The idea of a real—and yet illusory self—is easily understood if we think of this metaphor: there is a river, broad and flowing. Near the edges of the river, nearer to the shore where the flow of the water is slower, eddies sometimes form. These little whirlpools gather into themselves the flotsam and jetsam of the river’s life: bits of twig and leaf, a whirl of foam, all slowed down enough to form by a bend in the river. The addition of this material to the small whirlpool actually helps the whirlpool maintain is twirling organization better. It becomes ballast and the energy of the river, still feeding into this small portion near the shore, helps the eddy—which, as we know is doomed to disappear—maintain its individuality a little while longer.
The individual person is like this eddy. From one perspective, it would be wrong to say it is an illusion. It is clearly there. It traps floating material. It adds its own dynamic to the river, supporting the river’s slower flow near the shore, where fish and turtles and frogs lay eggs, in the quieter shallows. Yet, on the other hand, it has no existence apart from the river. It is made of the river and nothing else. The water, the things that fall into the water are all part of the river and the eddy, while appearing separate for a while, is destined to return to the undifferentiated water of the river, submerged once again in the whole. Then, because of the living dynamics of the whole, the inevitability and constant potential of the All, represented by this the river, the eddy emerges, at some other place and time, collecting, whirling and finally, disappearing, only to arise again.
If we can call ourselves eddies for a moment, we can easily see that our separate-only consciousness, the consciousness of the eddy in full bloom, so to speak, is a valid thing but not the only thing. If we call ourselves only the river, then we might miss the fact that the existence of the river itself demands that eddies form, with their separate-only consciousness and their temporary nature.
The wonderful thing is: when we begin to see the full picture, the interplay of the Absolute and the Relative (to now use the real concepts we are talking about), we are not trapped by the so-called bigger or Absolute view or the so-called smaller relative, view. We are free to be human beings, separate individuals, in a vast river.