Sunrise and sunset are not real….
Sankhya yoga/Topic of knowledge(Chapter 2…continued)
If I am limitless, how come the world limits me?
Previously we had seen that I-awareness is limitless because I am unconditioned by time and space. This is where we had stopped before I went into the qualifications. This knowledge that I am limitless awareness is not complete because we still have to deal with the world. I am limitless awareness alright, but this world makes me seem limited. Every experience of mine is limited. How can I be limitless, how can I be unconditioned by time and space if the world, which is also in time and space, limits me? It is essential here to look into the nature of the world. This idea is discussed in the chapter two of gita, although the words satyam and mithya are not used…
nasato vidyate bhavo na bhavo vidyate satah
ubhayorapi drastah antavastu anayohoh tatva darshibhih. (verse 16)
In the vision of the Vedanta, we say the world is not real, it is mithya. Everyone has heard the word `mithya’ and everyone has an idea of what the word means. Most translations state it as being an illusion or a delusion. If you are translating mithya as an illusion, that’s a big delusion. All illusions are mithya, but all mithyas are not illusions. In fact, according to Vedanta, all that is functionally valid is mithya. E.g You wear a shirt; we say the shirt is mithya, the cloth is satyam. That means the shirt is functionally valid but it does not have a reality apart from the cloth. Cloth can be in any form, in this form it is called a shirt. Therefore, what is mithya is a dependent reality or a reality appearing as something else. Here, the cloth appears as a shirt but it can appear as a T-shirt or a pant or a kurta or anything else.
It’s the same thing with ornaments—we say a golden chain, a golden bangle, or a golden earring where golden becomes an adjective and the noun is chain etc. But if you really look at it, a noun should deal with the substance of reality and the adjective should be a quality. If you look at this example of gold and ornaments, gold is the substance and chain etc are nothing but forms for which you have a name. However, because we have given importance to the form we deal with the form as a reality and gold, which is a reality, as a quality. Really speaking, it should be `chainy gold’, `bangly gold’, but that sounds silly because we are so used to using it the other way around. It’s necessary to recognize here that gold is satyam and chain, ring, etc, even though functionally valid, will be considered mithya. That is because it is the gold that is appearing in all these forms. Remove the gold and there is no chain, no bangle….What is satyam is the reality and what is mithya is the appearance even though the appearance can be functionally very valid.
In fact, our whole life is full of mithya. We walk on a flat earth but we know that the earth is round, we enjoy the sunrise and sunset but we know that it doesn’t rise or set. These are functionally valid because our whole concept of time is based on it. But being functionally valid doesn’t make it real. What is real is that the flat earth is dependent on the round earth, the rising sun is dependent on the non-rising sun and, of course, the rotation of the earth. Therefore, all that appears, all that we find useful in life is called mithya. Please note here that mithya is not a word referring to an object, but a word dealing with how real the object is.
Let us take any object in this world, let us take a book, for example….It is made out of paper. Therefore, book becomes form and paper becomes satyam, the reality. But paper itself is nothing but wood pulp, therefore wood pulp becomes reality and paper becomes mithya. But the wood pulp itself is nothing but hydrocarbons, hydrocarbons become reality, wood pulp is mithya…Hydrocarbons are nothing but molecules and they become reality and hydrocarbons becomes mithya…..If we keep going like this, what is that one final thing? Don’t say `nothing’, because we are talking about the book in my hand. I have this book in my hand and so I can’t say that nothing is the reality. I will have to say it has to be in existence but it should not have any form, because if it has a form then I can reduce it to its substance. That means `formless existence’ is the reality behind this whole world of names and forms.
Now we are in a funny position—we have a formless existence. Formless means boundary-less. By `formless’ I don’t mean something like an amoeba; an amoeba has a form, it has a boundary, it is not formless, it is shapeless…When I say `formless’ that means it has no boundaries, that means this existence has no boundaries, that means this is unconditioned by space and time, and I-awareness is also unconditioned by time and space. So we ask: how many infinite, unconditioned things can be there? There can be only one. Awareness itself is existence and existence itself is awareness. This awareness-existence is what we would call as satyam and the whole universe as nothing but the appearance of existence and awareness.
Sounds logical, but there can be a question here—we see certain things are sentient, having life, and certain things as insentient, not having life. That means existence is common, but awareness is not. Gita gets around this by saying that some objects can reflect my face, some cannot reflect it. E.g. Silica in the form of sand cannot reflect my face, but the same silica in the form of a mirror can reflect my face. Similarly, some forms can manifest awareness, but certain forms cannot. Like, awareness can be manifested in the form of my mind. When that mind is associated with this body, this body becomes awareful. Existence is manifest in the table in front of me but there is no awareness because there is no mind there. Thank god for that otherwise the table would be running around and I would have to make a deal with the table to stay put in one place….But it was awareful once upon a time when the table was a tree. Therefore, it is a question of only whether awareness is manifest or unmanifest.
The whole universe is nothing but limitless existence-awareness which apparently seems to be divided into different objects. When you look at these objects, they are nothing but names and forms. What is there is only one existence-awareness. This existence-awareness is called as satyam and the names and forms are called as mithya. Why? Because a name and a form can exist only depending on a substance. Remove the substance and the names and forms will also vanish. Like the gold ornament. Melt it down, the gold is there but the ornament will vanish. If you want to have an experiential learning about that, take your golden chain, give me the gold and keep the chain for yourself…You will never forget that all your life. So if you understand satyam-mithya, then you will understand that the whole world is made of names and forms, which includes my body and mind, which is also a name and form. No problem. My limitlessness is not challenged by the world I experience. I am limitless, manifest in this limited form, experiencing other limited forms around me, which is not a problem as long as I am rooted in my limitless nature.
This is like saying that all that I see is not real, and all that I don’t see is real.
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