The great spiritual traditions of India commonly teach us that the world is Maya, usually translated as ‘illusion’ or ‘unreality’. That the world is Maya is the basis of the emphasis on yoga and meditation in Indian thought, which is regarded as the means of moving beyond Maya. The idea that the external world is an illusion was greeted by nineteenth century European thinkers as proof of India’s inability to cope with the practical world, but as we move into the high tech era, its media images and virtual realities the twenty-first century, our world is becoming more and more like Maya every day. There is a deep meaning to Maya that must be understood for any true cosmic or self knowledge to develop, including spirituality and science. Of course, few of us like to have the validity of what we are doing in life challenged or the reality of the world as we see it called into question. But how real is the world that we experience through our senses? Do we see reality through our senses, or are we merely receiving a surface glimpse of something far greater or even different than what it seems? Even if we add the tools of science and the media – with their instruments of greater communication and perception – to the data gained from the senses we may still be getting an incomplete or distorted view of the world, not the world as it is but rather only one side of it, like the proverbial blind men and the elephant. Science reduces the world to subatomic particles and our body to chemical reactions that deconstructs the reality that appears through our senses and leaves us only with energy moving in space. Media biases are well known to all of us, both in the realms of business and politics, and new forms of communication are coming up regularly that are altering how we see the world. Clearly Maya or illusion is there everywhere around us. It is an obvious fact for all of us – if we but look deeply – that things often end up not really being what they initially appear to be. The world is a shifting seeming, a changing appearance, which hides something different, deeper, invisible or unknown. This experience of illusion begins at the level of our daily lives. If we go to the store to buy groceries, for example, we commonly note that the actual nutritional value of a food item is usually different than the appearance or even size of the package. In our social interactions, for another example, we often discover once we get to know a person that we find them to be quite different than how they first appeared. We frequently get such ‘reality checks’ in life when we find out that things are not what we thought they were, and we were instead being misled by appearances or by our own expectations. All of this is Maya. The seeming or illusory nature of the phenomena, events or circumstances in the world is a common fact of our daily lives. Those individuals who are wise do not allow themselves to be taken in by appearances, promises, or marketing. They hold back, wait and observe before making any important judgments or decisions, looking to what may be behind the actions and motivations of others or the circumstances involved. In the modern world, we live in a turbulent ocean of appearances, impressions and influences. Unless we learn to probe beyond these surface waves, we will unlikely find the truth of life and will often be deceived, not only by others but also by ourselves, as each one of us has his or her illusions about self and world as well. The Wonderful Maya of Nature and the Dangerous Maya of Society There are two levels of this Maya of the world. The first is the Maya of the world of nature, which holds a wealth of beauty and grace behind the appearances of the various landscapes that we take for granted – the magic of the mountains, rivers, ocean, sky and stars. Nature is a Maya of beauty and wonder, intimating a yet deeper cosmic reality. This Maya of nature can help us develop spiritually once we learn to decode its symbols and subtle processes and learn how to mediate deeply upon it. The second and more difficult level of Maya is the Maya of the human world which contains various hidden influences, control mechanisms and power games behind the social, economic, political, intellectual, religious and spiritual influences that make up our social order. The Maya of nature is not hard to deal with, but we prefer to ignore it because it requires a greater effort to probe behind nature’s mysteries. It is the Maya of our human world that is our main preoccupation, challenge, fascination and problem. In our social interaction, as we all know, there is much posturing, role playing, pretending or even outright deception going on. Those who are gullible and naïve often find themselves taken advantage of. We see this Maya easily in the sphere of human relationship. A woman tries to look beautiful going out for her first date, hiding her blemishes or emotional instability. A man not only tries to look good but likes to exaggerate his achievements in life or his income. In the work sphere, we also have much illusion to contend with. People want to make a good impression in order to get a job, exaggerating their resumes, but are happy to be lazy with a job that we have become accustomed to. Bosses also exaggerate their roles or their importance. We can all think of many such instances in our own lives. In the marketing world, we are easily taken in by advertising and the endless pursuit of bargains and sales. Get rich quick schemes remain ever popular for both the young and the old, and casinos still litter the landscape in some regions. People regularly pay for lottery tickets though their actual chance of winning is minuscule. We are entertained by gambling away our money, particularly if we are made intoxicated along the way. Not only can the appearances that we encounter in life be deceptive, we are ever ready to project our own desires and fantasies, our own illusory appearances on the world. Our expectations of what we are worth are often greater than our actual skills or capacities. We may want an ideal partner but do not feel compelled to become an ideal person ourselves. The list is endless. Yet sometimes we undervalue ourselves. We accept a job, salary or relationship that is far beneath our actual skills or potentials, held back by fear, insecurity or a lack of self worth that is not real. Every person we encounter and every object we see hides a deeper story or mystery. We may know a person by name as our neighbor but there are other aspects of their lives that we do not know, both good and bad. Most importantly, we don’t even fully know ourselves. Apart from our familiar self, we have many other potentials and skills. We are capable of different jobs, living in different places or even assuming different identities in life. Moreover, there are depths of awareness inside us that are cosmic. We have an inner being beyond the time space and karma of our apparent self. When we are talking about other people, particularly when we are gossiping, we are talking about their appearances, not their deeper reality. Most of us are caught in a superficial view of the world and of ourselves that accepts the familiar as real, and eventually confines us in monotony and boredom. Our sense of familiarity defeats us in life and confines us to self-imposed limitations and boundaries, confusing our habitual responses with the greater truth of things. Metaphors of Maya: The Misperceptions of Our Lives In yogic thought, several metaphors are used to show the illusion of our lives: There is the example of a person walking down a dark road at night who mistakes a coiled rope for a snake and becomes deathly afraid. Most of our fears in life are similarly misplaced. In our higher Self, we do not need anyone or anything and can be perfectly at peace as we are. Yet we are easily made afraid if there is uncertainty and insecurity in our outer lives, though these are inevitable in the changing and unpredictable world in which we live. There is the complementary example of a personal walking along a beach who confuses a glittering piece of a sea shell for a silver coin. This reflects how we project our desires on to life. We often get what we want in life and then find out that it is actually something different that we don’t want because we didn’t examine it properly to begin with.