131. "Is That Real" or "Is This Real"?

Reality can be grasped in a flash of illumination, as happened to Emperor Janaka. One evening, Janaka was in his Durbar Hall, surrounded by his courtiers and a bevy of female musicians; they sang sweet melodies and the Emperor enjoyed the music so well that he slept off, while on the throne. No one had the temerity to wake him; they all quietly slipped into the inner apartment, lest their talk and movements might disturb him. He was left alone with an attendant, and the queen. At about midnight, the Emperor screamed pitiably and awoke at the sound. His queen ran towards him. The Emperor asked her, "Is that real?" She could not find an answer to this question, for how could she know which was that and which was this? The Emperor asked everyone the same question; in fact, he spoke no other word. That question was continuously on his lips. News spread that Janaka had gone mad; there was mourning everywhere. A sage who heard of this came to the palace and was brought to the Imperial Presence. He assured Janaka that he would answer his question, provided he told him what he saw in his dream, while sleeping on the throne and why he screamed so.

Janaka had a dream. He dreamt that rival kings had joined forces and invaded his dominion and captured his capital and that, to save himself from them he ran into a forest. Fleeing from his foes, he had no food for days together. He was too exhausted to move. But, hunger dragged him on. When he came to the outskirts of a tribal village, he saw a man washing his plate after taking food; he shouted to him asking for a few particles. The man gave him a small morsel, but, as bad luck would have it, a crow flew in at that moment and snatched it away! That was the reason why he screamed in agony.

That was why he asked, "Is that real or, is this real?" The hunger was as real as the throne; ruling over the Empire is as real as the loss of empire was in the dream. The sage told him. "That is unreal; this too is unreal. That was a Swapna, this is Jagrath, both are Mithya (not false, because they are relatively real; though not absolutely real they have temporary reality, a reality that is negatived by subsequent investigation and experience). But, you dreamed, you woke, you screamed, you asked; therefore, you existed during both stages; so you alone are real" . The "I" that persists in all the three stages -- waking, dream and deep sleep -- that "I" is the only reality; it is the "I" that appears as all this manifested Universe.