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Dhamma Wheel • View topic - illusion

illusion

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

illusion

Postby kayy » Sun Feb 07, 2010 9:38 pm

I read and hear a lot of Buddhists talk about the world as "an illusion." What exactly does this mean? Am I right in thinking that it would be more accurate to say that our view of the world is an illusion (that is, unless you're a Buddha) ?

I fail to see how the world is an illusion. OK - nothing inherently exists in itself and independently of anything else, but I can tell you that my arms exist, this computer exists and the books on my desk exist, society exists, human beings exist. It's just the way we see them that is illusory, i.e. as permanent, inherent and so on.

Or have I totally missed something?

If my understanding is correct, why do people not amend their speech to be more accurate, i.e. "the way we see the world is an illusion"?
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Re: illusion

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 07, 2010 9:57 pm

Greetings Katy,

I think you've got the gist of it. The classic sutta regarding "illusion" is:

SN 22.95: Phena Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Combine that with the realisation that our "world" is nothing more than that experienced through the senses...

SN 35.82: Loka Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

... and you've got a pretty deep and powerful teaching on your hands.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: illusion

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:37 am

kayy wrote:I read and hear a lot of Buddhists talk about the world as "an illusion." What exactly does this mean? Am I right in thinking that it would be more accurate to say that our view of the world is an illusion (that is, unless you're a Buddha) ?

I fail to see how the world is an illusion. OK - nothing inherently exists in itself and independently of anything else, but I can tell you that my arms exist, this computer exists and the books on my desk exist, society exists, human beings exist. It's just the way we see them that is illusory, i.e. as permanent, inherent and so on.

Or have I totally missed something?

If my understanding is correct, why do people not amend their speech to be more accurate, i.e. "the way we see the world is an illusion"?


Some Mahayanists say things along the lines of the the world being an illusion, I'm not sure whether this is what their teachings really say or whether they've misinterpreted them.

I don't think there is any support for this view in Theravada teachings, after all if it's all an illusion then why bother doing anything to improve it.

Our conceptual world could be considered an illusion, the way we classify, name, interpret, and organise our experience of reality is not reality but something that we use to engage with reality. If we believe that this is real then that is delusion, but either way that doesn't mean that it's an illusion rather it's a construct.

Anyway that's my take on it.
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Re: illusion

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:01 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Some Mahayanists say things along the lines of the the world being an illusion, I'm not sure whether this is what their teachings really say or whether they've misinterpreted them.

I don't think there is any support for this view in Theravada teachings, after all if it's all an illusion then why bother doing anything to improve it.


See the Phena sutta, above.

The original term is "maya". It is kind of like English "illusion", but mostly referred to the magical creations of magicians at that time in India. Using something like a stone or a piece of wood, they would recite mantras over it. The audience would see something else appear, an elephant, or a person, or whatever. But there was no real elephant or person, or whatever behind it. It was a trick. It was said that awakened persons would not see that "maya", but only see the stick or stone, upon which the mantra was recited.

Also, the term is usually "like an illusion", not necessarily "illusion" - subtle difference worth noting.

In the other Sthavira / Thera schools, well before the Mahayana, the Sarvastivada had a number of sutras which dealt with this topic. One sutra is called the Mayajala Sutra (Net of Illusion), which was paired up with the Brahmajala Sutra, a very important early text.

Initially, the notion of "like an illusion" is closely associated with the ideas of phenomena being impermanent, and without substance.

What we think we see is not really how it is. The audience thinks they see an elephant, but there is no elephant. It is a metaphor, not a statement of fact.
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Re: illusion

Postby Dan74 » Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:04 am

Dhammapada:

Just as a bubble may be seen,
just as a faint mirage,
so should the world be viewed
that the Death-king sees one not.


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Re: illusion

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:06 am

Greetings Dan,

I thought that Dhammapada quote might come up. ;)

Hence the Loka Sutta link provided above, detailing what "world" means in the Buddha's parlance.

The Buddha is cool. 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: illusion

Postby Dan74 » Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:25 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Dan,

I thought that Dhammapada quote might come up. ;)

Hence the Loka Sutta link provided above, detailing what "world" means in the Buddha's parlance.

The Buddha is cool. 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)


Heya :hello:

It's not like I have the extensive knowledge of Pali Canon like you to draw on! :smile:

As for the question of Mahayana view on this question, the relevant school is Yogacara, also called Cittamattra (Mind Only), which according to some interpretations taught that the world is a kind of a collective projection and the Mind is primary in some sense. This is one interpretation of Yogacara teachings and other interpretations deny that the Mind itself has any ultimate reality.

So in some quarters there is a belief that enlightened masters can alter reality, manifest what is needed and so on. In Zen literature, these things are generally frowned upon as signs of clinging and incorrect direction, or as workings of Taoists and magicians.

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Re: illusion

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Feb 08, 2010 6:05 am

Dan74 wrote:As for the question of Mahayana view on this question, the relevant school is Yogacara, also called Cittamattra (Mind Only), ...


It is far, far more than the Yogacara. The idea appears in basically every Indian Buddhist school, and it seems that every corner of the Mahayana is fairly saturated in the idea.
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Re: illusion

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Feb 08, 2010 6:37 am

I'd have to say looking through the Phena Sutta, and the quote from the Dhammapada I'm not seeing any definitive existential statements along the lines of the world being an illusion.

"so should the world be viewed" is quite a different statement than "the world is".

They read like reflections to me, themes of contemplation.

Like an illusion is a far cry from actually being an illusion, "like an illusion" prompts one to question, contemplate, and test.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: illusion

Postby chownah » Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:12 pm

People say that the world exists...my arm exists...that ball exists....but really all you really know is based on the five senses and whatever the mind can make of it.

Example: the sun is going down it will be dark soon....but the sun isn't really going down and it will only be dark where you are and not on the other side of the world........this is a sort of a silly example.

Example: you think that the desk has a smooth surface.....but in fact the closer you get to the desk's "surface" (like zooming in with a microscope to get really really close) the more it becomes obvious that the desk's surface is not only not what you think it is (smooth) but this "surface" idea does not really exist at all but is just an illusory idea which you have extracted from your sense experience and then attributed to the desk top..........this is a less silly example than the previously one and is closer to what I think the Buddha was getting at.

There is no way to know if what we call "reality" is actually out there or not....all we have in our experience are the senses and the mind....all we really know is that we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel sensations and our mind puts these together to create an idea (or illusion of you like) of a world. Babies are great....when they are just a few days old if you watch them carefully you can almost see them putting the pieces together to create this "real world" they are experiencing.

chownah

p.s. but don't worry, it doesn't really matter if reality is out there or not....my firm belief that all we experience is illusion has not hampered me in any way I have been able to determine....the fact that the world seems to exist is just as remarkable as it actually existing (but of course this is just a theoretical observation in that the world as we experience it assuredly does not exist.....whatever reality is out there is certainly much more complex than our limited persepective could conceive)
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Re: illusion

Postby baratgab » Mon Feb 08, 2010 8:37 pm

You may want to give a try to Ajahn Brahm's talk on "Emptiness"; in the first part he talks about the nature of the material world:
Video
Audio

The following text also seems like a good reading:
http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/emptiness.html

Others already pointed out that there is no "world" for us apart from "the way we see the world", because everything is a matter of perception through the senses. What I would like to add is that maybe "existence" is not a good word either, because all we have is simply interdependence. I think it is hard to say that something really exists, while its existence can only be grasped in other things, whose existence can only be grasped in other things, whose existence can only be grasped in other things, whose existence can only be grasped in other things... So, there is no inherent existence in anything. It is tempting to contemplate on whether there is a ground at all for differentiating anything from anything (possibly starting at your own body and its surroundings). :P
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Re: illusion

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Feb 08, 2010 9:00 pm

baratgab wrote:You may want to give a try to Ajahn Brahm's talk on "Emptiness"; in the first part he talks about the nature of the material world:
Video
Audio

The following text also seems like a good reading:
http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/emptiness.html

Others already pointed out that there is no "world" for us apart from "the way we see the world", because everything is a matter of perception through the senses. What I would like to add is that maybe "existence" is not a good word either, because all we have is simply interdependence. I think it is hard to say that something really exists, while its existence can only be grasped in other things, whose existence can only be grasped in other things, whose existence can only be grasped in other things, whose existence can only be grasped in other things... So, there is no inherent existence in anything. It is tempting to contemplate on whether there is a ground at all for differentiating anything from anything (possibly starting at your own body and its surroundings). :P

Nicely put. Although I have problems with " interdependence". The " inter" bit seems superfluous. Things are arising dependently.
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