Maya, the Illusory Nature of Experiences

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Often, tragedies, like what we experienced in Uttarakhand, remind us of the transitory nature of our lives and its experiences. In fact, hindu philosophies advocate life to be maya. Loosely translated, maya means illusion, some thing that “is”, yet  that “is not”. Understanding of principles of physics and neurobiology also point towards such illusory nature of things that we consider very real in our lives. Our sensory perception, as well as nature of things that we perceive are not what we think they are. According to hindu philosophy, prime objective of life is to transcend maya. In our fast paced lives, we tend to forget our actual purpose of life and get caught up in our daily grind.


In this context, I remember reading a beautiful story that couches important messages and gives a glimpse of maya. As the story goes, once bhagwan Vishnu was travelling with Narada, his friend and companion. Narada was in a chatty mood, and he asked Vishnu, “Lord what is maya”. Bhagwan Vishnu said “Narada first fetch me some water, then I shall explain maya to you”. Narada went to fetch water from a stream near by. There he saw a beautiful girl, who was also collecting water for her house. Narada,  enchanted by the beauty of this girl, followed her home. Narada asked the girls father for allowing him to marry his daughter. Narada was living happily a householders life with his wife. He had two kids from his wife. These happy days ended one day. Narada’s worldly belongings were lost in the flood. His sons were washed away. Narada was desperately clinging onto his beloved wife. Finally, in extreme tiredness Narada lost his grip of his wife. Narada, in a state of extreme sorrow, cried out “Oh lord! Why punish me so much? I lost everything one by one, now you take away my beloved wife!”


As soon as Narada cried out in the name of god, he heard lord Vishnu’s voice, “Narada how long will you take to fetch water? I am dying here of thirst”.


To me, this story gives three messages. First, we forget why we came here. We get enamored by glamor and glitz of the surrounding and live our lives. In exteme grief, when we call out gods name, he responds. Finally, gods few seconds, can be life time for mortals. This point toward relative nature of time and space.

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