It is often said in spiritual teachings that the world is an illusion, suffering is unreal, and that Good and Evil are dualistic fantasies. Doubtless, this is all well and good. Yet, how do we reconcile this with the fact that all of this seems very real indeed to the vast majority of us?
As I pondered this one day, an interesting metaphor came to my mind that might well go some way towards illustrating this...
Imagine a boy playing a computer game (I am using a boy as an example because it IS mostly boys who play these games.) This is not just any old computer game. This is one of those huge "virtual reality" fantasy role-playing environments that have been created on the Internet. In this strange virtual landscape, our hero wanders around exploring mountains and caves, fighting dragons and trolls, and meeting and talking to other players.
The latter are, of course, also all costumed up in their respective roles. Hence, although in real life, our lad may be still at school or working on a building site, in this world he can be Sir Galahad, Luke Skywalker (from Star Wars), or anyone else he chooses. Indeed, he could even take on a female persona, if he chose to do so.
As our friend plays in this virtual world, we begin to observe a change occurring. It begins to get a grip on him. He really begins to "get into it". Now, he's spending hours every night wandering around in this fantasy. It's so fascinating, and there's so much to do and see. As we watch, he begins to spend less and less time away from the computer screen. Finally, it gets to the point where he is there 24 hours a day. His mum comes by to give him food and drink, but he gulps them down without even noticing, so immersed is he in his interactive fantasy.
Now, we may imagine that he begins to develop a moral framework about this game. When he sees other fantasy characters getting "killed" in the game, he judges this as wrong and evil, and grieves over the suffering that they underwent. In a sense, they DID suffer since they are just as hooked on this fantasy world as he is. However, in reality, the other players are all just sitting alive and well in their bedrooms, also glued to their computer screens. Hence, there was no suffering in actuality; only to the fantasy character they had identified totally with.
The boy regards his own fantasy body as real, and hence when he is attacked by another player, he even "suffers" as his "body" dies in the game. However, nothing has really been destroyed: only something that never really existed in the first place outside the virtual realm. We all know he can just reincarnate right back into the game, and WILL do so, such is his desire to get back into play. Maybe he lost a few points, or some of the weapons he gained last time round have disappeared, but he can just carry right on from where he left off.
Do you see how this relates to the dilemma of the world, of suffering, and of Good and Evil? We believe in all of these things so totally because of our total identification with our physical bodies and the world which we inhabit. It is only because we identify so completely with the material world, and believe this is all there is, that we are haunted by all these notions. Yet, if we could awaken to the fact that reality is far more than this, and WE are far more than the limited beings we mistake ourselves for, then our notions will become to us as absurd as the boy trapped in the game.
A funny thing sometimes happens (extremely rarely) in this game world. Once in a while, a player "wakes up" to who he/she really is. She realizes she is NOT the role she has been playing lifetime after lifetime in the game. Rather, she is a person in a whole other universe, staring at a computer screen and wrestling frantically with a joystick.
She also realizes that she is NOT bound by the limited rules of the game at all. She can simply walk away, and those rules hold no power over her whatsoever. And she does walk away, never to return to the illusory trap of that fantasy world again. She knows now that none of it was real; the fantasy dramas, the wars, the killing, and all the mental anguish. It was just a game, although it seemed so real at the time. Although she died a million painful deaths (or so it seemed at the time), none of it touched her true essence. She didn't really kill anyone, and nobody really killed her. It just seemed that way at the time.
To those who remain, it seems as if she just "vanished". Some say she attained what they call "Nirvana", and ceased to exist. But that isn't really true: she just found out who she REALLY is, and disappeared into realms beyond the game that they, still bound to it, can never conceive or imagine.
Sometimes, such a person chooses to re-enter the game, but this time remaining fully aware, undeceived by the illusions of the fantasy world. She does so unselfishly, with the motive of rescuing others still trapped within the illusion. She tells them that this world that seems so real is nothing more than an illusion, that what they perceive as suffering is not real at all, and that what they perceive to be Good and Evil is likewise nonsensical, when viewed from a higher perspective.
Most of the players laugh at her. These ideas are so ridiculous. They ask her to describe this "Enlightenment" she claims to have. But she cannot, because THEY cannot conceive of anything outside of the game world in which their senses are totally immersed. So, because she cannot relate it to the world they know and understand, they conclude it is extinction or non-existence. Some of them ask her to give them this enlightenment, by touching them on the shoulder, or by physically taking them there. But she says she cannot do that. Each person has to realize it for him or herself. Each person must awaken from the illusion alone. She cannot do it for them, although she can show them the quickest way to do it.
Hopefully, this metaphor will have helped you to gain some insight into why spiritual teachings say the things they do about our everyday experience. It can help you to think of this world as a sort of virtual reality game. In essence, that is what it is! It would be false to say that it does not exist in ANY sense, but it IS true to say that it is nothing like the way it seems, and it is definitely not all that there is. If you can visualize the physical world as only the very tip of a vast iceberg that constitutes reality, you will be far less inclined to take it all so seriously: least of all your "bit part" in it.
Oh, by the way, in the game metaphor, we were assuming that these were all separate individuals playing the game in different locations. That is only partly true. You see, at a still higher level, there is actually only ONE player who is role-playing all THOSE people sitting at their computer screens, immersed in their own fantasy world.
But that is a whole other game!...
Copyright 2002, Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Asoka Selvarajah is the author of "The 7 Golden Secrets To Knowing Your Higher Self". His work helps you achieve your life dreams through learning practical, effective spiritual and personal growth strategies. You can learn more at: http://www.higherselfsecrets.com?ATW