Maya is Goddess of Wealth, Prosperity, and Love

Maya (माया), literally “illusion” or “magic”, has multiple meanings in Indian philosophies depending on the context. Maya also connotes that which “is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal” (in opposition to an unchanging Absolute, or Brahman), and therefore “conceals the true character of spiritual reality”. In the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, Maya, “appearance”, is “the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real”. In HinduismMaya is also an epithet for Goddess Lakshmi, and the name of a manifestation of Lakshmi, the Goddess of “wealth, prosperity, and love“. In Buddhist philosophy, Maya is invoked as one of twenty subsidiary unwholesome mental factors, responsible for deceit or concealment about the nature of things. Maya is also the name of Gautama Buddha’s mother.


Maya, (Sanskrit: “magic” or “illusion”) is a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta. It originally denoted the magic power with which a God can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion. By extension, it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. For the Nondualists, Maya is thus that cosmic force that presents the infinite Brahman (the supreme being) as the finite phenomenal world. 

The Definition and Concept of Maya in Hinduism
The Concept of Maya in Hinduism

Maya in Hinduism


The Vedas

Words related to and containing Māyā, such as Mayava, occur many times in the Vedas. The use of the word Māyā in Rigveda, in the later era context of “magic, illusion, power”, occurs in many hymns. One titled Māyā-bheda (मायाभेद: Discerning Illusion) includes hymns 10.177.1 through 10.177.3, as the battle unfolds between the good and the evil, as follows,

The wise behold with their mind in their heart the Sun, made manifest by the illusion of the Asura;
The sages look into the solar orb, the ordainers desire the region of his rays.
The Sun bears the word in his mind; the Gandharva has spoken it within the wombs;
Sages cherish it in the place of sacrifice, brilliant, heavenly, ruling the mind.
I beheld the protector, never descending, going by his paths to the east and the west;
Clothing the quarters of the heaven and the intermediate spaces. He constantly revolves in the midst of the worlds. — Rigveda X.177.1-3, Translated by Laurie Patton

The above Maya-bheda hymn discerns, using symbolic language, a contrast between the mind influenced by light (sun) and magic (illusion of Asura). 

The Upanishads

The Upanishads describe the universe, and the human experience, as an interplay of Purusha (the eternal, unchanging principles, consciousness) and Prakṛiti (the temporary, changing material world, nature). The former manifests itself as Ātman (Soul, Self), and the latter as Māyā. The Upanishads refer to the knowledge of Atman as “true knowledge” (Vidya), and the knowledge of Maya as “not true knowledge” (Avidya, Nescience, lack of awareness, lack of true knowledge). 

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, states Ben-Ami Scharfstein, describes Maya as “the tendency to imagine something where it does not exist, for example, atman with the body”. To the Upanishads, knowledge includes empirical knowledge and spiritual knowledge, complete knowing necessarily includes understanding the hidden principles that work, the realization of the soul of things.

The Puranas and Tamil texts

In Puranas and Vaishnava theology, māyā is described as one of the nine shaktis of Vishnu. Māyā became associated with sleep, and Vishnu’s māyā is a sleep that envelopes the world when he awakes to destroy evil. Vishnu, like Indra, is the master of māyā; and māyā envelopes Vishnu’s body. The Bhagavata Purana narrates that the sage Markandeya requests Vishnu to experience his māyā.

Vishnu appears as an infant floating on a fig leaf in a deluge and then swallows the sage, the sole survivor of the cosmic flood. The sage sees various worlds of the universe, Gods, etc., and his hermitage in the infant’s belly. Then the infant breathes out the sage, who tries to embrace the infant, but everything disappears and the sage realizes that he was in his hermitage the whole time and was given a flavor of Vishnu’s māyā. The magic creative power, Māyā was always a monopoly of the central Solar God; and was also associated with the early solar prototype of Vishnu in the early Aditya phase.

Schools of Hinduism

Need to understand Maya

The various schools of Hinduism, particularly those based on naturalism (Vaiśeṣika), rationalism (Samkhya), or ritualism (Mimamsa), questioned and debated what is Maya, and the need to understand Maya. The Vedanta and Yoga schools explained that complete realization of knowledge requires both the understanding of ignorance, doubts, and errors, as well as the understanding of invisible principles, incorporeal and eternal truths.

Realizing and removing ignorance is a necessary step, and this can only come from understanding Maya and then looking beyond it.

Samkhya school

The early works of Samkhya, the rationalist school of Hinduism, do not identify or directly mention the Maya doctrine. The discussion of Maya theory, calling it into question, appears after the theory gains ground in the Vedanta school of Hinduism. 

Vācaspati Miśra’s commentary on the Samkhyakarika, for example, questions the Maya doctrine saying “It is not possible to say that the notion of the phenomenal world being real is false, for there is no evidence to contradict it”. Samkhya school steadfastly retained its duality concept of Prakriti and Purusha, both real and distinct, with some texts equating Prakriti to be Maya that is “not an illusion, but real”, with three Guṇas in different proportions whose changing state of equilibrium defines the perceived reality.

Nyaya school

The realism-driven Nyaya school of Hinduism denied that either the world (Prakriti) or the soul (Purusa) is an illusion. Naiyayikas developed theories of illusion, typically using the term Mithya, and stated that illusion is simply flawed cognition, incomplete cognition, or the absence of cognition. There is no deception in the reality of Prakriti or Pradhana (creative principle of matter/nature) or Purusa, only confusion or lack of comprehension or lack of cognitive effort, according to Nyaya scholars. To them, illusion has a cause, that rules of reason and proper Pramanas (epistemology) can uncover.

Illusion, stated Naiyayikas, involves the projection into current cognition of predicated content from memory (a form of rushing to interpret, judge, and conclude). 

Yoga school

Maya in Yoga school is the manifested world and implies divine force. Maya is neither illusion nor a denial of perceived reality to the Yoga scholars, rather Yoga is a means to perfect the “creative discipline of mind” and “body-mind force” to transform Maya.

It occurs in various mythologies of the Puranas; for example, Shiva uses his yogamāyā to transform Markendeya’s heart in Bhagavata Purana’s chapter 12.10, while Krishna counsels Arjuna about yogamāyā in hymn 7.25 of Bhagavad Gita.

Vedanta school

Maya is a prominent and commonly referred to concept in Vedanta philosophies. The human mind constructs a subjective experience, states the Vedanta school, which leads to the peril of misunderstanding Maya as well as interpreting Maya as the only and final reality.

Vedantins assert the “perceived world including people not what they appear to be”. There are invisible principles and laws at work, true invisible nature in others and objects, and an invisible soul that one never perceives directly, but this invisible reality of Self and Soul exists, assert Vedanta scholars. Māyā is that which manifests and perpetuates a sense of false duality (or divisional plurality). This manifestation is real, but it obfuscates and eludes the hidden principles and true nature of reality. 

Advaita Vedanta

In Advaita Vedanta‘s philosophy, there are two realities: Vyavaharika (empirical reality) and Paramarthika (absolute, spiritual reality). Māyā is the empirical reality that entangles consciousness. Māyā has the power to create a bondage to the empirical world, preventing the unveiling of the faithful, unitary Self – the Cosmic Spirit also known as Brahman. The theory of māyā was developed by the ninth-century Advaita Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara.

Vivekananda said: “When the Hindu says the world is Maya, at once people get the idea that the world is an illusion. This interpretation has some basis, as coming through the Buddhistic philosophers, because there was one section of philosophers who did not believe in the external world at all. But the Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts – what we are and what we see around us.”

Maya in Buddhism

Māyā (Sanskrit; Tibetan wyl.: sgyu) is a Buddhist term translated as “pretense” or “deceit” that is identified as one of the twenty subsidiary unwholesome mental factors within the Mahayana Abhidharma teachings. In this context, it is defined as pretending to exhibit or claiming to have a good quality that one lacks.

The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is deceit? It is a display of what is not a real quality and is associated with both passion-lust (raga) and bewilderment-erring (moha) by being overly attached to wealth and honor. Its function is to provide a basis for a perverse life-style.

Alexander Berzin explains:

Pretension (sgyu) is in the categories of longing desire (raga) and naivety (which is in essence lack of experience) (moha). Because of excessive attachment to our material gain and the respect we receive, and activated by wanting to deceive others, pretension is pretending to exhibit or claiming to have a good quality that we lack.


In Theravada Buddhism ‘Māyā’ is the name of the mother of the Buddha as well as a metaphor for the consciousness aggregate (viññana). The Theravada monk Bhikkhu Bodhi considers the Pali Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta “one of the most radical discourses on the empty nature of conditioned phenomena.” Bodhi also cites the Pali commentary on this sutra, the Sāratthappakāsinī (Spk), which states:

Cognition is like a magical illusion (māyā) in the sense that it is insubstantial and cannot be grasped. Cognition is even more transient and fleeting than a magical illusion. For it gives the impression that a person comes and goes, stands and sits, with the same mind, but the mind is different in each of these activities. Cognition deceives the multitude like a magical illusion (māyā).

Likewise, Bhikkhu Katukurunde Nyanananda Thera has written an exposition of the Kàlakàràma Sutta which features the image of a magical illusion as its central metaphor.


The Nyānānusāra Śāstra, a Vaibhāṣika response to Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosha, cites the Māyājāla sutra and explains:

“Seeing an illusory object (māyā)”: Although what one apprehends is unreal, nothing more than an illusory sign. If one does not admit this much, then an illusory sign should be non-existent. What is an illusory sign? It is the result of illusion magic. Just as one with higher gnosis can magically create forms, likewise this illusory sign does actually have manifestation and shape. Being produced by illusion magic, it acts as the object of vision. That object which is taken as really existent is in fact ultimately non-existent. Therefore, this [Māyājāla] Sūtra states that it is non-existent, due to the illusory object there is a sign but not substantiality. Being able to beguile and deceive one, it is known as a “deceiver of the eye.”


In Mahayana sutras, the illusion is an important theme of the Prajñāpāramitā sutras. The Mahayana uses similar metaphors for illusion:

  • Magic,
  • Dream,
  • Bubble,
  • Rainbow,
  • Lightning,
  • Moon reflected in water,
  • Mirage, and
  • City of celestial musicians.

Understanding that what we experience is less substantial than we believe is intended to serve the purpose of liberation from ignorance, fear, and clinging and the attainment of enlightenment as a Buddha completely dedicated to the welfare of all beings.


Buddhist Tantra, a further development of the Mahayana, also makes use of the magician’s illusion example in yet another way. In the completion stage of Buddhist Tantra, the practitioner takes on the form of a deity in an illusory body (māyādeha).

It is made of wind, or prana, and is called illusory because it appears only to other yogis who have also attained the illusory body. The illusory body has the markings and signs of a Buddha. There is an impure and pure illusory body, depending on the stage of the yogi’s practice.

Obaitori - Queen Mahayana
Queen Mahayana as Maya in Buddhism

How to overcome Maya?

In Hinduism, Maya refers to the illusionary nature of the world and the perception of reality. The concept of overcoming Maya is not about exerting control over the external world. But about attaining spiritual enlightenment and transcending the illusionary aspects of life. Here are some principles and practices in Hinduism that can help you navigate Maya:


The primary focus in Hinduism is on attaining self-realization or understanding. Also the true nature of the self (Atman) and its relationship with the ultimate reality (Brahman). This involves introspection, self-inquiry, and meditation to go beyond the illusions created by Maya.

Spiritual disciplines

Engaging in spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, and contemplation can help calm the mind, develop inner awareness, and cultivate detachment from the transient nature of the material world.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the path of selfless action and service. By performing actions without attachment to the results and dedicating the fruits of your actions to a higher purpose, you can overcome the illusion of doership and personal desires.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. Through the study of sacred texts, philosophical inquiry, and guidance from spiritual teachers (gurus), you can gain knowledge that helps you see through the illusion of Maya.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion and love towards a personal deity or the divine. By cultivating a deep sense of love, surrender, and devotion, one can transcend the material aspects of life. Additionally, experience a connection with the divine that goes beyond the illusions of Maya.


Cultivating a sense of detachment from material possessions, and the outcomes of actions can help you break free from the grip of Maya. Recognizing that the external world is impermanent and focusing on the eternal aspects of existence.

Spiritual guidance

Seeking guidance from enlightened spiritual teachers (gurus) who have themselves transcended Maya can provide valuable insights.

It is important to note that the concept of Maya and its understanding may vary among different schools of Hindu philosophy. Therefore, exploring the teachings and practices of different traditions and finding what resonates with you is essential. Ultimately, the goal is to go beyond the illusory aspects of Maya and experience the true nature of existence.

Which are the things considered Maya in our Life?

In the context of our everyday lives, here are some things that can be considered Maya:

Physical possessions

Material possessions, such as money, cars, houses, and other belongings, are often seen as real and permanent. However, Maya suggests that these things are impermanent and do not hold intrinsic value.


While relationships are important and meaningful, Maya reminds us that they are subject to change and impermanence. People come and go, relationships evolve, and attachments to specific individuals can create a sense of illusion.

Achievements and status

Maya suggests that achievements, accolades, and social status can create a false sense of identity and self-worth. These external markers of success can be temporary and may not reflect the true essence of an individual.

Ego and identity

The concept of Maya challenges the notion of a fixed and independent self. Our sense of self, ego, and identity is believed to be temporary and ever-changing.

Suffering and pleasure

Maya suggests that both suffering and pleasure are transient experiences. We often become attached to pleasurable experiences and try to avoid or resist suffering. However, Maya reminds us that both are temporary and ultimately illusory.

Perception and senses

Maya suggests that what we perceive through our senses may not necessarily reflect the ultimate reality. It’s important to note that interpretations of Maya may vary among different philosophical and religious traditions. 

Everything is Maya: Illusion of the universe
Things Considered as Maya as per Hinduism


In conclusion, Maya holds a significant place in Hinduism. As it symbolizes the illusory nature of the world and our perception of reality. Hinduism teaches that the ultimate goal is to transcend it and attain self-realization. Understanding the true nature of the self and its connection with the divine. Through spiritual practices like meditation, selfless action, devotion, and detachment, individuals can navigate illusions. However, the understanding and approach to Maya may vary among different schools of Hindu philosophy. Individuals, emphasizing the importance of personal exploration and guidance from spiritual teachers. By going beyond Maya, one can experience a profound transformation. That leads to a deeper understanding of reality and the ultimate purpose of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Maya in Hinduism:

Q: What is Maya in Hinduism?

Maya, in Hinduism, refers to the illusionary nature of the world and our perception of reality.

Q: Can Maya be overcome?

By attaining self-realization and understanding the true nature of the self and the ultimate reality (Brahman), one can transcend the illusions created by Maya.

Q: How can one control Maya?

Controlling Maya is not about exerting control over the external world, but rather about attaining spiritual enlightenment. Practices such as meditation, selfless action (Karma Yoga), devotion (Bhakti Yoga), and knowledge (Jnana Yoga) can help individuals navigate it and attain a higher state of consciousness.

Q: Does Maya imply that the world is an illusion?

It does not imply that the world is entirely illusory or unreal. 

Q: Are there different interpretations of Maya in Hinduism?

Yes, different schools of Hindu philosophy have varying interpretations of Maya. Advaita Vedanta, for example, sees Maya as the power of Brahman. However, some other schools view it as a separate entity. The understanding can also vary among individuals based on their spiritual experiences and beliefs.

Q: Can Maya be eliminated?

In Hinduism, the ultimate goal is to transcend it and attain liberation (Moksha). However, an enlightened individual sees through the illusions of Maya and remains unaffected by its influence.

Q: Can Maya be beneficial in any way?

Maya serves a purpose in the spiritual journey. It provides opportunities for growth, learning, and self-realization. By navigating it and understanding its illusory nature, individuals can develop detachment, wisdom, and a deeper connection with the divine.

Q: Is Maya exclusive to Hinduism?

Concepts like “samsara” in Buddhism and “Maya” in Sikhism share similarities with the understanding of Maya in Hinduism.

Q: How can one deepen their understanding of Maya?

Deepening one’s understanding of Maya requires introspection, study of sacred texts, contemplation, and guidance from spiritual teachers. Engaging in spiritual practices and exploring different paths of yoga can help individuals gain insights into the nature of Maya.



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