One of the concepts that I often hear in new age circles is the idea that the world is an illusion. This idea is actually not new; the ancient philosophy/religion of Buddhism refers to the world as an illusion. But what is often missed is that such ideas are not meant to be taken literally. As the Buddhist quote so adequately puts it: “the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon”. This is closely related to the famous Taoist phrase, which I will paraphrase: “the truth that is written is not the truth”.
In other words, it is not possible to write about non-dualistic truth using dualistic communication. Therefore, all attempts to explain the truth verbally or in written form cannot succeed. But it is possible to use words in order to point people in the direction of truth.
One must always be conscious that the words that one regards as truth are not ultimate truth. They are sign posts that will lead to this truth. Even the Buddhists make clear that enlightenment (the ultimate experience of truth) cannot be reached until all the spiritual “truths” that were taught on the path to enlightenment have been released.
If It Helps, Use It
There is nothing wrong with (temporarily) believing in spiritual concepts as long as it proves useful to do so. There is an interesting discussion in the New Age scripture “A Course in Miracles” about whether reincarnation is true or not. The answer in this book is that if it helps to believe in reincarnation, then believe in reincarnation. If it doesn’t help, then don’t.
And this is the way that all spiritual concepts should be used. If it helps to believe it, then believe it. If not, then don’t. The reason has nothing to do with whether or not a truth is real. The unfortunate reality is that ANY “truth” can be used for negative purposes as well as for good. If a truth is used in a way that promotes unity, then this is helpful. If it is used to promote separation, then the truth is being used incorrectly.
Life is But a Dream
When it comes to the idea that the world is an illusion, people often misunderstand this to mean that life is just some sort of bad dream. As a result, they believe that some day they will wake up from the dream, and it’s only a matter of time for this to happen. In the meantime, when they see any horror in the world, they will just comfort themselves with the knowledge that “nothing is real”, so there is nothing to get upset about.
Used in this way, the concept becomes a tool that causes separation. To believe that the world is an illusion separates a person from others who are simply are part of the illusion. Likewise, if another person believes in such a concept, he will separate himself from you as you are part of the illusion.
If you believe something that isn’t helping, then you should analyze that belief. Does it feel like the truth? Or have you misinterpreted the “truth” because your misinterpretation is more convenient than the truth?
Is it not convenient to believe that life is just a dream, and you just need to wake up from it? This is an extremely good way to shift responsibility to God. It suggests that you are suffering because God hasn’t woken you up yet. Or at the very least, it suggests that you don’t have any responsibility for anything because nothing is real. These are nice thoughts, but perhaps there is a more responsible way of looking at the situation. Let’s take a look at that now.
Earth is Heaven
Far from being an illusion, Earth is real. Furthermore, Earth is actually heaven. We are already there, but we simply can’t see that this is so.
The reason we don’t see heaven is because our perception doesn’t allow us to do so.It’s like trying to view the world through a pair of dirty glasses. When you look at the world, you think that the world is ugly and dark. It is a convenient thought, because you have shifted responsibility away from your dirty glasses.
However, if you were to accept the fact that it is your glasses that are the problem, then you could change the situation. Instead of waiting for heaven to magically appear, you instead realize that it is already here. And since you were the one who made your glasses dirty, it is your responsibility to clean them so that you can see the world as it really is.
Losing the Path
On the spiritual path, people often try to “cheat” their way to the goal. For example, once a person discovers that his perception is causing the problem, the convenient solution is to try to force a change in perception. For example, a person might look at the awful things that are happening in the world and “decide” that what he sees is actually good. However, this strategy does not change one’s perception. Instead, it’s just an exercise in self-delusion.
Unfortunately, self-delusion is an extremely common strategy for spiritual seekers. For example, let’s look at the desire for enlightenment. One of the “difficulties” with obtaining enlightenment is that in order to do so, all desires must be relinquished (including the desire for enlightenment). So people seeking enlightenment will deceive themselves into believing that they have given up all desires. But they haven’t. Instead, the have repressed their desires, which ends up making their lives depressing, disappointing, and unfulfilling.
Heaven cannot be found by trying to get there directly. The reason is that the wish for anything, including the wish for bliss, is a selfish goal. As such, it merely reinforces the illusion of separation from others. The experience of heaven (i.e. enlightenment), on the other hand, is the experience of unity. This is why desires must be relinquished in order to experience it.
The Way to Heaven
Finding heaven on Earth is not a mystery. The way to do it is to cultivate gratitude. The key is that gratitude must be cultivated in a way that is authentic. All too often, the cultivation of gratitude is yet another type of self-deception.
For example, a person might look at others and decide she is grateful simply because she is blessed with more than those around her. But such gratitude is inauthentic. After all, if she was not grateful for what she had initially, what difference does it make what other people have? What this strategy does, in fact, is simply separate this person from others through various comparisons.
The approach to cultivating authentic gratitude is a multi-step process:
Understand that you and your fellow human beings are all part of the same Source. Even though your ego believes your are separate, start to realize that this is a misperception. Whenever you become angry or frustrated with another person, realize you have forgotten that you are really a part of each other. Each time you catch yourself becoming angry at another, take a moment to say a sincere prayer asking for help in perceiving the unity among all people.
Recognize that since you are a part of the whole, you don’t have anything to fear. The reason we get angry and defensive is because we think we have something to lose. But once we realize that everyone shares everything, it results in the awareness that there is never anything to fear. The idea of loss is an illusion, which leads to defense and separation. Because you are a part of others, everything that exists is shared. When you give to another, you are really giving to yourself. This is not an easy concept to accept at first, and it will take time before it is possible to really “feel” the truth of this idea.
Learn to forgive everyone for everything. As you increase your awareness of unity with others, you will realize that there is no reason to hold grudges. In fact, by holding a grudge, you merely enhance the illusion of separation. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a step toward the unification experience. When forgiving others, include those that didn’t do anything to you personally, but committed acts for which you believe they should be punished.
Use forgiveness as the bridge to cultivating gratitude. As we free ourselves from holding grudges, we now look on a world where everyone is unified, and everyone shares abundance. The more we are able to perceive this abundance, the more grateful we will become. And our increasing gratitude will result in ever more happiness in our daily lives.
Note that it is extremely difficult to understand the concept of abundance and unity from a perspective of separation, defense, and lack. But it may be helpful to note that it is this perception that makes lack and separation seem real. Once the perception has been “purified”, the unity and abundance that were always there will be visible.
As I mentioned before, you do not realize that you are already in “heaven on Earth” because you see the world via a distorted lens. Therefore, trying to change the external world doesn’t make sense, even though that is what almost everyone is trying to do all the time. Instead, it is one’s perception that must be changed. And once this new perception has been changed, it will finally be clear that finding heaven is not about “waking up” in the literal sense, but about realizing that it was always there.