What is Maya

Narada was a sage who lived for thousands of years and wandered freely through all the regions of consciousness from heaven to earth. Narada was on very intimate terms with the Lord, here in the form of Krishna, so he could ask him all forms of questions. And while they were walking, he asked the Lord, "Sir, can you please explain to me the secret of this magic called maya?"

Sri Krishna hesitated, because to understand maya is to understand the whole of life. After a few days Krishna asked Narada to make a trip with him towards a desert. After walking several miles Krishna said, "Let’s lie down here in the shade and I shall tell you everything. But first, Narada, it's terribly hot; would you get me some water?" "I will go right away and get you water." Narada promised, and he set out across the desert.

Narada entered a nearby village and knocked at a door which was opened by an extremely beautiful young girl. At the sight of her Narada forgot everything and began talking with the girl. That talk ripened into love; he asked the girl’s father for the daughter; they were married, lived there and had three children. After twelve years his father-in-law died and Narada 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.
"Ocean is Concealed, Waves are Revealed; Wind is Hidden, Dusts are Visible; Mind is Unknown, Thoughts are Known"
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 the other two of his children; another child was on his shoulders and he was trying to ford this tremendous flood. After some time the child on his shoulders fell and was swept away by the current of the water. In trying to save that child, Narada lost his grasp of the other children who were also lost. At last his wife was also torn away from his tight clasp and Narada was thrown on the bank, weeping and wailing in bitter lamentation. Everything that he loved and lived for – his lands, his cattle, his house, especially his beloved wife and all their children - were swept away. Narada fell to his knees and cried for help from the very depths of his heart. "Krishna! Krishna!"

At once, the raging floods disappeared and there was Sri Krishna, standing casually on the fields where they had walked what seemed to be so many years before. "Narada," the Lord asked gently, "where is the water? You went to fetch a pitcher of water for me, and I have been waiting for you; you have been gone for quite half-an-hour." "Half-an-hour!” Narada exclaimed! Twelve whole years seemed to have passed through in his mind; but in fact all these scenes had happened in half-an-hour only. And this is Maya.
"Unless you meditate, the mind cannot be controlled, and unless the mind is controlled, you cannot meditate. So steady your mind and meditate." -Swami Brahmananda
Symbolically - Narada moving away from Krishna is like we moving away from the Supreme Truth and getting entangled in fleeing pleasures. Try to solve the puzzle of happiness - when we are pure bliss.

These stories provide an insight into one of the principal doctrines of Hinduism which says that the phenomenal world is simply an emanation of divine energy that has been filtered through Maya. This is reiterated in the Mahabharata when the voice of a Yaksha asked Yudhishtir: 'Of the entire world’s wonders, which is the most wonderful?' the celebrated reply was: 'that no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die'. This is Maya.

Story of dividing the elephants

A man died, leaving behind 17 elephants as his only wealth. He had three sons, According to his will; the first son should get one-half of his wealth, the second one-third and the third one-ninth. Now how could the sons divide 17 elephants among themselves in the manner stipulated?

The king, who happened to be passing by on his elephant, said he would solve the problem. He alighted from his elephant and put it beside the 17 of the dead man’s. He said he had added his elephant to the 17 to make the number even. So the first son got one-half of the 18 that is nine elephants. The second got one-third of the 18 that is six. The third got two, one-ninth of the 18 elephants. The king said: "This leaves one elephant, the one I added to your father’s collection. I take it back now that the division of the elephants among you is over." The sons were happy that the division was in accordance with their father’s will.

However, was the division indeed in accordance with their father’s will? It was not. It was a mere illusion that they had kept to the provisions of the will. Such is the nature of illusion that we take comfort from what we see as just and get upset over what we perceive as unjust.

The truth when endowed with maya is called Iswara, the Creator of the world. Sarva Upanishad describes maya as that power which is beginningless and contains within it the seeds to create the entire universe. It is neither real (because it has no power or independent existence separate from Brahman), nor unreal (because it is apparently perceived and experienced in this world through its expressions of avaranya [veiling, nonapprehension] and vikshepa [agitation, misapprehension]).

"As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it. then it is no longer what you saw."-Shunryu Suzuki