According to the great Adi Shankaracharya, the waking world is an illusion (or as unreal as dream if not an illusion).

My question is, who imagines this waking world? Is it result of your desires or mine?

I know me and you are both unreal, but when we see the world, Shankaracharya says it is because of our desires. So if that is true the world has to appear because of someone's desire. I am asking who exactly is that person in whom the world is created. The answer can't be Brahman because Brahman has no desire.

Let's say that person is X. Now if X dies the world should come to an end like a dream comes to an end when the person who is dreaming wakes up. Who is that X? Is it me or you?

If you say that it is me then the world should end when I die, right? But I know that won't happen because I'm like any other person and many persons have died but the waking world hasn't. So who is that person exactly out of whose desires this waking world comes to appear to us?

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    sā ca māyā na vidyate - Mandukya Karika 4.58
    – Pandya
    Dec 16, 2018 at 17:04

4 Answers 4


According to Adi Shankara of Dakshinamurthy Stotra (No grammatical mistake). Lord Dakshinamurthy/Shiva witnesses apparent world as a dream.

विश्वं दर्पणदृश्यमाननगरीतुल्यं निजान्तर्गतं
पश्यन्नात्मनि मायया बहिरिवोद्भूतं यथा निद्रया ।
यः साक्षात्कुरुते प्रबोधसमये स्वात्मानमेवाद्वयं तस्मै श्रीगुरुमूर्तये नम इदं श्रीदक्षिणामूर्तये ॥ १॥

To Him who sees the universe like a dream existing within oneself or like a city seen in a mirror but appearing externally due to maya who upon enlightenment, beholds the universe directly as his own non-dual self – Salutations unto him, Shri Dakshinamurti in the form of my own guru.


If "illusion" in the question means MAyA then it belongs to Brahman/supreme self.

SwetAswatara Upanishad 4.10 says that Maheswara (or Brahman in the context of that Upanishad) is the Lord of MAyA.

MAyAm tu prakritim vidyanmAyinantu maheswaram |
Tasya avayav bhuteistu vyAptam sarvam idam jagat ||

Know Prakriti to be MAyA and Maheswara (Shiva) to be it's Lord. And, the whole creation/world (Jagat) is pervaded by His body parts.

So, the illusion is owned by Brahman. Therefore, what my answer is saying and what the other answer by Turiyanath is saying are the same.


This is a really great question! I had always been content with knowing this was the illusion and that (beyond knowledge) was the reality. But had never posited if ownership of something that doesn't exist can even really exist. So, to answer in a very brief way, (since this can probably be meditated on for much longer and should if I wanted to give an answer not limited by my own mind)...

  • I'd say that if I (Brahman) gave you a beautifully wrapped present (Atma) it becomes yours. You open it and it is empty, but your mind, sense organs and such create such an illusion that "poof" a present does indeed appear and is exactly what you wanted (wether terrible or great). If I (Brahman) died before I gave you the present, you'd never had illusioned it since you would not be "alive" to have received it. If I (Brahman) died after you opened it then the present and you and whatever illusion was in process will also cease to exist since the universe is illumined by Brahman. But if you die while interacting with your illusioned gift then the gift ceases to be unless you convinced someone else (yet another illusion) to believe in it too. So, in short, your personal illusion belongs solely to you. If others can share your illusion, then it becomes shared property and can be maintained after your death.

I am basing this off of my interpretation of Swami Chinmayananda's commentary on Adi Sankaracarya's, "Atmabodha". Specifically Verses 8 through 11, 15 and 23. I hope you forgive me for using such a base example that I am Braham and somehow separate and able to give you wrapped presents. In a very limited way I was trying to convey the idea of ownership of that which is un-ownable since it's very essence is non-existent.

Here are the verses from the web:

  1. Like bubbles in the water, the worlds rise, exist and dissolve in the Supreme Self, which is the material cause and the prop of everything.

  2. All the manifested world of things and beings are projected by imagination upon the substratum which is the Eternal All-pervading Vishnu, whose nature is Existence-Intelligence; just as the different ornaments are all made out of the same gold.

  3. The All-pervading Akasa appears to be diverse on account of its association with various conditionings (Upadhis) which are different from each other. Space becomes one on the destruction of these limiting adjuncts: So also the Omnipresent Truth appears to be diverse on account of Its association with the various Upadhis and becomes one on the destruction of these Upadhis.

  4. Because of Its association with different conditionings (Upadhis) such ideas as caste, colour and position are super-imposed upon the Atman, as flavour, colour, etc., are super-imposed on water.

  5. (15) In its identification with the five-sheaths the Immaculate Atman appears to have borrowed their qualities upon Itself; as in the case of a crystal which appears to gather unto itself colour of its vicinity (blue cloth, etc.,)

  6. (23) Attachment, desire, pleasure, pain, etc., are perceived to exist so long as Buddhi or mind functions. They are not perceived in deep sleep when the mind ceases to exist. Therefore they belong to the mind alone and not to the Atman.

Have a wonderful illusion! ;)

Web sources: http://studyhinduism.com/atma-bodha-swami-chinmayananda-translation and http://www.shankaracharya.org/atmabodha.php

Book link several translations:http://eshop.chinmayamission.com/index.php/freetextsearch/search/result/?keyword=atmabodh

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    Can you please add that specific verse quote ? Dec 17, 2018 at 3:00
  • I would recommend buying the book because it has excellent discussions about each verse but I did find two online sources that interpret the Sanskrit here shankaracharya.org/atmabodha.php and here studyhinduism.com/atma-bodha-swami-chinmayananda-translation/ . I copied and pasted the verses from one of those sites in my answer above. Thank you.
    – Val
    Dec 17, 2018 at 14:18
  • your answer is fine but if you can edit your answer with particular quote it will be even more precise! Because citing authentic reference is mandotory on this site because to avoid speculative discussions Dec 17, 2018 at 14:20

First, the statement that Shankara says the world is an illusion is not entirely true. The sensual universe does have a certain relative reality within time, space, and causation. If you are within the universe, if you perceive the universe, you must accept its relative reality. From an absolute standpoint, from the standpoint of Brahman, it has no absolute reality. If you stab yourself in the leg with a knife, will you see it as unreal?? No, your mind is bound within the three gunas. Where does the illusion come from? Swami Vivekananda writes (Complete Works, Vol 3, section 'Lectures and Discourses', lecture 'The Free Soul', available here - https://advaitaashrama.org/cw/content.php):

Before going into the practical part, we will take up one more intellectual question. So far the logic is tremendously rigorous. If man reasons, there is no place for him to stand until he comes to this, that there is but One Existence, that everything else is nothing. There is no other way left for rational mankind but to take this view. But how is it that what is infinite, ever perfect, ever blessed, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, has come under these delusions? It is the same question that has been asked all the world over. In the vulgar form the question becomes, "How did sin come into this world?" This is the most vulgar and sensuous form of the question, and the other is the most philosophic form, but the answer is the same. The same question has been asked in various grades and fashions, but in its lower forms it finds no solution, because the stories of apples and serpents and women do not give the explanation. In that state, the question is childish, and so is the answer. But the question has assumed very high proportions now: "How did this illusion come?" And the answer is as fine. The answer is that we cannot expect any answer to an impossible question. The very question is impossible in terms. You have no right to ask that question. Why? What is perfection? That which is beyond time, space, and causation — that is perfect. Then you ask how the perfect became imperfect. In logical language the question may be put in this form: "How did that which is beyond causation become caused?" You contradict yourself. You first admit it is beyond causation, and then ask what causes it. This question can only be asked within the limits of causation. As far as time and space and causation extend, so far can this question be asked. But beyond that it will be nonsense to ask it, because the question is illogical. Within time, space, and causation it can never be answered, and what answer may lie beyond these limits can only be known when we have transcended them; therefore the wise will let this question rest. When a man is ill, he devotes himself to curing his disease without insisting that he must first learn how he came to have it.

There is another form of this question, a little lower, but more practical and illustrative: What produced this delusion? Can any reality produce delusion? Certainly not. We see that one delusion produces another, and so on. It is delusion always that produces delusion. It is disease that produces disease, and not health that produces disease. The wave is the same thing as the water, the effect is the cause in another form. The effect is delusion, and therefore the cause must be delusion. What produced this delusion? Another delusion. And so on without beginning. The only question that remains for you to ask is: Does not this break your monism, because you get two existences in the universe, one yourself and the other the delusion? The answer is: Delusion cannot be called an existence. Thousands of dreams come into your life, but do not form any part of your life. Dreams come and go; they have no existence. To call delusion existence will be sophistry. Therefore there is only one individual existence in the universe, ever free, and ever blessed; and that is what you are. This is the last conclusion reached by the Advaitists.

and in the next lecture 'One Existence Appearing as Many':

How does the Advaitist theory explain these various phases of heaven and hells and these various ideas we find in all religions? When a man dies, it is said that he goes to heaven or hell, goes here or there, or that when a man dies he is born again in another body either in heaven or in another world or somewhere. These are all hallucinations. Really speaking nobody is ever born or dies. There is neither heaven nor hell nor this world; all three never really existed. Tell a child a lot of ghost stories, add let him go out into the street in the evening. There is a little stump of a tree. What does the child see? A ghost, with hands stretched out, ready to grab him. Suppose a man comes from the corner of the street, wanting to meet his sweetheart; he sees that stump of the tree as the girl. A policeman coming from the street corner sees the stump as a thief. The thief sees it as a policeman. It is the same stump of a tree that was seen in various ways. The stump is the reality, and the visions of the stump are the projections of the various minds. There is one Being, this Self; It neither comes nor goes. When a man is ignorant, he wants to go to heaven or some place, and all his life he has been thinking and thinking of this; and when this earth dream vanishes, he sees this world as a heaven with Devas and angels flying about, and all such things. If a man all his life desires to meet his forefathers, he gets them all from Adam downwards, because he creates them. If a man is still more ignorant and has always been frightened by fanatics with ideas of hell, with all sorts of punishments, when he dies, he will see this very world as hell. All that is meant by dying or being born is simply changes in the plane of vision. Neither do you move, nor does that move upon which you project your vision. You are the permanent, the unchangeable. How can you come and go? It is impossible; you are omnipresent. The sky never moves, but the clouds move over the surface of the sky, and we may think that the sky itself moves, just as when you are in a railway train, you think the land is moving. It is not so, but it is the train which is moving. You are where you are; these dreams, these various clouds move. One dream follows another without connection. There is no such thing as law or connection in this world, but we are thinking that there is a great deal of connection.

As it says in the Astavakra Samhita 1.11 (Swami Nityaswarupananda translator) says:

He who considers himself free is free indeed, and he who considers himself bound remains bound. 'As one thinks, so one becomes' is a popular saying in this world, and it is quite true.

  • What you quoted from Swami Vivekananda I agree with it but I already knew this. Secondly what you said about relative reality I don't agree with it. Unreality is unreality. Also Shankaracharya never supported this thought process. Thirdy, if I stab myself I will feel pain but the one feeling pain is not real. It's because we are taking ourselves to be someone who we are not. Even though I feel pain, it doesn't make it real. If you take this world as relatively real you might as well take water in mirage as real. I don't want to do that and want to go with Shankaracharya.
    – Lokesh
    Dec 16, 2018 at 13:40

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