Moviegoers in a theater sit forward on their seats — sometimes anxiously, sometimes in eager anticipation, their emotions deeply involved in the activity on the screen. Fearfully they may anticipate the worst. Delightedly they may expect the best. To them, it all seems very real.
Paramhansa Yogananda told us he’d once gone to see “The Song of Bernadette,” a movie about the life of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, France. “I was deeply moved,” he said, “for there were many similarities between her life and my own. And then I chanced to look up, and saw the light coming out of the projection booth. Everything taking place on the screen was an illusion, created by variations of shadows and light. Such is human existence. It is all God’s light producing everything. Yet how completely real it all seems to human beings.”
The “cosmic motion picture” is true not only to two human senses, sight and hearing, but to all five. It is presented to us three-dimensionally, and includes the illusion of smell, taste, and touch. And yet, just as the light emanating from the projection booth in a movie house produces mere images of reality, so also does God’s light produce mere appearances. For all its persuasiveness, life is as fundamentally unreal as any movie.
The universe is only a projection of shadows and light. Everything is produced by God. Indeed, not only does He produce a movie true to the five senses, He also writes the script, directs the action, plays all the parts, composes and plays all the music, and even provides the audience!
Learn to say: “What a fine picture!”
When the English novelist, Charles Dickens, was writing his famous tale, The Old Curiosity Shop, he realized at a certain point that it would be necessary to the integrity of his story for Little Nell, his main character, to die. It is said that when this understanding came to him he walked the streets of London for hours, weeping. Yet he had no artistic choice but to “kill” her. Otherwise, he would have been untrue to his own story line.
God, Yogananda said, also weeps for mankind: for man’s follies and sufferings. He weeps for human wickedness, also, for though it produces grief for the recipients of wickedness, it produces even more grief, in time, for the wicked themselves. Yet the Lord lets His show go on. He created it without any sense of personal involvement. The drama of every individual’s life must work its slow way, by however winding a road, to its eventual, inevitable conclusion: reabsorption in the bliss of Satchidananda.
Yogananda once said: “When we go to a tragic motion picture and see death and suffering on the screen, we may leave saying, ‘What a fine picture!’ Why then can we not say as much of this motion picture of life? For the truth is, we are only shadow players on the screen of life. We are immortals sent here on earth to act our roles and then depart. We should not take the play seriously. Whatever picture is showing, we should not let it disturb our minds.
“Let us just say, ‘This is a good picture. I am learning much from this experience.’ If you can face life with this attitude, you shall see the light of eternal bliss dancing through all life’s experiences.”
The Story of Narada
Though an illusion, life is the most convincing movie of all. The Indian scriptures relate a story that allegorically describes the illusory nature of human existence, and how easy it is to become ensnared in that illusion.
Narada, an ancient Indian sage, after years of meditation, realized God in the form of Vishnu. When the Lord appeared to him as Vishnu, he asked if Narada would like to request from Him a boon.
“Yes, Lord,” replied Narada. “Please help me to understand how people get caught up in Your maya—the cosmic delusion. It all seems so simple to me, now that I’m out of it. How can people be so foolish? Help me to understand that power of delusion which keeps humanity roaming in spiritual ignorance for so many countless incarnations.”
“Very well, My son,” replied the Lord. “Come, let us go for a walk.”
As they went, they came to a desert. The day was hot, and the sand made it much hotter. After some time, both of them felt the need for water to drink. And then, on the horizon, they saw a wisp of smoke rising, giving evidence of a village.
“Narada,” said Vishnu, “I am very thirsty. Would you go to that village and fetch me some water?”
“Certainly, Lord!” replied Narada.
He trudged over the hot sand until he reached the small village. At the first house he came too, he knocked on the door. It was answered by a beautiful maiden. Anciently familiar she seemed to him. In an instant he forgot everything else! Her parents, who were at home, welcomed him as their own. He and the maiden were married, and set up a home and business in another part of the village. Years passed. They had a son; then another one.
After twelve years, his wife gave birth to their third child. While this third one was still a baby, there came all of a sudden a flash flood from a swollen river high up in the hills. In little more than a moment the flood wiped out their home, their business — the whole village. Narada escaped with nothing but his little family and the clothes on their backs.
As the flood waters rose all around them, they set off together in desperate search of high ground. They waded through the swirling water, as high as their knees. Narada held one child by each hand, and slung their baby over one shoulder. His wife struggled along by his side.
Suddenly Narada stumbled slightly on a submerged stone. As he tried hastily to regain his balance, the baby slipped off his shoulder into the water. Desperate to save it, he released his other two children’s hands and reached out to rescue the baby. Alas, it was swept away before he could catch it. The older boys, lacking his strong grip, were swept away also. At that moment Narada’s wife, her knees buckling with grief, fell also and was carried off in the flood. In just a few minutes Narada had lost everything he had worked so hard, over twelve years, to create. Despondent, his will failed him, and he collapsed, letting the water take him, too.
Long afterward, it seemed, he came back to consciousness. Looking around him, he saw on all sides what looked like a muddy expanse of water. “I must,” he thought, “have been swept onto a little mound.” Then, recalling his tragedy, he began softly to weep.
“Narada!” sounded a voice nearby. Why did it seem so familiar? He looked about him again, and realized that what he’d seen around him was not muddy water, but a vast expanse of desert sand.
“Narada!” came the voice again. He looked up. To his amazement, he saw Vishnu standing there.
“Narada, what happened?” inquired Vishnu. “Half an hour ago I sent you for a drink of water, and now I find you sleeping in the sand. What has happened?”
For all its persuasiveness, life is as unreal as any movie. There is no substance at all to the manifested universe—except inasmuch as movies are real: as appearances, merely. The vast drama of time, space, and active life is a colossal fiction!
From Conversations with Yogananda by Swami Kriyananda and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained, by Paramhansa Yogananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers.
A World of Virtual Reality
by Swami Kriyananda
Paramhansa Yogananda stated that spiritual progress can be greatly accelerated by keeping one’s mind focused all the time at the point between the eyebrows, the Christ center. However, one problem with visualizing the Christ center during activity is that it represents mental fixity. Everything we do outwardly, however, involves motion. It is difficult enough even while meditating to bring the mind to a still focus. During activity, this difficulty is increased a thousandfold.
Here, then, is a suggestion: Visualize a video screen at the point between the eyebrows! Project your mind through the screen, as if through a window, into a world of “virtual reality.” That is in fact what everything around us is: a world of virtual reality. It is an illusion, simply—more real to us than any video we see only because it is faithful to all five of the senses, and not only to the senses of hearing and sight. Nevertheless, it is not more real, fundamentally, than any video movie.
As you act and interact with the world around you, and with others, project your consciousness and energy out to them through the “video screen” of your spiritual eye!
I must say I am a complete novice to this philosophy but intrigued. It seems to me that if all of this life is an illusion, what is the point? It seems that any response to this life is rather pointless if it is but a dream, and there is therefore no reality. Gary
Thanks for your email and your response to the article “Step Outside the Cosmic Motion Picture” by Swami Kriyananda. I can understand your point of view: “if it’s all illusion, what is the point?” But you might be missing the point. In this article Swami doesn’t say “there is therefore no reality” he is saying that God is the reality, not this manifested universe that we think of as real. I hope this is helpful
Joy to you,
Very inspiring and uplifting. This article reinforced the ideas that I have been struggling with recently after my mother departed for the astral world. Thank you, Swamiji