māyā - माया

Cosmic illusion; literally, “the measurer.” Maya is the power in creation by which limitations and divisions seem to exist in the Oneness that is true reality. (1)

In the Vedic Scriptures

According to Paramhansa Yogananda,  the ancient Vedic scriptures say that the physical world operates under one fundamental law of maya, the principle of relativity and duality. Since God in his absolute form is Complete Unity, the only way He can appear as the separate and diverse manifestations of creation is under a false or unreal veil of maya, or illusion. (2)

In Western Literature

The famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was fascinated with the concept of maya and wrote about it in his journals. In one of his journals he quotes from the Vedas, “the world is born of maya.” He also wrote a short poem called maya (or Maia):

Illusion works impenetrable,
Weaving webs innumerable,
Her gay pictures never fail,
Crowds each on other, veil on veil,
Charmer who will be believed
By Man who thirsts to be deceived. 

How Do We Free Ourselves from Maya?

Long concentration on the liberating spiritual eye has enabled the yogi to destroy all delusions concerning matter and its gravitational weight; thenceforth he sees the universe as an essentially undifferentiated mass of light.
—Paramhansa Yogananda

Freeing ourselves from maya is the essence of the spiritual path, regardless of which religion one belongs to. This is done through perfect stillness and concentration, which can be reached by prayer, the practice of a particular meditation technique, non-attachment, devotion, and many other practices. (2)

Traditionally in the Hindu culture, devotees would seek to free themselves from maya through sacred rituals. However, Swami Kriyananda says that the practice of offering oblations into a sacrificial fire accompanied by Sanskrit mantras can help one to attain certain outward benefits, but that they cannot take one out of maya except to the extent that one’s practice of them is accompanied by the thought of self-offering.

On the other hand, he says that mental self-offering (offering the heart and mind) is the highest sacrifice, and does not need any external ritual. (4)

 Further Reading


  1. Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 5, “A ‘Perfume Saint’ Displays his Wonders.”
  2. a b Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 30, “The Law of Miracles.”
  3. International Journal of Literature and Arts. Emerson’s Passion for Indian Thought, Sardar M. Anwaruddin
  4. Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 29, “The Nature of the Godly and the Demonic.”