Why does this discernment of thought not exist normally in people? Bhagavān answers:
Māyā has taken away the discerning ability of people.
Māyā is a special mechanism in the operation of prakṛti. It is an error or mistake that arises during an inconsistency during the comprehension of other objects by the mind. Consistency here refers to compatibility; not just a lack of opposition but also positive agreement. It is important that there be agreement between these two aspects to see an object properly.
1. The seer’s vision has to be fit.
2. Adequate light should fall on the object of sight.
A deficiency in even one of these hampers the knowledge of the object. A lacuna in either the seer’s visual acuity or in how the object is viewed will lead to false or incomplete knowledge. Nothing else needs to be said for defects in both. Tradition terms the lacuna in the seer’s vision as avidyā and the change in the seen (say, the shine of silver mistakenly seen in nacre) is known as māyā. Avidyā that has the jīva as its locus and the world-deluding Māyā are counterparts that mutually reinforce each other.
The world dances; the eye throbs. The resultant vision is that of māyā.
A man is travelling to a town at dusk when darkness falls. He sees an object on the way. It appears to sway from side to side. He thinks it to be a snake and runs away afraid. He shivers and sweats. Another approaches him and inquires about the reason for his fear. When told that it was because of a snake, the latter laughs and tells him that it was not a snake but a piece of rope. Māyā is that which made a rope to appear as a snake in dim light. That which made the man unable to see through that fiction is his own avidyā.
Māyā is not falsehood. Neither is it true. The rope elicited all those reactions such as fear and sweating that a real snake would. The ‘snake’ he saw appeared to be a snake, even though it was not. The memory of a snake seen elsewhere superimposed on the substratum of the rope caused the delusion of the snake. Thus Māyā is that unique set of circumstances that makes one thing appear as another. Māyā is not entirely a lie; but is definitely not the truth either. In the preceding story, the delusion would not have occurred had either the piece of rope or the memory of the snake not been there. That which caused fear and suffering in the person even before he could analyse the situation is avidyā.
When we travel in the hot sun in automobiles or trains, we sometimes see ‘lakes’ shimmering far away. Those are not lakes in reality but heat haze. Due to the variation in temperature from the air near the hot ground to the cooler air above it, air density gradually decreases with increasing temperature, thereby varying the refractive index of the air. This produces a shimmering effect that the seer considers water. This is Māyā. The play of air and temperature outside and the thirst within.
When we lift our heads, it appears as if a blue clothed canopy has been pitched above us. But there is no tent or fabric or plank in the sky; it is space; empty space. The blue colour of the sky is an illusion. Due to the scattering of blue light by the earth’s atmosphere, the sky appears blue. Whatever the reason might be, this misapprehension in our vision is well known. That error stems from māyā.
Let us look at one more example. Assume we are travelling from Bengaluru to Maisuru. When our train reaches Maddur station, suppose that we see the train from Maisuru start for Bengaluru through the window. Though our train is stationary, it appears as if it is our train that is moving and not the train from Maisuru. The masked or changed appearance of the actual situation presented to our minds is māyā. A thing appearing as something else is māyā. Also, the non-appearance of an existing thing is also māyā.
The Twofold Nature of Māyā
Māyā acts in two ways.
1. Showing a thing as something else. This power of māyā is known as vikṣepa. A waterless desert in the afternoon sun shining appears as a reservoir of water from afar. That is a mirage. That is an example of māyā’s vikṣepa.
2. Masking an existing thing and showing it as non-existent is Āvaraṇa. A big tree makes its generating seed invisible. When a plant grows into a big tree, we get the impression that the tree had existed in the same state forever. It makes us forget that a seed was its cause. Māyā’s power of concealing the truth is known as Āvaraṇa. The outer beauty of the body conceals urine, stools, and pus from bothering our mind. This is the power of Āvaraṇa.
It is not possible to elucidate this two-fold māyā further because māyā can be considered existent via one perspective and non-existent via another. It is present if we consider it to be there and absent if we consider it as not there. Māyā is something that is impossible to exactly delineate.
sannāpyasannāpyubhayātmikā no bhinnāpyabhinnāpyubhayātmikā no
sāṅgāpyanaṅgāpyubhayātmikā no mahādbhutānirvacanīyarūpā
Neither being nor non-being; not simultaneously being and non-being; Not different; Not non-different; not simultaneously different and non-different. Not endowed with parts; not unendowed with parts; not simultaneously both. It is a great wonder and is beyond verbal description - such as “This its origin; thus its existence” and so on.
The person who overcomes beginningless avidyā that is propagated through the succession of births is unaffected by māyā.
In conclusion, whatever false appearance we call a delusion or an error or mistaken perception is caused by māyā. We can see more of it in other places.
The Dominance of Māyā
The reason for this long discussion on māyā is the impact it has on our lives. Māyā is the universal power that brings the error of avidyā in the perceiver’s intellect to fruition. Because of that film on our perception, we are unable to see the ever present association between jagat and Īśvara or the essential relationship between the jīva and paramātmā. Māyā causes the jīva to view its normally perceived world as ever permanent. It is also the cause of the jīva’s ego-centric delusions such as, “I am the ruler, I am the enjoyer”. Mighty indeed is māyā. It is impossible for us to comprehend the reality of the relationship between jagat and Īśvara or that between jīva and Īśvara without overcoming māyā. As māyā is the greatest impediment towards the knowledge of reality, we had to have this lengthy discourse on it.
The Limitations of the Intellect
Just as fog envelops the body’s eye, the mind’s eye, so to speak, is also covered by a fog. The mind’s rays of attention are scattered on the one hand by the latent impressions of previous births (vāsanas), and on the other hand by the tastes, glitter, and glamour of the world. Similarly, while there are long standing habits and unexamined beliefs on one side, new thought processes and new developments in the world seem to fly in their face. Our intellectual faculties are scattered between the two. While man’s intellectual capacity is essentially limited, it is also paralysed by latent vāsanas and old beliefs. With these limits, the mind’s deficiencies double. One side of the mind is fogged and the world it sees changes every moment, escaping any kind of comprehension and analysis. How therefore can one glimpse reality with partial vision on one side and constant change on the other? With that, even tin will be valued like silver. The crow will be welcomed as a koel. The foam of water bubbles will be mistaken for a white rocky mountain. A lake stagnant with moss and hyacinth appears like a lush meadow. Thus does universal māyā trick the mind and intellect out of comprehending reality.
tribhir guṇa-māyāir bhāvair ebhiḥ sarvam idaṃ jagat
mohitaṃ nābhijānāti māmebhyaḥ param avyayam ||
daivī hyeṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṃ taranti te ||
BG 7.13, 7.14
The three guṇas: sattva, rajas and tamas present in prakṛti have enveloped the world in delusion. As Brahma is beyond those three guṇas, the world cannot understand that Brahma is ever unchanging. Māyā comprising these three guṇas is of divine origin and is hence difficult to overcome.
The principle of jagat, jīva, and Īśvara eludes us because the veil of māyā shrouds us. With that veil cast off, the Supreme Truth can be attained. Has not Bhagavān himself declared that his māyā is inscrutable? Bhagavān himself shows the way by declaring that only those who take refuge in him are able to cross māyā and attain the Supreme reality.
Māyā with the guṇa triad is of divine origin. We should not complain that this māyā - this delusion - is cheating us because its place of creation is Brahma. Those who bear the thought of the Supreme Brahma in their minds are able to subdue māyā. Māyā is one of the inferior activities of prakṛti. How is it possible to get rid of something inferior? By encouraging the superior. To get rid of malodour, one uses perfumes. Māyā, similarly, can be overcome through the practice of divine presence - by encouraging the knowledge of reality. As our conviction in the existence of the divine becomes firmer, the grip of māyā loosens.
The Worship of Bhagavān
It is thus established that the worship of Bhagavān is essential for the knowledge of reality. A couple of words now, on the method of worship
chatur-vidhā bhajante māṃ janāḥ sukṛitino'rjuna |
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī jñānī cha bharatarṣabha ||
Those who take refuge in Bhagavān are of four kinds.
- Ārta (The distressed) - Those who resort to the divine only when they encounter difficulties in life personifying the adage - ‘saṃkaṭa baṃdāga vĕṃkaṭaramaṇa’ - ‘Venkataramana is resorted to only when there is distress’.
- Jijñāsu (those desirous of knowing) - Those who are curious about the knowledge of the Supreme; students of the śāstras.
- Arthārthi (those seeking material things) - Those who keep vows to attain specific material objectives.
- Jñānī (the knower) - those that have realised the knowledge of reality experientially.
All these four are sukṛtis which means that they possess the puṇya from their good deeds. All the four are noble. The jñānī among them is one who has attained the object of his intention.
jñānī tvātmaiva me matam
The jñānī is a kevalātmā: one who has attained union with Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
bahūnāṃ janmanām ante jñānavān māṃ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“Others, over several lives, gradually attain to the Supreme Abode through meditation upon the principle that Vāsudeva is everything. Such great personages are rare to find”.
The way of overcoming māyā is through the practice of Īśvara’s presence. None need be disheartened that such a practice is impossible for them. One must practice with patience and without haste. The thing to remember is that this practice takes time. Let as much time be taken as required. As time is infinite, there is no need to hurry. But it is important that the practice being undertaken is done thoroughly. Be it a man or a woman, devotion to Bhagavān can be practised according to one’s birth, one’s bent of mind, and as possible by one’s intellect. Let any method of worship be followed.
yo yo yāṃ yāṃ tanuṃ bhaktaḥ śraddhayārchitum ichchhati
tasya tasyāchalāṃ śraddhāṃ tām eva vidadhāmyaham ||
sa tayā śraddhayā yuktas tasyārādhanam īhate
labhate cha tataḥ kāmān māyāiva vihitān hi tān ||
antavat tu phalaṃ teṣāṃ tad bhavatyalpa-medhasām
devān deva-yajo yānti mad-bhaktā yānti mām api ||
BG 7.21 to 7.23
“Whoever worships whatever divine form with śraddhā, I will firm up the śraddhā for him in that form. If he has worshipped the form with śraddhā, his desires will be fulfilled. I have established this arrangement”.
When these words are recalled by us, it becomes clear how our religious animosities are nothing but insubordination (to the divine) and a lack of humility. Not just Hindus but Muslims and Christians too should pay attention to this principle. It is not important whether the Supreme Being is with or without form. But the devotion and śraddhā of the devotee is all important. Also important are the devotee’s mental attitude and the keenness of his yearning for the divine.
Keeping one’s mind in the divine is the same as not keeping one’s mind on things non-divine - which translates to releasing one’s mind from the non-divine. What then about one’s spouse and children? Are those relationships not boons from the divine? The one practising divine presence everywhere sees all relationships as Īśvara’s blessing. Such a person regards his or her family duties as devotional service to Bhagavān. There is nothing for such a person that is not Bhagavān.
ichchhā-dveṣa-samutthena dvandva-mohena bhārata
sarva-bhūtāni sammohaṃ sarge yānti parantapa ||
yeṣāṃ tvanta-gataṃ pāpaṃ janānāṃ puṇya-karmaṇām
te dvandva-moha-nirmuktā bhajante māṃ dṛḍha-vratāḥ ||
BG 7.27, 7.28
“All beings at the time of their birth lose their ability for discernment when they are subservient to desires, hatred, ego, envy, and other pairs of opposites. Those whose pāpa has come to an end and those who have performed puṇya become free of this pair of opposites and take refuge in Īśvara”.
This is the gist. Devotion to the divine means giving up selfishness and infatuation. As the thought that one’s family, kith and kin are blessings from the divine grows, selfishness and infatuation wane. As they wane, the jīva becomes purer. As the jīva becomes purer, contemplation of reality becomes easier. The one with the knowledge of reality understands what in one’s life is owed to the world and what is owed to one’s own inner self. Such a person, acting for the good of both, becomes free of worry. This is tranquillity.
The Upaniṣad uses the example of the spider (Ūrṇanābhi) to explain creation. The spider uses the sticky substance within itself to make a thread and weaves a web with it. It creates its own web-kingdom with the material created out of its own body and rules it as its king. During the creation of the web, it forgets that it is the creator. One who sings for one’s own happiness forgets oneself in the sweetness of one’s own voice. One enjoys it as if listening to someone else’s voice. The spider can similarly feel that its web creation was another’s creation that it had conquered for itself. Thus a creator of something can be deluded into thinking that he is different from his creation after seeing the wonderful things of his own creation. In reality, the creator, the instrument, and the creation are fundamentally one. The sentience of Brahma is the doer, prakṛti is the instrument and the world is the creation. Māyā is the strange and wonderful play of the world. The indivisible unity of the root cause of the universe is veiled by the illusion of māyā. Śāstra shows us the concealing curtain and asks us to tear it and cast it away. As our śraddhā in the Supreme Cause grows, the effect of māyā on us weakens.
ಸಹಸ್ರ ಮೊಗನಾದನೆಲ್ಲ ಜಗದೊಡಲುಗಳೊಳ್ ।
ದ್ಗೃಹಿಣಿ ಪ್ರಕೃತಿ ಪ್ರಪಂಚಪಾತ್ರೆಯೊಳಡುವಳ್ ।।
Sahasra-mŏganādanĕlla jagadŏḍalugaḷŏḷ |
Dgṛhiṇi prakṛti prapaṃcapātrĕyŏḷaḍuvaḷ ||
To savour many tastes, the Birthless One,
Became thousand-mouthed through the bodies of the world,
His consort, Prakṛti cooks many dishes,
in the vessel of the Universe.
ಪ್ರೋಕ್ತಂಗಳ್ ಭಗವದಾಸ್ಯದಿಂ ಸಪ್ತಮದೊಳ್ ||
Proktaṃgaḷ bhagavadāsyadiṃ saptamadŏḷ ||
The secret of Bhakti, the modes of
expression of īśvara’s power, and
the four kinds of true Bhaktas were
elucidated by the divine countenance in the Seventh.
ಹೃದುದ್ವೇಗಂಗಳಂ ಬಲ್ಲನುದಾರಂ ಕೃಷ್ಣನಾವಗಂ |
ಮದೀಯ ಹೃದ್ದೋಷಗಳಂ ಶೋಧಿಕೆ ಕ್ಷಮೆದೋರುತಂ ||
Hṛdudvegaṃgaḷaṃ ballanudāraṃ kṛṣṇanāvagaṃ |
Madīya hṛddoṣagaḷaṃ śodhikĕ kṣamĕdorutaṃ ||
May the munificent Kṛṣṇa, the knower of my heart’s agitations,
While forgiving me, ever purify the defects of my heart.
Come, O one who is affectionate to dharma, holding the Sudarśana, friendly to Arjuna,
Did you not proclaim that you will come down to destroy adharma?
Is destroying Kali more difficult, prabho! than destroying the Kauravas?
Show your weapons, your great ferocity and the fearsome Pāñcajanya.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.