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Volume XI - Philosophy, Psychology and Mysticism

Part I: Philosophy

Chapter I

When a spiritual man talks about all being illusion, the materialistic man says, 'Show me then where reality is!' Very often people use the word illusion without having studied this question fully. When a person says to another, who is in pain, 'It is all illusion,' the one who is suffering will say, 'It is reality to me. If you were the one who is suffering you would not say that it is an illusion!' And when this problem is not solved, a person may try to call an illness an illusion as long as his patience is not exhausted, but the moment his patience gives out he can no longer call it an illusion, he begins to call it reality. When one begins from the end one ends at the beginning, and to call something that our senses perceive an illusion we must first understand its nature and character, in order to prove to ourselves and to others that it is an illusion.

Through any study we take up, no matter what it be, we shall be able to find out that when we look at things they first appear in a certain form, but as we go on looking at them they appear differently. A certain chemical is called by a certain name, but when we see what its origin is, where it comes from, we trace at its root something quite different. When we find its origin we begin to think, 'Why do we call it by that name? Its name should be quite different.' In studying a mechanism and the various names and forms connected with it, we find when we get to the bottom of it that what makes it work is something quite different from its outward appearance. All this shows that the surface of all things covers the secret of their origin from our eyes; and yet we recognize all things from their surface. In order to know the secret of things we must dig deep and get to the bottom of them.

When we study modern biology we begin to wonder about the origin of man; and even if the missing link between man and monkey were to be found, we should still not have probed the depths of human origin. If such is the character and nature of things in the surface, how can we stamp them with names which we invent from our limited knowledge of them? The deeper we go into things, the less we shall think we can call them so and so, or such and such. Everything in the world is under a cover, and when it is uncovered there is another cover, so one thing is found inside the other thing, and one cannot get at the bottom of things unless one knows the secret of how to get there. It is for this reason that the learned of this world, who study and study all their lives, go only so far and no further. We may ask the most learned man in the world, who has perhaps propounded a thousand theories, what is at the bottom of it all, and he will answer, 'I do not know, but I would like to know if I could.'

To understand the nature of illusion, there are two points to be considered: first, that what is changeable is an illusion, and secondly, that what is unstable is also an illusion; for what is unstable and changeable is and at the same time is not. Then there are two laws: one law is: that a thing changes. And the other law is: that a thing is dissolved, destroyed, decomposed. The only difference is that although both are changes, it is only in one process that we can pursue that which changes. When coal has turned into a diamond we can pursue it, but when camphor has dissolved we cannot pursue it easily.

If we call the appearance of what is changeable and what is subject to destruction a reality, then what is illusion, why do we have this word? This word denotes something, which is not dependable, which is not constant. We use the words 'false' and 'true' according to our conception of things. For instance gold metal is called gold, and its imitation is called imitation gold. At the first glance both are the same; it is only by observing them more keenly that we distinguish between gold and its imitation. It is the stability of gold, which makes us call it real; we call it real because it is stable. It is the same when one says that a friendship is real. What is stable is real, what fades away is false. And when we look in this way at the whole of manifestation we see illusion in all things; if there is a reality to be found it is at the bottom of it all. The illusion is the cover, and reality is the depths of all things. It is just like body and soul: the body is an illusion, the soul a reality. It is the same with the flower and its fragrance: the flower is an illusion, but the fragrance is a reality: it stays as a spirit, it lives.

The longer a thing lives, the greater reality it shows, and yet that which can truly be called reality is still deeper. In our everyday language we use the word reality, but to know what reality is, is a different thing; for to know reality is to know all that is to be known. This knowledge is acquired by finding that one reality which is beyond all things. It is the search for reality which is the true education, the real knowledge, and the learning which is really worthwhile. To appreciate this reality, to admire it, to love it, brings us nearer and nearer towards the goal, which is reality itself.

When we begin to realize that our wish, our desire, the object of our love, and all the we pursue throughout life are illusion, and that we are in pursuit of this illusion day and night, we feel disappointed. We often wonder what there is that can be called reality if all we know, see, and feel is illusion. Not everybody thinks about it in his daily life; but to the wise this thought comes naturally and engages him in the search for reality. In olden times it was the task of religion to awaken the world to reality; but unfortunately today in the absence of religion the modern education system awakens interest in all that is illusion instead of promoting the search for reality. Nevertheless, we cannot run away from reality. It draws us, it attracts us. Even through our interest in science, literature, philosophy, art and psychology we are unconsciously searching for reality. But looking for reality in illusions is like trying to see the moon on the earth. People want to see the face of reality with the eyes of illusion, and with the ears of illusion they want to hear its voice. But it is the reality in themselves that finds reality.

There is some purpose in this manifestation which is illusion. If there were no illusion, then reality could not be found, for everything is revealed by its contrast, even reality. We look for reality when we discover illusion; if we had never known illusion we would never have known reality. Reality finds itself.

One might consider abstract thought to be a method of knowing reality, but it depends upon what one understands by abstract thought. There are people who live in the abstract, and yet they are far away from reality. There is an Indian story about a fish, which went to the queen of the fishes and said, 'I have always heard about the sea, but where is the sea?' Then the queen explained to this fish who had come to her to learn, 'You live, move, and have your being in the sea. The sea is within you and outside of you, and you are made of the sea and you will end in the sea. The sea is what surrounds you and is your origin and your end and your own being.' Just as the fish was ignorant of the sea, so even those who experience the abstract may be ignorant of its reality. One may stand near the water all one's life and yet remain thirsty, not realizing that it is water.

One day a man asked Buddha, 'What is ignorance? You have spoken so often about it; can you illustrate it, can you explain it?' Buddha said, 'There was a man who was clinging to the branch of a tree on a very dark night. All night he clung to that branch, and in the morning he saw that the ground was only one foot beneath his feet. And all the fear and anguish and torture he had felt throughout the whole night vanished with the breaking of the dawn.'

Such is the nature of ignorance and reality. A person may continue to be unaware of the truth throughout his life and suffer all the consequences of this ignorance, for there is no greater misfortune than ignorance. It is the root of all unhappiness and misery. One may continue to suffer one's whole life through ignorance, when the knowledge of reality is quite near if one only cared to find it.

The other difficulty is that human nature begins to look for complexity, for the nature of illusion is complex; man values complexity and thinks that what is complex is valuable and worthwhile, and that what is simple is worthless. Truth however is simple, simpler than all the knowledge of illusion, but for that very reason man cannot value it, for he has valued the illusion so much that he cannot value reality.

And yet for us limited human beings to say that this world has no reality seems blasphemy. It is all right for us to feel this, but it is not right to say it, because if we are to say it we must prove it, prove it by our independence of this illusion – which we cannot always do as we are too dependent upon it. A claim which has not been put into practice is not a good claim; that is why a mystic will always refrain from saying such a thing as that all this is an illusion; but he tries to feel it more and more everyday. And when it happens that he does not feel this way he is sorry. He thinks that he is far from reality; but when a glimpse of it comes to him he realizes that he is face to face with his Lord, because then he stands in the light of reality.

checked 18-Oct-2005