The great mythologist and teacher Joseph Campbell (of course) constantly reminded his hearers and readers of the Hindu/Buddhist idea that everything in this world is maya, or illusion.
Many of the ancient ‘Gnostics’ also upheld this same idea, asserting that the only true 'reality' lay in the unseen realm of spirit (and not in this existence), and they were constantly preaching that we should never become too attached to this transitory, illusory (and even deceitful) existence we call "life".
Some of them even went so far as to literally mortify the flesh, or retreat from worldly concerns such as matrimony, sexuality, social, or political duties or engagements, often seeking instead a literal flight from sensual "temptations" to the ascetic world of monasticism. (I feel that this is a profound error on their part, however.)
To illustrate the widely-divergent field of sects making up what we now call "Gnosticism", however, there were a few "Gnostic" sects which (although they attached equal unimportance to matters of the "flesh"), nonetheless insisted that this "illusory" physical existence was so supremely unimportant (compared with the heavenly realm to follow) that it did not matter in the least what one did with the body, or with its natural urges. These libertine "Gnostics", then (in stark contrast to the ascetics), allowed themselves (and taught their disciples) to engage in all sorts of socio-sexual extremes--even bordering sometimes on what some would call 'gross perversions'. ... But again, it is important to remember that these libertine "Gnostics" (nominally "Christian", for the most part, though they were almost universally excoriated and shunned by other, more traditional, or 'mainstream' "Christians"), and among whom were the so-called "Carpocratians", always insisted that the flesh was so supremely unimportant--as long as one remembered where one's true priorities lay (with the heavenly realm of spirit)--that it did not at all matter what one did with the physical body . This is how the evidently homosexual rituals of the "Carpocratians" were possible (within the general rubric of "Christianity", too!).
To move into a modern times, however, quantum physics says essentially the same thing about what we call physical "reality"--that it's all really nothing more than electromagnetic frequency wave-patterns interpreted by our brains. Thus we see that 'science' and 'religion' (as many are noticing nowadays) are indeed gradually converging.
These ideas are really quite simple. The only mistake is reading too much into them. One does not need to search and search for deeper and deeper meanings there. The only message is right there in 'plain English', right on the surface of the words.
What I really mean is more or less exactly what I say (though I admit I am perhaps not the best one to be trying to explain these things): the physical world we see around us constantly (and which we assume is "real") is actually only an illusion created by our brains, when our brains convert the electromagnetic wave-patterns (or frequency-patterns of wave radiation) into meaningful signals. These meaningful signals then appear to our eyes as "sight", to our ears as "sound", and to our fingers and other body parts as "touch". The same is true of the other senses.
But we must remember (as both quantum physics and the 'mystical' traditions of spirituality teach) that that "reality" perceived by our senses is actually no more "real" than a moonbeam. In other words, these "keys" I am typing on in order to produce words (on this computer), although they "feel" solid to my finger-tips, are actually not what I (normally) think they are--they are actually nothing more than another form of electromagnetic wave radiation, or frequency-patterns, which exert enough of a force field of resistance to my finger-tips, that my brain perceives them as a "solid". But my physical "body" is also nothing more than various patterns of electromagnetic wave energy! So essentially, what is going on is that one organised set of frequency-patterns (my brain) thinks it is coming into contact with other frequency-patterns (the keyboard keys). But what is actually happening is nothing of the sort--only one force-field of electromagnetic energy "bumping" into another!
What may help you to understand this is to visualise two magnets in your hands. Now, turn them around so that the same poles are facing each other. Then try to push them toward each other, and make them touch. You can't do it, can you? This is because the force-fields are strong enough to prevent it. Those force-fields generated by those magnets feel almost solid, don't they? And yet we know that they aren't; the only thing you are bumping up against there is simply a very strong electromagnetic force-field. Well, this is exactly and precisely why so-called "solid" objects seem solid to us. But they are actually no more "solid" than the AIR near the pole of a magnet. Remember that the vast majority of every atom is actually only empty space! But it is a space filled with a very strong force-field of energy. Thus, if you multiply those space-filled atoms exponentially, enough to produce a human being, you still have an entity that is "actually" overwhelmingly empty space! So why then do we "seem" to possess "solid" bodies? Quite simply, because of the very strong electromagnetic force fields--just as in the case of the magnets!
I am here only referring to how our brains (and not our conscious minds) interpret electromagnetic wave radiation (frequency-patterns), and convert them into the meaningful images, sounds, tastes, textures, and smells we call our ordinary "physical" existence or world.
Do you begin to see now how this so-called "physical" world is really only an"illusion" cooked up by our senses (and brains)? The only true "reality" is nothing but organised patterns of electromagnetic wave radiation (frequency-patterns). ...
This is why the Hindus, Buddhists, Gnostics, and other Mystics are absolutely right when they say that this physical world is only maya, or "illusion".
To put the main thrust of quantum physics into other (and simpler) words, what we know as ordinary everyday existence in this world (aka "life") is really nothing more than organised patterns of electromagnetic energy-- all of it! If one dwells on this stupendous thought for more than just a brief moment, the implications are literally staggering! Indeed, one could even say that the implications are so staggering as to present a serious problem relative to our existential security (or peace of mind).
Certainly, these facts call into question just about any form of traditional 'religion'! The question then presents itself to our minds: what is one to do in the face of such troubling facts? How is one supposed to be able to carry on a more or less 'normal' day-to-day existence, when all the time, one is faced with this stunning realisation that nothing that one's senses reveals to us is actually 'real' (in the sense we always thought it was 'real')?
Well, I cannot speak for other people on this matter--how to comfortably live with these unsettling facts; I can only offer my own personal strategy for handling them. I also cannot claim that my strategy will work for everyone; only that thus far, it seems to be working rather well for myself. ...
Very simply, although I am profoundly aware of this new 'reality' regarding this world of appearances (what Schopenhauer called "Vorstellung"), I try to take occasional 'breaks' from dwelling thereupon; in other words, I try to make room in my life for other activities and engagements which will allow me to periodically "re-engage" with this apparently 'real' world around me. This is almost akin to Campbell's quotation of the Buddhists' advice to "participate with joy in the sorrows of the world". In other words, I continue to work (when able), go shopping, complain about taxes, bad government, arthritis, back pain, and to study the whole plethora of subjects I always have, just as before, as if nothing had changed.
And (truth be known), it is actually quite easy to do this! (By this, I mean fall back into the old habits of thinking.) In fact, for the untrained, such 'slipping back' into the old, comfortable routines and habits of 'normal' thinking is far too easy--uncomfortably easy even. Indeed, post-modern 'Gnostics' such as Timothy Freke say that such 'back-slippage' (especially in the untrained) is a negative end to be avoided at all costs. They apparently would have the new 'reality' (which is actually a non-reality) constantly and uncomfortably burned into everyone’s consciousness--even if it disturbs emotional peace and stability, and leaves persons distraught and unsettled to the point of insanity (or so it would seem). ...
I feel that the lessons of the new 'reality' (and their spiritual implications) need not be pursued quite that rigorously, in order to be effective, and still produce a profound new awareness, and profound life-changes. Of course (as I said), mine is only one opinion; others may (and have the right to) differ. ...
(6 December, 2007)