The illusion of the material world
The living entity's original constitutional position is pure spirit. But a human being who identifies with the material body may be said to be in maya. Maya means "not this." In the twilight, a curled-up rope is sometimes mistaken for a snake. The imagined snake is "not this" rope. One thing is mistaken for another. Thus beguiled by maya, the conditioned living entity considers the body to be the soul.
However, how can we mistake the rope for a snake unless we know what a snake is? The conception of a snake is not in itself untrue or unreal. The false identity is untrue or unreal. Similarly, the material body is a product of maya, the material energy of the Lord, and maya is dependent on Krishna, like clouds produced by the sun. By the heat of the sun, sea water is evaporated and transformed into clouds. Just as a cloud is a transformation of the energy of the sun, maya is a transformation of Krishna's spiritual energy. Therefore it is real; it is not false, as is sometimes concluded from the example of the snake and the rope.
The Material Connection
If you are thirty years old, thirty years ago your body did not exist, and in another fifty years it will be gone. Similarly, the material world is ever manifest and again annihilated, just as waves in the sea rise and recede. Thus the material world is a product of maya, just as the body is.
When the material world manifests, the living entities who do not wish to acknowledge the authority of the Supreme Lord are given a chance in the material world to pretend to be what they are not. To accommodate their countless desires, maya manifests 8,400,000 species of life. The living entity in the body of one of these species comes under the control of maya because the body, being matter, acts according to maya's laws. In the body of a dog, one must act like a dog, and in the body of a demigod, one acts like a demigod.
The material word is a prison without bars, and the inmates are confined by constantly diverting their attention toward sense gratification. Thus their real knowledge is forgotten and they are satisfied with any miserable situation. The lower species, like the plants and animals, have consciousness so dull that they cannot understand whether they are happy or distressed. Hogs are satisfied eating stool, because they take as enjoyment what would be suffering for us.
The Divine Connection
Everything takes place in the realm of maya because of the combination of the body and the spirit soul. This combination is made possible by the Supreme Lord Himself. Krishna, the original father, injects all living entities into the womb of maya by His mere glance. Just as the fragrance of a flower placed before one's nose is touched by one's sense of smell, yet the smelling and the flower are detached, maya can do nothing without Krishna, yet He has nothing to do with the material world directly -- He is always in His supreme abode.
He is all-pervading by His energy. The energy of Krishna is one, but it works in diverse ways, like electrical energy, which can be used to refrigerate or heat. So for our understanding, we divide Krishna's energy three ways -- into the spiritual, the material, and the marginal. Maya, the material energy, is an expansion of Krishna's spiritual energy, and the living entity is the marginal energy because the living entity must take shelter in either the spiritual or the material energy.
In the material struggle for existence we are defeated, for there is no possibility of overcoming the miserable conditions of old age, disease, and death. But the spirit soul does not need to enter temporary bodies. The soul does so only due to ignorance or forgetfulness of Krishna. Therefore in the human form of life, our intelligence is developed, so we should change our consciousness by trying to understand Krishna. Then we can be liberated from maya.
- Aravind Mohanram