“A living entity misuses his little independence when he wants to lord it over material nature. This misuse of independence, which is called maya, is always available, otherwise there would be no independence. Independence implies that one can use it properly or improperly. It is not static; it is dynamic. Therefore, misuse of independence is the cause of being influenced by maya.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.31.15 Purport)
Friend1: I got a chicken or the egg type question for you.
Friend2: You need that solved? You’ve never heard of Lord Brahma?
Friend1: Yes, I understand that Brahma came first. He used the three modes of material nature as his ingredients for creating everything we see around us. The soul inside the egg comes before both the chicken and the egg. I know all of this.
Friend2: You know one time I was discussing yogurt with someone and this chicken or the egg thing came up.
Friend1: Oh, because you need cultures from existing yogurt to make new yogurt?
Friend2: Exactly. So my friend made a funny joke in response to one of my questions. He said, “Yes, yogurt is like chickens.”
Friend1: That’s pretty good. My question is in relation to maya. I know that the Sanskrit definition is “that which is not.” Brahman is “that which is;” the Absolute Truth.
Friend2: Since maya is that which is not, it is illusion. It’s like the mirage in the desert. It’s the allure of sense gratification that brings so many negative things when indulged.
Friend1: Maya is a strong illusory force. It leads us to mistake a rope for a snake. It causes us to identify with the body, which is temporary. That body is created by a higher being, though we think we maintain it through our own efforts.
Friend2: Maya is very strong. Practically the whole world is under her influence.
Friend1: So here’s my question. Maya’s illusion makes us forget our real identity as spirit and our relationship to Supreme Spirit. If the force is so powerful, how do we get out of it? I know that in Vedic teachings the idea is that life under maya is a choice. You don’t have to be under her influence.
Friend2: Exactly. We don’t have to perpetually spin on the wheel of reincarnation, the samsara-chakra.
Friend1: If it’s a choice and we’re under illusion right now, how do we make the right choice? Basically, I’m asking what came first: maya or the decision to enjoy separately from God?
Friend2: That is a great question. The independence is always there. Just like we have a choice in what we eat, even if we think otherwise. I could eat pizza for dinner for two weeks straight, but it doesn’t mean that I have to. During those two weeks I think I won’t be happy unless I eat pizza. I think that I’ll remain hungry otherwise. But in fact I can eat something else.
Friend1: Okay, I like this example. Let’s work with it. You’re under illusion in this scenario. You’re making a choice, but you’re not choosing wisely. How do you break free?
Friend2: Well, there’s intelligence inside of me. That is one of the properties inherent to the spirit soul. The soul is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. Maya covers up that knowledge. So you want to know how to remove the covering of maya?
Friend2: Find someone who is not under the influence of maya. They can help you. They are known as the guru, or spiritual master. They don’t have to be your officially assigned guru or anything. As you know, we get influenced by so many people, not all of whom are recognized teachers.
Friend1: I see. So the independence is always there, even if maya has firm control.
Friend2: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada uses the perfect word to describe the nature of the independence belonging to the living entity: dynamic. Independence means that there is always the option to choose unwisely. When you’re in maya, you have made the wrong choice. But the independence stays with you, which means that the correct choice is always available, no matter how low you have sunk.
Friend2: Maya works for Krishna, after all. She has a negative influence on us, but she is a dedicated servant to the Supreme Lord. When the wrong choice is made, there needs to be energy to facilitate what comes next. In the same light, the guru is there to help when the right choice is made. The difficulty is that hardly anyone wants to make the right choice. Deep down they know they are on the wrong path, but they still don’t want to surrender to the Supreme Lord. It is for this reason that Krishna says that after many births and deaths does one come to understand Him. Understanding Him means also knowing maya and independence.
Maya or my choice first coming,
How under illusion becoming?
Independence not something static,
When choice made result automatic.
From out of the darkness to see,
Approach guru, above maya is he.
This direction making choice right,
Reward once again with the divine sight.