Maya (माया) is a very common word used in the spiritual world. Often associated with a web, as per the Advaita school of thought, Maya stops us from experiencing the non-duality in the world. That’s why, often the word माया is often used with another word – पाश which literally means a web.
It is Maya which creates the illusion of separation. Maya creates attachments, desires and suffering. We find references to Maya in multiple texts – from Advaita schools texts like Brahma Sutras and Nath Panthi old texts to work of Sant Kabir which are comparatively modern.
In schools of Advaita, Maya is either looked as a facet of Brahma itself or as its weakness. Avidya – which means lack of knowledge or presence of wrong knowledge if often attributed to presence of माया. As per Nath Sampradayi Yogis, Maya is the cosmic counterpart of Kundalini – the spiral energy in the body. The energy which manifests as Maya in the universe, the same energy manifests as Kundalini in the body.
Kabir has used the word माया quite often in his numerous Bhajans and Sakhis.
माया महा ठगनी हम जानी,
तिरगुन फांस लिए कर डोले बोले मधुरे बानी
The great deceiver, Maya holds the webs of tri-gunas in her hands and entices with her melodious speech.
Wherever you find Brahma, you will find Maya around says Kabir. She is present with Shiva as Bhavani, near Bhakta in form of the idol, with Yogi in form of Yogini and so on. In another Bhajan of his, the same Maya has been described as रमैय्या की दुलहिन – the bride of Ram!
In these two Bhajans, Sant Kabir has taken great efforts to describe how nothing and no-one can remain untouched from the delusions created by Maya. That being said, Kabir has also hinted towards the path to save oneself from the web of Maya.
Kabir says :
हम तो बचीगे साहेब दया से, सब्द डोर गहि उतरे पार
कहत कबीरा सुनो भाई साधो, इस ठगनी से रहो होशियार
He says, name of the lord – Bhakti is the only way one can save oneself from the claws of Maya. Kabir describes Bhakti and Naam (नाम) as the strong rope which will save one from sinking down the waters of Maya.
How does Bhakti help is evade Maya? If you engage with Maya, you are already under attack by her. The best way to escape from Maya is not being seen by her. Maya acts on one’s ego. When there is no ego, Maya has nothing to hold on to.
As Sant Tukaram has said in Marathi :
तृण नाही तेथे पडिला दावाग्नि, जाय तो विझोनी, आपासया |
(If a burning coal falls on land without grass, it will get extinguished as it has nothing to burn).
In same way, lack of ego makes Maya helpless. Kabir has his unique way of describing this.
He says :
धीमर जाल डार क्या करिही मीनहि हो गयी पानी
If all the fish become water, will the fisherman’s web catch them?
The key is losing existence as individual fishes in this vast ocean of divine. Living as consciousness and not as merely the ‘body-mind’.
Kabir says only Bhakti has the power of turning a fish into water – turning a limited being into limitless consciousness.