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How You Can Break Through the Net of Maya

“This, My Maya, made up of the three gunas, is difficult to penetrate” (Bhagavad Gita 7:14).

Net of MayaSince time immemorial Maya has been referred to as a net such as is used for catching fish and birds. However hard it may be to break through this net, we must all do so in time, and the spiritually intelligent try to break through right now without delay. We need to understand the net very well. And so Krishna says:


“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind [manas], intellect [buddhi] and egoism [ahankara]: this, My prakriti, is divided into eight parts” (Bhagavad Gita 7:4).

Before we look closer at this listing, we must keep in mind that there are two Prakritis, the lower and higher (or the lesser and the greater). Everything mentioned in this verse is energy, because the lower Prakriti itself is Primal Energy or Power (Shakti). Everything that “exists” is energy, part of the lower Prakriti. What we have here is a listing of the lower Prakriti. Since Mastership is our goal as yogis, Krishna is enumerating that which must be directly controlled through our yogic development. The list is short, but the challenge is long.

First we have the five primal elements (panchabhutas):

  1. Earth
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Air
  5. Ether

5 elements of Maya

Everything else is a combination of these five forms of energy (more accurately: five forms of behavior/arrangement of energy). The three remaining are mirrors of intelligence:

  • mind (manas)
  • intellect (buddhi)
  • ego (ahankara)

The manas is the sensory mind, the perceiving faculty that receives the messages of the senses. Buddhi is the intellect, the faculty of understanding and reason–the thinking mind. Ahankara is the feeling of “I am.”

It is not the true Self–for the Self is pure wisdom and need not think. Rather, it is the ego-sense, the intermediary between the Self and the bodies in which it is encased.

Because it often takes over and blinds us to the Self, the ego is usually spoken of in a very negative sense, but without the ego the Self could not possibly operate through the energy-complex necessary for our evolution.

Manas, Buddhi, and Ahankara

The manas sees a shape. The buddhi says: “That is a tree.” The ahankara concludes: “I am seeing a tree.” All experience, inner and outer, is processed by these three. In fact, most of us are confined to our experiences that proceed from them. However:

Behind it all

“This is My lower [lesser] Prakriti, but know My other, higher Prakriti, consisting of spirit-beings, by which this universe is sustained [supported]” (Bhagavad Gita 7:5).
Prabhavananda: “You must understand that behind this, and distinct from it, is That which is the principle of consciousness in all beings, and the source of life in all. It sustains the universe.”

This verse is not easy to translate, because the word jivabhutam can mean either “consisting of spirit-beings” or “the world of Spirit.” One means many spirits and the other only one Spirit.

In truth, both are correct, as the universe exists solely through the presence within it of the many eternal, individualized consciousnesses. And of course it exists because it is the dream of Brahman–but it is our dream, too. God and the spirits are existing in a sublime unity incomprehensible to any but the enlightened. The lower Prakriti is energy, but the higher Prakriti is consciousness.

Everything Krishna says is vastly important, including this point. It is rather common for people to think that if they know the enemy or the adversary well that they are going to easily come out the victor or the master.

But this is not true when considering Maya, for Maya of itself is nothing. It has a source and an enlivener. True, it has cut itself off from that source and has taken on a kind of independent life of its own–but that is its own illusion catching up with itself.

The Self of our selves

The bedrock truth of all things is that behind and separate from them is the Primal Purusha, the Supreme Consciousness that is inseparable from all beings and the very Principle of the existence of all things, and our own jivatman, our own individual Self.

“The immortal Self is the sun shining in the sky, he is the breeze blowing in space, he is the fire burning on the altar, he is the guest dwelling in the house; he is in all men, he is in the gods, he is in the ether, he is wherever there is truth; he is the fish that is born in water, he is the plant that grows in the soil, he is the river that gushes from the mountain–he, the changeless reality, the illimitable!” (Katha Upanishad 2:2:2)

“Him the sun does not illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the lightning–nor, verily, fires kindled upon the earth. He is the one light that gives light to all. He shining, everything shines” (Katha Upanishad 2:2:15, Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.10).

Knowing about MayaIt is this twofold-yet-one Primal Being that must be known if we are to elude the snare of Maya and transcend its influence forever. We must always have in mind the fact that the Reality behind the deluding appearance is the Infinite Self from which we draw our very existence. And I do not mean this in a merely intellectual fashion.

It must be a knowing, a perception arising from the experience that is gained from intense sadhana alone.

“All creatures have their birth in this [Prakriti]. Understand this! I am the origin and also the dissolution of the entire universe” (Bhagavad Gita 7:6).

To know Maya truly we must know the Lord of Maya, Ishwara, for they are inseparably united. We must shake ourselves awake from the dream of separation. Part of knowing ourselves consists in experiential awareness of our origin: Prakriti united with Purusha.

This is why the concepts of Heaven-Father and Heaven-Mother are central to any intuition-based spiritual view. One without the other is nonsense. Even in the upanishads which so emphasize the transcendent aspect of reality that can be symbolized as Father, the necessity of the Mother is found. (See the third chapter of the Kena Upanishad.) As Prakriti the Parampurusha is the womb which brings all things into being and dissolves them as well.

Sri RamakrishnaSri Ramakrishna told of having a vision in which he saw a woman in labor give birth to a child and then after a short while eat it completely. At first he was shocked, but then he realized that what he was seeing was a symbol of the ways of Prakriti.

Expansion and contraction, manifestation and dissolution, beginning and ending–all are manifestations of Divine Conscious and Divine Power. This is why in the book of Revelation we find: “I am Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13).

The Original Cause

“Nothing higher than Me exists. On Me all this universe is strung like pearls on a thread” (Bhagavad Gita 7:7).

This means that there is no source or cause beyond Brahman, that all things proceed from It, that It is the substratum, the support, of all being, of all worlds. Brahman is the essential being of all. Therefore It is called the Sutratman, the “Thread-Self,” with this verse in mind.

Whatever its apparent character, everything we perceive or experience is ultimately Brahman alone. This is almost impossible to maintain as an intellectual concept throughout our daily life, but it can be experienced in meditation and carried over into our life.

Without yoga the ideal of the Gita is unattainable. “Therefore become a yogi,” as Krishna counseled Arjuna.

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