Yoga in Practice – The Good and Bad of Maya?

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Yoga in Practice – The Good and Bad of Maya?

online yoga teacher coursesBy Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 250 

The concept of Maya is central to many of the philosophical tenets of Yoga practice. Maya is a Sanskrit word that means the illusion of this world. According to Hindu tradition, the highest goal of human life is for an individual to reach oneness with the divine essence that creates, sustains and destroys everything that we experience around us. In Hindu mythology, this energy is encapsulated in the form of the God, Shiva. In order to penetrate the unchanging divine essence of the universe, it is important for a Yoga student to go beyond the veils of illusion or Maya. This penetration is accomplished by ardent, regular Yoga practices.

There are wonderful and pleasurable aspects to being immersed in Maya. There are also painful and grief-filled aspects of forgetting our divine essence and the underlying divinity that composes the universe around us. In fact, there are several archetypal stories in the pantheon of Hindu teachings that illustrate both the good and bad aspects of Maya.

On the good side, there was once a man who married a beautiful woman, whom he deeply loved. They were very happy together and had five children. After many, many years, his wife and children perished in a tragic accident. The man was completely devastated. He became unwilling to live and engage in life so deep was his grief. After some time, Krishna himself revealed to the man that all of his worldly life was but a play of illusion. The beauty and love he had experienced with his wife and children were incredibly wonderful, but it was not the ultimate reality of existence. As the veils of Maya began to fall away from the man’s eyes, he remembered his own divine nature and was filled with the rapture of God’s love.

Encapsulated in this story, we see both the positive and negative aspects of Maya. Living in the world as a regular human being, doing “regular” things is considered to be living in the illusion of the permanence of our worldly experience. Experiencing the beauty, love and majesty of life is definitely on the good side of Maya.

However, when we forget that all of the pleasures of life are temporary and that the ultimate permanent reality is composed of divine love, the loss of those pleasures and the loss of companionship of our loved ones can be devastatingly painful. To be completely immersed in Maya without remembering our divine essential nature is considered to be the bad of Maya. If a Yogi or Yogini maintains a balance between the enjoyment of this world and an awareness of God’s essence permeating all of reality, he or she will be freed from the polarity of the good and bad aspects of Maya.

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