by Babaji Bob Kindler
IN THE SRIMAD DEVI BHAGAVATAM, the definitive holy scripture of the sacred Divine Mother path, Lord Vishnu states: “Whoever is endowed with the three gunas, be he a knower of the Vedas, or a Yogin, or a conqueror of his passions, or all-knowing, is not able to conquer Maya.” Lord Vishnu’s loving devotee, sage Narada, found this out, and in doing so provided aspiring beings with ample incentive to refrain from such an impossible task.
Stories about Narada and Lord Vishnu abound in the scriptural history of India and reveal many profound lessons. Once, when Narada desired to understand the Lord’s Maya, Vishnu took him flying high on Garuda’s back, crossing over many beautiful realms of manifestation. Stopping at one land, Vishnu asked Narada to bathe in a lotus-filled pond. No sooner did Narada enter the waters then his male form turned into a female form and he forgot his identity. Gone were his lute, clothes, memory and the beloved form of Sri Vishnu. Looking about, Narada, now a woman, noticed a king and his retinue approaching. The king took this lady back to his castle and, in time, married her. Over the years, they had many children and grandchildren.
As time wore on, Narada, now a queen named Saubhagya Sundari, became entirely immersed in royal family life and was completely forgetful of her identity under the influence of the Lord’s Maya. Then, after many years of happiness, a rival king became jealous of the royal couple’s lands and wealth and waged war on her husband, King Taladhavaja. The queen’s regal husband and many sons marched to the battlefield and all were killed outright in the slaughter that ensued. Making haste to the battlefield to see the outcome, the queen beheld the scene and, beside herself with grief, bewailed her fate. Gathering up the bodies of her loved ones with the help of her attendants, she constructed a funeral pyre and lit it aflame with the idea of committing sati. As she entered into the fire, one hand extended to ward off the heat, an arm came out of the flames and pulled her through. With eyes wide in wonder, Narada found himself in male form again, standing in the pool that he had earlier entered to bathe and holding the Lord’s hand. Gazing meaningfully into His devotee’s eyes, Sri Vishnu said: “Now do you understand a little of my Maya? But what are you doing standing here in the waters? Come forth and let us be off!”
The Lord’s Maya is inexorable and inscrutable. To fully comprehend it is impossible. About Maya’s enchanting power, Sri Ramakrishna said: “If you recognize Maya, it will recede.” Instead of embroiling ourselves in it by attempting to analyze what it is, Sri Ramakrishna’s declaration advises us to first simply recognize its existence. After knowing Maya as a fact of existence, we can then implement useful practices prescribed by the guru and affirmed in the scriptures such as discrimination and detachment. These cause Maya to dissipate like fog under direct sunlight. Since Maya is woven into the fabric of manifestation itself, one must carefully notice its hiding places. In a field of rattlesnakes, one must avoid them by heeding their warnings. The discriminative art of recognition constitutes an entirely different approach from attempting to analyze Maya, for Maya is of the very nature of unfathomable complexity. The Mother’s Maya is the cause for the universe of name and form itself. All phenomena are appearances projected by it. Even time and space have been facilitated by this inexorable power. Therefore, all learning pertaining to the universe of name and form is simply a study of Maya. Here, a distinction must be made between Daivi Maya, the higher aspect of Maya that the Mother utilizes for manifesting Her Consciousness into form, and Maya proper where matter is taken to be real, to be Reality. The latter is both a vikara form wherein the elements of Prakriti (nature) undergo a transformation from one substance to another, and a force of illusion that covers truth and distorts human understanding. It is this perplexing force, its modes, characteristics and evolutes which form the content of this article.
It has been stated that it is not wise to enter into an analysis of Maya’s domain. This assertion allows for one very important exception. Ignorance binds only those who are without the knowledge of their true nature. If a striving being, through awareness of Paravidya (Supreme Truth), gains enlightenment and comes to realize the Self within as eternal and indivisible Consciousness, then Maya’s powers are rendered harmless. This is instanced by the Divine Mother’s Daivi Maya which She uses to create forms, circumstances and locations for the work of Her Avatars, devotees and other luminaries. For the others — scientists, politicians, lawyers, mathematicians, physicians, authors, artists, workers and the rest — if they are as yet unaware of their divine nature, they play into Maya’s hands and remain in the dark about Paravidya. Out of touch with Reality, they enter the mode of vaichitra, varieties, and become preoccupied with the exacting analysis of Maya through the avenues of science, physics, math, literature, the arts and other subjects. This is the one main drawback of pursuing aparavidya (lower knowledge) as the highest aim. It can lead towards higher knowledge if utilized in conjunction with moral and ethical living, but quite often embroils the mind in a futile obsession with details and superficialities, drawing it down into habits of restlessness and lethargy and leading it away from true fulfillment. Aparavidya also conduces to worldliness, as it takes the mind away from higher pursuits and avenues of expression and places it on purely conventional modes of attainment such as fame, success, family life, pleasantries and gathering sustenance. Then, the truths contained in Paravidya — those eternal and sacred principles of nondual truth, comprehensive wisdom, unalloyed bliss, inner peace and the transcendent nature of pure conscious Awareness beyond name and form — remain undiscovered.