It is through the five senses that we are aware of the world around us, and believe that it is real.
When we see the solid objects around us, and are aware of them, it is hard to deny the validity of what we see. Everything looks real, and therefore, we never stop to question this reality.
Our mind receives information through the five senses and accepts it as real, without questioning.
When we bump into a table or a wall and feel pain, it is difficult to say that we are imagining the pain. When we see the world around us, hear sounds, smell scents, or feel heat or coldness, we cannot deny that these are facts, and we therefore, accept these sense impressions as real.
Eastern philosophies say that the world is an illusion, Maya in Eastern terminology.
- Can we accept this idea when everything looks so real?
- Can we look at the world as a product of the imagination?
- Can we say that what we call reality is just imagination and illusion?
This is very unlikely.
We use the five senses and the mind to be conscious of the world. This means that our awareness of the world is dependent on our five senses.
Have you thought about this idea before?
Without the five senses and the mind, the world does not exist for us.
Is This World an Illusion or Reality?
The mind and the five senses create a world for us. Is this world an illusion or reality?
Actually, by changing our thoughts and attitude, we can change the illusion created by the mind and experience a different kind of reality.
Something real always exists. It does not come and go. However, we cannot say that about the world. There are gaps, when for us, the external world does not exist, such as while we sleep or in deep meditation. This also happens when we are so busy that we are not conscious of what is going on around us.
After we wake up from sleep, or when get out of deep meditation and return to ordinary consciousness, we feel that there was a gap in our consciousness, in which the outside world hardly existed for us. There was no world for us at that time.
I am not saying that the world ceased to exist at these moments, it ceased to exist for us, for our consciousness and awareness of it.
The world exists for us only when the five senses and mind are directed towards it, and ceases to exist for us when we silence the senses and the mind.
During deep sleep, we do not experience the world, because our five senses are not active. Can you prove the reality of the world while you are deeply asleep? After you wake up from sleep, other people might tell you that the world existed while you slept, but can you prove that these people existed while you were asleep?
After waking up, we may believe in the realty of the world. However, the fact is that during sleep the world was non-existent for us.
During sleep, dreams seem very real, but upon awakening, we realize that they were just dreams. It could be the same with this world we call reality.
This leads to the question, is the world illusion or reality? What do you think?
Think about these ideas. Thinking about them will open and expand your mind, insight and understanding about the world.
Indian philosophy might not be you cup of tea, but I just want to mention that Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian sage, who lived during the 19th and 20th century, said that the difference between a dream while sleeping and the dream we call wakefulness is only of duration, one short and the other one long.
I would also like to say that every person interprets experiences, details, words, and other people’s behavior in a different ways, according to his subconscious mind’s programming and education.
No one’s world is like another. Again, we see the illusion at work. We create our world, based on our interpretation of what we see, hear and perceive through the five senses.
Mind and Thoughts Create Our Reality
To a great extent, we create our reality, which means that is not something solid and unchanged. It is affected by our thoughts and attitude.
Thoughts arise in the mind, and we become aware of them. The same thoughts often arise time and again. If we let this process continue, it would turn into a habit. Eventually, we act in accordance with these thoughts, and in this way, we create the life we live, our circumstances and the situations that we go through.
Repeated thoughts make us expect, behave, talk and act in a certain personalized way, and in this way, we determine how the people around us treat us.
We usually continue thinking the same thoughts, and living the same kind of life each day, whether we like it or not. It is like watching the same movie repeatedly. If we want to watch a different movie, we have to change channels or replace the disc in the player. We do so by changing our thoughts. This is how creative visualization works, and there is nothing supernatural about this.
Again, as you see, what we call reality is an illusion, because you can change it. It is the product of our imagination.
The world we experience and the life we live are the reflections of our thoughts. The mind creates a world of illusion. By changing our thoughts, we change the illusion and experience a different reality. We do not create a world, only an illusion that looks real. No unusual power is involved here.
To use an Indian term, we are living in Maya and are changing the Maya.
Waking up from Illusion and Imagination
When we are able to still the mind and the senses, our consciousness seems to shift into a new dimension. Actually, it is there all the time, only that the mind makes us think otherwise. When there are no thoughts in the mind, the world we know and believe to be real loses its reality. We become conscious of the world beyond the mind and illusions.
We can wake up, understand, and become conscious of the illusion of Maya. This is the aim of certain Indian philosophies, like Nonduality, or as it is called in the East Advaita Vedanta.
Due to the illusion created by the mind, and which most people accept as reality, it seems as if each person is a separate individuality, while it is the same One Spirit that exists within everyone.
The world is like a movie show. A person, who is watching a movie, often gets very involved with the characters and with what is happening on the screen. He or she becomes happy or sad with the heroes, gets depressed, shouts or laughs.
If at a particular moment you decide to stop watching the screen and manage to withdraw your attention away from the movie, you get snapped out of the illusion that the movie creates.
The projection machine at the cinema will go on projecting images on the screen, but you know that it is only light projected through the film onto the screen. What is viewed on the screen is not real, yet it is there. You may watch the movie, or he may decide to close his eyes and ears and stop looking at the screen.
Have you ever watched a movie, when at some point, the reel became stuck or there was a power failure? What happens to you when you watch an interesting, absorbing film on the television and then suddenly there are commercials? You are snapped out of the illusion to the world around you.
When you are sleeping and dreaming, and someone wakes you up, you feel thrown out of one world to a different one. It is the same in the life we call reality. It is possible to wake up from the illusion.
One, who has managed to still the mind and senses through proper training, may go on living and acting in the world like a person sitting the cinema hall, who is no longer interested in the movie. Such a person learns how to get out of the illusion and wake up, and is no more a slave to illusion and dreams. He or she becomes free.
In the East, metaphors are used in order to demonstrate what illusion is in relation to Reality. A jewel made of gold may be called an earring or a necklace, but actually, it is only gold. Before it became a jewel, and after it is melted, it is only gold.
Here is another example. Clay is shaped into vessels such as plates, cups, or vases, but they are only clay.
Due to convenience of speech, we call these objects made of gold or clay by many names, but they are really only gold or clay.
You might say that it is too far-fetched, but we can say that everything in existence is made from One Primary stuff, and in this sense, it is not a “real” thing standing by itself, exactly as in the above examples.
A mirage is not real, but yet we see it. Events taking place while dreaming are not real. However, we experience them during the dream as reality. A hologram looks like 3D, while it is actually flat.
In the East, one of the metaphors of explaining reality and illusion is that of the rope and the snake. In the dark, we may see a rope and mistake it for a snake. When there is enough light we realize that it was only a rope, and the snake disappears.
As you see, this article is not about reality versus imagination or illusion, since all three and interconnected. Each one affects the other, and sometimes, you do not know where one ends and the other begins.