maya, the cosmic artist

Maya is usually interpreted as "illusion." Have illusions any reality? What is the creative energy behind illusions?

We can look at Maya as the deluding aspect of the creative power. Often symbolized as a goddess, Maya is the projector of dazzling images. Think of a movie projector and how it uses light to project an array of images that captivate our attention. The yogic masters have always warned us not to get involved in these projections – Maya's colourful displays. What was a practical warning in ancient times is even more imperative for us today with the bombardment of sens orystimulation through films, television, advertisements.

In the old texts, Maya is said to reign in the three worlds – the physical, the mental and the emotional. They are not separate, but aspects of the world of our own creation. We are told to conquer or dismantle these worlds. To conquer our emotions, which are often quite murky, we have to bring in the light of understanding and see how our desires come into physical existence. We first need to understand that whatever is created originated in the unseen. Illusion and desire give creative energy its shape and form. Like clay, its shape can be changed, until it has been fired in the kiln of our emotions, where it hardens into concepts that are difficult to break.

The illusions we indulge in are endless and they play out on a very basic level. Men and women imagine the perfect dream lover and then are quickly disappointed when their human partner can't fill the image. Some people dream of a paradise where everything is beautiful and perfect. Or worse, they imagine that if everyone else were like them, there would be no difficulties in the world, no opposition. Illusions like these keep us on a teeter-totter between what our imagination dictates and what we actually experience. When the teeter-totter goes down and the fantasies are dispelled, we are disappointed.

We have to understand the inherent power in our own illusions and take responsibility for how we use this power. To conquer our emotional world, which is often quite murky, we need to bring in the light of understanding. We have to see our illusions, and we usually don't see them until we experience the pain of disappointment when the illusions are not fulfilled. So disappointment can be necessary for our evolution. Each time an illusion is destroyed, we have the choice of accepting the challenge or reacting with anger, bitterness, revenge. But eventually we recognize that the anger is really only against ourselves for indulging in the illusions.

How can we elevate our illusions to benefit ourselves? We can use the power of illusion, our personal Maya, to create the Divine in equally colourful images for the focus of our own mind. We can create an image, for example, of Divine Mother giving birth to all life. By creating a symbol that is pleasing to the mind, we also help bridge the gaps between our philosophical understanding and our emotional needs. Some people may prefer to create more abstract symbols in the same way that scientists create symbols for particles and quarks, which nobody has ever seen. Creating symbols to communicate with the Most High is a very natural response. And if our emotions become deeply involved and greatly satisfied, we cannot help but become attached to our creation.

This is Maya at Her most beautiful, Maya at Her most supportive, Maya at Her most inspirational and uplifting. She keeps us breathless in awe and wonder, in spite of the fact that we know it is our own projection. But powerful illusions have the ability to manifest something real. From imagining the Divine, we create devotion and gratitude that have a real effect in our lives.

The world we live in is our creation and also our projection. We are responsible for what we project, even on a daily level to the people we interact with. We are responsible for our tone of voice,our facial expressions, our choice of words, because everything we do is an expression of ourselves – manipulated by egocentricity, by compassion, by understanding, by hatred, by whatever motivates us. It is all the same energy like a diamond that reflects the light – each facet reflecting the surrounding colours in a dazzling display.

What will not die is the power beyond Maya, beyond illusion. But Maya, too, assumes a cosmic role – projecting another life, another round of birth with death to follow. Will it be a life of darkness? Or a mixture of light and shadow until the Divine Light consumes all that has been put there? But what would a region of Light, and only Light, mean? Nothingness? Emptiness? Emptiness without projection? A formidable thought for the human mind that always seeks shelter and a place to construct its own weavings.

But such abstract speculations are usually misleading. Only personal experience can convince. Even then we cannot be sure that Maya didn't have Her finger in it. How can we know when our experiences are self-created myth? Is life itself a dream? And whose Maya is it? Is it my personal Maya? Is it the Maya of the Divine? Or is there still another source – perhaps the Maya of the yogis, yoginis and gurus?

Does the universe have an end? Does it have a beginning? Can we ever know how many stars and planets are in each galaxy and how many galaxies exist? Whose Maya is behind the galaxies?

Some questions can only be answered when we have already arrived. But by then we may not have any questions.
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

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