The Illusory World

The Gurbani (and other Indian scriptures) calls this created universe “Jhooth” (false or fake), “Mithyaa or Bharam” (illusion), and ” Supanaa” (dream). Calling this universe or material world false, illusion and dream does not mean this world is non-existent. If this world was nonexistent then it would not have been experienced by us. Then is it real? According to the scriptures, no – it is not real. Although one cannot ignore the physical reality of the innumerable variety of beings (animate) and objects (inanimate), but nothing in it can be called real because it is subject to change every moment, like our mind.

Thus, this material world is neither real nor unreal.

Anything that cannot be described as real or unreal is called Mithyaa (“ਮਿਥਿਆ”) or illusion in Indian scriptures. When we call this world illusion, it simply means that “what we deem it to be, it is not like that”. We think it to be permanent, it is not; we think it to be nonperishable, it is not; we think it to be changeless, it is not; we think it to be eternal, it is not; we think it to be forever, it is not; we think it to be never-ending, it is not; we think it to be unlimited or infinite, it is not; we think it to be Reality, it is not…

When one ignore or forgets the truth this world to be Mithyaa (also spelt Mithya), then the world becomes the cause of his attachment and repeated suffering.

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਕਹਤ ਜਗਤ ਸਭ ਮਿਥਿਆ ਜਿਉ ਸੁਪਨਾ ਰੈਨਾਈ ॥੨॥੧॥: Nanak kahat jagat sabh mithiaa jiou supanaa rainaaee ||2||1||: Nanak says, the entire material world is illusion like the nightly dream ||2||1|| (sggs 1231).
  • ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਜਿਉ ਝੂਠੋ ਇਹੁ ਜਗ ਦੇਖਿ ਤਾਸਿ ਉਠਿ ਧਾਵੈ ॥੧॥: Mrig trisnaa jiyu jhootho ihu jag dekhi taasi uthi dhavai ||1||: This world is false like the deer’s delusion (ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ: ਠਗ-ਨੀਰ, mirage). (As a deer chases after mirage – ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ, ਠਗ-ਨੀਰ – and dies chasing it), similarly, (the Maya stricken person) on beholding this world runs after it (and suffers – ਆਤਮਕ ਮੌਤ) ||1|| (sggs 219).

Thus the Gurbani emphasizes that the body and the material world have only a temporary, ephemeral, or fleeting existence. However, the Mool (ਮੂਲ) that sustains the Jeeva (individual being) is non-physical, subtle, and eternal, which enables the Jeeva (individual being) to strive to free (liberation-ਮੁਕਤੀ) himself from this illusion. The Gurbani views the tangible universe merely as insubstantial dream. In dream, the dream world appears to be real, but in truth all that seen and believed to real in a dream have no real status. Similarly, in waking state, the world appears to be real.

On account of the ignorance, we are unable to see our Mool (Joti-Svaroopa). Darkness of ignorance is nothing but the non-apprehension of greater Reality. This non-apprehension of Reality causes the misapprehension in life.

For example, in darkness when we do not have the true knowledge of a rope, we may misunderstand it to be either a snake, or a piece of stick, or a streak of water, or a crack in the ground, and so on. Thus, due to initial non-apprehension of the rope, we could have misapprehensions of the various other objects superimposed on the rope. In other words, the snake did seem to be very much present because only the snake was initially perceived by the mind and not the rope.

  • ਰਾਜ ਭੁਇਅੰਗ ਪ੍ਰਸੰਗ ਜੈਸੇ ਹਹਿ ਅਬ ਕਛੁ ਮਰਮੁ ਜਨਾਇਆ ॥ ਅਨਿਕ ਕਟਕ ਜੈਸੇ ਭੂਲਿ ਪਰੇ ਅਬ ਕਹਤੇ ਕਹਨੁ ਨ ਆਇਆ ॥੩॥: Raaj bhuiang prasangi jaise hahi ab kashu maramu janaaiaa || Anik katak jaiase bhooli pare kahate kahanu n aaiaa ||3|| (sggs 658).

Hence, it was our conditioned mind that mistook the rope to be the snake. In other words, it was our non-apprehension of the rope that gave rise to the misapprehension of the snake. When the misapprehension is removed, the snake disappears, and only the rope remains. The Gurbani teaches us the valuable Knowledge (Giaan-ਗਿਆਨ) about the fleeting world, and this Divine Knowledge is beneficial to the entire world at all times. This truth relieves us from repeated suffering.

  • ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਬਾਣਿ ਬਜਰ ਕਲ ਛੇਦੀ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਿਆ ਪਦੁ ਪਰਗਾਸਾ ॥ ਸਕਤਿ ਅਧੇਰ ਜੇਵੜੀ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਚੂਕਾ ਨਿਹਚਲੁ ਸਿਵ ਘਰਿ ਬਾਸਾ ॥੨॥: Gur kai baani bajar kal chhedee pragatiaa padu paragasaa. Sakti adher jevarhee bhramu chookaa nihchalu siv ghari vaasaa ||2|| (sggs 332).