D: Is the world that is seen, felt and sensed by us in so many ways something like a dream, an illusion?
Maharshi, Ramana: There is no alternative for you but to accept the world as unreal if you are seeking the truth and the truth alone, for the simple reason that unless you give up the idea that the world is real your mind will always be after it. If you take the appearance to be real you will never know the real itself, although it is the real alone that exists. This point is illustrated by the analogy of the snake in the rope. You may be deceived into believing that a piece of rope is a snake. While you imagine that the rope is a snake you cannot see the rope as a rope. The non-existent snake becomes real to you, while the real rope seems wholly non-existent as such.
D: It is easy to accept tentatively that the world is not ultimately real, but it is hard to have the conviction that it is really unreal.
M: Even so is your dream world real while you are dreaming. So long as the dream lasts everything you see and feel in it is real.
D: Is then the world no better than a dream?
M: What is wrong with the sense of reality you have while you are dreaming? You may be dreaming of something quite impossible, for instance, of having a happy chat with a dead person. Just for a moment, you may doubt in the dream, asking yourself, ‘was he not dead?’, but somehow your mind reconciles itself to the dream vision, and the person is as good as alive for the purposes of the dream. In other words, the dream as a dream does not permit you to doubt its reality. It is the same in the waking state, for you are unable to doubt the reality of the world that you see while you are awake. How can the mind which has itself created the world accept it as unreal? That is the significance of the comparison made between the world of the waking state and the dream world. Both are creations of the mind, and so long as the mind is engrossed in either, it finds itself unable to deny their reality. It cannot deny the reality of the dream world while it is dreaming and it cannot deny the reality of the waking world while it is awake. If, on the contrary, you withdraw your mind completely from the world and turn it within and abide there, that is, if you keep awake always to the Self which is the substratum of all experiences, you will find the world of which you are now aware is just as unreal as the world in which you lived in your dream.
D: We see, feel and sense the world in so many ways. These sensations are the reactions to the objects seen and felt. They are not mental creations as in dreams, which differ not only from person to person but also with regard to the same person. Is that not enough to prove the objective reality of the world?
M: All this talk about inconsistencies in the dream world arises only now, when you are awake. While you are dreaming, the dream was a perfectly integrated whole. That is to say, if you felt thirsty in a dream, the illusory drinking of illusory water quenched your illusory thirst. But all this was real and not illusory to you so long as you did not know that the dream itself was illusory. It is similar with the waking world. The sensations you now have get coordinated to give you the impression that the world is real.
If, on the contrary, the world is a self-existent reality (that is what you evidently mean by objectivity), what prevents the world from revealing itself to you in sleep? You do not say you did not exist in your sleep.
D: Neither do I deny the world’s existence while I am asleep. It has been existing all the while. If during my sleep I did not see it, others who were not sleeping saw it.
M: To say that you existed while asleep was it necessary to call in the evidence of others so as to prove it to you? Why do you seek their evidence now? Those others can tell you of having seen the world during your sleep only when you yourself are awake.
With regard to your own existence it is different. On waking up you say you had a sound sleep, and so that extent you are aware of yourself in the deepest sleep, whereas you have not the slightest notion of the world’s existence then. Even now, while you are awake, is it the world that says, “I am real”, or is it you?
D: Of course I say it, but I say it of the world.
M: well then, that world, which you say is real, is really mocking at you for seeking to prove its reality while of your own reality you are ignorant.
You want somehow or other to maintain that the world is real. What is the standard of reality? That alone is real which exists by itself, which reveals itself by itself and which is eternal and unchanging. Does the world exist by itself? Was it ever seen without the aid of the mind? In deep sleep there is neither mind nor world. When awake, there is the mind and there is the world. What does invariable concomitance mean? You are familiar with the principles of inductive logic which are considered the very basis of scientific investigation. Why do you not decide this question of the reality of the world in the light of those accepted principles of logic?
Of yourself, you can say “I exist”. That is, your existence is not mere existence; it is existence of which you are conscious. Really, it is existence identical with consciousness.
D: The world may not be conscious of itself, yet it exists.
M: Consciousness is always Self-consciousness. If you are conscious of anything you are essentially conscious of yourself. Unselfconscious existence is a contradiction in terms. It is no existence at all. It is merely attributed existence, whereas true existence, the SAT, is not an attribute, it is the substance itself. It is the Vastu (Reality). Reality is therefore known as SAT-CHIT, being consciousness, and never merely the one to the exclusion of the other. The world neither exists by itself, nor is it conscious of its existence. How can you say that such a world is real?
And what is the nature of the world? It is perpetual change, a continuous, interminable flux. A dependent, unselfconscious, ever-changing world cannot be real.
D: Are the names and forms of the world real?
M: You won’t find them separate from the substratum (Adhishtana). When you try to get at name and form, you will find reality only. Therefore attain the knowledge of that which is real for all time.
D: Why does the waking state look so real?
M: We see so much on the cinema screen, but it is not real. Nothing is real there except the screen. In the same way in the waking state, there is nothing but Adhishtan (substratum). Knowledge of the world is knowledge of the knower of the world. Both go away in sleep.