Q. “The Supreme Spirit (Brahman) is Real. The world (jagat) is illusion,” is the stock phrase of Sri Sankaracharya. Yet others say, “The world is reality”. Which is true?

M.: Both statements are true. They refer to different stages of development and are spoken from different points of view. The aspirant (abhyasi) starts with the definition, that which is real exists always; then he eliminates the world as unreal because it is changing. It cannot be real; “not this, not this!” The seeker ultimately reaches the Self and there finds unity as the prevailing note. Then, that which was originally rejected as being unreal is found to be a part of the unity. Being absorbed in the Reality, the world also is Real. There is only being in Self-Realisation, and nothing but being. Again Reality is used in a different sense and is applied loosely by some thinkers to objects. They say that the reflected (adhyasika) Reality admits of degrees which are named:

(1) Vyavaharika satya (everyday life) - this chair is seen by me and is real.

(2) Pratibhasika satya (illusory) - Illusion of serpent in a coiled rope. The appearance is real to the man who thinks so. This phenomenon appears at a point of time and under certain circumstances.

(3) Paramartika satya (ultimate) - Reality is that which remains the same always and without change.

If Reality be used in the wider sense the world may be said to have the everyday life and illusory degrees (vyavaharika and pratibhasika satya). Some, however, deny even the reality of practical life - vyavaharika satya and consider it to be only projection of the mind. According to them it is only pratibhasika satya, i.e., an illusion. (p.41-42)

M. The world is not external. The impressions cannot have an outer origin. Because the world can be cognised only by consciousness. The world does not say that it exists. It is your impression. Even so this impression is not consistent and not unbroken. In deep sleep the world is not cognised; and so it exists not for the sleeping man. Therefore the world is the sequence of the ego. Find out the ego. The finding of its source is the final goal. (p. 56)

Q. What is the best way of living?

M.: It differs according as one is a jnani or ajnani. A jnani does not find anything different or separate from the Self. All are in the Self. It is wrong to imagine that there is the world, that there is a body in it and that you dwell in the body. If the Truth is known, the universe and what is beyond it will be found to be only in the Self. The outlook differs according to the sight of the person. The sight is from the eye. The eye must be located somewhere. If you are seeing with the gross eyes you find others gross. If with subtle eyes (i.e., the mind) others appear subtle. If the eye becomes the Self, the Self being infinite, the eye is infinite. There is nothing else to see different from the Self. (p. 102-103)

Q. The Westerners look on mind as the highest principle, whereas the Easterners think the contrary - why?

M.: Where psychology ends, there philosophy begins. This is experience; the mind is born; we see it; even without the mind we exist. There is every one's experience to prove it.

M.: There are two schools in Advaita: 1. Drishti srishti (simultaneous creation) and 2. Srishti drishti (gradual creation).

There is the Tantric Advaita which admits three fundamentals jagat, jiva, Isvara - world, soul, God. These three are also real. But the Reality does not end with them. It extends beyond. That is the Tantric Advaita. The Reality is limitless. The three fundamentals do not exist apart from the Absolute Reality. All agree that Reality is all-pervading; that Isvara pervades jiva; therefore the jiva has eternal being. His knowledge is not limited. Limited knowledge is only imagined by him. In truth, his is infinite knowledge. Its limit is Silence. This truth was revealed by Dakshinamurti. For those who still perceive these three fundamentals they are said to be realities. They are concomitant with the ego.

True, the images of gods are described in great detail. Such description points only to the final Reality. Otherwise why is the special significance of each detail also given? Think. The image is only a symbol. Only that which lies beyond name and form is Reality. Saiva Siddhanta and Vedanta have the common aim of the same Truth. Otherwise how could Sri Sankaracharya, the greatest exponent of Advaita, sing praises of gods? Obviously he did so knowingly.

Q. What is mahat?

M.: The projected light from absolute Consciousness. Just as a seed swells up before sprouting and then sprouts and grows, so also the Absolute Consciousness projects light, manifests as the ego and grows up as the body of the universe.


Chit = Absolute


Mahat = projected consciousness

  (swollen seed)


Ahankara = ego


Manas = mind


Aham Idam = body world


Q. Is it the same as cosmic consciousness?

M.: Yes, it is so before the birth of the ego and the universe. It comprises them all. Just as all the pictures thrown on the screen are visible by the light projected from a spot, so also the body and the other objects are all visible in that reflected consciousness. It is, therefore, also cosmic consciousness.

Again, (in the microcosm) the body and all other objects are all contained in the brain. The light is projected on the brain. The impressions in the brain become manifest as the body and the worlds. Because the ego identifies itself with limitations, the body is considered separate and the world separate. (...........)

Q. Then cosmic consciousness is not the same as realisation?

M.: Cosmic consciousness lies behind the ego. It may be called Isvara, and the ego is jiva. Isvara may also be said to be the Absolute. There is no difference there.


Para = Absolute


Isvara = Cosmic Consciousness



Jiva Jagat Individual Consciousness

  and the world


The consciousness which pervades even Isvara is the Absolute one.

M.: The essence of mind is only awareness or consciousness. When the ego, however, dominates it, it functions as the reasoning, thinking or sensing faculty. The cosmic mind being not limited by the ego, has nothing separate from itself and is therefore only aware. This is what the Bible means by “I am that I AM”.

Q. Can we not proceed from external to internal?

M.: Is there any difference like that? Do you feel the difference - external and internal - in your sleep? This difference is only with reference to the body and arises with body-consciousness (“I”-thought). The so-called waking state is itself an illusion.

Turn your vision inward and then the whole world will be full of Supreme Spirit. The world is said to be illusion. Illusion is really Truth. Even the material sciences trace the origin of the universe to some one primordial matter - subtle, exceedingly subtle.

God is the same both to those who say the world is real and to their opponents. Their outlook is different. You need not entangle yourself in such disputations. The goal is one and the same for all. Look to it. (p. 166)

M.: It is enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is to give oneself up to the original cause of one's being. Do not delude yourself by imagining such source to be some God outside you. One's source is within yourself. Give yourself up to it. That means that you should seek the source and merge in it. Because you imagine yourself to be out of it, you raise the question “Where is the source?” Some contend that the sugar cannot taste its own sweetness and that a taster must taste and enjoy it. Similarly, an individual cannot be the Supreme and enjoy the Bliss of that state; therefore the individuality must be maintained on the one hand and God-head on the other so that enjoyment may result! Is God insentient like sugar? How can one surrender oneself and yet retain one's individuality for supreme enjoyment? Furthermore they say also that the soul, reaching the divine region and remaining there, serves the Supreme Being. Can the sound of the word “service” deceive the Lord? Would not He - the Pure Consciousness - ask in turn: “Who are you apart from Me that presume to serve Me?”

Still more, they assume that the individual soul becomes pure by being divested of the ego and fit for being the body of the Lord. Thus the Lord is the Spirit and the purified souls constitute His body and limbs! Can there be a soul for the souls? How many souls are there? The answer must be, “There are many individual souls but One Supreme Soul.” What is soul in that case? It cannot be the body, etc. What remains over after all these are eliminated must be said to be the soul. Thus even after realising the soul as that which cannot be discarded, the Supreme Soul must be known to exist. In that case, how was the soul realised to be ultimate reality after discarding all that was alien to it? Should this be right, the soul which was described as that inalienable reality is not the true soul. All such confusion is due to the word “soul” (atma). The same word atma is used to signify the body, the senses, the mind, the vital principle, the individual soul and the Supreme Being. This wide application of the word has given rise to the idea that the individual soul (jivatma), goes to constitute the body of the Supreme (Paramatma). “I, O Arjuna! am the Self, seated in the heart of all beings;....” Bhagavad Gita, X-20. The stanza shows that the Lord is the Atma (Self) of all beings. Does it say, “the Self of the selves”? If, on the other hand, you merge in the Self there will be no individuality left. You will become the source itself. In that case what is surrender? Who is to surrender what and to whom? This constitutes devotion, wisdom, and investigation.

Among the Vaishnavites too, Saint Nammalvar says, “I was in a maze, sticking to “I” and “mine”; I wandered without knowing my Self. On realising my Self I understand that I myself am You and that “mine” (i.e., my possessions) is only You.”

Thus - you see - Devotion is nothing more than knowing oneself. The school of Qualified Nondualism also admits it. Still, adhering to their traditional doctrine, they persist in affirming that the individuals are part of the Supreme - his limbs as it were. Their traditional doctrine says also that the individual soul should be made pure and then surrendered to the Supreme; then the ego is lost and one goes to the regions of Vishnu after one's death; then finally there is the enjoyment of the Supreme (or the Infinite)!

To say that one is apart from the Primal Source is itself a pretension; to add that one divested of the ego becomes pure and yet retains individuality only to enjoy or serve the Supreme, is a deceitful stratagem. What duplicity in this - first to appropriate what is really His, and then pretend to experience or serve Him! Is not all this already known to Him? (p. 175-177)

Q. How is the mind to dive into the Heart?

The mind now sees itself diversified as the universe. If the diversity is not manifest it remains in its own essence, that is the Heart. Entering the Heart means remaining without distractions.

The Heart is the only Reality. The mind is only a transient phase. To remain as one's Self is to enter the Heart.

Because a man identifies himself with the body he sees the world separate from him. This wrong identification arises because he has lost his moorings and has swerved from his original state. He is now advised to give up all these false ideas, to trace back his source and remain as the Self. In that state, there are no differences. No questions will arise.

All the sastras are meant only to make the man retrace his steps to the original source. He need not gain anything new. He must only give up his false ideas and useless accretions. Instead of doing it he tries to catch hold of something strange and mysterious because he believes that his happiness lies elsewhere. That is the mistake.

If one remains as the Self there is bliss. Probably he thinks that being quiet does not bring about the state of bliss. That is due to his ignorance. The only practice is to find out “to whom these questions arise”. (p. 210)

M.: The seven Jnana bhumikas (stages of knowledge) are: 1. Subhechcha (desire for enlightenment); 2. Vicharana (hearing and reflection); 3. Tanumanasi (tenuous mind); 4. Sttvapatti (Self-Realisation); 5. Asamsakti (non-attachment); 6. Padarthabhavani (absolute non-perception of objects); 7. Turyaga (beyond words).

Those who have attained the last four Bhumikas are respectively called Brahmavit, Brahmavidvara, Brahmavidvarya and Brahmavidvarishtha. (p. 214)

Q. A Persian mystic says: “There is nothing but God.” The Quran says: “God is immanent in all.”

M.: There is no “all”, apart from God, for Him to pervade. He alone is. (p. 224)

Q. Should I not see the world at all?

M.: You are not instructed to shut your eyes from the world. You are only to “see yourself first and then see the whole world as the Self”. If you consider yourself as the body the world appears to be external. If you are the Self the world appears as Brahman. (p. 228)

These quotations are selected from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Tiruvannamalaj 1989