Dancing with Maya

Lord Shiva Nataraja, The Cosmic Dancer

One day, my teacher was answering a fellow student’s question and he remarked about how our egos are “…dancing with Maya.” Maya, a Sanskrit term, loosely means ‘illusion.’ It is really our perception of what is real that is illusion. What we see as real is merely the manifestation of the One Reality. However, we perceive our physical world, including ourselves, as separate from the One Reality or God. The truth is that there is no separation. The idea of separation is the illusion.

I’ve used this analogy before, but if you remember the TV show 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, while we think of the world we live in as real, which it isn’t – physicists say reality is more holographic in nature -we, our egos that is, are merely characters in a play acting out a script on the world stage.

In the first Matrix movie, Morpheus continually tries to show Neo who he really is – or isn’t, which is Thomas Anderson living a tedious life within the confines of a computer generated ‘reality.’  Through a number of experiences, Neo is freed from the limited perceptions of his mind and by the end of the movie knows the truth. He sees the physical world as the computer generated illusion and therefore knows that the bullets that are meant to kill him are not real.

The reason we can’t accept the world as illusion is because we don’t see that the material ‘stuff’ the world is made of is not ‘stuff’ at all. Physics has proven that nothing is solid.  What’s more, the kinetic theory of solids, liquids and gases tells us that nothing is static, which means the ‘particles’ that make up matter are always in motion.  However, these ‘particles’ of matter are atoms and when you look at atoms you will find that subatomic matter is not matter at all but energetic patterns. Physicist and author Fritjof Capra in his book, the Tao of Physics, says, “…the constituents of matter and the basic phenomena involving them are all interconnected, interrelated and interdependent; that they cannot be understood as isolated entities but only as integrated parts of the whole.” He goes on to say that “…particles are processes rather than objects,” and that, “…subatomic matter is continually creating and destroying itself through the emission and absorption of virtual particles.”

We are witness to this creation and destruction all the time. The change of seasons is a perfect example. Also, we recognize the impermanence of our world in the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history, as well as the birth and death of stars and other universes.

Eastern mysticism sees creation, perpetuation and destruction in the universe as the dance of Lord Shiva Nataraja (pictured above).  It is Shiva’s dance that sustains the universe. From a physics standpoint, this is an elegant explanation of the continuous ‘dance’ of the interconnected patterns of energy that we perceive as the material world. Fritjof Capra goes on in his book, the Tao of Physics, to explain the details of this metaphorical representation as follows:

“The upper right hand of the god holds the drum to symbolize the primal sound of creation, the upper left bears a tongue of flame, the element of destruction. The balance of the two hands represents the dynamic balance of creation and destruction in the world accentuated further by the Dancer’s calm and detached face in the center of the two hands, in which the polarity of creation and destruction is dissolved and transcended. The second right hand is raised in the sign of ‘do not fear’, symbolizing maintenance, protection and peace, while the remaining left hand points down to the uplifted left foot, which symbolizes release from the spell of maya. The god is pictured as dancing on the body of a demon, the symbol of human ignorance which has to be conquered before liberation can be attained.”

Our perception of a material-based reality keeps us blind to the truth and bound to the rhythm of birth and death and rebirth powered by karma, which means ‘action.’  The bonds of karma (action) are broken only when we recognize that we, and all that we experience, are not separate from the One Reality or God, but are part of it. When that happens moksha or ‘liberation’ is the result.

Until then, keep your dancing shoes on…..


Let’s Get Real

When thinking about what is real and what is not, you inevitably think about matter. After all, isn’t matter the substance of which our reality is made? And isn’t matter made up of atoms? Yes, and atoms are made up of energy. Therefore, it follows that matter is made up of energy.

These days we are pretty comfortable with the explanation that everything in the universe, including ourselves, is made up of energy. (I’m using the term ‘energy’ in its broadest and all-inclusive sense.  Let’s put aside for now the fact that there are different forms of energy). This is an idea that has been around for a while and it sounds scientific enough that we are comfortable with it. But I don’t think we have embraced the full implication of what this means. In science, the law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. There is also the law of conservation of matter, which states the same thing. Einstein did us the favor of connecting matter and energy in his theory of relativity. So, if we believe that we are energy, then we must accept the notion that we cannot be destroyed. If the material world, matter, is a holographic manifestation of this energy, then our bodies are not real and will therefore die, but the energy – our true nature – will continue on. And if we are all made up of the same energy, then we are all connected. Not just to each other but also to the One Reality from which we were created.

We can make some more connections here by seeing how religious traditions and philosophies translate the usage of the word “energy” in this instance to the word “spirit” or “Real Self,” while “One Reality” translates to “God” or the “Sacred,” or the “Divine” and “interconnectedness” becomes “non-duality”. The thread of non-duality connects all the religious traditions and spiritual philosophies around the world. Any apparent differences stem from doctrine, dogma (and their subjective interpretations) and external rituals.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in I Am That says, “The real does not die, the unreal never lived….The real you is timeless and beyond birth and death…”

The Course in Miracles states the same premise. “ Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

If the material world is illusion and non-duality or ‘oneness’ is real, then why not try to shift our attention away from the material and contemplate what is real – our oneness with each other and the Sacred? Think of the implications. There would be no more violence, physical or otherwise, because there would no more hate. Who would you hate? If we are all part of One Reality – then we are all the same. No differences, no separation. So what you do to someone else you do to yourself. Remember the Golden Rule?

Albert Einstein said, “A human being is a part of a whole…. (but) he experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”