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The Unreal and the Real

Part 7 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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The miracle of the Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is a marvel of practical wisdom. In the Upanishads we find the truth about Brahman, Atman, and Creation, but it is mostly speculative, intended to awaken the hearer to the intuition of How Things Are–not to merely instruct or convince him. After reading the Upanishads the question of realizing the truths set forth therein becomes most crucial. Since we presently live two lives, the inner and the outer, we need guidance in how to lead both of them in such a manner that the Upanishadic Vision will in time be permanently established in our own consciousness. And that state will be liberation (moksha). To enable us to attain liberation, two books have been given us: the Bhagavad Gita for our outer, active life, and the Yoga Darshan (Yoga Sutras) for our inner, meditative life. Both contain counsel about the inner and outer way to realization, but each focuses mainly on one sphere. The Bhagavad Gita is the ultimate statement on How To Live. Yet it perfectly embodies and presents the philosophical principles of the Upanishads–so much so that it has been said that Vyasa, the author of the Gita, “milked” the “cows” of the Upanishads and presented to us the life-sustaining milk of Pure Wisdom. The Gita is a digest of the Upanishads, but also much more: it points the way to embody their teachings, to gain practical experience of their eternal truth, of Sanatana Dharma.

The right perspective

The basic ingredient of any endeavor is right perspective, so Krishna right away delineates two universal principles that must be kept in mind at all times, whether engaged in outer activity or inner meditation.

  1. It is known that the unreal never comes to be, and the real never ceases to be. The certainty of both of these principles is seen by those who see the truth (2:16).

    Swami Prabhavananda’s interpretive translation is: “That which is non-existent can never come into being, and that which is can never cease to be. Those who have known the inmost Reality know also the nature of is and is not.”

  2. Know indeed that That by which all this universe is pervaded is indestructible. There is no one whatsoever capable of the destruction of the Eternal (2:17).

    Prabhavananda: “That Reality which pervades the universe is indestructible. No one has power to change the Changeless.”

Unless we are constantly aware of these two truths, any kind of endeavor on our part will result in the perpetuation of ignorance and its result: bondage. Nor are these abstractions to be merely accepted intellectually. They must be lived; and until they can be fully demonstrated in our life we must at least keep striving to bring our conscious thoughts and deeds into conformity with them. Jesus spoke of a man who wanted to build a house where there was sandy soil. Wisely he dug down until he found solid rock, and then only did he build the house so it would stand secure (Matthew 7:24-25). These two principles are the bedrock on which the structure of our entire life should be based.

What is not can never come to be

“The unreal never comes to be.” A simple statement, but a profound realization about every aspect of existence–most particularly our own existence and status. We could restate the principle this way: “That which has not always been can never come into being.” If we analyze things we will come to realize that only two things have ever been: God and us. Everything else is literally incidental. That is why the greatest monk of the Christian Church, Saint Arsenios the Great, when asked for spiritual counsel replied: “Unless you say, ‘God and I alone exist,’ you will not find God.” So when we really bear down on the issue we come to realize that Spirit alone exists: Spirit as the individual consciousness and Spirit as the Infinite Consciousness. All other things are passing appearances only.

“The fashion of this world passeth away,” said Saint Paul (I Corinthians 7:31). The word translated “fashion” in the sense of exterior appearance is schema, which means a figure or outline of something, either visual or ideational, a mere thought or “scheme” rather than a thing of actual substance. From this we see that Saint Paul considered the world to be a mere appearance, a temporary thought in the mind of God and man. And so did Krishna.

Seeing the Real in the unreal

Since the world and all that surrounds us, including the many layers of our present mode of existence as human beings, come from God, it would be foolish to consider them valueless and to simplistically try to disengage ourselves from them as though that would be the solution to everything. No. Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight–to act as though the world were real. Why? Because all our experience is a training film in the school of consciousness. By watching it and interacting with it we come to experience its substantial reality, but we also come to understand its meaning. For every particle of matter has a purpose and is a message from the Eternal to us.

Krishna is instructing Arjuna in the attitude, the perspective, needed to live life meaningfully. Arjuna wants to turn away from the battlefield, to avoid doing what he considers to be a terrible wrong, but Krishna restrains him and warns him against such a mistaken course of action, because to do so is to fail in learning the purpose of the situation. To leave the battle would be to deny the unreality of external appearance and to deny the reality of the inner spirit.

This verse carries great and freeing insight. We need not brood over our faults or be elated over our virtues since they have never really come into being. Neither should we be displeased at misfortune or pleased at good fortune, for they have never happened. Rather, the pictures of these things are being shown to us for our development and education leading to our mastery of them. It is not without basis that one of the first steps in occult development is dream control; for this whole world is a dream, and although there is a great deal of talk about awakening from the dream, we cannot do so until we can control it at will. This is what Yoga is all about–awakening through mastery.

Our eternal Self

But looking back at the subject of our own conscious development…. A lot of time is wasted “cultivating virtues” and pursuing yogic attainments. As Sri Ma Anandamayi often pointed out, getting implies losing. So any artificial progress we may make will evaporate in time. To bewail our sins or rejoice in our virtues is utter madness. For neither exists. What is necessary is that we learn to bring forth, to reveal, our eternal nature. When the qualities we exhibit are those of the ever-free and ever-perfect spirit, then alone will we have “done” something. Merely talking about our eternity and perfection, using such ideas as excuses for avoiding any spiritual pursuit or discipline, is thoroughgoing folly. The true Self, the Atman, must be realized–not just believed in or talked about.

And the world? We should look and learn. For everything has meaning. To say the world is unreal and dismiss it is worse than idiotic. A sign saying Danger is not danger, but it indicates danger. Words, figures, and lines on paper are not anything “real,” but their import is very real. The word “fire” is not fire, yet when someone yells it we should get moving. In the same way, the world around us may not be ultimately real, but its message can lead us to the perception of the Reality behind it all, which is its Source.

Much of what I have written deals with the value of “unreality,” but we must not forget the wonder and freeing nature of knowing what is real. For: “Those who have known the inmost Reality know also the nature of is and is not.”

The Unchanging

Krishna further tells Arjuna: “That by which all this [universe] is pervaded is indestructible. There is no one whatsoever capable of the destruction of the Eternal” Once more we can invoke the insight of Emily Bronte to expound this truth in a direct and simple way that is equally profound.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!

Though earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou–thou art Being and Breath,
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

This is the fruit of following the thread of the unreal to its origin in the Real and discovering that our own Self, being part of that Reality which pervades the universe, also is indestructible. All fear, regret, and sorrow vanish like the unrealities they are once we realize that “there is no one whatsoever capable of the destruction of the Eternal” that is the Self of our Self.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Body and the Spirit

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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

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