Ideals and Values/Moha (Delusion) The Fourth Internal Enemy
What is Moha?
Moha means ‘Delusion’ or not seeing things just as they are, but imagining them to be different from what their nature is. All of us suffer from some delusion or another. Sometimes we think of a person who wants to harm us as our friend. Some people take drugs or smoke cigarettes thinking that it gives them happiness. But these bad habits give them even more sorrow in the long run.
Causes of Moha, and the Means to overcome them:
- Avidya (Wrong Understanding) and Abhinivesha: In the Yakśa Praśna episode in the Mahābhārata, Yakśa asked Yudhishthira, “What is the greatest wonder in this world?” Yudhishthira answered, “Everyday, we see people die. And yet, every person lives his life as if he will not die.” What Yudhishthira meant is that we spend all our life pursuing and chasing trivial things even though we do not bring anything with us and will not take anything with us when we die. Death is inevitable for our body, but the soul is immortal. But even then, we spend all our lives in pursuit of goals that serve only our body and not our goal! The first cause of delusion is that we fail to distinguish between what is temporary and what is permanent (Ātmā and Bhagavān as a result of which we spend most of our time pursuing temporary things instead of permanent ones. We all love life and fear death, forgetting that death affects only our body, which is meant to be a temporary garment of the real ‘I’, which is our Ātmā. Due to this fear of death, we live perpetually in a state of denial, and do not want to think about or plan for the journey of our soul after our physical death. Or, we go to unbelievable extent to preserve and save our perishable body, even at the cost of our spiritual progress. This cause of delusion is overcome by Vidyā and by reducing our attachment towards our body.
- Mamatva(Attachment): In the Bhagavad Gitā, King Dhṛtarashtra asks Sanjaya in the very first verse, “Gathered on the holy plain of Kurukśetra to fight each other, what did my sons and those of Pandu then do?” The important point to note in this verse is that although Dhṛtarāshtra had himself raised both his biological children, as well as those of his dead brother Pandu, he treated only his biological children as ‘mine’, and those of Pandu as ‘others’. Even though the eldest son of Pandu was entitled to get the throne after Dhṛtarāshtra, his mental distinction between ‘mine’ and ‘others’ made him ignore the atrocities of his own son Duryodhana against the Pāṇdavas. After the war was over, and the Pāṇdavas were victorious, Yudhishthira, the eldest son of Pandu, became the king. Now he was in the shoes of Dhṛtarāshtra. When Kṛṣṇa decides to return to Dwaraka, he chose to say very aptly these words to Yudhishthira, “Mama (mine) – these two syllables are the gateway to death. And ‘na mama’ these three syllables lead to the eternal Brahman..” Kṛṣṇa was hinting to Yudhishthira that he should not repeat the mistakes of Dhṛtarashtra, who got deluded into thinking that only the Kauravas are his sons and the Pāṇdavas are not. In fact, the second cause of our delusion is our erroneous thinking that something or some person ‘belong to us.’ In reality, nothing belongs to us and no one owns us. We do not even own our body, because most of the day, we are using it to serve the needs of our employer, government and our family! To overcome this false notion of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, we should reflect on the fact that everything actually belongs to Bhagavān and we are merely temporary care-takers.
- Rāga and Dveśa: The third great cause of delusion is the pair of rāga and dveśa – or likes and dislikes. When we like something or some person dearly, we tend to magnify their virtues or imagine virtues in them that they do not possess and also dismiss or ignore their flaws. For example, a boy who is infatuated with his girlfriend will ignore the fact that she is has a violent temper or he may think her to be the most beautiful woman in the world, when she is not, by the criteria of others. Conversely, if a man hates his coworker he will start thinking that his coworker was undeserving and has no good qualities that merited him the promotion. Dislikes not based on objective facts leads to evils like racism and stereotyping. On the other hand, liking someone, for subjective reasons or for no rational reason, can lead to favoritism and nepotism. The person who indulges in racism, favoritism etc., starts believing that his emotions are very logical and rational even though they are just based on his subjective personal likes and dislikes, not on facts or on the true nature of people or things. Such a person then becomes deluded. To overcome Rāga and Dveśa, we should learn to control our senses, including the mind and make a conscious attempt to have the same attitude towards the pairs of opposites like pain and pleasure; praise and criticism; friend and enemy etc.
The word ‘moha’ or its related words ‘mohita’ are also used to denote someone who is in a trance or under a spell or in a state of hypnotism. Such a person cannot react normally to the environment around him in a normal, reasonable manner. In fact, even those of us who are in ‘our senses’ ignore the true nature of things, the non-permanency of the body, the permanency of the soul, the myth that we can possess something eternally etc and act every day in a manner that is irrational from the true spiritual standpoint. It is as if we are under the spell of attachments, dislikes, ignorance and so on.
Story: Do we even own our own Body? “This dilemma of ownership was the theme of a drama in Sanskrit. In this drama, a legal dispute arises among the claimants to a human body. The defendant says, “This is my body; I am its legitimate owner.” His mother claims that the body is an extension of her, as she carried it for nine months and it was born of her. His father claims to be the body’s material cause, and further claims that he provided for its upkeep until it matured. His wife says, ‘This man is only my other half and cannot make any decision or claim without my consent.” His son and daughter say that they have a claim of support from the body, at least until they become adults and can take care of themselves. His employer argues that he owns the body, at least from 8AM to 5PM every day. The state proves that it has the right to conscript the body whenever the country is in need. The elements claim the body, as do the plants and animals that provided its nourishment. Mother Earth says, “This body is eventually going to become one with me, therefore, I am its true owner.”
Amidst the reasoning of so many claimants, the defendant’s evidence proves inadequate, and the judge finds it impossible to establish any one as the sole owner of the body. He finally comes up with a solution. He puts the body in a trust and asks whether any of the claimants will take the responsibility to manage it. Since no one else volunteers, he appoints the one who inhabits the body as its sole trustee. The attitude of the trustee is different from that of owner, as it implies an understanding that one is born into an interdependent world with responsibility to manage the resources that have been entrusted to one, for the benefit of all.”
Asita Devala said to Narada: In reality, this soul does not belong to anyone, nor does anything belong to the soul. The soul is every alone, but it starts considering the body in which it dwells as its own, and therefore experiences happiness and sorrows.
Asita Devala said to Narada: Neither this body is mine, nor anything in this entire world belongs to me. Just like it is mine, so also it belongs to others – the person who has this understanding never gets entangled with delusion.
Story: Futility of Worldly Possessions Once when Guru Nanak was passing through the city of Lahore (now in Pakistan), a rich trader named Dhunichand invited the saint for a meal in his palatial mansion. Dhunichand was very proud of his wealth. Even while the Guru ate his meal, Dhunichand kept describing to him how rich he was, how much wealth he possessed and so on. After Guru Nanak had finished his meal, he gave a sewing needle to Dhunichand and said, “Please keep this needle safely and take it to heaven after your death. When we meet there, I’d like to get it back from you.” Dhunichand looked confused and he said, “But how can anyone take anything with us after we die? “ Guru Nanak smiled and said, “Exactly, you cannot carry even a small needle with you after you die. Then do you think you can carry all your wealth with you upon your death? If not, then what are you so proud of?”
Dhunichand understood the message that one must not be proud of what we wear, what we eat, where we live. All our worldly possessions are left behind when we die. Dhunichand now became a changed man, and he devoted his wealth for constructing Dharamshalas (community places for worship, satsang, wedding etc.) with his wealth. This story is a great illustration of the following words of Emperor Bali:
Bali said to Indra: You are overcome with the delusion “It is mine’, and want that kingdom which is really not mine, not yours or anyone else’s. In reality, the kingdom never stays with anyone permanently.
Story: A Deluded Person is like a Drunk Man “Some drunken men got into a boat one moonlit night and started rowing. They rowed the entire night. Early in the morning, now sober, they found that they had not moved an inch. What was wrong they asked? They had forgotten to raise the anchor. Just as the anchored boat could not move, the mind that is attached to worldly things cannot move into the deeper depth of itself.”
Story: The Delusion of a Materialistic Person One day, a man came to Swami Chinmayānanda and prostrated in front of him to offer his respects. Swamiji immediately got up and prostrated at the man’s feet. The man was aghast. “What are you doing Swamiji? Please get up.” Swami Chinmayānanda asked, “If you do not like me bowing to you, then why did you prostrate in front of me?” The man replied, “I prostrated in front of you because you are a Sannyāsi who has renounced the world for the sake of God.” Swamiji replied, “I bowed before you because you are even a greater Sannyāsi as you have renounced God for the sake of the world!"
Story: We are responsible for our own Delusion Many people give the excuse that this world has captivated them, and it is not they who are clinging to material pleasures. To explain the fallacy of this excuse, a parable is narrated –
A seeker went to a Sannyasi and asked him, “Swamiji, this world has ensnared me in many different ways. Please tell me a way to get out of its captivity.” The Swami did not respond to him. After some time, the two went for a walk. Suddenly, the Swami encircled the trunk of a tree with his arms and started shouting, “Hurry! Save me! This tree has imprisoned me. Please free me!”
The seeker was perplexed and remarked, “How can that be, Swamiji? This tree has no hands to capture you, it cannot move, it cannot exercise its will on you. So how can it imprison you?” The Swami smiled and replied, “This world too does not have hands. The natural elements have no life in them, they have no free will. It is you who has life and a free will. Then how can the world imprison you? It is you who do not let it go from your hands!”
Story: The Moha of Princess Zebunissa is shattered Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jehan was a serious student of the Upanishads and had 50 of them translated from Sanskrit to Persian. His sister Zebunissa studied the Persian translation and became deeply influenced by their teachings. Prince Aurangzeb had given an imported mirror from China as a gift to Zebunissa. In those days, mirrors were prized possessions. Zebunissa was very attached to her mirror.
One day after she had taken a bath, she asked a maid to fetch the mirror for her. The maid went inside the Princess’ chamber and accidentally dropped the mirror, shattering it to pieces. She stood right there as she did not have the courage to go out and convey the news of her carelessness to the Princess. Zebunnisa waited for some time and then sent in another maid to find out why the first maid had not returned with the mirror. The second maid came out, trembling, and conveyed the bad news to the Princess. But Zebunnisa merely sighed and smiled, and then said, “I am glad that my object of attachment, the Chinese mirror, got shattered to pieces, and shattered my useless attachment along with it!”
Notes & References
 Page 57, Purnavidya Vedic Heritage Teaching Program, Vol VI (Values), published by Arshavidya Gurukulam
 Swami Akhandananda Sarasvati (1963), p. 225
- It means Love of Life
- It refers to the body and all the material objects
- Vidyā means knowing the distinction between the temporary and the permanent.
- Na mama means not mine.
- Aśvamedhika Parva 13.3
- Because the coworker got the promotion that the man deserved.
- Mahābhārata 12.275.36
- Mahābhārata 12.174.15
- Mahābhārata 12.227.45
- Sannyāsi means ‘a renouncer’.
- He lived in 1628-1656 CE.