What is Maya?

SGM_gcBy Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami

Proposal and disposal: one goes up and the other comes down. They are waves. Suggestion and acceptance. All are His lila.

naiva tasya krtenartho nakrteneha kaschana
na chasya sarva-bhutesu kaschid artha-vyapasrayah

(Bhagavad Gita, 3.18)

Vi-apa-aśrayah: all waves are welcome when one can can read their meaning, their deeper meaning.

rte ’rtham yat pratiyeta na pratiyeta chatmani
tad vidyad atmano mayaṁ yathabhaso yatha tamah
(Srimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.34)

What is the conception of maya? Rte ’rtham yat pratiyeta: what seems to be, a wrong reading of, artha. Arthesu abhijna: the meaning, the purpose (artha), of every incident is known to Him. So many events are harmonized together by Him. They are always serving Him. But there is a clash with localized interests. Imperial and provincial interests clash; universal and local interests clash. Arthesu abhijna: only He knows why every straw is moving to this side or that side. He is the only knower. What is the purpose of the grass bending in the wind to this side and not to that side? He knows. All movement, taken together as a harmony, goes towards Him, and He is svarat: He is not responsible to anyone.

There is a universal meaning of everything, of every event, every incident. Even the movement of a straw is all-purposeful, all-meaningful, to the Absolute. Every movement contributes towards the Absolute, towards the satisfaction of Krishna. That is the real meaning of everything: of every word, of every phrase, of every event. The meaning (artha) is universal. So, what is the real purpose of every movement? It is one, nondual (advaya), universal, and absolute.

The absolute current goes towards the satisfaction of Krishna, but this reading of the environment is not possible for the superficial soul. The soul cannot read, cannot conceive, of the real meaning of everything. The soul sees some meaning, but it is a different reading, a superficial reading of things, and it is this reading that is maya. We read in our own way. We read an earthquake or a storm or anything else from our local interest. This is maya, and it is on this basis that we do so many things.

We must give up all local interests.

sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
(Bhagavad Gita, 18.66)

“Give up local interests and identify yourself with the universal interest—that current, that plane.”

Rte ’rtham yat pratiyeta: what we feel, what we read, without understanding the real meaning, that is a wrong reading of the environment. It is maya. What may seem to be to us, misses the universal purpose. We read from a local interest, “This is for this purpose. This is for that purpose.” This is local reading. What we conceive, what we feel, what we trust, what we believe—not only what we read but also what we believe—when it is not in consonance with the universal reading, then it is maya. Na pratiyeta chatmani: what we perceive that is not in the interest of atma, Krishna, is maya. Here atma [as in atmani] does not mean the jivatma. Atma may mean the body (deha), nature (svabhava), or the Paramatma (the Absolute). Here, the meaning of atma is as in:

sarva-vedanta-saram yad brahmatmaikatva-laksanam
(Srimad Bhagavatam, 12.13.12)

Srimad Bhagatavam is the essence of the whole Vedanta and its focus is the Absolute, which contains the aspects of Brahma and Paramatma.”

Atma means Paramatma here.

brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate
(Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.11)

“The Absolute is known as Brahma, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.”

The universal representation of the Absolute is found in these three phases. Na pratiyeta chatmani: a conception that does not come from the interest of the Paramatma, the Absolute, but from the point of local interest is maya. If we go to read from the universal interest, from srauta-vichar [the conception given by the revealed truth], then we don’t find any hitch. That comes from Vaikuntha and shows, “No, everything is meant for Krishna.” Our disease, the conception of local interest, is cured by this, and then we desire to be one with Krishna’s interest. Tad vidyad Atmano mayaṁ: you should know that feeling, that conception, of local interest to be maya.

Maya means what is not, what is apparent but not real. Ya means what, and ma means not. So, what is not real, that is maya. What you think, it is not so. What seems or appears to you but in fact is not such is maya.

Another meaning of maya is mryate anaya iti maya: we eliminate the interest of the Infinite and see things by measuring them according to our interest. We measure everything only through the standpoint, the angle of vision, of our selfish interest and not from the standpoint of the Infinite. With everything, we think, “Oh, this is such” according to our interest. We measure everything ignoring its representation, position, duty, and service in the Infinite. All such measurement is maya. Yathabhaso yatha tamah: the difference is like that of light and darkness. The absence of truth is not truth. There is light, and there is darkness: ignorance, mistake, error.

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6 Responses to What is Maya?

  1. prahlada bhakta dasa

    Such a refined and a deep way to think about a very preliminary topic!
    Proud to have such deep thinkers in our lineage!

    On an aside: I think the word ‘mryate‘ in “mryate anaya iti maya” should be ‘miyate‘. Any clarifications on this?

  2. Question arising on the topic of our local angle of view and adjusting to that of the personal absolute.

    Is it correct to see Guru-seva as a means to adjust this mayasic angle of vision? In the sense that we try to act according to the vision of our Gurudev. By studying how/what he speak, how he work, how he interacts with others etc we gradually can adjust our worldview to that of Krishnas interest.

    Since i believe that this is the case, how do we distinguish between the different moods of the disciples of one Guru? Sometimes we can see that they differ greatly in how they serve their Guru. For example if a devotee cannot feel connected to the direct projects of his Gurudev but instead prefers to teach more strictly the concepts and precepts of Krishna consciousness, still honoring his Gurudev with full enthusiasm.

    I can see in my Gurudev that he can harmonize above mentioned example within his fold of devotees.

    For a small-minded bhakta like myself i feel a need to understand what is Guru-seva and how to read these apparent, yet in Him harmonized, different perceptions of Guru-seva. I would be very grateful for some reflections about this. And if it is perceived as “off-topic”, perhaps via email 🙂

  3. I think my question was not very clear actually. The precepts for Guruseva that i have understood from my Gurudeva and from reading the books of SSM is in my understanding very much pointing towards tuning in with the attitudes and projects and inspirations that my Gurudeva is preaching and living.

    And at the same time i have godbrothers who likes to express and teach the more universal concepts and sambanda jnana instead. These are devotees i look up to. And suddenly i got confused.

    Well, the answer is actually obvious now. Sincerity. No mood of seva will qualify without it. Jay Haribol!

    • Perception, that of the environment within and without. Perception and environment can change. Both perspectives materially and spiritually. The modes are what may very well dictate along with experience and deeper psychological impressions/experiences preventing us from the proper vision. Unless defined and by grace given us the proper glimpse lending the absolute experience or not, which is perhaps the maya defined by such a deep absolute perfect understanding as Does give Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, So sweet. It is poetry flowing like nectar

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