I don’t quite remember the first time I heard the statement, “Reality is an illusion.” It was probably back in the 80’s when I first got interested in yoga philosophy, but where I came across it I have no recollection. I do remember just glossing over these words not thinking about what they meant. A lot of what I was reading back then sounded very mysterious, and this idea that reality wasn’t real was no different.
Fast forward 20 years and I am sitting in a room with a student taking the SAT. I was there to be a reader for him and one of the passages in the reading comprehension section talked about the movie Star Wars and its sci fi effects using holograms. The passage went on to say how science was beginning to gather evidence suggesting that the universe was nothing more than a hologram. I couldn’t wait to investigate this further.
I went online and found a piece written by Michael Talbot, “Spirituality and Science: The Holographic Universe,” (based on his book, “The Holographic Universe”) discussing the breakthroughs of modern physicists David Bohm and Alain Aspect. Their work seemed to confirm what I had read in that SAT passage – that the universe is indeed a hologram. Two startling conclusions can be suggested if this is so.
First, objective reality does not exist, since a hologram is not real. Reality, therefore, is an illusion. Second, it validates the interconnectedness of all things in the illusion.
Let me explain the second part using an example from Talbot’s article. If you look at the hologram of any object, say a rose, you will see a 3 dimensional image of the rose. If you cut the hologram in half you will not get half the rose. You will find that each half contains the entire image of the rose. It doesn’t matter how many ‘pieces’ into which you cut the hologram. We don’t get pieces of the rose, only smaller wholes of the rose. This has led to a revision of the mechanistic model of the universe, where we only study the parts of things, to a more ‘wholistic’ way of thinking and seeing the world. We are finally seeing the forest instead of just the trees. The best example I can think of to demonstrate this paradigm shift is climate change. We are finally beginning to understand how by just focusing on the parts has been detrimental to the whole. In other words, we are beginning to understand that when you disturb one part of an ecosystem that can have consequences for that environment and possibly the entire planet. David Bohm believed this suggested that “separateness is an illusion” and that “all things are connected at a deeper level of reality.” A reality that is real.
Pretty radical stuff, wouldn’t you say? To the western mind, yes, it is probably unbelievable. But the Eastern traditions have been saying the same thing for millennia.
Remember the Star Trek series? In Star Trek: Voyager, the crew was able to entertain themselves on the holodeck. This was a place where various holographic worlds were created and story lines played out with the crewmembers acting out roles. While they were in the story, everything seemed perfectly real to them. But, of course, none of it was.
So if the universe is not real, then are we? Well, yes and no. Depends on how you identify yourself. If you see yourself only as the body you possess along with all its attachments and the labels that go along with it, such as, male, female, mother, father, executive, taxi driver, American, French …whatever, then no, this ‘you’ is not real. These are false identities we use to play out our roles on this holodeck we call Earth. Our true nature goes beyond the hologram, beyond labels. Our true nature is the One Reality that not only pervades the universe but also created it. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, the spiritual master, in his classic work, “I Am That” states, “…There is no ‘myself’ and ‘his self.’ There is only Self of all. Misled by the diversity of names and shapes, minds and bodies, you imagine multiple selves….don’t be stuck in duality.”
Next time I’ll discuss some tools and techniques used to reach a more non-dual view of our world.