(An excerpt from the book ‘Jewel in the Lotus’ authored by Sri M)
Do we have a clear grasp of the world in general, or ourselves in particular or, are we under some kind of illusion, behind a veil, that we cannot pierce to see reality?
Our own scriptures, especially Vedanta, have given the answer centuries ago – it is encapsulated in the concept of mayavad, the belief that the world is an illusion. When we look at the concept of Vedantic mayavad from our present day perspective, we find that we do live life even today under many illusions.
One great illusion we all live with is that of believing or acting as if life is eternal. It is not that we are unaware that we shall die one day; it is only that we function as if we had the magic to fend death off for as long as we like. The Pharaohs of Egypt had their bodies preserved in the hope that they could come to life again!
It is the same kind of hope that makes us live on fantasies for a future that is uncertain. ” I shall do this. I shall do that. My son is going to be a doctor of renown.” Aren’t these the thoughts that nourish our illusion of a postponed death? Hope is an expectation in or of a future, although it makes life, as we know it, worth living.
Closely linked to the illusion of a postponed death is the illusion of lasting happiness. The desire in us for happiness is such that we like to think that by gaining something physically, like good health or having something in our possession, we would be very, very happy. All our lives are spent in trying to achieve that particular thing, so we can attain the happiness we desire; we never really achieve this elusive end.
Once you get hold of the object you wanted, the happiness that you thought it would bring you, slowly begins to fade. You begin to feel,” The ideal situation is something else. This is not it.” And the search for the ideal situation never ends.
Suppose you do become happy with something you get. After some time, doubts assail you. You are afraid that it might be snatched away or destroyed on its own. If one is holding on to something in fear of losing it, how can one be tranquil and happy?
The alternative to that fear is the illusion of freezing that moment of happiness for all time to come. Unfortunately, time has other views and you will be going against the inexorable laws of time, if you hope that your happiness will remain unaltered.
Everything changes over a period of time. Our happiness, on the other hand, depends on things that we have achieved, remaining as they are without changing or our state of happiness remaining unaltered or our own death remaining a postponed possibility.
Material possessions and social positions may not last long but surely there is happiness in personal relationships? Everyone believes that someone or the other loves him. Today you have the money or position or power and everyone seems to love you. Once you lose either or even being momentarily or physically dependent, you will find that the love and respect you commanded take on a different color. Normally, the people whom we think are near or dear to us may have some biological attachments or are conditioned socially or psychologically in maintaining or professing such attachments.
Now, consider the psychological illusions that we live under.
Most of the time communication between people is not really between people as they really are but between the images we have formed about each other. Therefore, communication becomes a reflex behaviour. These images are generally very old and we are normally stuck with these old images giving them little leeway for change. Yet we think and act as if we understand each other.
When Vedanta says,’ Look at yourself ‘, we generally say,’ We know what we are.” This is an illusion. Finding out about yourself means examining yourself thoroughly in all aspects, what you really are, how you relate to others and so on. Until you understand where you are in the changing circumstances, you cannot really make any progress.
Everyone thinks so highly of knowledge. Let us consider another illusion that is closely linked to the question of knowledge. The Supreme Truth is not something that can be obtained by acquiring more of what is normally called knowledge.
Every bit of knowledge that we have is a memory stored in the brain. All memories are a thing of the past. The True Self, is something, which cannot be a memory. It is something that is always present, at this moment, here and now. So, any knowledge that you have is not knowledge of the Brahman. But we persist in our illusion about knowledge as we understand it and raise it to a high pedestal for worship.
In the Keno Upanishad it is said that if anybody thinks that he can understand the Reality behind the illusions through knowledge, he does not know.
The first thing we have to understand is where we stand at the moment. And when we carefully look at where we stand, we shall soon discover that we labour under a thousand different illusions that keep us entrapped most of the time. This is what is called Maya.
The attempt to reach out for the Truth is so unlike our reaching out for sensory things. It is actually not a reaching out, but a settling down. This settling down can take place only in total tranquillity when all distractions are eliminated.
If you notice, even when you are sitting quietly, the mind ceaselessly keeps on chattering. When this chattering ends, there is silence. This silence is not the same silence that you feel when there is no sound outside. Once you have achieved this stage of silence, it doesn’t matter where you are. That silence will always remain with you.