Dreams seem real while we are dreaming. While dreaming, one is totally oblivious to the waking state world. When we wake up, the very dream that seemed so real whilst dreaming, becomes unreal. But if we never woke up? What will be a dream and what will be the reality then? If our sleep continues endlessly, then dreams would become our reality. When you are in the dream world, you have absolutely no memory of the waking world and when you are in the wakeful state, the dream becomes meaningless. However, while dreaming it is convincing to such an extent that the dream becomes your reality.
Usually we don’t understand our dream world because we are so worried about our waking world. The waking world seems to be the real world which we care for. When you wake up from a dream, maybe for a few minutes, some emotions of fear or pleasure experienced in the dream state, may linger in your mind. But usually, after a short time the waking state erases all the memories of the dream. The dream is gone and while it seemed real just a few moments ago, it becomes meaningless.
Well, this world which you take to be real - is no more real than a dream. It is as illusory as a dream. Only a self-realized person knows the absolute reality. In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna is asked by Arjuna: how does an enlightened being see, how does he hear, how does he behave, how does he talk, how does he interact in the world. Sri Krishna says that the behavior of a gyani (a realized person) is as normal as any other person but even when the gyani talks, walks, sees, interacts - he knows it is the body which is functioning with the help of the mind and he knows that what he is seeing is just an imposition of the illusionary world on the substratum of the omniscient Brahman. Everything else that is being seen, all names the forms, are just the waves occurring in the ocean of consciousness-existence-bliss (sat-chit-ananda).
It’s not that the gyani has some extraordinary eyes through which he can see even the molecules and atoms! Nothing of the sort. The one who knows the Self sees the world as it is. But even in that seeing, there is no misconception about what is truth and what is untruth. Knowing ‘this body is not I’, the gyani continues to use the body to sit, stand, walk, talk, sleep, eat, work, sing and dance. All these so-called activities of the body will be absolutely as normal as any other person. There won’t be any difference in that. The only difference is that for an ignorant person the real Self is not known, and for the gyani the real Self is known.
There is nothing extraordinary in a gyani’s seeing, yet there is a big change in his perception that happens effortlessly. For example: for a common person it is a great effort to silence the mind, but for a gyani, it is effortless. When needed, he uses the mind to think, to create, to plan; using his or her mind beautifully without allowing the mind to overpower the wisdom. In order to arrive at this state, the gyani has treaded a long and arduous path, the path of spirituality. This can be understood with the analogy of a ballet dancer.
A ballet dancer’s training starts in childhood. The child, who goes to a ballet school, practices very hard for long hours: stretching, learning to stand on toes with poise and elegance, learning to harden up the tips of the toes in such a way that she can be not only standing up, but also leaping, jumping, twirling and dancing. But at the beginning it is a torture; they bleed, ache, cry, sometimes they pull their muscles - the life of a dancer is very tuff. They lead a very disciplined life and they go through a lot of pain, but once they complete their training, then they can dance and fly in the air effortlessly as if defying gravity.
A spiritual aspirant has to go through a similar arduous training. Indeed, it is a great effort to calm the mind, to do dharana, to integrate one’s mind. Mind tends to slip away like mercury. It is like a frog that jumps around and when you sit down to do your practice, even half an hour seems like eternity. Mind is filled with so many strong emotions, desires and prejudices, that it becomes very hard for the person to sit down peacefully. But as the practice goes deeper, the mind slowly moves into a zone where it doesn’t even exist and that is what the Buddhists call ‘no mind’ (shoonyata), emptiness.
Your body shadow is formed when the sun is present and disappears once there is no sun. So where does the shadow go? Shadow is not different form the body and yet for a shadow to appear there has to be some source of light. The shadow has no identity of its own, it is there just because the body is there. You don’t say, ‘I am going to the temple’ and then you talk to your shadow, ‘Do you want to come along?!’ You don’t buy two tickets for the bus and say, ‘One is for me and one is for my shadow’!
For a gyani, this whole world is like a shadow, it becomes ‘my shadow’, the shadow which is ‘not different from me’. The gyani sees the whole world as ‘me’. Once you know what water is, then every bubble, every drop of various sizes, the under currents in the sea or the waves which are on the surface, everything is water. And if water was asked the question, ‘How do you see the waves and the bubbles?’ Water will say, ‘It is me’. So, for a gyani this whole world is ‘me’.
There is a beautiful couplet in Urdu: ‘All these beautiful faces are the beads of my mala (rosary). The faces keep on changing while my worship is going on’. For a gyani, every face on this earth is the bead of his mala as he turns the beads. This is the ultimate state of gyana, where everything has merged into one and there is no more need to sit down and calm the mind and turn the beads of the mala, because the gyani is in a different zone, where even with the eyes open, the mind is always in meditative state.