In the ISKCON family within the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, when we speak about the material illusory energy or maya, we generally frame it negatively. Yet, since the Supreme is all good, how can “maya” be bad? After all, this earthly realm is a gift from God to guide and encourage all his beloved individual souls to ultimately return to His loving embrace.
Perhaps it would be best to understand and appreciate the services that Mahamaya (the personification of the material energy) performs as opposed to assigning a negative connotation. After all, isn’t maya a wondrous and inconceivable creative energy that teaches all souls the lessons each needs to progress spiritually?
Recently, I was in Hawaii when the volcanoes were erupting. We stood at a safe distance, marveling at the wondrous power of God since man-made achievements pale in comparison. Can we not look at maya in the material world in the same way, seeing this expanded energy of the Supreme with what some may call “radical amazement?” Some describe this world as a God-forsaken place. This is the opposite of the truth. God never forsakes us. Conditioned souls forsake Him!
THE RAZOR’S EDGE
To demonstrate our precarious position in the material world, Srila Prabhupada describes the thin line between temporary material allurements and eternally joyful Krishna consciousness as a razor’s edge. Take a moment and think about walking along a razor’s edge.
Unimaginable! This metaphor is a testimony to the greatest challenge of our lives, namely, living “in” this world but not being “of” this world. Great souls are poetically described as both swanlike and as lotus flowers to describe how to be in this world but not affected by it. These saints and sages are transcendentalists. Other graphic reminders include comparing this temporary world to an ocean with materially conditioned souls being tossed around and desperately trying to survive.
BLENDING INNER AND OUTER LIVES
Ultimately, the goal of life in this world is to become God/Krishna-conscious 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Srila Prabhupada described this metaphysical concept in so many ways; one is that being God-conscious puts the “1” in front of many zeros. This analogy tells us that, ultimately, what is temporary (the material world) pales in comparison to the eternal loving spiritual life that awaits all souls. Love in this world gives us just a hint of the bottomless and endless love that we can feel for the Supreme Person.
While this complete transition to full Krishna consciousness is a lofty and distant goal for most, it makes sense to invest our energies into our permanent happiness as opposed to just our temporary happiness. From moment to moment, most of us experience walking the dangerous tightrope (razor’s edge) of finding a balanced combination of both. After all, Srila Prabhupada left nothing to the imagination when he compared this endeavor to the mixing of oil and water. We can shake a container of oil and water, and for a few seconds, they seem to blend but then separate rapidly. They don’t mix well at all.
DANGERS AT EVERY STEP
The divinely empowered responsibility of Mahamaya is to keep us bound in the material illusory realm, thinking we are this body, this mind, this intelligence, and so forth. Teaching transcendental dharma (duty) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra is recorded in the Bhagavad-gita’s 700 poetically metered verses. This lesson from Krishna has become one of the most prominent spiritual guidebooks in the history of this world. We have free will and can choose to temporarily try to enjoy our lives in this world through our material senses or choose the elevated but more challenging path of enlightenment and self-realization.
MOVING FROM FEAR TO APPRECIATION TO LOVE
For new practitioners of all faith paths, creating a protective bubble that includes “fear” of stepping outside the bubble is almost essential. Srila Prabhupada himself said that his Western disciples are not afraid enough of maya.
Through spiritual practices of hearing (sravanam), chanting (kirtanam – praising Krishna in words and song), and remembering (smaranam), we gradually move from this protective bubble towards appreciation and, ultimately, love. These spiritual practices (known as sadhana bhakti) start as seemingly external practices. However, as we have experienced and observed in others, with the right association, the deep feelings that these practices can invoke gradually move into our hearts with the warmth, comfort, sense of safety, and love that we all seek as eternal souls; this is our natural position.
I am reminded of this way to view devotion, “Bhakti means to learn to worship at the altar of another person’s heart.” Yes, there is magic all around us at every single moment. We can see it with our eyes open or shut, in the cities or on the farms, in every face and every blade of grass. Everything we experience can help awaken us to our original eternal position in the Divine’s loving embrace, which our soul always desires.
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Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer
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