deconstructing illusion & living fully in the real world
photo courtesy yasodhara ashram
Cosmic consciousness exists as pure energy vibrating in space. Known as Sakti in its diversity, this power becomes maya – usually interpreted as “illusion” – when we forget that the Light is present, only covered by the clouds of our emotions and ignorance. Maya is like adding colour to water, creating the idea of duality.
Who has accepted the essence? Just as electricity can be falsely mistaken for its manifestations as light, heat and movement, we can see that it is only our mistaken concepts and perceptions that make energy appear as limited form. Maya means seeing the form without the essence.
We can be drawn into maya, like children distracted by toys given by the Mother. Our interest becomes diverted and we engage in play, forgetting our purpose. But we also have the potential to recognize and understand the absolute creative power behind maya, the self-renewing power of consciousness. From this perspective, the world as creation has a reality but not an absolute reality.
Maya reigns in the physical, the mental and the emotional worlds and the ancient yogic texts tell us to conquer or dismantle these three worlds. To do so, we need to understand that whatever exists has its beginning in the unseen. Illusions and desires give creative energy its shape and form, just as a pot is formed from clay. We can change the shape as long as the clay is soft and we work with it, but once a concept has been fired in the kiln of emotions it requires great effort to destroy.
The physical, mental and emotional worlds are not really separate, but are interrelated aspects of the world of our own creation. The world we live in is our perception, and we project our own concepts onto it. We are responsible for what we project, even on a daily level to the people we interact with. We are responsible for the vibrations we emanate – our tone of voice, our facial expressions, our actions. Everything we do is an expression of ourselves – manipulated by egocentricity, by compassion, by understanding, by hatred, by whatever quality we choose. All the different qualities arise from the same energy.
The power of maya is enormous. Many people do not recognize their illusions for what they are because the desire for recognition, acceptance and value stands in the way. Some people dream of a paradise where everything is beautiful and perfect. Or worse, they imagine that if everyone else were like them, there would be no difficulties in the world.
Another of the biggest illusions is that the intellect can understand everything. The intellect is a tool, but it has no Light of its own just as the moon has no light without the sun. The intellect can create enormous illusions, and even though the illusions do not affect the inner Light, the fantasies can turn into heavy burdens that make it more difficult to approach the Light uprightly and openly. We need to stop giving our intellectual powers too much importance and instead turn our gaze within. There may come a point when the intellect demands tangible evidence and denies all spiritual experiences. But how can the intellect explain the mystical, which, like a flower’s fragrance, can emanate beyond form?
How can we understand the inherent power in our own illusions and take responsibility for them? It is the emotions in conjunction with the imagination and mental powers that bring illusion into existence. To conquer the emotional world, which is often quite murky, we have to bring in the Light – the light of understanding, the light of working with our own evolution. But then comes a temptation. From the glimmer of understanding we gain, we become victim to the illusion that we are already enlightened. It is not easy to meet ourselves at the gut level.
To accept the hard facts seems to be unnecessarily cruel. But it is the illusion itself that is the source of pain. Pain is caused by ignorance and by staying intentionally blind when experience has already taught us something different. For too long we have thought that we are victims of circumstance, when we actually have allowed ourselves to remain ignorant, seldom applying discrimination and conscious investigation to our experiences. We are too busy to go into depth and instead try to escape pain and disappointment by hoping it will go away. If intelligence were used properly there would be investigation, leading to a clearer perception of reality instead of a false one, which causes more pain.
Usually we are seeing through a veil, as if through sheer curtains with more sheer curtains behind them until finally the picture becomes hardly visible anymore. It is not that some greater power gives us information or a message or warning or invites expectation, then puts a veil over it. It is just that our ordinary perception and judgement form the veil.
We can be aware enough to know that we ourselves have put up the veils or screens. The desire to remove the screen will help it disappear. But the human mind will always be afflicted with occasional doubts and questions about our own worth. The more you become aware of the enormous power of cosmic energy the more you may wonder: “How can this human mind even approach it?”
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.