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The Ten Characteristics of Maya

The illumined ones, from their safer, steadier and more detached position, have long pondered the mystery of Maya and noted down its peculiarities in order to help the jiva, the embodied being, to escape its effects and gain realization of the divine Self within. Over the centuries, Tantric adepts especially excelled in enumerating many of Maya’s workings. The Tantra philosophy lists ten characteristics of Maya to help beings recognize its workings and detach from them:


  1. It undergoes transformation without ever losing its own identity.
  2. It, like Ishvara and the soul, is eternal, for it exists even after pralaya, the dissolution of the universe of name and form.
  3. It is illusory since it creates illusion in the minds of living beings.
  4. It is the seed that created the entire universe, which appears like a pictorial presentation before the perceptions of living beings.
  5. It represents and supports both sense perception and activity in the individual as long as the results of past deeds are not exhausted or neutralized.
  6. Being the very material of the many worlds, it is insentient.
  7. It has no beginning, middle or end.
  8. All of its evolutes partake of its same nature.
  9. Since it is the initial cause of manifestation, it acts in hundreds of ways, each with many permutations.
  10. It can be recognized by the grace of God revealed in the illumined intellect.


There is an eleventh characteristic of Maya as well. Maya gives rise to seven kinds of malas, or limiting modes of operation. In Tantra, imperfections are not looked upon as fixed defects but rather temporary flaws that ripen and fall away. The malas are viewed as intentionally imposed limitations existing in order that life can proceed. As life is lived, the malas gradually disappear and the aspiring soul is released into Paramashiva — the highest abidance. In Sanskrit, the malas are called moha, mada, raga, vishada, shoka, vaichitra and harsha.

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