• Listen to today’s talk
    Our Awakening to Transcen…

“Appearances are Deceptive” (II)

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 7th October 1972


From our childhoods onwards we hear this phrase, ‘Appearances are Deceptive’. Our minds are so conditioned by constantly hearing the phrase that we do not try to discover whether indeed that appearances are deceptive, we take it for granted that appearances are deceptive. Not only us and the ordinary people of the world as a whole take that statement for granted, but great philosophers, thinkers, teachers have also said that appearances are deceptive. If you look at various religious philosophies, they talk of this world as the unreal and that world (whatever that world may be) as the real, that we are deceived by everything that we see and experience in this world. And because of that deception we imagine that this world is the only world or the real world, whereas in actual fact they say that that world is the real world. So we get this separation between appearance and reality upheld, and it has been upheld for centuries by great thinkers, great philosophers, great teachers. But I think it will be worthwhile if we investigate this carefully, putting aside all our preconceptions and assumptions about it, and bearing in mind that we are so conditioned mentally that our own mind as we consider it will throw up all kinds of arguments about it.

Let us try this afternoon to be perfectly calm and quiet and consider the matter, not merely discuss it like two intellectuals taking two opposite sides and arguing away about it, but consider it deeply with that investigating attitude of mind which is concerned with seeing the truth. If appearance is different from reality and if appearance deceives us with respect to reality, then it could well be that there are two quite separate things which have no relationship between them, apart from the fact that the one deceives us and the other is not supposed to deceive us. That would postulate something like two unconnected, unrelated Absolutes. Is that possible? If that were so, we ourselves would live in an everlasting split condition, since we experience both, or at least we think we experience both, appearance and sometimes reality.

This is extremely important. If there are two Absolutes, one of which is deceptive and the other is supposed to be not deceptive, only one of them is the truth, the fact. But if only one of them is the fact, how can two Absolutes exist at all, appearance on the one hand, reality on the other hand?

Let us look at another aspect of this. Because I am constituted as I am and have my various sense organs, whatever I see or hear or touch or in the ordinary way experience through the senses is something which appears to me. We will be using the word ‘appearance’ to cover all that is conveyed to us through the ordinary senses, the five senses that we have. When something is conveyed to us through the senses, it is not a direct perception of that which sends us this impression about itself. It is not a direct perception. There is an image made on the screen of our own mind. So when I see an object, hear a sound or taste something, I am not directly experiencing it, I get a mental impression, a psychical impression, and it is that of which I am conscious. My mind inevitably does that, it cannot escape doing that because the mind, whatever that may be, works through this instrument which we call the brain. The brain is a reality. You can crack open my skull and take out my brains, there they are! Of course they would not be of any use afterwards if you tried to put them back! But the fact remains that the brain is the instrument which co-ordinates the sense impressions which go via the nerves and so forth, and because we have been trained from infancy to speak our own language and associate words with the different impressions of sight, hearing and so on, we make a picture, this co-ordinated picture of that which we say we see or hear or touch, etc. It is this which is actually in my own consciousness the appearance. Bear that in mind very carefully.

Supposing a million people are watching a particular event for say five minutes. If all those million people now gave an account in detail of the appearance which they saw, those million accounts would be different. But obviously the event in itself was just one thing. How is it then that the million accounts are different? The particular individual is more responsible for what the appearance is and means to him than the appearance itself, the event itself, which took place.

Now let us look at the other side which we call reality. What do I call reality? Something which I conceive of and postulate as reality. I say that this is only an appearance, or I say that the underlying reality is so-and-so. What is this underlying reality, assuming that there is something which is an underlying reality? Is it the underlying reality that I am talking about, or my conception of it which I name the underlying reality? Again it comes back to me, the person. It is I who am, as we say in the ordinary way, seeing the appearance, it is I who am seeing and/or postulating the reality. Like the hundreds of millions of people in the world I say, “The appearances are deceptive, the reality is so-and-so.” But who is making the separation and where does the separation actually lie? Does the separation actually lie in the fact in itself or does the separation lie in my own imperfect, muddled mode of awareness, mode of consciousness? Is not the split really in me myself because I am not yet sufficiently developed, sufficiently grown, to know the fact as the whole fact without any flaws in my perception and experiencing?

It is very important for us to get hold of this. Through the ages we have separated appearance from reality, and we have never looked into this question, or never looked sufficiently deeply and clearly into this question of the split in our own awareness, our own mind. The whole fact of the universe is just one whole fact of the universe, isn’t it, whatever that may be? I am the experiencer through the sense organs and functions and the activity of the discursive mind through the instrumentality of the brain, through speech, I am the observer and experiencer, and I am the person who describes that and also postulates the other thing which I call reality. In short I myself am not whole, but I base my life upon this teaching that this is the unreal and that mysterious something is the real which I will be in touch with or to which I will become fully related if I undergo such-and-such a discipline or live the holy life, or such-and-such a life, or train myself as a logical analyst, or some such stuff.

There have been just a very few pointers to something which is whole and complete. You will find it in the deep teachings of the Upaniṣads, you will find it in the Buddhist presentation. I doubt whether you will find it expounded so clearly and so considerably anywhere else as it is in Hinduism and in Buddhism. In the Upaniṣadic presentation you will find it stated that the One Reality stands outside itself by self-constriction and produces the appearance of a whole becoming process, a total world process. Whatever that Ultimate Reality is, it has this power to constrict itself and in the constriction differences come up, the more constricted part, the less constricted part. When the part is sufficiently constricted, it is obviously a separate, finite particular something and then the rest is what we commonly call the empty space which contains it. We get the duality of container and contained. But both those duals came out of the One Ultimate Real. But if they came out of the One Ultimate Real neither of them has become an unreal. They are both part of the Total Reality. If I can be conscious, flawlessly conscious of the fact of container and contained, I would never separate appearance from reality.

In the Buddhist presentation you get mostly the so-called negative aspect presented. All this which I experience here now is not the ātta (the Sanskrit ātma, the ultimate real). It is not the ātta, not because it is utterly and totally different from the ātta, because then it would be another Absolute on its own, but because it is a changing appearance (and this is what the Buddhist teaching will not say outright) of that which is the unchanging, the immutable as they call it.

I hope that you are able to follow the argument. It is rather difficult, but it is very necessary that we do really understand this.

The Buddha himself says quite openly that Nirvana is an Absolute, it is not dependent upon anything. Its non-dependence means actually its self-subsistence. It subsists by virtue of itself, and if it subsists by virtue of itself it is utterly free of any limitations in terms of time, space, causation, matter, process, anything at all. The extraordinary thing is that Buddhist philosophy also postulates ākāśa as an Absolute. This ākāśa is taken over from the Brahmanical teachings absolutely. It is that out of which all this emerges. But all this, which is the changing, etc., is put aside. We are told not to grasp at it in Buddhist teaching simply because it is the relative, the impermanent. Why should we, with right wisdom as it is called, with insight, paññā, not grasp at any of this? Because by not grasping it, the Absolute, Nirvana, is realized.

So much as far as the Theravada presentation goes. When you come to Mahayana, all this, the becoming process which is the appearance, which is supposed to be deceptive and all the rest of it, is equated, in fact it is identified with, Nirvana. Nirvana and Saṃsāra are an identity. Both in the Brahmanical teachings and in the Buddhist teaching, we have pointers. (I say Brahmanical because what we commonly call Hinduism is the name which sprang up after the interaction with the Buddha’s teaching, from about the third century BC onwards when it began to be called Hinduism. The original Vedic teaching from the Ṛg Veda right down to the Upaniṣads — these are all the Brahmanical teachings.)

So in the Brahmanical teaching and in the Buddhist teaching we have these pointers. If we could really understand this clearly, understand it in depth, which means not merely seeing it externally, objectively by means of the intellect, but sensitively feeling the reality of it inside ourselves, if we could do this, extraordinary things happen. We immediately become free of a senseless conflict between outer and inner, self and not self, the truth and the untruth, the right and the wrong, between reality and appearance, the worthwhile, Nirvana, and the not worthwhile, this world. We are not very sensible, are we? We are trying to escape from the conflict of duality whilst at the same time allowing this awareness in terms of duality to be perpetuated right in the deeps of our consciousness. Nirvana, Saṃsāra, chuck out the one, and grab hold of the other, and so forth! You can’t do it. We get split personalities that way. This is the schizophrenic tendency.

We must be careful. I said that we split up right, wrong, and I am suggesting that we should not split it up. In terms of Totality, in terms of the Altogether Whole, there is no separation between them, but in terms of the particular context in which we live, the particular context in which our mind and consciousness function, there are comparisons, measurements, gradation and so forth. Why should there be these comparisons, gradations and measurements? Because it is characteristic of whatsoever manifests life, as we understand life in the ordinary sense, to grow, and growth means change. But if there is to be change, there is necessarily a trend of the change. If that trend promotes a coming to fruition we call it good, if it prevents or destroys the coming to fruition we call it bad. So within the limited context there is the elements of this way rather than that way. But unless we have clearly deep in our awareness the wholeness which subsumes the particular, we shall always be stuck in the state of conflict only, Appearance and Reality, Saṃsāra and Nirvana, what is evil and what is good. Therefore we shall always remain producers of dukkha, the ill state.

Have I not said it again and again that it is Totality, it is the Wholeness, it is Eternity through us, through undergoing the separation and then realizing the unity in terms of consciousness, which is coming to fruition, all the time, not I.

I said a little while ago that one extraordinary thing which happens to us, if we really understand this, is that such a tremendous element of conflict in us disappears. If that conflict in us disappears what can follow but right action. What can be the state of the mind, of the psyche but the state of true love-understanding, (hyphenate the two), the karuṇā prajñā state. It is the state of enlightenment. In terms of Totality manifesting itself through the becoming process, this person or this cat being suddenly run over by a motorcar or something like that, is a terrible event, painful, horrible. Of course we do what is possible to prevent that. In terms of the Totality, Totality does not care, but in terms of our particular limited sphere of consciousness and our human relationships and so on, we say No, this rather than that. And we rightly say it. Why rightly? Because if we just held to the cold intellectual attitude and said, “In the Totality it doesn’t matter,” we remain callous and the sources of producing evil and suffering in our human sphere and life. That is why. So you see that relative morality is of fundamental importance to us as we are. The Absolute morality, the Transcendental ethic will naturally manifest itself when relative morality has come to perfection, to fruition.

If we do understand this as deeply as we can, understand it, feel it, feel it with the heart, see it with the intellect, then living the religious life will no longer be play-acting or just a little self-indulgence. Consider the bulk of human beings who go to the Temple and the Church and the Mosque and what not, and go through all the rituals and so forth. In millions of cases it is sincerely motivated. Of course it is sincerely motivated. But even in those cases where it is sincerely motivated, there is a fair degree of play-acting about it. The very fact that after the process one feels ‘nice’ about it, that we are smugly complacent inwardly about it, is one of the evidences of the play-acting. If it were wholly real there world be no reaction out of us afterwards, no reaction whatsoever. What would happen is that we ourselves would be completely transformed into something which shows spiritual growth and fruition. If that takes place there is no room in the mind, in the feelings, for feeling ‘nice’ about it, no room whatsoever, no room in fact for vanity or egoism.

Does this not tie up with the fact that whilst up to a point we do care for the religious life, we do not really care with that complete self-forgetfulness, that utter abandonment to reality, to the truth. If we cared that way, our daily news would be totally different in quality from what the daily news is and has been and will continue to be for quite a long time. It would be a transformed world because we are transformed.

Let us look into the central point, the central practical point in connection with all this. The great teachers were people whose minds were completely purified. In the words of the Buddha speaking about himself for instance, they were beings ‘not liable to delusion’. You will find this all in detail in the Long Discourses, look in the third volume. They were beings incapable of harming, of taking what was not freely given, of any sort of sense indulgence (quite different from the right use of the senses, remember) which will bring the sensations of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow with them of course. But self-indulgence is the point. Sensuality really means self-indulgence. They were incapable of being untruthful, malicious, gossipy, slanderous, and so forth. They were incapable of a course of action born of fear, of stupidity and so on. The Buddha shows this in detail. Such were the people who were the perfected Holy Ones. Their minds were completely purified, their whole being was a pure being. They were in short true humans, no longer sub-human, partly bestial, partly human.

Let the mind just sense what it means to be someone like that. Feel it. Not liable to delusion, one in whom the virtues function transcendentally. Because they themselves were like that they really knew the state of the psyche in which perfection had been realized. I, the ordinary man in the world, don’t know what it means to have a psyche like that. I may picture it, but my pictures will inevitably be tainted, inevitably be distorted by my own shortcomings and my conditioning. But the Holy Ones knew what was meant by the perfect psyche, the perfected mind, the holy mind. If the Perfected Holy One stood in front of me, he would know what my psyche was like, and he would see its blemishes, he would see where it is not so blemished and so forth. So his psychology would not only include what we commonly bandy about as psychology and psychological penetration and all the rest of it, but it would be subsumed in the perfection of the utterly purified holy mind which they themselves had. This is a very important point. It is in the light of the perfected psyche that the Holy Ones laid down the simple moralities. For us the moralities are relative. Take the first one if you like — harmlessness. In the Mosaic Commandments you have it stated in its most dramatic form, “Thou shalt not kill.” But the way in which both the Hindus and the Buddhist presented it was “Abstain from all harming in any shape or form, in thought and feeling, in speech and in action.” I as I am, living and acting in the world, may do this and I may say to myself, “I’m not harming anybody.” Would Jesus or the Buddha or Kṛṣṇa or Zarathushtra agree with me that I am not harming? I confess, very likely he would not. Why? I as I am after all am in darkness, in confusion, I cannot see sufficiently truly, sufficiently completely. But the Perfected Holy One can.

If you have appreciated this point you will see the extraordinary importance of the observance of the simple moralities, their observance unconditioned by my conditioning, which of course is the difficulty. It is asking me to do something which one might ordinarily say was a superhuman task. The Perfected Holy Ones certainly knew better than I do! And if they said, “Carry on like this”, they knew what they were saying and they knew that it was possible. They themselves had done it. If the simple moralities are fully lived like this, then the whole appearance of our living process is the perfect representative of what a person would ordinarily call the whole reality. The appearance and the reality are absolutely identical. This is the limited presentation of reality as something perfect, as conceived by the human mind. If you want to take the Totality as such as a philosopher, in which humanity only plays a particular part, then you will see that in fact whatsoever happens anywhere in the universe, the appearance of what happens is the reality itself. They are not two separate things. It is we who are constantly cutting up into two or more parts that which is whole in itself. You see how different life would be? It is because we have our particular conceptions, our particular pictures of the real, of the good, of the true, of the beautiful, that we bend our efforts towards producing the expression of that picture. If you look sufficiently deeply into it, it will be seen that almost 90 or 95 percent of this picture stems only out of vanity and egoism and pleasure lust. If vanity and egoism and pleasure lust disappeared, there would be pure beauty only.

Look at the creation of a great artist, a musician, a painter, a sculptor, a poet. It is perfection, isn’t it? Why is it so perfect? Because the act of creating the obtruding, intrusive selfness has completely vanished and therefore that which was produced was marvellous, beyond description. And is not this happiness or is it the chasing of my particular picture of happiness? Have we not all noticed that whenever we chase our particular picture of happiness we may obtain sensational delight, if, as we say, we are successful in being happy? At the end of it that sensational delight has just become dust and ashes. There is a residue left over. But in pure happiness there is no left over, there is no residue, because pure happiness was never born, therefore it never dies, but it is self-subsistence, the Eternal Reality.

Do try and get hold of this, do try to experience it sometime, because then you will really know why in all the great religions God, Brahman, is presented amongst other things as bliss, and this is the meaning of it. It is the unchaseable, the ungraspable. Let be what is already there in perfection. And we can let be what is already there in perfection if we can be free of this conflict of duality which we out of our own ignorance perpetuate. ‘Appearance and Reality.’ There is only the One Total Reality which will include all that we say about it in its own way. Let be. The holy life is fundamentally concerned with awakening to all that obstructs the holiness and the simple moralities. Why so much the simple moralities? Because they touch our psyche, the mind. What distinguishes us, what controls our life from beginning to end basically is the psyche. All sense impressions are physical, the impression itself is a psychical phenomenon. All thoughts, plans, schemes, beliefs, understanding, knowledge, everything is of the mind, of the psyche. What transforms the psyche is morality in the religious context.

Just one other word. What is the meaning of morality? Customary action, the custom — it comes from the Latin mos and the plural mores. Customary action is morality. Let customary action be performed with one’s whole being, totally dedicated to Reality, uninterfered with by our pictures and preconceptions and assumptions and all the rest of it, and we shall have realized our true humanity.


47 Lillian Road
SW13 9JF
United Kingdom

+44 (0)20 8748 3218


UK Registered Charity 328061

© 1959–2021 The Phiroz Mehta Trust