Maya, is a frequently used term across various scriptures with different connotations as below:-
When talking of Brahman, Maya is used in the context of jada Prakriti tattva as is stated in the Svetasvatara Upanishad :
मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यान्मायिनं च महेश्वरम्। - Know Maya to be Prakriti (insentient matter) and the great lord as the possessor of Maya.
Besides insentient matter, Maya is a very commonly used term to denote the illusion used by Rakshasas like Indrajit. From the Srimad Ramayana 6.44.37:
मायया संवृतस्तत्र मोहयन् राघवौ युधि। अदृशयो निशितान् बाणान् मुमोचाशानिवर्चसः॥ Enveloped by illusion, he sought to confuse Rama and Lakshmana in the struggle there and invisible to all beings through his magic arts.
Due to the same word being used in both contexts, there maybe a confusion by often referring to even Prakriti (insentient matter) as illusory. For example, some Advaitic texts call Maya, possessed by Brahman as an illusion and describe the world too as an illusion, unreal.
Accordingly there are a few questions:
- When used in the context of illusion vs Prakriti what is the etymology that leads to each of them being called Maya?
- If we say that Maya carries only one meaning being illusion, besides the ability to create jivas and everything, how do we differentiate between the Maya of Brahman and that employed by Rakshasas? (Except for level of strength).
- Also if Maya carries only the meaning of illusion, why is insentient matter referred to as illusion across most texts? Is there a deeper meaning, not in a literal sense, like this world exists but considering it to be everything is an illusion in your own head due to the influence of elements of Prakriti. There’s something beyond too so don’t get disillusioned? And that’s why Prakrit is referred to as Maya, not literally a Rakshasa type illusion.
Important note: please note I’m not comparing Brahman with Rakshasas at all. This is a clarification of the term Maya used in various contexts.