“Everything has a cause, and that cause or seed of manifestation is Krishna. Without Krishna’s energy, nothing can exist; therefore He is called omnipotent. Without His potency, neither the movable nor the unmovable can exist. Whatever existence is not founded on the energy of Krishna is called maya, that which is not.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.39 Purport)
“I know that the Mayavadis have a preference for the term, ‘neti, neti’. They like to point to different aspects of the nature around them and make a proper identification. They say that this is not Brahman and neither is that. Brahman is the spiritual energy. We are all Brahman, since we are spirit soul at the core.
“None of this is speculative. We find ‘neti neti’ sprinkled throughout Vedic literature. The exception the Vaishnavas take is that the Mayavadis, the impersonalists, only tell half the story. Of course the body we accept is not Brahman. The leaves falling to the ground in autumn, devoid of life, are not Brahman. Neither is that pebble bouncing along the road, nor the road itself.
“The full understanding is that ‘neti neti’ says that whatever is around us is insufficient in fully explaining the spiritual energy. Just because I have found the tree does not mean that I have found God. If you ask me to show you the Supreme Lord, He is indeed ‘not this and not that.’
“Both sides agree that the proper word to use is maya. The root definition is ‘that which is not.’ Brahman is the true substance; it is everlasting. It never dies. It never takes birth. The Mayavadis say that the entire world is false, while the Vaishnavas say that it is only temporary, like something from a dream.
“My question relates to the position of the Supreme Lord in all of this. How can something not be Krishna? He is the source of both material and spiritual worlds. I understand the identification of maya, but not completely. It is not Brahman, but how is it totally separate from God the person? How can anything have an independent existence?”
The explanation His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gives is that maya’s influence causes Krishna to be covered. We can review something basic like the sky. On a clear day, we see the sun. We already notice its presence early in the morning, due to the daylight. We assume correctly that the sun is out, only to confirm the suspicion later on through a direct vision.
यच् चापि सर्व-भूतानां
बीजं तद् अहम् अर्जुन
न तद् अस्ति विना यत् स्यान्
मया भूतं चराचरम्
yac cāpi sarva-bhūtānāṁ
bījaṁ tad aham arjuna
na tad asti vinā yat syān
mayā bhūtaṁ carācaram
“Furthermore, O Arjuna, I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being-moving or unmoving—that can exist without Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.39)
On a cloudy or rainy day, we cannot see the sun. The entire atmosphere is darker as a result. The cloud is part of the sky, and the sun is still there in the background. The only difference is that the cloud covers the sun from our vision.
In the same way, maya covers Krishna to such a degree that we might think that He does not exist at all. This is the worst mistake, accompanied by smaller errors such as identifying with the body, accepting the land of birth as everything, and thinking that we will maintain our position in life permanently.
Maya can be understood as a way of thinking. It is an illusory energy sourced in the Supreme Lord. He is working like the expert actor on the stage, wherein the audience in attendance intentionally forgets that they are viewing a scripted performance; the events are not really taking place.
The more a person advances in spiritual life, the more they begin to properly understand maya. They may even develop a significant appreciation for her, for the dedication shown to the Almighty, for facilitating the desire to be in illusion by the conditioned living entity.
In the end, everything has its cause as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is thus described as sarva karana-karanam. Should I eventually win the coveted position of eternal life in His association, He is also the cause, and therefore worthy of my allegiance in devotion: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
If spiritual residence winning,
And no more on reincarnation spinning.
Then one person responsible for,
Ultimately for opening that door.
Not this and not that,
Maya clouding vision exact.
The Supreme Lord showering His grace,
Blessed opportunity ignorance to erase.