“The last illusion, the last snare of maya to trap the living entity, is the proposition that he is God. The living entity thinks that he is no longer a conditioned soul, but God. He is so unintelligent that he does not think that if he were God, then how could he be in doubt? That he does not consider. So that is the last snare of illusion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 18.73 Purport)
“I hate to use pop culture references as the starting point of a discussion into spiritual matters, but I thought this one would be appropriate, on many levels. There is a line from a famous movie that says something to the effect of ,’The greatest trick the devil pulled off was making people believe that he doesn’t exist.’
“I think the correlation is to organized crime on the street. It happens under everyone’s nose, but people are generally unaware. There is no mistaking the criminal nature of the activity; hence the comparison to the devil. But there is this illusion created which leads people to believe that everything is operating as per normal, in accordance with the law.
“I have heard some spiritual leaders compare the concept of the devil to the maya described in Vedic literature. I understand that in the Vedanta school, the genuine kind, the comparison does not hold up. This is because maya is not an equal to God. She is a servant in the truest sense. She is an illusory energy working under His direction.
“If you were to assess the situation, however, what would maya’s greatest trick be? What would be the most amazing thing that she is able to accomplish?”
Whether there is a higher degree or lower, illusion is still illusion. A small child thinks that they can eat ice cream day and night without suffering negative consequences in the future. An adult does not see the harm the addiction to intoxicants will cause moving forward. One is a small kind of illusion and the other much larger, but they are both in the same situation.
Rather than compare in terms of greater or lesser, the acharyas present the analysis in terms of time or sequence. In other words, the first illusion that maya creates and then the last. The beginning is obvious. We can think back to our time during childhood. Just enjoy. Accumulate toys. Satisfy the senses. Give no thought to long-term interest, shreyas.
In adulthood that attitude manifests to the greatest magnitude in business and political dealings. Become the richest person in the world. Have it be said that you were a “rags to riches” story. You started with nothing and ended up a millionaire.
Someone like Hiranyakashipu wants to rule the entire world. They seek immortality through tapasya, though the purpose should always be divyam. Austerity and penance for the pleasure of the Divine, for purifying the consciousness. Instead, the leader of the Daityas tortured himself in the fleeting hopes of remaining alive forever.
He had to settle for becoming the most feared ruler in the world, with everyone under his thumb. Of course, there are always exceptions. This time it was the king’s own son. Prahlada Maharaja could not be controlled, though he had no physical assets to fight back against coercion. He had a different kind of strength supporting him.
When a person realizes that they cannot be happy through accumulation, they turn towards the other direction. This is only natural. Sanskrit literature compares this to swinging on a pendulum. One side is enjoyment, bhoga. The other side is renunciation, tyaga.
In the extreme case of tyaga, a person thinks that they have become God. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada refers to this as maya’s last snare. We could say this is the greatest trick, but maya pulls of so much within her spell of illusion that a solid case could be made for the other side.
If I know the subtleties and intricacies of this world, how there is intelligence embedded into every aspect of creation, and then still think that everything came together through randomness, it is certainly amazing. Maya has done her job well. She is a trusted servant for a reason.
As powerful as that illusion is, the Supreme Personality of Godhead can dissipate it in an instant. He does so through direct words of wisdom, as offered to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He does so through recorded recollections of His dealings in this world, as found in the Puranas and Mahabharata.
He also sends His representatives, whose sole objective is to rescue others from the darkness and place them into the light. The method of implementation may vary to fit the time and circumstance, but there is effectiveness due to the link to Shri Krishna.
To devil not comparison exact,
Since maya as servant to act.
Working under God’s direction,
Illusion when under her protection.
Only Krishna the cloud to dispel,
Where matter from spirit to tell.
So no impact even last snare,
Since of Almighty aware.