Maya: The Creative Dream
Which Pervades All Existance
Krsna in Myth and The Arts of India
The quest for enlightenment is by far the most elusive and subtle path imaginable to the human mind. The construct of our physical existence combined with our imperfect mode of sensory perception clouds the essential nature of the universe. We are thus enveloped by shrouds of illusion and misconception, the embodiment of the Hindu concept of maya. It is the inherent humanistic pull towards ego which blinds us. All institutionalized religions around the globe, and throughout history, stem from the same intuitive seed of consciousness. They are all snapshots or interpretations of the same thing.
It is the immaterial fabric of consciousness, the divine Absolute, the construction of the universal group mind. Our thoughts are essentially insights that we obtain through tapping into the infinite spirit. The physical manifestation of this resides in all creation, all of nature, and in all that we produce; it is the creative force behind all that is art or existence. The seeker of enlightenment is seeking the dissolution of selfish egocentric reality; he is seeking union with the universal mind. This is the broadest level of awareness, when you see there is one. “When he perceives the unity existing in separate creatures and how they expand from unity, he attains the infinite spirit.” BG 119
What is it that obscures this union with the universal mind? What is this force which drives misconception? Maya, a fundamental concept in Hindu thought, is “what is not.” It is the web of illusion that leads us to accept that which is not. Attachment to such misconception is the root of all suffering, greed, and hate, as well as desire, kama, and passion, rajas. “The aim of Indian thought has always been to learn the secret of the entanglement, and, if possible, to cut through into a reality outside and beneath the emotional and intellectual convolutions that enwrap our conscious being.” ZIM 23
The construct, or secret, of Visnu’s maya is immaterial; therefore, it cannot be defined using words, nor can it be shone to someone. It can only be described by demonstrating the nature of the illusion. Maya is made manifest within the sphere of one’s ignorance. Maya has two principle effects: one, the illusion of permanence, the illusion that this transitory phase of existence is worthy of attachment, and two, the illusion of diversity or separateness. Both illusions vanish when one attains the broadest level, union with Visnu, he who pervades all existence, the being that is all beings.
One’s inability to fully comprehend maya is a product of one’s egocentric perception. The ego, ahamkara, and the broadest sense represent two opposite poles of awareness within which lie infinite levels, or states of awareness. The illusion of Maya functions on all but the broadest level. The perception of the ego is completely deluded by apparent dichotomies and paradoxical diversity. It is the individualized self that thinks “I am this, or I am that,” when in actuality, these are merely bodily identifications. By deconstructing ego and embracing the broadest possible level of consciousness, one attains Brahman, the divine absolute, liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of emanation, dissolution, and re-emanation.
The capacity to manifest the illusory, through play of maya, differs infinitely on all levels. The play of maya by deities is represented by their ability to take many forms and manifest themselves within a large number of individual entities. Their maya is in turn part of a larger maya in which the gods themselves are held spellbound. Visnu resides at the broadest level, and is thus the cosmic juggler, he who maintains ultimate understanding or control of maya. To know the secret of Visnu’s maya is to be Visnu.
In order to add perspective to the nature of the nested hierarchy of cycles within the universe, let us first consider our own physical existence. Our average duration of physical embodiment lasts about seventy some odd years, give or take a couple decades. This interval of existence represents a lifetime of experience. However, in context with the larger cycle of the universe, this interval is infinitesimal. According to Hindu mythology, the existence of the universe is subdivided into four yugas, or ages. Through each age, Holy Dharma, or duty, declines quarter by quarter. An entire cycle, or Mahayuga, lasts 4,320,000 years by human reckoning. One day of Brahma, the creator, consists of one thousand mahayugas, 4,320,000,000 years. The lifetime of Brahma endures for one hundred years, a year thus being composed of Brahma days and nights. The point is that even though our cycle of rebirth is minute in comparison with that of Brahma, he too, the creator, unwillingly dissolves back into the Absolute at the end of the great cycle. Visnu alone, through his divine discipline, is free from the unending cycle of rebirth.
The concepts and models of the universe and understanding of space and time that form the foundation of Indian thought are incorporated into a rich and vast collection of mythologies. These stories demonstrate the nature of the universe by appealing directly to one’s intuition. Instead of explicitly describing the subtle fabric of the universe and of consciousness, Indian myth attempts to reveal insights through subconscious realization.
One such myth that is very common among Hindu followers describes the nature of maya by relating the story of Narada, the ideal devotee. The story is told by a holy ascetic Vyasa, whom, when asked of the secret of maya, refers to another story of how maya works its effect. He tells the story of Kamadamana, a young prince. This individual, while conversing with his father, recounts a realization he remembers from a past life in which his name was Sutapas.
Visnu, pleased with Sutapas, who was a faithful devotee, appeared before him and granted him a boon, or wish. Sutapas desired only one thing, to comprehend the maya. Visnu responds by telling the story of Narada, another individual who desired to know the secret of maya. Visnu had appeared to Narada just as he had appeared to Sutapas, and was asked the same question. “What is the secret to your maya?” Visnu directed Narada to dive into a pool of water, assuring him that the secret would be revealed. Upon entering the water, Narada experiences an entire lifetime of existence. In this life he is a girl, whom eventually marries, fully experiences the delights of love, in due time becomes queen, and gives birth to many sons and grandsons. After years of contentment and joy, a feud erupts between her husband and father. This conflict is resolved in a mighty battle in which both sides of her family destroy each other.
Griped by sorrow, the woman builds an immense funeral pyre, in which all her relatives are engulfed by fire. She then throws herself into the conflagration, at which point the fire becomes a pond, and she finds herself again as Narada. He is thus led from the waters by the hand of Visnu. Visnu tells this tale to Sutapas, supposedly, in order to teach him that the secret of his maya is beyond comprehension, and can only known to Visnu himself. He offers Sutapas the same vision, at which point Sutapas delves into the water, emerges as a girl, and was thus overcome by the complete experience of another life.
In another popular story, the reoccurring character Narada asks Visnu to reveal the magic power of his maya. Visnu takes Narada across a blazing dessert. Upon seeing a group of huts in the distance, Visnu directs Narada to fetch some water. Narada goes to ask for water, but instead meets a beautiful maiden and forgets his task entirely. He is taken in by the girl’s family, soon after which he marries the maiden, in time becomes head of the household, and bears three children. All is well for some time until a great flood comes to their village and forces them to evacuate. In trying to escape the waters, the torrential flood ripped away all three of his children, his wife, and eventually himself. He awakens on the desert floor and is overcome with sadness. Visnu then addresses Narada, “Do you comprehend now the secret of my maya.”
These intense stories are used to identify maya with a vast inescapable whirlwind of experience that is filled with desire, joy, and of course suffering. In both stories, the main character experiences an entire lifetime in the course of only a few minutes. The water symbolizes Visnu’s Maya energy.
“Therefore, in the symbolism of the myths, to dive into water means to delve into the mystery of maya, to quest after the ultimate secret of life. Boundless and imperishable, the cosmic waters are at once the immaculate source of all things and the dreadful grave. Through a power of self-transformation, the energy of the abyss puts forth, or assumes, individualized forms endowed with temporary life and limited ego-consciousness. For a time it nourishes and sustains these with a vivifying sap. Then it dissolves them again, without mercy or distinction, back into the anonymous energy out of which they arose.” ZIM 34
Such is the force of nature, of unmanifest energy, of “the inexhaustible, eternal well of being”, from which all physical creation is made manifest. We exist within nature, and are thus governed by its supreme force, which neither discriminates nor is partial to any individual life or existence.
Visnu maintains that only he can comprehend the full effect of maya, and that it is beyond the reach of human understanding; yet, it is conceivably possible to attain union with Visnu, for this is the goal of he who seeks moksa. It is the question that drives us. It is the quest of the disciplined devotee who seeks liberation from the painful cycle of birth, old age, and death. The man of knowledge embraces Visnu as the highest way, the path of infinity. To comprehend Visnu’s maya is thus the greatest vision imaginable; the key to universe through conscious awareness.