To improve our chanting, it’s imperative to comprehend the principle of maya. Maya refers to ‘that which is not’. To understand this phenomenon we can take a simple example. According to scriptures of all traditions, God is the creator of the whole universe and He is the most loving father of all living entities. Therefore we are neither controllers nor creators of this world. However when a living entity thinks of himself as the ‘all great’, he is said to be influenced by ‘maya’, because he identifies himself with an illusion or ‘that which is not’. Similarly, this body is perishable and offers only fleeting pleasures. But if we instead, constantly endeavour to gratify this temporary body with the hope of seeking eternal happiness, then we are said to be in maya; for we are identifying with a temporary reality. When we are trapped by the workings of this transitory material world, and fail to re-establish our loving relationship with God, we are said to be in maya.
The energy of maya, (referred to in the feminine gender) constantly threatens to pull a yogi from his path of self realization. Radhanath Swami often quotes his guru, Srila Prabhupada, who said that maya will test a Bhakti Yogi thoroughly till the very end of his life; she is determined to test us because she really wants to see if we are interested to serve Krishna or we simply want to disturb Him. Many temptations and obstacles come in the life of a Bhakti Yogi. If he survives the tests, his progress to the next level is ensured. If however he fails, he struggles at that level up until the time he endeavours to rise to the next level by saying ‘no’ to maya. At each level of progress, maya tests the devotee through a variety of challenges.
Maya offers gross sense pleasures as a threatening distraction for a new Bhakti Yogi. Saying ‘no’ to these temptations, a Hare Krishna yogi may successfully ward off the challenge. However, as he advances to a higher level in his spiritual pursuits, a chanter faces newer and harder tests. Radhanath Swami warns that maya’s arsenal is huge; for seasoned chanters, she has the subtler weapons of the desire for prestige, honour and respect, in her armoury. As a devotee chants a fixed number of rounds of Hare Krishna Maha Mantra on his beads daily, he also needs to check his aspirations. To the extent we keep our motives pure and cultivate a genuine desire to be the servant of God and of all His servants, we are protected from maya and we continue to make steady progress on the path of Bhakti Yoga. Radhanath Swami’s golden formula is ‘always remain humble’.
For a sincere practitioner, Radhanath Swami says, maya’s external attacks are easy to handle. However, the challenge is when the attack comes in the form of quarrel and dissension amongst other practitioners. “Maya has no power to stop your progress by any of her external forces” opines Radhanath Swami, “ Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and army attacks cannot impede your march forward as much as the seed of discontent and disunity in the society of devotees.” His solution is also simple, yet profound, “We can protect ourselves from the external attacks of maya by using intelligence, but to protect ourselves from the subtler, internal attacks, we need humility.”