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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

"Oy Veil"—Help I’ve fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

Later Indian philosophers, however, had a different view of maya, and they often used the term maya to convey “the mind’s pernicious and misleading tendency to fabricate unreal worlds; for them, maya was equivalent to what we might call illusion or even delusion” (Mahony, 1998, p. 32). The word "illusion" comes from the Latin in + ludere, to play. Illusion is part of the divine play, and has been likened to a veil, which keeps things hidden from view. The “separate” pieces of god are able to forget and are trapped due to the perfection of this fundamental cosmic illusion, or maya’s veiling and projecting effects. Rumi, who can always be depended upon to give great insight into the Divine, writes about these veils:

All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things . . . are desires for God and all those things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that they were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing. (Grof, 1998, p. 210).

The Yogavasista, is a Hindu book about maya that mythologist Wendy Doniger (1981) describes extensively. The Yogavasista is the story of Rama as told by the sage, Vasistha, which contains numerous other stories that illustrate the illusory nature of the apparently real phenomenal world. Different characters in the different stories are lead by different means to realize that what they believe to be phenomenal reality is nothing but a projection of the mind. The book is very confusing, deliberately so, being a teaching device designed to give the experience of how it feels to come to this realization—that everything is unreal.

An easier to understand example can be found in the beloved children’s story, Harold and the Purple Crayon (C. Johnson, 1955), because this story, too, is about maya. Harold gets a purple crayon as a present and begins to draw many things, getting very involved in the process. After a while, Harold forgets that he actually drew all of these things and he gets “sucked in” to the whole thing. He starts to get a bit anxious and scared after drawing a monster and his crayon starts wobbling and all of a sudden, he falls for his own creation, and finds himself submerged in his own crayon-created ocean, which he drew from the wobbles. Illusions are only a problem when you begin to take them too seriously, and no longer realize that it is a game, then the veil becomes too thick, and you get stuck and begin to take things too literally, becoming deluded, which means “out of play.” Once Harold realizes that he created these drawings and the reality that they became, then Harold can continue to have fun and enjoy the illusions he has created instead of being deluded.

Speaking of the illusory nature of reality, modern science has come to this conclusion as well. In 2005, I received an advertisement from Scientific American which include a sample cover asking the question: “Are you a hologram? (Quantum physics says the entire universe might be).” We already know that solid matter, all of the stuff of the universe, is essentially non-stuff, consisting of more than 99% empty space (Swimme, 1995). So modern physics agrees with ancient Hindu sages: “that our perception of the world as made of dense material objects is an illusion, (maya)” (Grof, 1998a, p. 74).

Niels Bohr, in his penchant for “spaghetti westerns” figured out why the good guy always wins. The good guy wins due lag time and the difference in time between conscious action and reaction or response time. Tor Norrentranders (1999) in his book The User Illusion discusses these ideas at length, concluding that what we experience as occurring now, actually occurred a half a second before. Conscious action requires .5 seconds while reaction time is only .3 seconds. This works out well for the good guy, who would never shoot first, he thus has a .2 second advantage, since they actually both start unconsciously at the same time. A bit mind-blowing to realize that ego consciousness is not really driving the bus after all!

If this weren’t bad enough, that "things" are mostly empty, and that what we think we are experiencing now has actually already happened, everything we visually see, too, is partly made up, due to the blind spot in our retinas, which makes the brain construct the missing pieces, not to mention the fact that memories are constructed anew each time as well. Just as author Tom Robbins said "we are just making it up," (Payton, 1995, online), or at least some of our reality, after all. Nothing is at it appears, and science has actually proved it!

Since we live in this illusion of separateness and have forgotten that the true nature of reality is oneness, we are in play all the time. Sometimes this goes too far, such as when we cling too strongly to something and become one-sided; when we are unable to see the other side, then we are essentially deluded—away from play. Jung felt that this one-sidedness was the cause of neurosis. Like mythological Trickster, much of the time, we end up tricking ourselves and believe in our own fictions. Fred Alan Wolf, echoing some basic notions of quantum physics reminds us that “we make our own reality” (Grof, 1998). At some level we do, and by being able to change perspectives or even levels, we can sometimes drastically change our realities.


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