The Consequence of Illusion?
All across the world, parents are trying to explain to their children the tragedy that occurred in Colorado. Teachers are holding discussions with their students; Presidents are giving speeches. Everyone, grasping to make sense out of the senseless, to find some meaning, to find some answer, with the hope that in understanding, we can banish the ugly truth that this and other atrocities lay bare.
We may call this act senseless, or reckless, or any other word to describe the unnecessary violence that seems to spring from nowhere, and descend into our placid lives from Columbine, from Tucson, from Aurora. We scratch our heads and wonder. We rail. We pontificate. We see for the briefest of moments, that life is indeed temporary, that it can end at any moment. But then we forget; absorbed once more in the frenzy that is our lives. We are aware of this, of course. Our hearts ache to contemplate such events, but we know deep down, that the memories and thoughts stirred in the wake of such violence will subside, and we will lock them away until the next outbreak, only to rouse them and declare with righteousness that something is terribly wrong with our world. But except for those personally affected, none of us will change our lives.
Even realizing our collective apathy is not much of a realization. We know that this too will fade. It will fade because apathy cannot exist in the presence of knowledge; and it is knowledge that we lack. Though violent events jolt us, reminding us that life is indeed sacred, that life is temporary, and life is invaluably precious, we do not live our lives with this knowledge in the forefront. In fact, this knowledge is banished from the modern world, relegated to the domain of faith; generally forgotten but often derided and misunderstood.
If we think about it, how could such violence not occur in the world we have constructed? We raise billions of animals each year and slaughter them to satisfy the demands of our appetite; thousands of children are denied birth out of inconvenience; young men are sent to war on the order of industry that profits from the bullets that take their lives and the treasure they plunder abroad; children toil in slavery to weave our fabric; generations of minorities live and die in hellish, crime infested ghettos perpetuated by the invisible hand of economics. Violence is all around us; it permeates our society. Why are we surprised when it erupts in a movie theatre?
The greatest violence of all, more fierce than any bullet, and more destructive than the most powerful bomb, is the violence of illusion. This is a subtle violence, to be sure, but nevertheless powerful and destructive. This illusion is borne of fundamental ignorance; it is the legacy of humanity’s collective loss of knowledge. What is the purpose of life?
When we do not know the answer to this question, definitively and absolutely, we cannot act properly in this world. When we act improperly we influence others to act similarly. Since neither party knows what is the purpose of life, they both act contrary to that purpose. In all dealings with one another, we perpetuate an alternate purpose of existence, a false paradigm for living. By dealing with others via this false paradigm, we force them to respond within that same paradigm. All the while, no one has the slightest suspicion that anything is wrong. In this way, the illusion spreads to everyone, everywhere. This illusion is the ultimate violence, because when one is influenced by it, it destroys their ability to act in accordance with life’s true purpose. This is the greatest tragedy of all.
What is the true purpose of life? We must first see through the false paradigm before appreciating the answer. What then, is the illusion that fuels modern life, churning the wheels of progress, and inevitably producing violence, both subtle and physical? The illusion is that WE (the living being) ARE THE BODY. This illusion convinces us that our bodies are the be all and end all of our existence. This illusion convinces us that our bodies – which include our senses, our minds, and our intelligence – coalesce into the being we see standing before us in the mirror each morning, and that is all we are. This is not the truth though, and until we see it, we can never escape the perpetual cycle of violence that has infected our society. Nor can we prevent ourselves from acting in ways that perpetuate this illusion in others.
Understanding this notion, it becomes easy to see the underpinnings of our modern world and how the violence described above naturally follows. When we accept that our existence is limited to our physical body we act in very predictable ways: we try to satisfy our senses, our mind, and our intelligence. This quest to satisfy the senses of our bodies is the root cause of all conflict in this world because we relate to other bodies as means of satisfying the demands of our own. Indeed, we see the entire planet Earth as a factory for fulfilling our desires. Violence – violation – naturally ensues. It cannot be helped so long as this illusion holds sway.
This illusion makes us see cows and chickens as palatable dishes for our tongue; makes us see the children of unwanted pregnancy as a hindrance to our pursuit of happiness; it makes politicians see young men as instruments to procure oil, or gold, or spices, or any trinket that Men have fought wars over throughout history – all because our bodies and minds demand them. Our insatiable appetite for affordable shoes and styles and consumer products drives an economic machine that enslaves the poor in the third world, and deprives the poor in the first world the jobs and opportunities required to lift them from poverty.
In all of these instances, the demands of one body triumph over the demands of another. This is conflict. It permeates every aspect of our culture, and all of it, is predicated on the illusion that the living being is nothing more than the body of blood, bone, bile, cells, and synapses. This illusion makes us see everything around us as a means to fulfill our desires. We no longer see each other and our world according to their true value. Why are we surprised when one man’s body demands he shoot up a theatre? He is one man living in illusion, in a society entranced by illusion.
Humanity has forgotten the true purpose of existence because we have been blinded by the material body and its never ending series of desires. We destroy the Earth and each other trying to fulfill them, and by acting in this way with others we reinforce the illusion, binding everyone under the same spell. Only when we start to imagine that we might be more than the fragile body, that life is indeed precious and immeasurably valuable, can we begin to remember our real purpose in this world.
Cutting through the illusion, consider this version of reality instead: the living entity is an eternal, blissful, fragment of the Supreme Being; an individual part and parcel, eternally bound to God in a relationship of loving service and reciprocation. His body is only a temporary covering – a vehicle, and nothing more. Existence in this material world of atoms and molecules is only necessary because some of these spirit souls – these fragments of God – have willfully chosen to forget Him. Thus, these eternal spirits become trapped in temporary material bodies and illusion covers them. They forget God and blindly attempt to satisfy themselves, until their bodies wear out, and they are forced to accept a new material body to continue their pursuit of happiness separate from God; birth after birth. The purpose of this life is to reawaken that original relationship with the Supreme, and end this cycle of repeated birth and death. The human form of life is especially equipped for this purpose. This is the sum and substance of reality. Everything else is the bodily illusion, and as we have seen, it inevitably leads to violence. When we do not understand this purpose, all of our actions are misguided, and we reinforce the atmosphere of illusion with everyone we meet.
Practically the entire world is living under this spell. Hardly anyone, even the so-called religionists are actually interested in serving the Supreme Person. Instead we put ourselves at the center of existence. All of us are completely enshrouded in the bodily illusion of life. I am this body! I will do what makes me happy. Today I will satisfy this sense. Tomorrow I will satisfy that sense. This is our mentality. Even if we think we are good people and are not inherently selfish. Even when we expand this mentality to include our family, our friends, our community, or our nation, we have still placed ourselves in the center. In an expanded way we are trying to fulfill the bodily desires of some group or another; we do not see how such desires may only be satisfied by exploiting some other body. Even if our desires include every human on Earth, they will still be selfish because they exclude all the living entities not in the human form of life. Thus, those living entities must be exploited to satisfy our desires. This is illusion. This is violence. We cannot expect peace in this world where violence reigns.
There are no words to describe the anguish that the victims of this latest massacre are feeling. We all can, and should, sympathize with their grief and show compassion according to our capacity. But collectively, as a society we should not be bewildered when such violence periodically appears in our seemingly safe world. We should not stand around, slack jawed and awestruck when violence shatters the thin veneer of reality we have created for ourselves. Violence exists everywhere in this material world, both physical and subtle. It is the unavoidable byproduct of the self-centered existence that is forced upon all who accept the material body as the self. This illusion is the legacy of humankind’s collective loss of understanding. This life is not about our own personal enjoyment in the form of bodily happiness. Rather, it is a unique opportunity to reawaken our original loving relationship with the Supreme Person. If such tragedies can have any value at all, it is only that they remind us of this reality.