Maya: The Illusion of an Illusion


The essence of spirituality was summarised by Adi Shankaracharya in just one page called Atma Shatakam. But as time has moved on we have been able to discover the description of spirituality with just one word – Maya.

What is Maya

Well the word literally means illusion, but what does it entail? The answer lies in the question when you realize that there is only one true reality. So, what is this reality? As stated countless times over in ancient scriptures and by sages of before, proved again by our intellectuals of today as well as people like Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweiland, and many Quantum Physicists, what we perceive as reality and definite around us, isn’t truly so. And if you believe this, then Maya too is Maya! It is a play of our mind. Intriguing isn’t it? The ‘one reality’ I spoke of can only be called so if it can be defined and if that definition applies perpetually, if it remains constant. But in looking around you, you will realize that nothing is constant. Quantum physics explains this using the fourth dimension, time, which is ever changing. Since every object, molecule and atom is defined by at least 4 dimensions if not more, one of them being time, then everything is constantly changing, and nothing is ever really the same.

Let’s dive deeper into the scriptures. They say there is only one true reality, although known by several names- the Brahman, the infinite consciousness or the consciousness supreme. It exists beyond the physical realm we perceive to be the truth. It experiences no emotions, nothing is right or wrong. Simply put, it is the state of nothingness. At this point you are probably challenging the veracity of this idea of the ‘reality’ as you feel the mobile phone on which you read this article in your hand, hear the sounds of activity around you. The idea of ‘nothingness’ being a reality seems ridiculous but it truly is not. 

Humour me! Imagine you dozed off and found yourself dreaming of mountains and rivers, fresh green forests, the wind, people. While immersed in the dream you were deeply engrossed in the conversations and pleasure, peace and excitement, the view, the sensations. When you wake up that dream dissolves and along with it every sensation. That is exactly what Maya is. The physical world we live in is really only a dream. We are merely reflections and mirages that have conversations; feel pain, anxiety, happiness and love; eventually only to ‘wake up’ to the reality that is nothingness. It is this state of illusion that the scriptures state we are living in. 

A question arises 

Why does it all feel so real if it isn’t, and if it is just a dream, how are we all living the same one? This is a tricky concept to understand. There is a fitting quote I once read in the Yog Vashisht, “The world is a stage, the mind is its magical actor, and the soul is a silent spectator watching the show in the light of its own intellect.” The consciousness supreme is an infinite reality that remains absolutely still, neither expanding nor shrinking, while our minds are smaller, finite entities. The infinite reality reflects itself in the finite entity creating the ‘dream’ we all live in. Since it is one supreme consciousness reflecting itself onto all our minds that creates the dream we see or the world we live in, each of us dreams the same dreams, so to say. Imagine you have an empty pot of clay. What does it contain? Nothing to some and to some it holds air. What surrounds this pot? Again, nothing, or perhaps air. Now if you break this pot, the air within merges with that outside and you see no difference. The pot here is Maya. It separates the finite from the infinite creating an illusion that they are disjointed when in reality they are the same, they are one. 


It may seem terrifying to abandon everything you’ve ever believed and accept that we are just characters of a dream; and that what we feel, we don’t really feel and what we see, we don’t really see. The question arises, how does one achieve this awakening?

As explained by Guru Vashisht, the path to this wisdom lies with the four gatekeepers at the entrance to the realm of freedom, Mukti or Moksha. These are self-control, self-enquiry, contentment and good company.

The quest for the eternal, unchanging freedom is achieved through the conquest of one’s mind because in wisdom there is self-control and peace. It is not attained by rites, rituals or pilgrimages. Self-control is the conquest of the mind where you can look within and accept yourself as you are, seeing the divinity within you. Self-control is about being emotionless, without compromising on empathy. If there is peace and serenity there will always be anger and the same goes for happiness and pain. Emotions can be compared with a see-saw. In my opinion, the best place to sit is at the centre on the fulcrum. It is indeed difficult for those who give in to temptations and lean towards their cravings. However with the right effort and guidance this effort yields unparalleled results that cannot be experienced by only the five senses. 

Clearing the ignorance and delusion

Self-enquiry or Gyan is a process of clearing the ignorance and delusion. Once clear, and when one sees the truth, then they are unaffected by the going-on(s) in the world. You find peace and bliss– peace because nothing touches you and bliss because the heart experiences the truth. It is enquiry that gives freedom from delusion and detachment. There is no limit to the curiosity that unleashes when you look within and begin to recognize the divinity within you. The biggest question for which you seek an answer is “Who am I?” – You are the supreme consciousness and the supreme consciousness is you. But this is a discussion for another time.

A content man possesses nothing and owns the world at the same time. The journey to contentment commences with the step of acceptance. Not a passive yet wistful acceptance, but an acceptance of situations as they are with no emotions attached. Realising that you are one with the consciousness supreme, as is every other being that exists, that you are one with everything around you, leads you to acceptance, wherein lies contentment.


The company of righteous, wise and enlightened people expands the intellect helping you eschew ignorance and psychological distress. While it takes time to really understand the truth and even longer to realize it, stimulating conversations keep our minds open and receptive. It is said that Satsang (good company) is superior to all forms of religious practices like charity, austerity, pilgrimage and the performance of religious rites.

It requires significant will and perseverance to achieve all four of the above gatekeepers. You will realize, the moment you embark on this path, that everything will start coming together for you, just as a frame of a jigsaw puzzle helps finding the pieces within it. Having said this, unfortunately these gatekeepers come with no guaranteed outcomes even though they assure your journey in the right direction – so in the absence of milestones, at least you will have a compass. This path is one of faith, perseverance and acceptance.

Recognising the concept of Maya

But the first step to achieving any of the gatekeepers is recognising the concept of Maya. An easy way I recommend is this, you say the words “Good morning, Maya” everyday as you begin your day, knowing that what follows will all exist within Maya. As you go through your day, each time you receive a bout of awareness and remember that you are living in Maya, say out loud, “oops, Maya once again”. Do this every time you find yourself wrapped in emotions too. As time goes by, and if you do this sincerely of course, you will find yourself aware of your existence being within Maya about a hundred times a day; it becomes a habit, a part of your everyday life.


As it is for everything in life, you must believe in the realm beyond Maya to be able to recognize it, there are no halfway houses. It is easier said than done of course, for how do you blindly trust what was said and written thousands of years ago, especially when it refutes everything you see and feel around you, everything you believe, and tells you instead to believe in something you can’t see or experience. For all you know, it could be a bedtime story for children, born in another time. A story perhaps you may see it as, however it is far removed from fiction. Yet even in the scriptures they have factored in that those who are living in ignorance may discard the learning. And so I recommend you trust their experience and embark on your journey, then trust your instincts. Be aware of subtle shifts that may occur – perhaps some coincidences, sensations that defy conventional logic, perhaps behaviour shifts without any context or even a call out of the blue. Notice the patterns, make the connections between seemingly random events, and you will know that you are on the right path.

Born and brought up in Mumbai, Hingori works in the service industry and is a teacher of spiritualism. His books chronicle his personal journey of transformation and are full of real-life experiences and spiritual insight. The Hingori Sutras are a series of easy-to-read books that collectively distil the spiritual wisdom of the ancient Indian siddh gurus.

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