26. Is Everyone In My life Only An Illusion?

Q: Robert, U.G. Krishnamurti said, “You think that there is ‘somebody’ who is thinking your thoughts, ‘somebody’ who is feeling your feelings—that’s the illusion.”

So does this mean that everyone in my life is also an illusion? When a loved one dies, what is it that really happens? How can I think about death differently (instead of death being a bad or sad thing)?

A: It’s not my place to tell you how to think about death. I could show you some camera technique or how to cook a vegan dinner, but I cannot teach you how to think about death.

Clearly, the body dies and, once dead without its powers of immunity and other kinds of self-defense, is consumed quickly by other organisms. Whether anything having to do with “myself,” or personality, survives, which seems to be the crux of your question, that is a complete and total mystery. Anyone who claims to understand that mystery, or even to know anything at all about it, is, in my view, self-deluded, a liar, or both. This goes equally for the jnani-style gurus who tell you that the life you lead is only an illusion but that they have “Truth,” the Christians who claim to know that Jesus awaits you in Heaven along with your deceased loved ones, or the scientific types who claim that it all comes down to electrical impulses in the brain.

As I understand the words from U.G. Krishnamurti you just quoted, the point is not that life is an illusion or that the death of a loved one is an illusion. Clearly life exists and death is a part of it. To deny that makes no sense at all.

To get to the heart of the matter, consider the oceans that cover our dear Earth. We call them “oceans,” but really they comprise just one body of water divided into areas given different names by convention, not by dint of any essential difference. The ocean tastes of salt no matter where you sample it.

The same is true, we really know, of the aliveness we are and that we see all around us. There is only one life, one aliveness, that manifests as countless bodies. This is not some spiritual mumbo-jumbo, but an obvious observable fact.

None of those bodies, including the one with your name attached to it, has a separate, free-standing existence. Without the other living beings, along with the inanimate framework that supports those living beings, you would not exist at all.

The human body/mind we call “myself” is not a neatly separate, self-sufficient island. It is a complex ecosystem—a “social network”—containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. In fact, the majority of the cells in the human body are not human at all. Bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells.

Imagine the actuality of existence as an ocean. That living ocean—the mysterious true nature of which seems impervious to the explanations of both religion and philosophy—manifests in different ways, one of which is an endless procession of thoughts in human consciousness—also an utter mystery, regardless of claims to the contrary. Thoughts are like waves breaking on the shore and then disappearing forever, one after another after another after another, endlessly.

So, with that as background, thoughts are simply there. They exist, and we don’t know what they are or what they mean. You are not making thoughts, any more than you are beating a heart or digesting food. Thoughts arise mysteriously, from whence no one knows. Like a breaking wave, a thought has its moment, then is gone forever, only to be followed by the next wave, and the next, and the next, and the next . . .

From the point of view of ego or the sense of individuality, some waves seem meaningful, and others do not, but that is only a point of view. You mentioned death. That’s a good example. People die every day—millions of them—and we accept that, quite rightly, as part of life, part of nature—no big deal. But when someone we love dies, or someone upon whom we depend in one fashion or another, well, that’s a different story entirely. Then we feel the loss and we grieve. Perhaps we miss that person or other sentient companion for years afterwards. Inanimate objects can be replaced. Animate companions are irreplaceable. Such events really matter, despite the silly claims of certain “spiritual” ones. Gone is gone.

You ask what “really happens.” What really happens is that a cherished companion is not there any more. Why would you not grieve such a loss? If my right hand were amputated, I would certainly miss it and grieve that loss, wouldn’t you? Do you think it would help if someone advised me about “how” to see that such an event was not a bad or sad thing? Of course it is a sad thing. I had a handI used constantly, and now I don’t have it anymore. That seems pretty sad to me. Gone is gone.

So, as I understand this, U.G. was not saying that thoughts are an illusion, nor was he saying that people are illusions. He was saying that the idea of a separate myself who has thoughts is an illusion. Thoughts and thinker are not two separate items, but two perspectives on the same process, which is the process of life.

Years ago, with a sudden quite unaccustomed clarity, I saw the same thing. Ever since, there is no more “I” in the sense of a fixed person to whom things happen, but only an ongoing experience called “myself” — including thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that move like an ocean — with no destination, no agenda, no grasping, and no understanding at all of the deepest mysteries. It is a beautiful and equanimous way of life from my perspective, but does that make “Robert” impervious to grief? Of course not. Gone is gone forever.

Probably this does not help you one bit. That’s life, as they say. That’s the way it goes. My understanding is my understanding, not yours. I have no “help magic.” I can mention my understanding, and even discuss it, but you get what you get when you get it.