Three Levels of Reality

The shift beyond samsara requires you to understand the different levels of reality you can access: dreams, the material world, and the transcendental realm.

The material world is what you’re experiencing now in the form of your regular day-to-day experience as a soul in a material body. In this reality you experience personhood. You’re an individual person with desires and emotions. You make choices and you reason. You experience having a body. You experience a world with an endless variety of forms and colors. You experience contact with other persons and things, which result in different sensations.

Then practically every night you enter another level of reality – a dream world. That world is not made of the same stuff as the material world. The water in your dream is not H2O. It’s made of something else. Your body in the dream doesn’t have any actual cells. And yet you still experience individual personhood, a variety of forms and colors, interactions with other people and things, and different sensations. And while you’re dreaming, you believe in it; that is your reality, life as you know it, as long as the dream lasts. Then you wake up. As you awaken, you may notice two things: 1) you become aware that you were having a dream, and 2) everything seems to be more real. Experiencing a higher level of reality, the waking state, you can understand that you were experiencing a less real, more confused, less luminous reality.

We usually consider only these two levels of reality. But since time immemorial, spiritualists have presented another: the transcendental realm. In some traditions this is called the Kingdom of God. In the yoga tradition it is called Vaikuntha, which literally means “a place without anxiety.” This is the final level of reality, reality with a capital R, the real reality. In this reality too you’ll experience individual personhood, a variety of forms and colors, interaction with other people and things, and different sensations. The transcendental realm is made of neither the stuff of the material world nor the stuff of dreams. It’s made of something else: pure transcendental energy, the same stuff that composes the soul and God.

There are strong parallels between discovering and accessing this reality and waking up from a dream, and many cultures say that to become self-realized is to “awaken.” Once you experience transcendence, even a glimpse of it, you understand that you were previously experiencing a lesser form of reality and that you were having a more confusing and less real experience of life.

The yoga tradition offers the means for shifting your existence from the material world to the transcendental realm. Since you are a soul made of transcendental energy, that’s where you belong. That’s where you can experience life to its fullest and most blissful extent.

Check out my video on this theme here.

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