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Why would anyone say that the world is an illusion?

Hi Carol,

Your question is a good one yet it is much more complex than it first appears. It actually takes the whole book for me to try and answer it. (Yes, I can only try my best. Obviously I cannot make any guarantees.)

Nevertheless, let's see what we can do here.

One short chapter in my book is titled, “Is the World an Illusion?” and I go through a handful of illusions that are good examples of some important points about he nature of illusions. But let's start here with a quick definition of an illusion.

(Paraphrased from my book:)

I think that a good definition of an illusion is something that tricks us into believing a false idea. The dictionary says that an illusion is a misleading image, a mistaken idea. Yet it seems to me that many people mistakenly think of an illusion as something that has no reality to it at all – something that does not even exist! But we can say that an illusion does have a reality to it; it's just that its true reality is different from what we first believed.

Now, there is something else about a good illusion that is very important and that is this: it is persistent. Even if we know the secret to, say, a visual magic trick, if it is performed well, it still gives us the impression that something supernatural just happened. Even though we know how it is done and we therefore are not tricked by the illusion in the deepest way, the false idea still appears as if it is true and this is why we enjoy the magic show. (It looks like the magician's assistant has her head, arms and feet sticking out of a big box that was cut into two pieces, but of course we know that there is a second person hiding inside half of the box.)

Now let’s consider the moving images that you see on the big screen at the movies. Surprise! There aren't any moving images! Not one! Even though the art form is called “the movies,” you have never seen a single moving picture. The same is true for TV. Instead of true motion, we observe many still pictures presented to us one at a time so rapidly that our minds interpret all those still images as a moving image. And yet, even when we know the truth, the illusion still persists; the false idea still appears as if it is true. You always observe what appears to be smooth motion even though there isn't any motion at all. How is it that you can observe motion when it doesn't even exist except as an experience?

- end paraphrase -

A mystic, just like everyone else, sees the world as the apparent source of very vivid experiences. These experiences are ongoing and there is continuity in our “ordinary” daytime (waking) experiences. Most people think that knocking on a table proves that it is solid and therefore “real” and furthermore, not an illusion. But what I am saying is that the experience of solidness is itself an illusion. It exists only as an experience. Let's take a quick look at that by talking about a regular nighttime dream that I had.

(I cover this in another short chapter in my book titled, “The Illusion of Solidness in the Dream World.”)

(Paraphrase from the book:)

Once I was helping a friend with her computer. It was on the floor with the cover off and the hard drive was in my hand. Hard drives are not very big, about the size of two decks of playing cards, yet they are very heavy and solid. My friend was telling me about a documentary about the proof of God. She detected my lack of interest and this puzzled her since she knew I was interested in spirituality. So she asked me for my thoughts. I blurted out that I could not even prove to myself that I was holding that hard drive, even though it seemed as solid and real as anything could be. What I meant was that I could be dreaming and if I awoke from that dream, I would realize that the hard drive did not really exist in the way that we normally think.

That very night, I had a dream where I was standing next to a metal garage door and touching it with my hand. In real life, I knew that the owner of that garage had recently replaced the door with something completely different so I knew that this was not “real life.” Instead, it was an ordinary nighttime dream, although I was now aware that it was a dream. In the dream, I thought, “This feels like solid metal, just as solid and real as that hard drive felt at my friend’s house.” I was touching the metal very carefully to make sure that the tactile sensations were indeed the same, and they were. The experiential discovery that things in a dream can feel as solid as things in ordinary life was quite remarkable to me. I wondered, “How is it that something in a dream can seem so real?”

- end paraphrase -

Okay, so when I woke up, the garage door went away. Or, as I prefer to say, the experience of the garage door went away. After all, there never was a garage door, only the experience of the garage door.

(By the way, when I say that the hard drive and garage door felt “solid,” I simply mean that I couldn't put my hand through them. You know, the three states of matter: gas, liquid and solid. Of course I know that atoms are mostly empty space. They are not filled to the brim with matter. Because of that, some people say that nothing is solid yet that is not the meaning that I am using.)

In another dream, I was hanging on the edge of a cliff for dear life. It seemed like I was in grave danger. The cliff was as solid as a rock and my muscles in my hands, arms and shoulders were aching. And then I woke up and it all went away. I was safe! But there never really was any danger. Yet there certainly was the experience of danger. This is somewhat like the illusion of the movies. There never are any moving images but there is the experience of moving images.

These dreams fit our definition of an illusion since they trick us into believing a false idea. The false idea – roughly stated – is that the dream is more real than it actually is. In other words, the false idea is that you will not wake up (a completely unknown concept to the dreamer) and that all the dream objects are here to stay, that the dream will play out forever. But the cliff did not exist in any absolute way. No one else can verify scientifically that I was hanging on the edge of the cliff. What seemed real and dangerous was indeed real as an experience, but it was never truly dangerous; it only seemed dangerous. Yet in the confines of the dream (without becoming lucid to the fact that you are having a nighttime dream) there is no logic that you can use to prove that the danger is not real. The danger was a key false idea that I was tricked into believing.

Now I am not saying that the dream was not real, although many people will say that. But a more precise way of stating my point is that the dream was only real as an experience. A dream is not nothing. It is something. It is a dream. That is its reality.

In the dream, the demonstration of solidness was exactly and only that. It was real as an experience. But that solidness did not prove that the dream was not an illusion since the dream was an illusion. All of this led me to ask myself, “Could the solidness that I experience in our ordinary world also only be real as an experience? Is our ordinary world also not as real as it seems to be?”

During a nighttime dream, you can wake up to the dream (and become lucid) or you can wake up from the dream and return to our ordinary world. If you become lucid, you know you are in a dream and you know that you will wake up from it pretty soon. You know that any apparent danger actually holds no substance. In fact, nothing in the dream has any real, lasting substance. It all goes away when you wake up. In a similar way, I started to wonder: Can you wake up from the “dream-like” experience of our ordinary world? Can you wake up to the “dream-like” experience of our ordinary world?

During the dream, there are normally no observations or logic that can reveal that the dream is only a dream. This is why we usually continue to think that the dream is more real than it actually is. But sometimes dreamers suddenly realize that they are dreaming. What is it that makes this happen? Well, you can do certain practices and that sometimes works but for me, this was just spontaneous. But no matter what, once you wake up to the dream, the jig is up; the illusion of the dream is plainly revealed. Or perhaps a better way to say it is that the dream is revealed to be a dream.

Carol, you asked if there was something that I can give you to “wrap your head around” so that you can understand how the world is an illusion. Nothing that I know of will make you exclaim, “Oh, of course! Now I see.” The best I can do is give you things to think about that will make you go, “Hmm. I wonder how that could be true.” That is how I started. Genuine curiosity.

This subject is not very popular precisely because it is not a straightforward “WOW!” kind of subject. (It most certainly is not “Follow this “secret” and you can get whatever you want!” Somehow, that manages to be a big “Wow!” even though it is not true. Still very popular, though.) This mystical perspective only gets a “Hmm, that seems like a crazy thing to say” kind of response. Who needs that? But a few people stick around and dig into it.

Obviously, many people throughout the ages who were much more knowledgeable than me have given this matter much thought. They were not able to “excite the masses” and I do not pretend to have the “new and exciting” information to help everyone see through the veil of this “one-der-ful” illusion. Yet I will try my best to give a fresh and interesting presentation. Maybe that will help a few people.

Oh, by the way, you know the illusion of the sun going around the earth? Well, as everyone now knows, there was a time when any counter belief was met with ridicule. Since everyone wants to fit in, this false idea stuck around a very long time. The spinning of the earth provides just one example of how difficult it is for us to break free from incorrect beliefs when these false beliefs are based on misleading personal experiences that are shared by everyone.

So if the world is an illusion, why would anything matter? Is this a license for selfishness? Does it mean that nothing is precious? No, of course not. Here is what I put in the my very first post for this forum:


The first thing I want to emphasize is that all healthy spiritual traditions have compassion and kindness as their primary focus and the ancient nondual understanding is no different in this regard. Yet comments such as “the world is an illusion” can make it seem as if nothing matters. But paradoxically, both sides of that statement are true. Nothing matters in the sense that everything is a dream-like illusion that vanishes moment by moment, never to be seen again, and yet, everything matters since it is the divine essence that arises as everything we perceive. Everything that we see is the face of God and this fundamental divine essence is what makes everything so precious.

One quick note before I wrap this up. In my writings, I often talk about “divine awareness.” It might be helpful to just throw out the word “divine” and simply think about your awareness. By this I mean “sentience,” the ability to perceive phenomena. Later, when you see through the illusion, you see that it is this awareness that gives birth to the phenomena. It does not just witness it; it creates it. In this way, awareness gives birth to everything anyone experiences. This is why we say that it gives birth to all of creation. That is why it is called Source-Awareness, or Divine Awareness. But when you are just beginning to think about these things the word “divine” might be carrying too much baggage, such as the “God” of the Bible and so forth.

PS Carol, I am not a Buddhist but my mentor, Timothy Conway, is extremely knowledgeable about Buddhism, along with Hinduism, Sufism, and other traditions. Perhaps your husband would enjoy visiting Timothy's extensive website to read his articles or listen to some of the audio recordings of our weekly satsangs.

PPS Hey everyone, I am a pretty slow writer. I really put a lot of time thinking about this response. Then I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting this post. This one post took me over five hours to create. (I am not complaining, just reporting.) So I am doing what I can and I hope to get to some of the other questions soon. Thanks for your understanding.

All my best, Thomas Razzeto

Graham Hancock's Author of the Month, August 2014

Thomas's Author of the Month essay is here:
What Is Enlightenment?

Thomas's website is here:
Infinitely Mystical

Thomas's mentor is Timothy Conway. His website is here:
Enlightened Spirituality
Timothy's website is extensive and includes free audio recordings of some of his weekly satsangs.

Post Edited (15-Aug-14 21:38)

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Subject Views Written By Posted
Welcome to Thomas Razzeto AoM for August 2014 735 Graham Hancock 03-Aug-14 21:03
Thank you for the warm welcome 320 Thomas Razzeto 03-Aug-14 21:17
Re: Thank you for the warm welcome 525 Graham Hancock 03-Aug-14 21:26
Yes, I can only imagine how busy you are 1626 Thomas Razzeto 03-Aug-14 21:45
Re: Yes, I can only imagine how busy you are 451 carolb 04-Aug-14 01:42
Is the world an illusion? 447 Thomas Razzeto 04-Aug-14 09:56
Re: Is the world an illusion? 259 carolb 04-Aug-14 14:40
Re: Is the world an illusion? 366 shiningfromwithin 07-Aug-14 19:12
Re: Is the world an illusion? 342 carolb 07-Aug-14 19:50
Paradox: Nothing matters and everything matters 496 Thomas Razzeto 07-Aug-14 20:52
Re: Is the world an illusion? 296 Lowelldw64 07-Jan-15 11:40
Re: Is the world an illusion? 402 carolb 07-Jan-15 17:37
Thanks for your comments 322 Thomas Razzeto 07-Aug-14 20:56
If I may chime in... 399 David L 08-Aug-14 13:53
You are not your body or your soul; you are pure awareness 306 Thomas Razzeto 14-Aug-14 22:17
Re: Welcome to Thomas Razzeto AoM for August 2014 343 Corpuscles 04-Aug-14 11:32
Solid - you can't put your hand through it 374 Thomas Razzeto 04-Aug-14 11:59
Re: Welcome to Thomas Razzeto AoM for August 2014 293 PB Bytes 04-Aug-14 17:42
Re: Welcome to Thomas Razzeto AoM for August 2014 329 Lowelldw64 18-Aug-14 12:02

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