working with them symbolically. An example is language as language is an obviously tremendously useful and effective means of speaking about things that are not necessarily true at present yet you can use language to make a plan that is aligned with truth.
Maya and Truth are like the weather – alive.