In his preface to the Shvetasvatara Upanishad Shankara has written

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About Maya
In Vedanta, Maya, or primordial nature, is divided into twenty four cosmic principles (primordial energy, composed of three qualities, purity, activity and inertia that are basic constituents of everything that follows, cosmic mind, I-consciousness, the five rudimentary elements which develop into the sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell; the eleven sense organs, mind, eyes, ears, skin, tongue, the nose, hands and feet, the organ of speech and the organs of generation and evacuation and the five gross elements, space, air, fire, water, and earth. Thus maya creates the universe.
In his preface to the Shvetasvatara Upanishad Shankara has written:
From Maya arise lust, anger, greed, delusion, fear, grief – the whole nest of phantasms – also the notions of righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain, creation and destruction, heaven and hell, births in various bodies, the different stages of life, attachment and aversion, diverse physical afflictions, childhood, youth, old age and separation, enjoyment, repulsion, and penances.
A misconception common to misinterpretations of Vedanta philosophy is that the doctrine of maya means that the world is an illusion. The root of this Sanskrit word means to measure. In this view the universe and thus all experience based upon it is only relatively real; that is, indeterminate, not real but not unreal either, therefore unfathomable and fundamentally delusory. This is why there cannot be a simple explanation of life so obvious that everybody can agree with it. But the resultant confusions and conflicts provide the field of action in which we are caught - samsara – which we finally seek release from. That field is symbolized in the Mahabharata as Kurukshetra, the battlefield on which Krishna taught Arjuna the Bhagavad Gita.

To affirm that the universe, our world and all experience is illusory should not be interpreted as them being nonexistent, but simply that they are as previously defined; indeterminate, unfathomable, neither real nor unreal. The illusion referred to is that they are considered to be what they are not – independent, fixed realities that are other than merely being the senses sensing.

In fact, difference is the very nature of maya. Nevertheless according to Vedanta all differences have a common substrate which is homogenous and undifferentiated. It is the only actual reality underlying everything, as the screen is the only reality behind a projected movie. Because the differentiated is in constant flux like a movie, and has no absolute being other than its substrate, it is called illusory and the experience of it through a mere five very limited senses is analogous to a dream.

Be that as it may, it is a wonder that the manifold nature of the differentiated and the varied interactions are so consistent. The consistency of the relative (maya) in constant flux does not come from phenomena, but from the absolutely consistent, eternal nature of the universal substrate – Brahman. It follows therefore, that when in higher states of perception the world is seen as Brahman, it is not seen as illusory. In lower, common states of perception when it is seen as absolutely real and in its own right, it is an illusion.


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