You may have seen in some children’s book a line-drawing in which there are two faces, one of an old woman and the other of a young woman, and both are in the same sketch. The interesting thing is that when you see the old woman you cannot see the young woman, because the lines of the old woman’s face will catch hold of your attention and you will not be able to see the face of the young woman which is hidden in it. If you see the young woman first then you will find it difficult to see the old woman. But if you continue to look at the picture, the young woman will disappear and the old woman will appear because your perception is constantly changing. Nothing in the world is fixed. Or if you were seeing the old woman first, she will disappear and the young woman’s face will appear – but the strange thing is that you cannot see both faces at the same time. You can see both faces, but only one at a time. Even if you have seen both figures and you know that both figures are hidden in one drawing, still you will not be able to see both figures simultaneously. When you see one, then in this very choice the lines of the other picture will be lost; when you see the other picture, then in that very choice the lines of the first picture will be lost. You know that the other face is hidden there all the time, but there is no way to see both faces at the same time.
If you are seeing a friend in a person, you cannot see an enemy in him. You can see an enemy in him tomorrow, but then there will be no way to see the friend in him. You can find a friend in the morning and an enemy in the evening in the same person. Then you know that the friend and the enemy are both hidden in him – but in any one moment you cannot see both at the same time.
In the morning you have fought with your wife and you have felt that she is an enemy, a poison, but in the evening love has returned. Then you totally forget that she is poison, then she becomes nectar. Tomorrow morning she may become poison again, but it is impossible to see both together. You can see only one face at a time. It is not possible to see the opposites together.
The other world is hidden in this world. The divine is hidden in matter. The divine is hidden in every particle of matter, but as long as you are obsessed with the material, you have chosen one picture and the other picture will not appear to your eyes.
And this is not so only with you: even for the enlightened ones there is the same difficulty. When they begin to see the brahman, the divine, then they cannot see the transitory, the material world. They cannot see it. That is why they call the world maya, illusion. You will find this difficult to understand because when Shankara says that this world is an illusion, you feel that it must be a philosophical statement because if you hit Shankara’s foot with a stone, blood will flow. If a stone is rolling towards his feet, Shankara will pull his leg away to save it from the stone. He also feels hunger and thirst. He has to drink water, to drink the divine is not enough; he has to eat food, to eat the divine is not enough. You feel a difficulty when you hear Shankara saying that the world is an illusion, unreal. You think, “Then why is he using unreal things? Then why is he living with these unreal, illusory things? If the world is unreal then who is Shankara talking to? There is nobody to listen to him.”
You feel this difficulty because you feel that this world is real. The divine does not look real to you. But Shankara also has his own difficulty: he is seeing the reality of the divine because for him, the world has disappeared. If you throw a stone at his foot he will feel that the divine is being thrown at him. But it is difficult for you to understand that when Shankara pulls his foot away he is not saving his foot from the stone, he is saving the divine within the stone from touching his insignificant foot.
There is an old Buddhist anecdote: