Maya doesn’t mean ‘non-existent’, it means ‘ever-changing’

21 August 2017, Amritapuri Ashram

In a question-and-answer session in Amritapuri this week, a questioner asked Amma about Maya, often defined as “the illusory nature of the world.” The questioner asked Amma, “What is Maya or illusion and why it is so difficult to come out of it? I have been doing spiritual practices for many years, I am still under Maya. In this world, everyone is craving for love. What is the relationship of Maya and love?”


Amma replied, “Maya doesn’t mean ‘non-existent.’ Rather, it means, ‘ever-changing.’ For example, take a fully blossomed flower. You enjoy the colour and the fragrance of the flower. But by the evening, that same flower withers away — with that understanding you enjoy the flower. If you have that understanding that everything is changing, when the flower withers away you won’t cry. Maya doesn’t mean that flower never existed, but that it is in a constant state of change.

“When we move through life with preconceived notions, we will experience sorrow. When we think, this person will love me, that person will give this or that to me — that expectation creates sorrow. If we depend on that which is changing, sorrow will be the result. This is the true definition of Maya.

“If you are loving something which is not present in people, then you will experience sorrow. That is Maya. At present we do not have the capacity to really love other human beings because of our ego. We are using them. We want them to be tuned to ourselves, but we will not tune ourselves to others. Thus the ego and the attitude of ‘I’ blocks the flow of real love. That’s why we love cats and dogs so much — they tune to our wishes, they obey our commands. That ego is the foundation of Maya.

“We go through life believing that happiness can be found in other people, can be found outside ourselves. That is why we are not able to cross over this Maya. A marriage becomes like two beggars begging from one another. Both are expecting to receive from the other, while no one is there to give. And yet if no one is there to give love, how will you receive love? It can also be compared to two blind people, each trying to lead the way for the other; they will stumble here and there, reaching nowhere.

“Our love always comes with an expectation. We may love race horses so much, but if the horse has an accident and breaks its leg, people may even end up shooting that horse which we loved so much. We may love cows because they give milk, but once it stops giving milk, we won’t mind giving it to a butcher. That is the nature of the worldly love.

“A stray dog may chew a bone so much that its gums start to bleed. The dog enjoys the blood, thinking that it is coming from the bone. Finally, the dog loses consciousness due to loss of blood. Similarly, we think that we are finding bliss from the objects of the senses, but if we look closer we will find that the source of bliss is always and only within ourselves. We are thinking that the source of bliss is other people or objects outside us. That is why we are not able to overcome Maya.

“We are depending on others for love and happiness. we are depending on something which does not exist. So we are expecting something which is not there. We should awaken within. Instead of seeking we should be giving.

“We should try to see everything in its place then sorrow will cease. For example, we should see an elephant as an elephant and a frog as a frog. We should see a nurse as a nurse and a doctor as a doctor. We should not expect the nurse to behave like a doctor or expect the doctor to behave like a nurse. We should not expect a dog to behave like a cat or vice versa. Both sugar and salt are white, and yet we do not expect sugar to taste like salt and vice versa.

“For example, let’s say that you need to borrow some money, so you approach a childhood friend and ask to borrow Rs. 1,000. This friend had earlier told you, ‘Come to me anytime you need anything. I am so wealthy – I can help you in your time of need.’ Now, when you approach him, the truth may be different. He may tell you, ‘In fact, I wanted to come see you. I myself need some money urgently. Can you give me Rs. 10,000?’ Or he may say that he can loan you money, but he can only afford to loan you half of what you asked for. He might even offer you much more than you asked for – say Rs. 5,000.

“Expectation is what brings sorrow. When we don’t get what we expected to receive, we feel sad. This sadness gives way to anger, which leads finally to depression. But it all starts with expectation. Instead of receiving, start thinking about giving. Don’t search for happiness outside yourself. There is an inexhaustible resource of happiness within. We are not candles lit by others, but the self-effulgent sun. We are not crying kittens, but lions who can roar if they so choose.

“When we understand spirituality, our life will be like Sri Krishna’s – a life of laughter. Even when Gandhari cursed him, he accepted it with a smile saying, ‘I knew this would come.’ Understanding spirituality is like a learned swimmer swimming in the ocean – he or she will enjoy the waves. When you have that knowledge you will be able to move about with an equanimous mind.”