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The World is Unreal

At Ramana Ashram when the Maharshi was alive in physical form, especially when Westerners would come, he would give them a little book. It is only about twelve pages or so, and he would ask them to read it because it contains the essentials of his teaching.


I am going to read it and then we can discuss it. Number 4: "When will the realization of the Self be gained?" The Maharshi's answer is, "When the World which is what is seen has been removed there will be Realization of the Self which is the Seer." Number 5: "Will there be realization of the Self even while the world is there?" The answer is simply, "There will not be". "Why?" Maharshi answers, "The Seer and the object seen are like the rope and the snake, -- just as the knowledge of the rope which is the substrate will not arise unless the false knowledge of the illusory serpent goes, so the realization of the Self which is the substrate will not be gained unless the belief that the world is real be removed".
 

So, he says it very plainly. He doesn't say maybe the world is unreal, maybe the world is illusory, or that the world can be partly real and partly unreal. It's very clear here what it is. The only thing real is this substrate that we call Self, the pure Consciousness. And there are different levels of understanding this. Most people would just totally dismiss it without any inspection: "You guys are crazy, how can you say the world is unreal? It is so obviously real!" But when they say it is obvious, they are taking the human form to be real and looking out of human senses and seeing an object called "world" and thus proclaiming it to be real because those senses perceived it.

  You can't really know the Self from the point of view of a human being in an illusory world. The human being is illusory. The world is illusory. We've got to come to what is the Reality. What makes this real ... it is the only thing that really is, and like the Maharshi says, it is the Seer not the seen. The human form and the world are objects of that Seer. They are objects of attention, they are objects of pure Consciousness. You must come to know, what sees? Who or what actually gives life and form to what we call world?

In Advaita we use many similes to try to understand these truths, because one can't fully understand them just on the first try. You must deeply enquire to really understand it.  

One of these has to do with everyone's experience of having a dream when they go to sleep at night. In that dream there is a dream character and a dream world and everything makes sense in that world. It seems as though that character and that world have always been around, nobody questions its reality, and everyone in that world seems to belong there and the rules of the dream world apply. And yet when we awaken from that dream we don't even give it a second thought! It is completely obvious that it was illusory and utterly unreal. So we use the dream state -- it is a state of mind -- to compare it with the waking state -- which is actually also a state of mind. The human form and it's world are exactly like the dream character and it's world. It is a state of mind. It comes and goes. It is not the ever-present constant reality.  

So when we say "substrate" we want to get down to the core of the SEER. Like the Maharshi says "who sees this dream state, who sees this waking state as a whole?" The human form is an object within consciousness. Something is aware of that human form. The form is an object of consciousness, just like the dream character is an object of consciousness in the dream state.

And when you wake up the whole state was an object! You see it as a thing, and it has come and then it is gone. Someone sees it. Who sees it? What is the actual truth of existence?

That's why we meditate. We spend time releasing and relaxing all those objects of attention. And we must come to see this waking state as an object of attention. The whole state is an object of consciousness or attention. And as an object it doesn't exist on it's own. It must have something that sees it or is aware of it for it to exist. We need to get to that Seer, that Consciousness, because what's real does not rely on anything for it's existence: 'It is inherently innately always always always eternally existent! It is pure perfect consciousness. It is existence free from any objects. [cee: where does this quote end?]

So to understand how the world is unreal you don't look AT the world: "how are you unreal, how are you unreal"? No, you look to WHO is aware of this apparent world. Who is that? And the Maharshi has said, "Is there even ever a world without someone to see it?"Who sees the world is-----------------well,... to be Known.  


So the dream is one parable we use to try to understand how the world is illusory. Another one we use is that it is like a mirage. As when you see water on a hot highway, you think you see something but it is really not there. Something is appearing but it is not real. And interestingly enough, with the mirage parable, even once you know it is not real you still see it! This can be the case in the waking state for sages that wake up to Reality. Form may appear, there may still be things arising to the human senses, but there is certain knowledge that the forms are not real. This is another level of understanding.
 

If you see a mirage on the road you are not going to jump in and swim in it. There is no separate one living in the world that is separately existing. It is just not the case. So human senses may or may not go on, but the Self and the Knowledge of the Self cannot be lost once it is Known.

And so sometimes we call this appearance of a world, of a human form in the world, a superimposition on the Self. It is not innately there. It is superimposed like an added idea, an added concept on the substrate, on the Real. It needs something to be there, it can not be there on its own. Look to what is the constant reality--- Who am I?

  The Maharshi has also used the parable of the movie theater. There is a screen, maybe it is a computer screen, and there are images on that screen. There may be a fire in the movie, it doesn't burn up the screen. There may be death in the movie, but the screen doesn't die. There may be all kinds of egos and identities on the screen, they do not affect the screen itself.

In some ways it is a gross analogy because the Self, the pure consciousness is nothing hard or physical like a screen. And all these parables fall far short of the utter bliss of the self-effulgent perfect consciousness. But it is just a way to help you, help you understand. It is a way to have you to look IN, look in to find the truth of your own existence. That Reality is constant. This world, these bodies, cannot possibly be the truth of existence. They are fleeting, they are temporary and they are suffering.

So realization of the Self cannot occur -- (not that it occurs) but you cannot see the reality in truth when there is something gross sitting on top of it. You have to uncover, brush away these concepts, because this is mind -- these forms are mind. The Self is mindless. It does not have forms within it. It is prior to any kind of identity, and from identity springs worlds.

  So if in deep meditation you have come to rest as the see-er of all thoughts and forms that are arising, you can see the difference between who sees and what is seen. And no, you can't see the who that sees, but if you know that as your Self, then you can understand how this whole world - with your own body in it (the body you call your own) is an object. It is the seen. So stay with the ground of being. Stay with who sees. The more you see what is fleeting, temporary, and illusory, the deeper your understanding will be that it (the seen) is utterly unreal to the extent that it has never occurred.

There are many modern spiritual teachings that say "now is the reality," but it (now - as it appears to human senses) is a far, far cry from the truth of your own Existence. Go deeper than what you see. Go deeper than what you hear. Don't take even "now" as the Reality. The now comes and goes. The final perfect enlightenment in the Advaita is called "no creation." There is no birth or death. There is no bondage and no liberation, nothing has been created. No human forms and no world. That doesn't leave a void. That leaves perfect consciousness. It's silent. It's vast. And it is perfect, unutterable bliss. And you will see that past is just mind, the future is just mind, the now is just mind, and mind as such does not exist. But the perfection of your self, THE Self, IS.