“He (Vidura) indirectly hinted, ‘A weapon not made of steel or any other material element can be more than sharp to kill an enemy, and he who knows this is never killed.’ That is to say, he hinted that the party of the Pandavas was being sent to Varanavata to be killed, and thus he warned Yudhishthira to be very careful in their new residential palace.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.8 Purport)
Tamo-guna. The Sanskrit translates to “mode of ignorance.” Mode refers to a material quality, guna. Gunas can also be gradations of living conditions and situations. For example, a person can be living in the mode of goodness. They organize the day in such a way that they are always knowledgeable. They are enlightened as to what is really going on. Whereas living in the mode of ignorance is something like being constantly intoxicated, where reality gets distorted, intentionally for a host of reasons.
Then there is the overall ignorance associated with living in the material world. The Vedas describe an energy called maya. This creates a desired illusion, and though we may have forgotten when the choice was made, maya is a facilitator.
An easy way to understand her effect is to take the situation of watching a film on the big screen in a theater hall. The attendees are well aware that the events depicted on the screen aren’t actually occurring. If I am seated in the front row, I cannot reach forward and grab one of the characters. Neither can they jump out and touch the audience.
There is an unspoken covenant going in. I will intentionally forget that the depiction is a scripted performance. The actors, directors, producers and the like will do their best to convince me that everything is real. This is the only way to derive enjoyment. Otherwise, there is little value to sitting down and observing for so long a time.
Maya creates a veil of ignorance across the entire sphere of material existence. The goal is mistaken. We want to enjoy separate of God, almost becoming Him in a sense. Rising to the top in a field of endeavor, obtaining distinctions and notoriety, considering human effort to be the sole determining factor in outcomes.
गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः
कर्ताहम् इति मन्यते
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
From Bhagavad-gita we learn that the living entity is actually not the doer. The actor can do their best when shooting a film, but there is no guarantee that they will be believable in the role. Other factors must cooperate. This means that the outcome is not entirely in the hands of the actor, both in the theatrical sense and the general worker.
Though this ignorance is desired at first, it is ultimately not beneficial. Therefore, an escape needs to be planned. The reference to an attacking force is both intentional and accurate. Maya is as dangerous as any condition a person can think of.
An incident from the historical work known as the Mahabharata beautifully symbolizes the danger. The resolution also shows the way out, to steer clear of impeding forces. The central characters, the Pandava brothers, are advised to take up residence in another city. This is intentional, so that the Pandavas will be burned to death in a house made of lac.
The plot-maker perfectly represents ignorance. He thinks that by getting rid of his rivals he can rule over the kingdom of Hastinapura in peace. Remove competition through cheating and then everything will be fine. But Duryodhana, ignorance-personified, would not be able to attack those who were protected by knowledge-personified.
The Pandavas received help in the form of a well-wisher, their uncle Vidura. In code language he essentially told them to watch out. There would be trouble in the new residence. This is symbolic of the spiritual master coming to the rescue of the soul sincerely desirous of escaping maya for good.
The guru shows the way towards remaining in good association. The Pandavas would turn the tables, escaping the house before it burned down. Duryodhana’s plan failed, though it was seemingly foolproof. In the same way, maya cannot successfully attack the person who is protected by the Supreme Lord.
The Pandavas had their protection, which manifested in a variety of ways. Vidura’s helpful hints protected them from the fire, but this was Krishna acting through a representative. A garment of fixed length suddenly became unending to help protect Draupadi. The words of wisdom directly emanating from Krishna guided Arjuna to victory.
In this age the way to escape ignorance for good is to keep Krishna’s association through His holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The hints from the spiritual master provide further protection from maya’s attacks, which are ceaseless.
Like audience member taking seat,
Good performance hoping to meet.
With unspoken agreement to take,
That understanding depiction fake.
Same interaction with maya to tell,
Spiritual guide’s words to dispel.
Like Vidura with house of lac,
Bhagavan saving from attack.