23 July 2017


What does "It is not real" mean for Robert Adams, Ramana 

Maharshi, and Nisargadatta?  July 10, 2017

Robert Adams:

All I can do is tell you about my own personal experiences, not what I read. I can tell you that nothing exists the way it appears. Everything is an appearance, and we get pulled into these appearances. We react to them as if they were real, as a result of falling for a false premise, and the false premise is that the world is real.
In fact, the world is not real and neither are you. What we have to do is stop reacting to anything. And the only way to do that is to discover who you are. When you discover your true nature, when you awaken to your true nature, everything becomes perfectly clear. You're at peace. Your feelings have been transmuted. You no longer feel what human beings feel. The world comes and goes. One day the world is like this, the next day it's like that. But what does it have to do with you? Nothing, you are free. You are not the world. You are not your body, you are not your mind.
--August 30, 1990

Ramana Maharshi:

The world is a totality of the five kinds of sensations, namely sounds and the rest, and nothing else. All these are only mental impressions. Hence, the world is nothing but the mind.  Only when their minds are functioning does the world appear to men. Therefore, the world in the waking state is mental, as it is in dream.
The truth that the world is unreal is taught by the sages only to him who aspires to attain the highest state by the quest of the Self. It is not addressed to others.  (Editor:  That is, it is a teaching device used to help the seeker become aware of that which precedes and succeeds his body and the world.)
All the divisions experienced in worldly life appear as real only in relation to the body.  (Editor: the world is real if one accepts one’s body as real; from that viewpoint alone is the world real and the objects therein.)
Ramana Paravidyopanishad, unknown date, paragraphs 120 through 126.


The “I” which appears is unreal.  How unreal it is I have proven.  The moment the “I” is proven unreal, who is it or who knows that the “I” is unreal?  This knowledge within you that knows the “I” is unreal, that knowledge which knows change, must itself be changeless, permanent.  You are an illusion, Maya, an imagination.  It is only because I know that I am unreal, that I know you also are unreal.  It is not like this: because I am real, you are unreal.  It is like this: because I am unreal, everything is unreal.
—Consciousness in the Absolute— May 1, 1980

The concept that your experience of your body and your experience of the world are illusory, is a very complex subject with many different ways to explain it.

The simplest explanation is that stated by Raman in the quote above.  Without mind, there is no body, no world, no existence.  When mind functions, the world is discovered as is your body.  In sleep, when the mind does not function, there is no you, no I Am sense, no body and no world.  When you awaken, at first you are only aware that you are awake.  Then, some fraction of seconds later, you become aware that you are a body, with an existence, with a name and form, living in the world. Once awake, we accept the reality of name and form, that I exist as a body in the world.  Not once do we think of investigating that I-thought or I-feeling in an effort to “unpack” it into its various components in order to see if any of those components exist in any way, or are just words that point to nothing.

As long as people identify with their bodies and consider themselves solid and real, they will also experience all the objects in the external world as equally real, meaning substantial, objective, solid.  Until a person through meditation, self-inquiry, or listening to the words of a self-realized person, has experiences of transcending both body and consciousness, the phrase "neither I nor the world are real," will lead him to try to understand the phrase "not real" as some variant of negating the reality of one’s body, such as by coming up with the analogy of a dream body.  “My physical body is like a dream body, existing only while aake.” Or one might think in terms of space, that the space that contains the body is more real than the body, and that the body is unreal in comparison.  The same holds true for the concept of consciousness, where we conceive of the body as being an appearance in consciousness, but consciousness itself permeates all appearances and is greater than any appearance.  That is, consciousness is everywhere and eternal, and is the substance within which objects appear.

But until one has examined all levels of one's own experience of oneself, from experiencing the physical body, to experiencing the mental body, to experiencing the subtle energy body, to experiencing the great void within, the emptiness that pervades everything, and even the experience of not experiencing, will he or she understand how these three gurus use the terms real and unreal, because then they will have the same exact knowledge as the teacher.  The same exact knowledge is available to all who study the self.

In the short essay below I will try to cover all the different approaches or ways to explain what is meant by the term unreal applied to experience, to the body or to the world.

I want to most forcefully and explicitly state they do not mean you should stop eating, or deny yourself shelter, or deny yourself clothes, or not own a car, or not have a job because they are all unreal.  They are not saying the world or your body are not real, therefore live like a zombie totally bereft of feelings, reactions, or needs relevant to sustaining your body.  It does not mean that you should not protect yourself financially and avoid scammers.  It does not mean you should not have insurance if people depend on you.  It does not mean that if someone in your family or others in the community have desperate needs, you should not help them because they are not real, that they are some sort of fake news.  They do not mean that if there is a dire political situation, such as a tyrant arising that will destroy the nation, you should not insist that they be stopped.

By "not real," they mean that all external and internal forms, such as your body, your sense of presence, your thoughts, your emotions, your house, the tree outside your door, are all temporary, are all ephemeral, all pop into existence, exist for a while, and then cease to exist.  No appearance is permanent.  Therefore, every situation in your life is temporary, a brief appearance that will pass, so do not get too involved in relationship to them, for you, the perceiver, are always there, outside of consciousness, outside of the world, outside of your body, existing only as an observer, while your mind fills in the details of the situations surrounding you, giving it meaning and drama.  Without the mind making up stories about your situation and your body, you would be unperturbed by all internal and external events.

This is it.  This is their message.  Do not be too concerned about the external world, because everything in it is just momentary.  The real you, to be discovered through self-inquiry and meditation, is the ultimate observer, the witness, the principle of knowing, of sentience, of cognition.  You are the ultimate knower, seer, hearer, smeller, taster, feeler, and ultimately of all knowing and sentience.  As such you are beyond the physical and mental worlds altogether, so turn your attention within and find this, which we give the name That.  That is the only real because it is beyond all appearances of consciousness which are effervescent, ephemeral, and passing.  The Real, is that which cognizes the unreal, the not real, the play of consciousness.

But if you take "it is not real" literally, from the viewpoint that you are human body, a thing, then “not real” means there are no things, every-thing is only a dream, or a passing nightmare of consciousness, and you could easily become a zombie, a homeless person, not eating any meals because your body is not real, your hunger is not real, your need to pee and to take a crap, are all unreal.  Your wife is unreal, your children are unreal, your mother and father are unreal, therefore pay them no heed, no attention whatsoever.  Ignore them and their problems, because they are not real.  And the naïve seeker then expands this attitude to all things, shouting aloud “Nothing is real!”  Like a crazed Facebook guru.

There is no need to buy insurance, because nothing is real.  Robbers are not real.  Murders are not real.  Tyrants are not real.  Trump is not real.  Hitler was not real.  They are all just passing appearances, just as is your hunger, or your thirst, or your feeling chilled or too hot.  None of these are real, so just sit in one place and observe the world, observe your body, observe your emotions and thoughts, and take no heed of them.  Just turn your attention inside and find your true self, the only real, the only permanent.

The next important thing you have to understand with regard to investigating your self-experience and its reality is: “it is not real” is a teaching message from the teacher to the student who has not yet realized who or what they are, or for other persons in the audience who may be suffering from the loss of a loved one, debilitating physical disease, or psychological or physical pain.  This is a message to look within instead of without into the world, and by looking within one can find your own permanent truth of who you are.  However, after you discover who you are, the journey inwards has essentially ended, because the division of inward and outward disappears, and you discover you are the source of everything and that everything rests inside of you including the world and your body.  That is, the message “it is not real” is meant for a student, or someone suffering.  It is not meant for someone who has realized themselves as Self.  That person is fully aware of the rather trivial nature of the external world and the body compared with the direct apprehension of one’s own self and its eternal existence.  But after realizing the self, one just cannot continually turn within, because the division between inner and outer is dead.  One is everything. By this I mean, wherever consciousness is, I am aware of what it is showing.  Whatever appears, I am there as its witness, whether it be  my body, something felt by it, or a nebulae seen through a telescope.  I am the witness of it all.

 Let me go into this a little more deeply. After realizing through meditation or self-inquiry, that the boundary between the external experiential world and one’s internal and experiential sense of presence within an all-pervading emptiness no longer exists, you become immersed totally in the vastness of consciousness: the Void.  That empty void is the background or container of all experience, external of the world, and internal of the various states of consciousness within.  This Nisargadatta calls the totality of the manifest consciousness.  This is everything.  This is all cognitions, all thoughts, of all sentient beings with no separation into apparent individual entities.  This is the life of the universe itself, everything experienced by every sentient being everywhere, throughout time.  Identity within individual body or an individual personality is lost.

Yet there is one more step that needs to be taken before one becomes a Jnani. 

Just resting in this experience of thoughtless now-ness, just resting in one’s own sense of presence within the totality of experiential existence and emptiness, is what Nisargadatta ultimately means by resting in your sense of I Am.  After doing this for some time, something begins to happen.  You begin to escape from feeling totally immersed in your experience of your body, the world and the totality of consciousness.  Up till this time you felt yourself to be a little cog within the vastness of the extension of your consciousness.  You begin to be able to grasp or apprehend consciousness as a whole, and all at once, as an object that you are witnessing.  After consciousness begins to transition from self to object, how it affects you also begins to change, because you see you are separate from it; it is not you.  You begin to see that all the vagaries and appearances within consciousness, all the various states such as sleep and waking state, all the thoughts that you have, all the sights you see from mountains, to valleys, to storms, to the ocean, all are not you.  You are separate from all of them.  You are not touched by anything in consciousness, where before you thought you were a body that had consciousness.  Now you see that both are “not-real” in the sense they are not self-sustaining, they depend on you cognizing and being aware of them, both as separate apparent objects, and as the ultimate substratum of universal consciousness.  Everything depends on you, the source, the witness.  Without you sentience does not take place.

Most emphatically, "It is not real" does not imply ignoring injustice or abject stupidity or abject brutality in the world.  "It is not real" means do not take the world too seriously until it hits you in the ass, and you are forced to take stock, just as you would be if you found you had a cancerous tumor, or were having a heart attack, or a potential murderer was threatening your life.

Remember, all the while that Robert was teaching about the world not being real, to take nothing seriously, and to turn all your attention inside, he was in fact living as a family man, raising two children, as well as fostering children.  He had various jobs as a handyman, teaching non-smoking classes, producing pirated audiotapes, etc.  It means that he had extensive dental work done during the last year of his life at age 69 because his teeth were so bad.  He had a whole mouth reconstruction during the last year of his life.  Nisargadatta ran the family business of selling cigarettes from the time he was 36 to the end of his life at 82.  He spent many years speaking with friends and other devotees of Siddharameshwar regarding the nature of reality, of consciousness, of birth and death, while he worked on his final understanding as expressed in his talks in 1978 to 1981, his final teachings, including those of unreality.

To make this a little more real, pardon the pun, we must realize these are the teachings of an 80-year-old man who has seen everything and done everything.  For him, the world had no reality, no meaning.  He had seen and done everything.  There was no more interest in the world for him.  He was through with it.  From that point of view, of being a tired old man that is seen and done everything, nothing in the world was of any value to him.  Even his own consciousness was of no value to him any longer.  He repeatedly says in his last three years, he was waiting to die, and get the whole thing over with, hopefully without too much pain or trouble in the process of dying.  He wanted to throw away the whole world and consciousness because they disturbed his peace which he found in his deepest depths.  Compared to that peace that lay closest to his soul so to speak, nothing was of any value.  And in that sense it was not real to him.  He was selling this philosophy to other people who were suffering, as did Robert.  In this sense, the phrase "it is not real" is a universal solvent dissolving all suffering based on one's experience in the external world including pain in the body, rheumatism, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, poverty, lawsuits, and the scorching heat of the Arizona desert.  They exhort others just turn within and find that peaceful center and take refuge there in the deepest part of your Self.

Q: I really appreciate your continuing efforts to explicate this fundamental issue, which is so misunderstood. I see it as the "form" aspect of the form and emptiness dimension. So many neo-Advaita influenced folks on Facebook seem to (sort of-mostly intellectually) get the emptiness aspect. They then become so enamored of emptiness that there is a "sleep and forgetting" of the real world we all still live in where real suffering occurs and very, very few realize experientially-in the marrow of their bones- that nothing is real.

Ed: Yes, so true. But emptiness itself is still experiential, is still consciousness, and nothingness, the so-called real, is the not knowing of nothingness, not the spaciousness of emptiness or the Void. Robert always said you have to go beyond emptiness, because emptiness itself is still consciousness, and itself is a fraud from an experiential point of view, as a human.

Q2:  Much needed clarification. Edward Muzika could you please clarify whether or not the inward and outward are 'different' in terms of how they are perceived in the statement "the division of inward and outward disappears and you discover you are the source of everything and that everything rests inside of you including the world and your body." I understand that they are both a manifestation of my consciousness, but if I close my eyes and go inward after being fully self-realized, is the inward perception the same as with eyes open or different yet realized as my consciousness. Do you ever meditate inwardly even though you fully realize this fact about the inward and outward?

Ed:  The experience varies over time for most. The initial experience is of total emptiness within, which is experienced as one with the space without. Then, for functional reasons, the boundary returns. But after that, you are always aware of 1. the unity; 1. all objects are permeated by emptiness all thoughts and forms are transient; even consciousness is transient.

Then, later one re-realizes this in other experiences, such as the realization that everything is consciousness, including the I Am sense, the body, the external world, emptiness. Just variations of appearances in consciousness.

Yes, after attending to duties in the external world, I will invert, sink within to utter peace.

Q3:  good post, but this is where i take umbrage with the dead guru's. "all that changes or passes" is also this that sees. this that is aware, this that is. simply, if there is "no other", then even the so-called temporary things in life is also a manifestation of This One. I am the dream, the dreamer, the ever changing play. and even the dream is not "un-real", the old saying: "To say- It is not real, does not mean it is devoid of existence"........ but what I always end these rants with is, "this is what i see so far, subject to change as this path seems endless.”

Ed: I have no idea about what you just said. If I were you, I would focus more carefully and thoughtfully on expressing your intuition as clearly as you can. I think you might find trouble doing that, but when you can, you will understand your own internal confusion, which will allow you to break through.

Q4: Can a pot be real without the clay, the essential substance pervading the pot.. Pot is name and form that makes clay pot...Clay can exist independently.. Can pot exist independently without clay. Can name and form exist independently without the essential substance pervading the name and form...

When world is described as unreal is from this point...World strictly speaking like the pot, is name and form with an essential substance pervading the world, which is the ultimate Truth...

Ed: This is strictly an analogy and is not at all an explanation.  The essence of all is like clay.  So what does that tell me?  This explanation might send me to a beach or a swamp looking for various kind of dirt or clay.

The explanation often given is that everything is consciousness including all the appearances within consciousness.  But this is still just a concept.  You have to first have the experience that everything is consciousness, which is a kind of awakening, rather than using well-worn analogies that really do not help anyone understand anything.

Q5:  I have always wondered why only the permanent is Real, why not the transient and passing also be Real. It feels like a kind of dogma we are told to believe in. Isn't Real what exists whether forever or temporary? Why the duality?

Ed:  Actually, when you :feel" that which is beyond consciousness, all elements of consciousness "feel" unreal. It is an expression about how the world, one's body, and one's emotions and mind feel when you discover the source. Then you are far more interested in the source, and the world seems useless in comparison.

Q5:  useless? not what you said above about caring for cats, opposing Trump, etc. and isn't Compassion what blossoms after enlightenment?

Ed:  You have not been reading my posts and certainly you never really read this post. All is explained here, above. Read it. Go to those before and after. Would you fail to feed cats in a dream? Would you drown babies in a dream? Would you fail to eat or pee in a dream because it was not real?

Q6:  I think it depends on your level of insight. If a revelation has come and you now see the world as a substanceless image like a dream or mirage or even further nothing but emptiness, dark infinity then it would be untrue to yourself not to voice this. With God also, if you believe in God or not, its only a belief, you are really an agnostic. You don't really know. But of you have seen the Oneness in all things then there is a basis to assert the reality of God.

Ed:  It is not really that way. You "see" and apprehend all experiences, all of life and consciousness in an entirely new way, because you can grasp consciousness as a whole rather than being immersed in its hugeness. In a sense, you become bigger than the entire world or consciousness, apprehending it/them as objects depending on you for their existence. Only you are felt to be real, not the objects you apprehend.

Q5:  i have been reading your posts and I know of your humanity. I just was reacting to the word "useless"

Ed:  See, caught by words. React to words and concepts. I am telling you how both Robert and Nisargadatta felt about life and the world. They had no use for it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this write-up.

    A useful inquiry might be to simply ask an if/then question; If non-duality is true, then.....??..and see how quickly the confusion dissipates.

    Anything that can be described in terms of an experiencer experiencing an experience is seen through rapidly. Experiencing bliss or voids or sensory experiences or anything at all is not real. More important, the concept that "it is not real" must include the very important realization that one's understanding that "it is not real" is itself not real as whoever is getting this realization is an experiencer and the realization is an experience.

    You are in fact left with absolutely nothing but unencumbered now-ness, as you so well stated above.