The June online satsang with Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke) will be on Saturday, June 8th, at 12 Noon, EST.
Home - Dharma for Awakening - Bhagavad Gita–The Book of Life - Experiencing the Unreal

Experiencing the Unreal

Part 6 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening cover
Also available a free PDF download from our E-Library and as an ebook and paperback from

Krishna has just told Arjuna that birth and death are simple illusions–that the unborn and undying spirit (Atma) is the sole reality of our being. That is not so hard to accept if we have intuition or actual recall of the fact of our having previously dreamed the dream of birth and death many times. But the real trouble is our identification with the experiences that occur between the two poles of birth and death. It is like a joke I heard a very long time ago. In a small town where metaphysical speculation was completely absent, the postmaster was a Christian Scientist. One day he asked a little boy, “How are you?” And the boy replied: “I have an awful stomach ache!” “Oh, you just imagine that,” chided the postmaster. “You only imagine you even have a stomach!” The next day the boy came in the post office and was asked the same question by the postmaster. He stood for a while, thinking, and then came out with: “I have an imaginary pain in my imaginary stomach that I don’t really have. And it HURTS!”

It is just the same with us. Simply saying: “It is all an illusion,” really does very little. Consider how we attend a play or a motion picture and become completely engrossed in the spectacle, responding with various emotions. All the time we know it is just pretend, but that does not keep us from responding as though it were real. How is this? It is the nature–yes, the purpose–of the mind!

I will never forget the first time I saw Hamlet. The next day I could not attend any of my classes at the university. I felt that I had seen an inexpressibly great person die right before my eyes. The words “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” had utterly overwhelmed me with chagrin. For a few days I went around in an aura of shock. I knew that I had only witnessed light and shadow patterns on a blank screen, that the people I had watched were actors playing a part–a part that my reading on the subject revealed was not even historically accurate. It made no difference. I was stunned by what I had seen. This is just the nature of the delusive mind. Unless that nature is transcended, we will experience that “the play’s the thing” rather than an illusion. With this in mind, Swami Vivekananda subtitled his book Raja Yoga: “Conquering the Internal Nature.” And part of its subjugation is the realization that the “inner” nature is also outside us.

Externals meet externals

Wherefore Sri Krishna next tells Arjuna:

Truly, material sensations produce cold, heat, pleasure and pain. Impermanent, they come and go; you must endeavor to endure them (2:14).

Matrasparshas, “material sensations,” literally means “sensations of matter” or “the touching of matter.” Cold, heat, pleasure, and pain are brought about through contact with materiality, whether we think of it as contact of the sense organs with matter, or of contact of the mind with the internal senses that translate the contact of those sense organs into mental perceptions that we label as cold, heat, pleasure, and pain. Even the person who knows he is not the body, senses, or mind, yet does experience these things. He, however, understands what they really are and can, as Krishna urges, learn to endure them.

Both the senses and the objects are vibrating energy, merely differing waves in the vast ocean of power known as Prakriti or Pradhana. Prakriti is spoken of as illusion because it is constantly shifting like the sea with its ever-rising and ever-subsiding waves. Although Prakriti exists as Primordial Energy, the forms it takes are momentary modifications only with no lasting reality.

In the philosophical writings of India we often encounter the snake-in-the-rope simile. Even though the “snake” we see in a dim light is a projection of our mind, and when we perceive that it is only a rope the “snake” will disappear, the rope will remain. In the same way, Prakriti is the actually-existent substratum of which all things are its temporary mutations. They are mere appearances, yet their substance is real. It is this understanding that gave rise to the Buddhist concept of Emptiness–that there are no things in their own right, but only temporary appearances. When we see truly, things are seen to be no things at all. The truth is, Prakriti and the Great Void (Mahashunyata) are the same thing. It is only those who misunderstand them that think they are different.

In essence, we must come to realize that all our experiences, inner and outer, are really external to us and are simply shifting waves of differing vibrations. “Impermanent, they come and go,” Krishna points out to Arjuna–and to us.

In the ancient world, including that of original Christianity, only that which remained perpetually constant was considered to be real. That which could change or cease to be was considered unreal. For this reason we find an exposition of the unreality of both the world and evil in the writings of Saint Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, even though that is in complete variance with contemporary Christian theology.

The thing is, we exist forever and unchanging. It is only our mistaken identity with our experiences–our identification of the screen with the temporary movie–that causes us to forget this truth and become immersed in the untruth of Unreality/Prakriti. It is no easy matter to genuinely see the truth of things in relation to our sense experiences. Consequently Krishna said: “This divine illusion of mine… is difficult to go beyond” (7:14). What shall we do about these illusions until we have broken through them? Krishna tells us: “You must endeavor to endure them.” That does not mean that we must like them or want them. But we must accept them as inevitable until we truly do pass from the unreal to the Real. Later in this very chapter Krishna will describe how an illumined person functions in relation to sensory experience. For now we need only understand that the man of wisdom, the jnani, experiences them but accepts them and is unmoved by them.

Truly, the man whom these sensations do not afflict, the same in pain and pleasure, that wise one is fit for immortality (2:15).

What he does by nature we must do by will and reasoning until we, too, are enlightened.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Unreal and the Real

(Visited 1,769 time, 1 visit today)

Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

(Visited 1,769 time, 1 visit today)