An Ancient Prison

The material world is meaningless and illusory. It is an ancient prison house for the souls who have turned their faces from the Supreme Lord. Following Narada Muni’s instruction, Vyasa entered a trance of meditation. His heart purified by devotional service, in that trance Vyasa saw the truth. This is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.7.9-6):

bhakti yogena manasi
samyak pranihite ‘male
apasyat purusam purnam
mayam ca tad-apasrayam

“Thus he fixed his mind, perfectly engaged by linking it in devotional service (bhakti-yoga) without any tinge of materialism, and thus he saw the Absolute Personality of Godhead along with His external energy, which was under full control.*

yaya sammohito jiva
atmanam tri-gunatmakam
paro ‘pi manute ‘nartham
tat-krtam cabhipadyate

“Due to this external energy, the living entity, al though transcendental to the three modes of material nature, thinks of himself as a material product and thus undergoes the reactions of material miseries.*

anarthopasamam saksad
bhakti-yogam adhoksaje

“The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service.”*

The material world created by Maya is a useless and illusory place for the individual souls, who are small particles of spirit. Why do the individual souls reside in this worthless place> The answer to this question is that the material world is an ancient prison for the individual souls who have turned their faces away from the Supreme Lord. Only the souls who have turned their faces away from the Supreme Lord have entered the material world. The souls who do not turn their faces away from the Supreme Lord remain always free from the prison of matter. They do not enter the material world. They stay always in the spiritual world. The Maya-sakti (potency of material illusion) is always under Lord Krsna’s control. As darkness must stay always far away from the shining sun, so the illusory potency Maya must stay always far away from Lord Krsna, far away from the spiritual world. The individual souls who have turned their faces away from Lord Krsna are attracted to the bewildering variety of Maya s world. In this way they fall under Maya’s spell. In truth the individual souls are always beyond the modes of material nature. But when they fall under Maya’s spell, the individual souls think they themselves are products of the material modes. Then they try to enjoy the pathetic pleasures the three material modes offer. That is the condition of the souls who have turned their faces away from the Supreme Lord. The other spirit souls, the souls who remain in the spiritual world, do not turn their faces away from the Supreme Lord. Only the souls who turn their faces away from the Supreme Lord leave the spiritual world and go to the world of matter.

Excerpted from the Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura “Tattva-viveka”, Chapter 2, Text 12

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