Illusory nature of the universe
Vedanta begins its logical arguments on the premise that the world is an illusion. The illusion that is meant here is that what exists is not exactly what it is, but appears to be something else. The tree seems to us like a tree at first sight, but a deep look into it through dissection and a microscope reveals that it is only atoms, molecules, particles and quarks floating in space.
The Vivekachoodamani of Sri Adi Sankaracharya repeatedly points out that it is our task to strive for and reach the understanding and abidance on that infinite reality, our true self. Reiterating its nature, the Master says the reality is the truth, it is the real form, it is consciousness, non-dual, the nature of bliss, formless and action-less.
Whatever we see in our own world of likes, dislikes, anger, hatred, jealousy, grief, sorrow, exhilaration and joy are only our illusory mental projections. They come and go. Whatever we see outside in the world of names and forms are a collective projection of all living beings. It is not that man alone sees the world as it is. Even a crow has the sense of care, protection and danger if its newly hatched chick has fallen on the ground. The mother crow goes around pecking anybody going near. The difference between animal and human is that the former will never realise this illusion while the latter can understand it with the right process of listening, reflecting and meditating.
When this illusory reality has been realised, the identification with the body as, “This is I,” should be dropped. When we hold some hot object, we do not contemplate if it has to be dropped or not. We do it immediately. The identification with the body is like holding on to a burning stuff, which can lead us to commit actions that give endless pain.
The uniqueness of this thought is that we will never come to know of the illusory nature of body, mind, intellect and the moving world of names and forms unless it is pointed out by the Shastras. For example, the coronavirus is there somewhere in the air and passes through respiratory droplets. We cannot see it with our naked eyes, but we do not deny its presence as people who have researched it say it is there and hence we take the necessary precautions. In the same way, we do not know the illusory nature of the world. People who have studied the sacred texts point it out through their reflection and understanding, and we have to adopt it in our perception for our own happiness and peace of mind.
The example that the Acharya gives on how we discard our identity is like the actor who removes his drama clothes and gets into his real outfit after the play is over. In the same way, we have to get into the understanding of our real self after the illusory play of changing names, forms and qualities has ended in our understanding.