Is Reality an Illusion?

Is reality merely an illusion? The wise keep saying that. But it is difficult to wrap our heads around this notion. After all, we see, hear, smell, taste and feel things. How can all this be an illusion?

movie hall

Imagine you are in a movie hall engrossed in an exciting movie. As the movie captivates your attention, it begins to influence your emotions and state of mind. Depending on whether the movie is a thriller or a horror movie, you experience the ups and downs of emotions along with the characters in the movie.

So the question is – Is the movie real? Yes it is. It is playing in front of you. But it is not real. The characters are not real. It is an illusion created on the screen in front of you.

I am sure you would have experienced a movie which made you cry, laugh, and once in a while make you jump out of your chair. We think the movie is good, well made, well directed and the actors were superb. However, we forget one very important thing – the fact that we invest reality into the movie. Although it is not done by explicitly thinking “I am going to consider this movie as real” but the overall effect of lights out and loud volume immerses you into the movie and makes it appear as real. Without this serious participation in the movie on our part, we will not enjoy it.

Similarly it is with other things in life. Take for example sports. We have to invest seriousness into something which is fundamentally non-serious. Scoring a goal or taking a wicket is nothing in itself without us making a serious business of it.

Therefore, the wise say that life is merely the game of God – Lila.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… (Shakespeare)

So it takes a slight turning around of our view, although happening in an unaware state, to consider an illusory thing as real. Similarly, it takes a reversal of that turning around in our view, by doing it consciously, to come back to normal perspective on things.

As a child, I cried when Amitabh died in Sholay. My parents told me it is only a movie and that he did not die in reality. Many people are upset when their team loses a match. But it only takes a minor realization that it is only a game in order to get over the sadness.

Getting Stuck

The problem is not that we consider as serious business what is not serious but it is staying for long in that specific state. When we continuously invest seriousness into everything in life, we experience stress. Even a small one minute delay will raise our blood pressure. We become cranky, demanding and pushy if we take everything as real.

However, staying too much on the other extreme is also equally problematic. If we assume the position that nothing in life is serious, then we will not be able to act appropriately in life. We will become casual, non committal when we take everything as illusion.

Those are the two extremes. The true path is in the middle. Discard both views that life is real or illusion and take life as it is. Do not ask how!

Everything is real and is not real. Both real and not real. Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. (Mulamadhyamakakarika – Root verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna)

Just notice and be aware and be conscious whenever you invest seriousness (when you act as if it was real and it mattered) or non-seriousness (when you act as it it did not matter at all) into any situation in life.

So life is not serious but let us not take it casually or life is serious but let us not take it seriously!


Pinu and the Tiger Cub

Another short story by Aarika, my 6 year old

There was once a little boy named Pinu. He was very intelligent. He could answer any question put to him. One day he decided to go an explore the world because the world is a large place and he wanted to see all of it.

So he set off and eventually reached a forest. As he was resting under a tree in the forest, he saw many goats running in his direction. He asked the goats why they were running. One of the goats said that there is a tiger cub chasing them so they were running away from it.

Pinu got up and saw in the distance that there was indeed a young baby tiger cub running after the goats. The tiger cub managed to catch a young baby goat and was happy. It started going back to his home. The mother goat was terrified and asked Pinu for help.

Pinu then ran up to the tiger cub and asked him to leave the baby goat alone. The tiger cub said no. He said father tiger had asked him to go to the forest and bring home some animal to eat. So Pinu had an idea. He said to the tiger cub that all the goats are his and he will bring all the goats to the tiger’s home so they all could eat the goats. But now let the baby goat go.

The tiger cub thought it was a good idea and father tiger would be happy that he brought so many goats. So he left the baby goat and ran towards his home. Mother goat was happy to get the baby goat back.

Now Pinu had to think of something. He asked the goats to follow him. They went deep into the forest and discovered a castle. Pinu thought this was a good place to hide so he brought all the goats inside. Then he discovered that there was a video intercom system in the castle. Whenever someone rang the bell, they could see who it was outside. Actually the intercom was a magic intercom. When Pinu pressed the button on the intercom, all the members inside the castle would become invisible by magic. Pinu liked this very much.

At the other side of the forest, the tiger family was waiting for Pinu and the goats. Mother tiger kept asking the tiger cub when the goats were coming. Tiger cub said that Pinu promised to bring the goats. After waiting for a many days the tiger family got very hungry. They decided to go in search of the goats. They went through the whole forest but the goats and Pinu were nowhere to be found. Finally they reached the castle and rang the bell.

Pinu saw in the intercom that it was the tigers. So he pressed the button on the intercom. By magic all the goats and he became invisible. He opened the door to let the tigers in and silently took the goats out from the back door. Then he locked the front door also. Thus the tigers were all locked up in the castle and Pinu escaped with the goats.

Moral – Do not eat animals



The King and the Banyan Tree

The following is a story written by my 8 year old daughter Aanya

Once upon a time, there was a king who ruled over a large kingdom. There was a big forest on the outskirts of the kingdom. It was a very dense forest and everyone was afraid to go into it. Even the king was afraid to go in because he believed there were man eating wild animals in the forest.

The Queen used to make fun of the King saying he was such a powerful king yet was afraid to go in the forest. One day she said to the King, “Why don’t you go? At least check what is there.”

So the king finally decided to go. He took 20 of his courtiers with him and entered the forest. He saw a lot of deers eating grass and running around. For a moment he thought the forest is not scary after all because he did not see any wild animals.

Soon it became dark. The King and his courtiers reach a big banyan tree. They had never seen such a huge banyan tree earlier. But because they were tired and night was approaching, they decided to return back and come again the next day to explore the rest of the forest.

That night, the king saw a dream during his sleep. A beautiful fairy appeared in his dream and said – I am a real fairy and I can fulfill any wish you have. But remember, you went to the forest near the banyan tree. It is a dangerous tree. Do not go near it. If you do not listen to me then you will be in a big problem.

The king became worried about the warning from the fairy. Next morning, his courtiers asked him why he looked worried and was in a bad mood. The king told them about his dream. He said the fairy asked him not to go near the banyan tree.

On hearing this, the courtiers convinced him that it was just a dream and that they are not real and they should not change their plan of exploring the forest. The King agreed reluctantly. They all went in the forest and reached the banyan tree. This time the king went with one courtier near the tree and absentmindedly plucked one leaf from the tree.

As soon as he did that, the king turned into a leaf and got stuck in the banyan tree. The courtier seeing this got scared and ran away to call the others. Just then the fairy appeared. She said to the king – See I told you to not come near the Banyan tree. You did not listen to me.

The king said he was very sorry and pleaded with the fairy to help him. The fairy then converted him back to the king. Everyone was happy and thanked the fairy.

Moral – Listen to everyone and help everybody

The Girl with a Magic Wish

This is a short story composed by my 6 year old daughter Aarika

Once upon a time, there lived a sweet little girl. She used to do everything by magic. She used to get everything by magic. All she had to do was to write her wish on a paper in the night and it used to get fulfilled in the morning when she woke up.

So one night, she wrote on a page – “I want a small baby pillow” and stuck the paper on a wall. When she woke up in the morning, she did not find the pillow. Actually the pillow was there in the corner but she did not see it. She did not remember where she had stuck the paper also. She searched the whole house but could not find the pillow. It was time for her college so she had to go.

After coming back from college, she remember where she had stuck the paper. There was a bag near the corner of the room and she found the pillow inside the bag. But the pillow was very small, like a small toy. She remembered she had asked for a baby pillow but this was too small. So she removed the cover of the pillow and threw it away.

At night, before sleeping she wrote on a paper – “I want a medium sized pillow”. The pillow appeared in the night but because no one took it, the paper by magic took it back.

Next day, she wanted to go to Pune from Nagpur. So she boarded a train. When the train stopped at a station in the morning, she woke up and got down on the platform. She saw a lot of shops in front of the station. There were all kinds of shops with everything. Then she remembered that in the night she had written on the page – “I want everything”. She was very happy.

She went into the shops and took everything she wanted. But in the meanwhile, she forgot about the train and when she returned to the platform, the train had left. She saw here and there but the train was not there. She was sad because all her bags were in the train. She was hoping someone would pull the chain and stop the train.

She had no money. She started thinking what to do. Then she got an idea. She started begging and earned some money. With that money she bought some new clothes. Then she saw a flat and started living there. There was a computer in the house and using that she booked a train ticket to Nagpur.

She boarded the train and realized it was the same train which she had taken earlier from Nagpur to Pune. At night, she woke up because she wanted to go to the toilet. On the way, she saw her bags which she had lost in the earlier trip. She was so happy. But she kept the bags there only and wrote a note with a number on it and kept it in her pocket. Next morning, the train reached Nagpur. She removed the note with the number from her pocket, reached the compartment where her bag was and took the bag with her and went home.

Moral of the Story – Do not act on any idea that comes to your mind.

The Story of a Lazy Boy

This is a short story composed by my 6 year old daughter Aarika

Once upon a time, there was a lazy boy. He was very lazy. His name was Soma and he lived in Pune. He went to school daily but because he was very lazy he did not study. As a result he got a wrong in everything at school.

He became very upset. So he said to his mother one day that he wanted to get out of this school. Then his mother admitted him to another school. In that new school, everything was Ulta-Pulta. They gave right for wrong answers and wrong for right answers. This worked well for Soma because now  in the final exam when he gave wrong answers, he got everything right and full marks. He was very happy now. He decided to stay in this school till college.

As the years went by, he reached the last standard in the school. He remembered his decision to stay back in this school till college. So he told the principal about it. But the Principal said no. Soma asked the Principal to allow him to continue college in the same school because it was a good school. But the Principal refused.

So Soma went back to his mother and told her about it. His mother also said it was not possible. Soma was unhappy.

One night, he tore a page from an old notebook and wrote on it – “I am leaving home and going to see the world”. He stuck the note on the door and left.

He boarded a train. He looked around and saw that all the people in the train looked like Chinese people. So he thought that the train was going to China. He wanted to go to Mumbai but since the train was going to China, he thought he will get down in Mumbai. But in reality, the train was going to Ahmedabad. So he reached Ahmedabad in the morning.

He thought what to do now because he wanted to go to Mumbai. So he bought a house which had a computer. Using the computer he booked a flight ticket for Mumbai. It was a late night flight. After reaching Mumbai, he found another house and a college. He studied in the college and grew up.

Meanwhile, his father and mother did not find him at home in the morning and saw the note on the door, which said that – I am leaving home and going to see the world. They tore the note and threw it away in the dustbin.

Soma’s parents had a magic computer which they never showed to him. They opened the computer and saw everything on it – how Soma boarded the train, reached Ahmedabad and then to Mumbai and also which college he joined. They also typed into the computer – How many years old is Soma now?

Soma wanted to get married but he did not find any girl. He became old and still could not marry because he did not get any girl.

Moral of the Story – Remember that kids must stay at home with parents in order to find a girl to marry.



Seeking For The Truth

Where Can I Find Truth

Lot of people seek for the truth.

But truth is not something that can be seen as some image.

It is not something that can be heard as some sound.

It is not something that can be smelled or tasted.

It is not something that can be touched.

So in what way do people expect to find the truth?

Is it an idea?

Is it some thought that is considered as the truth?

Is it an experience?

Note that in order to be sure that one has found the truth, one must be in a position to recognize it.

How can one recognize the truth if one has never had an experience of it before, when one does not know what it is?

Some say that truth is to be found within

True we can search for it within but what does one expect to find.

When the search begins one does not know what one is searching for & there are many falsities masquerading as the truth. So how does one differentiate ?

What if truth is right there in front of us but we miss it & go on seeking somewhere else ?

These are some questions that every sincere seeker of truth must investigate.  He or she must not accept or discard anything without proper investigation.


The Three Monkeys

The 3 monkeys are popularly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. However, their origins are probably hidden in ancient times.


Each of the three monkeys have a different posture. The first one is covering his eyes signifying – See No Evil. The second one is covering his ears signifying – Hear No Evil. And the third one is covering his mouth signifying – Speak No Evil. In some cases, there is a fourth monkey also who is shown crossing his arms signifying – Do No Evil.

Whether 3 monkeys or 4 monkeys, I am not concerned with that. What I wish to point out is that the 3 monkeys are not serving their purpose. If their purpose is to remind people to speak no evil, hear no evil and see no evil, then I really doubt whether anyone is reminded of that in daily life. The 3 monkeys then just become a good show piece at home.

Think of it – If the advice was meant for human beings, then why show monkeys giving the advice to humans? Will humans ever listen to monkeys? Obviously not. So is there a deeper message in the sense that humans only look like humans but deep down they are only monkeys?

There is a good possibility that the monkeys refer to the ‘monkey mind’ of the humans as a metaphor for the restless nature of the mind that keeps jumping from one thing to another. And for such a mind, it is important not to get involved in anything evil. So fundamentally, the intention of the 3 monkeys is to warn humans about evil and to keep them away from it.

However, there are some problems in this if someone tries to take the monkeys seriously. People anyways do not take them seriously but that is not because they have tried to in the first place. Most people are not bothered. They simply assume the advice is for monkeys and not for them.

Say, for example, you decide not to see any evil. So, when you come across any evil, you will close your eyes. Maybe you see one person hurting another and you realize that is evil, so you will close your eyes and not look at it. Maybe you see someone cheating or someone killing or someone behaving badly, then you will close your eyes because you are advised not to see evil.

The same applies to hearing no evil. Suppose you decide not to hear any evil. So when you find one person shouting at another or passing lewd comments about some woman, then that is evil. So you will cover your ears and not hear it.

In both the above cases, you actually turn away from what is happening. Is that an outcome we wish to have? Do we really want people to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to all the evil in the world? If one does it, will it safeguard the person from evil?

Please note that before deciding to close one’s eyes or cover one’s ears, one must identify that the thing one is seeing or hearing is evil. This means that the definition of evil and the database of all evil things must be in the mind in the first place for someone to decide what one is seeing or hearing is evil, in order to take the action of closing one’s eyes or ears.

This is more clear in the case of speaking no evil. It presumes that if one gets the impulse to swear at someone, or speak a lie or bitch about someone, which I think can all be classified as being evil, then one is supposed not to speak it because the monkey tells – speak no evil. So one is asked to control one’s tongue. But all the while, the evil thoughts are going on in the mind uncontrolled.

So if evil and what is evil is already in the mind, then just not seeing, not speaking or not hearing does not serve any purpose. If we understand the 3 monkeys at this superficial level, then it does not make any sense.

In fact, Osho gave an interesting twist to the 3 monkeys. He said that the first monkey stands for – Don’t listen to the truth because it will disturb all your consoling lies. The second monkey stands for – Don’t look at the truth; otherwise your God will be dead and your heaven and hell will disappear. The third monkey stands for – Don’t speak the truth, otherwise you will be condemned, crucified, poisoned, tortured by the whole crowd, the unconscious people. You will be condemned, don’t speak the truth! The fourth monkey stands for – Keep your pleasures, your joys, hidden. Don’t let anybody know that you are a cheerful man, a blissful man, an ecstatic man, because that will destroy your very life. It is dangerous.

While Osho gave his own interpretation to the 3 monkeys, it does not solve the original puzzle of the meaning of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

I would like to propose that we understand the monkeys from the perspective of intention. When you see or hear anything, accept it the way it is. Do not find fault with it. Do not observe its negative aspects. Do not pay attention to its positive aspects. Do not differentiate between good and evil at all. Accept everything as it is. And when you speak, you speak about things as they are, not with any intention of doing good or evil, not with any intention of harming someone or benefiting oneself.

When one is able to do this, I believe the 3 monkeys’ true purpose is being served. I would rather be a monkey who lives up to this standard than a human being who thinks himself to be superior to monkeys.


Groundhog Day (1993)

Director – Harold Ramis


One of my most favorite films – The Groundhog Day is an unforgettable movie. And Bill Murray makes it even more special. He is amazing in this film as always.

There is a superstition around the Groundhog, a squirrel kind of a creature. Depending on whether the Groundhog after appearing from its burrow, goes back in or comes out, people can predict whether the winter will continue for longer than 6 weeks or end within six weeks. The Groundhog Day is celebrated in USA and Canada on Feb 2nd every year.

In the movie, Bill plays the role of a television reporter who is frustrated about having to cover the celebrations of Groundhog day year after year. But this year something unusual happens. Every day he gets up in the morning, it is Groundhog day again. It seems that his life has become a broken record which has got stuck on the Groundhog day. The same sequence of events unfold every single day. And only he seems to be aware of it. He gets so bored of his repeating life that he even tries to end it but unsuccessfully. He again wakes up to the Groundhog day.

In a funny manner, the film draws our attention to how repetitive our own life is – Wake up, get ready, go to office, meet the same people, have tea, have lunch, attend meetings with the same decisions again and again, return home, watch TV and go to sleep. And to somebody who is aware of this repetition, it seems the other people are totally unaware because they seem to be going about their life as if nothing unusual is happening.

In the film, Bill learns to finally accept the repetitions and starts to take advantage of all the knowledge he has about what happened during the day to impress people with his predictions. But as long as he is giving the same report on the Groundhog day, his life keeps repeating. Finally, one day, he gives a very enthusiastic report on the celebrations and also proposes to his girlfriend. The next day he finds he has broken the loop and moved on to the next day.

To me this is highly symbolic. If you do not do anything to change your life, your life will keep repeating as usual. And that change is nothing but in your attitude. You can say the same things and do the same things but when you do it consciously, it has a different outcome.

Another story that follows a similar theme is P D Ouspensky’s The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. In this story, Ivan gets a chance to live his life again with all the memories of his first life available to him. Armed with this knowledge, Ivan thinks that he will be able to correct all the mistakes he made in his previous innings. But that does not happen. Despite knowing everything, he still takes the same decisions and actions and makes the same mistakes again. This goes to show that it is not easy to change oneself so easily. All our actions follow mechanically from the environment we live in.