What is Maya or illusion?

Maya is the trickster, who tricks us into believing that the external world that we see is real. She is the enchantress who keeps us away from realizing who we are. But, she is also the divine energy of the Lord, the creator. Lord is Isvara (Purusha), while Maya is Prakriti (nature and natural instincts of all creation). Maya is inevitably needed for fulfilling all our desires and needs. It is like the base in Maslow’s pyramid.

Without Maya there will be no motivation or desire to work, eat or even live. But, as we go higher up the pyramid, we seek enlightenment. That is why Hinduism talks of Dharma, Artha Kama and Moksha as the four essential steps of life. At first, man must focus on righteous deeds (Dharma), then comes Artha (desire to accumulate wealth) and Kama (desire to attain pleasures) and then Moksha (enlightenment). There comes a point when one says: “I’ve been there, done that. Now I seek the truth”. There is a materialistic saturation. This is when man is curious to know who he is and why is he here on this planet? This feeling is different for everyone. Some may get it at a young age; some may get it when they are 80. Some may never get this question for several births, depending upon their Karma and the effect of Maya on them. Sometimes the harder that man tries; the harder it gets for him to free himself from Maya, because, as we are getting rid of existing Karma, more Karma is inevitably generated in the process of wiping out the existing Karma. When we are in Grihastashrama (living the life of a householder with family, kids, friends etc), it becomes difficult to focus on the spiritual path. There are several commitments, distractions and responsibilities to fulfil and one cannot walk away exclusively to focus on spiritual path. In this case, one must focus on their Supreme Self by making space and time for himself/herself and by trying to detach themselves from situations but at the same time performing their prescribed duties (Karma). That is an example of a true Karma Yogi.

Many a times we are unaware of our actions and it is impossible to remember each and every action that we do in this life, let alone the actions of our previous lives. Thus, the more we try to escape Karma, the more we are caught in it and it becomes a viscous cycle of Maya, Karma and ego, the triad which keeps us giving enough reasons to take birth over and over again. Maya is the reason why we develop likes and dislikes, pleasure and pain. The tree of life is nothing but our own body. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna that our body is the tree of life. The branches are the karma and their consequences are like the fruits on the tree; the leaves are the Vedas (holy scriptures) and the Supreme Self is the root of the tree. When we free our mind of the karma (which are born from incessant desires), we realize our roots (mind merged into our Supreme Self). But one who is attached to the results of his deeds has no end to these branches. One who seeks liberation must first thoroughly understand the tree (within himself) and then he must cut off its branches.

Maya is like butter dripping into the fire of ego. It fuels ego more and more. God created Mayaso that creation could have a bit of a healthy illusion (Yogamaya), which is required for the welfare of the universe. But what has ended up happening is that Maya has gone out of proportion. It is like a paddy field flooded with water, when the farmer’s intention was only to irrigate it enough for healthy crops to come out. Maya is like sugar, it tastes good to an extent but too much of it can kill you. Someone once asked me: “When the universe was created, all beings were devoid of any evil. Then why and when did evil begin? Is it my fault that I started doing bad deeds or even good deeds for that matter?” 

The answer to this question is this: for creation purpose, we need action. As the Lord himself said in the Bhagavad Gita, “No being is ever alive at any moment without performing a deed (karma).”

But deeds lead to more deeds, and coupled with the results of our deeds, a complex cosmic web of Karma emerges, which includes good and bad deeds. All beings have three Gunas – Sattva (mode of purity and wisdom), Rajas (mode of action and passion) and Tamas (mode of ignorance) in different proportions. The question is how can we increase the SattvaGuna and decrease the other two Gunas? For Moksha SattvaGuna is very much needed, whereas, creation requires all the three Gunas. Upon Self-realization (liberation), you actually become Gunateetha (devoid of Gunas). However, this is an internal secret that only a Yogi knows. A Yogi can be a female or male. A Female Yogi is called Yogini.

According to the world, a Yogi will still have Gunas and Karma. But only a Yogi knows that he/she is devoid of Gunas and Karma, as he has no desire (Iccha). The actions that others see a Yogi doing are Anechha (without desire) or Parechha (due to someone’s desire or due to someone else’s Karma) for the Yogi. This realization to the Yogi is personal. It can’t be explained or proven to someone. That is why it is called Self-realization and not “another person’s realization.” It’s one’s own realization of himself or herself.

Just like Maya has a role in the creation process, Maya also has a role in the dissolution process of the universe. God needs Maya to be able to end the creation and start creation from scratch. This is the divine law.

Nowadays, even great physicists are unravelling the truth that what we perceive on earth is not the truth and that we may be living in a giant illusion. Even scientists are succumbing to the fact that what they know about reality is hardly less than 5%, the remaining 95% is unknown to man, which he can only describe by names such as dark matter, black hole, multiverse etc. Scientists are also realizing that the traditional notion that we die as soon as our brain and heart fail is false. Brain (the mental functioning) is just a mere transmitter of consciousness, which is eternal and lives beyond the death of our body. This is the fact that was already conveyed by Lord Krishna in Gita more than 5000 years ago. And, this has recently been proven by several scientific experiments of near-death experiencers and survivors, as well as from reincarnation studies. Please note that the gender given to God as masculine and Maya as feminine is only for comprehension sake.

In reality, God and his Maya Shakti are devoid of any name, form or gender and Maya in itself is non-existent, but this can be perceived only upon Self-realization. It is not about reading this book or some scripture, which say that Maya is non-existent and the Self is real, but it is about personally experiencing (direct Anubhava of) the truth. The Self (Soul in western terminology) is the same in all beings, but due to Maya, we think that we are different from others. There is one Supreme Self (God), which presents itself as various deities and forms, depending upon the Bhava (expression), Karma, Gunas and desire of each individual. But the ultimate reality is one. All differences ceases to exist to a Self-realized Yogi, whose Kundalini Shakti is fully awake. Kundalini is the primeval energy located at the base of the spine, which travels up to the Sahasrara Chakra at the crown of our head during enlightenment. No Yogi can call himself a Yogi without having raised his/her Kundalini first. We must understand that Self-realization (Moksha) is a process. It cannot be achieved overnight. We should refrain from mocking at a person who is doing meditation or Yoga and who is trying hard to progress on the spiritual path. We should never criticize or hate someone for the name or form of God that they like, follow or praise.

Even God in human form (like Rama, Krishna, Hanuman, Sita) had to go through several hardships in life. Rama was separated from Sita and lived in the forest for 14 years. He was also separated from his kingdom and his parents; Hanuman forgot his spiritual powers; Krishna was separated from Radha and the evil forces constantly tried to kill him as a child. So, this goes to say that any manifestation of God (Supreme Self) in human form especially in Saguna form (with Gunas or attributes) has to go through the usual ups and downs of life. But the difference is that a Self-realized soul or an incarnation of God does not get hurt in an actual sense even when life throws hardships at them; it is only the people’s Maya that makes them think that the incarnation/Yogi is getting affected. In true sense, God is Nirguna (devoid of Gunas) and Nirakara (without shape or form).

Karma does not bind God-realized souls or an incarnation of God. Moksha or liberation is something to be lived, experienced and realized. It requires several lives of training under the guidance of the inner Self or Guru in external physical form. A Guru is a spiritually elevated soul, who is authorized to pass on the divine knowledge under the direct authority of the almighty. And such a Guru is the incarnation of God himself.

But Maya works differently for everyone. Depending upon spiritual maturity, some may come out of it sooner, while some may require several births to free themselves from the claws of Maya. Liberation requires two things: Self-effort of man (Jivatma) to free himself from Samsara (cycle of births and deaths) and the divine grace (of the Supreme Self), without which nothing is possible. People in this day and age want to call any person their Guru; any person can be well read in the Vedas and Shastras and can claim to guide others to Moksha but know that Moksha does not come just by reading or memorizing the Vedas. If that were the sole criteria then many people in India are well read in the Vedas and Upanishads and they should all be liberated by now.

Moksha is beyond scriptures. Scriptures contain the truth but only Sakshatkara (Self-realization) brings out that truth to man from the scriptures. A map may contain the route to a treasure chest but only the person who reads it and understands it and takes risk to go find the treasure actually attains it. Knowing the map by heart itself does not mean he/she has attained that treasure. A well-read person may be a good teacher of Vedas but he may not necessarily be a capable Guru, who can impart you knowledge of the Supreme Self (Brahmagyan or Brahma Vidhya). A teacher is someone who is external, a Guru is someone who permanently dwells within you internally – you are the Guru; it’s only a matter of realization.


What is Jivatma or the Ego Self?

The biggest problem of man is that he has forgotten who he is. He has no clue ‘who’ he is. His ego or the embodied Self, which in spiritual terms is called the Jiva, is subjected to multiple births and deaths in different wombs. Man in the form of Jiva is responsible for his own down fall, as he fails to recognize his true nature as Paramatma (Supreme Self). Liberation lies in realizing our true nature before shedding this physical body. But the accumulation of Karma from many lifetimes makes it hard to perceive the truth. Just like love blinds a passionate lover, our Karma blinds us and binds us to this physical plane.

The irony is that the man (Jiva) himself imposes troubles upon himself and then blames others, especially God, for all his mistakes. Does God have no other business than creating hurdles for us? How can the creator of all beings be cruel to create troubles in our life? Well, the truth is that we are responsible for our own actions and their consequences. God (Guru) or our Supreme Self is a mere witness of our actions and the resulting joy and pain. Man comes under the influence of Maya (illusion) and forgets that he himself is God. He fails to recognize his true nature.

Guru or God can rescue man (Jiva) only if he takes a firm resolution to let go of his ego and his false identity. Kabir Das, a great mystic and poet, once said that the disciple (a man seeking liberation) is like a dirty piece of cloth and the Guru (our true Self) is like the detergent, who cleans the cloth and gets rids of the impurities. But, first the cloth must know that it is dirty and needs washing. What if the cloth assumes that it is clean? Man’s ego makes him think that he is perfect and that everything is fine with him.

The first step on the spiritual path is to assess our own weaknesses and strengths. Self-reflection is vital to spiritual growth and it does not take even ten minutes each day to assess our daily actions and to know where we are going. Meditation for even half an hour each day works wonders in getting rid of the negativity caused by ourselves and that which is imposed on us by our environment. We neither need to prove ourselves to anyone nor do we need to share our strengths and weaknesses, for everyone has got their own strengths and weaknesses to deal with. The Karma of each individual is different. We are all born individually from different wombs; we have different thumbprint and lines of fate on our palms. But surely, there is a common destination that we’ve all got to reach – the Supreme Self. Liberation leads to realizing this beautiful oneness of the cosmos. Hence, the Yogamaya 9 urges that it is high time that we realize the cosmic oneness (realize that all beings/all creation is one; nobody is superior or inferior) and attain truth in this very life.


Who is Paramatma (the Supreme Self)?

Paramatma (the Supreme Self) is not the ego (Ahamkara), which is attributed to the word ‘I’. Hence, the author says that Paramatma is not the ‘I’ in ‘I’.  It is man’s own ego which makes him use terms such as ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘mine’. ‘I’ am John. This is ‘my’ pen. This book is ‘mine’. The possessor-possession relationship is born because of the Supreme Self being covered by layers and layers of Maya, which is verily the energy of the Self. However, upon Self-realization, the Supreme Self completely engulfs this Maya and one’s ego. In Physics, this phenomenon is just like an object entering inside a black hole. Once the object reaches the event horizon there is no looking back, the black hole engulfs anything and everythingthat falls into it. But at the core of the black hole is the concept of singularity, where, as we know that even the laws of Physics stop working. Time ceases to exist when you’ve come face-to-face with reality, for the past, present and future all merge at this point. Time and space are after all man-made dimensions andarean illusion. At this point all doubts about one’s identity ceases to exist. This is when the Vedic Mahavakyas (great sayings) like these can be used: “AhamBrahmasmi” (I am Brahman), “Tat TvamAsi” (I am that – Brahman), “AyamAtma Brahma” (the Self is Brahman) and “Prajnanam Brahma” (Brahman is the supreme wisdom). Here, Brahma (not to be confused with Lord Brahma, one of the three principal Hindu Gods) or Brahman refers to the transcendent and ultimate reality – the supreme consciousness.

God is everything that exists as well as the invisible energy when nothing exists. God (Supreme Self) was there even before the big bang. But what is this God, which we are constantly talking about? God is the pure consciousness (ShuddhaChaitanya), something that every being is in its purest form, but it fails to realize this. Man is the doer of all deeds, both good and bad. He is also the reaper of the consequences of all his deeds. Good deeds lead to good consequences and bad deeds lead to bad consequences. The Supreme Self is a mere witness to all our deeds arising from ego. The Self is the all-pervading consciousness. It watches the ego-Self suffer but without the effort of the ego-Self, the Supreme Self cannot help it. Man must help liberate himself. Unless this urge comes from within, not even the Supreme Self can do anything. The moment man sincerely seeks the truth he realizes the truth. All he needs to do is ask himself this simple question: “Who am I?” Paramatma explains its true nature (reveals the truth) to the Jivatma. Among all beings, man has the most developed intelligence to transmit the divine consciousness in its complete form. That is why human birth is far better than animals or plants.


Can our ego Self talk to our Supreme Self?

Man is full of conflicts and questions. At first he tries to clarify all his doubts with the external world and with people around him. But then he realizes that the other peopleare just as confused as him. Their own questions have not been answered. But where is the problem? Is it the questions that are difficult? No, the problem is with the nature of the answer. It cannot be told, it can only be realized. And another problem is that man has been seeking answers from all the wrong places. Even after years and possibly lifetimes of searching, if manhasn’t found the answer outside then naturally, it must only exist within him. One of the best spiritual exercises that you can do on a daily basis is to buy a mirror and start talking to yourself by looking in the mirror. People have a wrong notion that talking to oneself is foolish and only those with mental problems do it. But this is where they are mistaken. It is perfectly normal and healthy to converse with oneself. Most of the leaders and successful people whom I know have one thing in common – they constantly speak to themselves. It’s just like when you enter a supermarket and while picking up grocery, you speak to yourself and recall what you were planning to buy. Doing this ensures that we do not forget the purpose of our visit to the shop. Similarly, talking to our Supreme Self helps us reduce our ego and helps us remember the purpose of our birth, which is to realize our Self. Rather than talking to the ego Self of others, it is best to go in silence and talk to our inner Self (Supreme Self). At some point, our Supreme Self comes to help us – to guide us towards right direction but this happens only if we start having an open conversation with our Self.


Nothing lasts forever

(A poem by Yogamaya 9)

Gold melts away
Night becomes day
Birds become prey
Nothing lasts forever!
Blue rivers become dry 
Truthful men begin to lie
Friends say goodbye
Nothing lasts forever!
Tears become a smile 
Seconds turn into a while
Footsteps become a mile
Nothing lasts forever!
Yesterday becomes today
Closed door opens the way
Mud pot returns to clay 
Nothing lasts forever!
Life comes to cease 
Youth ends in old age and disease 
Leaves wither with breeze
Nothing lasts forever!
-Yogamaya 9

The essence of the poem

This poem emphasizes the transient nature of life. Everything that we see around us has an expiry date. You buy nice fragrant colour flowers to put beside your bed. You water it everyday and take good care of it. But the very next day the petals and leaves of these flowers turn brown and the stems start to cripple and the following day the flowers have withered. This is just one example to show how temporary everything is. This supports why in the Katha Upanishad (one of India’s key scriptures) Nachiketa, a young lad went to Yama (the lord of death) and asked him to show him the path to eternal life rather than being content with the temporary pleasures, which Yama offered him. We think that change is the only constant, but once we get to know our Supreme Self, we realize that only the Self is the eternal constant. The Self is the energy behind all the changes (Maya Shakti) that we see. Knowing the “Self” means that you know everything about the entire universe – the Self is everything! Change is an illusion. Because, what changes for person ‘X’ may not change for person ‘Y’. Just like time is relative in space. Even the time for a person in New York is not the same as for a person living in New Delhi. Whatever keeps changing is not eternal. This comes to the conclusion that things around us are all temporary. But one cannot attain this realization by being immersed in materialistic pleasures of temporary nature. You have to know the eternal Self to realize the change around you. Change is like ripples on a river. Our thoughts are the stones, which cause those ripples. Once the thoughts cease upon knowing our Self, the ripples also cease to exist.

People tend to worry a lot about their past and future. Most of our time goes in worrying about a moment that has gone by or is yet to come. We must focus ourselves in the present moment and make the most of it. Liberation does not necessarily need to be attained in old age. It can come to anyone at any age under any circumstance. A lot of old people whom I meet ask me “Why are you interested in spirituality at this young age?” My reply is threefold: Firstly, I have no age. Age is just a number and the Self has no number or name. Secondly, even if you believe that I have an age, there is still no justification for me to seek truth only at a particular age. Thirdly, what is the guarantee that someone will live up to his 80’s or touch 40 in this current body? The body is just a dress to the soul and at any point that the dress is torn we must remove it. So, we can only think about the present moment. Which is why it is called ‘present’ as it is a gift to all those who wish to attain spiritual knowledge.


What is Kaliyuga?

All creation goes through four Yugas (each Yuga is a period lasting for several thousand years). Satya Yuga (the age of truth was when dharma or righteousness stood at four legs. This is the Yuga where Lord Vishnu took these avatars – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and Narasimha), Tretayuga (when dharma stood at three legs, which means that dharma declined when compared to Satya Yuga). This is also the Yuga where three incarnations of Lord Vishnu took place – Vamana, Parashurama and Rama), Dvapara Yuga (when dharma stood at two legs, which means it further declined when compared to Treta Yuga). This is the Yuga when Lord Vishnu took the avatars of Lord Krishna and Balarama) and Kaliyuga (the age of Vice, which is currently ongoing. It is believed that Lord Vishnu will take his tenth incarnation of Kalki several thousand years from now and put an end to all vices, while also initiating the dissolution of all creation).

Man is both lucky and unlucky in Kali Yuga – he is unlucky because this is the worst Yuga of all the Yugas where dharma is the least of all Yugas. Everywhere, we find violence and hatred. If we pick up the newspaper or watch television, sad news from all over the world haunts us. This is what the term ‘Roga’ means; it means disease and misery. However, we are also lucky because, this is the Yuga when spiritual development is most easy to achieve when compared to all other Yugas. In Satya Yuga man had to meditate several thousand years to attain Self-realization, Kaliyuga requires only a few years of meditation.

The biggest advantage in Kaliyuga is in terms of the availability of an easier technique than traditional meditation – chanting of God’s name (NamaJapa), which is a unique form of meditation.  We only need to take the name of God (Rama, Krishna, Shiva etc.) to keep constant connection with him and liberate ourselves. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that whenever there is a decline in righteousness, he will be born to destroy the evil forces and to re-establish righteousness. Although Kaliyuga is not an easy period for humanity, it is definitely a great opportunity in disguise to liberate yourself by getting to know the truth. Kaliyuga is indeed the apt time for Yoga (union with our Supreme Self). Yoga does not only mean bodily postures (Asanas); the true meaning of the word ‘Yoga’ is Self-realization through communion with the truth (Supreme Self)”.