Đọc bản Tiếng Việt tại đây.
In this infinite universe, what is real? What are illusions? Or is it all just a dream? You’ve probably asked yourself these kinds of metaphysical questions at least once if you’re interested in spirituality.
In this post, I will discuss “reality vs illusion”, not “real vs fake”. If you say that a thing is fake, it means that it is copied to look like an authentic brand. But that thing is also real, it exists. I’m not gonna talk about that kind of “fake and real” in this post.
I want to talk about Reality and Maya (illusion) – how I consider it in my journey to find my own Truth, through 3 stages. Please note that everyone’s journey is different and in my experience, these 3 stages don’t need to happen in the same order. They can all happen at the same time. That means you can experience what people usually call The Quantum Leap when it’s divine timing. In short, you don’t need to go through every stage to get to the destination. You’re already there, you just don’t know that.
STAGE 1: “Mountains are mountains and waters are waters.”
This is the stage of an ordinary person, who hasn’t raised any question about their true self. They unconsciously repeat what their ancestors do without giving any second thought about the real meaning of life, or the meaning of their existence.
We’re born, grow up, get married, have kids, raise them, then die. We get lost in this cycle of life: trying to make ends meet, running after the external things such as money, social status, validations, or relationships, just to trade for short-term happiness. When that happiness is lost, we continue to jump in another game, like hamsters in their cages.
We can still be happy, but our happiness is so fragile compared to everything that we’ve worked for. At a certain point when that disappointment reaches its peak, we step into the second stage: Our spiritual journey, the journey to go inside ourselves and search for happiness. I call this the first stage of a spiritual awakening.
STAGE 2: “Mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters.”
Now, a whole exciting spiritual universe is opened in front of our eyes with so many fascinating things. We begin to realize that we are not the “body” that we usually see ourselves as. We’re not our body, our name, our relationships (a lover, a wife, a mom, a boss of someone else), etc. Even this entire life is like a dream, a place to temporarily stop on our journey to eternal living.
Usually, at this stage, we’re easily enchanted by those “sidewalk flowers”: All the concepts of magical things, spiritual games, Dharma practices, such as Horoscope, Tarot readings, past lives, relationships between different souls (twin flames, soulmate), Reiki, Kundalini, chakras,… I call them all “the finger pointing towards the moon”, not the Moon itself.
Getting caught up in those spiritual games is not any different from getting caught in ordinary life. The only difference is, this is a more “advanced” game. Instead of chasing money, now you have new greed: the desire to meditate. You quickly leave your “ordinary-life” ego and put on another: a “spiritual ego” – see yourself as a person who is practicing Dharma.
And the Spiritual practicers have more refined desires but they’re not completely awake, for example, they want to achieve enlightenment, want themselves to be kind, merciful, to be good, not bad. I think those desires are also “bad”, because now, instead of “betraying” others, we’re ready to “betray” ourselves, forcing ourselves to be different from who we truly are.
Spiritual practice is also a game, and its practicers (or souls in human forms) are also players. The “ego” is everything that we consider important and meaningful. Everything that we do in a day, every choice we make, is to strengthen this ego. When we see ourselves as a reincarnated soul through many lives and learning different lessons, our spiritual practices have a purpose. Our greed, our hatred, our ignorance, and our suffering are all tied to this soul that we see as immortal.
Because we believe that soul is a real thing, we would do anything to keep it safe: Avoid causing bad karma, instead, we do good things; try to practice spirituality to reach Nirvana, to come back to the Source; etc.
A lot of people are in this dimension, simply because it’s still valuable to them. The law of attraction is still working well, when they get what they want, if not, it just means that they’ve been doing it the wrong way.
The more devotedly they practice spirituality, the more lost they get. They explain their sufferings as another “lesson” that the Universe sends.
Like the previous time, impermanent things sooner or later will make us disappointed. If we keep holding on to a broken raft, it’s gonna sink eventually. The thing that kills us is not the raft but our attachment. When the disappointment is big enough, we come to the breaking down of our “spiritual ego”, which is what I call the second stage of a spiritual awakening.
Something that never changes, doesn’t require practice, doesn’t need to be gained, or learned. Find it. That is the real Moon.
In one of my meditations, I was completely disappointed, miserable to the point that I raised this question: “Why do I need to practice Dharma?”. I was disappointed to the point that I accepted that I completely failed. I’m a normal person, full of greed, hatred, and ignorance, not saintly at all. I completely surrendered. That day I realized I wasn’t the spiritual meditator that I thought I was (I call this meditation: Looking for What is looking.). The burden was relieved, the Truth was revealed.
A few months later, I read a book on Pre-sectarian Buddhism and realized that the Buddha refused the idea that a particular soul reincarnates from one life to another. For example, there’s no my soul or your soul. Instead, Buddha said that what really reincarnates is consciousness. You can consider it as a memory. This explains fascinating stories about reincarnation that people tell each other to prove its existence. The consciousness will keep the memories from a lifetime, and when it’s divine timing (The Twelve Causes), the consciousness will create a new form that we call reincarnation.
Once again, I’m not here to reason with you, neither nor to make you believe or not. You don’t have to believe if you don’t know so. If you blindly follow me, you will let slip away your own experience. Find your own answer. For me, I don’t believe just because I’ve read Buddhist Scriptures, I’d had experiences before so that only makes me understand the theory more.
This enlightenment freed me from other concepts that I’d had before and brought me closer to the eternal. When I’ve reached this stage, this doesn’t make me better than anyone else. To be exact, I’m only more pleasant and free.
Don’t believe in anything, if your goal is to Enlightenment. Be honest with yourself about what is going on inside, what you are experiencing and feeling instead of trying to follow others.
STAGE 3: Mountains are mountains and waters are waters.
When you’ve touched the Eternal Truth, whether it’s short-term or permanent, you will completely transform.
Now, nothing is the ultimate truth, everything is impermanent. When a new desire comes up, you’ve already seen its ending before its begin. You’ll see that you don’t need to join the cycle (work hard to fulfill that desire) just to get back to the starting line. I’m already at peace, why do I need to join a game?
Now, you see that everything is where it’s supposed to be. There’s nothing that needs to be changed, even the impermanence that people see as suffering. Everything is just an experience.
When I’ve come to this stage, I encourage everything while continuously letting them go. Everything is the manifestation of the Truth, so how can it be bad? In the meantime, everything is temporary, so what’s the point in attachment?
Now, you see everything clearly like looking at gaming apps on your phone, you have every right to open or not open the app and start the game. For me, I’m usually too lazy to play, because I’m already at peace. I don’t need any external condition to bring me joy.
This led me to a “discouraging” stage because I realize every party has an end, reincarnation sometimes happens in a blink. I have a desire, I choose to join the game to get what I want, then I don’t want that thing anymore. And I kept thinking about the illusion of this entire existence, it’s too temporary.
But for some reason, probably destiny, I met other souls on their journeys, experience the beauty of this life by doing little things like a snail keeps crawling no matter how slowly. Finally, I decided to get back to this “hustle and bustle” life. Even if we know that everything will come to its end, that doesn’t mean that we don’t start. All the beauty and meaning of life await on its journey, not the destination.
Life is impermanent, but that is what makes it beautiful. Being able to suffer is also a blessing. I love everything that I’ve touched, every person that I’ve met, they’ve all brought me amazing experiences.
So what if this life is not real? This moment is real. The affection in my heart when I listen to a love song is real. The touching feeling is when I meet someone whose soul harmonizes with mine is also real. That is enough.
I choose to participate in this life, start new games, create new stories, simply because I am able. And why do I exist? Simply because I’m still breathing.
Written by Tiên Alien
Translated by Vy Phan