Tag Archives: reality

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!


Alice in Fleetingland

If we look at the world around us minutely, we will notice that things are happening at different speeds. Vehicles on the road are moving at around 60 km/hour. A plane in the sky must be moving at 800 km/hour. People on the streets are walking at their own pace, some are running, some are ambling. If you watch the sun during sunset, you will be amazed at how fast it moves, which actually means how fast the earth is rotating on its axis.

There are some things which change rapidly like the scene on the road and there are other things that change slowly. We usually do not notice those and assume they are permanently there. For example a tree or a bench in the garden seem static. Everyday, you can see them there and we do not notice the gradual changes taking place.


We can see changes in the tree only when the season changes and we can see the changes in the bench only if it broken or gets disfigured due to constant use. However, we do not appreciate how they are changing even while we are looking at them.

The tree is actually like an extremely slow moving fountain. As sunlight falls on the leaves and water escapes, the branches pull up more water and nutrients from the trunk and roots. We cannot see this happening yet it is happening.

As people sit on the bench, there is wear and tear every moment. Even the flow of wind over the bench, the falling of leaves on the bench will keep affecting the bench very gradually. We all know how the waves created sandy beaches over millions of years.

Everything around us is constantly changing, fleeting every moment. We are also changing. We might see the same face and body in the mirror everyday. Yet we are changing – every cell, every organ is undergoing change. At the microscopic level, the changes are very rapid and mind boggling, if only we could notice or feel.

We usually get fooled by the illusion that things are permanent, as if they are existing in themselves and not as a process of happening. Our senses fool us into believing that the chair we are sitting on is solid and is not changing. Same is true about the people in our life. We start thinking he or she is the same individual everyday, every moment.

But armed with the knowledge about transience, We can become aware of the whole illusion. This does not mean that we get scared because the world is falling apart. On the contrary, you learn to love this creation, the beauty and the mystery of it.

So the wise way to live in this Wonderland is as if Alice.


Two Realities

There are two realities going on simultaneously. One is the reality of which we cannot speak and EVERYTHING happens in THAT reality. Actually it is the only reality. However, there is the second reality which is the superimposed reality – the one created by thought, name, concept and description. It attempts to describe and understand the first underlying reality. However, the second reality is made of the same substance as the first one. It is the second reality only from the perspective of the second reality. From the perspective of the first reality, the second superimposed reality does not exist.


For example, a chair or a tree exists in the first reality as atoms, molecules and process. This cannot be described. It is a mystery, just nameless BEING. In the second reality, we call it the tree, the mango tree, the wooden chair and so on.

Now we must understand the overlap between the two realities. The tools used by the second reality – sounds, letters, names, images – are all expressions of the first reality. That means that the second reality cannot exist independently of the first one. It is made of the first reality.

Here is the funny thing. The first reality can only be known through the medium of the second. It is not right to say that the first and the second do not intermingle. From the very beginning, it is only the first reality and will always be. The second exists only to know the first.

People do not realize that the second reality, the superimposed reality, is nothing but the original source reality. They think the superimposition is a separate reality and by constantly forgetting that, they only live in the second reality R2.

Sometimes, R2 is in sync with R1. It can describe it well and goes together with it. At other times, it is not in sync, does not overlap and is incapable of describing whats going on. At this time, for a person, who is only living in R2, there is stress, conflict, anguish and suffering.

The nature of R1 is impermanence, change, dynamic while the nature of R2 is permanence, static, same. Again, this distinction is only from the perspective of R2, not from R1.

Remember R2 is nothing but R1 and has always been so. If a person realizes that, he comes back in sync. In other words, he accepts R2 … whatever description he has of R1 … and stays with it. The effort to modify R1 to meet R2 or R2 to meet R1 causes suffering.

A wise man, or one with this insight, knows both R1 and R2 and can distinguish R2 from R1 or know the limitations of R2 to describe R1 and at the same time accept that R2 fully as R1 itself and not run away from R2.

RIP Time


The responsibility of proving that time exists lies with those who say that time exists. The existence of clocks & watches does not prove that time exists just as existence of rulers do not prove the existence of inches or the existence of thermometers does not prove the existence of temperature.

Time is a concept that helps to standardize the measurement of change. How is it done? One change is kept as base & everything else is compared to that. For e.g. The movement of the shadow on a sundial or the movement of a pendulum or the oscillation of a quartz crystal is used to measure time.

Man has created the notion of time & applied it to everything.- the age of the universe, age of dinosaur fossils, history…

Time causes psychological stress. So you must understand this illusion of time


Right now, what time is it? In India, it is 5:30pm , in London it is 12 noon, in Japan midnight & USA morning. But on earth, what time is it?

Try this one

Visualize yourself at night going up like a balloon into the sky. Keep going up, go beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Keep going. You will see the sun at some point. Does it mean it is day now? Day & night is only a happening on earth. we count the alternate days & call it the calendar. Then we extend that infinitely in two directions & call it past & future.

The universe is a dark place. Just because we are near a star, we see light. In fact our existence is because of the sun.

Watch closely. When does “this” moment end & the “next” moment begin? You won’t find a boundary. If Taj Mahal was in the past, why do we see it today in the present?

Here is another one.

Monday, Tuesday,… January, February,… 1,2,3… are all concepts. If you do not have a calendar for several days & you wake up one day, how do you know what date, what year it is?

Past, Present & Future are only constructs of language & thought for the purpose of communication and mutual convenience. Nothing is moving from past to present or present to future. Things are only changing & we interpret them in terms of time. Whatever was, is and will be has always been, will be right NOW.

Sequence & Order is only a mental illusion. Imagine that I show you an apple & then an orange. What came first? You say – the apple. But fact is both apple & orange existed simultaneously. The order or sequence was created by mind.


Movement of thought is Time. No movement, no time. When you realize there is no time, you change totally.

Don’t TRY to live in the present moment. You have always been in the present moment. You ARE the present moment.

The World as Illusion


Mystics throughout the ages have termed the world as illusion – a dream landscape with people and things with no inherent substance. How do we reconcile this with what we sense in our everyday life – the people, the objects, the animals, the trees?

What is an illusion? When something appears to be what it is not, it is illusion. To be more precise – when something appears, it is already an illusion. Appearance itself is illusion.

A tree appears to have a trunk, leaves, fruits, and flowers. A dog appears to have legs, tail, eyes and ears. A human being appears to have hands, face, mouth, nose and hair. We have given names to appearances. But just giving names do not make those appearances real.

What appears to us appears the way it does only because of the various conditions in which it appears. To be more precise – appearances are nothing but conditions. The sky appears blue in the day and black in the night. A leaf appears green when young and yellow when old.

What we see is not an object but an appearance which we name. To understand what is real and what illusion, we must investigate deeper than the surface appearances.

Wood appears solid, but disappears into thin air when burnt. We see a rainbow with many colors but there is nothing but water. Conditions are such that from the point we are the light is reflected by water in the air to create the illusion of a rainbow. There are no colors in the air but we still see them. That is the illusion.

We see the sky but “sky” is a word which has no object. You cannot go up and touch the sky. But touching something does not mean it is not an illusion. When you touch a table, there is only the touch, no you and no table. And what is touch? It is nothing but an appearance or sensation of touch.

I hope you see… go ahead and investigate for yourself. Apply your brain power to this and find out for yourself. Do not try to understand words but find out what the words mean in your mind.

When you are thus able to see only appearances, the whole world dissolves, leaving only the pristine existence in its bareness.

What Is It That Exists?

One of the best ways I have found to understand what exists is from the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Any object can be considered in 3 ways

The object is made of its components

For instance, the laptop is made up of the screen, the keyboard, the CPU, the memory, the casing and so on. Even a solid object like a stone can be considered to be made of up of atoms and molecules.

The source from where the object originates

To take the same example, the screen of the laptop might be manufactured in China, the CPU in Malaysia and other components in different places and the final assembly would have happened in USA. Similarly, the stone that you see on the road has come there from somewhere. Maybe it broke off a mountain, got carried in a truck and fell down there.

It is an object because we give it a name

This is easier to see for things which are changing rapidly. For instance, we give the name Katrina to the hurricane that swept across the US. But what is a hurricane but the movement of air in a certain pattern. The hurricane is no longer there but the air which was part of the hurricane is still around. By giving a name we create an object. This way of thinking is radically different from the normal way of thinking that we give a name to an object.

​If you really want to see the world as it is, then learn to see everything from these 3 perspectives. Take a leather shoe for instance. See that it is made up of the sole, the upper portion and the lace. Then see that the leather would have originated from some animal, processed and then made in to a shoe. Finally, it is a shoe because you think it is. This point might need some insight but try to see it. Can you see the object without giving it a name?