Maya, see also Illusion
Maya means "that which is not." It refers to the Supreme Person's energy of illusion, which makes us think our temporary body, which is a product of the material world, is the same as our eternal, spiritual self, the atma within the body. When we're under maya's influence, the attractive things in this world—wealth, fame, the opposite sex—appear real and desirable to us. We think we should be able to enjoy and control them, as we like. But really, everything here is under the control of time, and none of these temporary things can bring us lasting happiness.
Everything about Krishna, the Supreme Person, is completely spiritual. He always has been and always will be the supreme controller and enjoyer. But when we want to enjoy or control separately from Him—as if we were God ourselves—everything then appears to us as material, non-spiritual, separate from God, and exploitable. What we see then is maya, illusion, because in reality nothing is separate from the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Person, Krishna.
(The image is a well-known ambiguous optical illusion entitled, "My Wife and My Mother-In Law." The person in the picture can be seen either as a young woman or an old woman.)
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada [hearing the bells and music from a passing ice cream truck]: What is that?
Disciple: An ice cream truck, Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, ice cream. [Laughter.] You are taking ice cream? Huh?
Disciple: No, Srila Prabhupada. Sometimes they make it with eggs or slaughterhouse by-products or who knows what. But anyway, the trucks go up and down the street.
Srila Prabhupada: Canvassing?
Srila Prabhupada [laughing as the ice- cream-truck music grows louder]: Don’t take ice cream. This is maya. [Laughter.] “Come on, come on—enjoy me. Come on, come on—enjoy me.” [He says it musically and laughs.] As soon as you enjoy, you become entrapped. That’s all.
Just like fishing tackle. The fisherman throws the bait and invites the fish, “Come on—enjoy me. Come on, come on—enjoy me.” And as soon as the fish tries to enjoy—hupp! [Laughter.] Finished. [Prabhupada imitates the choking sound of a hooked fish.] And then the fisherman looks at the fish and says, “Where will you go now? Come on into my bag. Yes. I’ll fry you nicely.”
You see? So these things are all explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The fish loses his life because of his uncontrolled tongue. He cannot check the dictation of the tongue; therefore, he loses his life. You see?
Similarly with the deer in the forest. The hunter will play very nice flute, and all the deer will assemble to hear him playing so nicely. In that way the hunter gets one of the deer into his trap, and the deer loses his life. In other words, just as the fish loses his life by tasting, the deer loses his life by hearing.
Tasting. Hearing. And the elephant is caught by sexual attraction. Do you know how the elephant is captured? Yes, a trained she-elephant goes to the male elephant, and he follows and drops into a big pit. He remains there for some time. Then he’s shackled and taken away. In this way the Bhagavatam offers various examples of how our material senses can trap us in illusion.
That big black bee—what is it called? Bhramara? What is the English name for that big black bee? [Making an illustrative buzzing sound:] Onnnhhh.
Srila Prabhupada: It may be. In any case, he is entrapped by smelling the lotus flower. He enters within the lotus flower and loses his life.
So, being pulled by just one uncontrolled sense, each of these different creatures is losing his life. And yet in this modern so-called civilization, we have got all our senses uncontrolled. So, just imagine, what our position is? These examples are from the animal and insect kingdoms, wherein only one uncontrolled sense is prominent. But in this modern so- called civilization, all our senses are uncontrolled. So what is our position? You see?
In this connection another example is given in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Imagine a man who has got six wives, and he has entered his house, and suddenly all the wives are dragging him—“You come to my room.” You see? One wife has taken his left hand, another has taken his right hand, still another has taken his left leg, and yet another has taken his right leg, and so forth. And he’s wondering, “Where shall I go?”
You see? So in this modern society, this is our position as human beings—overwhelmed by so many senses which to date we have neglected to control. Instead of controlling the senses, most people are becoming servants of the senses. Most people are losing their opportunity, this great opportunity of human life—to control the senses in Krishna’s service and then go back to His eternal abode.
[A disciple raises his hand.] Yes?
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, those people who focus their attention on advancing to the higher material planets, where sense enjoyment is even more easily available—do they have even more opportunity to become entrapped?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Anyone within this material world is entrapped by this sense enjoyment. Either in the higher planets or in these middle planets or in the lower planets. For instance, among the human beings there is sense impetus, and among the lower animals there is sense impetus.
So both the human beings and the animals have sense impetus. Therefore we must ask, What is this so-called human being? We so-called civilized beings—what are we doing? The same thing that the lower animals are doing, namely eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The same thing that the dog is doing.
Anyway, wherever you go in the material world, either in the higher planets or in these middle planets or in the lower planets, sense gratification is prominent. Only in the spiritual world is there no sense gratification. In the spiritual world there is simply an endeavor to satisfy Krishna. Here everyone is merely trying to satisfy his own senses. That is the law of the material world. That is material life. And as long as you go on trying merely to satisfy your own senses, you will stay in this material world.
But as soon as you turn your senses toward satisfying the senses of Krishna, you reawaken your spiritual life. It’s a very simple thing. Hrishikena hrishikesha-sevanam: use your senses to satisfy Krishna, the Lord, the master of your senses. That is bhakti. That is devotional service.
You have senses. So you have to satisfy them. Because you have these senses, you have to satisfy them. The question is how you can actually satisfy them. The proper method. But you do not know the proper method. The conditioned soul does not know that when he simply tries to satisfy Krishna’s senses, his senses will be automatically satisfied.
For instance, as I have said many times, if I want to see to the health of a tree’s branches and leaves, I do not pour water directly on them. Rather, I pour water on the root. Or if I want to see to the health of my arms and fingers, instead of trying to feed them directly I give the foodstuffs to my stomach, and automatically my arms and fingers are satisfied.
This secret we are missing. We are thinking we shall be happy by trying to satisfy our senses directly. Krishna consciousness means don’t try to satisfy your senses directly—try to satisfy the senses of Krishna. Automatically your senses will be satisfied. This is the secret of Krishna consciousness.
The opposite party—the karmis, or materialists—they are thinking, “Oh, why shall I satisfy Krishna? Why shall I work for Krishna the whole day and night? Let me work for my own satisfaction.” The devotees are working the whole day and night for Krishna, and the karmis are thinking, “What fools they are. We are very intelligent. The whole day and night we are working for our own sense gratification, and what benefit are they getting from working for Krishna?”
This is the difference between the materialists and the spiritualists. The spiritualists’ endeavor is to work the whole day and night strenuously, without any halt, simply for Krishna. That is spiritual life. And the materialists make the same endeavor, always trying to satisfy their personal senses. This is the difference between the materialists and spiritualists.
So the Krishna consciousness movement means that we have to train our senses to satisfy Krishna. That’s all. For so many thousands and millions of lifetimes we have simply tried to satisfy our personal senses. Let this lifetime be dedicated for satisfying Krishna’s senses. That is Krishna consciousness. At least dedicate this one lifetime. For so many lifetimes we have simply tried to satisfy our personal senses. Let this lifetime—at least this one lifetime—be dedicated for satisfying Krishna’s senses. Let me try and then see what happens. And we will not be the loser. Even if we sometimes wonder whether we are being inconvenienced by not directly satisfying our senses, still we will not be the loser.
Yes and no. The engineer of the universe, Brahma, mentions Durga as Krishna's illusory energy—Maya—in his collection of prayers to Krishna known as the Brahma-samhita. The commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.2.48 discusses this:
". . .the Brahma-samhita (5.44) says, sristhi-sthiti-pralaya-sadhana-shaktir eka chayeva yasya bhuvanani bibharti durga. Maya is like a shadow of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who serves Him in the creation, maintenance and annihilation of this world. Just as a shadow has no independent power of movement but follows the substance that casts the shadow, the illusory energy of the Lord has no independent power, but bewilders the living entities according to the Lord's desire. One of Krishna's opulences is that He is supremely detached; when a living entity wants to forget Him, Krishna immediately employs His illusory energy to facilitate the foolishness of the conditioned soul."
"Actually, the illusory, material energy is cheating everyone. People do not know what they are doing when they worship the material energy in the form of goddess Kali or Durga for material boons. They ask, "Mother, give me great riches, give me a good wife, give me fame, give me victory." But such devotees of the goddess Maya, or Durga, do not know that they are being cheated by that goddess. Material achievement is actually no achievement because as soon as one is illusioned by the material gifts, he becomes more and more entangled, and there is no question of liberation."
However, the name "Durga" doesn't always refer to Krishna's illusory energy by which we're all bewildered in the material world. For example, the cowherd girls of Vrindavan, the gopis, prayed to Durga in order to get Krishna as their husband. The gopis are well known as Krishna's dearest devotees, and certainly aren't ignorantly seeking illusory happiness. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.22.4, Purport, we see this commentary on Durga and Maya:
"According to various acharyas, the goddess Durga mentioned in this verse is not the illusory energy of Krishna called Maya but rather the internal potency of the Lord known as Yoga-maya. The distinction between the internal and external, or illusory, potency of the Lord is described in the Narada-pañcaratra, in the conversation between Sruti and Vidya:
'The Lord’s inferior potency, known as Durga, is dedicated to His loving service. Being the Lord’s potency, this inferior energy is nondifferent from Him. There is another, superior potency, whose form is on the same spiritual level as that of God Himself. Simply by scientifically understanding this supreme potency, one can immediately achieve the Supreme Soul of all souls, who is the Lord of all lords. There is no other process to achieve Him. That supreme potency of the Lord is known as Gokulesvari, the goddess of Gokula. Her nature is to be completely absorbed in love of God, and through Her one can easily obtain the primeval God, the Lord of all that be. This internal potency of the Lord has a covering potency, known as Maha-maya, who rules the material world. In fact she bewilders the entire universe, and thus everyone within the universe falsely identifies himself with the material body.'
From the above we can understand that the internal and external, or superior and inferior, potencies of the Supreme Lord are personified as Yoga-maya and Maha-maya, respectively. The name Durga is sometimes used to refer to the internal, superior potency, as stated in the Pañcaratra: “In all mantras used to worship Krishna, the presiding deity is known as Durga.” Thus in the transcendental sound vibrations glorifying and worshiping the Absolute Truth, Krishna, the presiding deity of the particular mantra or hymn is called Durga. The name Durga therefore refers also to that personality who functions as the internal potency of the Lord and who is thus on the platform of suddha-sattva, pure transcendental existence. This internal potency is understood to be Krishna’s sister, known also as Ekanamsa or Subhadra. This is the Durga who was worshiped by the gopis in Vrindavan. Several acaryas have pointed out that ordinary people are sometimes bewildered and think that the names Maha-maya and Durga refer exclusively to the external potency of the Lord."
(Image depicts Durga offering prayers to Vishnu.)