Saint Paltu described life by saying that it has two ends: man is at one end and God at the other, and the distance between the two is infinitesimally small. The reason we follow this path, the reason we became initiated, do simran and meditate, is for the very purpose of closing that gap – of covering that infinitesimally small distance during this life.
So why do we find it so difficult to do? Perhaps we don’t really believe there is such a small gap to close; perhaps we are really not sure if we believe there is a God to meet within.
There are probably times in all of our lives, when the entire concept of the path and its teachings of expanded consciousness, divine love, inner manifestations and all the wonderful aspects which make up this path, must seem like a total fantasy – like a beautiful fairy story.
Yet mystics such as Paltu tell us that this is no fairy tale; rather it is in fact reality, and what we understand to be reality − this world − is the illusion. The Master, the charming prince, will help us open our inner vision, where we will experience the light and sound of the Shabd, and he will deliver us back safely to our Father’s home. They tell us that all of this is within our grasp. Yet it all seems so distant from us, and we feel we will never reach the eye center and personally experience all the wonders we are told about.
So what is it that creates this doubt in our minds? It is the illusion that binds us to this world, preventing our closing the gap of which Paltu speaks. In an illusion something is present, but it is mistaken for something else. So an illusion is not what you see − it is what the illusionist wishes you to see.
This world is an illusion and mind is the great illusionist. In A Treasury of Mystic Terms, the author writes that we often associate maya specifically with the physical universe, but maya is essentially a power originating with the universal mind, and existing throughout the worlds of the mind. Therefore, this world and all the regions within the orbit of universal mind, are illusory. In these regions, illusion is all-pervasive and maya is deceptively beautiful, alluring and blissful.
Mystics further tell us that time and space are also illusions, created by the mind – they are the warp on which the entire fabric of the creation is woven. This vast illusion was created to camouflage divine unity. In military terms the five qualities of camouflage and concealment are: shape, shine, shadow, silhouette and spacing. By using these qualities, the illusionist performs the magic of deception. Similarly, the mind divides the one reality into the profusion of different forms in the creation, and the illusion cast by maya over everything is the changing appearance of these vast numbers of forms and shapes, which are made to look and feel real.
Wherever there is mind, illusion is the deceptive force projecting images created by the mind. The great deception is that we live in the illusory world of mind, which we consider to be reality, unaware of the true reality which illusion so subtly disguises. So subtle is the illusion, that the very mind that tries to perceive the illusion, is itself part of the illusion, and it cannot through logic and reason, disentangle itself to understand its own source.
Time is another of the illusionist’s deceptive tricks. Everything in this world is conditioned by time. We only have to look at our own lives, to realize the extent to which we are governed by time. We move from one thing to another, from one thought to another. Like a shuttle we move back and forth along an illusory time line, as the mind flits between the past and the future. We don’t stop to realize that there is not a moment that has any reality, except the present one – neither the past nor the expectation of the future can be regarded as real. Time, space, past and future – these are all illusion.
When we look around us, it is impossible to even begin to think that this world, which is so familiar to us, is neither real nor permanent, but rather is a false appearance, a deceptive impression. We know from personal experience that things in this world are not constant, yet we hang on to this life, this world and all our attachments in it, with every fiber of our being.
In the Bible, James 4:14, we read:
For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanishes away.
But that is not our experience. Life in this world is often wonderful and we don’t experience the world as an illusion. As we shuttle up and down the time line, we feel as though our lives will never end – that they will go on forever. We seem to be happy here on earth, entwined with all our attachments. But mystics tell us that these transient relationships, and the relentless pursuit of desires, are simply an illusion. Our own experience tells us that most of these are short-lived.
Maya is often portrayed as a temptress, which is indicative of both desire and the powerful attraction between a man and a woman. In Saint Paltu the author says that maya also means the tinkle of gold and silver, and the cravings of the flesh.
The temptress, our own desire, lures us into the trap of illusion that binds us to this creation. Our lives and energy are consumed by our relentless desires, and we stray from the path that leads to truth and follow the path that gratifies the senses. The message the Masters constantly give us is that our priorities are wrong. The truth is that surrounding ourselves with expensive cars and homes filled with beautiful objects pulls us deeper into the illusion of the world − which Saint James warns will ultimately disappear into the mists of time, as the illusion dissipates. But for now we are happy, not realizing that we are wasting a very precious gift – that of a human birth, and the opportunity to lift ourselves out of the quagmire of maya. Once again, illusion has deceived us.
Goswami Tulsidas, drawing a comparison between the love for God and the physical love between a man and a woman, says:
The sensual love for women in the world
Wears out day by day,
But love for God grows ever anew.
The Teachings of Goswami Tulsidas
Because we are sincere in our affection for special people or even animals in our lives, we may find that one of the cruelest of all illusions is our misunderstanding of love.
When I put my arms around my dog and feel his warm body, and his tail wags with delight, we share a mutual affection and closeness – we love one another. So it can be hurtful to hear from the saints, that what we perceive as love, is simply a shadow of real love – of divine love.
But what is it I love? Is it his soul I love, or is it the warm body with the wagging tail to which I am so attracted and attached? Is our love simply a karmic attraction to the physical and mental image? From an anonymous source quoted in the book Shams-e-Tabrizi we read:
Beauty, which will perish,
Is impossible to be loved by men.
Can our love be pure and real if it constantly changes – consumed by jealousy and anger one moment, while at the next it makes us cry with pain or leap with joy? Does this inconsistency not mean it has actually been a deception and an illusion? However wavering it may be, worldly love teaches us about love − it is the forerunner to the gift of divine love. Maharaj Charan Singh, speaking about love, says:
Meditation creates love. … It grows to such an extent that we become one with the Father. That is love. There’s no other love in the world – the rest is all self-deception. Nobody belongs to us and we don’t belong to anybody. For some time we live in illusion, but soon we realize where we stand. Real love can only be for the Father. The pity is that what we see, we are not supposed to love, and what we don’t see, we are supposed to love. What we see doesn’t exist, what we don’t see really exists, and that is the whole tragedy of our love.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Like sleepers who have been dreaming, we wake to find that the dream was not reality. Maya has cast such a wide net, that it is almost impossible to escape its deceptions and temptations. In fact, it is the spell of maya that keeps people away from the Creator, and keeps them running after the transitory things in creation. Paltu says these earthly temptations are the greatest hurdles in the way of a seeker.
So if we want to escape the illusion, we must learn to outwit the illusionist. This is where the Master’s teachings are invaluable. He teaches us that by reversing the outward tendencies of the mind, we can outsmart the illusionist. As we gather the mind at the third eye, we slowly sever the binding grip of maya. As our concentration increases, we pierce the veil that separates outer illusion from the reality within, and the mind begins to experience a sense of peace and bliss that it will never find in the outer illusory world.
The place to which the Master draws us within, is constant and unchanging – which means it is free of illusion and deception. We have to find that center within us, because that is the real path we walk, and of which we should increasingly be aware. The code of ethics he asks us to follow may seem extreme, but surely the prize we seek − to escape the illusionist − is worth the inconvenience of adhering to his request? A Sufi mystic tells us:
Whatever you see in the whirlpool of this world
will disappear from your eyes like a bubble.
Bu Ali Shah Qalandar, as quoted in Sultan Bahu
While working in the marketplace of life
and treading worldly paths,
one should not lose sight of one’s objective,
nor be allured by another’s wealth and spouse.
Without Nam, O Nanak, the mind cannot be held still,
nor are its cravings appeased.
The Guru shows a marketplace and a city within the body
where one deals in Truth with natural ease.
Gurbani Selections 1