Is The World An Illusion? By Alan Jacobs

Unreality of the World

The Guru Vachaka Kovai, the Garland of Guru’s sayings, is a comprehensive collection of the Maharshi’s Sayings, composed and strung together by the great Tamil Poet Muruganar.This translation is by Professor K.Swaminathan.

In Part 1, after the invocation there is a long section called ‘The Quest’, and part 2 is entitled the Unreality Of The World, and continues from verse 63 to 70.. Verse 69 states

The world perceived by the poor jiva

Lapsed from its own Being true,

Buried in darkness, and believing

That it is but the body, alas,

The world thus seen is non-existent;

Yes, it is indeed unreal.

The thrust of this verse, and those like it is underlined by the often quoted passage in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 24th August, 1946, quoted in the marvelous book Muruganar’s Padamalai, edited by David Godman.  On page 283 of the Chapter entitled The Reality Of The World Appearance we read.

Bhagavan:” In the sadhak stage [the stage of being a spiritual seeker] you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way. When a man forgets he is Brahman, who is Real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion. Why? Because his vision which has forgotten its own Self is dwelling in the external material universe. It will not turn inwards into introspection unless you impress on him that all this external universe is unreal. When once he realises his own Self, and also that there is nothing other than his own Self, he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman.”

Like very many sadhak’s I found it difficult to be convinced that the world we perceive is ‘unreal’. I realised that the concepts of space, time, and causality are inherent in the organ ofcognition and create the screen of consciousness on which the world stage, actions and pictures are projected.Also that quantum physics has confirmed that what we see, feel, smell , touch and taste is not what it appears to be, but subtle energies in constant movement. But, It was not until I read the Advaita Bhoda Deepika, The Lamp of Non-Dual Knowledge, a short work, highly spoken of by Bhagavan that I followed the complete logic of this point of view.

I summarise my findings as follows, largely based and inspired by Chapter 1 of this marvellous treatise, entitled On Superimposition.

1. All is Absolute, pure, infinite Consciousness, non-dual, Supreme Intelligence, the Self-Existent Self or Brahman.

2. Maya or Illusion, the powers of veiling and projection are inherent powers in Brahman.

3. These powers manifest an apparent, but unreal Universe. Unreal because it was NOT before manifestation and will NOT BE after dissolution. Therefore it is likened to a dream in the Supreme Intelligence or Mind of Brahman. Thus the apparent Universe is but an appearance based on Brahman. It does not exist apart from Brahman. It could be termed, therefore, a confusion between the Real and the Unreal, or neither Real nor Unreal, or both Real and Unreal. In the Vedanta, the term Real is applied to the Immutable or Unchanging. The apparent world is constantly changing, in a state of flux, becoming and decaying, so it cannot be termed Real in this sense, whereas Brahman is immutable, unchanging and eternal.

4. The ignorant ‘jiva’ (the ajnani) or individual soul is reborn and dies continuously through many lifetimes, until Self Realisation. It carries forward from each life the seeds of many latent tendencies from previous lives, although its True Nature is also the Absolute Pure Consciousness of Atman-Brahman. But because of the implicit Maya, projection and veiling, inherent in the Self of Pure Consciousness or Brahman, it identifies with its insentient body and creates a Universe from its latent tendencies (vasanas) through the mind, (organ of cognition, the brain and sensorial adjuncts). The mind is a wondrous power in the Self. The world it sees, composed of latent tendencies , and thoughts is therefore of the nature of a dream, even an hallucination, and may be termed ‘unreal’.

5. The latent tendencies inherent in each jiva at the time of each life, are selected by Isvara, an adjunct of Brahman, for its spiritual development. So all is benign, based on Love, essentially. This is stated By Bhagavan in answer to a question by Paul Brunton quoted in the book Conscious Immortality on Page 130 , Chapter 10.

6. The mind-body complex, personal individuality, other sentient beings, and the Universe of multiplicity, are therefore a superimposition on the Self which is now living from reflected Consciousness, mirrored by egotism and the latent vasanas.

7. Through Grace, the jiva receives the teachings of Advaita from a Jnani, and when fit, through assimilation of this Knowledge and mental purification through right intellectual discrimination, spiritual practice and devotion, he or she is shown the way to awaken from the dream of suffering and transient joy (samsara). The means are through Self Enquiry into the source of the ego, the Self and the illusory nature of the Universe.

8.At the same time one lives one life as if it was real, knowing it to be unreal, and accepting all that happens as ultimately for the best.

9. When there is an awakening from the dream of life, the transmigration of the jiva is over. The immortal Self of infinite Consciousness is Realised directly and one lives from that state of ‘sahaja’ until the mind-body falls off in death, and one is absorbed into Brahman or Infinite Consciousness, no longer a separate individual identified with its body-mind. All is the Self, and the world is seen to be Real because its substratum is now known to be Brahman.

I hope this essay, into a difficult metaphysical question may be helpful to seekers baffled by the world illusion.

Final comments:

Re-reading Bhagavan’s Eight Stanzas to Arunachala, a marvelous poem, I came across this verse which sums up my Essay. I add it as an addition, as it seems to sum the whole question up, very succinctly.

6. Thou art Thyself, the One Being, ever aware as the Self-luminous

Heart! In Thee there is a mysterious power (Shakti) which without Thee is nothing. From it proceeds the phantom of the mind

emitting its latent subtle dark mists, which illumined by Thy light (of consciousness)

reflected on them, appear within as thoughts whirling in the vortexes

of prarabdha, later developing into the psychic worlds and projected

outwardly as the material world transformed into concrete objects which are

magnified by the outgoing senses and move about like pictures in a  cinema show.

Visible or invisible, oh hill of grace, without Thee they are nothing!

Alan Jacobs

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