What is Maya?
Only Grace can reveal the true character of our spiritual reality.
The scriptures repeatedly declare that all of us are trapped in this world of Maya. “What is this Maya?”, we wonder.
In a gist, Maya refers to a thing that is there but it is not; it is not there, but it is!
Scholars point out that we mistake the physical body to be us; but really we are the Athma (soul). As soon as the soul leaves the body, it is merely a Jada (non-living thing). Or, take the example of air, just because we cannot see it, that does not mean it is not there. Maya, thus, refers to illusion.
Here is a story in Srimad Bhagavata that explains Maya better. It happened during Sri Krishna Avatara.
One day, sage Narada was entertaining a question in his mind about Maya. He thought, “Is it really difficult to come out of its clutches? Is it that powerful? Why is life on earth called the Maya-Loka? I am not able to grasp it.”
Thus thinking, the sage went to Sri Krishna and directly asked this question. Sri Krishna smiled and said nothing. The disappointed sage went back, thinking that is was not yet time for him to know the subject.
One day, Sri Krishna called sage Narada and asked if he could accompany him in his travel, and the sage gladly agreed. They set out in a chariot with Sri Krishna as the charioteer.
They crossed many rivers and mountains and were travelling through a desert when Sri Krishna suddenly stopped the chariot and asked Narada, “Hey Devarishi! I am very thirsty. Can you bring me some water from that house there?”
The sage gladly got down and hurried to the house at a distance amidst the desert to get some water. When he knocked on the door, a beautiful girl opened it, and on seeing him, she became shy and went in. Mesmerised by her beauty, the sage followed her into the house and her father greeted him.
The sage asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage to him. Seeing his divine face and noticing that his daughter too liked him, her father agreed and thus, their marriage was solemnised on an auspicious day. The girl’s father also built them a house to live in and provided some land to cultivate.
Whirl of Samsara
Seven years had passed by, and the sage had become the father of three children. One day, due to heavy rains, the village witnessed heavy floods and sage Narada took one son on his shoulders, and his wife placed one of them on her hip and held on to the other firmly.
As the water gushed into their home, the son whom she had held was washed away and Narada was shocked. He quickly held on to his wife firmly, but due to the heavy current of the water, she and the youngest child too were washed away.
Finally, sage Narada and his other son too were separated and washed away with the currents. After the floods had calmed down, Narada slowly opened his eyes, coughed out his some water and found himself on a shore of the devastated village and with all his family members gone.
In deep distress and pain, he began to cry and suddenly, he felt someone patting his shoulder. When he turned around and looked, he saw a divine person who said, “Did you get the water, O sage? I have been waiting for half-an-hour for you.”
Immediately, Narada regained his consciousness and remembered who he really was and recalled what had happened.
He then understood how in the trap of Maya, seven years had passed whereas, in reality, all the episodes had happened just over half-an-hour. He understood that it was Sri Krishna’s play to make him realise the power of Maya.
He fell at the feet of Sri Krishna and said, “O Lord! I have found my answer. I do not want to get entangled in this Maya. I am happy reciting your name and singing your praise. Please, let us go away from here.”
Sri Krishna with his bewitching smile pulled him up and both of them returned to their homes.
The moral of the story is that all beings on this earth are under the illusion of Maya, and only if the Lord himself comes and awakens us, we can be freed from its clutches. Chanting his holy name and thereby invoking his blessing is the only way to escape from the travails of Maya.
– B Gayathri (Article reproduced with permission: Tattvaloka, What is Maya, June 2019)