16. How to penetrate the matrix of maya
What I want to achieve, what I have been striving and pinning to achieve these thirty years – is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain liberation. I consider no sacrifice too great for the sake of seeking Him. The whole of my activity whether it may be called social, political, humanitarian or ethical is directed to that end. – Gandhiji
One may wonder, “we have been given four goals or purushardhas – dharma, ardha, kama and moksha to find the purpose of life. But even then it is so difficult to reach the final goal of moksha. Why so?”
The answer lies in that one part is a rebellious ego and another part is that this creation is God’s Maya or Divine illusion. Through His Maya, God creates the universe out of Himself. As God is Omni pervasive, there is no place whereupon God stands aside as a Creator. He is the Creator and He is also the Creation. All things and beings in the universe are called illusion, because they are ever-changing, impermanent and unreal, whereas Truth alone is real.
For instance, in darkness we mistake a rope to be a snake. When we see it in light, we see that snake does not exist and there is only a rope. Same is the case with maya. The dynamics of maya and the way to overcome it can be illustrated to some extent as under.
In our illustration to describe Truth as Atman and Brahman we have used two dimensional format because of our human limitations in conveying or understanding of Truth. But this Truth cannot be really described as circle or globe or any other format. It can only be perceived through direct experience.
Though the world is illusion we can perceive it because of two things – space (Desa) and time (kala).
Of all the five elements space is the most subtle. Out of this space grosser forms such as air, fire, water and earth are formed. Thus celestial bodies and also our physical bodies come into existence. But these bodies are not permanent and they transform from one element to another.
Time is eternal but we can perceive it only relatively. For instance we consider earth’s rotation on its axis as a day of 24 hours and further subdivide it into hours, minutes and seconds. Earth’s revolution around the Sun causes seasons and we count it as a year of 365 days. From moon’s movement we infer the passage of time as fortnights and months. If the earth is moving in a straight line instead of orbiting in cycles, our perception of time would be different.
The time measurements on a different celestial body can be quite different. For instance our fifteen days equal one night and other fifteen days equal a day for moon. Thus our perception of time is only relative and not true.
Space (desa) is also not absolute because it changes with passage of time. Human bodies, continents, celestial bodies and so on are born, undergo changes and perish. But Brahman exists as a changeless foundation beyond the limitations of space and time.
We know that nature has so many indicators to make us understand the nature of maya. We all come into this world with empty hands and again depart from the world with empty hands. So, all the earthly things are not really ours. Even if one person earns money as much as thousand workers can earn, still he can eat only one man’s capacity of food. Any more food than that causes ill health and kills him.
Recognizing that this world is only illusion doesn’t mean that we deny and walk away from matter and physical phenomenon. We recognize that they are unreal but necessary means to arrive at the end, the Real. All our relationships with people and possession of objects are because of our karma. As soon the debt of karma ends, our relationships and possessions also end.
Though lotus is born out of muddy water it still stays detached from the mud while containing fragrance and beauty. Similarly we must live in the world but stay detached from its impurities and entanglements.
Now again one may wonder, ‘why there is so much variation in the creation?’
This universe consists of energy and matter, which can be transformed from one into other. Every thought-energy (mind) and matter is a combination of below three gunas (qualities). No single English word can translate these three words precisely but the below description gives an idea how they influence a person.
It is the lowest state in terms of evolution where nothing much happens either for good or bad.
It is ambitious and provides motivation to act, but may also express itself in anger, hatred or greed.
In terms of evolution it is on the highest level.
The play of gunas in nature can also be illustrated by comparison with the three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas.
|Tamas : Just like a block of ice, tamas is frozen energy. It has a good amount of energy in the chemical bonds that hold in together, but the energy is locked in and rigid.||Rajas : When the ice melts, some of the energy is released as the water flows; rajas (activity) is like a flooded river, full of uncontrolled power.||Sattva : It can be compared with steam when its power is controlled and made useful in running locomotives and engines.|
Gunas are the very fabric of universe, the veil that hides unity in a covering of diversity.
Tamas is maya’s power of concealment, the darkness or ignorance that hides unitive reality. Rajas distracts and scatters awareness, turning it away from reality toward the diversity of the outside world. Thus the gunas are essentially born of the mind. When the mind’s activity is stilled, we can see life as it is.
The rajasic person is full of energy; the tamasic person is dull, indifferent, insensitive; the sattvic person, calm, resourceful, compassionate and selfless. Yet all three gunas are always present with differing proportions: their interplay is the dynamics of our personality.
We all have times when we are bustling with thoughtful energy, times when we are peaceful and times when we feel dullness or inertia to do anything. We are the same person; we are simply experiencing the play of the gunas. As long we identify with mind and body, we are at the mercy of this play. But our real Self is not involved in the gunas‘ interaction; it is witness rather than participant. To realize our true Self, we need to rise from Tamas to Rajas and from there to Sattva and finally transcend beyond Sattva guna.
Being pure, Sattvic nature enables spiritual advancement. But even in this state a problem may arise when a person finds pleasure in sacred knowledge and becomes arrogant of it. It is called Sattvic ego. Any pleasure, even good ones, creates attachments. They are like gold ropes, binding the soul to the pain and suffering of the material world.
In Rajasic person, desire goads him into action and creates a sense of doership in the mind. It spawns a thirst for acquiring and clinging to worldly things – to people and pleasures that attract senses. This attachment, when opposed, causes anger. Anger makes a person lose control over his emotions, does not let him think properly, and clouds his judgment of what is right and what is wrong. He soon follows his doom.
All things in nature are just combinations of three attributes – even the mind, senses, and objects that attract the senses. The person who transcends beyond these three attributes is in essence transcending nature itself. Such person unites with God and gets liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth.
Then again one may wonder ‘how can we overcome maya if it is not real but so powerful?’
Maya can be both delightful and also treacherous. To transcend beyond Maya of three gunas and achieve liberation Sanatana Dharma prescribes simultaneous practice of all four paths – Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
The above four paths are not mutually exclusive and contradictory but suit differently based on an individual‘s temperament and level of maturity. Jnana yoga is better suited for people who are intellectual in nature. Bhakti yoga is better suited for people who are emotional in nature. Raja yoga is better suited for people who are contemplative. Karma yoga is better suited for people who are very active.
Though we adhere to one main path we need to practice other paths too. This is because gnana Yoga is the solution for Tamasic ignorance and teaches us to live in accordance with dharma and law of karma. Karma Yoga is the solution for inaction caused by Sattvic calmness and happiness. Raja Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are the solutions for agitations and selfishness caused by Rajasic desires and activities.
Truly God is present everywhere. Just as sunlight reflects well in clean water, but not in dirty water, God can be found to a greater degree in a pure person. Individual water drops share the majesty of mighty Ocean. We must keep in mind that seventy percent of our body is water. Spiritual pursuit is a process of purifying ourselves to find God within.
To reach the invisible Brahman by using the visible world as a vehicle, the sages have prescribed the below four stages.
In Sanyasa phase a person detaches from a small family and progresses to accept the society and world as his larger family. He is fully devoted to God. Sanyasa doesn’t mean wearing saffron robes and living in a forest secluded from people. A true sanyasi lives in the world and for the world without getting attached to or entangled by it.
To progress in the above four phases there are below two paths:
- Vihanga marga (bird’s path). In this path a spiritual aspirant progresses from Brahmacharya to Sanyasa speedily without having to go through grahastha and Vanaprastha ashramas. Great men such as Adi Sankaracharya and Swami Vivekenanda used this path because of their highly evolved nature.
- Pipeelika marga (ant’s path). Sages prescribe this path for the majority of men where an aspirant progresses gradually through each ashram, one after another.
When one is awed at the power of maya it seems as though God creates man with a rebellious ego and attraction towards the worldly things and then punishes him for indulging in it. But one has to think deeper. Man has choice to turn either ways – outwards to the material world or inwards to the Self or God within.
A soul is contained in a body but essentially limitless. So a man always wants to expand to experience this limitless soul. Unfortunately most men attempt doing so through conquest of lands, women, and possessions and so on, which are impermanent in nature. Hence this outward conquest never appeases a man. When he turns inwards and finds the God present there all the time, then only he finds everlasting peace, because God alone is permanent.
A mother plays hide and seek game with her child but all along makes it easier for the child to find her. The twinkle in the eyes of child after finding mother again is priceless. Similarly God as the Inner Guide always makes it easy for a person to find Him, who is in fact never separate but always within. In that sense the life a great cosmic hide and seek game.
Maya is a mere projection of God. A seeker can penetrate it to reach God, but no one can ever go above and beyond God. The four paths leading to God will be explained in later chapters.