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Guide: Reality

A Guide to the Meditative Meaning of "Reality"

If you are interested in meditation, the concept of reality has several important meanings and levels. In addition, sometimes those interested in or practicing meditation have some concern about what is real and what is not.

Six Aspects of Reality: First is scientific reality, ever expanding: the general sensory reality that most humans perceive, from the stars to our inner body workings. Second is group social reality: how we relate to others, and how people interact in groups. Third is individual psychological or personal reality–our thoughts and feelings within. Meditation can help us understand and find our place in all three of these.  

Fourth is psychic or telepathic reality, which names are used by groups that study or promote psychic abilities. Psychic abilities (see) are activities studied on occasion by science but are, in many cases, scientifically unconfirmed.

Meditation experts tend to say that such experiences often are real, but they should be given no more or less importance than scientific reality: if you wish to learn to be a scientist or a psychic, then do so, but be aware that both are more like outside professions, goals, or callings, not necessarily the goals of deeper states of meditation.

Do you have such experiences in or during meditation, or because your sensitivities are heightened by meditation? For purposes of meditation, simply observe them like you would a passing bird, and continue meditating.

A fifth aspect of reality is the different states of inner awareness in meditation and spiritual practices. Most of them are scientifically of unknown origin: for example, experiences of being “born again,” nirvana, ecstasy through art or nature, and others.

However, as science slowly studies them with increasing interest, many such states are confirmed by research to change the activities of the brain and body. You may meditate upon them confidently, considering them relatively common experiences among meditators.

Sixth, also in meditation and religions, are types of highest, holy, or Godly “Reality,” sometimes capitalized and sometimes not. They imply in some way merging with God. These are the least of scientifically validated realities. Nevertheless, they have happened to millions, if not billions, perhaps billions, of people in the world throughout history. These fifth and sixth states are more likely to be encountered in meditative states, but also can occur naturally.  

Determining the validity of a “reality”: The validity of meditative and spiritual states that are scientifically unknown may be evaluated by three separate factors:

1. The number of people who have had any one such single experience independently–to be compared experience by experience–is one way to evaluate such states.

2. The usefulness of each experience to meditation and personal growth is a second way to evaluate them.

3. Third is to consider such experiences according to how they might fit into a growing body of scientific knowledge about psychic experiences and about theoretical physics.

Is the world real or an illusion? Some spiritual texts, especially those from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, teach that the world we normally live in is just an illusion. Those who read such texts assume, without being able to ask a Hindu or Buddhist master in person, that the illusory nature of the world means the only true reality is some kind of blissful heaven or nirvanic state of awareness of the void, or of nothing.

However, this is not what such texts mean. The world-as-illusion idea, according to those who teach it, is not that the world itself is an illusion.

Rather, the illusion, they say, is that all the small parts of it–from humans to rocks and to atoms–are not discrete units disconnected from each other. Instead, they say, everything we are, do, and see around us is connected. There is, they say (according to the tradition and master), a consciousness behind or in everything, even plants and rocks, and all of these consciousnesses are connected; or, alternatively, that there is some kind of conscious force, power, or state of being that lies behind each and, through it, connects them all.

In this respect, their theories are not unlike some of those suggested by physicists who wonder whether there might be a dimension, a “God” particle, or a dimensionless place or time in which all material existence is connected.

Meditating on different realities: Each type of form of reality can be an object of meditation. In the scientific world of objective reality, you can use “knowledge meditation” (also sometimes called “jnana yoga” –see “’Third-eye’ Energy Center” and “Throat Energy Center”) to focus on a single object to help you better understand it. You can do so either on the sensory appearance of the object–its look, feel, sound, taste, and smell–or you can do so on the object as an intellectual idea in your mind. To try the latter, simply start with an image or word for the object, and then let your mind free associate whatever meanings, symbols, uses, connections, or ideas about the object your mind can grasp.

To meditate upon beauty, whether in nature, the arts or otherwise, focus on both the object and the feeling of beauty it evokes within you. You then may continue to focus on the object itself, your thoughts about it, or the feeling of beauty it gives you.

To focus on inner realities discovered through meditation, simply concentrate on the experience itself. For possible methods of meditating and types of experiences, see the “Starting Stage” and the “Middle Stage” of meditation.

To focus in particular on the illusory nature of the world, it will not help to imagine it is a dream. It is not. Instead, the better method of meditation is to focus on how everything is connected to each other.

Imagine a connection between you and what is around you. You might want to start by trying to feel a connection between you and another person, or you and a favorite pet. Many people meditate–or just naturally feel–a deep connection to nature or some particular part of it such as a flower, a tree, an animal, or a celestial body (see).

There also are what sometimes are called social and psychological realities. Social reality is the physical, cultural, and psychological surroundings in which we live. Psychological reality is the much more individual and personal set of feelings, thoughts, and ways of living and thinking that you–or another person–experience from minute to minute.

You can meditate on the social reality by feeling them, imagining them, enumerating them slowly, one by one, in your mind, or connecting them with each other as you observe a person or many people in a particular setting. You can do so within yourself, or you can do so from an external point, such as from above everyone’s heads, from within everyone’s minds, or from within everyone’s hearts.

You can meditate on your own psychological realities simply by following a practice of meditation. (See “Beginning Stage” and “Middle Stage.”) Or you may focus on someone else.

One way to focus on another person is simply to imagine that person in your mind as an object for you to think about, examining his or her past actions, thoughts, and feelings as best you know them as a balanced, objective viewer, without emotional reactions on your part. In other words, they become an object for “knowledge meditation,” as above.

Another way is to imagine how you would experience being that person in a specific situation. This is, in fact, one method used by actors and actresses preparing to play a character. 

Yet another way to meditate on someone else’s psychological reality is to focus on that person internally, as if you were trying to see and feel from the viewpoint of that person’s own brain, heart, and feelings. However, this is an invasive type of meditation, so you generally should do it only with the other person’s permission. (See “Group Meditation.”)



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Text © 2017-2020 by Richard Jewell

Images © 1994-2018 by Gabriel R. Jewell

First edition: 1 Sept. 2018. Second edition: 1 Sept. 2019. Free Use Policy

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