In many spiritual traditions, such as some schools of of Buddhism, vedanta and yoga, seekers are advised to consider the world to be like a dream: ephemeral, transient and illusory. But is the world really an illusion, or is this merely a teaching method?
Many well-versed pandits and scholars have debated this very issue over the centuries, but for those that have glimpsed the reality that lies beyond mere verbal assertions, such debates are missing the essential point.
Here are two powerful quotes from Ramana Maharshi explaining how the teachings work:
Question: “Brahman (the Supreme Spirit) is real. The world is illusion” is the stock phrase of Sri Sankaracharya. Yet others say, “The world is reality.” Which is true?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Both statements are true. They refer to different stages of development and are spoken from different points of view. The (spiritual) aspirant starts with the definition, that which is real exists always. Then he eliminates the world as unreal because it is changing.
The seeker ultimately reaches the Self and there finds unity as the prevailing note. Then, that which was originally rejected as being unreal is found to be a part of the unity. Being absorbed in the reality, the world also is real. There is only being in Self-realisation, and nothing but being.
From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 33
We can clearly see Ramana says the teaching that the world is an illusion is itself a ‘thorn used to remove a thorn’. The teaching is a concept, and it is used to remove another concept, before they are both thrown away.
Here is another instructive quote: