LIVING A LIE
How do we perceive life and reality? Are we going through life with our own perceptions and definitions of life and reality, or are we going through life as subjects of our culture and the society from which we spring? What we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines how we act; and how we act determines the type of character and destinies we create for ourselves. But what and who determines how we think?
History shows that different perceptions of reality have defined different cultures in different ages and these cultures have defined its people. Some of these cultures and their values and beliefs are still with us today, while most are not. Why aren’t they still with us? Is it because their version of reality was proved wrong, or obsolete, or because a stronger power conquered them and thus got the people to change the way they saw and approached reality?
All perceptions of reality are based on certain assumptions, but what if the assumptions are wrong? For example, how we treat an illness depends on how we diagnose the problem, and how we diagnose a problem depends on how we analyze the cause of disease.
But what if the way we define the nature of disease, which is based on certain assumptions, is wrong? Then the diagnosis, no matter how advanced its technology, and no matter how strictly it abides by empirical studies, guidelines, and systems of procedure, is also wrong. And we have a case of mistreating the patient.
Are we any different? Have we been free to determine who we are and how to live our lives, or are we products of our education and conditioning? We may call ourselves modern, but is the modern man any less conditioned by his environment than his forefathers? Have we ever questioned the assumptions behind our beliefs and our perceptions of reality?
Just as a plant is influenced by its topography and geography, modern man has not just sprung from the void. We are all recipients of perceptions of reality that were not chosen by us, and which are not our own, and the soil that has nurtured our perception of reality has been fertilized by two diametrically opposed and dualistic realities- religion and science.
For hundreds of years, we have only known these two ways of perceiving reality – the religious and secular ways. How can we ever understand another perspective, when we have been taught to see and define things in terms of religious and secular realities; when we have been trained to see things outside and separate from nature; and when we have been educated to make conclusions in terms of opposites and reason or faith? How can we ever see reality naturally, when everything has been separated and divided unnaturally when we can only see reality in terms of man-made definitions, polarity, and opposites?
How can we aspire to be one with the Nature, understand unity, as in the great spiritual traditions, when we have been educated to make distinctions, to see things in terms of real or unreal, black or white, true or false, heaven and hell, the material and immaterial, the body and the soul and my God and your God?
How can we know universal love, when we have been taught to discriminate and to see things in terms of superior and inferior, extrovert and introvert, right and wrong and good and bad and to see people in terms of their differences?
Every aspect of modern man’s life has been identified, labeled and classified by these two schools of thought. Nothing on this planet is free from distinction; everything has been classified and given a value and a previous cause – but with two contrary interpretations!
Herein lays the fundamental problem. Fish cannot see outside of the waters where they swim, likewise, we cannot see outside our own cultural conditioning. We are unable to question our perception of reality, because we have no other way of perceiving it; we are only able to see these two realities, these two ways—the waters we are swimming in and ones we shouldn’t be swimming in—and, as a result, we have two contrary ways of perceiving reality and two ways of interpreting the nature of reality.
And it has been that way ever since religion and science split apart and asked man to choose between the ‘new way’ and the ‘old way’. From around the 16th century up to the present, western man has been seeking to gain control over his environment and to separate from nature and, in the process, attempting to win dominion over the earth, over others and over him.
Since then, people have come to believe there are only two reliable ways of perceiving the nature of reality, both in this world and beyond, and that is through knowledge of the physical reality on the one hand, and on knowledge of the scriptures, on the other.
In the process of gaining knowledge, we have gradually come to see ourselves as independent of the living systems that support and surround us, with a misguided belief that we can dominate and exploit nature, others and our bodies without any adverse effects to our world and to our own long-term health and survival.
Our planet, our species, and our health have been placed at risk by this misguided perception of reality and an unchecked lust for short-term gains coupled with a mythological belief in man’s autonomy from and power over nature.
And from here stems the schizophrenia, or the dualistic approach, which is the bane of modern civilization. Human beings are not only self-destructing, we are destroying our own nest, which is a sure sign that we have become unhealthy. Humankind has become unhealthy because we are acting unnaturally, and we are acting unnaturally because we have separated from nature.
This separation first began when man started to lose a connection to his roots and an overall purpose and meaning in life, as mirrored in Nature, and when he lost respect for the environment and started acting independently of his earthly and heaven roots, no longer in harmony and in rhythm with Nature’s cycles and patterns.
It continued when he began to perceive reality in exclusively materialistic terms, when he lost trust in Nature and her ways; when he began constructing artificial ideas, concepts, boundaries, and barriers separate from the natural world; and when he turned his back to wisdom and the spirit world, turning instead towards knowledge and facts.
It proceeded when western man set down rules of investigation, which prevent him from being an active participant of what he is investigating, when he is expected to be separate from or outside of what he is examining, when it is no longer necessary to know one’s soul but more important to know the physical laws of the universe.
When he begins to focus exclusively on the discovering the ‘what’ and not the ‘why’ and ‘how’; when he starts to define life- and truth- not in purposeful or familiar terms but in materialistic and reductionist terms, in terms of parts and structures; when he jettisons the whole from any inclusion; when he comes to believe in absolutes; when he institutionalizes art and artificiality; and when he sees himself as the measure of all things, man’s separation is complete.
As a result of this separation from Nature, life comes to be defined in terms of its material properties, which can only be identified as real when they have been observed and tested repeatedly to be real. Thus, the material gains precedence over the immaterial and the un-manifest is kept out of the equation and ignored as a significant principle of life, nature, and reality.
In this way, man focuses on the pursuit of knowledge and the acquisition of facts and begins to emphasize artificiality over nature, and reality comes to be defined exclusively in terms of its physical properties, and man’s spirit and intuition are severed from this reality.
But according to Ancient traditions, pursuing knowledge only, without pursuing wisdom, would be like pursuing a path without a destination. Not only would it not get us to go where we are destined, it would also take us away from where we belong.
The Ancients’ focus on the acquisition of knowledge was not for the sake of knowledge in and of itself but for wisdom, which, if gained, could help the soul convert out of darkness here on earth to the real ascent of being.
Gathering knowledge was seen as a process, a tool, not an end in itself. Achieving a state of wisdom was the final goal. Once man was in possession of wisdom, he would finally be able to get control over the body, its desires and appetites, the world of illusions – and go home.
According to the Ancients, being on earth was not man’s final destination, nor was knowledge man’s final goal. Man is here because he has fallen from heaven, and if he ever hopes to return to where he belongs, he will have to get control over his ego and its illusions and desires. Knowledge can help him to do that, but it is like a tool, to be used for helping man to get back home and convert his soul out of darkness.
Indeed, the only knowledge the Ancients recommended pursuing was the one that would help man to remember where we came from and who he really is; it is the knowledge we already know but have just forgotten. It is the knowledge of our Divine origins. It is wisdom and attaining that wisdom of our divine origins that will bring us to the eternal truth.
So for the Ancients’, the purpose of knowledge is to help us to re-connect with something we already know, not with something new, but with our innate knowledge, or the wisdom within. Once attained, it will unite our soul with Heaven and the eternal truth and finally guide us away from earth and the behavior that got us here in the first place.
In a materialistic world, however, with its belief in evolution, one must have knowledge to survive. To be spiritual/loving and selfless- is ‘self-defeating’, or ‘suicidal’, as it means neutralizing, even negating the ‘killer instinct’ or the survival instinct one needs in order to make it in the material world.
In such a ruthless and egoistic world, called ‘life’, which is governed by both the strict principles of war and the fundamentals of evolution, where only the fittest survive, one must bring out his ‘natural’, i.e., his killer instincts, which essentially implies qualities that will stop at nothing to preserve the body and the ego.
A man cannot just be a man to survive; he must be a warrior, and a nation cannot just safeguard its citizens; it must watch over its own self-interest with armies and vast arsenals of weapons, otherwise, it will be attacked and defeated by its enemies. How else can one survive, if not by guarding against one’s enemies and attacking them first?
So the accent is on the material self/body and what one must do to strengthen and protect both. To do that, one must exude the qualities of a warrior or a scholar, not the sage or a farmer. One must be made of the stuff of steel or genius, not of spontaneity and simplicity. In this worldview, it is either you or me.
So the ‘invisible’ purpose for which things exist, and which keeps the world in perfect balance and harmony, according to the Ancients, previously explained as the cause of the organizing principle of life, is no longer admissible – and no longer relevant to existence, either. As a result, man-made interpretations replace a natural reality.
With this preoccupation and identification with his materialistic, physical and social needs, man loses the connection with his natural instincts and his spiritual roots. Not only does he severe the material from the immaterial, he has also severed his being here from his reason for being here.
Thus, he loses his connection to Nature, Heaven and himself in all their mystery and wonder, and, in this way, he no longer sees a link to a world above and a soul within. Without feeling connected to both, he comes to think only in terms of what is below, in this material world, and loses himself in self-indulgence and pleasure, seeking happiness in the outside world. He falls.
The ego and fulfillment of his desires take precedence in man’s life and even, in fact, becomes his sole purpose. Man is not here to find his greater meaning in life anymore, an unfolding of the soul, so to speak; he is here in this world to live out his desires, to fulfill his egoistic ambitions and to be consumed by greed.
This identification with the material world enslaves us to the fulfillment of our bodily pleasures and leads us astray from the spiritual goal of [self-ego] liberation. Further, it deludes us into thinking that we are permanent entities, which creates tremendous fear in us at the prospect of our self/body ending, through death.
This illusion in permanence, and the continued desire to seek affirmation of the ego/body and their desires, and the fears that accrue from the fulfillment and non-fulfillment of such desires [that they will not last or be negated by life or others], results in our craving and clinging to all the sensory pleasure the world has to offer.
Unfortunately, a life fueled by such desire and craving creates an endless stream of suffering, since the desire never lasts, or the object of our desire is frustrated, or we fear losing what we have acquired.
Following this conditioning and how it has interpreted the nature of reality has got us to focus our attention on material success, not on self-liberation, and the assumption that material improvements will make us happy.
In this paradigm, the material world is the only thing that is real, since it can be proven and desire is the very fuel that runs the paradigm, the ‘stuff’ of dreams and personal ambition and the motivation behind one’s survival and one’s success.
As a result, it has got us to focus on this dualistic and artificial interpretation of reality, with the acquisition of knowledge and the creation of wealth as the twin towers of that improvement and development, accompanied and strengthened by a religious belief that it is man’s sacred and inalienable right to be free to pursue such material goals.
This perception of reality, that we are material entities, encased not only in a body but an ego/self with a name, family, and nationality, blinds us to our spiritual reality, and the reason why we are here in the first place. Instead, it gets us into seeing ourselves only so far as we can be perceived by our senses and how they can be gratified.
Is this dualistic and materialistic view right? Is it any wonder we are destroying ourselves and our nest? We are like the mule that was given two plates of food to eat but couldn’t decide which to eat and as a result starved to death.
Is there a possibility that we have been living a lie; that the very core of our beliefs and values and therefore everything is an illusion? Have we been walking down the wrong path all these years, because we got the wrong directions?
Is that why we are so sick today – because we are living a lie?