This beautiful story between a Guru and his disciple, explains Maya in a very straight and simple way. Sharing it here since it reminds of Babaji speaking about it in some shivir. Namah Shivaya.
There was once a disciple of a Guru who went to his Guru and said, "Guruji, I want to live a spiritual life. I want to live in the service of God. I want to go beyond the binding chains of this mundane, materialistic world. But, I feel that I am not quite ready. My desires for a family, for wealth and enjoyment are still too strong. Grant me some time to fulfill these wishes and then I will come to your holy feet”
So the Guru said, "No problem, my child. Go. Get married, have a family and earn wealth. In ten years I will come back for you. My blessings are with you."
With the blessings of his Guru, the man went out and quickly found a beautiful girl to marry. They had 3 beautiful children, and the man become financially successful.
After 10 years, there was a knock on the door of their home. The man's wife opened it to see a haggard-looking beggar standing on the doorstep. The beggar asked to see her husband. At first she started scolding the beggar, thinking that he was just there to beg for money. But, the husband realized that the beggar was his Guru so he lovingly invited him inside.
"I have come to take you away from this world of illusions now that you have fulfilled your desire of having a wife, family and earnings. Come with me, my son, let me show you the way to God."But, the man looked at his Guru pitifully and he said, "Dear, Beloved, Guru. Yes, you are right. You have given me my 10 years ever so generously and with your blessings I have prospered. But, my children are very young and my wife is again with child. She would not be able to handle the burden of all of them alone. Allow me to stay another ten years until the children are old enough to care for themselves."
A true Guru will guide you to the path, show you the light and help when help is requested, but will never force a disciple -- against the disciple's will -- to follow any particular path. Thus, the man's Guru compassionately agreed, saying, "So be it, my son. Stay another 10 years until you feel that your mission is fulfilled."
Ten years later, the Guru returned to the home to find a large bull-dog out front guarding the house. Immediately he recognized his disciple in the dog and saw --with his divine vision -- that the man had passed away several years prior but, due to his intense protectiveness over his family and wealth, he had reincarnated as a guard dog.
The Guru put his hand on the dog's head and said, "My child, now that you have regressed from a human to a dog due to your attachment to these worldly things, are you finally ready to come with me?"
The dog licked the hand of his Guru lovingly and said, "My beloved Guruji. You are right that it is my own attachment which has driven me to take birth as a dog, but you see my children have many enemies who are envious of their wealth and power. These enemies are very dangerous to my children and I must stay here to protect them. However, I am sure that within a few years everything will sort itself out and they will be fine. Give me just seven more years to protect them, then I am yours."
The Guru left and returned 7 years later. This time, there was no dog out front and the home was filled with grandchildren running around. The Guru closed his eyes and saw with his divine vision that his disciple had taken birth in the form of a cobra, wedged into the wall near the family safe to guard the money. He called the grandchildren of the house: "My children," he said. "In the wall to the right of your safe, there is a cobra curled up in a small nook. Go there and bring the cobra to me. Do not kill it. It will not harm you, I promise. But, just break its back with a stick and then bring it to me."
The children were incredulous, but went to the wall where the old man had directed them. Incredibly they saw that -- just as the Guru had said -- a cobra was curled up in the wall. Following his orders, they broke the cobra's back and carried it outside to the Guru. The Guru thanked the children, threw the cobra over his neck and left.
As he walked away carrying the cobra over his neck, the Guru spoke to the cobra, injured and aching: "My child, I am sorry for hurting you, but there was no other way. Twenty seven years and three births ago you left to taste the material world of sensual pleasures. But the ways of Maya are so alluring and so subtle that they trap us instantly. You have wasted these lifetimes in the futile pursuit of material success and in attachment to people who also are only actors in the Cosmic Drama.
My child, all here is Maya - Cosmic Illusion. It lures us into its trap, convincing us that it is real, permanent, everlasting and significant. But, in reality, the only thing which is real is Him, and the only true purpose of life is to get close to Him. These attachments merely divert our attention and focus away from the true purpose of life. I had no choice but to come to your rescue as I saw you sinking deeper and deeper into the deep clutches of Maya."
So frequently in life we think, "Just one more year" then I will cut back on my luxuries and cut back on my time at the office. "Just one more year".
But, that "one more year" never comes. Our intentions are good. We want to be more spiritual. We want to devote more time to spiritual pursuits. We want to spend less, need less and serve more. We want to be the master over our lust, anger and greed rather than vice versa. But, the power of Maya is stronger than the power of our will. Thus, we continue to find excuses for why we must continue to work 50 or 60 hour work-weeks, why we still have no time for chanting, why we can't squeeze a visit to the holy places of India into our year's planning, and why we must continue to satiate our insatiable sensual urges.
The only way to break free from the veil of illusion that Maya wraps around our minds is to surrender to God and beg Him to show us the true light. The only way to break free is to make AND STICK TO concrete vows of how we are going to be better people next year.
Rather than saying "I will find time to chant" we must say "I will not leave for work without sitting in meditation and I will not sleep at night without doing my nightly introspection."
Rather than say, "I will try to cut back on my expenses so that my financial needs are less," we must say, "I will not buy another jacket or pair of shoes [or anything] until the ones that I have are broken, torn or no longer fit me."
Rather than say, "I will try to overcome my anger, lust and greed," we must commit to having daily appointments with God in which we introspect on all the times we allowed ourselves to be overpowered by these emotions and we must pray for strength, DAILY, to be remain calm, peaceful and sattvic in our lives."
If we wait for the right time, that time will never come. The only time is now.
May the Divine bless us all with the clarity of vision to realize that the external world is Maya and with the strength, fortitude and dedication to remove the veil and attain the Divine Truth.