Things are not what they seem, but they are not a dream

Materialists often take things at face value. If something looks attractive, they assume it will be a source of pleasure. Even when it doesn’t give much pleasure and even when its attractiveness fades soon, they still don’t realize the deceptive nature of material charms; instead, they fall for some other good-looking material thing.

It takes intelligence to grasp that all material things, no matter how seductive, are just combinations of material elements such as earth, water and fire – none of which are particularly attractive. Only when one starts looking beyond material appearances does the spiritual quest begin in earnest.

Matter is eternal implies that the illusion pertains not to its existence but to its appearance.

However, if such spiritual seekers don’t seek scriptural wisdom, they succumb to the error of dismissing everything material as unreal, akin to a dream. Scripture does use the dream metaphor, but that usage is to convey the temporality of material things, not their unreality. The Bhagavad-gita (13.20) stresses that matter and consciousness are both beginningless. That matter is eternal implies that the illusion pertains not to its existence but to its appearance. Matter exists, but it is not the source of pleasure that it seems to be.

Gita wisdom changes our conception of matter by changing our self-conception – we are not material creatures, but are spiritual beings meant for eternal loving reciprocation with the all-attractive Supreme Person, Krishna. We get happiness not by exploiting matter, but by using it in Krishna’s service. Once we understand our spiritual nature, we don’t reject as non-existent the apparent beauty of material things – we see it as a pointer to Krishna’s beauty, as the Gita (10.41) indicates.

Indeed, bhakti-yoga makes the so-called dream material world a pathway to the real spiritual world, for here we practice the same eternal activity of devotional service that we do spontaneously there.

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