What is Maya? | Bhaja Govindam 11th stanza

(Understandings from Swami Mitrananda’s talk to Yuva Veers of Youth Empowerment Program 6thbatch)

Ma kuru dhana jan yauvana garvam, harita nimishaatkalah sarvam
Maayamayamidam akhilam hitva, brahmapadam tvam pravisha viditva || 11 ||

Meaning: Do not take pride in the wealth you have, or in the people around you, or in the youth. Everything can be taken away in a moment by Time. Give up the entire world filled with delusion (Maya) and attain the state of Brahman (realize God)

In few of the earlier verses, we saw the example of a flood victim who was once very rich but lost everything in a moment. Another example we saw was of the celebrity Parveen Babi who was once flocked by people for her beauty but none of them was with her when she lost her charm. The same fact is explained in the first line.

In the second line, Shankara speaks about one of the most interesting concepts of Vedanta – Maya. Definition of Maya is – that which is not there. This definition itself sounds confusing to us. That which does not exist is called Maya, and we say there is Maya. To remove the confusion, the scriptures define Maya as – Avarana (non-apprehension) & Vikshepa (misapprehension). The common example taken in the Shastras is that of the rope and the snake. In darkness, the rope looked like a snake. Here, there was non-apprehension of the reality that it was a rope. Due to this non-apprehension, it was misapprehended that it was a snake. Thus the delusion was caused due to this non-apprehension & misapprehension. This is called Maya.

Another example is of happiness in the objects. Do objects give happiness? If they do, then they should give happiness to everybody at all times. If music gives happiness, then it should give happiness to a student when he hears it from a nearby loudspeaker while he is writing his exam. We can clearly see that the same music he loved will not give him happiness at such an instance. Hence, when our desire for possessing an object is fulfilled, our thoughts of desire cease to exist, thus calming our mind. This results in happiness. Therefore, we can conclude that cessation of thoughts gives happiness and not the objects. In this case, non-apprehension of the reality is – assuming that happiness is in the objects. The challenge of a seeker is not to get lost in non-apprehension and misapprehension. Whenever we have misapprehension, we need to keep telling ourselves that ‘objects don’t give happiness’ and the non-apprehension will slowly go away.

When we travel by road to a particular destination, we make stop at various places – may be to refill our car, may be to click a picture of the scenery, may be to have tea. But are these pit stops our destination? We do not forget our destination and keep moving. Similarly, what is the purpose of a human birth? How is it different from being born as a plant or an animal or a bird or a fish? The very purpose of human birth is to become Divine. Becoming Divine is the goal of human life. Rest everything that comes is the way of life. We must never get confused between goal of life and way of life. Social service should be a way of life. Owning a business should be a way of life. Being a doctor, should be a way of life. Why? Because our potential is much more than just achieving these small goals. The goal of life should be able to give us permanent happiness. After achieving a career objective, does a person become permanently happy? After getting married to the person you love, do you become permanently happy? Think! How small are the goals that we set in lives? It’s as if we have a Ferrari car and we drive it at a speed of 20 km/hour. People will laugh at us, isn’t it? How sad it is that most of us are not even realizing how much less potential we are using?

Shankara says the world is full of Maya. Meaning, in the world around us we perceive it in different ways that lead to non-apprehension & misapprehension of the reality. But once, we are able to come out of it, realize the true nature of the world, our whole vision towards the world will be different. That is called ‘Brahmapadam’ – realizing the state of Godhood; and it is not attaining heaven that is above all the clouds with angels flying around us in white coloured clothes. It’s being Liberated, being Free, Here & Now!

In the text Vivekachudamani, composed by Shankara, he says ‘Pramaade Mrityuh’ which means ‘Forgetfulness is Death’. Forgetfulness of what? Forgetfulness of the purpose of life. One needs to be always alert in this path of seeking the Truth. One can easily fall prey to Maya and slip down. At many junctures, it may seem that we have reached there, but the play of Maya is very tricky. Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, “Arjuna, don’t think that you can cross my Maya easily”.

The beauty of creation is Maya. And more beautiful becomes the creation when one has known this and transcended Maya. Life of a person is miserable who is trapped inside it.

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