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What is ‘Maya’? The most enlightening Story by Swami Vivekananda

The most mysterious thing about any illusion is that you can never recognize it when you are under one! ‘Maya’ is the web of illusions of life that almost all of us are under.

There are times when we have questions about our existence and the meaning of everything that is. The questions which help us recognize this illusion and get out of it. But soon we are dragged back under the endless loop of ‘Maya’. Again we start living an automatic life reacting to the world; feeling its feelings, thinking its thoughts, desiring and fearing based on the forces of the world.

So What is Maya?

Here is the most awakening story described by Swami Vivekananda.

Once Narada said to Krishna, “Lord, show me Maya.” A few days passed away, and Krishna asked Narada to make a trip with him towards a desert, and after walking for several miles, Krishna said, “Narada, I am thirsty; can you fetch some water for me?” “I will go at once, sir, and get you water.” So Narada went.

At a little distance there was a village; he entered the village in search of water and knocked at a door, which was opened by a most beautiful young girl. At the sight of her he immediately forgot that his Master was waiting for water, perhaps dying for the want of it. He forgot everything and began to talk with the girl. All that day, he was again at the house, talking to the girl. That talk ripened into love; he asked the father for the daughter, and they were married and lived there and had children. Thus twelve years passed. His father-in-law died, he inherited his property. He lived, as he seemed to think, a very happy life with his wife and children, his fields and his cattle, and so forth.

Then came a flood. One night the river rose until it overflowed its banks and flooded the whole village. Houses fell, men and animals were swept away and drowned, and everything was floating in the rush of the stream. Narada had to escape. With one hand he held his wife, and with other two of his children; another child was on his shoulders, and he was trying to ford this tremendous flood. After a few steps he found the current was too strong, and the child on his shoulders fell and was borne away. A cry of despair came from Narada. In trying to save that child, he lost his grasp upon one of the others, and it also was lost. At last his wife, whom he clasped with all his might, was torn away by the current, and he was thrown on the bank, weeping and wailing in bitter lamentation.

Behind him there came a gentle voice, “My child, where is the water? You went to fetch a pitcher of water, and I am waiting for you; you have been gone for quite half an hour.” “Half an hour!” Narada exclaimed. Twelve whole years had passed through his mind, and all these scenes had happened in half an hour! And this is Maya.

Swami Vivekananda Complete works

This beautiful story gives you a very powerful insight and makes you question immediately about your own existence. I extracted some important points from this story which are very relevant to our lives.

  • Desire– When the door was opened by the girl, Narada had a desire! It was the desire that made him ‘forget everything’, and allow him to come under the power of Maya.
  • Pleasure– as he fulfilled his desire to marry the girl, he felt the pleasure. The more he fulfilled his desires, the deeper he got under the illusion. Because the pleasure made him feel that ‘he lived a happy life’.
  • Attachment– Having felt the pleasure of wealth and family, he became attached to it. He thought that all these worldly pleasures were the primary reason for his happiness. He wanted to secure them.
  • Disaster- Inevitable loss of all impermanent things– The flood took everything away. Because of his attachment, he tried to grasp his wife and children as long as possible, but inevitably all was lost, and he felt tremendous pain.
  • The voice, awakening– As if it all had been a dream, Narada wakes up after 12 Years passed through his mind, which in reality was only half-an hour.

To some extent we all are living a life similar to Narada after he went to the village. As we grow up as children, we are already ‘fed’ various feelings, desires, pleasure, fears and worries..etc. We learn all these by observing the world. Our pure minds are affected by these ‘teachings’ of the world, and we come under this grand illusion.

We all have desires of love, we feel attachment to the people we love. And we feel these feelings to the extent that they rule our lives. The sad thing is that we live as if there is no other world except for this little world in our own minds.

As human beings, we have the ability to get out of this illusion and awaken to see a ‘real’ view of the world. Here are my final three thoughts on Maya and becoming aware of it.

Maya and our own mind

This illusion is a result of our own ego. The false self-identity, created by our own minds which ends up owning our mind! The purpose of the ego is to sustain its existence as long as possible. It wants endless pleasures and avoid pain. When we are controlled by our ego, essentially we act and behave in the world with this identity.

All our emotions and impulses are largely driven by this ego. In other words, a thought of pleasure makes us happy. A thought of loss of that pleasure makes us worried and fearful. This cycle of thoughts go on inside the ego even when there is nothing happening in the real world.

The world of ego is the world within a world which most of us live in. But we have to remember that ego, is only a part of the mind, and not the whole mind itself. Stop for a moment, and become aware of your next thought. What is it about? Why did it come? Ask why is your mind bringing such thoughts, what does it want? Is it about securing a certain pleasure, or avoiding some pain?

Maya and the world

The world we live in largely affects our thoughts. And it has the force that can drag us under its influence. When our mind is not in our full control, it tends to react to the external world. Therefore it is too easy to fall into all kinds of distractions created by the world.

In the story of Narada, the village was the world which brought him under illusion through the physical beauty and the desire of love. Every event that unfolded after this dragged him deeper into this web and made him forget completely the original purpose of his visit.

If we are not careful with our minds, the world is ready to feed it ‘stuff’. We must learn to take control of our own mind, otherwise we will be taken over by the ‘stuff’.

Becoming aware of Maya

The most difficult thing is to become aware of the ‘maya’. But once we become aware, we understand the futility of our obsessions with the worldly things.

The key is to constantly asking ourselves questions about existence. To constantly remember the presence of illusion in our ego and the minds of others.


I hope you enjoyed this post. Our awareness can bring a very different way of looking at this grand illusion of the world. I wonder ‘Why does this Maya created in the first place?’ What is the purpose of all these? It doesn’t make sense to trap oneself in his/her own mind.

I come to the answer that it is not a trap. It is simply a game. A game which we can enjoy without getting under the power. The whole life of lord Krishna is teaching this playfulness in life. But first, we must know the game!

14 thoughts on “What is ‘Maya’? The most enlightening Story by Swami Vivekananda

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  1. So on point! I remember a story in the adventures of Odysseus when he was caught up with a witch goddess on her island for five years enjoying pleasures, though it was just an hour of real time. As you mentioned_ pleasure, desire, attachment keep us trapped in Maya and when we finally awaken we find ourselves baffled at how we lost track of time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! True, most of our lives are spent under this kind of an illusion. I imagine Awakening would be like waking up from a dream and looking at this illusion from outside, and how it acts upon the world.

      Liked by 2 people

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