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The Key to Overcoming Maya in the Path of Devotion

May 25th, 2022 | 3 Min Read
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Category: Spirituality


Language: English

Understanding Maya: A Spiritual Challenge

The journey of devotion is blissful. Devotion is the bridge between mortals and God, between human souls and the Supreme Soul, as the soul tends to seek its divine origin of bliss—God. 
Nevertheless, this path is not easy; it is strewn with challenges. In the Bhagavad Gita (7.14), Shri Krishna explains the various impediments faced by the soul in the material world in the form of Maya:
दैवी ह्येषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया |
मामेव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायामेतां तरन्ति ते || 
daivī hyeṣhā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te
“My divine energy, maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is tough to overcome. But those who surrender unto Me cross over it easily.”

Maya is not our adversary, but it is God’s material energy that tests our love and affinity towards Him time and again and welds us through suffering to become eligible to receive His grace. Maya pervades not only the elemental world of Prakriti, the world made of earth, water, fire, air, and space, but also the human mind, intellect, and ego. Maya is the cause of material miseries thrown at us by the three modes of gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva. Maya is powerful because it is God’s energy engaged in serving God and following His command. Swamiji’s commentary on the verse mentioned above beautifully explains the role of maya as the Lord enlightens Arjun on how to overcome it. He says, "Arjun, if you surrender to Me, the Supreme Lord, then by My grace, I will take you across the ocean of material existence. I will indicate to maya that this soul has become Mine. Please leave him." When the material energy receives this signal from God, it immediately releases such a soul from its bondage. Maya says, "My work was only this much—to keep troubling the soul until I reach the feet of God. Since this soul has surrendered to God, my work is done."

The Role of Surrender/sharanagati

This brings us to the simple formula to achieve success in devotion—sharanagati of Surrender. Surrendering to God and Guru is the most significant step in realizing God through devotion. In his book Essence of Hinduism, Swamiji expounds on six steps to surrender or sharanagati: 
  1. To confirm our will to the will of God 
  2. Not to desire against the desire of God
  3. To have firm faith that God is protecting us and that he is our eternal father
  4. To keep an attitude of gratitude towards God
  5. To see everything we possess as belonging to God
  6. To give up the pride of having surrendered

The Guru's Role in Surrender/sharanagati

We can infer two things from the knowledge given above: first, surrendering our intellect and ego to God takes us closer to Him, and second, as it is evident that the source of this knowledge is none other than our Gurudev, it is the Guru who teaches us how to surrender and makes the path of devotion easier. The Guru goes a step further and initiates and encourages us in the path of devotion. He also removes obstacles in the form of pride, doubt, and ignorance that a devotee confronts in the path of bhakti. Like Arjun, who saw in Krishna his beloved friend, relative and eternal teacher bestowing the divine knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita in the middle of the battlefield, so should we perceive our Guru as our eternal relative and guiding star who will steer us across the ocean of maya and deliver us from the material world. The Guru is a God-realized Soul who guides devotees to God, like a parent who holds their child’s hand and safely takes him home. Pure and undeterred faith in the Guru also multiplies the love for God and reduces worldly bondages. The Guru’s divine qualities are transmitted to the jiva, who sees Guru as non-different from the Supreme Soul Lord Shri Krishna and surrenders unto him as one would surrender to God.