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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.

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