Sri Ramakrishna had practiced the disciplines prescribed according to the different schools of Hinduism and had reached the ultimate goal according to each of them. He had realized the highest knowledge of Advaita or unitary consciousness, but at the same time he was aware of the importance that needs to be attached to the everyday world.
People would often come to him after reading a few texts of Advaita here and there, and talk to him about the unreality of the world. They would try to argue that it was illusion or Maya and hence non-existent. Sri Ramakrishna would patiently listen to them and explain to them the real way to understand the existential world. He would explain this through an everyday experience.
Supposing someone has been pricked by a thorn and that has entered and lodged itself in his foot. However much he would try to deny that, still the moment the person places his hand on the spot, immediately he would feel that pain. No amount of denial would be of any avail. Thus, he would explain that the world is unreal or Maya only for one who has transcended the ordinary levels of existence and has had an experience of super-conscious reality or unity.
Only at that time he can proclaim that the world does not exist. As long as one is within the realm of body and mind, i.e., in a state of bondage, one has to give credence to the world. Even the sadhana according to Advaita, which is a process of negation i.e., by stating “neti neti” (not this, not this), can be undertaken only with reference to the aspirant’s experience of the material or existential world. Hence, till one completely transcends the idea of body and mind, one cannot truly deny the world as Maya or non-existent. After one has realized the ultimate truth as unitary consciousness or Brahman, at that stage it is possible to deny the world truly and completely.
By Swami Shantatmananda