The term maya has several senses. In the VEDAS the term referred to the magic or power of the divinity. The term is still used in this sense in theistic branches of Hinduism to refer to the delusive and enthralling power of the personal divinity.
   In SHANKARA’S ADVAITA VEDANTA the term devel-oped a specialized meaning of “illusion,” spe-cifically, the illusory nature of the world of phenomena. It is an alternative term for avidya or ignorance—that is, ignorance of the unitary character of the ultimate reality. Maya in this con-text is the veil of illusion over the BRAHMAN or the highest reality. It neither exists nor nonexists, but is something that cannot be defined. Maya, the world as we sense it and know it, is thought to disappear as a fog does when the light of knowl-edge of the singular nature of the ultimate reality moves forward in consciousness.
   In the SHAKTA traditions of GODDESS worship, the goddess as supreme divinity is sometimes called Maya or Mahamaya. In this case the word has no negative connotations, but simply refers to the goddess’s supreme magic and power.
   Further reading: Paul David Devandan, The Concept of Maya (London: Lutterworth Press, 1950); Margaret Dev and Neena Dev, Maya: The Divine Power (Piercy, Calif.: Chinmaya, 1999); L. Thomas O’Neil, Maya in Sankara: Measuring the Immeasurable (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980); Tracy Pintchman, The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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