Māyā. Illusion; the cosmic power which renders phenomenal existence and the perceptions thereof possible. In Hindu philosophy that alone which is changeless and eternal is called reality; all that which is subject to change through decay and differentiation and which has therefore a beginning and an end is regarded as māyā—illusion.—H. P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary
The Universe is called, with everything in it, Maya, because all is temporary therein, from the ephemeral life of a fire-fly to that of the Sun. Compared to the eternal immutability of the One, and the changelessness of that Principle, the Universe, with its evanescent ever-changing forms, must be necessarily, in the mind of a philosopher, no better than a will-o’-the-wisp. Yet, the Universe is real enough to the conscious beings in it, which are as unreal as it is itself.—H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:274
On “Nidana and Maya” from Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge by H. P. Blavatsky
Q. Are Nidâna and Maya (the great causes of misery) aspects of the Absolute?
A. Nidana means the concatenation of cause and effect; the twelve Nidânas are the enumeration of the chief causes which produce the severest reaction or effects under the Karmic law. Although there is no connection between the terms Nidana and Maya in themselves, Maya being simply illusion, yet if we consider the universe as Maya or illusion, then certainly the Nidânas, as being moral agents in the universe, are included in Maya. It is Maya, illusion or ignorance, which awakens Nidânas; and the cause or causes having been produced, the effects follow according to Karmic law. To take an instance: we all regard ourselves as Units, although essentially we are one indivisible Unit, drops in the ocean of Being, not to be distinguished from other drops. Having then produced this cause, the whole discord of life follows immediately as an effect; in reality it is the endeavour of nature to restore harmony and maintain equilibrium. It is this sense of separateness which is the root of all evil.
Q. Perhaps it would therefore be better to separate the two terms, and state whether Maya is an aspect of the Absolute?
A. This can hardly be so, since Maya is the Cause, and at the same time an aspect, of differentiation, if of anything. Moreover, the Absolute can never be differentiated. Maya is a manifestation; the Absolute can have no manifestation, but only a reflection, a shadow which is radiated periodically from it—not by it.
Q. Yet Maya is said to be the Cause of manifestation or differentiation?
A. What of that? Certainly if there were no Maya there would be no differentiation, or, rather, no objective universe would be perceived. But this does not make of it an aspect of the Absolute, but simply something coeval and coexistent with the manifested Universe or the heterogeneous differentiation of pure Homogeneity.
Q. By a parity of reason, then, if no differentiation, no Maya? But we are speaking of Maya now as the cause of the Universe, so that the moment we get behind differentiation, we may ask ourselves—Where is Maya?
A. Maya is everywhere, and in every thing that has a beginning and an end; therefore, every thing is an aspect of that which is eternal, and in that sense, of course Maya itself is an aspect of Sat, or that which is eternally present in the universe, whether during Manvantara or Mahapralaya. Only remember that it has been said of even Nirvâna that it is only Maya when compared with the Absolute.
Q. Is then Maya a collective term for all manifestations?
A. I do not think this would explain the term. Maya is the perceptive faculty of every Ego which considers itself a Unit separate from, and independent of, the One infinite and eternal Sat, or “be-ness.” Maya is explained in exoteric philosophy and the Purânas, as the personified active Will of the Creative God—the latter being but a personified Maya himself—a passing deception of the senses of man, who began anthropomorphizing pure abstraction from the beginning of his speculations. Maya, in the conception of an orthodox Hindu, is quite different from the Maya of a Vedantin Idealist or an Occultist. The Vedanta states that Maya, or the deceptive influence of illusion alone, constitutes belief in the real existence of matter or anything differentiated. The Bhagavata Purâna identifies Maya with Prakriti (manifested nature and matter). Do not some ad vanced European metaphysicians, such as Kant, Schopenhauer, and others, assert the same? Of course they got their ideas about it from the East—especially from Buddhism; yet the doctrine of the unreality of this universe has been pretty correctly worked out by our philosophers—on general lines, at any rate. Now, although no two people can see things and objects in exactly the same way, and that each of us sees them in his own way, yet all labour more or less under illusions, and chiefly under the great illusion (Maya) that they are, as personalities, distinct beings from other beings, and that even their Selves or Egos will prevail in the eternity (or sempiternity, at any rate) as such; whereas not only we ourselves, but the whole visible and invisible universe, are only a temporary part of the one beginningless and endless whole, or that which ever was, is, and will be.