Question 101: The World, the Universe: Is it Real, is it Unreal?

mistThe mind is the screen upon which it plays out its own dramas – for the dramas, the ideations, the vasanas or sankalpas (ideas, tendencies and willpower) are brought across with the soul into the new body. Rama asks what is real, unreal and why. Vashishtha explains that bad actions can be countenanced by good action, and that firm will, strong will always triumphs. We include a dialogue about name and form, mind and screen.


Anadi Without beginning.
Bhaktha Devotee
Atma the Self, the soul, the life principle, the divine core of personality, man’s individual indwelling reality (jivatma)
Vedanta: The doctrine of either pure non-dualism, i.e. the identity of Brahman and the Atma, or conditioned non-dualism; the end or bottom line of the Vedas, which declares this doctrine.
Sthiram: Steady, firm, fixed, permanent.
Asthiram: not steady, not firm, not fixed, impermanent
Nithyam: invariable, permanent; continual; perpetual, eternal, unaffected by duality, time and space adv. always, constantly; for ever.
Anithyam: not permanent
Ksharam: Perishable; the destructible world.
Aksharam: imperishable, indestructible
Avinaabhaava Sambandha Inseparable relationship; essential characteristic.
Sath: Truth
Asath: not-truth
prapancha Cosmos; created world composed of the five elements.
vasana: tendencies or desires; ideations generated by tendencies or desires;
sanathana Ancient and also eternal.

Question 1018: Sir, how is the unread perceived as real on account of strong faith?

Answer: Ramji, faith arises due to five causes:

  1. place
  2. time
  3. actions
  4. objects
  5. pleasure

These things happen according to one’s tendencies and nothing succeeds like strong vasana, irrespective of whether it is virtuous or vicious. The evil tendencies of previous births are neutralised by virtuous actions. Firm sankalpa (willpower) always triumphs.


Ramachandra had thought of the five forms of the Universe:

  1. It is unreal
  2. It is like a shadow in Atma
  3. It is a flux
  4. It has arisen from ignorance
  5. It is without origin and challenges are always perceived so long as there is ignorance.

What is unreal?

Asatkalpa (Sanskrit: असत्कल्प्), this Sanskrit term is derived from the word, asat, meaning ‘unreal’ combined with the word, kalpa, here in the context of Advaita Vedanta philosophy meaning ‘a little less than complete’, and is another word for mithya meaning ‘the almost unreal world’ or ‘unreal conceptuality’.


Swami: Oh! When did you arrive? You were not visible anywhere outside. Are you well?

Bhaktha: ‘Tis two days since I came. I see here a number of people everywhere outside. I hear the incessant confusion of voices. Coming from my place to avoid that confusion, I find here too crowds everywhere. Therefore, I entered inside. There, it is fine, blissful, quiet. That is why I was in the hall inside. It is as quiet inside as it is restless outside.
Swami: What is special in this? It is natural. Where there is jaggery, there gather the ants – and between outside and inside, this is the distinction! That is the characteristic. That is how it is.

Bhaktha: Swami! I do not understand what you say. If you tell me in detail, I shall listen and be happy.
Swami: You yourself said, didn’t you, that there is an outside and an inside. Well. Those are what we call the external world and the internal world. Now, which is the internal? Give me your idea.

Bhaktha: You want it to come from my mouth itself? It would be so good if You speak.
Swami: Well. Making the questioner himself give out the answers is the Sanathana method of teaching. If those who question, themselves give the answers, they would clearly understand the subject. The lecturing style is different. In olden days, all the Rishis enabled their disciples to understand Vedanta only be this method. So, come on! Speak! Let us see.

Bhaktha: Do you ask me to speak of the objects I have seen with the eye?
Swami: Not only the eye. Tell me all that you have experienced and known through all the senses of cognition, the eye, the ear… etc.

Bhaktha: Earth, sky, water, sun, moon, wind, fire, stars, dusk, mountains, hills, trees, rivers, women, men, children, old persons, animals, birds, coldness, heat, the happy, the miserable, fishes, insects, disease… like these I have seen many.
Swami: Enough, enough, that’s enough! This is the ‘Prapancha‘ … Did you see it only today? Did it exist yesterday? Will it exist tomorrow?

Bhaktha: Why do you ask me so, Swami? It has existed like this for ages isn’t it? Who knows for how long it will exist, or since how long it has existed?
Swami: ‘Since how long it has existed!’, you said isn’t it? That is what we spoke of as ‘Anadi‘, beginningless. This external world is beginningless… When there is ‘external’, there must be ‘internal’ also, is it not? … Well, have you ever seen a cinema?

Bhaktha: Ever seen! Why, Swami, the cinema too is a part of the Prapancham, isn’t it? I have seen many.
Swami: What did you see? Tell me.

Bhaktha: I have seen many wonderful ‘pictures’; I have heard numerous experiences of joy and sorrow.
Swami: ‘I have seen’, you say. The screen is one; the ‘picture’ is another. Did you see both?

Bhaktha: Yes.
Swami: Did you see the screen and the ‘picture’ both at the same time?

Bhaktha: How is that possible, Swami? When the pictures are seen, the screen is not visible; when the screen is visible the pictures are not seen.
Swami: Right! The screen, the pictures, do they exist always?

Bhaktha: No. The screen is permanent; the pictures come and go.
Swami: As you say, the screen is permanent and the pictures come and go. For this ‘permanent’, and ‘impermanent’ we use the words, Sthiram and Asthiram, Nithyam and Anithyam, Ksharam and Aksharam. I shall ask on another Anithyam. I shall ask on another subject: Does the picture fall on the screen or the screen fall on the picture? Which is the basis for what?

Bhaktha: The pictures fall on the screen; so, for the picture, the screen is the basis.
Swami: So, too, the external world which is like the picture has no permanence; it changes. The internal world is fixed; it does not change. The external has the internal as its basis, its substratum.

Bhaktha: But, Swami! I heard you say Ksharam Aksharam, Nithyam Anithyam.
Swami: Yes, my boy! You were speaking now of pictures, do these have names and forms?

Bhaktha: Haven’t they? ‘Tis only because they have names and forms that the story is understood. Then only do we recollect Ramayana and Bharatham. (sacred stories, sacred narratives) There is no formless name and nameless form.
Swami: Good! That is well said! Where there is form, there must be name’ where there is name, there must be form. Both these are connected with each other. When we say, “Avinaabhaava Sambandha“, it is to this relationship that we refer. Have you understood now the meaning of ‘Prapancham‘?

Bhaktha: I have grasped that it is identified with name and form, but… Swami, …I would like to hear you describe how it originated.
Swami: You should not fall into the tangle now. If we engage ourselves in describing that, it would be like getting into a mango garden and without eating the fruit we have plucked, calculating the number of trees in the garden, the number of twigs on each branch, the number of fruits on each twig, and what the total price of all the mangoes would be if the price of one mango is so much. Instead of senselessly wasting precious time in the collection of this information, we should, like the person who eats the fruit, find out what is of primary importance; and understanding that thing first, attain contentment and joy. Leave that alone. What did
you say is the nature of this Prapancham? This Prapancham has another name too, do you know?

Bhaktha: I said the Prapancham is identified with name and form. I have heard that it is known by another name, Jagath.
Swami: This name-and-form cosmos made up of the five elements, this Universe that is always coming-and-going is like Indrajala or magician’s art, real only as long as you see it. So too the world is real only so long as you experience with your Indriyas or senses. That is to say, anything not experienced in the wakeful stage is taken as nonexistent. Under such circumstances, we say ‘Sath’ for existence and ‘Asath’ for nonexistence. Therefore, what do you say of this world? Is it ‘Sath’ or ‘Asath’?

Bhaktha: It exists in experience in the wakeful stage, and so it is ‘Sath’; it does not exist in the deep sleep stage and so it is ‘Asath’.
Swami: Oh, Sath, Asath, did you say? When these two words are added, we get Sadasath, isn’t it? This is what is spoken of by us as Maya, do you know?


Is the perceived world of name and form real or maya, illusion?