Maya: Friend or Foe?
If I use the phrase “the body is an illusion,” I am demoting this structure of skin and bones from the fixed, predictable, solid status it seems to have in time and space, but I am not implying that we should give up on it, treating it as indifferently as the illusory patterns that a swirl of cigarette smoke makes in the air. The body is precious to us, all the more so because it is not fixed and predictable.
We have a wide choice about how to react to the illusion. It can be made into something deceptive, unreal, and unreliable. But I could also regard it as something marvelous, enchanting, and surprising. Certainly I am free to choose this second interpretation.
That is what my spiritual grandfather did when he approached the even greater illusion of life as a whole: for him, the Mysterious One was not a deceiver. He was the all-powerful animating force that makes things happen, sometimes according to the rules but no always. After all, they are His rules.
In the Indian tradition, the formal term for this omnipotent force is Maya. Maya is a Sanskrit word that means “illusion” or “delusion,” but much more besides. Maya comes from the root verb ma, “to measure out, to form, to build,” denoting the ability of the gods to change form, to make worlds, to assume masks and disguises.
Maya also means “magic,” a show of illusions. Maya denotes the delusion of thinking that you are seeing reality when in fact you are only seeing a layer of trick effects superimposed upon the real reality.
True to its deceptive nature, Maya is full of paradoxes. First of all, it is everywhere, even though it doesn’t exist. The Mysterious One is nowhere if not in each person. Maya is not so omnipotent that we cannot control it – and that is the key point.
Adapted from Unconditional Life: Discovering the Power to Fulfill Your Dreams, by Deepak Chopra (A Bantam Book, 1991).