If it hasn’t occurred to you, in the spiritual traditions, everyone comes to this essential question of, “What is illusion?” But it’s not illusion. Buddha spoke of all of this being an illusion, that even the sense of “I”, the “I-ness”, that’s perpetuating, this sense of continuity inside ourselves, that itself is an illusion of perception, that perception has been formed and has continued like a wave throughout time and space as waves, somehow self-referencing each other, and giving an apparency of an I state of being. And in the Buddhist traditions, they call this an Atman, a no- Self. There’s no-Self here.
Certain schools of Indian philosophy of the idea Advaita, that there is no duality, there is no actual I center that alone in itself is an illusion. Now, what’s interesting is there are other schools of Indian philosophy, let’s say, it is not an Atman, meaning that there is no center Self, no apparency of Self. There actually is a Self, and in that Self, Atman is a divine aspect of the absolute divinity, a spark of the divine. And that this spark of the divine somehow forgets or becomes alienated, or separated out, from its unity and wholeness with the grand Atman, Paramatman, the divine absolute God Self. And somehow, gets mired in illusion, thinking that it’s a separate Self, not God, that this is not God, that this is all just bits and pieces of a universe. And that they are in the middle of this universe. And somehow, through time that we live and die, learning lessons of greater consciousness. Or somehow, we get even more deluded in the illusion and delude ourselves, thinking that we’re physical being, with this mind, this thought, this feeling, this emotion, this history. And that the path of awakening is recognizing that we are actually not this physical stuff, we’re not our minds, our thoughts. We’re not just our feelings and emotions, we’re not our actions. In fact, we’re not even our stories. We’re not our histories. All the things that we so hold on to tightly, to make ourselves into an apparent self is actually all, and even the mechanism, to make ourselves into an apparent Self – it’s an illusion.
I posed this question once to one of my spiritual teachers in Egypt, his name is Hakeem. And he was a wisdom keeper of this ancient Egyptian wisdom, commission wisdom school, indigenous wisdom from ancient Kamath, which is what they called Egypt back then. And I’m right there across the Sphinx, with him in his home that we could see, in a little window, the pyramids and the Sphinx. He called it Tefnuti, the spit of the goddess. And we’re there, in this divine realm, with him, and he’s passing around his hookah, myself, and my crew were there, sitting with him, speaking for hours about so many philosophical topics. And I say, “Hakeem, what is this? What’s the absolute truth, if you know it?” “Is there Atman?”, meaning is there divine Self, and that the apparency of this is the illusion, but not the divine Self. Or, is there no divine Self, no Self at all? And that’s the absolute truth. He looks at me with this deep smile, he had this face smile, ear to ear, and this deep voice of the Egyptian wisdom keeper. And he says to me, he looks at me, and he goes, with this piercing eye of humor, “It’s the same experience – two different viewpoints.” For him, though all the philosophies of India, all the philosophies of Buddhism, all the philosophies of Hinduism, Yoga, Advaita, Vedanta, Tantra – you name it, we can go on with all these schools – there were just points of view. He had reduced everything down to someone, you or me, and all of us, taking a point of view, of infinity. And then, we’re the ones that are choosing, or somehow ascribe, “This is real, you’re real, I’m not real, this is real, not real.”
One of the foundational practices is to look at real and unreal, what is illusionary, what is truth, and to feel for the truth of each one of those in your life, as a navigation system. As a continuous self-inquiry, as a continuous keeping yourself honest practice. It is what I’m doing, my actions, my thoughts, even my goals, my philosophies, my personal viewpoints – how real are they? How do I know they’re real? What are they standing on? Are my viewpoints and ideas standing on knowledge that perhaps might have holes in it? Or is it standing firmly?
It’s up to us to really discover the truth of what is illusionary, what is true. In my experience, they’re the same thing from two viewpoints. For me, what’s true is this, right here, right now, without any qualification, without adding any thoughts about this circumstance, this moment. Without taking a viewpoint and narrowing down this whole experience into an opinion. I like to start to find those lodged opinions, in which I have triangulated, and circulated, and corralled a vast amounts of idea, and put them into a firm knowingness. Perhaps an entrenched way of being — perhaps becoming an old dog that can’t learn new tricks. Not even knowing I’m doing that to myself. But when we can look at that and question what is true, what is illusion, and we stay on that path. And I bet you, one day, you won’t even care for any of that.
Your philosophical meanderings, if you care for this topic at all, will start to dissolve. You’ll become more in touch with the pristine fullness of the truth right here, right now. You’ll become a beacon, the transmission of living your truth, living your creed. And you won’t care so much for fanciful ideas. You perhaps might care for the truth that’s being lived right now.