Maya | The Unreality | The Veil
Among all topics within spirituality, one of the most complex is Maya, the unreality or veil, which if we overcome, there is the ultimate truth and bliss.
A disciple once asked Swami Vivekananda — “I have read all your lectures and books on Maya but I still want you to explain it lucidly to me. Swami Vivekananda smiled and replied — “Please ask me something else”. It was his way to indicate its complexity
Freudian theories uses the concepts of Maya as its basis, especially the overt or covert fear of death, our denial of its reality and how we shape our lives.
The best ways to explain Maya is through stories and metaphors. The best metaphor that I have heard “when you watch a real scary film, (for me it is the genre of horror), you are scared in that moment. The best way to shake it off is to tell ourselves or say a kid “this is not real, don’t worry”. This statement is our ability to remove reality from an experience, which is the same process in Maya. Easier said than done, especially when one is suffering. Hence practice is critical.
All schools of India philosophy (Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism) accept the existence of Maya. Interestingly there is more literature on Maya than on Brahman (the supreme reality), which means there is more written on Falsity than Reality!
The word Non-dual schools of philosophy use for Maya — ‘all that we experience is just an appearance’. Remove the veil and you will see that it was just like that movie or a scary dream. The experience stays, but we know its not real and hence we don’t get attached to it.
Non Dual philosophy professes, we are the absolute even now, but we don’t know that we are. It is like a child covering his/her face and imagining that the whole world is closed or dark. The effort in spirituality is to lift this veil of ignorance since that ignorance obscures our true reality. We make mistakes because we don’t know the true reality.
Another story that Sri Ramakrishna narrates — when Lord Rama was walking in the forest, he would walk in front, his wife Sita in the middle and his brother Lakshman would walk behind her. So the metaphor used is that Lord Rama is the Supreme reality, Sita was the veil or Maya and Lakshman was the human/us who are ignorant. When Sita moved, Lakshman could see the Supreme Reality. It is just a story to illustrate the concept.
Maya is very powerful. Just knowing all this is an appearance is not enough, we still go back to the same mistakes the very next minute — attachment, emotion among other things. Because it is just the power of habit. The mind is cluttered & forces us to go back to patterns.
I must add that non-dualism philosophy has a different view on Maya and worth a read, the 7 fold objection to how Dualism perceives it