Disillusionment and Reality

On my holiday, having a few days to think about other things other than work, I turned to my (our) perceptions of the world. Being in the Far East it was easy to realise that our perceptions are vastly different – even within a country or society. Most of all it occurred to me that we seem to think that the way we describe things is the way it is. Strangely, our images and metaphors, analogies and legends become more than what they were conceived to be, but they become reality – and thereby they become illusions.

Fortunately I had podcasts from Alan Watts with me, who certainly coloured my thoughts and guided my thoughts by giving me an insight into how the Hindu concept of reality uses a different method than the western, Judaeo-Christian-Islamic concept does, not to mention Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Curiously, along the main road from Colombo, Sri Lanka, I had all of these various concepts dazzle at me in the form of statues, temples, churches and even neon-lights, as we drove down south. I had already experienced the amassing of thousands of believers some seven years ago, as we set off on a round-trip on a Sunday morning, seeing pilgrims all dressed in white, walking to their respective place of worship and covering the road with their presence.

In a poor country, made even poorer by the tsunami and thirty years of military presence due to the Tamil uprising, this is all but to be expected, and the faces of the people revealed to me that their concerns were not very different to mine, but perhaps their outlook on life was. I watched them, myself recovering from a bout of sinusitis and the weariness that came from my stressful lifestyle, and I had the feeling that they were able to shoulder a great deal more than I was, simply by being adjusted to the struggle of existence and having a realistic goal – and perhaps by being free of some of the illusions we have in the west.

I came to my senses a little after speaking to our guide, who told us he was a catholic but who curiously bowed every time we passed a bodhi-tree. I was confronted with the narrow-mindedness I was accustomed to at home, far from an ideal of enlightenment, and this feeling accompanied me for the whole four days. Something had changed in the seven years we had been away, although I found myself thinking that I had been perhaps freed from an idealism that had been an illusion all of that time. But Alan Watts probably had the answer for my dilemma, when he said that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.

In particular, he had a peculiar and humorous way of persuading people that religion and world-views should never be taken seriously, because they weren’t meant to be. How do you feel about that?


…seeing that wars are waged and citizens are slaughtered in the name of religion, he might have a point - religion was originally about guidance/a way oif life, so when did it get so out of hand/be abused in the hands of fanatics… it should bring a community together, not rip them apart!

Hi Bob,

I enjoyed the evaluation of your travels. Perspectives are garnered through one’s environment and experiences. Is one perception more declarent over another? It is a bit tough to develop one on an objective world truth.

Some people can see a bit better through the veils of doctrinal avocations than in the immediate world they live in. Thinking through determinative influences often binds the mind in where it chooses to be satisfied. Looking outside those confines is a bit out of the comfort zone in which missionaries say go in their allegiance of God. Though they stand to their core beliefs in a place they decide to do their work, they often try to embrace the culture which surrounds them. In doing this it allows them to get a better understanding of the parishioners they hope to obtain as they introduce God in their lives.

Religion and world views will stay on the fringes of concern because people invest their existence of where they reside. Our minds can not fathom very much beyond our own existence due to the information overload which could occur. Even if we did extend ourselves outside our realm we would still be shackled by our material values we thought we left behind.

I admire purveyors of compassion such as Mother Teresa and Ghandi because they found a way to leave hindering shackles somewhat aside for the betterment of mankind, but I’m sure they sheltered some political views of their own. It would seem impossible to let such affectations be non-influencial because it is the makeup of our being. The only person I could see to be the least affected would be Jesus. Because His thoughts were not of this world, but the spirit.

Elated to hear of another person that sees it this way.
And also, remember, people have to take it seriously as it happens when it does; it is why they do, that is the justification for doing so.

But for the thinkers; indeed.

I’ve always agreed with that, but I’ve never sat down to analyze what it really means. As with most things, it probably means to balance ourselves between being serious and realizing what a small cog in the universal wheel we are. But saying that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously is completely different from saying religion and world-views should never be taken seriously. It goes from the balance that not being so serious can give our perspectives, to the extreme. An non-sequitur if there ever was one.

But world-views, philosophies, and unfortunately the “revealed” religions, give us our morality. So unless we’re willing to concede that murder, rape, false accusations, theft and the lot aren’t serious issues (and we aren’t), we must come to some sort of agreement on what is serious and what isn’t. Rule of thumb, keep it simple, and the first order of simplicity is to concern ourselves as a society only with what we do to each other, not to ourselves–and by “do”, I mean to cause true harm to each other’s lives and property.

Perhaps religion could be taken seriously, but not literally? Religion (like travel) at its best takes us outside ourselves, and introduces us to worlds of difference. That’s a great way to begin to lighten up, but we don’t lighten up unless we take the disciplines involved seriously. I like ironies like that, for instance that it’s possible work hard to become more spontaneous. It takes discipline to foster spontaneity.

I’ve always liked my seriousness to have some humor underneath it (i.e. any great Bergman film), and good humor to me is always also decidedly serious (i.e. The Life of Brian).

Hi Magsj,

I think that the fanatics are really the problem – instead of dealing tentatively with world views, Jewish, Christian and Islamic leaders have often been overconfident and presumptuous, which is precisely what their prophets warned them not to do. In fact, it is only when you realise that it is our moralistic judgement which, rather than making us better, gives all of those things that we really want to avoid room and power that you begin to see how doomed to failure the imperial missionaries were in their intention to spread “the faith”. Very often their misguidance gave rise to voodoo, black magic and other imprudent caricatures of a holier than thou mentality.

Hi LB,

Thanks, I will one day get down writing seriously about our travels. I find that it is by being interested in other environments and cultures that I start realising where I come from and what I have. I like to get the other perspective which is sometimes a little like looking in the mirror. If you haven’t done that for a while you don’t recognise yourself at first. Coming to terms with what you see is sobering, but it helps in the long run.

I wish that were so and probably it was in more cases than I know of, but what tends to remain is the bad example. The question that has always come to my mind is, “How do we know that God isn’t already working in people of other cultures?” I explained it to a friend in this way, who obviously had great difficulty in accepting that the heretic he was talking to was a friend:

God is a phenomenon that I can’t just present to people and say “See!” You can’t present God at wish and prove your point in that way. Instead, we are a little like the physicist at the blackboard explaining the universe, writing or reading formulae used to show what reality is like without being able to present it to experience. If our formulas are sound, we may convince, but more important is how we ourselves react to this revelation. I have met very astute Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and people of various other traditions and we have spoken, finding many subjects on which we agree. We differ in the narrative and the stories we use as formulas to describe our religious experience. Of course, a Hindu has no problem with Jesus. The Buddhists I spoke to also didn’t have a problem with stories of healing and miracles. Even the possibility that Jesus was a Buddha didn’t seem to pose any problem – it was just a question whether there were any indications that it was so.

I think that it isn’t so much of an information overload, but rather that we hate to break habits … we have a particular way of explaining things and if someone comes and tells us that they have a different explanation it is as though our brain is haemorrhaging rather than use a different areal to take up that information.

Whereas I appreciate your use of words to express this, I doubt whether Jesus’ thoughts were as other-worldly as we think, rather he seems to just bring things into perspective from a different angle. I think that what was “spiritual” about Jesus was his freedom from those things that bind us. The fact that he wasn’t married, refused to put his safety first, denied his support to the militant, criticised the pious and embarrassed the authorities just shows that he was doing what he wanted, even though he was humble and serene, but this made him unpredictable.

However, I believe that this “divine calling” or “birth from above” or however you want to call it, stems from a disillusionment and an awakening to reality as it is rather than how convention would have us adhere to. All people who contradict convention are either considered harmless lunatics or dangerous maniacs, or both. The way to deal with such people two thousand years ago was to have them killed and wipe your hands of them.

Hi TheStumps,

Isn’t it strange that we look for some paranormal explanation for someone who is free from all of this, rather than accepting that the one who isn’t normal is how it should be? In fact, he shows us how wrong we are by just being different – and encourages others to do the same. Be different and make a difference!


Alan Watts went a step further and asked what we actually “do”, when we become “serious”. It is often more connected to a facial expression that anything profound and is like trying to stop laughing in order to tie your shoe laces. Being serious is really a way of concentrating for a moment instead of laughing your head off. He encouraged people to stand up in the morning in front of a mirror, put their hands on their hips and then laugh out loud for about five minutes. He said he had this advice from a Zen-Master.

He also considered life to be more of a dance rather than a journey. It has more to do with dancing to the music than getting anywhere. What could be inferior about that? It reminds me of that Irish-Christian song, “The Lord of The Dance”.

I know that it sounds strange but where do all of these atrocities come from? Morality tells you what is good, but also provides you with its opposite. We fight about morality because our idea of good is the others idea of evil and of course the other person must be deranged to not see that! But nobody actually wants to be evil, except the deranged. It is overcoming morality which is the aim of religion, and the only way is by learning to love others as we love ourselves or applying the golden rule.

Hi Anon,

Yes, that is one way of saying it, but as I said above, what is being serious? What use is a grave or sombre disposition?


My wife and myself hold two different spiritual perspectives, neither of them belong to any established theology; they are simply our own each.
We simply accept this is a given of our natures; that we have different needs spiritually and will therefore have different spiritual descriptions.

I’ve been living in Turkey now for about 15 years, and have lost a lot of illusions over the years. Soil is soil, people are people, beliefs are beliefs - all candles clutched in the void. Rather than making me ‘deep’, it’s just made me strangely empty.

I don’t know very much about buddhism, but one understanding that i might have is this:
Once we reach enlightenment, we find nothing.
Emptiness is the true nature of all phenomenon.
Thoughts are untimately unnecissary.

I’m not sure how much that means to you,
but it’s something i heard at a buddhism forum.

Teachers of various sorts often encourage conservative people to exaggerate, because it’s only through exaggeration that they overcome their inhibitions. If you want to sing well, you have to exaggerate at first, and feel ridiculous. If you want to ski well, you have to learn to bend your knees to the point of feeling like you’re sitting on the toilet while you’re skiing. So I like Watts’s teacher’s advice regarding laughing in the mirror as a practice. Practicing emotional variation also makes us more socially flexible, so that we can dance with (to use Watts’s phrase) what’s appropriate in any given situation. So a grave or sombre disposition can be as appropriate or inappropriate as laughter or smiling. I think it’s the flexibility that’s important - the ability to not get stuck.

I’d love to hear more about your travels by the way. You too Tab.

I don’t like religions (and organized religions, to be exact) because they are usually the big machine to indoctrinate and maintain such illusions.
It’s absurd.

And among many religions, monotheistic religions are a bit worse than others because they tend to make people less empathic and more certain of absurd beliefs.
You don’t know the grip and extent of such influence unless you grew up outside and observing it or you get disillusioned of almost all absurd beliefs.
It’s like a contagious disease.

Other than monotheism, confucian schools and communism are somewhat similar.
Country/region/culture influenced by one or more of these would produce what I call as “slave mentality”, among other side effects.

And even without these religion and ideologies, we have the thick wall of common sense and other cultural conditioning, as well as biological tendencies.

In short, we are jailed in the resistant multiple layer of restraining illusions.
And for people contaminated/infected by monotheism and other absurdities, it’s lot more difficult to become aware of this kind of situation, and they don’t know. They don’t know how bad it is.

Hi Stumps,

That sounds sensible to me. I have a leaning towards Buddhism but I was brought up Christian and I haven’t found any reason to change that. I think that it really has to do with finding a vocabulary with which you feel comfortable – although this opinion often changes when I hear some Christians using those same words …

Hi Tab,
Long time, no read …

I think that Judaism was leading people away from Idolatry and Jesus led people away from Morality, teaching them that their heart knows what to do. In the end, it is about seeing things as they are, rather than how we think they should be, so you are probably “sobering up” to how it really is. I’m not sure that this makes me empty, except perhaps in the Buddhist sense that Dan wrote about, but it certainly means that a lot of conversations become bland or become a kind of hide-and-seek, looking for the real person behind the façade.

Hi anon,

I’m working on it – in between long days at work. Watts makes me think about the Buddha-figure named Hotei or Pu-Tai, probably best known as the Laughing Buddha, although I believe that the figure is based on some eccentric Chinese Zen monk rather than Buddha. Watt’s was laughing at his façade, knowing full well that he wasn’t able to change it so laughing was better than crying.

Hi Nah,

I can appreciate your opinion, sometimes I’m fed up with them as well. However, I feel that it has been the superficiality of our age that has made religion seem ridiculous. When there is no depth it can’t hold anything and religion becomes a caricature of the original wisdom from which it came. However, there are some so wildly absurd beliefs that just prove my point.

I think that the “slave mentality” has grown from a lack of understanding humility. Humility is of course something that is looked down upon, but how often people fall from their high horses …


I too have leaning towards Buddhism and was brought up Christian.
However, I finally found reason to change that very recently when I deeply examined my core personal ambitions with spirituality.
I found I simply had no use for Christianity at this point; not that it was useless outright, but that it was the wrong tool for my interests.
Christianity is a religion of examining the relationship between oneself and their divine concepts; to use broad terms.
However, as I reached spiritual conclusion in respect to how I felt about the divine concepts, I grew in interest in the relationship of myself to myself; Buddhism (and it’s kinship).
But for other reasons better discussed elsewhere, I moved beyond Buddhism and kin into just simply accepting that I have my own complete perspective that doesn’t fit anywhere really.

And yeah…part of what was annoying was exactly as you state; the shared terminology with vastly different perspectives among many Christians compared against what I held the concepts as, was definitely not enjoyable after a while…not to mention having to listen to the constant turmoil of behavioral misrepresentations brought about by the simple fact of over-population of the most popular format of religious expression in the western hemisphere (meaning throw a stone and it’s easier to hit an idiot since the population is so large and average).

Hi TheStumps,

Interesting, but I learnt the value of having no spiritual ambitions from Buddhism – not even having a religion, which is what I believe Christ was bringing to his people as the goal of Judaism, portrayed in the New Covenant of Jeremiah. If you look at Jer. 31:31f you see that this is hardly a religion as we know it, but something new – and something that Christ knew would cause disruption amongst the people, even down to family ties. It is curious to know that early Christians were regarded as non-believers by the Roman officials and heretics by the Jews because they didn’t subscribe to their particular idea of religion. It sounds familiar.

I agree that religion is about relationships and that “God” stands for the mysterious flow that has presented us with a planet teeming with life and an awareness that is aware of itself, so that we ask why and try to present models of explanation – each using symbols and images that are familiar to us, circumscribing and describing experience and discoveries, imagining and hoping, seeking a prime principle or prime mover(s) and most important of all, securing ideas that have proven reliable.

Amongst all of this, there had to be someone who showed us that we have to look inwardly probably more than looking outwardly. It seems as though we are connected to this planet in ways that that will probably only become apparent when we try to leave it and live elsewhere. So to see ourselves as a component of a larger organism, whether as a gardener or as a scavenger, whether a low or high creature, whether as a child or as a sheep, we are part of our environment just as the environment is part of us. However you see this, you come to one insight: We have to adapt to the way it is, or suffer and finally become extinct because we are not able to.

I find it difficult to watch people struggle to make their reality fit their beliefs, instead of using their tradition to understand reality. I know many evangelicals who suffer because of this and they take on a bipolar behaviour with peaks and troughs, which at some time takes a hold of their psyche and which disrupts their psychological or physical wellbeing. I know some people who are so unhappy as social workers because the reality they are confronted with leads them to finally diagnose the people they are supposed to support as “sinners” who need God. Selflessness is only seen as a component of their missionary activity with strictly defined boundaries, but not as an expression of the love of ones neighbour in the sense of the Good Samaritan who didn’t ask why the poor fellow was left bleeding on the roadside.

Inadvertently they condemn – the role of Satan in the Judaeo-Christian tradition – and are no longer servants of their humble and compassionate Saviour but have changed sides. Of course the danger is there for anyone to do this, but the Christian doctrine is so pointedly against such behaviour that you’d think it was clear to Christians, even if it is in hindsight, that they become adversaries in that moment.


I do think religion has been superficial and ridiculous (other than some exceptions) regardless of ages.
I guess it was pretty superficial and ridiculous 2000 years ago, for example.

And I think the superficiality comes from superficial believing, or becoming sure/certain of too many things only because its written in badly translated old books, because religious sales person said so, and/or any other naive, unexamined, and/or non-experimental reasons.
(Bible and Sutra parrots are easily identifiable example)

Aren’t you riding high horse when you talk about humility? :slight_smile:

Anyway, what I called “slave mentality” is the tendency to follow what they don’t necessarily like/prefer/love/desire.
In other words, these people tend to follow someone, some ideology/religion/tyrant/whatever in the superficial manner, without the participation of their full thought/emotion.
They are lying to their own preferences and desires, and I don’t think that makes them happy and I don’t think unhappy people would make others happy.

I’ve written a thread a bit related to this one (at least in the thought chain/pool of mine).
Please read if you are interested. viewtopic.php?f=1&t=171300

I think my brain cell or something has made a tiny but important connection while I was thinking about certainty, reality, disillusionment, and so on, and it’s partially because of this thread you made.
So, I would like to thank you for helping me. :slight_smile:

Hi Nah

I think that your point of view has rubbed off from what has been taken to be normal amongst those with a western education, namely that we must have progressed throughout the centuries. Fact is that we are only now beginning to realise how far the ancients had delved into the human psyche (soul) and how much our own ideas have twisted the meaning of those texts. You see, as you mentioned, it was often western missionaries who translated many ancient texts, putting many of the statements into their own context – which they couldn’t believe was only one of many possibilities.

Psychoanalysts have started praising the Desert Fathers for example, whereas about thirty years ago I heard them ridiculed by protestant preachers. The same goes for many sources of wisdom – which are of course particularly pertinent to the pre-scientific and pre-industrial age. Just because we can’t take they words literally, doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them. The same goes for recital, which, it has been proved, is essential to preserve wisdom and tradition in a society that can’t carry books about with them or can’t risk that their tradition be stolen with the books.

There is always that danger, but again, if you can appreciate the value of humility, you have a better chance of being a “beholder”.

I would agree with you, but it is up to each of us to check ourselves, because I believe that the same can be said for any conviction, even if it is of a scientific nature. Look where a militant Darwinism put us in the 20th Century.

I’ll answer that one there if thats OK with you …

Each exchange is a chance to learn, so its mutual, and therefore I thank you too.