Maya (Material Energy)
Two forms of Maya deeply affect us and influence our spiritual progress. They cause us to:
- Forget our true nature
- Become emotionally attached in the world
The Sanskrit names for these two forms of maya are:
- Aavaranatmika -- which causes us to think, "I am the body"
- Vikchepatmika -- this causes us to think, "My happiness is here (in the world)"
Our senses, mind and intellect are made of material energy and so is the external world. The great restriction of material faculties is that they can only experience and know material reality -- and nothing beyond this!
For example, you are reading this from a particular location right now. Look at the clock and note the time. Can you imagine being where you are now, but not at any particular time? Can you imagine that at this time, you were not situated anywhere?
Why is this so tough? Because our logic, reasoning, understanding and experience are governed by two factors: material time and material space. Everything for us occurs at some time, in some place. If we take away one or both of these, we are lost. Our imagination and thinking can't conceive this.
Similarly, our understanding and perception are restricted to material phenomena. What is beyond this? We don't know. As explained earlier, you are a combination of two energies: material and divine. Your soul is divine and related to God, who is unlimited divine bliss. Your ultimate aim is to realize that divine happiness.
Although this is a fact, we don't realize it. Our true nature is hidden by maya. But we are soul. Our constant inner demand as a soul is for divine happiness. This is our original desire. The soul reflects this longing into the mind every moment. Our material mind is incapable of recognizing the soul as the origin of this desire. How then could it know that this longing is for God? Instead we interpret it as a constant urge to find something great.
Although God is the greatest, the only great thing the mind sees before it is the world and all the subjects of the senses - delicious things to eat, beautiful things to see, soothing things to touch, intoxicating things to smell, exciting things to hear...
...And we're off!
On the basis of our understanding we form fulfilling desires of the senses and run after whatever we feel will be a source of happiness in the world. For every soul in maya, this seems the most logical and reasonable choice. This is due to maya's second kind of ignorance that causes us to become emotionally attached to all the subjects of the senses.
The Upanishads tell that once there was a deer who was being chased by a predator. It blindly ran to save its life. Eventually it became aware that the predator was gone but now the deer found itslef in a desert. It was surrounded everywhere by shimmering, hot sands and it was extremely thirsty. Looking to the west it saw a huge lake. The deer thought, "Oh, water is over there!" It ran in that direction. Arriving at that spot, there was only sand. The deer thought, "I made a mistake. Oh, look, it's over there!" It ran to the east. When she arrived, there was no water, only sand. Like this, it kept running place to place until she finally collapsed.
This is a case of optical illusion. The eyes are incapable of distinguishing between what is real (the sand) or unreal (the mirage). The sand is not an illusion. It is real. A mirage is an illusion that is based on something factual and real: refracted sun rays and the sand. The illusion is due to the eyes inability to distinguish between the real and the unreal.
From a spiritual point of view we suffer from a more complicated version of this due to the influence of maya: mental illusion. The world is not an illusion. It is real. The illusion is what we think, not just what we see.
We run after what we understand is happiness. We find some happiness, but after some time we start looking for happiness in another location. Our life passes running from one place to another. We are looking for something that will quench our thirst for happiness, but our satisfaction is only temporary.
Material happiness or
divine and authentic happiness
We learned earlier that a reliable map to authentic happiness can quickly guide us to our destination. Part of that map is understanding the definition of happiness.
True, authentic happiness or ananda is Divine. It is:
Material happiness is:
- Always joined with unhappiness
'Limited' means that at some point our experience of happiness begins to fade, and we start looking for other opportunities to find happiness.
It doesn't matter if you are spending the weekend at home or you are staying at a deluxe 5-star resort -- the quality of happiness you can enjoy may be more refined if you have more money -- but the pleasure any material happiness gives you always steadily decreases.
In fact, what we call 'happiness' is really just 'less unhappiness'. For example, we might consult a thermometer to determine how the is weather is outside. If the mercury is high, we say, "It's hot outside." If it's low, we say, "It's freezing cold." But a thermometer only does one thing -- it measures the presence or absence of heat. Either there is very little heat or too much heat, but in any case, it doesn't measure cold. When the heat is reduced we say it is cold, in actual fact it's just less heat.
Similarly, what we call 'happiness' is just a reduction in our overall landscape of unhappiness. You might experience a huge reduction in unhappiness and say, "Oh! I'm extremely happy!" It would be more correct to say, "I am much less unhappy." This is the relative nature of material happiness.
Our heart desires a constant, absolute and unconditional happiness. Such authentic happiness does exist, and it is divine.
The first step to bringing true happiness into your life is realizing the limitations of what you are experiencing now, and knowing the missing bliss can be found through your practice of bhakti yoga meditation.