In spiritual forums, “maya” is a subject which is discussed at great length. What is this maya that we frequently hear being talked about? It is a peculiar power, a tricky business. In Maya Panchakam, Adi Shankaracharya declared that the greatest speciality maya has is — to make the impossible possible. Once this nature of maya is understood, one question we will never ask is — but how is this possible? Its job description is just that — it is indescribable. If we accept that in the world of maya, nothing is impossible, then going further, there will be no surprises in life.
Life teaches us to be prepared for all contingencies. There is nothing to be surprised about, because at any moment anything can happen. Despite whatever we know or think, the element of surprise remains. Even if the mind is prepared to receive shocking news or a pleasant surprise, but from where it will come and what shape it will take, is always a wonder. maya is maya — it never ceases to shock or amaze, confuse or confound, mystify or demystify, as the case may be.
Maya is beyond description. There is simply no way to know what it is. It can be explained only via its powers and qualities. Maya’s two powers are — avarana shakti and vikshepa shakti. They are constituted of three qualities (gunas) — sattva, rajas and tamas. The power of tamo guna covers the truth — it puts a veil on the mind. In other words, maya’s veiling power hides the truth from us. This non-apprehension of truth is not non-perception. It can be termed as non-recognition. We perceive and experience something, but are unable to know what it is. As a result of the non-recognition of the truth, misapprehension takes place. Then, because of ignorance, an erroneous notion arises. That is vikshepa shakti — the power of rajo guna. Maya’s third guna is — sattva guna — the power of discrimination (viveka shakti). When avarana and vikshepa are strong and in a majority, discrimination takes a backseat. Man is deluded and helplessly votes with the majority.
At critical moments in life, viveka shakti resists, protests, dominates and asserts, but it is overwhelmed. The combined forces of tamo guna and rajo guna prove to be too much for it to handle. However, there comes a time when the discriminative power becomes all-powerful and asserts itself. This is when sattva guna is predominant. There is clarity of vision, the uncluttered mind thinks clearly and we are able to take the right decisions. To no longer be hostage to maya’s delusory powers, remember that maya belongs to God. Hold onto Him, chant His name and become free.