Category: Illusion/Maya



Namasté

Recognize who you truly are!

Sacred Sangha of Earth,
Beloved Beings of Presence,
Being One, we liberate Humanity

Be present! Be joyful! Be free!

~ Blessings to You ~

One of the biggest myths about spirituality is that it reveals the world to be an illusion. According to the myth, when we ‘wake up’ or become enlightened, we realise that the physical realm of things is just a dream. The world and all the events that take place in it are seen as a mirage. Only spirit is real, which exists above and beyond the physical world.

One of the problems with this view is that it leads to a detached and indifferent attitude to worldly events. What does it matter if millions of people are suffering from poverty and starvation? What does warfare or ecological catastrophe matter? Why should we bother trying to fight for social causes or against global problems? It’s all just part of the dream, so none of it is of any consequence.

This attitude is often justified with reference to the Hindu concept of maya. This is sometimes translated as “illusion,” but its actual meaning is actually closer to “deception.” Maya is the force that deceives us into thinking of ourselves as separate entities and the world as consisting of separate, autonomous phenomena. In other words, maya prevents us from seeing the world as it really is. It blinds us to the unity that lies behind apparent diversity. It stops us from seeing the world as brahman, or spirit. So it doesn’t literally mean that the world is an illusion, but that it’s not as it seems. It means that our vision of the world is not complete or objective, that there’s more to reality than we superficially see.

The idea of the world as an illusion is sometimes specifically associated with Hindu Advaita Vedanta (or nonduality) philosophy, but this interpretation of Advaita stems from a similar misunderstanding. The most influential Advaita Vedanta philosopher was Sankara, who lived during the eighth and nineth centuries ce. Sankara famously made three statements (later reframed by Ramana Maharshi and others): “The universe is unreal. Brahman is real. The universe is Brahman.” If the first two statements are taken alone and out of context — as they often are — then they suggest a duality between the world and spirit: the world is an illusion, and only spirit is real. But the third statement, which is often overlooked, completely reverses this. The third statement says that the universe is spirit, and so the universe actually is real. Sankara is not literally saying that the universe is unreal, only that it doesn’t have an independent reality. It depends on brahman for its existence; it’s pervaded with brahman, and it can’t exist without it.

Ramana Maharshi (pictured), perhaps the greatest Indian sage of the twentieth century, held a similar view. He explained that the world is not unreal in itself. It becomes so when we perceive it purely in terms of its appearance and only see interacting separate objects rather than an underlying spirit. That world is unreal in the same way that a dream is unreal, because it’s based on delusion. But in itself the world is inseparable from spirit. It’s a manifestation of spirit.

This is exactly what wakefulness reveals — not that the world is an illusion but that the world as we normally see it is incomplete, a partial reality. In wakefulness, the world actually becomes more real, partly in the sense that it becomes more tangibly real and alive, more vivid and powerfully there, but also in the sense that it becomes infused with spirit. In wakefulness, we realize that there’s no duality, no matter or spirit, no matter or mind. We realize that the physical world and the spiritual world are one, with no distinction. The world is gloriously infused with spirit and gloriously real.

Nevertheless, the idea of the world as an illusion is appealing to many people, as it offers a way of circumventing problems. If you’re facing difficulties in your own life, and if the world itself is full of the suffering of your fellow human beings, then it’s comforting and convenient to tell yourself, “Oh well, it’s all just an illusion, so there’s no need to worry.” In other words, it offers a means of spiritual bypassing, that is, using spiritual beliefs as a way of escaping issues that need addressing.

A similar attitude is sometimes applied to the body. After all, the body is made of the same stuff as the world, so if the world is an illusion, the body must be too, or at least it can be seen as something different and inferior to the mind or spirit. There’s a duality between the spirit and the body, just as there’s a duality between the spirit and the physical world. This attitude can lead to a hostile, repressive attitude toward the body, an attitude of disgust toward its animalistic functions and impulses, including sex. This attitude is illustrated by early Christian Gnostic teachings, for example, which held that all matter is evil, and the body is a prison to escape from. But again, in wakefulness this duality is revealed to be false. The body is infused with spirit and is one with spirit. As Walt Whitman writes in “I Sing the Body Electric,” after listing dozens of different parts of the body, “O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the soul, O I say now these are the soul!”

Steve Taylor Phd is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. This is an edited extract from his new book The Leap. More information
HERE

In his new book, Reality Unveiled, Ziad Masri provides a coherent explanation of the workings of the Cosmos that makes sense and addresses some of our most profound questions.

An entrepreneur and author who’s taken the road less traveled, Ziad was driven early in life by the seemingly conflicting desires of worldly success and deep spiritual fulfillment, and set out on a 15-year journey of self-discovery. During this period he became an independent trader of the financial markets and built a highly successful coaching business, all the while exploring ancient spirituality, non-mainstream science, and mystical practices to find the deeper meaning of life and the universe. Emerging with a profound understanding of the hidden truths of reality, he is now on a mission to help people transform their lives and the world.

Through his books, articles, and online communities, he aims to guide people to awaken their consciousness and rise above their limited sense of self to live a deeply meaningful and enlightened life.

In his new book Reality Unveiled, Ziad Masri takes you on a profound journey into the heart of existence, revealing a breathtaking hidden reality that could transform your life forever. http://realityunveiled.com/

New Consciousness Radio
Unveiling the Nature of Reality with Ziad Masri

Impermanence, …emptiness, …illusions, …samsara, …maya; words we often encounter on our journey to awakening our consciousness.

We study and meditate on just what it means when our masters tell us there is no form and that all things are empty of their own side. Buddhism tells us it’s all illusion and that is the cause of our human suffering. But where do we find our illusions? Why do people’s sufferings differ? Are they predetermined? Might our illusions be karmic? Are our illusions real?

Dream States and Illusion Rule the Day

Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “A man closes his eyes and erects a dream creation which, on awakening, he effortlessly dematerializes. Similarly, when he awakens in cosmic consciousness, he will effortlessly dematerialize the illusions of the cosmic dream.”

Based on these words, it would seem that no matter where we awaken in our consciousness, we are always living in some state of maya, or illusion. Does this mean we exist as confused little gobs of consciousness that just keep flitting from one state to another? One would think not. We must be more!

Awakening from ‘Altered States’ of Illusion

The popular movie from the ’80’s, “Altered States,” spoke of changing the various levels of our consciousness. Through meditation, we awaken to a different experience of physical illusion, even down to our primitive state as humans. But ultimately, the main character awakens to the reality that we are primordial energy, divine energy that has incredible power, knowledge and innate cellular memory containing all of our collective past physical existences, as well as the memory of all that has ever been. Although he used a “think tank” and experimented with mind-altering drugs to tap into this knowledge, the same understanding can be achieved through a disciplined practice of meditation.

So what is this primordial energy and why is it so important for it to accumulate experiences through the illusions of physical existence? This is the million-dollar question that many masters and many of us have pondered at one time or another, and will probably never be able to answer. We can only speculate based on our own individual experiences and perceptions.

Efforts to Understand Our Greater Mystery

In our childhood we are taught by our parents and then later by some religious institutions that we must be “good” or God will be unhappy with us. We become fearful of being our authentic selves and experiencing our humanness. But most unfortunate, we developed this sort of subconscious fear of God. Questions would arise that couldn’t seem to be answered, and we struggled with gaining some sort of comprehension of this great mystery of God and how we fit into the picture. We were told if we followed all of the rules our souls would be allowed to enter heaven, but if we did not, we would be condemned to eternity in hell. Erroneously, we are lead to believe that these are places that our soul goes to once we leave this planet.

Does Being in the Physical World Cause Pain?

But what is heaven, and where can we find it? And what is hell? Nichiren Buddhism, is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, founded by a 13th Century monk named Nichiren. Its focus is in reciting the Lotus Sutra and the chanting of “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” Buddhism tells us there is no soul, that it is all about mind, our acts, our thoughts. Nichiren once said that hell is found within our five-foot body, and through the chanting and recitation of the Lotus Sutra, we can attain enlightenment. Is that what heaven is? Is the implication here that the illusions of our physical bodies navigating through life is the hell and the awakening of our innate primal nature heaven?

Unfolding Wisdom, One Lotus Petal at a Time

Meditators would say, yes. They believe heaven and hell are states of mind, and that we have the ultimate choice in how we live. When we meditate, we begin to awaken our cellular knowledge. There is this natural unfolding of wisdom, a “knowing without knowing” that surfaces. We begin to understand how our illusions of self (ego) is what keeps us in a state of suffering (hell) and how each incarnation engraves itself on our souls. Patterns, fears, karma arise, and we have the opportunity to change them into acceptance, love, forgiveness leading to happier states of mind (heaven). Each person’s experience is different but yet we all originate from the same collective consciousness. We are the same but yet different.

Awakening to Positive Karma – the Benefits

This awakening allows us to transform. It offers the possibility to clear away the negative and create positive karma, which can lead to better future incarnations. Yes, our illusions are real. Though our past may predetermine them, we have the ability through the use of our own free will to change them. We can use them to our benefit to create a happier state of being.

But the million-dollar question that still seems to puzzle many of us is why. Why do we accumulate knowledge within the depths of our consciousness in the various states through which we pass? Whose cosmic dream is this and why do our lives and states of being play such an important role? The answer lies deep within us, and needs awakening.

Source: OM Times

This is one of the more baffling mystical truths, because every one of your five senses will tell you otherwise.

We enter illusion when we start asking why. Left to your own imagination, you will more than likely reach into the vast resources of your memory archives and fill the void of “why” with some negative association from your past or negative projection in the present. It’s what we do. We tend to fill voids with something negative – a fear or insecurity.

How do you know why things happen as they do? You don’t. You have no idea and you never will. Much less are you capable of knowing what must take place today in order that certain events unfold one or two years or a decade from now.

Why events happen as they do in your life, from the grandest or most devastating to the most seemingly insignificant, is beyond your ability to know. You can no more distinguish what is significant from what is insignificant, if such a thing as insignificant exists at all. Whether something brings you pain or pleasure, happiness or sadness, is not the arbiter of what really matters, which most of us should have learned by now. Those feelings are just temporary responses to your experiences, and even your responses are illusions. You are happy one day, sad the next, melancholy on the third day, bored on the fourth, ecstatic on the fifth, exhausted on the sixth, and on the seventh day you’re confused about the whole of your life.

To believe that anything can remain perfect, successful, or healthy forever is always just a wishful illusion.

What you can do:

Turn to the higher truths, reminding yourself: “No one has done anything to hurt or reject me. No one can empower me or disempower me. To believe otherwise is an illusion. It can look and feel that way, because of my own personal needs, but I am in charge of my needs. So, I forgive all these people who I believed had deliberately hurt or rejected me. That, too, was an illusion. They never plotted to reject or hurt me. I projected expectations onto them based on my own desires and they failed to live up to my imagined plans for them.”

Source: Caroline Myss


Published on Mar 17, 2016

Dean Radin Phd talks about the evidence of extended capacities of human consciousness (psychic abilities) with students and faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies.

101 Helpful Illusions highlights natural veils waiting to be transcended by disciplined courage, wisdom and insight. Everything in creation has a purpose relevant to a specific situation that could lead the seeker of higher knowledge towards the ultimate spiritual truth of oneness. Thus our egotistic vices can indeed be stepping stones towards acting selflessly, spontaneously, and cheerfully with heightened awareness and good expectations in all situations. Indeed, all our mistakes can lead us towards the desired spiritual awakening – the ultimate purpose in life: experiencing and knowing the universal oneness.


Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri is a writer-philosopher from the Islamic city of Karbala, who combines knowledge and experience of the spiritual teachings of the East with a keen understanding of the West. He has recently established the Academy of Self Knowledge (ASK) in South Africa, aimed at the committed seeker of self knowledge and spiritual development. Shaykh Haeri’s main focus has been to make the Qur’an more universally available. He continues to travel and lecture widely and is the author of numerous books on Islam, Sufism and the Qur’an, including The Thoughtful Guide to Islam, The Thoughtful Guide to Sufism, Son of Karbala, and Witnessing Perfection (all O books).

Look Inside

Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri- Different Levels of Enlightenment

Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri- On the Question of “Who am I?”

Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri-Enlightenment and Islam


Published on Feb 19, 2016

A conversation about the nature of illusion


Published on Feb 19, 2016

This video covers is part of the “Panchadasi 2015” video series and covers the topic of “Maya”. Maya is a teaching tool to understand the difference between objects (Samsara) and our true nature (Nirvana).
There is Maya but it is not real. Mythia (Maya) is not real. This is quite a complicated issue, probably the most difficult one in the whole Vedanta teaching. It is but it is not (in Sanskrit it is called Sat-Asat Vilakshanam). Maya is something other than what exists and something other than what does not exist. That’s why Moksha (liberation) is so difficult to get for most people.

What is the Key to Enlightenment? Non-Duality James Swartz Vedanta

Published on Nov 24, 2015

This is a very short video of the Panchadasi, India 2015 video set.


Gaudapada was one of the world’s greatest philosophers in seventh-century India. He invokes the mystical symbol ‘AUM’ (pronounced as ‘ohm’) pointing to the three states of consciousness (waking, dreaming and deep sleep) and the nature of reality itself. In the text on which this book is based, he writes that the waker, dreamer and deep-sleeper are like the roles that an actor plays at various times. All three states are the result of ignorance and error. Who we really are is the fourth aspect – the actor himself. If you see or feel a ‘thing’, then that ‘thing’ is not ‘real.’ So the waking world is no more real than the dream. ‘You’ have never been born. Nothing has ever been created. Causality is a myth. Discover your true nature to be Existence-Consciousness, without limitations, undivided and infinite, prior to time and space. Incredible? Read…and be convinced by the irrefutable logic of Gaudapada.


Dennis Waite has been a student of Advaita for over 25 years and maintains one of the most visited and respected websites on the subject. He lives in Bournemouth, England.

Look Inside

Book Extract

Waking World is Unreal
Dennis Waite

The World Appearance

Third objection to world being unreal

And this leads on to the third objection namely that, whereas the dream world is subjective, the waking world has objective reality. It is experienced as external to ourselves, whereas the dream takes place in our mind (K2.9 – 10). But this notion suffers from the same confusion as before. We only recognize that the dream world is ‘in our mind’ when we are awake; at the time of the dream, it is just as much ‘external’ as is the waking world when we are awake. We might as well say that the waking world is really non-existent since it disappears when we are in the dream or deep sleep states. At the time of the dream, I experience external objects and events in just the same manner. Their illogicality or even impossibility only becomes apparent on awakening.

Similarly, when we recognize that turIya is the reality, we will also realize that the waking world has no objectivity of its own but is just an appearance within Consciousness. The objective reality of the two worlds is entirely relative to the standpoint of the observer. In fact, they are both mithyA.

From a ‘detached’ point of view, both waking and dream are similar experiences. Within the dream, there are ‘others’ who validate my dream experience. I have conversations with them and I assume (as a dreamer) that they see the same external (dream) world as I do. It is only from the vantage point of having woken up that I am able to see that this world was internally generated and (no longer) has any objective existence.

Of course I feel that I am unable to take a position from outside of this waking world to look at the situation in a similar fashion. And so I call the waking world ‘real’ and the dream world ‘false’. But in fact I do take such a stand every time I go to sleep. In the dream, the waking world is negated and in deep-sleep, both waking and dream are negated.

If we imagine a dream A in which we go to sleep and have a dream B. When we ‘wake up’ (from dream B into the dream A), we will say that the dreamt dream was ‘only a dream in the mind’, and that we are now (in dream A) in the real world. Of course, when we ‘really’ wake up into the waking world, we realize that both A and B were dreams and think that we are now in reality. Except that we are now effectively in dream C!

So long as we continue to believe in the objective reality of a separate world, we have not really woken up! The bottom line, with respect to this third objection, is that the experience of an external world does not mean that the world is real. Of course, we assume that it does, but an assumption is no proof at all.

If objects of both waking and dream worlds are unreal, that must include the people who inhabit them also, including the waker and the dreamer! If this is the case, it is denying the reality of the knower as well as the known. But this makes no sense as there has to be someone who is doing the denying! So who is it who sees or imagines these two worlds (K.2.11)?

This question highlights the danger of choosing the wrong word. Gaudapada actually uses the word vaitathya for the word translated here as ‘unreal’ but this should be regarded as a synonym for mithyA. The objects of the world are not unreal. Try walking in front of an oncoming car to demonstrate this! The objects (of both states) have reality relative to that state. What they do not have is absolute reality. Their reality depends upon I, the observer. That is I, the ultimate observer – Consciousness – not I, the separate person, which is equally mithyA. I, the waking person, cannot have absolute reality because I disappear, to be replaced by the dreamer or sleeper, when I go to sleep. I, the ego, also has only relative reality.

Gaudapada provides a preliminary answer to this question of who sees the worlds in K2.12, and introduces the concept of mAyA, which was mentioned in the introduction. He says that the scriptures tell us that it is the non-dual Self that ‘imagines’ itself and cognizes objects, by the power of its own mAyA. There is only the non-dual Self, or Consciousness. But he is suggesting here that this Self effectively creates a world, together with conscious beings to inhabit it, out of Itself. And, looking out at the world through the eyes of these beings, this Self ‘forgets’ that it is everything.

In fact, the ‘knower’ is not the original Consciousness but Consciousness ‘reflected’ in the mind of the observer. And we should never forget that all of this is really mithyA, like the snake misperceived in the rope.

It does, indeed, sound fantastical. And yet this is precisely what happens when I the waker go to sleep and dream! Whilst dreaming, I fully believe that I am in a complex, fully populated world of others; and yet everything is produced in my own mind, by itself, out of itself. The apparent plurality is self-delusion. Relatively speaking the waking world is no different. None of it has independent, substantial reality; it is all only name and form of myself, turIya.

Who-I-really-am is not the waker, which is Consciousness identified with this material body and believing in a separate gross universe. Both body and world effectively disappear when I go to sleep. And I am not the dreamer, which is Consciousness identified with the mentally created subtle body and dream world. These creations disappear when I wake up or go into deep sleep. The reality is that I am the Consciousness which is doing the identifying; that which is present throughout all of the three states and which does not change.

When I enter the dream, I (now the dreamer I) forget all about the waker I, believing that I am now completely awake in this mentally created dream world. And when I enter deep sleep, I forget both. All these experiences come and go but I, as Consciousness, remain unchanging as that in which they all arrive and depart. They are transient and their reality is relevant only to the ‘I’ which temporarily rules in that particular state. I, as Consciousness, am the only absolute reality. Recall again the metaphor of the actor playing several roles.


We live here on Earth, together with billions of fellow human beings. That we live is an irrefutable empirical fact. Similarly, the fact that other people live on Earth, too, is also an empirical fact.

We do not merely live, however, but we are also personalities. We are personalities who are similar to each other in various respects, and largely different from each other in other respects. That we are personalities, different from each other is also an empirical fact for us.

Out of these two experiences, however, only one is true, the other is deception. Only one is a fact, the other is an illusion, and the biggest illusion in the world at that.

The Beginnings of the Illusion

Let us take a closer look and examine which of the two experiences is true and which is a mere illusion.

Our life in this world begins when we are born. It is obvious that we are alive, but we are not yet a personality. At that time only the simplicity and greatness of the present moment, of existence, is known to us.

The society, and its culture, is what shapes us into personalities while we grow up. We become a personality when our Ego is born. This is an inevitable step in the evolution of the Consciousness, so there is nothing wrong with that. The Ego is born, the separate little Self, as a focus of the Consciousness. That little Self obtains experience about itself and the world. In the natural course of evolution and as a result of the experience gathered, the Ego withdraws to give way to the process as a result of which Consciousness awakens to its own existence through a human form.

The progress of this evolutionary process can, however, be impeded by an illusion: the illusion that the individual is becoming somebody, a personality. We begin to become somebody, a personality, when we start to identify with the Ego, with that separate little Self. Under that illusion we believe that the Ego is a reality, and we are identical with the Ego, and the development of the separate little Self is in fact the foundation of our personal development. Nowadays it is virtually impossible to avoid that kind of illusion, since mankind has lived in it for thousands of years. The deception has become independent, and the illusion of the Ego is now a reality for the entire mankind, including, naturally, us.

The Nature of the Illusion

Our identification with the Ego makes us therefore somebody, a personality. On the other hand, our identification with the Ego will be the root of all our problems and misery. Since around us everybody considers the Ego as the most important centre of their life, we are also brought up by our parents to have a powerful Ego, a centrepoint in our life, by the time we reach adulthood. It is necessary because our society–and its culture–favors and worships the individuals with a powerful Ego.

Our parents and teachers bring us up in the spirit of the permanent endeavors to become somebody, to become a strong personality, to become somebody different from what are now (to become bigger, more important and better than other people). That is why we always watch the other people, we compare and measure ourselves to them. All that time, we also try to adjust our actions and deeds to the expectations and opinions of others. We keep dealing with the past and the future, and we never have sufficient time to stop and notice the immense illusion behind our life.

The End of the Illusion

An illusion may only survive if it is continually fanned and nourished. If we take a look around through innocent eyes (that is, through eyes free of any kind of opinions) we will soon realize how every society nourishes and fans, through its various institutions, the illusion of the separate little Self, the Ego. How they nourish the illusion of ”somebodyness” in us and in everybody else. All that may take place because every society, every culture is based upon individuals, and if those individuals disappear, they wake up from their ”somebodyness,” the former modus operandi of that society collapses.

That is why Eckhart Tolle is perfectly right when he asserts that the world can only change from inside. The internal change means that we wake up from our ”somebodyness” and we begin to understand what our mission is in the evolutionary progress of the Consciousness.

We must therefore wake up from the illusion of our ”somebodyness” in order to concentrate our attention on reality. That reality is nothing but the innermost empirical fact in our life, that is, the fact that we live, and we constitute a vibrating Consciousness, full of life. That is the reality that has been shrouded from us by the illusion, the mistake that we concentrated all our efforts on sustaining our ”somebodyness.”

If we stop nourishing that illusion, it will vanish after a while. In order to sever the power line of the illusion, we must learn how to notice the vividness and beauty of the present moment. Once we are able to accept the present moment, we are able to accept ourselves and we are able to enjoy the simplicity, tranquility and peace of existence. The Ego and the experience of ”somebodyness” then disappear, and we remain nothing but pure, vibrating energy, Life itself.

Frank M. Wanderer Ph.D is a professor of psychology, a consciousness researcher and writer, and publisher of several books on consciousness. With a lifelong interest in the mystery of human existence and the work of the human mind, Frank’s work is to help others wake up from identification with our personal history and the illusory world of the forms and shapes, and to find our identity in what he calls “the Miracle”, the mystery of the Consciousness.

Q: Why is it that speakers of non-duality use arguments which employ duality to make their point?
It has always struck me as a little strange that the man in the street, who has never heard of non-duality, talks in terms of “I am my body and I am my mind” (he talks with with a sense of oneness) whereas the man who is well versed in non-duality talks in terms of “I am not my body and I am not my mind” (and talks with a sense of separation or duality). Why is it that speakers of non-duality use arguments which employ duality to make their point?

A: When the man in the street, who has never heard of non-duality, talks in terms of “I am my body and I am my mind,” he does not talk with a sense of oneness. This is a position that I sometimes call Conventional Duality – sometimes referred to as ‘ignorance’ – in which experience is considered to be divided into two essential ingredients: one, ‘I’, the body/mind – the subject – and two, things, others and the world – the object.

As a first step towards the true nature of experience, the teaching points out that the mind and body are not the subject of experience but are rather objects of our attention. As such, the teaching reformulates experience in this way: it is not ‘I’ the body/mind that is aware of the world, it is ‘I’, Awareness, that is aware of the body/mind/world. In this halfway stage there is still duality: a subject and an object. Hence, I sometimes call it Enlightened Duality.

This step is a pedagogical step – I am not this, not this, not this – which relieves us of our exclusive identification with the body and mind. It is a path of exclusion.

In the next step, which is a path of inclusion – I am this, I am this, I am this – the apparent distinction between Awareness and the objects of the body, mind and world is collapsed or, more accurately, seen never to have existed. I sometimes call this Embodied Enlightenment – in which there is no longer an apparent subject or object of experience – to distinguish it from Enlightened Duality in which the apparent subject and object has not yet been seen through.

In other words, in the Path of Exclusion we move from the belief ‘I am something’ to the understanding ‘I am nothing’; in the Path of Inclusion we move from the understanding ‘I am nothing’, to the feeling-understanding ‘I am everything’.

We find these stages in most spiritual traditions: in the Buddhist tradition first there is Samsara, then Nirvana, then the distinction between the two is realised to be non-existent. First form, then emptiness, and then no distinction.

From ignorance to understanding; from understanding to love.

~ Rupert Spira

Francis clarifies meaning of perception, brain, mind and consciousness. Also, answers question regarding the distinction of maya and lila.

If there is one concept which has been under constant attack by psychologists and philosophers over the last few decades, it is the idea of ‘you’ – that you are a real entity or ‘self’. Many modern philosophers and scientists suggest that this sense of being ‘someone’ is illusory, or just a simple product of brain activity. Somehow the billions of neurons in your brain work together to produce it, and all of the thoughts and feelings which it incorporates. This view was expressed very graphically by the scientist Francis Crick, who wrote that:

‘You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.’

From a less biological perspective, the philosopher Daniel Dennett speaks of the illusion of the ‘Cartesian Theatre’, the sense that there is ‘someone’ in our heads looking out at a world ‘out there’, and also watching our own thoughts pass by. In reality, says Dennett, there are only mental processes. There are streams of thoughts, sensations and perceptions passing through our brains, but there is no central place where all of these phenomena are organised.

Similarly, the psychologist Susan Blackmore has suggested that the self is just a collection of what she calls ‘memes’ – units of cultural information such as ideas, beliefs and habits. We are born without a self, but slowly, as we are exposed to environmental influences, the self is ‘constructed’ out of the memes we absorb.

Modern neuroscience seems to reinforce such views. Neuroscientists claim to be able to ‘locate’ the parts of the brain responsible for mental phenomena such as aesthetic appreciation, religious experience, love, depression and so on, but they haven’t found a part of the brain associated with our underlying sense of self. Therefore, they feel justified in concluding that this doesn’t exist.

Ghosts don’t Exist’, says the Ghost

There are many problems with the attempt to ‘reduce’ our sense of self to brain activity. This is related to ‘hard problem’ of explaining the origins of conscious experience – so-called to distinguish it from the ‘easy problems’ of mental abilities and functions such as memory, concentration and attention. Whilst we might be able to understand these phenomena, the problem of how the brain might produce consciousness is on a completely different level. The brain is just a soggy clump of grey matter – how could that soggy mass possibly give rise to the richness and depth of consciousness? To think that it could is a ‘category error’ – the brain and consciousness are entirely distinct phenomena, which can’t be explained in terms of each other.

And on a more practical basis, after decades of intensive theorising and research, no-one has yet put forward any feasible explanation of how the brain might produce consciousness. The ‘hard problem’ seems completely insurmountable. There is a basic absurdity in these attempts to show that the ‘self’ is illusory. They always feature a self trying to prove that it doesn’t exist. They are caught in a loop. If the self is an illusion to begin with, how can we trust its judgements? It’s a bit like a ghost trying to prove that ghosts don’t exist. Perhaps it may be right, but its illusory nature doesn’t inspire confidence. Dennett and Blackmore are presuming that there is a kind of reliable, objective observer inside them which is able to pass judgement on consciousness – and that presumption contradicts their own arguments. That is the very thing whose existence they are trying to disprove.

Related to this, there is a problem of subject/object confusion. All of these theories attempt to examine consciousness from the outside. They treat it like a botanist examining a flower, as an object to scrutinize and categorize. But of course, with consciousness there is no subject and no object. The subject is the object. You are consciousness. So it is fallacious to examine it as if it is something ‘other.’ Again, you are caught in a loop. You can’t get outside consciousness. And so any ‘objective’ pronouncements you make about are fallacious from the start.

An interesting question to ponder is: why do human beings invest so much energy into trying to prove that they don’t exist? Why do scientists and philosophers seem so intent on proving that they themselves are illusions? Perhaps there is a kind of repressed suicidal impulse at work here. Perhaps the individuals in question experience a deep-rooted self-hatred and an impulse for self-destruction which, at conscious level, has been translated into an impulse to negate their own identity and existence. More likely, though, these views are symptom of the general nihilism of our culture, the collapse of values which has followed from materialistic science. The fact that these theories have become prevalent, despite being fallacious, shows how well they fit to the present ‘zeitgeist’.

Subjective Investigation

So does the self exist? Is there really anybody there inside your own mental space?

I think the best way to answer the question is to take a different approach. Rather than attempting to analyse consciousness from the outside as if it is an object, the best approach is to embrace subjectivity, and delve into your own consciousness. Try meditation, for example. In deep meditation, you might find yourself in a state of complete mental quietness and emptiness, with no thoughts, no perceptions, no information processing, no concentration. In fact, this state can be seen as the ‘goal’ of meditation (at least according to some traditions). The philosopher Robert Forman has called it the ‘pure consciousness event’ – a state in which consciousness exists without content, and rests easefully within itself. I have experienced this state myself, and am familiar with its qualities. Paradoxically, although consciousness is empty, it has a quality of fullness too. It appears to be full of energy – a powerful energy which has a quality of well-being, or even bliss. (This is what Indian Vedanta philosophy describes as satchitananda – being-consciousness-bliss.) There is also a quality of spaciousness – somehow my own consciousness seems to become wider and larger, to spread beyond my own brain or body. This can lead to a sense of connection or even oneness – a feeling that my consciousness is merging with a force or energy which somehow seems fundamental to the world, or the cosmos.

But most importantly in terms of my argument in this article, in these moments, one of the qualities of consciousness is a sense of ‘I’. There is still a sense of identity, even if this sense may be different to the identity of a normal state of consciousness. This identity does not feel separate or boundaried. It feels part of a greater unity, but still has a sense of I-ness. You could compare it to a wave having a sense of its own existence of a wave but at the same time being aware of itself as a part of the sea. There is still an ‘I’ which has awareness of itself and of its situation. From this point of view, it appears that consciousness or identity is not an illusion. In this state, there are no ‘memes’ and no streams of mental processes, but consciousness still appears to exist. I would therefore say that the sense of self is fundamental to us, from the deepest levels of our being. Of course, this fundamental sense of ‘I’ is acted on by all kinds environmental, social and psychological influences, and becomes ‘constructed’ to a large degree. You could compare it to how a Roman fort is built upon and expanded over centuries until eventually develops into a modern city. But there is a fundamental kernel of ‘I-ness’ which is always there, underlying all of the activity and all the construction.

Of course, this is just my own subjective experience. I shouldn’t make any universal claims for it – although, as Robert Forman has pointed out, the ‘pure consciousness event’ seems to be universal in the sense that human beings from culture to culture have independently described experiences of it throughout history. Ultimately, however, the only real way to substantiate this is for you to try it out yourself – to reach a deep state of meditation, and see if your own experience accords with mine.

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