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“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside.”—Rumi
Is it real or is it imagined? Well, it all depends upon your level of awareness. When you woke up this morning, you may have remembered last night’s dreams. They may have been wonderful or confusing, romantic or scary—it doesn’t matter. As soon as you awoke, you realized they were just dreams; they were something the mind created and weren’t real, so you let them go.
The great Enlightened Masters tell us that this life, which we call our waking reality, is also just another form of dreaming—something conjured up by the mind, a mistake of the intellect—and one day we’ll also awaken from this dream to the reality of our true Self.
Understanding Maya (Illusions)
In ancient Vedic times, the Rishis referred to illusion as Maya or that which is not. However, this is often misunderstood and thought to mean that this world you live in doesn’t exist. Obviously, on one level it does exist, just like when you were dreaming last night about the big dog chasing you—the dog existed at the time. Maya is when you superimpose an idea or memory onto something else and create a different reality from what’s truly there.
In India, there’s the story of the ignorant man who sees a rope on a dark road and shouts, “Snake, snake!” When light is brought, he realizes it was just a rope. The rope didn’t change; it was always a rope and it was only the man’s mistake that created the illusion of a snake. Maya is the contraction of a consciousness that should be fully expanded, all-knowing. It’s when you look around and experience all the thousands of individual objects, but miss the one Pure Consciousness that connects them all as part of the eternal Wholeness. The poet Robert Frost expressed it beautifully when he wrote, “We dance around the ring and suppose, while the secret sits in the middle and knows!”
Ultimately, anything you can experience with your senses or imagine isn’t Real in the true sense. You identify with what you are not. Your spiritual journey is to bring the light, step out of the boundaries, and enjoy the unlimited freedom of the Real.
Your path from the unreal to the Real is actually quite simple. You don’t have to learn anything new; the Truth is who you are. Your spiritual journey is just remembering and recognizing who you really are. In forgetting the Real, you have created your world of illusions.
The 6 Illusions
The following illusions, or delusions, are from the Vedic Texts from India.
1. The delusion of limitations of space. This leads you to the mistake that, “I am here and not everywhere.” Certainly your individual, limited consciousness is only here, but when you tap into the Unified Field of Pure Consciousness, which permeates the whole universe, you are instantly equally present in any part of the Field. There’s nowhere you are not. The delusion is that you live in a localized universe, whereas your essential nature is pure, non-local space.
2. The delusion of time. This gives you the impression that “I was born, grew old, and will die; there is a future and a past.” When you learn to be completely present in this moment, to be in the NOW, time becomes merely a concept and ceases to have any hold on you. You realize that everything is actually happening at the same time but at different frequencies. The delusion of a linear, time-bound universe, gives way to your true, timeless, eternal nature.
3. The delusion of the limitations of attachment. This creates the thinking that “I need this to be complete in some way.” When you trust that every moment is complete in itself, you step into the freedom of life. The sun rises, the sun sets—it’s impossible to hold onto the day or night. Enjoy what comes and be at peace with what doesn't.
4. The delusion of limitations of knowledge. This leads you to believe that, “I know this but I don’t know that.” By tapping into the field of Infinite Possibilities, you access a state of all-knowing, where everything exists as pure potential waiting to be enlivened merely by the touch of your attention.
5. The delusion of the limitation of creativity. This tells you, “I can do this but not that.” There is nothing more creative than the mind of God, just look around at nature. You all have the potential for anything. Everything you could ever want is right here—you just need to open yourself to the Field of Infinite Possibilities and learn to enjoy what God has already created for you.
6. The delusion of fear. The delusion that there is something to be afraid of is perhaps the most insidious of all. All negative emotions—anger, hatred, judgments, aggression, and racial intolerance—ultimately stem from fear. The delusion of fear is the tool used by despotic leaders to gather the deluded behind them. Fear only exists when Love is absent. There is nothing that can ever harm you except the shadows you create in your own mind. With the understanding Ahum Brahmasmi, “I am the Universe” and “I am the Totality”, what could you possibly fear?
When you become ensnared in these illusions, you suffer. All suffering is a result of not knowing who you really are, leaving you to live a life of doubt, confusion, pain, and frustration. Suffering itself is an illusion!
As Always, There’s a Choice
Most of us struggle to fix the illusions. While you are stuck in the illusion, you try to make it as comfortable as possible. Apathy is not a solution. When you see others suffering, you must do what you can to help. Bodhisattvas and other enlightened teachers have taken on this service of helping the ignorant to awaken. However, if you become attached to the illusions, you ride the rollercoaster of pain and pleasure for many lifetimes.
You can step out of the illusion. The great mystic Osho said, “When you are absolutely dissatisfied with things as they are, only then do you go in search, only then do you start rising higher. Only then do you make the effort to pull yourself out of the mud.”
You can choose to live the true qualities of life, expanding your view of reality and effortlessly move beyond the illusion. You can transcend the worldly limitations, stepping into the wisdom of the unlimited unknown.
How to Step Out of the Illusions
- Meditate. Meditation is the most powerful tool you have to reconnect with your inner silence and rediscover who you really are.
- Make a list of all the limiting beliefs you hold on to, which prevent you from living life in fullness. These are the excuses and illusions you create for yourself, which block your spiritual progress. Things like, “I’m too old, I’m too small, I’m not smart enough, I’ll never be enlightened." Then ask yourself, “What are these delusions, these limitations preventing me from doing?” Release them.
- Become the witness periodically throughout the day; observe your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions. Then ask yourself, “Who is observing?” This is the Real you.
- Observe your breath. Illusions take you into the past or the future; the Real you is in the NOW. Your breath can never be in the future or past, it’s always in the present. During the day, pause and simply be aware of your breath.
- Neti, Neti is literally saying, “not this, not this.” During the day pause, touch, taste, hear, smell, or look at something and remind yourself, “This is not real.”
- Find your Light. Find your Truth—your purpose—and live it. The path that is shown by your Light is the only path that is right for you.
Life is like a movie. Physical death doesn’t end the movie, it’s just an intermission before the next episode begins. In a Cosmic sense, what you call being awake, sleeping, and dreaming is actually the Cosmic Dream. Physical death is the Cosmic Deep Sleep, from which you are roused to another Cosmic Dream. Enlightenment is the Cosmic Waking State. You are limited or unlimited by how you choose to think. Instead of wondering if you’ll ever be Enlightened, start living it!
Consider sharing wisdom and inspiration with others and taking your practice to the next level by enrolling in an upcoming Chopra Center Certification program. Learn More.