When is a box not a box? Why does the mind interpret a straight tube as bent as in this clip?

Is what you see ever what you get? Is what you see even real?

A Hindu philosopher Shankara said that everything that we experience in this world is unreal. He called it maya (not the graphics software!). This word maya is traditionally translated as illusion in English. This is a rather inadequate translation.

I think it was Russel Crowe as Professor John Nash in the film ‘The Beautiful Mind’, who talks about maya. A colleague hits him in the face with a sharp stone and when Nash bleeds asks him whether the blood is maya.

In the Hindu scripture tradition, maya is often explained through this example. We see a coil of rope in the dark and we think it’s a snake. The fear is very real. Blood pressure goes up and panic sets in, till we realize it’s not a snake. Most scholars offer this as a metaphoric explanation of the illusion the mind creates. We see something as something it’s not. That is what maya means, that which is not real.

This  too is an inadequate explanation. The metaphor of the rope as a snake is an optical illusion. Maya is not about any optical illusion.

Shankara implied that life as we experience it is an illusion as it is never certain. Everything changes with time and space. What is real now is not real a moment later. What is real here is not real there.

Buddha too talked about the same thing. He called it anicchha or impermanence.

I would like to call it uncertainty.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that certain pairs of physical properties, such as place and speed, cannot be simultaneously precisely established. In Quantum  Mechanics or Quantum Physics, everything is uncertain. There are no certainties even in science.  There are only probabilities.

What is true of science is true of life. Nothing can be predicted and uncontrolled. Life and nature are uncertain. This is maya.

Many of us obsess about love, money, power and other material possessions, as if we hope to carry them with us forever. Even in this life, what we carry is uncertainty. Even death is uncertain, when it comes to timing.

The only way to deal with maya, the delusion of illusion, the uncertainty of our life is to accept what happens and flow with life. This is the only path to happiness in life.

This is the way of Tao. This is the path of Zen.