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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Fear of death & befriending fear

I am re-watching Ram Dass: Going Home, and find Ram Dass and his vulnerability and love very moving.

At some point, he talks about fear of death.

Most or all of us have fear around death and related issues like non-existence, pain, loss, the unknown, and so on.

We can explore these. We can imagine ourselves close to death and dying, see what comes up, and find some peace with it. (I did that a lot in my twenties.) We can learn about research into life between lives and rebirth. We can learn what different traditions say about it. We can actively work on whatever issues we have around death, loss, pain, the unknown, and whatever else is here in us. We can release tension and fear out of our body, and perhaps specifically focus on fear related to death. We can work on trusting life and finding more peace with change. And so on.

All of this can help release some of the fear that death brings up in us, and it can help us live our life now more fully.

At the same time, what comes up for me is that I cannot know. I cannot know if or how much fear of death is in me. I cannot know what will come up if or when I am faced with death in whatever way it comes. I cannot know what situations will come up related to death. I cannot know for certain any of these things, or what happens during or after death.

There is a humility here. I’ll just see what happens like everyone else. If fear comes up, that’s OK even if some parts of me thinks it’s not OK.

And this also reminds me that finding peace with fear is perhaps as or more important than working through anything that brings up fear in us, although the two are related.

Can I befriend fear? When fear comes up in my system, how do I relate to it? How is it to say YES to the fear and whatever I experience?

Ram Dass – Fierce Grace & Going Home

I love Fierce Grace and Going Home, two documentaries about and with Ram Dass. He shows how we can use life challenges to humanize ourselves, to become more deeply human, to embrace who we are as humans more fully with flaws and everything else, and realize it’s really all about love. Any desire for awakening, healing, maturing, humanizing, freedom from suffering, or whatever it may be, is really about love.

Ram Dass: When you go out into the woods

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

– Ram Dass

As usual, this practice also serves to highlight any resistance to it or anything in us not aligned with it. And that’s something we can take to inquiry to see what’s really there. Or we can invite a change in our relationship to it through, for instance, ho’oponopono or tonglen.

Ram Dass: You are loved just for being who you are

You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success – none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here.

– Ram Dass

Ram Dass: In liberation, nobody awakens

In liberation, nobody awakens — the seeker simply falls away.
– Ram Dass

I rarely write or say these things, because it can be quite misleading. On the one hand, a thought may say there is a shift called liberation, and that it is relatively stable. And yet, that too is a story. It may make it appear more as an object or thing than it is, and more stable than it necessarily is.

As Byron Katie says, somewhat paraphrased, there is liberation, or not, from the thought that’s here and it cannot be predicted in advance. Another way to say it, maybe more accurately, is that the thought that’s here is liberated, or not, from being taken as true, and it cannot be predicted in advance.

And one of the most basic thoughts that can be liberated, or not, from being taken as true, is the thought of an I (observer, doer) and a me (this being, soul, human self). It’s the idea of a seeker that is seen as just an idea, an image. It may happen through identification releasing out of it temporarily. Or it may happen by it being examined and seen through to the point that mind cannot so easily identify with it.

It’s not the I or me that awakens. It’s reality or life that awakens out of the trance of identifying with the image of an I or me.