Man cannot get rid of his heavy load of desires. They seem to multiply as the body moves nearer the grave. This is Maya. This is Moha. The only antidote to this disease is Self-knowledge.
How do I know I am bound by Maya?
The above quote gives us the self-test. A mind filled with desires is a sure indication that we are in the clutches of Maya. At the seat of mediation, if we find our mind wandering, then know for sure that we are Maya-dasa, and not Maya-pati.
How to escape Maya?
The Lord says in the Geeta:
दैवी हि एषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया । मामेव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायामेतां तरन्ति ते ॥
The Lord says that it is impossible to cross over His Maya without surrendering unto Him.
There is a beautiful allegory in Shreemad Bhagavatham in this regard.
Once upon a time, there was a very famous king named Puranjana. He had a friend whose name no one knew, and whose actions no one saw.
In the quest for a suitable city for him to dwell in, he travelled all over the world. As he was given to very lascivious ways, no place could satisfy him. At last, in the southern region of the Himalayas, he came across a city that had nine gates with all comforts and luxuries.
Then the king saw a beautiful lady who arrived at the place by chance and was attended by ten aides. She was looking out for a husband. Seeing her beautiful form, the king instantly fell in love with her and sought her hand in marriage. And then happily married, they started residing in the city of nine gates. The city was ever guarded by a powerful army headed by an ever-wakeful 5-hooded serpent.
As the days passed by, the king became completely infatuated by the lady. When she sang, he too sang. When she laughed or wept, he too laughed or wept. When she ran or stood, lay down or sat, he too did so following her. When she heard or saw, smelt or touched, he too did the same. He rejoiced in success and sorrowed in distress in unison with her. Thus deluded by the attachment to his wife, Puranjana followed the dictates of his wife like her pet animal.
Once the great archer Puranjana started on a hunting expedition to the forest of Panchaprastha in his swift chariot along with his wife. Proud of his strength, Puranjana ranged the forest hunting with the bow in hand. He was so intoxicated with the excitement of chasing wild animals that he left behind his wife, his constant companion. He ruthlessly slaughtered the wild animals with utter indiscrimination. Extremely tired, hungry and thirsty, he returned to the palace. After a bath, food and rest, he found his wife in her apartment, unhappy for having left her alone in the forest in the excitement of chasing and hunting wild animals. Being an expert in conciliatory tactics, he sought forgiveness and won her heart again through his sweet loving words of apology. In this way, they lived happily for many years.
Puranjana developed a deep-rooted attachment to his progeny, his home, his treasury, dependants, and thus became completely entangled in worldly concerns.
There was a Gandharva called Chandavega. He had his followers of 730 powerful Gandharvas. Half of them were fair and the other half were dark. They started attacking this city part by part, by going round and round. The ever wakeful serpent resisted them bravely and fought these Gandharvas valiantly for 100 years.
But unfortunately, the enemies, instead of weakening kept on growing in strength. The entry of the armies of Yavana king Bhaya (fear), along with Prajvara (fever) and Kalakanya (the daughter of Time) made the enemies even stronger and it became impossible for the commander-in-chief (serpent) to safeguard the city anymore.
Kalakanya made the city weak and infirm. The city lost all the beauty and grandeur and became pitiable to look at. The city was robbed of all its wealth. And into such a collapsing city Yavana troops and the Gandharvas barged in through all the nine gates
and occupied it completely. Just then arrived Prajvara and he set the whole city on fire.
When the city began to burn, great was the suffering of Puranjana, the owner, because of his identification with it, its residents, his servants, and family members. With his limbs disabled, with his strength stolen away by the Gandharvas, and his neck caught in the stranglehold of the Yavana foes, Puranjana began to cough and breathe hard.
Overpowered by Kalakanya, engulfed by the feverish fire, and attacked from all sides by the Yavanas, the serpent, who was the protector of the city, was subject to great suffering. He no longer found it possible to do his duty. He fled from the burning city. When the serpent that acted as the protector of the city departed, the city fell into pieces and disintegrated into its elements.
The Yavanas captured Puranjana alive and dragged him to their master’s place.
Even when he was dragged off by the powerful Yavanas, Puranjana, wrapped as he was in the darkness of Tamas, failed to think of his real friend. Corrupted as he was by excessive sense indulgence, he completely lost the awareness of his real nature, and grovelled in the limitless expanse of darkness (Tamas) for a long time.
Afterwards, in his next birth, he was born as a woman in the palace of Rajasimha, the king of Vidarbha. In this new birth, she was married to king Malayadhwaja of Pandya territory. They lived a happy married life, and when all the family responsibilities were over, Malayadhwaja decided to lead a life of Vanaprastha to devote more time for spiritual pursuits. He handed over the kingdom to his son, and retired to the forest, along with his wife (earlier Puranjana).
She found great delight in serving her husband whom she loved more than her life. One day, wondering why her husband was on the meditation seat for an unusually long time, she went near him and gently started stroking his feet. She found that his body had lost its warmth. It was only then she came to know that her husband had left the body in meditation long back. Her husband’s death made her extremely miserable.
Extremely grief-stricken and crying inconsolably, she made a funeral pyre and placed her husband’s body on it and set fire to the pyre. She decided to enter the funeral pyre along with her husband.
It was at that time that she heard a sweet voice from behind. There stood a Brahmana who spoke these sweet words, “O friend! Do you remember me, this nameless friend of yours? You and I were Swans, homeless, abiding for several thousand years in the lake of Manasa-saras! But alas, abandoning me, you went in quest of sensual enjoyments, and after wandering here and there, you entered into a city of nine gates built by a woman. And engrossed in the pleasures she offered, you forgot everything about the Reality and degenerated to this sorrowful state.
“You are not the daughter of the king of Vidarbha, nor is this king your husband, nor are you the husband of that woman who confined you to the city of nine gates. In your previous life, you thought of yourself to be a man and in this life you consider yourself to be a woman. This is all due to my Maya. Both these things are false. Both of us are of the essence of purity. Know this to be our real nature. I myself am you. And you are none other than me. Men of true understanding find no difference between us.”
Listening to these words of the Brahmana, the daughter of Vidarbha king attained absolute peace.
The meaning of the allegory:
Puranjana is none other than Jeevatma, the individual soul. The city of nine gates is the physical body. The nine gates are the nine orifices in the body, namely 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 ears, 1 mouth, anus and the genital. Puranjana is a king because he is the master of this nine-gated city.
The beautiful woman whom he met in the city is the intellect. She is assisted by the ten attendants, namely the five organs of perception and 5 organs of action. The five-hooded serpent who guarded the city is the Pancha-Pranas.
Puranjana’s infatuation with the woman is nothing but the intense identification of the Jeeva to this physical body. Whatever the body does, he feels he is doing it.
The hunting expedition is nothing but his dream experience. Puranjana leaves his wife behind and indiscriminately kills the wild animals sitting on his chariot. So too the Jeeva, sitting on the chariot of dream body indiscriminately goes through various experiences without any willpower, without his intellect to guide him.
But after the hunt, and getting refreshed, Puranjana goes back and meets his wife. So too, after the dream state, the Jeeva comes back and joins his intellect in the waking state.
The 5-hooded serpent guarded the city. So too it is the Pranas that keeps the body alive and healthy. But this it could do only for 100 years. The Gandharvas, fair and dark, 730 in number, are the days and nights, equal in number. These Gandharvas attack the city going round and round. So too, as the days go by, the body decays and becomes infirm with the passage of time.
The king of Yavana is fear. As the person becomes old, he is filled with various worries and anxieties. The Kalakanya is none other than old age. She makes the city (the physical body) weak and infirm.
The Prajvara’s attack is the fever which is like burning the city. And when the body dies, the Pranas, the commander in chief, has to flee the city.
Puranjana is captured alive by the Yavanas. So too the Jeeva never dies with the death of the body. Along with his worries and anxieties, he departs the body. He remains in the state of Tamas, till he gets the next body.
Our last thoughts decide the next birth. As Puranjana was addicted to sexual pleasures, he was thinking of women at the time of death. Hence he is born as a woman in his next life.
After the death of her husband, the lady meets the Brahmana, who is none other than God/Guru, who introduces her to her true Self. And this knowledge liberates her from all sorrows.
We have already gone through millions and billions of births, as plants and animals, as birds and insects, as men and women. The choice is ours. Do we desire to continue this roller-coaster ride of re-births and re-deaths filled with pains, sufferings and uncertainties? If yes, then we need to do nothing; just continue living our life in ignorance as we have been doing from the beginningless past.
But if we are suffocated and fed up, and if we crave for liberation, then Self-knowledge alone is the way.
O M T A T S A T