illusion: “… There is no ‘I’ to get enlightened. That’s illusion. There’s only being here with what’s here without division. Eyes open. Eyes and ears open, to let everything reveal itself as it is …” ~ Toni Packer
“… The one who thinks she is having the mirage is part of the mirage! …” ~ Joan Tollifson
“The place where even the slightest trace of the ‘I’ does not exist, alone is Self.” … “The thought ‘Who am I?’, destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
Toni, Joan, and Ramana’s words are profoundly true yet are terrifying (world-view shattering?) to the seeker because his/her very “identity” is being challenged … is being claimed to be ultimately non-existent … illusory! …
And if one looks into the expressed words of other such luminaries – across the “time spectrum” of “awakened beings” – there is no “comfort” to be found 🙂 … As Adyashanti says: “There is no you who is awake, there is only awakeness. As long as you identify with a “you” who either is or is not awake, you are still dreaming. Awakening is awakening from the dream of a separate you to simply Being Awakeness.”
I (this “me”) certainly seems real – but am I? … The world certainly seems real – but is it? …
Joan Tollifson claims that these are the questions to live with … which suggests that illusion may be the dominant sensory experience of our reality … and, ultimately this illusion is what needs to be dissolved …
So, today, in this part 4 … of our multi-part series exploring the 2022 edition of Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (original edition 2003) through chapter excerpts … Joan dissects this elusive topic of illusion with a deep dive into the question Is The World Real? … which is the next sub-chapter in our substantive preview of her book …
… in Part 1, we set the stage for the series with the 2022 Preface and the first two sub-chapters – A Sea of Jewels and This Is It
… in Part 2, Joan posits that you are the present moment … via the sub-chapter of the same title … and goes further by asking if it is possible for us to find a boundary …
… in Part 3, Joan masterfully unpacks the illusion of separation by taking us on a deep dive into the question Who Am I? … in the sub-chapter of the same title …
All italicized text above and below (except Ramana Maharshi’s opening quotes in this blockquote section) is from Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is by Joan Tollifson (2022 edition by New Sarum Press) and is published here with her generous permission.
Is The World Real? … or An Illusion?
Row, Row, Row your boat, gently down the stream
Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, life is but a dream
Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bauble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
The real position of an awakened person in relation to existence is that of a person in the process of reading a book—I am the reader and I never forget that….But my fundamental non- implication in the hero’s turns of fortune in no way affects the reader’s pleasure, nor even an identification with the hero! ~ Stephen Jourdain
To see the illusory nature of the universe is primarily to see the illusory nature of oneself. ~ Ramesh S. Balsekar
The World is Illusory;
God alone is real;
God is the world…
When your standpoint becomes that of wisdom,
you will find the world to be God.
Distressed and outraged by the idea that the world is nothing more than an insubstantial and fleeting appearance, someone once asked an Advaita teacher if the starving Africans are real. The teacher replied, “They’re as real as you are.”
How real is that? That’s a great question to live with.
Seeing through the illusion of a movie or a novel or our life doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the play. In fact, I would say that we can’t fully enjoy it until we understand that it is an illusion. And is a movie or a novel “just” an illusion? Calling “you” and “the world” an illusion doesn’t mean there is nothing here. There is, but it’s not what we think it is.
A dog, an ant, and a human all looking in the same direction do not see the same thing. Two humans don’t even see the same thing. Countless studies have shown that people often see what they expect to see, even when it is not actually there. Memory is notoriously capricious and creative. And as we’ve already noted, all perception is actually the past. So, does anything actually exist outside present experiencing? Is there such a thing as objective reality, or are there just infinite, momentary, subjective apparitions? And how would we know one way or the other?
Human beings, with our ability to think abstractly and use language, have labeled and classified the universe that we perceive. These labels and classifications are useful for our survival and our day-to-day functioning. We can call this make-believe world created by perception, memory, thought and language the relative world. It is a world apparently divided up into many separate, independent objects. It is a world of opposites. It is a world that exists only in the mind.
When attention is absorbed in this virtual reality, it seems like there is “you” and “me” and “dogs” and “cats” and “events” and “problems” and “happenings” and “dilemmas” and “decisions” and “duality” and “non-duality” and “awareness” and “enlightenment” and all kinds of things going on. It’s like turning on the TV and getting absorbed in one program after another. It seems real. But how real is it?
This is a question to live with and to explore, not philosophically or abstractly, but through direct inquiry and attention, moment to moment. How real is yesterday? How real is my life story? How real is this problem I seem to have? How real is this room I seem to be in? How real is my body? Where is all this occurring? What is it? What am I?
Our language and abstract thinking have divided “the arm” from “the leg,” they have divided “New York” from “New Jersey,” they have divided “you” from “me.” They have divided “up” from “down,” “good” from “evil,” and “the relative” from “the absolute.” But in actuality, no such divisions really exist. The arm is not really separate from the leg, anymore than New York is really separate from New Jersey, anymore than up is really separate from down, anymore than I am really separate from you, or good is really separate from evil.
The absolute is the whole thing, which is no thing. The whole is container-less, boundless, limitless. The relative is all about containers, limits, boundaries, and the resulting objects and dualities. The absolute isn’t separate from the relative. It includes it, but it isn’t confined or divided by the imaginary boundaries and limits that language and thinking create.
The absolute is never not here. Our attention can be preoccupied with the relative, with the map, with the words and the world they create, with our beliefs and concepts to such a degree that it seems like the absolute has been lost. But has it? Where could it go?
Actually, the absolute is the only “thing” that really is here, but it is not a thing, so it defies all attempts to capture it mentally.
Every thing that you can see, name, think about, describe, experience, or understand depends on awareness to be. It is an impermanent appearance, a momentary pattern, an image in the brain or in Consciousness.
It has no independent reality. But we don’t usually feel that way about ourselves and the world we perceive. Despite everything we know intellectually about the unreliable nature of perception and memory, we nonetheless tend to regard our own perceptions and memories as reliable, factual and true. We tend to regard ourselves and the movie we’re appearing in as solid fact. It’s a very convincing illusion.
What gives every-thing its apparent reality is the presence in which it all appears. Presence is invisible. When you look to find it, you find nothing. Anything you find is not it. And yet, paradoxically, presence is the only “thing” of which you are entirely certain, without the slightest doubt. It is the one “thing” that cannot be denied.
The absolute is not the opposite of the relative. The absolute is outside the frame of duality. All duality is in it. The absolute includes everything. You don’t have to burn the menu to enjoy the meal. And you don’t have to deny the world in all its magnificent diversity and texture to recognize that it has no independent existence.
The mind can get itself all tangled up in knots trying to work this stuff out mentally. It won’t be worked out. The answer isn’t in the mind. It’s right here as soon as the mind relaxes its grip and gives up the search.
The Divine Dance
Giving up or doing nothing is not something the mind can “do,” anymore than falling asleep at night is something the mind can do. In both cases, it is a kind of relaxing or surrendering—doing nothing, as opposed to doing something. It might begin with simply noticing the tension of seeking and efforting, without trying to change it or make it go away.
Hearing is happening. Seeing is happening. We don’t have to try to hear the traffic or the birds. Awareness happens on its own. Awareness is not a strategy. The me who wants to “do” awareness is a thought, the imagined subject of a thought like, “Am I doing it right?” This thought appears in awareness. This thought pretends that it refers to something real, that this something (“me”) possesses awareness. Actually, it is the other way around.
As the whole, as awareness, we have no problems, no goals, no purpose. Only the illusory me has problems and destinations, and once we imagine that we are this illusory me, there is no end to apparent problems, no end to imaginary destinations.
We lose track of the fact that thought is thought. We don’t realize that thought is creating the world we apparently live in; we think that thought is merely describing an objective reality. We think and imagine and believe that we are somebody, that something is lacking, that we have to get somewhere, that we have time to get from here to somewhere else. We imagine that the future is really out there. This all seems very real.
But is it?
There is an old Hindu metaphor of a rope that is mistaken for a snake. When it looks like a snake, we experience fear and the sense of danger. The danger seems real. But actually, the danger is only imaginary. The rope is always only a rope, even when it looks like a snake.
Are you ever really lost, or do you only pretend to be? Perhaps if you observe carefully, you will find that you actually enjoy getting lost, just as you enjoy going to the movies. But sooner or later, it is time to be found, time to come home. How to do that? Very simple. You are home. You can’t be anyplace else. The rope only looks like a snake. The problem doesn’t really exist.
~ Joan Tollifson
Stay tuned for more from Joan’s book … the next sub-chapter titled: Meditation: The Joy of Nothing at All
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Acknowledging and piercing through the illusion of separation naturally leads to … being kind and being there for one another … and in that spirit let us minimize (& hopefully dissolve) the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine … by helping in whatever way we can … and to that end here are some options:
2) Washington Post: Here’s how Americans can donate to help people in Ukraine.
3) Go Fund Me: How to Help: Donate to Ukraine Relief Efforts.
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We are all facing financial challenges but IF your situation allows you to donate and help then please do so …
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