Kindly explain to me what do Advaitins mean by - "the world is an appearance/illusion"?

If a tiger chases a man, pounces on him and kills him, will that be an illusory appearance as well?

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    It is like a dream. In your dream, a tiger can chase you and kill you. But when you wake up, the tiger and its victim both are gone! This is what they mean by appearance. It is transient existence. The truth or ultimate reality is something that never ceases to exist. Our waking world is also transient (though longer than the dream world in duration), but nonetheless ceases to exist at some point. So it is appearance, not reality. Nov 24, 2021 at 9:20

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It would be useful to read the analogy given below to understand what is meant by 'the world is an appearance'.


Think of a daytime cloudless sky. There seems to be a blue dome above us. That is our experience although in reality there is always only dark space full of stars. The blue dome is created by scattering of blue light by air molecules. The blue dome disappears after night fall, i.e., it is only a phenomenal experience created by Sakti.

The blue dome is an appearance superimposed on the black sky studded with stars. Replace the blue dome by the universe and the black sky by Brahman. Then you get the Advaita Vedanta teaching that the universe is only an appearance superimposed on Brahman. Advaita Vedanta tries to use the snake in the rope analogy to explain this idea.

The world, so long as it appears, is in God, the only Reality, just as the snake conjured out of the rope is nowhere else except in the rope. But God is not really touched by the imperfections of the world just as the rope is not affected by any illusory characters of the snake, or even as the actor is not affected by the loss and gain of kingdom on the stage.

An Introduction to Indian philosophy by Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta, Chapter 10, The Vedanta Philosophy

Is the tiger chasing a man and killing him also an illusory appearance?

The illusory appearance idea is a philosophical idea to explain the relationship between the universe and Brahman. This is the experience of an Advaita spiritual master. It would not be appropriate to use this philosophical idea in the mundane world. A person, who has not attained to the height of consciousness as the Advaita master, would see a real tiger really pouncing on him.

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    Yes that is true. There is Brahman all around us but we see the universe and living beings. That is why I gave the example of the blue dome that we see in the day time. Actually there is always dark space with stars in it but we see the blue dome. The universe is an appearance only just as the blue dome is an appearance. Nov 24, 2021 at 13:53
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    Nirakar Brahman is inert. It is sakti of Brahman that superimposes. Nov 24, 2021 at 14:16
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    I should've asked this yesterday but i got busy. Sorry about that. You said it is shakti of Brahman who superimposes. My question is, if Brahman remains actionless and if its shakti who does everything, then doesn't that make shakti an all-powerful 'separate' entity? Nov 25, 2021 at 5:21
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    Yes, your objection is the principal objection to Shankara's Advaita. Shankara has to pluck Sakti from thin air to explain the universe and this makes Sakti a second entity separate from Brahman and contradicts the dictum 'Brahman is one without a second'. The best way to solve this apparent contradiction is to adopt the Kashmiri Saivism views that Brahman and Sakti are inseparable and that even Nirakar Brahman has Sakti and that in the nirakar, nirguna state Sakti is inactive. The universe and superimposition appear when Sakti gets activated. Nov 26, 2021 at 3:50
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    This is what Sri Ramakrishna says: "Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of the bhakta's love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn't feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God's forms." I would say that the nirakar and sakara Brahman exist simultaneously. Nov 26, 2021 at 11:46

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