How does maya operate? How does it originate? Since nothing exists except the Self, how does the Self manage to conceal its own nature from itself?
AS: The self, which is infinite power and the source of all power, is indivisible. Yet within this indivisible Self there are five saktis or powers, with varying functions, which operate simultaneously. The five skates are creation, preservation, destruction, veiling (which is maya sakti) and grace. The fifth sakti, grace, counteracts and removes the fourth skate, which is maya.
When maya is totally inactive, that is, when the identity with the body and the mind has been dropped, there is an awareness of consciousness, of being. When one is established in that state there is no body, no mind and no world. These three things are just ideas which are brought into an apparent existence when maya is present and active.
When maya is active, the sole effective way to dissolve it is the path shown by Bhagavan: one must do self-enquire and discriminate between what is real and what is unreal. It is the power of maya which makes us believe in the reality of things which have no reality outside our imagination. If you ask, 'What are these imaginary things?' the answer is, 'Everything that is not the formless Self'. The Self alone is real; everything else is a figment of our imagination.
It is not helpful to enquire why there is maya and how it operates. If you are in a boat which is leaking, you don't waste time asking whether the hole was made by an Italian, a Frenchman or an Indian. You just plug the leak. Don't worry about where the maya comes from. Put all your energy into escaping from its effects. If you try to investigate the origin of maya with your mind you are doomed to fail because any answer you come up with will be a maya answer. If you want to understand how maya operates and originates you should establish yourself in the Self, the one place where you can be free of it, and then watch how it takes you over each time you fail to keep your attention there.