top of page



A key feature of Indian spiritual teaching is maya. It originally meant the magic power by which gods could convince humans that the unreal is real. Later it denoted the cosmic force that makes the whole phenomenal world convincingly real and enduring. This can be an attractive teaching at the mental level but a frightening one when it comes to experiencing and realising it for oneself.
It's attractive because it seems to offer an escape route – should you ever need it or decide to risk taking it – out of the problems of this world into a real world imagined as a celestial resort wholly composed of peace and joy and selfless staff. Ramana Maharshi, the embodiment if anyone is of the wisdom of the eastern mind, is characteristically nondual about this. Yes, the world as we see and suffer it is unreal, like an image projected onto a screen or the words written on a blank page. But this concept of its unreality is a thorn used to remove a thorn. Once we have actually verified, the illusory nature of the world, as a projection of our minds dominated by ego-forces, we no longer have to reject it.
Ramana said: ‘At the level of the spiritual seeker you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way. When someone forgets that he is Brahman, who is real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion.’ But when you see through its illusory nature you see that God and the universe are one, the paper and the words on it are one.
Is this a problem solved? Or a path indicated? Only practice and patience can lead us gradually to see exactly what the ‘illusory nature of the world’ means. If we don’t see its meaning, we steal the idea to increase our illusory world and narrow our vision of reality. Yet experience proves that the world we think we live in as real is a projection of fears, desires and misreadings. Of course we want to escape the pain of this. But it is its illusory nature itself we should first be working on.
A practice of meditation will do this with an, at first, temporary and, eventually, unbroken effect. We can at any moment cease to worry and rage, simply by turning to the golden radiance of the kingdom within us. It is close at hand even if the path seems narrow. Change your mind, redirect the beam of your attention and place your trust in the reality that appears.
Is this a seductive call to separate us from those we love and to coldly turn our attention from a suffering world that we should rather bring engaged compassion to? First, we should come to the place where illusion and reality confront and then make the choice before we prejudge.
Recently I was on an immensely long and steep escalator at an airport. I don’t like heights but I turned around to look down. I saw a separated family regrouping themselves. As I went higher, they receded and became smaller but I saw the efforts happening in an ever-greater space. As I became more distant, I could also feel closer. Maybe dying is like this.
You cannot tell by observation when the kingdom of God will appear. You cannot say ‘look here it is or there it is’… for the kingdom is within, outside, among, between, around you. To think we can see it located anywhere except everywhere simultaneously is maya.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
bottom of page