296 This ignorance is like darkness. It cannot be said that it exists. As darkness does not bear the light, so this ignorance does not bear [the light of] right awareness.
But the question arises, in what, when it appears, does this ignorance subsist? The answer is given next.
297 This ignorance, as the world-form, appears to ignorant ones to be real. In the Supreme Being [which is consciousness] the world is like unreal jewellery that appears in the [relatively] real gold.
Here the simile of gold and jewellery is used. It is usually supposed that both are real, but here the jewellery is described as unreal. Why is it so described?
298 If it is asked, ‘How is it said that gold is real, but jewellery is unreal?’ [the answer is that] the words are used here by our Guru in order to show that the world, which is the subject of comparison, is unreal.
Can this be done, it may be asked? It is answered in the following way.
299 Since a simile is used to convey a clear knowledge of the subject of the teaching, the simile is presented so as to convey the intended meaning.
The propriety of thus presenting this simile is shown next.
300 The jewellery was [only] gold before; it is only that in the middle, and it is that in the end also. Compared to the jewellery, gold is [relatively] real, and because the jewellery-forms are transient, they are unreal.
This is in accordance with the vedantic definition of reality, which is here stated once more.
301 Here impermanence alone is the test of unreality. Permanence itself is affirmed as [the quality of] reality. Hence, [it follows] that ignorance and the world which is born of it, are unreal, exactly like the serpent seen in a rope.
This has been discussed and settled in a previous context.
Another analogy is used next to explain the teaching.
302 Or, as the moving pictures pass upon the unmoving lighted screen [in a cinema show], so the series of pictures, namely the world, comes and goes on [the substratum], the real [which is unmoving].
This is the simile used in ‘Forty Verses on the Real’, in the very beginning, immediately after the first two benedictory verses.
303 In the analogy of the moving pictures, the seer is distinct from them, whereas in the world pictures the seer is included. Thus the world differs [from the cinema show]. The result is that the world and its seer [the individual] are both unreal.
304 Just as the light on the screen remains clear [of the shadow pictures] when those moving pictures have ceased, so too when the series of world-pictures cease, the consciousness, which is the Self, will remain clear [as the sole reality].
The unreality of the world is further highlighted by the world-appearance being made up of a series of momentary pictures, as is shown next.
305 As at every instant of time the spectator,seeing only a new picture, assumes that what he sees is one, so the ignorant one, seeing an utterly new world every instant, assumes that what he sees is one continuous world.
This mistaken view concerns the seer’s own body also. From this it follows that the seer, who is only a reflection in the three bodies, is unreal – that is, as unreal as the spectacle, the world.
The world-appearance is possible only because the real Self, which is consciousness, is present as the substratum.
306 As the succession of moving pictures shines only on the screen and by its light, so the world shines only on the real Self and by its light of consciousness.
307 Just for this reason the real Self is real in its own right. This world is not at all real in its own right. The unreality of the world and the reality of the Self, which is pure consciousness, should be understood in this way.
There is a distinction to be noted between the popular sense of the world ‘real’ and its use in advaitic Vedanta philosophy, which has already been expounded.
The next topic to be studied is the mental impression that time and space are objective realities. These two are inseparable from the world-appearance, and hence the world would continue to be taken as real if these two are taken to be so.
308 The mind knows all visible objects, the physical body and all the rest, equally in dream and in waking, as divided up in space and in time, and hence it is necessary to enquire whether these two are real [or not].
309 These three, namely space, time and causality, have been shown to be only mental by an occidental philosopher named Kant by means of good reasons.
310 Bhagavan, our Guru, makes it clear to the seekers of deliverance, from the experience of all men in deep sleep, and from the experiences of sages in the supreme state, that these three are unreal.
311 Because no one knows space and time in deep sleep, where the mind is latent, and in the supreme state, where the mind is lost, these two are only mental.
312 In the dream state as well as the waking state the mind creates these two along with the world. Without them the mind knows nothing. This is the enduring nature of the mind.
313 Only because of the ignorance ‘I am the body’ does man have the awareness ‘I am in space and time’. Really, we are not in space, nor in time. If we were bodies, then [and only then] would we be in them.
314 We are not bodies, nor do we own them, since we never became souls. Space and time, just like all things, are created in us by the mind because of ignorance.
It may be asked when we shall be rid of this delusion of the objective reality of space and time. The answer given in the next verse is from Bhagavan, our Guru.
315 If the mind, by the quest of its source, attains peace in the supreme state, then these two will be swallowed up by the real Self itself, along with the ego and the world.
316 The whole world, which is composed of causes and effects together with space and time, is illusory. The real Self never undergoes change, whether by space or by time, or by causality.
317 Since the one real Self [of all], which is ever the same, never swerving from its true nature, transcending time and devoid of space, and hence infinite, is experienced by the sages, it alone is real; nothing else.
The three divisions of time, namely the past, the present and the future, are next dealt with and shown to be unreal.
318 Also the divisions of time, namely, past, present and future, are not at all real. The past and the future are dependent upon the present, and are themselves present in their own times.
319 Thus all time is only present; men make this division only by words; the eternal reality is indeed the real Self alone. Hence, it alone is present, nothing else.
320 The aspirant must therefore aim at the experience of the truth of that Self by attaining the supreme state. The discussion of the past and of the future is declared to be like trying to count without knowledge of the number ‘one’.
321 Only the number ‘one’ exists, and none else, because all numbers are modifications of it. In the same way, the consciousness that is the Self alone exists, and the whole world is only that.
322 As one becomes able, by knowing the number ‘one’, to know all the numbers, so, after knowing the truth of themselves, the sages come to know the truth of the world also.
323 The Guru says that having knowledge of anything other than the Self, without first knowing the Truth of oneself, is only ignorance. Everything that one knows, without having a right awareness of the Self, is a knowledge that is contrary to truth.
324 When, by the quest of the Self, that Self is known, there remains nothing else to be known. To the sage all things shine only as the Self, and hence the Self is well known as ‘the All’ [in the Vedantas].
325 Therefore Bhagavan Sri Ramana says that omniscience is only the state of being the real Self. He also says that what is considered as omniscience by the ignorant is only ignorance.
How the Self is ‘the All’ is next stated.
326 This world is not other than the body; this body is not distinct from the mind; the mind does not exist apart from the real Self; therefore that Self is all the world.
327 ‘How was I in my previous birth, and how shall I be in the next birth?’ – such enquiries are only [due to] ignorance, because the Self was never born.
328 Thinking about the totality and the distinct units [individuals] is a pointless activity for seekers of deliverance. Only the enquiry as to the source of him [the ego] who is interested in the totality and the units will lead to deliverance.
329 ‘By whom, and how, was the world created in the beginning?’ ‘What is maya?’ ‘What is ignorance?’ ‘How did the individual soul come into being?’ Such pointless questions are posed by the deluded ones because they forget the main thing that needs to be enquired into.
The secret of creation is briefly stated next.