Ma is ‘not’, and ya is ‘that which is’. Put together Maya refers to ‘that which is not’. The divine men and women call Maya as an illusion, and nothing more than a cloak of unreality. They refer to the world around us as unreal, or made of Maya.
It is said that Maya springs from attachment to worldly objects. This attachment is what gives Maya its innate strength. We all know what is right, but are still pulled towards doing the wrong things.
When a spiritual text refers to the world as unreal, it is easy to dismiss this as hogwash. “I can touch and feel everything around me, how can this world be unreal?” The word unreal here must be read as impermanent. That we (somehow incredibly) expect everlasting joy from objects whose lives themselves are finite – is a demonstration of the true power of Maya.
How do we get out of this? The trick is to not get caught up in the current mood. An example is that of economic forecasters. Studies have shown that they almost never get their predictions right. When oil is at 30$, they become super pessimistic, and when oil is at 120$ they become super optimistic. When countries are at their peak performance, they upgrade GDP growth estimates, and when economies hit rock bottom, they slash growth forecasts. In life, we too get caught up in the moment, and that leads us to take things to extremes instead of practising moderation.
The Buddha’s entire teachings revolved around breaking out of the clutches of Maya. His core message was that attachment is the root of all suffering. Interestingly, Maya in reverse is Yama, who is the God of death. Can’t help but wonder if there is a connection.