माया, māyā
"what sets the dimension"; "illusion", "unreality"

The word Maya comes from the root मा (mā) – to measure, to designate. That is, that which measures, limits, and thus conceals the nature of Shiva; it represents the limiting energy of Shiva, forcing one to forget about the true "I". Maya brings a sense of limitation into the experience of Absolute Consciousness. It measures, divides, and disperses the divine unity and brings mind and matter into existence, being the basis of all duality.

In Shaivism, Maya displays one of the five divine energies – tirodhana-shakti, the power of concealing the true nature of things. It is also the sixth tattva in the order of manifestation of creation, which limits the Supreme Reality. Maya and the kanchukas that emanate from it are shuddha-ashuddha tattvas (clean and impure at the same time). Unlike Maya in Dvaita Vedanta, in which it is considered a pure illusion that does not exist in reality, in Shaivism, and among the Nathas, Maya is the creative energy of Shiva, the Absolute, and it is real.

In the Nathas tradition, there are three types of Maya:

  • Ashuddha-maya, which brings suffering to people due to avidya (ignorance); 
  • Shuddha-maya, which purifies the consciousness of a person and forms a vision, gives a person happiness (sukha); 
  • Maha-maya, which includes the two previous categories and which is closer in characteristics to Shuddha-maya.

Maya also comes from मेय (meya) which means an object, or something that is measured. And depending on what we project onto the measured object, we get the value; for example, if this object captures our perception, enchants us, then Maya can mean for us what conditions, what limits, it can also mean magic (charm). So, in a negative context, Maya means what is unreal: cunning, illusion, tricks. However, if we project the positive onto an object, then it can be, for example, art, wisdom, compassion, empathy, sympathy, manifestation, supernatural power (or powers).

Bhagavad Gita says:

“This Maya of Mine, composed of the gunas, is difficult to overcome, but those who surrender to Me overcome this Maya.” 7.14

Maya makes the eternal soul, undivided with Shiva, reincarnate in different bodies, in different lokas, it creates all the worlds and all the tattvas. But Maya both creates them and destroys them.

Maya can give liberation, siddhi, or it can lead to a spiritual downfall of one who is not ready.

In the Nathas Tradition, Shri Matsyendranath is considered as Maya-svarupa, and there is also the practice of worshiping the Goddess Yogamaya Balasundari, which grants liberation from Maya to yogis.