On Appearances

On Appearances

The world is an appearance, Maya. Some would say it’s an illusion. Or it’s the divine play, Lila. Or it never happened in the first place. Or it’s the flow of divine nectar. These are the truths of various stages of development. But ultimately, we live in the appearance and have responsibilities and a purpose here.

It’s good to recognize that surface appearances are not reality in and of themselves. Rather, they are driven by something deeper we are coming to know. Even physics agrees with that. The world should not be discounted or we’ll be missing the point of why we’ve shown up here.

We could say there are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with appearances.

It’s appropriate to be clean and groomed and take care of our body, for example. It’s fun to dress up sometimes and have fun with our appearance. And to have a sense of humor about how the world is showing up. This is healthy.

If we identify with our appearance as who we are, we become caught by it. We can then develop an aversion to our appearance or become somewhat obsessed with how we look. All of it just leads to suffering.

And yet an unhealthy dedication to appearance is very strong in our culture – idealized but unhealthy versions of starving models and overpriced clothing that’s only “valuable” for a season, with the right branding, or for a single wearing. Heroes that are actors playing a role (an appearance). Or “reality” TV (an oxymoron) filled with dysfunctional narcissists. Some pretty horrible role models are on the tube.

Parts of our economy runs on this pointless consumerism that creates appalling waste. It also creates the scepters of entitlement and debt. Suffering all around.

Inversely, if we discount the world as illusion and yet attempt to live in it, we’ll struggle unnecessarily and fail at dharma – that which sustains our spiritual journey.

How do you tell you’ve taken the right approach? A healthy approach brings joy and some lasting satisfaction. The memory brings a smile and there is no bad aftertaste. We have good relationships with others and the world, overall. (we’re not talking perfection here, just in general)

Much of an unhealthy approach is driven by a sense of “must” or “should”, we’re afraid of what others might think, we’re trying to be what we’re not or put on an act, or are otherwise driven by appearances rather than value. Like sugar, satisfaction is brief and followed by a downer.

One benefit of finding and shifting to what brings us joy is the unloading of past burdens – including those self-judgments and self-obligations. Not only does that add to quality of life but over time, inner joy helps culture a platform where we can become masters of appearance.

According to the old texts, we’ll be able to accomplish whatever is called for, even what we might now call a miracle or superpower. Krishna describes his manifest form as Yoga-Maya in Chapter 7. An appearance but one that remains united with the divine, not created by Lila. The Yoga Sutra is full of abilities that arise naturally with spiritual growth and purification.

This body-mind is the very smallest aspect of who we are. From a cosmic body perspective, even our universe is a small aspect of who we are. Unfolding our potential is beyond imagination.

Last Updated on June 10, 2017 by Davidya

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  1. amaryllis

    Beautiful post, thank you.

    I can tell you from where I’m sitting, the world is *not* an illusion. Someone I dearly love broke their neck in a car accident today, and the human rawness I feel is not illusory, although I can feel that it is contained within the small ‘s’ self, and that Self/All is not the slightest bit perturbed.

    Apart from praying in the softness of my heart for their wellbeing, I am amazed at the paradox; all is not well, but infinitely enfolded in that is the experience that all is well, no matter what the outcome. I know that this is basic awakening 101 stuff for many people, but over here on the slow train, I find this experience of being somehow held, very moving. I don’t understand how the impersonal All, can feel so nurturingly communicative (via inner knowing), but I am grateful for the clear expanse that allows the sadness and hope the space to exist, until I stop worrying at them, at which time I suspect they will drain away …

    1. Hi Amaryllis
      Ah, sorry to hear.
      It’s one thing to talk about it and quite another to live it. Often it becomes most distinct during challenging experiences.

      I would not say it’s the impersonal that is feeling this way but rather the personal, the divine, that nurtures and supports. This is uncovered over time.

      And yes, the open space makes processing strong feelings so much easier although it can make them bigger too. Be sure you give yourself the time to process and let it all arise as it is.

  2. Laura Roder

    I love your “way about you”. I found a lot of gems in your writing. I just discovered your writing, so this is the edge of the experience, but it is like having you over for breakfast.

    I could reply, on so many of your momentary lily pads moments, but catching the little green frog jump to the next is fun too.

    About reality tv, it is amazing how human constellations arrange the ability for one to take either of the two roads, and watching which road they will take. We root for eachothers spiritual progress even unconsciously. It’s astounding nonetheless.

    I appreciate you talking of coming down from the mountain. I didn’t want to relinquish my mountaintop experience, because I would be left with Maya, and a memory, and that eventually morphed, unfolded, but that grip on the ultimate reality that I was clutching lasted, for 2 1/2 years. I am just now amazed that the whole of it now has a totally more relaxed feel. Thanks for the opportunity to share thoughts with you.

    1. Hi Laura
      Welcome and I’m glad you enjoy.

      And yes, I know what you mean. We can get attached to those high states of being and develop an aversion to the world. But that resistance is just another thing to let go of. And by coming back into the world, we will come to find a greater fullness than is possible on the mountaintop.

      And then we find what was on the mountaintop is in the world too. 🙂

  3. David

    It’s still an illusion. The very fact that these forms are here today and could be torn up tomorrow proves that point. We are living in a world of constant change so how can anyone put faith in that? Just because we label things as good or bad doesn’t make them more real. They are an illusion too. How many past lives have we lived? Do they matter Now? How many “earths” have been created and destroyed during infinity? But the fact that we are part and parcel of something “bigger” than this constant changing life…grounds us to a knowing that there is something real beyond (and not beyond) this ever changing world.
    A good topic David and very well written.

    1. Hi David
      Thanks. The way I’d frame it is that it’s temporary and the appearance is not the reality. However, the appearance has a function and should not be dismissed.

      The key in your comment is “and not beyond”. 🙂 Reality is right here, not just transcendental.

      But yes, this is normally found first beyond the appearance.

  4. My favorite line, Davidya, went “The world should not be discounted or we’ll be missing the point of why we’ve shown up here.”

    The balance all around in this post is scrumptuous.

    I do have one question, though. This: “we’ll be able to accomplish whatever is called for, even what we might now call a miracle or superpower.” What does this mean?

    Sounds like the start of a whole new blog post, David!

    1. Hi Rose
      Thanks. Well, there is of course the siddhis and various gifts of the soul that come online in much more powerful ways once obstacles to expression dissolve.

      But there is a deeper value that happens when the cosmic begins to be lived right in the physical. What is called forth will vary by dharma. But I was chatting with a friend about this a few days ago and we have a matching, growing sense of it. Still something simmering rather than done but very much brewing. (laughs)

      But I also know people that are beginning to live it. The scale of ability is exponentially greater than the siddhis as it’s working on the cosmic, the body of all bodies.

      Also difficult to describe – I was helping such a friend with language around their sessions now. How do you describe everything happening at once on all levels of all time and space? Microcosmically, macrocosmically, subtle, gross, etc.

      I’ve had experience with purifying on that level. Releasing cosmic stress that brings group consciousness up another notch. It’s amazing what is unfolding now.

      And when things are clear enough for the divine to express directly into the world (without blowing any circuits)…

      So yeah, a post in itself but pretty speculative at this point. 🙂

  5. Jim

    Yes, I have noticed the same thing. Not only is there now the ability to work in much more powerful ways, the process of clarity appears to be moving as a steady wave front, with similar realizations occurring at the same time amongst all of us. Especially the unfolding of Brahman.

    Thank you for creating a safe space to discuss all of this, without having to wallow through the mud to get here. A very high quality blog vs. bog.:-)

    1. Hi Jim
      Right – they’re happening in the cosmic so anyone functioning from there will notice similarly.

      (laughs) Thanks. It’s an interesting dance. I’ve been surprised what I’ve been called to write about. But the feedback I get here and off-site indicates how potent topics are for people.

  6. Ken

    I think that the way “maya” is translated into English has been unfortunate.

    “Illusion” gives the impression of something like a mirage which is an appearance, but not actually there.

    But if the world is not actually there, then why have all the sages and saints come back to this world to teach us ?

    Just from that, it follows that jivas (individuals) are real. Suffering is real, otherwise there would not be Buddhas and Bodhisattvas dedicated to removing it.

    There is a great story in one of the scriptures where Narada asks Vishnu “What is Maya?” and a whole drama ensues as a teaching. From that story, it seems clear that a better translation is “distraction”, in the sense of distraction from Brahman.

    The quote above “Thank you for creating a safe space to discuss all of this, without having to wallow through the mud to get here.” reminds me of a question. Is there any place on the Internet which is a general Forum for discussing issues such as the ones found on this blog? I ask because the difference between a blog and a Forum is that on a blog, only the blogger can start new topics.

    1. Hi Ken
      Yes, I quite agree. the root of maya is “to build” – it refers to creation, not mirage. Some people do experience the world as illusory but this should be understood as a transitional phase, not “reality”.

      And yes- why would a world of this complexity even show up in the first place if it was a mirage? What would be the point?

      We can certainly find the world a distraction from the discovery of who we are within. But later on the journey, the world becomes the means.

    2. There are quite a few forums out there on related topics but many of them are of the arguing “manscape” variety that’s a little stuck on concepts. I know of a couple that the owners had to shut down because they developed cliques that insisted on a specific viewpoint contrary to the site and shot down others. They can take on a life of their own.

      I frequent a few but can’t say I recommend any. Any public forums are frequently divisive. The big ones tend to have a high signal to noise ratio. The by invitation ones are better but can be more social clubs. Moderation can help.

      I know a few that were good but have become inactive. And I know of one thats been developed for answering questions for people who have woken up but it’s not been activated yet.

      It is free to start your own Yahoo Group but it does require work to maintain it.

  7. David

    I guess it depends on your perspective. If you are a jiva then the world is true…if you are a Jnani then the world is untrue…not denying anything here…but confirming our True Nature.

    My suffering has been anything but true. I thought it was true…but realized it wasn’t. That’s the illusion part. It’s nature seems real but it’s really an illusion.

    The Avatars come due to the Illusion or Maya. Maya is very powerful, but because something is powerful doesn’t make it real either…our True Nature is more powerful.

    1. Hi David
      Actually, no. It depends on your stage of development. That is what causes your perspective.

      Everyone has a jiva but it varies what our relationship is with it. Having a jiva doesn’t determine perspective. Jnani is one who knows. They know based on their stage.

      Seeing through your suffering is very valuable. Detaching from the jiva is too. These are part of the process.

      But Maya comes from the root ‘to build’. It means creation. It is seen as illusion in one perspective, real in another, and divine in another. It’s nature though is NOT illusion.

      If Avatars came due to Maya, they’d be here all the time. They come to correct imbalance and often to facilitate transformation, like at the end of a Yuga.

      Demonizing maya is about as useful as demonizing the ego. Neither is the issue. Our challenge is identifying with them as real. Ending identification is the beginning of discovering what is actually here.

      The appearance of the world is not real in and of itself. But it is an expression of what is real.

      As the sage Shankara framed it:
      “Brahman is real
      the world is not real [the half truth]
      Brahman is the world”

      Put another way:
      “The whole world is nothing but Brahman, the supreme.” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.12)

      “It can never be that what is actually perceived is non-existent.” (Brahma Sutra Bhashya (Shankara’s commentary) 2.2.28)

      Seeing through what we thought was real can be an important step. But we don’t want to stop there either. Thats just another perspective. Reality is deeper still.

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