Maya (magical illusion)

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One usage of the term maya (Skt. māyā; P. māyā; T. sgyu ma སྒྱུ་མ; C. kuang) refers to a "magician's illusion." In this context, maya is identified as one of the eight similes of illusion, which are a group of metaphors used to illustrate the illusory nature of reality.

The example of the magician's illusion shows how ordinary people misunderstand the nature of reality. For example, a magician might create the appearance of a elephant using some sticks as props and by chanting a magical incantation. The ordinary person sees the "elephant" as an actual elephant. But a wise person sees the "elephant" as it truly is--a magical illusion that has the appearance of an elephant.

For example, in his Treatise on the Three Natures, Vasubandhu presents the example of the magician who makes a piece of wood appear as an elephant.[1] The audience is looking at a piece of wood but, under the spell of magic, perceives an elephant instead. Instead of believing in the reality of the illusory elephant, we are invited to recognize that multiple factors are involved in creating that perception, including our involvement in dualistic subjectivity, causes and conditions, and the ultimate beyond duality. When one is able to see through the magical illusion, the true nature of reality reveals itself.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamika. C.W. Huntingdon, Jr. with Geshe Namgyal Wangchen, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1989, ISBN 0-8248-1165-8, p.61-62.

Further reading