>> Spotlight >> The Meaning of Maya: The Illusion of the World and the Need for a Deeper Vision


DR. DAVID FRAWLEY (PANDIT VAMADEVA SHASTRI)

Clearly Maya, or illusion, is there everywhere around us. It is an obvious fact for all of us – if we but look deeply – that things often end up not really being what they initially appear to be.

The idea that the external world is an illusion was greeted by nineteenth century European thinkers as proof of India’s inability to cope with the practical world. But as we move into the high-tech era, its media images and virtual realities of the twenty-first century, our world is becoming more and more like Maya every day. There is a deep meaning to Maya that must be understood for any true cosmic or self knowledge to develop, including spirituality and science.

Of course, few of us like to have the validity of what we are doing in life challenged or the reality of the world as we see it called into question. But how real is the world that we experience through our senses? Do we see reality through our senses, or are we merely receiving a surface glimpse of something far greater or even different than what it seems? Even if we add the tools of science and the media – with their instruments of greater communication and perception – to the data gained from the senses, we may still be getting an incomplete or distorted view of the world. Not the world as it is, but rather only one side of it, like the proverbial blind men and the elephant.

Science reduces the world to subatomic particles and our body to chemical reactions that deconstructs the reality that appears through our senses and leaves us only with energy moving in space. Media biases are well known to all of us, both in the realms of business and politics, and new forms of communication are coming up regularly that are altering how we see the world. Clearly Maya, or illusion, is there everywhere around us. It is an obvious fact for all of us – if we but look deeply – that things often end up not really being what they initially appear to be. The world has a shifting, changing appearance, which hides something different, deeper, invisible or unknown.

This experience of illusion begins at the level of our daily lives. If we go to the store to buy groceries, for example, we commonly note that the actual nutritional value of a food item is usually different than the appearance or even size of the package. In our social interactions, for another example, we often discover that once we get to know a person, we find them to be quite different than how they first appeared. We frequently get such “reality checks” in life when we find out that things are not what we thought they were, and we were instead being misled by appearances or by our own expectations. All of this is Maya.

The seeming or illusory nature of the phenomena, events, or circumstances in the world is a common fact of our daily lives. Those individuals who are wise do not allow themselves to be taken in by appearances, promises, or marketing. They hold back, wait, and observe before making any important judgments or decisions, looking to what may be behind the actions and motivations of others or the circumstances involved.

In the modern world, we live in a turbulent ocean of appearances, impressions and influences. Unless we learn to probe beyond these surface waves, we are not likely to find the truth of life and will often be deceived, not only by others but also by ourselves, as each one of us has his or her illusions about self and the world as well.

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