Is this life an illusion?

In Ram Dass: Going Home, Ram Dass says that life is an illusion. For him, close to death, it’s natural that he looks on the illusion side of our perception. And I am sure he also took care of his life in all the ways most people do.

So is life an illusion?

The answer, as so often, is yes and no and it depends.


Yes, life and existence and we are not exactly as most people perceive it. Some of the most fundamental assumptions are not entirely correct.

Our world happens within and as what we are, it happens within and as consciousness. Our fundamental nature is awake space wide open for the world.

Our thoughts are questions about the world, temporary guides. There is some validity in each of them, and we often need some discernment and experience to tease out how there is validity in them. And there is no inherent or absolute or final truth in any of them.

So if we take ourselves to primarily be a human in the world, and if we hold thoughts and assumptions as the final truth, then that’s living in a kind of illusion, and it’s an inherently painful illusion.


And no, life is not exactly an illusion. Many of the conventional views have validity. Our actions have consequences and we have to live with and deal with these consequences. We need to be good stewards of our own life.

If we take “life is an illusion” as a belief, make up stories about it, and live as if nothing matters, life will give us feedback. And, hopefully, it will encourage us to take a closer look.


As so often, we have to use our discernment to see the validity in both sides of the “life’s an illusion” statement – how and when it’s valid and not.

For ourselves, it matters a lot how we perceive the world. If we find our true nature, it sets our whole life in a very different context. To the extent we see it and live from it, it can be liberating and healing.

As for our life in the world, many of the practical conventional views have validity and can be invaluable and useful for us, especially if we hold them lightly.


I often talk about who and what we are. What we are is what our experience – of the world and ourselves – happens within and as. And who we are is this human being in the world.

Another way to talk about this is from the Headless Way and Douglas Harding, where he differentiates what we are to ourselves, and who we are to others and in the world.

To ourselves, we are capacity for the world. We are this awake space our world happens within and as. Here, we see that many of the assumptions of our culture and most people are not entierly true. What we most essentially are is not what the world tells us we are. Many of the fundamental assumptions about the world and how we should live our lives are just that, assumptions, guesses, and based in fear and unquestioned beliefs.

To others, we are a human being in the world. And as a human being in the world, it works best if we do all the usual things to take care of our life: brush our teeth, get enough sleep, eat healthily, get exercise, be kind to ourselves and others, take care of our family, make enough money for a good life, save, plan for the future, find a way to live that is more likely to benefit the larger whole, and so on.

Both are valid and true. They are two sides of the same coin.

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Recognize nature of reality and illusion

Here are some phases I see in my own process:

First, recognizing the nature of reality. A though may say that Spirit recognized all as itself, or that consciousness and it’s content was recognized as the same. It was an awakening out of identification as a separate object. Out of identification as a part of content of experience. Out of identification with words and images which previously created the experience of separation. This happened uninvited and early in life, before the “ego” in a psychological sense had formed in a mature way. (Some would say a little too early, but life obviously didn’t see it that way.)

Then, recognizing the nature of illusion. I am still in this phase, and for me, this includes exploring the nature of illusion through different forms of inquiry. How is the experience of separation created? What happens when there is identification with and as certain words and images, certain viewpoints? What are the consequences? How is it experienced? (For many, this phase goes before recognizing the nature of reality, or the two go hand in hand.)

Along with this, there is a more stable meeting of what’s here. A more stable meeting of any experience, as it is. The two previous ones makes this a little easier. This is also a building of capacity in meeting what’s here. And inquiry can certainly help. Is it true it’s overwhelming? Is it true these words, these images, these sensation can harm me? What words and images are stuck to these sensations? How is it to examine these, so I can feel the sensations as they are, recognizing them as just sensations?

And through this meeting of what’s here, more and more of what’s previously unmet, unfelt, unloved and unexamined is met, felt, loved and examined. At some point, many of the largest chunks have been met, felt, loved and examined, although – I assume – there will always be more to met, feel, love and examine.

So there is a recognition of the nature of reality, a recognition of the nature of illusion, a more stable meeting of what’s here, and of more and more of what’s here being met, felt, loved and examined, and all of these go hand in hand. There is no end point for any of these. They happen here and now. It’s fresh. And a thought may say each of these keep opening up and reveals more of itself. A though may say that life (reality, Spirit) keeps revealing itself to itself.

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Returning home

When there is a global recognition of the nature of reality, a recognition by the field of experience as a whole, it’s a step in returning home. And this is just the first step of a journey that may well be without end. More of who I am join this journey, there is an exploration and invitation to become more familiar with how to live from this as a human being in the world, the nature of reality keeps revealing new layers of itself to itself, and there is an increased familiarity with the nature of illusion as well which also keeps revealing new layers of itself.

This more thorough realization and living of the initial recognition is aided by the recognition and realization of the nature of illusion.

And more of who I am join this journey by surfacing with a wish for liberation and a return to rest and home. These aspects of my psyche, these subpersonalities, may have been formed within the previous worldview of the appearance of a me that needs protecting, and still operate within this worldview. These wish to return home as well, and seek the light of the global field of awakeness to do so. And they may return home through being met in satsang.

As Pamela Wilson says, they used to protect me. Now, the invite me – as a human being in the world – to become a sage.

Nature of reality, nature of illusion

I keep coming back to this:

Realizing the nature of reality.

As with so much, the nature of reality can be noticed as an “other” or as what I am – the “I without an “other”. Often it’s first noticed as an other, perhaps with glimpses of it as what I am, and then – over time, through experience – there is a gradual shift into it comfortably, easily being recognized as what I am.

And what’s the nature of reality? This too has layers and facets. It’s all – the whole field of experience, this world, what appears as you and I as humans – as presence, love, intelligence. It’s all as awakeness. It’s the capacity for all of this, capacity in it’s form of awakeness, presence, love, intelligence.

Realizing the nature of reality is ongoing. It’s reality noticing itself in it’s many aspects and layers, revealing itself to itself.

Realizing the nature of illusion.

Realizing the nature of illusion is also multifaceted and has many layers.

The basic one is that our conventional experience of the world – as a me here in this human form, an I as this observer and doer, a world out there with many beings and objects – is only true to a certain extent. It’s real to us because we take it as real. It appears real to us only to the extent we don’t recognize it’s true nature of presence, love, intelligence, awakeness, and the capacity for all of this. And it appears real because we take our images and thoughts – about ourselves, the world, others, God – as real. We take our mental overlay as real, true and solid, which makes this layer of interpretation and labels appear real, true and sold. It makes this overlay of images and thoughts appear as if it was reality itself, the world itself.

Taking this further, we can investigate the many intricacies in how this happens. What happens when I take this specific image, this specific thought, as true, in this specific situation?How do I live my life? How do I relate to and treat myself and others? What happens with the emotions? What other images and thoughts come up? What happens in the body? How would it be to recognize it’s just an image, a thought? How would it be to live from this recognition?

And this too is ongoing. It’s reality exploring how it temporarily creates a world for itself, takes it as real, and perceives and lives as if it’s real. At some point, this may have been seen through sufficiently so our images and thoughts tend to not have so much hold, and yet, even here, some may in some situations, perhaps especially when old wounds are triggered. There is always further to go.

The nature of illusion II

Thoughts may say several things about the nature of illusion….

Images and thoughts held as true creates an illusion, an appearance of something being real and “out there” in the world while something else is more true.

This functions and operates in specific areas of my life, and in specific situations, and this can be recognized in an increasingly finely grained way.

It comes from pure innocence.

It comes from a devotion to what appears as a me. It comes from pure love.

All of this, as is, is awakeness, presence, love.

An image or thought taken as true (the nature of illusion), is awakeness, presence, love (the nature of reality).

It can be helpful to notice how all of this plays itself out when this is not recognized, and how it plays itself out when it is recognized to some extent, and realized to some extent.

The recognition and realization of this is ongoing, and (apparently) free of a goal or end point.

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The nature of illusion

A few things about the nature of illusion.

It’s created from mind holding an image or thought as true, often at an emotional or even energetic level.

This image or thought held as true comes with an identity and a perspective on the world.

It also creates a deficient self, or a sub-personality or voice.

This deficient self is suffering. It’s in pain. It’s in fear. It seeks – even without knowing it – liberation from this suffering. The image or thought held as true seeks, in a sense, liberation from being held as true.

The impulse to hold an image or thought as true comes from a desire to protect or support an apparent me or I. It comes from devotion to this apparent me and I. It comes from love for this apparent me and I. It’s innocent love.

There is wisdom in this love. There is intelligence in it, in a conventional sense.

It’s often innocently misguided as well.

These deficient selves may run and operate even if the nature of reality has been realized in a general sense. There may be a general and global realization of the nature of reality, and at the same time, there are these deficient selves here which still live in confusion.

These deficient selves are often habitually rejected, pushed away, made wrong (even as they are identified with). They feel lost, rejected, isolated, unloved, because they are. And that makes the global self – what I take as me – feel lost, rejected, isolated, unloved.

They wish to be seen, felt and loved, as they are. They wish to be welcomed. They wish to be recognized for what they are: devoted to the apparent me, loving the me, innocently holding onto images and thoughts as true, in an attempt to protect and support this me. They wish to recognize themselves as this.

They wish to be recognized as awakeness and presence, taking these forms, and they wish to recognize themselves as awakeness and presence.

They wish for the apparent me – what I take as me – to see, feel, and love them. Welcome them, as they are. Recognize them for what they are. And through that, they can do the same for themselves. Through that, they can find liberation.

A sage will see, feel and love others for what they are, as they are, and this allows them to meet themselves in the same way. And these deficient selves are no different. They wish me – what I take as me – to be a sage for them, to see, feel and love them as they are. Meet them, as Pamela Wilson says, in satsang.

So how can I do this? It’s more a recognition than a doing. It’s a recognition of what’s already here.

The hurt self comes up. There is an image of a hurt self. There are thoughts coming up along with it. There is sadness. Heartache. A sharp sensation in my heart. A heaviness. For each of these, and for the whole of it…..

Can I find where it’s already allowed – by life, by awakeness, by presence? Can I find where I wish to intentionally join with this allowing? If so….

You are welcome here.

Can I find where its here to protect me? Where it wishes the best for me? Is so….

Thank you for protecting me.

Can I find its devotion to me? Its love for me? If so….

Thank you for your love for me.

Can I find where I have made it into an enemy in the past? Where I have rejected it?

I am sorry for having made you into an enemy.

Can I find its strength? (For instance in resistance.) If so….

I need your strength. I don’t wish it to go away.

Can I find the intelligence and wisdom in it? (In a conventional sense.)

Thank you for your intelligence and wisdom.

Can I find where it’s perhaps (also) innocently misguided?

Thank you for your love.

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Realizing the nature of reality and illusion

Another take on realizing the nature of reality and illusion.

Realizing the nature of reality – all as awakeness, presence, or God, Spirit – has several dimensions.

Flash vs gradual. It can happen in a flash, with or without any intention or preparation. And it can happen gradually, as a thinning of the veils – mind identified with images and thoughts – covering it up.

General vs specific. It can be recognized in a general way, all – without exception – is awakeness, presence, love. And it can be recognized within any experience as what’s here, whether it’s physical pain, grief, anger, loss, joy or whatever else it may be.

Recognized vs realized. It can be recognized, seen. And it can be realized, felt and lived. To recognize it doesn’t cost much. And to realize it costs everything, it costs our deepest identifications held at emotional, energetic and physical levels.

Timeless vs process. Realizing the nature of reality is a realization that it’s all timeless, and the appearance of time and space (through images) happens within and as what’s timeless. Also, realizing the nature of reality is a process, it’s ongoing. It can always be more clear, and more of our human self can reorganize and align with it.

Facets and layers. Reality realizes itself in always new facets and new layers. What’s here – seen and/or lived consciously – is not the final word.

 Realizing the nature of illusion – how holding images and thoughts as true creates our illusion – also has several dimensions.

Flash vs gradual. Realizing the nature of illusion can happen in a flash, as a by-product of realizing the nature of reality. It’s also a gradual process of getting more familiar with the nature of illusion, in all its ins and outs.

General vs specific. The nature of illusion can be recognized in a general way, seeing how any illusion is created by holding images and thoughts as true. It can also be recognized in a very specific way, in a specific situation.

Recognized vs realized. It can be recognized, seen. And it can be realized – felt and lived in more and more areas and situations of life.

Facets and layers. Even as the basics of the nature of illusion is very simple, it also has always new facets and layers. There are always other angles, different ways of understanding and exploring the nature of illusion.


The nature of reality, the nature of illusion

In Dying Into the River of Existence, Adyashanti briefly mentions realizing the nature of reality, and the nature of illusion.

The distinction fits my experience.

Realizing the nature of reality is to realize all – without exception – as awakeness, love, presence (God, Brahman), and it can happen spontaneously and in a flash.

Realizing the nature of illusion is to recognize how illusion is created from innocently taking mental activities (images, thoughts) as true, and although recognizing this in a general sense may happen in a flash (as a by-product of realizing the nature of reality), realizing it – embodying a familiarity with the intricacies and ins- and -outs of it – can take time.

Realizing the nature of reality may happen before there is much or any insight into the nature of illusion. In this case, it may initiate a process of becoming more familiar with the nature of illusion, whether there is a conscious intention to do this or not. Realizing the nature of reality may also happen after the nature of illusion has been studied and explored for a while, and realized to some or a great extent. It may happen after a period of thinning the veils.

For me, as for many others, realizing the nature of reality happened spontaneously and in a flash, and before there was much insight into the nature of illusion. It did reveal the nature of illusion in a general sense, and the process of becoming more familiar with the nature of illusion – and embodying it – is ongoing, as is clarifying and embodying a realization of the nature of reality.