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 "magical illusion," which is used as a metaphor to illustrate the empty nature of phenomena (sunyata).[1] In the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition, maya is identified as one of the eight similes of illusion.

For example, in his Treatise on the Three Natures, Vasubandhu describes a magician who creates the appearance of a elephant using some sticks as props and by chanting a magical incantation.[2] When an ordinary person looks at the sticks, they perceive an "elephant" due to the power of the magical illusion. But a wise person sees the "elephant" as it truly is--a magical illusion that has the appearance of an elephant. Instead of believing in the reality of the illusory elephant, we are invited to recognize that multiple factors are involved in creating the perception of an "elephant," including our conceptual thinking, causes and conditions, etc. When one is able to see through the magical illusion, the true nature of reality reveals itself.[2]


  1. Huifeng 2006, p. 229.
  2. 2.0 2.1 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