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.
The illumined ones, from their safer, steadier and more detached position, have long pondered the mystery of Maya and noted down its peculiarities in order to help the jiva, the embodied being, to escape its effects and gain realization of the divine Self within. Over the centuries, Tantric adepts especially excelled in enumerating many of Maya’s workings. The Tantra philosophy lists ten characteristics of Maya to help beings recognize its workings and detach from them:
- It undergoes transformation without ever losing its own identity.
- It, like Ishvara and the soul, is eternal, for it exists even after pralaya, the dissolution of the universe of name and form.
- It is illusory since it creates illusion in the minds of living beings.
- It is the seed that created the entire universe, which appears like a pictorial presentation before the perceptions of living beings.
- It represents and supports both sense perception and activity in the individual as long as the results of past deeds are not exhausted or neutralized.
- Being the very material of the many worlds, it is insentient.
- It has no beginning, middle or end.
- All of its evolutes partake of its same nature.
- Since it is the initial cause of manifestation, it acts in hundreds of ways, each with many permutations.
- It can be recognized by the grace of God revealed in the illumined intellect.
There is an eleventh characteristic of Maya as well. Maya gives rise to seven kinds of malas, or limiting modes of operation. In Tantra, imperfections are not looked upon as fixed defects but rather temporary flaws that ripen and fall away. The malas are viewed as intentionally imposed limitations existing in order that life can proceed. As life is lived, the malas gradually disappear and the aspiring soul is released into Paramashiva — the highest abidance. In Sanskrit, the malas are called moha, mada, raga, vishada, shoka, vaichitra and harsha.
Moha is a particularly insidious form of morbid fascination which causes beings to become attached to evil deeds as if they were good deeds. In today’s governments, judicial systems, social organizations and religious institutions, for instance, beings are perpetuating all manner of detrimental actions and calling them beneficial. It is mass delusion on a collective level. Going to war to establish peace, judging people by a harsh and inflexible standard of law rather than with compassion, performing social service with selfish motives and hidden agendas and upholding false dualistic doctrines in the name of religion — these are some examples of moha in the individual and collective consciousness. Educating young minds by teaching only worldly knowledge while ignoring the source of all knowledge is another example.
Mada taints the mind with vanity and self-aggrandizement. Attracted by glory and fame, beings seek after and accept that which is base and ugly, thinking it to be desirable and beautiful. Attachment to the body which decays and dies, obsession with fame which only brings disenchantment and loss of peace of mind, seeking after power that gradually corrupts and destroys, collecting beautiful objects which grow boring and imprison one’s thoughts — these are instances of mada’s influence.
Raga, attachment, is a well-known obstacle in spiritual life. It cripples the human mind by robbing it of its freedom and spontaneity. It ties the body and its energy to the yoke of subservience and slavery. Such is its nature that it leads to deeper and deeper modes of bondage and will not fully let go its hold even after an object, action or thought is transcended. In this case, beings actually become attached to attachment and remain so for lifetimes. Embodiment in a form that repeatedly suffers the agonies of birth, disease, old age and death is a prime example.
Vishada is sorrow and grief. It pervades the mind with despondency and depression, making it unable to raise itself up and accomplish even menial tasks. The guna of tamas — slothfulness or inertia — is its close partner. Its presence can last for a lifetime as it blinds the individual with overwhelming dejection and unhappiness. Loss of fortune, unrequited love, unforgiven grudges, uncontrolled passions — these are open doors through which vishada can make its entrance. Once it enters the mind and establishes itself there, it becomes increasingly difficult to destroy its dark presence.
Shoka constitutes a vast set of afflictions that plague the mind and make it dull and lifeless. It saps body, mind and soul of vitality and motivation and fills it instead with doubt, reticence and complacency. Under the constant array of blows proceeding from life and its experiences, the struggling being staggers and falls and soon gives up. Spoiled dreams, dashed desires, elusive attainments, frustrated success and the like all inhabit the realm of shoka. In association with raga and vishada, shoka breeds well in the hearts and minds of living beings.
Vaichitra is a Sanskrit word for variety, and in this connection refers to the many distractions that tempt and haunt the mind, making it restless and imbalanced. Its presence brings about the loss of steadfastness, a quality which lends itself well to a wide degree of attainments ranging from basic happiness to meditation. For the sake of experiencing diverse pleasures in the form of tastes, feelings, sights, and even intellectual stimulation, beings take to vaichitra like an old friend. In conjunction with moha, it attracts the mind and senses to the many, thereby obscuring the one — a characteristic trick of Maya. It leads to unadvisable contact with the other malas, which all play into each other in insidious fashion.
Harsha, the seventh mala, is the delight which contributes to the desire for increased pleasure, particularly with regard to the amassing of huge amounts of wealth and the power this brings. Even after riches and influence are attained, it continues to evolve and leads to various unhealthy distortions centering around hedonistic pursuits. Thousands of beings are under its control. The greatest multinational conglomerate of this age, after merging all other interests under its umbrella, could very aptly name their organization Harsha Unlimited. The forces of Maya move far and strong under the steam of this powerful mala, and in union with moha, mada and raga, seduce beings into the unsavory realms of vishada, shoka and vaichitra.
“Brahman and Shakti are one!” This utterance from Sri Ramakrishna, the Kali Avatar, affirms the complete identity between the static and active modes of Brahman. “God is with form, free of form and beyond both as well,” He declared. Therefore, Shakti is Brahman in a creative mode, in an expressive mood. Yet, since Brahman is essentially without attributes, beyond form, and free from acts of creation, preservation and destruction, Shakti too cannot be held accountable for directly perpetuating any process. She is Mother of the Worlds, the Seeress who is never seen, characteristically unattached and, as She Herself declares in the Rig Veda, “...never touched by My magic creation.” How then does the universe appear? How does the diverse world of name and form come into manifestation? It all occurs through the power of the Divine Mother’s Maya. As Sri Krishna, Brahman in form, states in the Bhagavad Gita: “Living beings, unaware of my true nature, assign to me the duties of creator. But I do not act. Operating my Maya, I simply place the wheels of nature in motion and Prakriti does everything else. I simply stand back, supremely detached and fully in control.” Thus are both Brahman and Shakti transcendent of the creative process and the play of opposites.
Brahman and Shakti form the immutable substratum underlying the creative process. The perfect equilibrium of Brahman does not allow for separation or fragmentation, for It is beyond time and space — two elements that are necessary for manifestation. In order for the Infinite to project the finite or, as the Tantra suggests, for pure Being to play in the mode of becoming, Maya’s veil of root ignorance, called mulavidya, must inundate creation at every level. The result is forgetfulness of the Absolute and enamorment with the relative. Therefore, enlightenment, or realization of Brahman, is necessarily dependent upon piercing through the veil of root ignorance and seeing beyond Maya. As Maya is the main constituent of manifestation itself, this proves to be a difficult maneuver for the aspiring soul who is finished with worldly desires and who seeks freedom from the transmigratory process of karma and reincarnation. To cleave through the illusion of relativity is the main objective of the Truth-seeker and it is not only possible, it is imperative. As Sri Ramakrishna envisions: “Imagine that there is a beautiful, many-petaled flower with several layers. Someone with a sword then comes along and cleaves through it with one stroke.” This wondrous flower is the relative world of name and form, the sword-bearer is the aspirant seeking freedom and the sword is the power of discrimination which destroys the illusion of relativity and unifies all its profuse diversity.
In any one simple statement that fell from Sri Ramakrishna’s lips, there is a universe of inspiring implications. Each of these little thrusts of stored-up spiritual potential accost the mind like tiny timed explosions, or implosions, that chip away at the granite block of egotism and ignorance. As He said, “The mind is the cause of bondage, it is also the gate of liberation.” Here, the bondage that seals the gate of liberation is primal root ignorance called mulavidya — the cloud of unknowing present at the very initial inception of the universe. It saturates the universe of name and form and pervades the unawakened mind, thereby posing it its greatest obstacle. This inexplicable presence is inherent in Maya which is, as Sri Ramakrishna so revealingly points out, “Brahman’s power.” Brahman’s dynamic, self-willed and self-sufficient essence, the Mahashakti, wields this enigmatic and irrepressible force of Maya with its powerful constituent of root ignorance and its many other evolutes. To be able to identify Maya without becoming inextricably intertwined, it is helpful to trace its movements back to the source. Further description will be beneficial for this process.
Creative force, designated Shakti, is inherent in Brahman. Shakti is the dynamic power, but Shaktiman is the wielder of that power and Her names are legion. Parashakti, Mahashakti, Mahamaya — these names are most worthy of worship, invite all praise and verily shout “Victory!” The Mahashakti gets Her work accomplished by four main sub-shaktis. These four shaktis — Her will, wisdom, spontaneity and activity — are one with the Divine Mother like vibration is one with music.
Iccha shakti is Mother’s powerful will that determines what Her creation will consist of in any given age (yuga or Mahayuga), in what sequence all occurrences that are to take place will manifest, and how embodiment will take place. All of this is to be seen in terms of both the physical universe which we experience with our senses, and of other worlds less changeful than ours in which Her fixed powers, lovingly known as the gods and goddesses, reside.
Jnana shakti, Mother’s wisdom force, contains and implements all subtle powers for manifestation. As intelligence, this shakti extends to the highest and deepest regions and permeates them all. In her is vested the power for revealing the Four Manifestations of the Word — Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari — stages wherein pure conscious Awareness lends Itself to gradual degrees of expression ending in the creation of the physical universe. She is Mother’s force of truth and meaning and symbolizes all that is, was or will ever be.
Kriya shakti pours life-force into the gross and subtle creations, permeating all worlds and realms with vitalizing power. She is the breath of the Mahashakti. Not only is she responsible for the activating force, she also acts in and through that which she animates. In short, the doings of all living beings proceed through her impetus. In her purest condition, she is the free expression of effortless and spontaneous design in action, totally unencumbered. When interacting with Jnana shakti at the highest level, insightful realizations spring forth. She awakens and reveals the presence of genius and drives everything to its innermost potential.
Dravya shakti, known as the producer of substances, manifests the five elements and distributes them proportionally throughout the vast creation. In her role as producer, she helps mold the nether worlds and heavenly realms as well, interlacing them together with gross and subtle substances. Thus, the solid foundation of the universe, as well as the etheric nature of the lokas, are all due to her presence and activities. At the time of dissolution, pralaya, she assists in the breakdown of all insentient principles, dissolving forms entirely.
The Divine Mother of the Universe, who contains these four marvelous shaktis, further perpetuates creation through two basic modes called vidya shakti and avidya shakti. The first is a power of ascension which takes all aspiring souls who desire to free themselves from cyclic rounds of birth and death in ignorance upwards towards remembrance and realization of their true nature. This is Vidya shakti which propels by revealing subtler and subtler gradations of higher knowledge leading to Paravidya. Paravidya contains the teachings of the divine incarnations, the truths of the scriptures, the words of the guru and the very presence of the Universal Wisdom Mother Herself. It has been described as divine recognition, called Pratyabhijna by the ancients. It encompasses everything one needs to know for liberation, namely: the knowledge of what the world consists of, awareness of the immortal Self within called Atman and realization of the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. For those who are still bereft of this divine recognition, it is necessary to rid the mind of the influences of avidya shakti and recognize Maya.
Avidya shakti, the downward moving force, accommodates all souls who desire to follow the way of Vyavaharika — the path of worldliness based upon sense-life. To facilitate the darker, denser aspects of Maya, avidya shakti breaks into two further powers called avarana and vikshepa, the former suited for veiling Reality and the latter effective in distorting It. Under the regime of these powers, and bereft of vidya shakti’s free and willing aid, human beings struggle helplessly against the many weights and chains of avidya shakti which adversely affect their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Before listing some of the evolutes of Maya and to help in the visualization of the Divine Mother’s complex design, a chart is shown which illustrates the workings of Mahamaya through Her many powers.
Maya’s powers act on two basic levels of the creation: cosmic, called samasti, and individual, called vyasti. The cosmic Maya facilitates all the various universal laws and creative principles such as the triple conception of time, space and causality (desha, kala and nimitta), and the three gunas of nature (sattva, rajas and tamas of Prakriti). Maya, in the individual consciousness, seeps into the awareness of living beings, causing them to lose subtle and intuitive perception and become attached to what is finite. Identifying these deceptive forces and reversing their effects is a prerequisite to enlightenment and is undertaken by all sincere seekers of Truth. When this task is completed, the experience of samadhi dawns upon the awakened consciousness of the aspirant.
This process may happen swiftly or take more time according to an aspirant’s karmic propensities, state of preparation, capacity for realization and the degree of intensity mustered for sadhana (spiritual disciplines) and spiritual life. Maya’s evolutes are formidable opponents which create barriers that are difficult to detect. Negative impressions from previous births, belief that the world is real, belief that God is unreal, presuming one’s present existence to be the only lifetime, nonacceptance of the law of Karma (cause and effect), preoccupation with the ego, its desires and the body — these and more hamper spiritual progress and make enlightenment impossible. In order to facilitate the transcendence of these negativities, it is necessary to identify the evolutes of Maya and thereby diminish their hold over human awareness. Though they are many, they can be condensed and classified in brief in a manner pertaining to this day and age. To do this, we must gaze back into an earlier age — an age where beings of great wisdom encountered Maya’s forces and, with much effort, austerity and concentration, transcended their effects. Abidance in the Atman, the sole Reality, was their reward.
The rishis of ancient India bequeathed the world an abundance of valuable teachings, gleaned from their one-pointed meditation on Brahman. They realized these truths through their love for true existence after renouncing mundane worldly life. They perceived the presence of Maya and applied their powers of discrimination to the pressing problems of humanity so as to blaze a trail out of ignorance and its related suffering. The purpose of this was twofold: to help the peoples of the world to live a pure and fulfilling existence and, more importantly, to help them gain the vision of Brahman and thereby receive the knowledge, wisdom, truth, love, devotion, peace, bliss and freedom that proceeds from that. It should be pointed out that suffering, in this context, includes enjoyment and the momentary happiness it brings, for joy and sorrow always come in turns and both produce suffering — one through ignoble whips of pain and the other through misleading strokes of pleasure. They are, as Swami Vivekananda points out, chains that hold — one of iron, the other of gold.
The evolutes of Maya are given here in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is referred to as Devavak (the Divine Word, its meaning and its many expressions) and Devabhasha (the language of the gods). It both bears and conveys the subtle power of Brahman and Shakti. It expresses spirituality itself, for that was the essential ideal and salutary attainment of the rishis. The realizations of the illumined beings of ancient India are locked in Sanskrit in subtle form, as are the descriptions of Maya’s evolutes. Some of these are: Mudhavasta, Mamakara, Deha-adhyasa, Paraspara-dhyasa, Vishayashakti, Bahirmukavritti, Eshanatrayam and Shatavadana. These gravitational forces of Maya plague humanity and create obstructions to the realization of Brahman.
Mudhavasta is forgetfulness of one’s true nature. Due to this critical lapse of memory, beings fail to remember themselves as pure Spirit and instead identify with concerns of an impermanent nature. The sense of ownership, agency and separation from God all begin here, for the true Self is not an object, is free from activity and is ever one with Divine Reality. It is perfect, and therefore the blessed Christ stated: “Be thee perfect, even as the Lord in Heaven is perfect.” Herein, the remedy for mudhavasta is a firm acknowledgement that declares absolute identity with Brahman coupled with an ongoing and powerful practice that destroys all obstacles to this realization. Otherwise, the truth of one’s real nature can never be experienced. As Sri Ramakrishna puts it: “A bullock carries a huge bag of sweets on its back, but can never taste them.” The poet/saint, Ramaprasad, gives his rendition of this teaching in song:
“By forgetting Reality and seeking after the things of this earth, beings imbibe earth instead of nectar; they give themselves to nature instead of Spirit.”
In other songs, He advises remembrance in accordance with the divine names of God: “O complacent and restless mind caught in the fundamental illusion of finitude, do not forget to remember your Divine Mother’s hallowed name.” Thus, remembrance and recognition go hand in hand.
Mamakara means the sense of “me and mine.” The sense of ownership in relation to all levels of existence — my spouse, my family, my possessions, my wealth, my career, my learning, my future, my religion — casts a cloak of limitation over the mind and breeds thoughts and actions that are directly in opposition to Truth. The truth is simply that all these things proceed from and belong to nature, the realm of conceptualization, and ultimately, to God. Sri Ramakrishna gives a fine story about those under the influence of mamakara. He says:
“God laughs on two occasions: when the physician assures the mother that he can cure her baby, and when two brothers divide their land saying, ‘That side is yours and this side is mine.”
The gist is that few beings realize that all belongs to God. As Khalas, the great devotee of Sri Ram sings: “You flatter the millionaire but forget to pay homage to Sri Ram, though Ram is the owner of the entire universe!” More specific to mankind’s ignorance, the poet/saint, Ramprasad sings: “The egocentric bind themselves mindlessly, repeating ‘this is I, that is mine.’” Similarly, Lord Buddha advises: “Happy indeed are those who live free of attachment to possessions. They feed on eternal happiness, like the gods.” As the Great Master often said, “It is the attitude of ‘I, me and mine’ that has driven the whole world mad.”
Deha-adhyasa is attachment to the body out of ignorance. After forgetting one’s true nature, the sense of ego grows strong as there is nothing noble and transcendent to identify with. Preoccupation with the body is then the only recourse and the ego delights in this misguided pastime. In the Vivekachudamani, Shankara says: “This knowledge of the Self as the body — this wicked desire that ‘I am the body,’ — this is the root of birth and different sufferings.” Despite the body’s limitations, imperfections, illnesses, deterioration and death, deluded beings continually obsess with the finite form and thus habitually begin to mistake it for the Self. Instead of perceiving it as adhara (see article on pg. 18) — a container into which God pours a bit of His undying Spirit — ignorant beings mistake the vessel for the contents and suffer innumerable miseries. As Sri Shankara-charya states: “Consciousness remains untouched, ever pure; yet with the body and senses, the mind deludes Consciousness and creates there the thought of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ This delusion causes suffering.” The advice of Lord Buddha on attachment to the body is well-known: “He who has not any attachment to name and form and does not grieve for what does not really exist, that one is wise beyond conception.” Further, He declared: “O builder of the house, I have seen you; You shall not build the house again. All the rafters are broken; the ridgepole is sundered. Mind has arrived at dissolution, having attained the extinction of all cravings.” Speaking to His beloved disciple, Uddhava, Sri Krishna advises:
“Living in the body which is under the sway of past actions, the deluded one becomes bound due to identification with it.”
Continual fixation with the body soon leads to a complex wherein the living being falls into a strong misconception that the body is the only self. In this case, even the mind and intellect, which are vastly superior to the body, become subservient to it. Thus is the body, an outer covering over Reality, worshiped in place of the indwelling Self. This invites the following evolute of Maya to enter in.
Parasparadhyasa is an unfortunate malady wherein one mistakes the Self for the body and the body for the Self. Most human beings are overcome with the idea that they are actually their physical sheath. Even some of those who profess to be spiritual cannot shake this delusion and cling to life in a body. Sri Ramachandra states openly in the Adhyatma Ramayana: “How can this human body made of five elements, blood and excreta ever be the immortal, all-pervading Spirit?” In the Vivekachudamani, Shankaracharya declares: “That which is real and one’s own primeval essence, that is beyond form and activity. Attaining that, one should cease to identify with one’s false bodies like an actor giving up his assumed mask.” Sri Ramakrishna states:
“The seat of the mind is in the center between the eyebrows, but its gaze is ever fixed below the navel and on the organs of evacuation and reproduction.”
When the mind is pure and sure of its immortal nature, then, it dwells in transcendental bliss and ceases its endless dalliance with desires associated with name and form. Further, the Great Master stated: “The body is a mere pillowcase, but the heart of the devotee is the abode of Brahman.” Despite these and other teachings, and though the mind has infinite potential for higher expression, it stubbornly reverts to body consciousness, worldly thoughts and the lower passions again and again. “The camel eats thorny bushes and even though its gums bleed, it will not give them up,” notes Sri Ramakrishna. As Patanjali, the father of Yoga declares: “There are five obstacles in spiritual life; ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life.”
Vishayashakti influences the mind by attaching it to the senses. The world is full of people who have very little depth to their thinking process. Due to preoccupation with the surface of human awareness, they are simply unaware of the infinite potential which lies within them and are unable to access it. With the senses out of control, they remain rank materialists, bereft of the wherewithal to transform themselves into an image of Spirit. Ramprasad sings: “Oh essential mind, you are infinitely more refined than the organs of action and perception. In the kingdom of consciousness, you are natural sovereign. Yet you accept as constant companions the most limited and negative intentions. What a petty potentate you have become.” Communicating similar sentiments, Shankaracharya states: “A great tiger, whose name is the mind, wanders in this world. The wayward senses and their objects are the forest where this great tiger roams. One who is desirous of liberation should not go there.” Lord Buddha speaks of sense control as well: “Blessed indeed are they who live amongst those who are yearning for sense delights, without yearning for such things.” In the Uddhava Gita, Lord Krishna says:
“Contact with the senses, which are the creation of nescience, should be avoided until attachment, which is a stain on the mind, has been removed by a strong and systematic devotion to God.”
Thus, the warnings against sense life devoid of love and wisdom are declared by the wise in every religion.
Bahirmukhavritti describes the outward going mind that fixates continually on external stimulae, usually of a mundane or banal variety. Unable to curb its wayward tendencies, beings give the mind free reign and suffer the resultant consequences. Not only does this bind the thinking process to external phenomena, it also robs the mind of its precious ability to look within for answers to life’s problems and thereby abide steadily in the Atman. Sri Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita: “The mind is difficult to control, no doubt. But it can be controlled by Abhyasa Yoga, the path of constant practice.” About the wayward mind, Sri Ramakrishna says: “It is extremely difficult to gather up mustard seeds that have been blown from the package by the wind.” This means that once the mind’s thoughts are habitually given to the outside world, it is much harder to withdraw them and place them within once again where peace abides. Offering solutions for this malady, Lord Buddha states:
“Irrigators conduct water whenever they please; fletchers shape the arrow shafts; carpenters work the wood, but the wise discipline the mind.”
Eshanatrayam, the triple desire, is the drive for attaining spouse, wealth and offspring. These three pursuits are natural to most human beings, and if sought after with maturity and detachment, bring fulfillment of earthly desires. Unfortunately, due to selfishness and inadvertent clinging, the impositions of lust, greed and the desire for power enter in and squelch any positive benefits that may come from earthly existence. Sri Ramakrishna noticed the predicament of worldly beings attached to mundane existence in the family setting and remarked observantly: “The rich, miserly and worldly spend their money in four ways — litigation, thieves, physicians and wicked children.” Ramprasad, gazing upon the ways of the world, sang: “To seek for help from spouse, friends or family provides no profound solution. Don’t you know that all are lost here? Everyone lives in pallid imitation of everyone else.” Though family life is a time-honored institution, it is, in this day and age, an open door for the entrance and influence of Maya and its evolutes. As stated in the Dhammapada, Lord Buddha said: “Non-recitation is the rust of scriptures; non-exertion is the rust of households.” Furthermore, He stated:
“The wise do not call strong that fetter which is made of iron, wood or hemp. Rather do they call attachment to jewels, ornaments, children and wives a far stronger fetter.”
On the other hand, He also advised: “If you find a wise companion to associate with you, one who leads a virtuous life and is diligent, you should lead a life with him, joyfully and mindfully, conquering all obstacles.”
Shatavadana means thinking of and doing a hundred things at once. Its presence is a telling sign of our times. Beings find it difficult to concentrate with one-pointed concentration and therefore succumb to various distractions. This fragments human awareness so that it cannot focus sufficiently. Over time, this becomes a habit which drastically limits the mind’s attention span. Lord Buddha says: “There is no perfect contemplation for that one who is not wise, and no wisdom for the one who does not concentrate.” Therefore, in spiritual endeavor, the inability to meditate on the essence of Reality is a great loss. In this case, restlessness takes over and wins the victory. Sri Krishna speaks of this tendency in the Uddhava Gita:
“The man of uncontrolled mind falls into the error that there is a plurality of objects and this error leads to his downfall.”
Sri Ramakrishna puts it in yet another way: “Everyone is enamored of the rich man’s garden, but few ever inquire after the owner.” Thus do embodied beings pass over what is essential and beneficial due to preoccupation with a thousand external considerations.
These perplexing evolutes of the enchanting power of Maya are to be recognized and transcended. They inundate our thinking process and thus affect our daily actions and our relations with God, nature and other living beings. Though a part of the experience of life and necessary for its perpetuation, they are responsible for ignorance, delusion and much of the suffering that human beings undergo. As Sri Ramakrishna so revealingly states with regard to Maya and its powers:
“Maya is like the skin of a mango. It protects the fruit while it is ripening, but once the fruit is ready the skin is discarded. One should not eat it for it is bitter.”
In view of this astute observation and if one studies the first eight evolutes of Maya, it will become clear how living beings have, especially under the influence of materialism and agnosticism, made a veritable feast out of the skin of the mango! Attachment to the body as if it were a permanent structure, preoccupation with the external world as if it were a permanent location, attachment to the five senses as if they represented permanent awareness and attachment to family, friends and wealth as if they were permanent possessions — all of these have become normal behavior. This warped and distorted view wherein Reality is considered an illusion while relativity is perceived to be real and abiding, is the work of the avidya shakti aspect of Mahamaya. Time-honored abidance in Nityanityavastuviveka — discrimination between the real and the unreal — is its antithesis and the time-tested practice of neti, neti — the implementation of “not this, not this” — is the solution. Other solutions for the malady of delusion abound in the Vedanta science, as well as in Yoga and Tantra. These will be presented and treated in another article.
These eight evolutes of Maya provide a firm basis upon which to trace root ignorance and rid oneself of its problematic tendencies. By identifying them in this fashion, aspirants may destroy Maya’s effects while remaining free of its perplexing enchantment. As Sri Ramakrishna indicates with regard to Maya and Brahman: “If one holds up a towel in front of a lamp, the lamp disappears.” By recognizing Maya’s presence from a detached position, and transcending its powers of obscuration and distortion (avarana and vikshepa), beings can tear away the towel of illusion and appearance from in front of the lamp of Atman and perceive the all-pervasive light of Consciousness called Brahman.