What if someone told you that the absolute truth or true reality is actually just the same as the illusion or false reality? What if you're told that the truth you are searching for is actually right in front of you?
Quite a bummer, isn’t it? But let me answer that for you with this story.
Once upon a time, a German psychiatrist and philosopher named Karl Theodor Jaspers proposed the idea that during a certain period in human history, the major belief systems (religions) that exist today emerged and began to develop simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. This was the period from 800 to 200 BC.
He also identified a number of key thinkers who had a profound influence in the development of these belief systems. People like Socrates, Confucius, and Buddha were just some of his examples. Jaspers called this period the Axial Age.
In the Axial Age, people began to have a different kind of awareness. They started to focus more on their notions of reality and tried to examine the nature of the self. They realized that the more you actually know about yourself, the more you will be able to understand the true nature of reality.
There are many religious and spiritual traditions all over the world. The major ones that have survived for centuries since the Axial Age are the ones included in the images you see above and below. Each one has its own model of reality, but most people are unaware of the fact that these belief systems have many peculiar similarities despite of their differences in certain philosophical issues.
|Diagram by Brad Reynolds, from Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, (Shambhala: Boston), 1996.|
The greatest common factor among these belief systems, perhaps, is the idea that reality is divided into several levels or realms. The reality we experience is actually just one of the many realms that compose an even larger reality. The myriad of realms and sub-realms in each religion makes it impossible for me to describe in just one article, but you can see that they generally have a relative physical reality, a subtle reality, a causal reality, and an absolute reality.
Another idea that these belief systems assert is that the “Self” is divided into several aspects that correspond to each level of reality. Meaning, the physical aspect of the self exists in the physical reality, the subtle aspect exists in the subtle reality, the causal aspect exists in the causal reality, and the true Self exists in the absolute reality.
There is, however, one thing that is probably not obvious to the many followers of various belief systems. That is the proposition that all these levels of reality and aspects of the Self are but different degrees of manifestation of the same thing.
For example, some schools of Buddhism stress that there is actually no difference between Samsara (the world of illusion) and Nirvana (absolute truth) as implied by the saying "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form." For Hindus, they believe that Brahman is the origin of the phenomenal universe and that a liberated human being is one who has realized Brahman as his or her own true self. Christians, in their own special way, believe in the oneness of God and all of creation. (Sorry if I have left out your category)
The principle that you need to be able to reconcile truth and illusion is actually quite simple. The principle is called non-duality, which means that all phenomena are inseparable. As usual, there are many views regarding non-duality, but you need not confuse yourself. Just think of it this way:
Every phenomenon in the Universe and every object that exists must be simultaneously a cause and an effect of something else. You cannot just say, for example, that a child was born because of the union of two married couples. You'd have to consider everything else that happened even before those two couples met each other, and that includes the coming into into being of humans, the planets, the sun, the stars, the galaxies, and the whole Universe itself.
Additionally, a cause depends on its effect to be a cause as effect depends on its cause to be an effect. Without the cause, there can be no effect, and without the effect, there cannot be any cause. No matter how you look at it, you won't be able to find any line that separates the two. There is no exact point when and where a cause becomes an effect.
If you reflect upon this for some time, it becomes quite clear that all things do not exist separately. We could also argue that without the absolute, there can be no relative; without the relative, there can be no absolute. Without the truth, there can be no illusion; without the illusion, there cannot be truth. You are, in essence, a part of “other” realities as they are a part of you. It is only because of the mind’s need to create a distinction that the illusion of separateness arises in oneself.