Is Reality an Illusion? - Listen Now
Is Reality an Illusion? (Transcript)
The Scientific Perspective
Today we’ll be exploring the slightly scary philosophical question, “Is reality an illusion?” We explore whether this world is actually as physical as it seems.
This is important on the spiritual path. Because it lays the foundation for something fundamental to our progress — realising the dream nature of our lives and the universe.
The material world seems so solid, doesn’t it? But is it possible that it is no more than a dream?
Einstein once said that, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.” Now, I trust Albert Einstein. He was a great soul. And he had so much wisdom, even outside of his groundbreaking scientific discoveries.
These days, science does seem to be indicating more and more that everything is made up of energy. Through smashing electrons and other particles together in huge accelerators, they’ve found that the foundations of the physical world aren’t really physical at all.
The particles that make up reality (e.g. electrons, quarks) don’t have a physical structure or size. This means that they’re kind of illusory. In fact, they can be in hundreds of places at one time, a phenomenon called “superposition.”
So quantum theory has shown us that reality is far weirder than we ever thought. And it seems like the more we find out about physics, the harder it gets to hold on to any sense of reality.
We could get into “Schrodinger’s Cat” and the “Copenhagen interpretation”. But that’s enough science for one day. My brain hurts already.
Is Reality an Illusion? The Spiritual Perspective
If you think about your memories, about your childhood, don’t these seem like the memories of a dream? They’re hazy, incomplete. Of course, we can have specific, detailed memories. But often, our memories have this dreamlike quality.
In India, they call this dreamlike reality, Maya. Maya means the great delusion, and this idea of Maya is consistently agreed upon by spiritual teachers.
Maya is fundamental to the idea of spirituality. There is an illusory material world and a spiritual world, and we are trying to realise the illusory nature of the material world. That’s the goal. So that we can reclaim our true self, which in India they call Satchitananda.
Satchitananda means “being, consciousness, bliss”. Or as Yogananda once called it: “Ever existing, ever conscious, ever knew joy.” That is what we are.
In Sanskrit, they say enlightenment is Smriti. This word means “Divine Memory. So, it’s about remembering who we are, remembering the truth of who we are. This is the goal of the spiritual path.
Notice that it is memory. We’re not adding anything to ourselves. We are stripping away the layers of delusion until only the truth remains.
The Dreamlike Nature of Reality
Our senses have evolved in a specific way, to keep us tuned into a specific vibration. Basically — what do I need to perceive in order to survive?
So out there in the great cosmic soup of infinity, we tap into only a tiny percentage of what is out there. So that this physical organism can survive.
In The Essence of Self-Realization, Yogananda says,
“A man is sleeping and dreams that he is a soldier. He goes into battle, fights , then is fatally wounded. He dreams of his approaching death. Thinking of the dear ones he must leave behind. Suddenly, he wakes up. In joyful relief he cries, ‘Ah! I am not a soldier. And I am not dying. It was only a dream.’ And he laughs to find himself alive and well.'”
But what of the soldier who actually fights in this earth life and there is wounded and killed. Suddenly, he wakes up to find that it was all just a dream. That in that other world, he has no physical body, no flesh to wound, no bones to break. Don’t you see? All the experiences of this world are like that. They are nothing but dream experiences.”
I find some comfort in the fact that this is a kind of dream reality that we are experiencing. It’s a little unsettling, but at the same time, it can give you freedom.
Once you know that you’re dreaming, don’t you become more free to enjoy that dream? Anyone out there who’s had a lucid dream will know what I’m talking about. When you can control the dream world, you have so much more power.
Suffering: A Tool for Evolution
Let’s be honest here.
Sometimes, this world isn’t that much fun. It’s hard down here. It can be brutally hard. It feels like we’re down in the trenches.
My friend used to say that the human world is like playing a video game on hard mode. But the reason you play on hard mode is to get stronger, to earn more points.
That means down here, you’re more quickly evolving. You’re paying back your karmic debts, so that you can make your way towards eventual freedom.
Yogananda used to speak of an “anguishing monotony.”
It is a feeling like you’ve been here before, you’ve done it all before, and it’s become quite tedious. When you feel that way, that’s a sign that you’re ready for the spiritual path and to work your way towards freedom.
Life: The Great Cosmic Movie
It’s a bit like watching a tragic movie and then forgetting that you’re watching a movie. Instead, you get confused and think that you’re one of the characters in the movie.
You forget that you are a spectator. You’re sucked in to the drama. And that’s a bit like what’s going on here.
There’s this great cosmic movie going on. And you’re so sucked into the drama that you believe it all to be so real and so serious. But one day, you’ll realize that it’s all a movie, little more than a dream.
And after a bad dream, you wake up and realize that it was all a dream. Then you’re safe and comfortable in your own bed. It will be the same when you wake from this dream. You’ll look and see that it was all a dream and feel great comfort and peace.
Everything is in its Right Place
No person who ever became enlightened said, “Oh, that wasn’t much fun” or “That was terrible.” They all see how perfect it was.
The Buddha said, “When you realise how perfect everything is, you will throw back your head and laugh.” So essentially, we are here to go through this journey, down into the world of Maya.
And you may not agree with that.
In a way, I don’t agree with the amount of suffering that goes on down here. Yogananda used to say, “I argue with God every day for creating this suffering.”
But even so, you don’t have to understand it. But you do have to go through it, because you’re here now. And once you become liberated from it, only then will you understand and see how perfect it all is.
It seems to be the design of things. This is where we are. This is what’s going on. You are here to solve the mystery of your own existence. And you’re going to keep coming here, keep coming back until you do. It takes many, many human lives to find liberation.
But the good news is that it is very good karma to even have an interest in meditation. Since you’re listening to the podcast, I imagine that you have some interest in meditation.
You also live in a great time, where meditation is becoming much more popular. Many more people are going to start to find liberation. So your job is to carry on. But ultimately to become completely free by achieving enlightenment.
How to Attain Enlightenment? 4 Paths.
So the question then is how do we do that? There are four main ways.
The first is Karma Yoga, the path of service. So think of Mother Teresa. The second is Bhakti Yoga which is the path of devotion, faith, prayer, and so on. The third path is Gyana Yoga, the path of wisdom and learning. And the final one is the path of Raja Yoga which is the path of meditation, spiritual practices, and so on.
We have all four of these paths and they all feed each other. The more that you develop one aspect, the more that the others grow.
So the more you serve, the more wisdom you will gain. The more wisdom you gain, the more you will want to serve. The more you practice meditation, the more devotion you will feel. They all help each other.
It may be that one of these is the better path for you. But they are all valuable and important.
Is Reality an Illusion? Final Words
Don’t forget that you’re here to enjoy this world. Yes, there is suffering and sometimes it’s hard.
But there’s also a lot of joy.
We shouldn’t have believe that we’re in this terrible world and we’re trying to escape from it. Try to appreciate what you have here. And try to enjoy it. Because you are here to enjoy the sensory pleasures of Maya, but ultimately to overcome them. This is how you will find true peace and lasting joy.
Is reality an illusion? It seems to me that is. What do you think?
Please subscribe to my channel so you can hear all about the new episodes that come out.
We meet every week on Wednesdays at 11AM Eastern time for a guided meditation and chat. There’s a small monthly fee. But it’s a great way to get involved. Click the button below to get involved.
See you next week. Thank you so much for listening and take care.