Maya ~ the illusory nature of our world

“I think therefore I am” – René Descartes

What philosophy student hasn’t pondered this statement at some point in their lives?

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When I first heard it I thought it was crazy to doubt that we existed. I can see with my own two eyes that others exist after all? Over time, though, I was shown the many ways that we fool ourselves into believing that what we perceive with our senses is a fact. Yogis have many metaphors to show us the illusory nature of our perceptions. One common example is that of the man coming upon what he believes to be a coiled snake in the dark of night. He is paralyzed by fear and unable to move. As morning comes he realizes that this is simply a coiled rope. When we consider our fears with objectivity we come to realize that they are no more than illusion in the same way as this example portrays.
Maya is a Sanskrit word commonly interpreted as illusion. Yogis believe that our world is maya. Does this mean that the computer monitor I’m looking at right now doesn’t exist? At this point in my spiritual evolution, I don’t think so. I think the computer monitor is really there. However, my perception of it might be different than yours. I think it’s a fairly large monitor and that the picture is pretty clear. Someone else might think the picture is fuzzy and that the monitor itself is far too small. My perception of the world around me is just that – perception. I overlay all of my biases that have come about based on my past experiences and apply some sort of quality or judgment to new experiences. Humans like to categorize things on the spectrum of duality. Something must be good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, for example (or somewhere in between on the spectrum). But what if we are able to go beyond that spectrum of duality – the maya if you will – and just experience things without those judgments? Will we start to see the “realness” of people and things we encounter? This is what we attempt to do when we become a witness to our experiences. Rather than seeing problems, we see opportunities for growth. We begin to ask ourselves why we are encountering certain situations with more objectivity rather than from an overly emotional place. Rather than “why me?” we ask “what do I need to learn here?” or “what sort of stepping stone might this be?” We feel the pleasure, pain, fear, etc, associated with a situation and then let it go. To become the witness means not being trapped in the illusion.
I think, therefore I am. All I can really be sure of is that I am a witness to my own thought processes which lead me to these conclusions. They may or may not have any basis in reality.


8 Comments on “Maya ~ the illusory nature of our world

  1. A wonderful exegesis on the “immaculate perception” concept. However, may I ask, how does one living and working in the ‘western world’ practice the yamas and niyamas while abiding in maya and existing as witness to the hard-ground world of matter? Yes, the computer exists and we may see/understand it differently. But what if the computer is instead a human pointing a gun at a helpless person? What if one is surrounded by liars,worse yet, embedded within a web not freely chosen, based on one’s assessment of maerial facts, not a quick judgment call or bias? Am I able to reflect and then ask myself, “is this situation (or this person) a lie or is it my perception? Upon what do I reflect? How do I respond? The yamas and niyamas offer guidelines beyond living life as a Witness. What is your take on this?

    • Deepak Chopra relayed an incident very similar to this in one of his books (I can’t recall which one). He (as far as I recall it was actually him) came upon a person that was in fact holding a gun with the intention to rob him. He describes the own reactions as calm and says he listened to the inner voice that we all have. In such a situation if we are able to get the fear out of the way, we are able to tap into our own intuition and we know the right response every time. That said, am I in a place where I could face a gunman without fear? I guess I won’t know unless it happens (let’s hope I’ll never know). But the more we practice detaching from the emotions and practice responding with present moment awareness in the less severe situations, the more prepared we become for the really tough situations. Life is just a practice after all.

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