I enthusiastically embraced spiritual illusions for 35 years.
I believed in God. I believed that God could be found by following the teachings of divine incarnations, God in human form. I believed I'd live on after my death. I believed in an eternal heaven beyond time and earthly tribulations. I believed spirituality required following certain commandments.
This sounds like I was a Christian, right? No, wrong. I was a member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, an Eastern form of religion known as Sant Mat. Its headquarters were in India, and the organization was led by a guru.
Eventually I came to realize that what I believed was real actually was an illusion. I simply wanted to believe so badly, it took three and a half decades for the truth to break through the dogmas that I held on to so tightly.
I liked the book a lot. I don't agree with everything Thubten says, such as the supposed ability to go beyond pain and suffering by realizing that the notion of a permanent self is an illusion. But I agree with him that our sense of being, or having, a self that's independent of the goings-on in our brain is the most important illusion to come to grips with.
Why? Because our exaggerated sense of ego is the cause of many of our problems. (Thubten might say all of them, but I wouldn't go that far.)
A key reason I deconverted from religiosity to atheism is what Thubten speaks about in his book. Just because someone is on a supposedly "spiritual" path doesn't mean anything. They can still be ignorant, self-centered, and full of themselves. All that changes is that now they believe it is OK to be that way, because God is on their side.
Below are some additional excerpts from the last chapters of "No Self, No Problem." Like I said, I think most of what Thubten says is true. Meditation for me now is exactly what he speaks of: doing as little as possible so I can be in contact with what is true to the greatest degree possible.
I'm no longer aiming at self-realization, because along with modern neuroscience and Buddhism, I no longer believe that my self exists (at least, not as a detached conscious observer separate from the physical brain). And I no longer aim at God-realization, because I no longer believe in God.
This makes me a semi-Buddhist, I guess. But since Buddha himself wasn't a Buddhist -- Buddhism came along long after his death -- I suppose I'm in good company.
Here's the excerpts from Thubten's book.
When we come to the spiritual path we have to be very cautious. We have to be certain that we are not adding another illusion on top of the illusions we already have. When we look into our consciousness we see that we have many illusions.
Everything is an illusion, especially this notion of "I."
The story of my life is an illusion, my birth, my relationships, and so forth. They are all a story just like a movie. If something happens to my brain, much of this story will be immediately forgotten. Therefore in the ultimate sense it is not truly existent. It is illusion.
We have to be careful when we come to the spiritual world so that we do not fall into the trap of accumulating new illusions. Believe it or not there are very beautiful illusions along the path, the journey, and the practices. Sometimes celebrating illusions can be very entertaining but the problem is that sooner or later illusions collapse.
...Here in the West many people like Eastern illusions because they have already become disillusioned with American illusions. Now they are going around trying to buy Eastern illusions. These new illusions may work for a while because we don't have any heartache associated with them, no bad memories.
But ultimately we must dissolve every illusion: American illusions, Eastern illusions, European illusions, and finally our own illusions.
What is our main illusion? The illusion is that I am real. I am truly existent. This final illusion is the one we want to hold on to.
...We are all carrying this imaginary self around day and night. We are trying to secure it at any cost. Sometimes, the spiritual path that we are on might be just another way to enforce it.
Obviously people have been using the notion of God or eternal life as a way to solidify this illusion. Eternal life in heaven somewhere means that this "I" never has to die.
The idea of surrender itself can be very beautiful. It is the direct doorway to the truth. It is the powerful art of dropping the self right away.
People often have the tendency to surrender to something or someone outside of themselves. Surrendering to the guru is not true surrender, because then you become the surrenderer, which is another version of self. For that very reason, Buddha discouraged people from surrendering to his personality. Of course, we always surrender to his wisdom.
The problem is that when we surrender to his personality we don't surrender to his wisdom. He told devotees not to take even his words on blind faith. He said we should question them before accepting them as such.
...So meditation ultimately stops everything. We stop pushing that rolling snowball and we stop pedaling the bicycle. We don't do anything because there is nothing we can do. From that moment on, we are no longer in charge. The truth is in charge, From that moment on truth is going to voluntarily destroy the foundation, the basis of all sorrow, all misery.
Truth does that work for us. All we have to do is stop everything. That is what meditation is all about.
In the ancient times, spiritual seekers used various methods to practice meditation, Yet, there is only one meditation. That is a state of nondoing. When we stop trying to get somewhere and let go of all of our inner exertions, surprisingly the ineffable truth reveals itself to us.
Then that's it. There is nothing else to be found.
...We have a egoic mind that is trained and habituated to do something, to construct this world of illusion. Ego is working very hard. Ego is always talking. Ego is making up stories for the sake of perpetuating all of the stories of the notion of "I." "I" am meditating. "I" am truly existent. "I" am truly meditating and now "I" am getting somewhere. "I" am chasing enlightenment.
This very thought is just ego's way of perpetuating itself.