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Article X: The Nature of Maya

Maya is the superimposing force, which deludes us from realizing our true, divine nature. Maya causes ignorance, which prevents us from becoming one with Brahman. The origin of maya is not well described by Vedanta, but the removal of maya and resulting enlightenment is the basis of Vedanta. Maya exists as five layers, or sheaths, as described by Shankaracharya in Vivekachudamani. The outermost sheath is annamaya kosha, or the physical layer. Next is pranamaya kosha, or the vital force layer. Third is the manomaya kosha, or the mental layer. Fourth is the vijnanamaya kosha, or the ego as a doer. The final sheath is anandamaya kosha, or the ego as an experiencer. By transcending all five sheaths, Atman, the Self can be realized, which is one and the same as Brahman.

Maya is what gives objects nama (name) and rupa (form). Without name and form, everything is equal. A great analogy to understand maya is the water in a wave and the ocean. A wave is nothing more than the water of the ocean given a name and a form. However, the substance of the wave and the ocean are both water. Consider jivatma (the individual soul) as the wave, Paramatma (the Universal Soul) as the ocean, and Brahman (Universal Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss) as the water. The removal of maya simply represents the wave subsiding in the ocean, creating oneness between the individual and the Supreme Truth. (This analogy is adapted from descriptions by Swami Vivekananda.)

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