what is maya?
ma = the source, or cause
ya = that which spreads forth
Therefore, maya is that which spreads forth from the source. In yoga parlance, we are talking about what spreads forth from the Universal source. In other words, the play of The Creator, and this play is known as Lila. This created universe manifests through the play of Shakti, and in this context, shakti is energy. (shakti generally means energy) Shakti, energy, vibrating at differing frequencies, in order to create.
This manifested universe, covers everything from a grain of sand on our planet of blue, through to great galaxies, and whatever has been and gone, to whatever is to come.
What else is maya?
Through all of this manifestation, there are always two constants:
consciousness and energy
In the context of true maya, this consciousness is Big. There is a wisdom beyond our knowledge, beyond our understanding, our comprehension. How we can we possibly understand it? How can we understand the wisdom of The Creator, and of the Other Gods and Goddesses?
Personally, I would say that maya, in a language that we can understand, is Supreme Divine Wisdom, rather than just consciousness.
Consciousness on it's own, whether on such an unbelievably incomprehensible scale, or, at the other end of consciousness, on a simple level, is inert. It cannot move, it cannot manifest. It just is.
What is needed, is a vehicle, in which consciousness can flow, for manifestation. And that vehicle is energy, or shakti. Shakti moves, it creates in tandem with consciousness.
Maya as illusion
This can be difficult to understand, but, in creation of our own awareness, when our consciousness and energy separate, we come into a whole new arena of understanding. We are less immersed in the tangled web of our consciousness, and this lies behind what we normally think of as our awareness. When we are living in the maya of our thoughts, feelings, actions, reactions, all of this being what we think of as oneself, then this is the illusion. And, it can be so hard to comprehend this!! All of this is part of us, yes, it totally is!! But the awareness which sees and knows past the maya, is something else.
Why is it said that maya is illusion?
How can this be so? Maya is a common expression in yoga, and many believe that the Universe is an illusion. So strange. Why do people believe what they do not know? How can we possibly know the ways of Creation as experienced knowledge.
Others believe that each lifetime is but a dream, and that when one 'passes over', we awake from that dream and are then in true reality. Again: why believe this if one does not actually remember having 'passed over'. We might have a different reality in these other realms, which enables us to see things differently, more clearly, and I do believe that this is so.
As someone who has had a Near Death Experience (very lovely), it was as real as is everyday life. But, and this I feel is the important aspect, for me: it was another realm. The 'awaking from a dream' aspect, was having illusions, or, maya-as-illusion, around passing over, dispelled.
And this is where maya-as-illusion is so real: when illusions, delusions, are revealed as being something other than what we believed, revealed as to what they really are, then this is more to do with the illusion of maya.
Spiritual Realms as maya
So, if the Life Between the Lives on this planet, is us being in another realm, what of other spiritual realms? The Koshas, the five sheaths of the human: being physical (the one that we know); life-force (prana); mind sheath; astral (where the chakras reside); and causal (the karmic cause of incarnation) ... for me they were realms, each different, as have been the tattwas (elements), and chakras. Everything with it's own knowledge, it's own experience of Being, and this for me, the experience and knowledge, were the dispelling of maya. On many levels. Much was indefinable, much was recognisable.
Other realms that co-exist with us
From studying with a Tohunga (Maori spiritual guide), I entered into other realms which co-exist with us. These other realms are experienced via the third eye, (known as ajna chakra in yoga), and one 'walks' them with the physical eyes open. These experiences alone, have dispelled more illusion than I could have ever imagined.
So, on the one hand, maya most definitely what emerges from the Divine Source of All Being. And, there is another meaning, of the manifest being illusion, which I do feel has been largely misunderstood, and bandied about without real knowledge of what it does mean. We only need a little bit of experiencing that things are not what they seem, in the spiritual realms, to understand that we do not , and may never, fully comprehend the enormity of maya.