A magician can create a tree. In front of thousands of eyes this tree will start growing and in a moment it starts bearing fruit, and the fruit grows bigger. All of those who are seeing this know that it is not possible, that this is not so, but yet it appears to be so.
The basic meaning of maya is the art of illusion. The basic meaning of maya is magic. It means that there is a possibility for that which does not exist to be seen. And on the other hand, it is also possible that that which is may not be seen. That which is may hide, and that which is not may manifest.
These are the three states: the purely nonexistent, for which illusion is not possible; the purely existent, for which illusion is not possible either; plus that which exists in one way and does not exist in another way – only here is illusion possible. This third is also a form of existence; it is called maya, illusion. This is the linguistic meaning of maya. If we can also come to understand the vastness of maya then we will know its other dimensions in life.
That which is, is eternally so. It has no beginning and it has no end, it will remain eternally. That which is purely nonexistent, it too has no beginning. How can it have a beginning when it does not exist? It has no end because it never existed! Maya has no beginning, but it has an end; it is a category in between. It has no beginning, it is beginningless – but it has an end.
Take it like this: darkness is, it is eternal, but it can be ended; if a light is lit, then the darkness disappears. The third category, that of maya, is in existence eternally, like darkness. Yet when one is awakened in consciousness maya ends; when the consciousness is full of light, the darkness of maya vanishes. That which is called maya is a vast dream.
A dream has a special characteristic which is that when it is there, it feels real while it lasts. We all have dreams and then realize in the morning that the dream was not real, but when we have another dream the next night, it again feels to be real. While dreaming we never remember that it is false. If we could remember, the dream would vanish.
A dream has an intrinsic specialty; when it is happening it is completely real – not even a bit of doubt arises, there is not a single doubt. Great doubters, who can doubt whether this world exists or not, still cannot doubt about a dream while it is happening.
Berkeley, a great Western thinker, says: “I doubt whether the world exists or not, because there is the possibility that it may be just a long dream. How can I believe that you are really sitting here? I may be simply dreaming. How can I be certain that the people I am seeing are really there? I may be talking to them in my dream. Any dream is just as real as you are real sitting here.” So Berkeley asks: “How to trust? How to be certain that you are?”