People today have a deep misconception about the scriptures like Veda and Gita. They assume that ‘Maya’ means that world is not real. Some people even think that to free oneself, one has to give up all the worldy activities and chant some mantras.
But people forget often that mantras are divine incantantations to understand and rever the nature and its elements like fire (agni-dev), surya (surya-dev) etc. They are also the source of meditation and spirituality. Chanting the mantras without understanding the message is not considered either spirituality or intelligent.
A person cannot live without doing any action. Meditation, breathing, seeing, hearing, chanting mantras etc are all actions. Bhagvada-Gita simply teaches to control these actions and to find the truth.
BG 3.4: Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.
BG 3.5: Everyone is forced to act helplessly according to the qualities he has acquired from the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.
BG 3.6: One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.
BG 3.7: On the other hand, if a sincere person tries to control the active senses by the mind and begins karma-yoga [in Kr?s?n?a consciousness] without attachment, he is by far superior.
BG 3.15: Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.
BG 3.16: My dear Arjuna, one who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice thus established by the Vedas certainly leads a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain.
BG 3.17: But for one who takes pleasure in the self, whose human life is one of self-realization, and who is satisfied in the self only, fully satiated — for him there is no duty.
BG 3.18: A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.
BG 3.19: Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.
When people are attached to their activities and senses, they are under the influence of Maya. It is this Maya that creates an illusion and ignorance. If people are attached to what they hear without analyzing it intellectually, it leads to ignorance. For e.g many people are deluded that Hinduism is divided in cast system “by birth” where people with surnames like Sharma, Chaturvedi, trivedi, Pathak etc are Brahmins. Chaturvedi simply means the knower of the four (chatur) Vedas. Trivedi refers to the knower of the three (Tri) Vedas. What Veda and GITA teach is a categorization of the society, a ‘class system’ and not ‘cast system’, based on profession or Karma and not birth. Brahmins, by its definition and in today’s modern terminology, includes scientists, researchers, teachers, doctors, engineers etc i.e those who indulge in intellectual work and knowledge to know the science and nature. Kshatriyas is the warrior class. Thus all the soldiers in Indian army are kshatriyas irrespective of their religion and surnames. Vaishyas consisted of the business class and Shudras the unskilled labourers.
When people get attached to what they see and how they look, it causes suffering and visual illusions. e.g A girl attached to her beauty finds it hard to accept her change to old age. Thus it is very important to control the mind which controls the five senses.
BG 5.17: When one’s intelligence, mind, faith and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme, then one becomes fully cleansed of misgivings through complete knowledge and thus proceeds straight on the path of liberation.
BG 5.18: The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle br?hman?a, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].
BG 6.4: A person is said to be elevated in yoga when, having renounced all material desires, he neither acts for sense gratification nor engages in fruitive activities.
BG 6.5: One must deliver himself with the help of his mind, and not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.
BG 6.6: For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.
In upanishads, this is the “manmaya kosa” or the mental sheath. Sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste are only the objective channels to the mind and its the mind that can act very subjectively. The mind can chose to hear what it wants and ignore the rest. In a crowd, one’s mind may chose to focus and hear only to what a particular person might be saying. At that moment one might not be able to process any other person. The focus can shift though as per the directions of the mind. Thus the mind is the controller of all 5 senses from which the collected data can be put to use by one’s own intellect. Its a recursive procedure and the intellect can sharpen itself with the information it recieves.
The ultimate reality is said to be unmanifested, unborn and inconcievable from which everything else, both material and spiritual, is emanating.
BG 9.4: By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them
BG 12.3-4: But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed and immovable — the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth — by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.
BG 10.8: I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.
Thus Bhagvada Gita teaches directly how manifest arises from the unmanifest. On contrary to the unmanifest, the manifestations are changing, dynamic or limited. e.g Sun which a manifestation of the ultimate reality has a form, color, size etc when viewed from the earth. But are we seeing the truth? Do we think that the Sun or our appearance when we see in the mirror is static? What exactly are we seeing?
Physically, we are growing daily. The change is very slow as per our perception and it is unobservable. We are not the same person who existed some ten years ago. The physical image of our face, weight, shape, size, height etc have all changed. Chemically, we are losing millions of molecules per second in the form of breath (exhale), perspiration, excreta, urination, farts and intaking other molecules in the form of breath (inhale), drinking, eating etc. In brief, a person does not have the same set of molecules or atoms that he had a second ago. Mentally, our thoughts are changing too. What we were thinking a second ago is not the same. Mentally we evolve and our knowledge increases every passing second.
So how can we be the same even in a seconds differentiation? Are our eyes decieving us when we look into the mirror? If we get attached to our looks, then we are bound to suffer when we change or grow old. This suffering due to attachment and ignorance is the constant effect of Maya which is all around us and forever trying to control our mind. It is only because of Maya that we are not able to understand the ultimate reality or the truth. We see the sun and we think it is the same. But the truth is that the sun is also fading out. It has spent 4 million years and only has another 4 million years to live after which it will convert into a nova or a supernova. It is releasing huge amount of hydrogen in the form of fusion reactions into helium. Therefore, chemically it is not the same any second. Physically it releases long chains of fires or the solar winds, its magnetic field keeps on changing. So again, is our perception decieving us about the shape and size of the sun? Do we think we will be the same person after 20 years with the same strength, healing rate of the cells, quickness of the mind and the body? Do we think that change is sudden that we would grow fragile with white hair and brittle bones overnight?
In Gita, this is explained via the three modes of the material nature.
BG 14.5: Material nature consists of three modes — goodness, passion and ignorance. When the eternal living entity comes in contact with nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he becomes conditioned by these modes.
BG 14.6: O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.
BG 14.7: The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunt?, and because of this the embodied living entity is bound to material fruitive actions.
BG 14.8: O son of Bharata, know that the mode of darkness, born of ignorance, is the delusion of all embodied living entities. The results of this mode are madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.
BG 14.9: O son of Bharata, the mode of goodness conditions one to happiness; passion conditions one to fruitive action; and ignorance, covering one’s knowledge, binds one to madness.
BG 14.10: Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, O son of Bharata. Sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.
BG 14.11: The manifestations of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge.
BG 14.12: O chief of the Bh?ratas, when there is an increase in the mode of passion the symptoms of great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire and hankering develop.
BG 14.13: When there is an increase in the mode of ignorance, O son of Kuru, darkness, inertia, madness and illusion are manifested.
BG 14.14: When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets of the great sages.
BG 14.15: When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.
BG 14.16: The result of pious action is pure and is said to be in the mode of goodness. But action done in the mode of passion results in misery, and action performed in the mode of ignorance results in foolishness.
BG 14.17: From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop foolishness, madness and illusion.
BG 14.18: Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.
BG 14.19: When one properly sees that in all activities no other performer is at work than these modes of nature and he knows the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental to all these modes, he attains My spiritual nature.