Reality vs. Imagination

Omkaradatta's picture

Average: 4 (1 vote)

What is real, and what is imaginary? This is a common topic in Nondual spirituality.

In discussions about "what is", folks often assert that their thoughts and feelings are also part of "what is". Actually this isn't the case (or is partially, in the case of feelings).

Let's take the example of time. We've read that time is an illusion, but what does it mean?

Suppose you're thinking about tomorrow -- what you're going to do, where you're going to go. Is tomorrow real? Has there ever been a tomorrow?

You have never actually experienced tomorrow, only thought about it. By the time it arrives, it is "now" again. There is no such thing, and never has been. Likewise for "yesterday" -- you can think about it, but it's imaginary. You've never been in a "yesterday", never actually experienced one before.

Same thing with space, distance. You can imagine "somewhere else", but you cannot be there. You have never been elsewhere before. You've only been here! Where is here? Where you are now, of course.

If you sit down on the couch and stare at a spot on the wall, what is real? What you're seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling is real. Your beingness or awareness (existence), the wordless background of all this, is also real.

Nothing else is -- your thoughts are imagination, and most definitely NOT 'what is'. Here, now is the only reality you will ever experience. You can think about some other place and time, but you can never be there, because it will be "here" if you go there.

When you turn off the computer or switch to another post, where did these words go? It's as if they never existed. You cannot say whether they did or not, you can only imagine them. They have effectively ceased to exist. Do they exist for someone else? You can only imagine that, too.

If you actually explore this "reality vs. imagination" scenario deeply, there is only one conclusion: The world, indeed the universe, is unreal. It's a mental map only. So is time. You have only this moment now, this place here. Realize this, and be free of illusion.

george's picture

"what is" is only "what is"

You mistake between the tomorrow and the thinking about tomorrow. The thinking about tomorrow which occurs right now is the "what is", this is reality.

You can develop the concept through theories but any way you look at it, when you try to base things and not rely on second-hand theories you read and heard, your direct experience, your feelings, your sensations are the only tools you have, you want it or not.

See the excellent post at

george | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 07:47
Omkaradatta's picture

You are mistaken...

"The thinking about tomorrow which occurs right now is the "what is", this is reality."

I mean no offense, but you're mistaken. It's real imagination, yes, but it's still imaginary. Other than perhaps some brief, necessary period to plan, let go of the tomorrow. You're only half alive if you're 'elsewhere', where life isn't happening.

Omkaradatta | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 07:30
george's picture

This is a speculative

This is a speculative analysis.

Whatever you witness firsthand in real-time has a much higher probability to be real.

I would not put any effort in trying to discriminate between real and imagined. I think that at the end of the day all is imagination and all is real. We don't even know exactly what these terms mean.

Instead I prefer to do meditation, it is the most real thing I ever known.

george | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 07:31
Omkaradatta's picture

It is not speculative here...

It's a reality here - perhaps it's speculative for you?

Are you familiar with the Indian tradition known as Viveka? Discrimination between real and false, combined with Vairagya (dispassion, unattachment). This is a thousands of years old tradition, I believe starting even before Shankara. But if you prefer your own tradition, by all means, approach it your way ;-).

P.S. I refer you to something posted on this website, by a Western scientist (in reference to "no I"): "The mind does not know the difference between its mental models, and reality, because the models are transparent". Consider it.

Omkaradatta | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 07:46
Phroggy's picture


You say thinking is reality, and yet you imply conceptualizing (thinking) is to be avoided in favor of direct experience, felings, sensations, which is basically what Omkar was saying.

Phroggy | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 18:12
Omkaradatta's picture

Clarifying something...

Just to clarify something... I didn't mean to imply that thoughts about tomorrow should be resisted, only to suggest that that they're imaginary, a mental map that doesn't really represent something existing, or that will ever exist. Seeing this clearly is the same as 'seeing the dream as dream'. Merely accepting the thoughts as 'what is' isn't what it's about, it's about seeing the false as false.

Suppose a close friend calls and says they're going to visit us... we get all excited, start 'looking forward to it' and dreaming about the visit. In the meantime, we're missing out on what the present has to offer us (reality). Then the friend calls and says they can't make it after all, and we get disappointed and angry, start thinking about all the things we could have done. In the meantime, we're still missing out on the present. All this disturbance, this suffering, is a result of taking 'tomorrow' seriously as something really existing, rather than a mental map or notion.

Omkaradatta | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 19:08
Phroggy's picture

Who believes this stuff?

Nobody believes their thoughts about tomorrow exist beyond the thoughts. Nobody believes tomorrow has a concrete reality right now. When folks imagine something happening in the future, they don't get confused and think it's actually happening now beyond their imagination. The only way any of that happens is if one starts writing philosophical stories, which always leads to confusion. Even a child knows the difference between imagination and reality. And seeing this is not the same as seeing the dream as dream.

If disappointment and anger happens, look to the attachment that causes the difficulty. Look at the 'me' who's attached. Realizing that desires and fears are thoughts about something and not 'something' by themselves (assuming anybody thinks that) does nothing to end the desires and fears.

Phroggy | Wed, 09/03/2008 - 19:43
Omkaradatta's picture

Even a child...

> Even a child knows the difference between
> imagination and reality.

More like, only a child.

Ya know what's been happening here lately? Adults won't meet my eyes, although they appear to feel completely comfortable around me, stand or walk past within inches as though they sensed no boundaries. People will flutter their eyelids if I look at them as they walk by, as though they are avoiding something. The only ones who will look are small children and infants, and they gaze into my eyes and smile with delight. I am in their 'world'. I am not in yours.

I say you do not know the difference between imagination and reality. Put that in your anti-sacred-cow pipe and smoke it ;-).

P.S. Why do you think words have 2, 3, 4, 5, even 10 different meanings? Because people don't know the difference between imagination and reality ;-). The reason I sometimes don't obey your context(s) is because they are imaginary... the ego is always wanting to 'make a point', dwell within the narrowest possible context.

Omkaradatta | Thu, 09/04/2008 - 05:53
Phroggy's picture

A perfect example of

A perfect example of dwelling in imagination. Okay, yer right, apparently not everybody can tell the difference. I stand corrected.

Words have multiple meanings because they are only approximate symbols for what is being communicated, not because there is an underlying objective reality and the others are imagination. When I say "pipe" are there multiple meanings because one is real and the rest are imagined? Don't be silly.

The reason you sometimes don't 'obey' my context is that you don't want to be wrong, and so you expand to a context in which the argument can be dismissed as meaningless. It's a silly ego trick.

Phroggy | Thu, 09/04/2008 - 07:09
Omkaradatta's picture

I expand the context... (reality check)

... because I'm not interested in "points". Yours, or mine. I'm interested in expanding the conversation, bringing it to the largest possible context, because I'm NOT interested in silly ego tricks, and "making a point" in order to be right is a silly ego trick.

What I'm interested in is 'pointing' to the truth, inviting folks to contemplate stuff. You seem to believe you can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Here's a scenario for ya:

Whatever *isn't* right here, right now does not exist, period. It can only be postulated to exist, based on memory.

Does that mean my mother in Ohio doesn't exist, because she isn't here now? You're durned tootin'. If I love "her", I'm in love with a memory of her. I cannot possibly miss her, because obviously she's a memory, and if I remember "her" then she's right here.

What I'm describing above is reality. Fact. If you disagree, you don't know the difference between reality and imagination. If you ever miss anybody who isn't present, you don't know the difference either.

Omkaradatta | Thu, 09/04/2008 - 10:20
Phroggy's picture

Of course. One conjures up

Of course. One conjures up thoughts and feelings with imagination. I can also imagine myself at the beach laying on warm sand and watching the waves and it feels very relaxing and pleasant. I've not mistaken it for reality at all. I'm clearly imagining it. Why would you assume I can't tell the difference?

I was objecting to that declaration that nobody but you, and supposedly some others in the know, can tell the difference between imagination and reality, and I was also objecting to the notion that words have multiple meanings because one is real and the others imaginary.

As far as you dismissing arguments by bringing them to the largest context, all discussions happen within some context and it's never the largest one, and yet it may have value. In the largest context, you're talking to yourself, which is silly, and you're using words that can't possibly be True. So, I'll dismiss anything you say by calling you a schizophrenic liar. Is that useful in some way or is it just a convenient way to dismiss?

Phroggy | Thu, 09/04/2008 - 16:46
Omkaradatta's picture

Assuming... (mental maps)

"I've not mistaken it for reality at all. I'm clearly imagining it. Why would you assume I can't tell the difference?"

Actually I'm not assuming that, but most folks can't (as evidenced by their missing people who they haven't seen for awhile). Perhaps they're just missing doing things with them and such, but in that case as well they're confusing the content of memory with something that has a present reality.

This is a very subtle point, and I'm not sure I'm being clear about it, but ultimately it comes down to "does my mother in Ohio exist right now, or doesn't she?" Most people might say "she doesn't exist for me, but she exists for herself," which is erroneous. There is no "for me" or "for you", there's 'what is, here and now'. You know that and I know that, but most folks probably think their mental maps are actually territory. From here, this is a major part of the reason for the existence of ego. 'Knowing' the truth, how can ya ever get too excited about words on a computer screen? ;-).

Omkaradatta | Thu, 09/04/2008 - 20:37
Phroggy's picture

It's really no different

It's really no different than imagining our dream house or dream vacation or dream lover, which by itself is fine. The difficulty is when mind attaches to it and starts to think it should be and why isn't it that way and it shouldn't be as it is and I deserve it and I'm envious of others and so on. Maybe it's this attachment that you're talking about, which is really an attachment to imagination? One way in which we create our own suffering.

Phroggy | Fri, 09/05/2008 - 05:12
Omkaradatta's picture

Is it fine?

"It's really no different than imagining our dream house or dream vacation or dream lover, which by itself is fine."

Is it? Such dreams constitute seeking, do they not? A sense of lack, incompleteness, a desire for time, 'wiggle room' (if you will). Not that there's anything wrong with such imagination, but it takes us away from 'what is' and keeps us in the dream. Things such as this go to maintain 'me' just as much as the psychological aspects you mention.

The above may sound kind of radical to folks. Nisargadatta: "People just do not care to give up everything". Surely real life is here, in the moment, not in some dream of the future?

Omkaradatta | Fri, 09/05/2008 - 21:22
Phroggy's picture

Yes, there is a 'me' in that

Yes, there is a 'me' in that scenario, and it is seeking, but if there is no suffering, who cares? And so I say, by itself, it's fine. There's nothing wrong with the dream as such either. Suffering is, perhaps, inevitable given a 'me' that is seeking, and that's what my comment was pointing to.

Phroggy | Sat, 09/06/2008 - 03:56
Omkaradatta's picture


"Yes, there is a 'me' in that scenario, and it is seeking, but if there is no suffering, who cares?"

Because suffering, for the most part, is based on confusion. Taking the false to be real. Seeing the false as false means seeing *all* falsehood as false. There is no 'me identity' in truth, but that's only realized at the end of the search, so why focus only on the 'me identity'? See my recent posting titled "thought, reality and the spiritual search".

P.S. note the roots of the term 'confusion': Con (against) fusion (union). Confusion is what fragments us, giving rise to subject/object (among others).

Omkaradatta | Sat, 09/06/2008 - 06:10
Phroggy's picture

"There is no 'me identity'

"There is no 'me identity' in truth, but that's only realized at the end of the search, so why focus only on the 'me identity'?"

Because that's what ends the search? Hehe.

I agree that almost everything needs to be looked at because all of our beliefs swirl around the 'me' to some degree or we wouldn't care.

Phroggy | Sat, 09/06/2008 - 18:35
Bercano's picture

Even a child.../Dreams

HUGEEEE SMILESSSS yep yep yeppers ...

this is not the same as seeing the dream as dream.
Really?...actually it is....I go to sleep, to slip into a that I can awake into another, FIRST thing in the Morning..................So, when I'm really Really REALLY Awake?...Just a Thought, even the 1, that thinks it can think, that thinks Iam Awake~~~



Bercano | Mon, 03/09/2009 - 05:42