Friday, 20 November 2015

What is Illusion?

दैवी ह्येषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया |
मामेव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायामेतां तरन्ति ते
|| 14||
daivī hyehā gua-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
ām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te
~Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, verse 14

My divine energy Maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is very difficult to overcome. But those who surrender unto me cross over it easily.

Shree Krishna says that Maya is very difficult to overcome because it is his energy. If anyone conquers Maya, it means that person has conquered God himself. Since no one can defeat God, no one can defeat Maya either. And because the mind is made from Maya, no yogi, jnani, ascetic, or karmi can successfully control the mind merely by self-effort.

Here’s a short story to illustrate this shloka.

Sage Narada once asked Krishna the meaning of Maya.

Krishna said, ‘It is better experienced than understood. Come let’s ride into the forest in my chariot.’

After riding deep into the forest, Krishna said, ‘I am thirsty. You look thirsty too. I can hear a river flowing beyond the trees. But I am too tired to walk there. You go to the river, quench your thirst and get some water back for me. But before you drink the water make sure you bathe.’

Narada walked to the river. It was farther than he had assumed it was. By the time he reached the waters he was so thirsty that he drank the water forgetting to first take a bath as instructed by Krishna. As a result he turned into a woman, a beautiful woman.

A man saw Narada, the woman, and fell in love with her and begged her to marry him. Narada was so enchanted by the flattery that he agreed. The two lived a happy married life and had sixty children. But then there was an epidemic that claimed the lives of her husband and her children. Narada was miserable. She felt she should kill herself. But then suddenly sorrow was replaced by ravenous hunger.

She smelt the sweet smell of a mango from the tree near her house. She stretched out her hand to fetch it but it was out of reach. So she dragged the corpses of her husband and children, climbed on them, plucked the fruit and was about to eat it when a priest appeared and told her to at least take a bath before eating the fruit as she had been contaminated by touching dead bodies.

So Narada entered the river to take a bath, keeping the hand holding the mango above the water, for she feared the force of the water would wash the mango away. When she emerged, she was a man once again but the hand holding the mango still had the bangles she wore as a woman.
Suddenly he remembered all that had happened. The priest who had asked her to take a bath was Krishna himself, ‘See how you forgot all about me and my thirst and my instructions to take a bath before drinking the water. See how once you became a woman you enjoyed the attention of a man and then the attention of your children. And when they died, you forgot about them to satisfy your desire for the mango fruit. This is Maya, delusion produced by desire that makes you forget everything except the pursuit of self-gratification.’

Having learned his lesson, Narada dipped the female hand with the mango in the water and it came up as a male hand; the mango turned into his lute.

P.S. (This story features in Devdutt Pattnaik's "Shikhandi". While he has used the story in context of Narada turning into a woman, here the same story illustrates the concept of Maya or illusion.)