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Every day in my life the rational conflicts with the illogical. A carefully planned endeavor is often blindsided by an unreasonable spasm in the universe’s workings. I always ask myself the question: if nothing can be predicted, then what is real? Is it the lucid certainty of a constant truth, or is it the capricious irregularities that give the world its charm?
The ancient Indian concept of Maya addresses this. In Sanskrit, Maya is the truth that connects the absurd to the cogent, a way to see how our universe is governed. Simply put, Maya tells us that the true meaning of life is not in material things, such as money, fame, or power, but in different aspects of spirituality, such as altruism and self-growth. While ruthless politicians or rich businessmen might be powerful and wealthy, their success is not “real” unless they have grown as people. Over the years, the realization of Maya has been accepted into countless sects of Hinduism and Buddhism as a sign of enlightenment. Many works of literature have been written to explain the phenomenon that is spiritual irregularity, but none have been able to explain the concept fully. Each explanation relies on past works and spiritual history. Maya is impossible to translate, because for it to be significant, thousands of years of culture would have to be translated along with it.
According to Sanskrit philosophers, Maya is neither true nor untrue. Each and every part of one’s life is determined by Karma and the Universal Spirit, so by definition, absurdities have no place in fate. However, a human can interact with the universe and even change nature by themselves, showing that not everything is constant. The ever-changing, elusive material world is described as an illusion, while the constant, steadfast spirituality that each human encompasses is “real”. The world we live in is considered “unreal,” not because it doesn’t exist, but because it is unstable, unreliable, and illusionary. Since the world we live in is not permanent, it is considered an illusion of Maya.
Almost every summer, I visit the small towns in India where my parents grew up. Each year I make sure to immerse myself in the culture, habits, and traditions of the people who live there. Everywhere you go in India, there is sure to be a Hindu temple nearby. It is expected that everyone wakes up at sunrise and makes a morning visit to one. Every day there are elaborate rituals and ceremonies. At the end of these rituals, the temples have food for the people who come. Unlike a soup kitchen, the food is for all people who come, not just people in need. Rich people as well as poor people come to the temple wearing the same types of clothes, pray, and then eat together. It surprised me to see that everyone was treated the same, and acted the same. The reason this was happening was that in Hindu spirituality, the material world is irrelevant. One’s bank account or clothes don’t really mean anything, because those can change at any moment. It is the spirit inside that stays the same.
I try to adopt the concept of Maya into my life, remembering that my place in life is not to chase after material things, but to grow myself as a person. Integrating this philosophy into all of my activities, I have helped nonprofit organizations recycle computers to reduce their environmental impact, and I have coached free soccer at the local elementary school. Everything I do, whether it’s making decisions on student council or publishing smartphone apps that help students study, I try and make a positive impact on those around me, realizing that the only difference between me and anyone else is a small set of unpredictable circumstances.
Maya is a hard concept to grasp; after all, it’s scary to think that everything can change in the blink of an eye. When understood, however, it can be one of the most useful tools as a student, and a human being. Maya helped me make better life, business, and educational decisions, because it put everything into perspective. Maya is a concept that can help everyone on this earth become better people, but it will always have a deep connection to its Indian roots. Maya is impossible to translate into another language because it relies on the basis that is Hinduism, the culture that places emphasis on learning rather than wealth, on growth rather than power.
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