What you define in the morning as having been a dream cannot be called completely non-existent. It was definitely there: you saw it, you passed through it. And also it is not that it didn’t have any effect on you. For example, if it was a frightening dream, you were shaken with fear. Your whole body trembled with fear, you were scared to the very core, your hairs stood on end. Although you woke up out of the dream, your heart kept pounding. When you woke up you realized that it was just a dream and yet still your heart kept beating fast and your limbs were shaking.
If the dream had been a completely non-existent phenomenon, it wouldn’t have had any effect on you at all. So it had an existence, but not in the same way and in the same sense as all that is seen when you are awake. In what category, therefore, will you place this dream? Existent? Non-existent? Where will you put it? It was certainly there, and yet it doesn’t really exist.
The category of unreal, of asat, is not the same as the category of non-existent. The category of unreal is somewhere between existent and non-existent. It is a reality that appears to be real but actually isn’t.
But how is one supposed to know this? – because while dreaming, one doesn’t realize that what one is seeing has no existence. While you are dreaming, it feels that what you are seeing is definitely real. And another thing: it is not that you only get this feeling when you dream for the first time. You must have been dreaming your whole life, and each time when you wake up in the morning you must realize that the dream has no reality. And yet if you dream again tonight, while you are dreaming you will feel it to be real. It feels absolutely real, it appears to be absolutely real, yet when you wake up you find it is nowhere.
This appearance of being real, this deception about its existence, is what asat, the unreal, is.
When it is said that the world is unreal, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It simply means that there is also a state of consciousness when one wakes up from even one’s waking state. Normally, when we wake up from a dream and look, we find it has no existence. But when someone awakens even from the waking state, he finds that what he knew as real in the waking state also has no existence.
To wake up from our waking state is samadhi, enlightenment. When we wake up from what, as of now, we call our waking state, we realize that what we knew and saw as real during this state is also unreal.
Krishna is saying that whatsoever has no existence before and after, but only in the middle, is unreal. That which was not there some time ago and will not be there again after some time, which only happens to exist between two non-existences, is called unreal.
But that which does not know any non-existence – which had an existence before, has one now, and will have one in the future; that which exists at all three levels – sleeping, waking, and waking from waking; sleeping, waking, and samadhi – that which exists in all these states of consciousness, is called real. And this reality is forever, this reality is eternal, this reality is beginning-less and endless.