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Tag: delusion


There’s a beautiful description of two of the greatest devotees of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa as given by Swami Ranganathananda in his Bhagavad Gita exposition.

It was said that Maya could never catch either of them. Why? For two opposing reasons.

For the first devotee Narendra aka Swami Vivekananda, he had becomes just too big for the net of Maya. How? Through jnaana or knowledge. The jnaani knows he is the same as The Infinite One, and hence no net however large can contain such a person.

And the other devotee? He was Durga Charan Nag, a householder and a doctor. He was supposed to have been one of the greatest devotees of the Divine Mother. He was so humble, that he would say the Lord is everything and he is nothing. This made him so small that he could easily pass through the Maya net!

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Stairway to Heaven

No this is not about Led Zeppelin’s famous song by the same title. Rather it is about a fabled walkway to heaven. In 1997 a religious cult named Heaven’s Gate believed that there were some aliens in a special spaceship. This ship was thought to be traveling behind a comet heading to Earth. The aliens’ mission? To pick up true believers (i.e. the Heaven’s Gater’s) and take them to paradise.

Many cult members pooled their money to buy an advanced telescope. They were desperate to see the spaceship for themselves. To be sure, they located the comet. But unsurprisingly, there was no spaceship behind it. They took the telescope back to the store for a refund. The salesperson asked if the telescope was faulty. They said yes sir, and that the telescope was broken – because the spaceship didn’t show up through it.

Let us pause and think about that. Is this a level of delusion that appears believable?

The entire of the Bhagavad Gita is premised on one thing, and that is to remove Arjuna’s delusion. The delusion that he was not the body, but the soul. That he was actually free, but had tied himself down through various names and forms and situations and people.

What was applicable to Arjuna, more than applies to us. Aren’t we also deluded in one way or another?

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Ma is ‘not’, and ya is ‘that which is’. Put together Maya refers to ‘that which is not’. The divine men and women call Maya as an illusion, and nothing more than a cloak of unreality. They refer to the world around us as unreal, or made of Maya.

It is said that Maya springs from attachment to worldly objects. This attachment is what gives Maya its innate strength. We all know what is right, but are still pulled towards doing the wrong things.

When a spiritual text refers to the world as unreal, it is easy to dismiss this as hogwash. “I can touch and feel everything around me, how can this world be unreal?” The word unreal here must be read as impermanent. That we (somehow incredibly) expect everlasting joy from objects whose lives themselves are finite – is a demonstration of the true power of Maya.

How do we get out of this? The trick is to not get caught up in the current mood. An example is that of economic forecasters. Studies have shown that they almost never get their predictions right. When oil is at 30$, they become super pessimistic, and when oil is at 120$ they become super optimistic. When countries are at their peak performance, they upgrade GDP growth estimates, and when economies hit rock bottom, they slash growth forecasts. In life, we too get caught up in the moment, and that leads us to take things to extremes instead of practising moderation.

The Buddha’s entire teachings revolved around breaking out of the clutches of Maya. His core message was that attachment is the root of all suffering. Interestingly, Maya in reverse is Yama, who is the God of death. Can’t help but wonder if there is a connection.

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The Suit

In a previous avatar, a colleague and I were leaving office for the day. It was the last day of the week – and also casual wear day. We entered the lift, and the doors were about to close. Just then, someone cried out “Hold the door please!”

I pressed the ‘< >’ button.

The always formally dressed Global Head of Sales walked in. “Thanks!”, he said. My colleague, who was looking at his phone, looked up and said “Hi Sam!”, only to realise a moment later that this wasn’t Sam. Sam was the CEO, also always formally dressed. My colleague apologised, “I’m sorry Neil, I only saw you from behind, and mistook you for Sam, who also always wears a suit”.

“No worries”, said Neil. “But I wish I was Sam. My annual take home pay would be higher by 2 million.” The lift door opened, and after weekend pleasantries were exchanged, Neil went on his way, and we ours.

The lesson to me was not new. But it proved yet again, that no matter how high up we go, or how much money we make, it is never enough.

The ancients teach us, that all sorrow and suffering in the world stem from overtly dwelling on sense objects. This leads to attachment, which in turn leads to desire (unfulfilled) which then leads to anger, delusion and ruin. Something to think about.

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