Buddhist Belief – Everything is Illusion?

“In every moment we are absolutely perfect because our true nature is indestructible. Our true nature cannot be conditioned by anything.”

– Anam Thubten

Over the past few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time studying various writers and teachers on the aspect of Buddhist Belief –that “Everything is Illusion”. I find I’m struggling with this concept. I’m aware my “struggle” is the work of my ego, but knowing that doesn’t seem to relieve the struggle. I keep hearing the words inside of me saying, “How could I possibly be only an illusion? – I’m much too important for that to be true!!” Yeah, right! I need to write something about this “struggle” and see if I can answer the question so many of us studying the Buddhist Belief are asking ourselves — (including me).

Buddhist Belief, meditation, nirvana, mindfulness, karma

The idea of “everything is illusion” is one we in the western world have a lot of trouble wrapping our brains around. Yet, it is a central message in Buddhist Belief and is also central in many other eastern spiritual traditions.

So, is there some way to understand this wisdom?

As a person who is in the stage of life where the aging process, illness and death are more evident, it does become a bit easier to realize that everything IS illusion. The entire story of my life could be on the brink of ending at any time. As I try to look back on all the events of my life up until now, they will often seem dreamlike. Did those things really happen? Will any of it truly make a difference to my consciousness after I’m gone? Does all this exist only in my mind? At the moment of death will all these things, which I think are “who I am” continue, or are they illusionary?

One of the things I was taught many years ago when I first began to follow a Buddhist lifestyle, was to have the attitude when I was meditating to “dissolve the self”. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just be in the present — pay attention to the breath — and the “self” will begin to dissolve.

Well, it IS true. I’ve had it happen many times when I meditate. I have no doubt that many of you who read this blog or who are regular meditators, have also experienced your “self” disappear for some period of time. It might have been for only a few seconds, or it might have been for much longer. Either way, it does happen and it’s almost impossible to describe. It’s the glimpse into the true nature of who we are — our true essence. It’s just awareness.

(Funny thing — as I wrote that last sentence, I had to smile because I’m working on a video for my vlog (http://www.wecould2.com) on the topic of “Just Awareness”. It should be ready soon.)

Isn’t death just another concept? Isn’t it another mental construction? Is it possible (as many Buddhist yogis have claimed), to transcend the notion of so-called “death”? As one of the many teachers I’ve read (don’t remember which one) said, “A flower doesn’t talk and complain when it is starting to decay”. Of course, the flower doesn’t have a mind to construct illusory conditions.

I don’t believe when we say, “everything is illusion” means that nothing exists. I do believe it means we’re living from what our minds have projected and perceived, rather than seeing the way things truly are. Buddhism is very much into seeing the way things are. It seems that Buddha’s understanding of inner awakening was seeing directly the way things are. Buddha taught there are not as many problems in the realm of reality as our mind is tirelessly inventing.

An article I read a few days ago in Shambhala Sun quoted the Nyingmapa Master Lonchenpa as saying, “Now, all I can do is to keep laughing at the silliness of the world and everyone.” I feel he’s talking about how we are living in a world of illusions — of concepts — of ideas — rather than in true reality — true wisdom.

I believe it. Do you?

So, until the next time I am moved to write here again, keep meditating every day and you’ll find you will begin to gain confidence in your own true reality.

Namaste — Be in Peace.

Ron Rink


Here’s another article to share with you.
Monk travels path to find inner peace

By Mindy Rubenstein, Times Correspondent

Published Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thinley Ningpo became a monk at a Buddhist monastery in northern Tibet. He has made pilgrimages to the sacred places of western Tibet, studied under the eminent scholars of his faith and earned the title of Drupon (“retreat teacher”) and the honorific Rinpoche (“precious one”) for the years he has spent teaching and seeking enlightenment.

So when he was asked Tuesday evening if he has ever given in to his “afflictive emotions” — such as anger and fear — he surprised the crowd at Pasco-Hernando Community College by responding in English: “Oh, all the time!”

Ningpo explained that he spent six years in a monastery, which included working with young children. They could be very difficult, he said, and he would have to continuously practice his meditation.

The Buddhist monk spoke largely through an interpreter for two hours at the New Port Richey campus about the goal of finding inner peace, and the obstacles along the way.The greatest barrier to enlightenment, he said, is caring only about one’s own happiness. We need to “lessen our clinging to ourselves,” he said.

“If you really want to be happy,” he said, “help others.”

He spoke at length about meditating on the love from one’s own mother and extending that love to families, friends, community and the world. He also spoke about looking at others who may not have had that loving experience and to see the result, generating compassion for them.

If someone becomes angry, he said, try to understand that the anger is not that person, but rather an emotion of that person.

“Grow inwardly,” he said, so as not to be overpowered by our emotions, and gain “a deeper understanding of the situation at hand.”

While it is easy to get angry, it takes time and patience to cultivate love and compassion, he said.

Even just meditating for five minutes every morning will help, he said. “Train and tame our minds,” he said.

At the end of his discussion, Ningpo welcomed questions from the audience, which included professors of religion, psychology and sociology, as well as students and members of the community.

Several women spoke about alleviating conflicts at home and about raising children by incorporating the Buddhist philosophy. One man asked about teaching children to meditate.

“It establishes a seed for later on,” the monk said.

Tesha Whitman, 27, lives in Lutz and is a student at PHCC in New Port Richey. She asked about her 3-month-old son and how she can eventually keep him from acting out of fear.

Ningpo said matter-of-factly, in accented English, that parents with good dispositions will have children with good dispositions.

Drupon Thinley Ningpo Rinpoche is one of two resident lamas at the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick, Md. He travels the country visiting Buddhist centers like the Port Richey-based Ratnashri Sangha of Tampa Bay, which sponsored his visit.

The monk’s honorary titles mean “precious teacher,” according to PHCC professor of psychology Mike Sadusky, who hosted the event.

“I’ve been trying to get my students to use that title for two or three years now,” Sadusky joked during his warm and light-hearted introduction to Ningpo’s presentation.While he admitted to not be a practitioner of Buddhism and never being able to meditate for more than 30 seconds, Sadusky said told Ningpo, “I feel very blessed to have you here.”

Ron’s Recommended Reading List

I’ve added another book to the list. See below.

Anam Thubten — No Self – No Problem

No Self – No Problem shows how to realize the ultimate meaning of life in each moment by dissolving all notions of ego-identity. It asks that spiritual seekers wake up to their true nature, which is already enlightened. Based on Buddhist wisdom traditions, this easy-to-read book discusses in simple, but profound and inspiring language, how we can live a life full of love, satisfaction, and happiness. No Self – No Problem

Sharon Salzberg — The Kindness Handbook

“It takes boldness, even audacity, to step out of our habitual patterns and experiment with a quality like kindness–to work with it and see just how it might shift and open up our lives. This book is an invitation to do just that.” – From The Kindness Handbook — “The Kindness Handbook

Eckhart Tolle’s amazing best seller, “A New Earth

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s wonderful book, “My Stroke of Insight” — “Nirvana is just a breath away!

And this one by Sharon Salzberg and is entitled: “A Heart as Wide as the World: Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom and Compassion“.

This is a new one for you by Pema Chodron entitled: “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times


Always remember this wonderful quote from Buddha ….

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

~~~ Buddha

Shanti everyone, … (A sanscrit word meaning, “Let there be Peace. Peace, beautiful Peace. Peace within, Peace without. Peace in this world. Peace for all beings.”)

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

~~~ Buddha

Have a peaceful day!! —

Ron Rink


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9 Responses to “Buddhist Belief – Everything is Illusion?”

  1. RB Says:

    Hi there,

    I personally do not follow any religion, so I hope you don’t mind if I make a comment…

    I do not believe anything actually exists, but is only a temporary manifestation of the one thing that truly exists.

    I use dreams to explain my understanding of so-called reality. In a dream, you temporarily forget who you (the waking world you) are, and you accept all the ‘facts’ of the dream. It is only once you wake up from the dream that you remember who you are again and realise you had a dream, no matter how real it felt.

    This waking world in comparison to what happens after Death is like waking up to Absolute Reality. In a sense, Death does not truly exist…yet it does in a temporal way.

    Buddhism was based on Hinduism and shares concepts such as Maya, which I feel is a good description of what humans regard reality to be. It is REAL but only in terms of the temporal world. In relationship to the Absolute Reality, nothing is real.

    A typical human John Smith will think he really is John Smith, a male of a certain age etc. That is an illusion as the you that you think you are, does not actually exist.

    That does not mean that you do not exist. You do…but what we call the Ego is the you that doesn’t. You are everything. You are everyone. You are me. In terms of Absolute Reality. Upon Death, you will remember who you are.

    This is why everything does and does not exist at the same time.

    Anyway, hope that doesn’t confuse you more! :)

  2. JWright Says:

    It’s not that everything is an illusion so much as everything is impermanent.

  3. Plebis Mentis Says:

    “The idea of “everything is illusion” is one we in the western world have a lot of trouble wrapping our brains around.” That is your illusion.

    PS: This explanation is also an illusion. ;)

  4. shangambaba Says:

    Though RB does not belong to any belief system or religion as he puts it, his understanding of the notion of illusion is appreaciable.

    In the Hindu concept there are three distinct levels of reality, the lowest being the reality at the personal level which is a product of our mental projections. This is known as Samsara and may or may not conform to the reality as accepted by others. My mental world is my private one which constitutes my opinions. This realm also takes into account ‘the illusion of a snake found in a rope’ in twilight. This basic mental creation is what is to be discarded at the primary level. This is known in philosophical parlance as Pratibhasika satya. Once this is done away with, the peace and tranquility descends. But that is not all. The collective world which is more permanent than the private one is also relatively real. This is made up of the world around us consisting of physical entities. But this can also be, and should be, transcended and then you end up in Absolute Reality, where everything merges into a continuum and is a partless indescribable, uncomparable entity. This is what is called enlightenment. Unfortunately just by suppressing the first level of Samsara the mental projections, many present Gurus in India claim that they have attained enlightenment which is a wrong and unjustified. The collective world is called ‘Vyahvaarika Satya’ (true only for the convenience of attending to the daily chores). The third Absolute Reality is what is the summum bonum of our lives, which sages like the Buddha, Adi Shankara have attained.

  5. tim Says:

    I’m just starting to think about these ideas. I come from a sciency background and I like to be specific….what then are the illusions in life exactly?

    The illusion that I am important or unimportant?
    The illusion that anything is permanent?
    The illusion that there are rights and wrongs?
    The illusion that reality is what we percieve it to be?


  6. Ron Rink Says:

    Tim — I believe all the examples you mention are illusions. I also don’t believe the statement “Everything is Illusion” can be answered scientifically. I could be wrong about that, but my saying it is also an illusion, isn’t it?

    You know, hundreds of years ago people believed the world was flat. They also believed we were the center of the universe. Were their beliefs reality or an illusion?

    But then, a few years later here we are with the firm belief that the Earth is round, not flat. That we are only a small dot in our galaxy. We discover we are not the center of the Universe, in fact we are just a small dot in one galaxy of millions of other galaxies.

    Is this reality or is it illusion? What will thinkers of future generations have to say? Will our reality seem illusory to them?

    Who knows — it’s all illusion anyway, right?

    In my own example — I used to believe my reality was that I was a strong individual who could do a multitude of tasks every day. That was my reality at that time. Now, I’m sitting at this computer as I wait for delivery of a motorized wheel chair so I can get around my house easier. Nothing stays the same — nothing is permanent. What you think in this moment could become something different in the next moment.

    I just had a scientific thought — It’s about the concept we are all just a bunch of energy. So, if everything we see, touch, smell, taste and hear are just electrical impulses to our brain — are the those things real or are they just what they seem to be.

    I don’t know — that’s too deep for me.

    I meditate every day for about an hour. Sometimes I will do this more than once a day. During my meditation I am always pulling my mind away from all the thinking and into the nothingness of the present moment — a moment without thought. I believe those moments are “everything” and are true reality. Everything else is illusion — just figments of my imagination — stuff my brain dreams up.

    Tim, this is way too complicated for me to go further — it makes me think and my thoughts are really just illusion.

    Have a wonderful day, my friend.



  7. Chris Says:

    You summed it up best.

    Nothingness is “TRUE Reality”. Everything else, is an assumption of what is real.

    Thank you.

  8. Erick Says:

    Isn’t the realization that everything an illusion also illusory?

  9. Henry Says:

    I can’t help thinking as I read about Buddhism that it is simply untrue. The world as it really is is the world we can’t believe is an illusion without dying. Nobody is a real Buddhist. If the world was really an illusion, then really accepting this wouldn’t lead to enlightenment or peace. It would lead to not eating, not thinking, not doing anything. You aren’t real and neither is the world. Why do anything?
    That is why you are having trouble. Not because Buddhism is wisdom higher than yourself, but because its claims contradict the sane reality you can’t let go of–for good reason. Because the world is real! And so are you. And the egotistic thing is to think you can transcend reality. Accept your being, your limitations, your suffering—as real. That puts you in the humble place of your true relation to the world rather than trying to take into your mind what you know is false by your sane common sense and need to live.

    You, like everyone else, believe that the world is real, that your self is real, that there is good and evil in the world, that reason is useful, that love is a primary thing, that people have value, that we are responsible for our actions. Everyone actually believes these things if they are sane. In short, everyone is a Christian.

    Get thee to a monastery…a Franciscan one.

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