What is wrong in our deep-rooted “but unfounded” belief that the world exists independent of our experience of it? The statement saying that the world is unreal does not in the least change the fact that we have to master all difficulties in our life. The same evaluation goes for the conclusion that the world does not exist at all independent of our mind that experiences it. And the same is true of the statement that even the mind that experiences this world is itself unreal. Also the account that the mind does not actually exist at all and that after its investigation it will disappear, and that along with it the entire appearance of this world will also cease to exist. […]In reply to this I wrote a comment in which I said:
Periya Eri, even if our present waking state is just a dream, and this world is therefore just a mental creation, like the world we experience in any other dream, so long as we are dreaming ourself to be part of this world, we obviously have to face all the difficulties that that entails, such as struggling to earn a livelihood or taking care to avoid being cut by a power saw.Periya Eri then wrote another comment in which he argued:
Philosophical questions, self-investigation and particle physics are not intended to solve such mundane problems of daily life, just as taking care to cross a busy street safely is not intended to provide answers to any philosophical or scientific questions, or to enable us to experience what we really are. Each human endeavour has its own purpose, and the fact that endeavour E1 does not serve purpose P6 does not mean that it is useless, because it was never intended to serve purpose P6 but only to serve purpose P1. So long as it serves purpose P1, it is useful for that purpose, even if it is not useful for any other purpose.
Therefore before deciding which endeavour is useful for us, we need to decide what our purpose or aim is. If your aim is to experience what you really are, then self-investigation and Bhagavan’s teachings are very useful, but if your aim is anything else, then perhaps they are not useful for achieving that aim.
If your aim is to experience what you really are, you need to understand that you are not what you now seem to be. Now you seem to be a person living in a material world, and if you believe that this is true, you will see no purpose in self-investigation, because you believe that you are what you seem to be. However, if you are ready to doubt whether you are what you now seem to be, you will recognise that self-investigation is necessary to solve this doubt.
If you doubt whether you are what you now seem to be, you will also have to doubt whether the world and all the other things that you experience are what they now seem to be. You now seem to be a body called Periya Eri, and hence that body seems to be real, but if that body is not what you actually are, it is perhaps not real but just a mental creation, like any body that you experience as yourself in a dream. And if this body called Periya Eri is just a mental creation, the world that you perceive through the five senses of that body must also be a mere mental creation.
Therefore if your aim is to experience what you really are, questions about the reality of your body and this world will be of great value to you. They will seem to be of little or no value only if you do not aim to know what you really are.
You say, ‘While experiencing ‘I’ as it actually is, take a power saw and amputate one of your legs’, but if we experience what we really are, we will not experience ourself as a body, so there will then be nobody to take a power saw and amputate one of his or her legs. What you say is like saying, ‘While experiencing yourself as the body you now seem to be, take a power saw and amputate one of the legs off the body you seemed to be in a dream’. The body you seemed to be in your dream does not exist now, so how could you now amputate one of its legs?
[...] So it is not relevant if I do not much think of the statement that the waking state is just a dream and this world is just a mental creation. [...] I do not care if the world is really or just a mental creation. [...] I feel that question does not have any relevance or significance for my spiritual ripeness. I cannot agree with your conclusion that questions about the reality of my body and this world will be of great value if it is my aim to experience what I really am [...] The statement that the body and the world would be “just” or “mere” a mental creation of mind for me does not contain any useful significance. […]However, according to Sri Ramana, if we want to experience what we really are, it is necessary for us to consider the world to be unreal and our seeming life in it to be a mere dream created by our own mind, as he explained in the following dialogue recorded in Maharshi’s Gospel, Book 2, Chapter 3 (2002 edition, p. 64):
D: I cannot say it is all clear to me. Is the world that is seen, felt and sensed by us in so many ways something like a dream, an illusion?The root cause for the seeming reality of the world is the ego, which experiences itself as a physical body. What is actually real is only ourself, so when we experience ourself as a body, that body also seems to be real, and since it is part of the world that we experience through its senses, that world also seems to be real. In other words, by experiencing ourself as a body, we superimpose our own reality upon that seeming body, and via that body upon the world.
M: There is no alternative for you but to accept the world as unreal, if you are seeking the Truth and the Truth alone.
D: Why so?
M: For the simple reason that unless you give up the idea that the world is real, your mind will always be after it. If you take the appearance to be real you will never know the Real itself, although it is the Real alone that exists. This point is illustrated by the analogy of the ‘snake in the rope’. As long as you see the snake you cannot see the rope as such. The non-existent snake becomes real to you, while the real rope seems wholly non-existent as such.
Therefore the seeming reality of the world is rooted in the ego and inseparably bound up with it. So long as we experience ourself as this ego, whatever body and world we experience will seem to us to be real, and so long as we take them to be real, we cannot free ourself from the illusion that this ego is what we actually are.
The world appears in our experience only when we experience ourself as the ego. In waking and dream we experience ourself as the ego, and hence we experience a body and world, whereas in sleep we do not experience ourself as the ego, and hence we experience no body or world. The appearance of either this present world or any other world (such as the world we experience in a dream) is therefore entirely dependent upon our mistaking ourself to be the ego. As Sri Ramana argued in a later passage of the same chapter of Maharshi’s Gospel (2002 edition, pp. 67-8):
Does the world exist by itself? Was it ever seen without the aid of the mind? In sleep there is neither mind nor world. When awake there is the mind and there is the world. What does this invariable concomitance mean? You are familiar with the principles of inductive logic, which are considered the very basis of scientific investigation. Why do you not decide this question of the reality of the world in the light of those accepted principles of logic?Since the seeming existence of the world is entirely dependent upon our mistaking ourself to be the ego or mind, if we cherish the idea that the world is real we are in effect cherishing the idea that we are this ego, so we cannot free ourself from the ego so long as we continue to cherish the idea that the world is real. The fundamental reason why we are attached to the idea that the world is real is that we are attached to our ego, which is the foundation on which the appearance of the world is based, so until we are willing to give up the idea that the world is real we will not be willing to give up our mistaken experience of ourself as the ego.
In one of my recent articles, Does the world exist independent of our experience of it?, I wrote:
Still more importantly, all objective sciences are based upon a metaphysical assumption that they have no means of either verifying or falsifying, namely the assumption that some things that are experienced exist independent of the experiencer. We perceive what seems to be an external world, and we assume that that world exists independent of our perception of it (just as in dream we perceive what seems to be an external world, which at that time we assume exists independent of our perception of it), but what we are actually perceiving is not an external world as such but just a series of perceptual images that have been formed in our own mind.In a comment referring to this, Gaurishankar wrote:
For example, when we see a tree, what we are actually seeing is a mental image of a tree. Whether or not (and if so, to what extent) that mental image of a tree is caused in any way by something that exists outside our mind is something that our mind has no means of knowing. However, in spite of this fundamental uncertainty about all that we seem to experience, science is based on the arbitrary assumption that our perceptual experiences are in some way caused by things that exist independent of our experience of them.
The example of seeing only a mental image of a tree does not cover the whole range of perceptual sense impressions. If ten people take a close look at the same tree and all ten observers feel the trunk, the bark, the branches of the same tree and all hear the chirping of the birds, the rustle of the leaves, smell the scent of the blossoms, eat the fruits of the same tree, saw up some branches of the same tree, climb the same tree, if some car drivers ram the same tree on the verge of the street, ten photographers take a photograph of the same tree, ten cameramen make a film about film actors sitting on the same tree, the lightning has struck the same tree, the woodpecker knocks at the same tree, the gardener transplants the same tree transporting it with a truck, and so on... we need not doubt if the tree is part of an external world. To say that we have no adequate evidence that the mentioned tree actually exists we may calmly leave to the sceptical dreams of philosophers. […]To which I replied in another comment:
Gaurishankar, Bhagavan often used the verb ‘see’ metaphorically to mean ‘perceive’ through any of our five senses. As you say, we can see, touch, taste, smell and hear a tree, and all the combined sensations we have of a tree form a mental image or impression of an object we call a ‘tree’. However, none of these sensations nor the combined impression that they give us of a tree prove that a tree actually exists independent of those sensations or that impression, because we can experience exactly the same sensations and impression in a dream, and though at that time we believe that we are perceiving a tree that exists independent of our perception of it, when we wake up we recognise that it was merely a creation of our own mind.In another comment on the same article Narada wrote:
All the evidence you describe in your comment could be experienced by you in a dream, but you would not now argue that that evidence proves that the world you experienced in your dream existed independent of your experience of it. Why then should you assume that the same type of evidence that you experience in this waking state proves that the world you now perceive exists independent of your perception of it?
If you ask anyone in your dream whether they perceive the same world as you do, they will probably testify that they do perceive it, and that they perceived it even while you were asleep, but after you wake up from that dream you would not give any weight to their testimony, because you would then recognise that they were all just a creation of your own mind. Why then should you give weight to the testimony of other people that they too perceive this world and that they perceived it even while you were asleep?
Bhagavan used to say that relying on the testimony of other people as evidence that your body and this world existed when you were asleep is like relying on the testimony of a thief as evidence that he is not guilty of a crime. The other people who tell you that the world existed when you were asleep are part of the world whose existence is in doubt, so how can their testimony provide sufficient evidence to prove that it did exist when you were not perceiving it?
Their testimony would be admissible only on the basis of an assumption that they existed when you were asleep, so accepting their testimony would be begging the question — that is, it would be assuming the conclusion and using it as a premise to try to prove itself. In other words, it would entail circular reasoning, because their testimony would be valid only if they existed when you were asleep, so if the world did not exist then their testimony would be invalid.
When we do not even know what we ourself are, how can we know the truth about this world, which we experience only when we experience ourself as a body and mind? If we were really this body and mind, we should always experience ourself as such, even during dream and sleep, but in dream we experience ourself as some other (mind-created) body, and in sleep we experience ourself without experiencing either a body or a mind. Therefore we cannot be this body and mind, so our current experience of ourself is confused and mistaken. Hence, since we are not what we now seem to be, how can we be sure that the world is what it now seems to be? Why should we assume that it is anything but another mental creation, like any world that we experience in a dream?
The reason I cited Hume was merely to show that not only do so-called ‘mystics’ such as Bhagavan tell us on the basis of their own transcendent experience that this world is just a mental creation, but even ordinary philosophers are able to understand on the basis of simple analytical reasoning that we have no reason to assume that the world exists independent of our perception of it.
I do easily comprehend the difficulty which your friend had accepting or understanding the quoted passage from section 616 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharishi: “ahankara shoots up like a rocket and instantaneously spreads out as the Universe”. Did Ramana ever explain that hair-raising assertion? With the greatest respect for Sri Ramana: how should the ego be able to create the universe? In which way could that work? […] It would be nice if we could get some detailed clarification and expounded insights into the reasons about the claim: “If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence. If the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. The ego itself is everything.”The latter quotation is my translation of the first three sentences of verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, which I had quoted in that article. Sri Ramana made this claim on the basis of his own clear experience, and though we cannot deductively infer the same conclusion from our present confused experience, it does not in any way conflict with anything that we experience, because in our experience a world appears whenever our ego rises, it endures so long as our ego endures, and it disappears whenever our ego subsides in sleep.
Regarding Narada’s questions, ‘how should the ego be able to create the universe? In which way could that work?’, according to Sri Ramana the ego creates this world in waking in exactly the same way that it creates a world in a dream. In sleep we do not experience any body or world, but as soon as we begin to dream our ego rises, creating for itself a body and projecting a world through the five senses of that body. Likewise when we wake up from sleep, our ego rises and creates for itself our present body, through the five senses of which it projects this world.
The idea that our ego has created this entire universe seems improbable only if we assume that the universe is anything other than a series of mental or perceptual images. However, we do not have any adequate justification for making such an assumption, because we can only know what we actually experience, and what we experience as ‘the world’ or ‘the universe’ is nothing but a series of perceptual images — sights, sounds, tactile sensations, smells and tastes. We assume these perceptual sensations are caused by things that exist outside of and independent of our mind, but our experience offers us no real evidence that this is the case.
In a subsequent comment on the same article Durvasa challenged the idea that we do not have sufficient evidence to support our belief in the existence of a mind-independent world, saying:
Because we have not the power to avoid the experience of the world so the fact that we experience the (waking) world in the waking state has sufficient evidence. [...] We have no reason to doubt if the world does not exist in all three states. To ask the next-door neighbour and his confirmation of our speculation of an existing world during our sleeping time maybe make no scientific proof. Because we find essentially the same world at waking as we went to sleep is practical evidence enough. That we have no certainty about that conclusion does not matter. [...]The fact that ‘we find essentially the same world at waking as we went to sleep’ is at best only circumstantial evidence — but extremely weak circumstantial evidence — because the idea that this world exists during our sleep and hence independent of our experience of it is not the only possible explanation for such seeming continuity. For example, it could equally well be explained by the idea that it is our same mind that has projected it, and that because our mind has a propensity to convince itself of the reality of its creation, it projects what seems to be essentially the same world on waking that it had projected before falling asleep.
In the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) Sri Ramana says:
[...] நினைவுகளைத் தவிர்த்து ஜகமென்றோர் பொருள் அன்னியமா யில்லை. தூக்கத்தில் நினைவுகளில்லை, ஜகமுமில்லை; ஜாக்ர சொப்பனங்களில் நினைவுகளுள, ஜகமும் உண்டு. சிலந்திப்பூச்சி எப்படித் தன்னிடமிருந்து வெளியில் நூலை நூற்று மறுபடியும் தன்னுள் இழுத்துக் கொள்ளுகிறதோ, அப்படியே மனமும் தன்னிடத்திலிருந்து ஜகத்தைத் தோற்றுவித்து மறுபடியும் தன்னிடமே ஒடுக்கிக்கொள்ளுகிறது. மனம் ஆத்ம சொரூபத்தினின்று வெளிப்படும்போது ஜகம் தோன்றும். ஆகையால், ஜகம் தோன்றும்போது சொரூபம் தோன்றாது; சொரூபம் தோன்றும் (பிரகாசிக்கும்) போது ஜகம் தோன்றாது. [...]What he implies here when he says, ‘ஜகம் தோன்றும்போது சொரூபம் தோன்றாது’ (jagam tōṉḏṟum-pōdu sorūpam tōṉḏṟādu), ‘when the world appears, svarūpa does not appear’, is that we cannot experience ourself as we really are so long as we experience this or any other world. The reason for this is very simple: what experiences the world or anything other than ourself is not ourself as we really are but only ourself as the ego, so we cannot experience what we really are so long as we experience anything other than ourself. Therefore the only way to experience what we really are is to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from our ego, our mind, our body, the world and everything else, and the only way to experience ourself alone is to attend to ourself alone.
[...] niṉaivugaḷai-t tavirttu jagam-eṉḏṟōr poruḷ aṉṉiyamāy illai. tūkkattil niṉaivugaḷ illai, jagam-um illai; jāgra-soppaṉaṅgaḷil niṉaivugaḷ uḷa, jagam-um uṇḍu. silandi-p-pūcci eppaḍi-t taṉṉiḍamirundu veḷiyil nūlai nūṯṟu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉuḷ iṙuttu-k-koḷḷugiṟadō, appaḍiyē maṉam-um taṉṉiḍattilirundu jagattai-t tōṯṟuvittu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉiḍamē oḍukki-k-koḷḷugiṟadu. maṉam ātma sorūpattiṉiṉḏṟu veḷippaḍum-pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟum. āhaiyāl, jagam tōṉḏṟum-pōdu sorūpam tōṉḏṟādu; sorūpam tōṉḏṟum (pirakāśikkum) pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟādu. [...]
[...] Excluding thoughts [or ideas], there is not separately any such thing as ‘world’. In sleep there are no thoughts, [and consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, [and consequently] there is also a world. Just as a spider spins out thread from within itself and again draws it back into itself, so the mind projects the world from within itself and again dissolves it back into itself. When the mind comes out from ātma-svarūpa [our essential self], the world appears. Therefore when the world appears, svarūpa does not appear [as it really is]; when svarūpa appears (shines) [as it really is], the world does not appear. [...]
When a spider has projected a thread and then withdrawn it back into itself, when it next projects it it will be essentially that same thread that it had projected and withdrawn earlier. Likewise, when the mind wakes from sleep and projects this world, what it projects seems to be essentially the same world that it had previously projected but then withdrawn into itself when falling asleep. Therefore the fact that the world seems to be essentially the same whenever we wake up does not mean that it existed as such when we were asleep, because this fact is more simply explained by the idea that whenever our mind rises from sleep it projects essentially the same pattern of thoughts or ideas, and that that pattern of thoughts or ideas is what constitutes the world we perceive.
Even the world that we experience in a dream seems to us at that time to be essentially the same world that we experience in waking, and this is one of the reasons why while dreaming we assume we are awake. Only when we wake up from a dream are we able to recognise the fact that it was not this waking state but only a dream.
Just as we mistake the dream world to be real so long as we are experiencing it, we mistake this waking world to be real so long as we experience it, because in both these states we experience ourself as a body, as if we were just a small part of the seemingly vast world that we are experiencing. While dreaming, we do not recognise either the world we are perceiving or the body we are experiencing as if it were ourself to be mere creations of our mind. Only after we have woken from the dream are we able to recognise this. Likewise, while experiencing this waking state, we are not able to recognise either the world we are now perceiving or the body we are now experiencing as if it were ourself to be mere creations of our mind. We may doubt their reality and suspect them to be mental creations, but we nevertheless experience them as if they were real.
In the same comment that I referred to above Durvasa also wrote: ‘Even in waking state we don’t have any certain knowledge if anything — including ourself — really do exist at all’. However, this is simply not the case. Though we cannot know for certain whether anything other than ourself actually exists (because though such things do seem to exist, they could all be illusions created by our own mind), we do know for certain that we exist, because in order to experience anything, whether real or illusory, we must exist. Our own existence is therefore self-evident, whereas the existence of anything else (including the ego, mind and body that we now mistake to be ourself) is doubtful.
Since our own existence — and our awareness of our existence, which is inseparable from it — alone is certain, Sri Ramana advises us to set aside the idea that anything else is real and to focus all our interest, effort and attention only on trying to experience what we really are. Therefore, since we cannot experience ourself as we really are so long as we are attached to the idea that anything else that we experience is real, he taught us that it is necessary for us to consider our ego, our mind, our body and this world (or any other body or world that we may experience) to be unreal.