What’s real

Some folks in spiritual circles like to use words such as reality, imaginary, illusion and so on.

What do these words mean? What do they refer to?

Changes. It’s subjective, in a sense, since what appears to use as real/illusion is different for each of us, and changes over time for each of us. To a friend of mine, it may appear very real that she needs more money. To me, it may appear a little differently. Also, what appears as real for me a few years ago, doesn’t in the same way now.

Real. What’s real? (a) In one sense, what’s real is God – Spirit, Big Mind/Heart, Brahman. It’s this awakeness that everything happens within and as. (b) In another sense, if something is real to me, if it appears real because I believe my thoughts and images, then it is real in my world. It’s real to me. I perceive and live as if it’s real.

Imagined. I like this word because it’s meant quite literally. There is a sound, and then an image of a man with a leaf blower down the street. There is an image of a me and I. An image of a world. An image of beings. An image of time. An image of past, future, present. An image of space. Sometimes, these are overlaid on sensory experiences, and sometimes they function on their own. This world of images is my world, it’s the world I live in and from. I may take some of these images as real and true, or at least representing something real and true “out there” in the world. Or I may recognize them as images. And in any case, it’s all imaged. It’s all imaginary.

Illusion. Taking an image or thought as real, I see, feel, think and act as if it’s real. I live as if it’s true and real. Later, I may come to see that the image or thought wasn’t as true as I had thought anyway. And I may tell myself, it was an illusion. I believed in an illusion. I took it to be real, in my innocence.

Reality and the rest. One way to talk about this is that God is the only reality, and the rest are appearances within and as God. It’s the play of Spirit. It’s lila. When images and thoughts are taken as true, they may appear very true, and yet it’s still not really true.

Onion. It can be a bit like an onion. What at one time appears real and true for me, is later revealed as not so true. I thought the label suffering was real and true, and yet when I questioned it I found something else. I thought I was a Norwegian citizen, a man, a certain age, and when I look, I find something else. I thought there was a me here, and when I look, something else is revealed. I thought I was awareness aware of the world, and something else was revealed. And so on. Taking an image or thought as real, it appears real to me. Investigating a bit further, and something else may be revealed.

The usefulness of the imagined. What’s imagined can be very helpful. It helps me navigate and function in the world. And I also see that when I take what’s imagined to be real or to represent reality, it’s painful. And when I see it’s imagined, it’s a relief.


– changes over time
– real – Spirit, Big Mind/Heart + appearances
– imaginary – imagined, literally
– illusion – taking what’s imagined as real

It’s subjective in one sense, since what appears as reality, illusion etc. is what appears that way to each of us here and now.

Something may appear very real to me, and later be revealed as something else.


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