The Greatest Artist and Juggler

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Maya is appearance, semblance or the illusory power of God. That which is not, but appears to be, is maya. She is the creator of this universe and projects this world for His lila, diversion and pleasure. Mind, intellect, body and senses are her forms. Just as heat is inseparable from fire, coldness from ice, maya is inseparable from Brahman. She is dependent on Brahman.

Maya has countless potencies. The solidity of stone is a power of maya, and so is the fluidity of water. Fire is the burning and air the moving power of maya. Ether is the void or space power of maya.

True or false

Maya creates this world without affecting Brahman in the least. The power of bringing about impossibilities is peculiar to maya who is the mother of infinite riddles. She splits the infinite Brahman, who is without name, form and quality, into the finite centres of experience, investing them with names, forms and qualities. Maya causes the perception of diversity in the universe, but in truth, she has no reality. She is an appearance like the appearances she causes. She is the false cause of the seeming appearances. One cannot say what exactly she is, because she is inscrutable or indeterminate.

Maya is neither true nor false. She is truly false and falsely true, neither real nor unreal. She is not real like Brahman, because she disappears when one attains knowledge, but she is not unreal like a barren woman's son or the horn of a hare, because her presence is felt.

Maya is a sort of jugglery. One is astonished as long as the juggler is not seen, but once the juggler is known and the results are known to be unreal the wonder ceases immediately. When one realizes Brahman, the wonder of maya's working vanishes, and one knows that what inspired wonder was unreal.


Maya is the greatest artist and juggler. She deludes the passionate and the incautious. She makes the impermanent appear permanent, the impure pure, and pain appear as pleasure.

You know that you will die, and yet you think you will live forever. This is maya. You know that the world is full of miseries, and yet you take delight in the perishable objects and will not leave them. This is maya. Behind maya's sugar-coating, there is the bitter pill. Behind the rosy cheeks, there is raw flesh. Behind the buoyant youth, there is old age with tottering steps. The whole world is a net of maya to entrap the ignorant, deluded souls. Colour, sound and touch are maya's tempting baits. Money and power are her lure, flowers and gold her charms.

The Lord's maya is mysterious. When you give up passion, you see that anger remains. When you control anger, greed is still with you. When greed is controlled, pride clings to you tenaciously. When you renounce tea and coffee, you cling to milk and fruits. Attachment, likes and dislikes, pride, jealousy, anger, greed, sexual instincts, running after siddhis, false contentment in sadhana, clouded understanding and gross intellect are all forms of her veil.

Maya binds through avidya or ignorance and frees through vidya or knowledge. Avidya maya takes one down the path of bondage and is characterized by anger, greed or pride. Vidya maya takes one on the path of liberation and is characterized by discrimination, dispassion and devotion.

Don't ask 'Why'

The questions why maya and the universe exist and the riddle of existence are problems that are beyond the reach of the finite intellect. The human intellect is utterly incapable of solving these questions and the more it attempts to do so the more it becomes muddled. These problems can be understood only after the attainment of Brahma jnana or divine wisdom. No words can describe the origin of maya. One cannot find an answer in any of the scriptures because the 'why' is itself beyond logic. Buddhi, intellect, only functions for worldly matters, but for questions of the transcendental plane a gross and finite intellect conditioned by time and space cannot reach.

Instead of racking one's brain, one should enquire into the means of destroying maya. Only when she is destroyed, will one know the origin, nature and end of maya.

The maya mind

Maya is manifest in the human individual as mind. Mind alone is maya and maya is only mind. Control of mind is control of maya and control of maya is control of mind.

Maya plays havoc through the imagination of the mind. Sugar is not sweet, but the imagination is sweet. You are not weak, but the imagination is weak. When you understand the nature of maya and the mind, then you become wise. Curb this imagination of the mind by right thinking and rest in Brahman wherein there is neither imagination nor thought.

If there is mind, there will be this universe. In deep sleep the mind does not function, therefore there is no world. The more you think of objects, the more this world will appear as real. The conception of the reality of the universe will increase if you keep thinking of sense objects.

You can detect maya easily and realize the Self easily, if you possess discrimination and strong determination. Through these powers maya can be controlled.

The end of maya

Darkness is not a real entity but the absence of light. When light is brought, darkness vanishes. Similarly, when knowledge comes, maya disappears. The journey of life towards illumination is long and weary. It demands sincere and practical efforts with fearless and unfaltering energy.

By developing dispassion, vairagya, and discrimination, viveka, one will become free from the clutches of maya. With courage, regular sadhana, japa, worship and meditation, maya can never approach, and all her veils will be torn.

The tree and mirror of maya

The poisonous tree of maya flourishes out of the seed of the mind's modifications, vrittis, and in the soil of the enjoyments of the world. Trishna, attachment, and em>vasana, desire, water the tree of maya's illusion. Karmas are the fruits, while lust, anger and greed are its sprouts. Sattwa, rajas and tamas are the buds, the indriyas the twigs, and ahamkara is the trunk. Raga, attraction, and dwesha, repulsion, are the two main branches and the various sensual objects are the leaves.

Suppose there is a huge mirror and you see the reflection of the people, carts and cars which are moving along the road. You are simply watching these movements from a distance in the mirror without being in the least affected. In the same way, the movements of the whole universe take place in the biggest mirror of maya. The Lord of the universe is silent and simply witnesses everything.