16 December 2005 — Amritapuri
Devi is the Goddess, the Divine Mother of the Universe. But in puranas, hymns and other devotional works she is also spoken of as maya, the illusory power. For example in the Lalita Sahasranama, the 716th mantra is Om mayayai namah.1 On the one hand we are presented with Devi the Divine Mother, full of love and compassion, ever ready to wipe our tears and come to the rescue of her children. And on the other, she is the symbol of maya, through which mankind is all but helplessly ensnared.
It is only natural for this to bring some confusion, and so it did to a young Israeli woman living Amritapuri: “Amma, will you please explain to me the concept of Devi as maya, or delusion? If Devi is maya, and maya is illusion, why do we worship her? Why would Devi cast illusion upon mankind? Doesn’t she want us to know the real truth behind the universe?”
Amma said, “In the Lalita Sahasranama, the first mantra itself is Om sri matre namah2. Devi is the Mother of the Universe, and as such she is very attached to her children. Would such a mother ever create illusion to delude her children?”
Amma then explained that when we call something maya, it does not mean that it does not exist. It means that it is changing. “If today you depend upon things that change, you will have sorrow tomorrow,” Amma said. “Today’s criminal may become tomorrow’s saint. Today’s good friend may become tomorrow’s foe. Our mind is also changing. We may like someone today, dislike him tomorrow. This is the nature of the mind.”
To explain just how quickly the mind tends to fluctuate, Amma narrated a story about Karna, the mighty Kaurava warrior of the Mahabharata. Karna was famous for his charitable nature. He was known throughout the land for his willingness to help anyone who came to him in need. One day a poor man came to his chamber and asked him for some money. Karna immediately reached out with his left hand, grabbed some nearby gold coins and handed them to the man. After the man had left, someone questioned Karna as to why he had used his left hand to give the coins3. Karna responded, “I did it on purpose because I know very well that change is the mind’s very nature. It is even possible that in the time it would have taken me to switch the coins from my left hand to my right that my mind could have changed and I would have decided to not give him any money.”
“In one second the mind may change,” Amma said. “The mind is the foundation for all this maya. The body is ever changing; the mind is ever changing. If you hold on to them and the objects of this world as your sources of support, it will only lead to sorrow. Only hold on to the eternal.”
“The cow eats the grass. It then becomes milk and manure. The manure then becomes food for plants. Similarly, everything in this universe is constantly changing.”
Amma then explained how when we spend our life in pursuit of transient objects, the only result is our utter exhaustion. “Such a life becomes like trying to win the 100-meter dash with a huge weight hanging around the neck.”
“As we are deluded by the world, we are not able to experience bliss,” Amma said. “In deep-sleep, we experience bliss. It is only because of that peace that a person is able to run around and be normal the next day. If he doesn’t get it, he will simply go insane.”
Amma explained how we are able to experience this bliss in deep sleep only because during that time the mind has gone into a dormant state. In deep sleep there is no division and no sense of limitation; everything has resolved into seed form. Amma added that only when the duality imposed by the mind is transcended is one able to experience the bliss of the unlimited Self. Amma explained how when one finally transcends the limitations of the mind and realizes the inherent oneness of all creation, they will never again experience anger or hatred. They will only know peace, love and happiness.
To illustrate, Amma offered the example of two children playing with dolls. Eventually the children begin to fight, each one wanting a certain doll for itself. No matter how much the parents try, they are unable to prevent the children from fighting over the dolls. But eventually the children become tired and fall asleep. When they succumb to sleep, the dolls they are holding fall from their grasp, and they sleep side-by-side without any problem.
“The mind is the creator of maya and the creator of the world,” Amma said.
“People refer to nature as ‘Mother Nature,'” Amma said. “This is because we cannot live without water, and we cannot live without trees because they give us oxygen. Not only that, the roots of trees purify the water. Our biological mother keeps us on her lap for only a couple of years, but Mother Nature keeps us on her lap for our entire life.”
Amma then went on to explain the panca-matas [five mothers] as indicated in the scriptures: Bhu Mata [Mother Earth], Desha Mata [Mother Land], Go Mata [Mother Cow], Deha Mata, [biological mother] and Veda Mata [Mother Knowledge]. “The Earth is the Mother,” Amma said. “So is the cow; she gives 10 times more than she takes. The tree gives 100 times more. Even if you say the body is mithya [of a transient nature], only if there is body can one realize the Self; thus, we also worship the biological mother. If you have awareness, purity of mind and intellect, the body will benefit you. Desha Mata, one’s motherland, is there also. And then Veda Mata–regardless of how much wealth you have, if you are devoid of knowledge, you will not be happy. We are dependent on all these.
“Devi is not maya. Actually she gives 100 times back what you give her.”
Amma then went on to speak from the highest standpoint, wherein all duality, along with all such dual concepts as “mother and child,” “Guru and disciple,” and “knower and known” are proven to not even exist and only the birthless, deathless, blissful non-dual consciousness remains: “If you say that, ‘Everything is maya,’ then the Divine Mother also is maya. But maya is our creation. Happiness and sorrow are our creation. Maya is our mind. Maya really means ‘that which is not.'” Amma then reiterated that in fact Devi is no different from Brahman: “Devi is the Truth behind the creation.”
“When the baby cries due to hunger, we put pacifier in its mouth and then it will keep quiet. This is what we are doing. Don’t depend on the pacifier. It won’t appease your hunger. The pacifier principle is maya. See the rope as a rope. If you see it as a snake, you will be afraid4. If you understand the scriptures, you can move about freely without any fear.”
1 “Om. I prostrate to she who is maya.”
2 “Om. I prostrate to she who is the auspicious mother.”
3 In India, one only uses the right hand when giving gifts.
4 In the Vedantic example of the snake and the rope, a man in the semi-dark mistakes a rope on the ground for a snake. It is only because of his ignorance of the rope’s true nature, that the mind is able to project the snake concept onto it. The rope is a symbol of our true nature: the limitless, blissful and non-dual “I.” The snake symbolizes our erroneous concept of being limited and finite. The idea is that it is only due to our ignorance of our true nature that the mind is able to project its concept of being limited and finite upon us.