Most of us may have wondered at one time or another —Is the world around us real ? Or is it a dream, a mere illusion ?
To this question Adhyatma Yoga gives a clear-cut answer, albeit an answer which is liable to be misinterpreted on a superficial view. The world of experience, the Yoga says, is a stubborn fact which cannot be argued away as a phantasmal imagination of the mind.
The wars in the Middle-East, the plight of the millions of displaced persons and refugees in Europe, the cries of those in every land suffering from incurable diseases, are in every sense as real as our bewildered and seemingly helpless minds which look on at them. Not to face up to these problems of the world, and even to deny their existence, is self-deceptive escapism ; it is to act like the pigeon which hopes, by closing its eyes, to dismiss the cat about to jump at its throat. In the Bhagawad Gita and other classics, the clear teaching for spiritual novices is to accept the empirical reality of the world and to struggle ceaselessly and resolutely to overcome the obstacles which life in it presents. The world is like a school in which the scholars have to work zealously for their final degree of jnana (spiritual knowledge).
And yet there is a sense in which spiritually enlightened men have spoken of the world as a dream—not indeed as a dream of the mind of man, but as a dream of the Supreme Self, Atman. It is Atman which, so to say, dreams both the external world and the minds which perceive it. The individual minds cannot claim to possess any greater degree of reality than the objects which they apprehend through the senses ; for, in fact, neither subject nor object has an absolute reality. The only Reality is God, Atman, the unchanging Substratum of the transient dream of duality.
Consciously to realize the true nature of Self is to transcend and negate the realm of subject and object, just as to wake up is to recognize the absolute non-existence of a dream which had been taken for real in the dreaming state. Swami Rama Tirtha was expressing this in calling his readers to the God-Consciousness which for him was no longer an ideal but a matter of direct realization :—“ Wake up, wake up, shake off your sleep and this dream of the world ! Why grovel in misery and helplessness, when it is no other than your own Self, which is all in all ? O, rise up to Self-Consciousness and all sorrows shall vanish. Let both the mind and the world be melted down in God- Consciousness ”.