“My dear Lord, this whole cosmic manifestation is just like a flashing dream, and its temporary existence simply disturbs the mind. As a result, we are full of anxiety in this existence; to live within this material world means simply to suffer and to be full of all miseries. And yet this temporary existence of the material world appears to be pleasing and dear on account of its having evolved from Your body, which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge.” (Lord Brahma speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 14)
Illusion is one of the common themes in Vedic literature. The world we live in is likened to a dream, a temporary state that is mistaken to be permanent. Pain, misery, and elation arise during the state of slumber, only to disappear later on. If at any time we remember that we are not actually in the dream, that our true self is with the body lying asleep, the proper intelligence can be invoked to save the day. In the same vein, one who knows that everything in this world is temporary will be better suited to deal with the day-to-day issues that arise. More importantly, they can learn that even the pleasurable aspects of this world exist for a reason: they emanate from the original creator.
To see how the illusion operates, just think of the issues that bother you at present. Are you worried about school? What about your job? Perhaps you’re sick and wondering when you’ll get better? Or in the worst case, you are suffering acute emotional distress due to the loss of either a relationship or the association of another person. Surely these seem like legitimate issues to lament over right now, but in all likelihood you have worried over similar things in the past. Those issues somehow resolved themselves. Even in instances of failure, you made it through. You’re still alive today to relive those past moments. The worst incidents like tragedies relating to friends and family members also didn’t bring you down; you kept going.
The same issues are faced by others today, were faced by members of generations past, and will occur for people yet to be born. You yourself will undergo more hardships in the future relating to issues yet to sprout, so where is the cause for excessive lamentation today? Only through illusion, one that is very difficult to break free from, do you worry so much that you think of taking drastic measures to change things.
Since both pain and pleasure arrive in due course without invitation, the highest philosophy known as Vedanta does not pay much attention to them. The entire material existence is likened to a dream, something that is unreal. The manifestations come and go, but the emotional effect on the individual is certainly real. We may watch a movie or a television show and know that it’s a scripted performance, but the experience of being immersed in the action is definitely genuine. The tears we cry at the end are not fake.
The reality of the experience relates to our identity as spirit soul. And on the larger scale, the truth to the dream, the cause for the distinction between material and spiritual, is the Supreme Soul. There is an inherent link between the two. The individual is part and parcel of the Supreme, and in an ideal state the individual offers loving service to the Supreme. The material aspect is introduced when the constitutional state is forgotten. In that diseased condition, the false reality is served instead of the person responsible for its creation. The illusion continues for as long as the individual desires it. Think of it like sitting in a virtual reality chair and not wanting to get up. For the material existence, instead of putting on strange glasses, you get bodies that constantly change. Karma determines your future fortunes and misfortunes, and at the end of each game you get a new body for the next experience.
Because of the nature of the creator there must be some pleasure in the dreamland. In the Vedas He is referred to by more specific names than just God. The term “God” can be tossed around and exploited based on personal whim. Some will say that God is the person who favors them in their desires for temporary gain in the dreamland, while others will say that God punishes those who don’t submit to His will. In reality, the punishment and reward exist already, as the animals have no conception of spirit and matter and they too experience the dreamland.
The abstract God has a personality and features. He is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. His form is thus described as sach-chid-ananda. Since He is all-attractive, He can be addressed as Krishna. The all-attractive vision is gifted the eyes of the fortunate souls chosen to participate in the divine pastimes. Krishna descends to Vrindavana during the Dvapara Yuga and delights the kind-hearted residents. The saints note down His activities and present them in poetry form. The resulting sacred works are then passed down to future generations, to be heard and learned from.
And what is the message to take away? It would make sense that a component of the ultimate solution is to break free from the virtual reality. Escape the dream, or at least know that your experience is only temporary. Coupled with that realization is knowledge that there is a true reality that comes with the association of the Supreme Person. Krishna uses His maya, or energy, to make this dreamland, so He can eliminate its influence as well. More importantly, we can use the objects from the dream to our advantage. The ears attached to the body can hear about Krishna, the tongue can chant Krishna’s names, the legs can travel to holy places, the eyes can gaze upon the deity, and the arms can clap along to the singing of songs glorifying Krishna.
There are endless possibilities for material enjoyment in the dreamland, and there are as many outlets for devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. In this highest discipline the temporary pleasure turns into ananda, or bliss. Instead of disturbing the mind, the various aspects to the material creation help to fuel the enthusiasm to please Krishna, who always reciprocates the devotee’s offerings. Sometimes He’ll remove obstacles that weren’t foreseen, keeping the devoted soul under His wing, protecting them like a pet child. The outlook of the individual then changes as well, as the eyes are said to be anointed with the salve of devotional love. Sort of like putting on rose colored glasses, seeing with the Krishna vision enables one to use everything around them properly and thus remain immune to the effects of the dreamland. While the manifestations may be temporary, the progress towards Krishna is permanent, and in the end there is a life full of devotion that never ceases to bring new opportunities for pleasure.
Though temporary real everything seems,
Never would think it all to be a dream.
But just as when you finally awake,
The past nightmare’s scenes to forsake.
When death its time announces,
Living being body and possessions renounces.
There is a controller to this dreamland,
That is made by maya of Shri Krishna’s hand.
Use items from dream for consciousness to grow,
In Krishna-bhakti life of misery forego.