Is Life an Illusion? Can a Child Have Two Faiths? Apocalypse Now?

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“To these perennial questions, I offer some answers—not to close a conversation but to broaden one. I do not claim to know anything you don’t know, but if I can help you remember what you already do know, I am blessed.”

To these perennial questions, I offer some answers—not to close a conversation but to broaden one. I do not claim to know anything you don’t know, but if I can help you remember what you already do know, I am blessed. I have a Hindu friend who says that life is maya—illusion—but if life is maya, then nothing matters. Am I misunderstanding him? A Hindu swami explained maya to me this way: Imagine that you wake up in the middle of the night to find a deadly snake coiled next to you on your bed. Filled with terror at the thought of being bitten, you spend the night frozen in fear. But as sunlight floods your room the next morning, you discover that the “snake” is really a belt you forgot to put away the night before. Maya is mistaking the belt for a snake and living in fear of your own illusion. Does the snake matter? No. Does the belt? Yes. It is your perception of life, not life itself, that is illusory. But there is more: As the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi taught: “The world is an illusion. Only Brahman (God) is real. The world is Brahman.” The fully awake person does not divide the world into re …

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has...

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