Reaching the Real through the Unreal
Maharaj Charan Singh makes the following statement regarding that which is real and that which is unreal:
My definition of real is that it never changes. That which is true, only that is real. All else is illusion. Only the Lord is real. The soul is real. All other things change.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 1
When the Masters say something is unreal, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist; it exists as in a dream – it is impermanent and it deceives us into believing it is real and important. We get so caught up in our involvement with the world, we forget that for every joy there will be a sorrow and yet we continue to strive to solve difficulties – make our fortune, marry the princess, kill the dragon, save the world.
Carving out a career, serving humanity, expressing ourselves, and pursuing dreams and ambitions is part of our karma, and supporting family and being responsible human beings are part of our duty. But if these things are more important to us than the spiritual path, then following this path becomes extremely challenging.
However, we cannot allow ourselves to become so disenchanted with the world and its pain and suffering that it becomes an aversion to us. It doesn’t help to resist life. We have to face our circumstances with clarity and responsibility, knowing that we have created our own karma through our past actions. By respecting our worldly duty and honouring our spiritual commitments, we lighten our karmic load, cleanse the mind, and learn to live in the will of the Lord. By working with the unreal we come to the real.
The mystic Bahinabai explains this paradox beautifully:
If you abandon your family
because it isn’t your real family,
this will be your loss, friend.
It takes clear thinking
to reach the Real through the unreal.
Only within this dream of a body
can you awaken to Truth and rest in the One.
Borax is worthless but it makes gold coalesce.
Blunt iron tools shape gold into jewellery.
Bachnag [aconite] is a poison, but take it and thrive –
it cancels a stronger poison that kills.
If you walk the way of a teacher of Truth,
you’ll reach the Real through the unreal.
Many Voices One Song
Bahinabai addresses those who think they can use spiritual truth to avoid personal karmic responsibility. Saints remind us that our human attachments are karmic impediments on the spiritual path. If they are more important than the Lord then we won’t be able to prioritize the path. Nonetheless, we cannot use this as an excuse to avoid the many challenges that come with human relationships.
Many seekers turn to the Lord because of unhappiness, but trying to avoid suffering is not the same as spiritual longing. We can, however, use our dissatisfaction with the illusory nature of the world as a goad to spur our efforts.
Bahinabai reminds us that liberation from the cycle of transmigration can only happen while in the human form. Our “dream of a body” is the Lord’s temple, the gateway to liberation. It is also our implement for clearing karma, the laboratory in which we scour and purify our minds through meditation. Here is how we rise within to where the Shabd is ringing our way home.
She says that although our bodies and our lives in this material plane are illusory and transient, they are the catalysts for our spiritual labours – just as borax coalesces gold and blunt tools shape it into jewellery.
Her poem ends by pointing to the method in which one can reach the Real through the unreal: We need to walk with a teacher of Truth who can lead us through material sensory existence to the actual experience of that Truth. Having found such a teacher, says Bahinabai, we must walk his way: we must do as he teaches, not just give lip service The following extract explains:
Mulla Nasruddin was seen with a book tied to his leg:
His friend asked Nasruddin,“Why do you have a book tied to your leg?”
“So I won’t lose it,” replied Nasruddin.
“But you can’t read it when it’s tied to your leg.”
“I can’t read it if I lose it either.”
When navigating the unreal, we need to be very conscious of its many pitfalls and try to avoid them. There comes a time when instead of paying lip service, action is required. We can discuss the path, do all the external stuff – do seva, attend satsang – but it is only meditation that will take us on our journey to the Real by traversing the Unreal.