Why can’t I walk through the walls?
‘Brahma satyam; jagat mithya’
“There is no separate “I” or “you”; it’s all One Brahman and the world is a dream” is the simple Non-dual message.
To bolster the argument, the Non-dualist teachers declare that there is no solidity or physicality to the things (and that includes your body too) you see in the world (See the Post and comments there on at: Link)
One usually has no difficulty to go along with the Advaita teaching ‘Brahma satyam’ (Brahman alone is the final Reality). Not because its meaning is totally and clearly understood, but more often than not, because Brahman and Reality are words that sound so remote and distant.
But ‘jagat mithya’?
When the teaching touches your own very entity and denies its existence, it shakes you up. It seems to reach the limits of credulity. The mind recoils. Several questions crop up. How do I discard myself when I see I am very much there – right now holding on to the computer and reading this document?
Some people even narrate either for fun or in derisive humor a (possibly fabricated) story that involves Sankara whose efforts in promoting and propagating the Advaita thesis for posterity are unparalleled. The story goes something like this:
“Once when Adi Sankaracharya was passing through a forest, an elephant came rushing towards him. To save himself, Sankara too started running.
Seeing this from a distance, a disciple shouted rather mockingly ‘Kim palayanam; Gajopi mithya?’ (Why running; the elephant too is an illusion?).
The seer was said to have replied: ‘Mam palayanopi mithya!’ (Even my running is an illusion).”
That may appear on the face of it to be a clever reply. But a nagging doubt persists in our noggin. If everything is so illusory, why do I bump against the non-existent ‘things’ – the walls, furniture in the room?
How does Advaita justify that there is no physicality to the world? Why cannot I walk through the walls?
This doubt arises because the Advaitic teaching is not really clearly understood though it apparently looks to have been understood.
So let’s start at the very beginning.
I know I am conscious. How do I know that I am conscious?
Because I am conscious of the things around me – the computer, the walls of the room, the window, the plant in the yard and so on. I am also conscious of my butt pressing on the chair, my hand holding the mouse, the smells from the kitchen, the sounds from the TV in the other room etc. In addition I am conscious of the thoughts and questions that are rising in my head. In short, I am conscious of all that I perceive using my senses and mind. In one word, all these are “objects.”
Thus “objects” comprise all our percepts – be it things seen by the eye, sounds heard by the ear, flavors smelt by the nose, sensations felt by the skin or even thoughts and images in the mind – anything and everything that is perceived or I am conscious of. This obviously would include not only the things external to your body but also your body.
All objects, does not matter whether visible to the eye or sensed by other sensory organs or the mind, exist in and divide space.
Imagine an empty room without any furniture or object in it. The room-space is continuous, unbroken and uniform. By bringing even a little flower into the room, the space in the room is divided into that space which is occupied by the flower and the rest of the space where there is no flower. The fragrance from the flower too, though invisible, occupies and divides the space. In fact this is how an object is defined in Physics. An object is one that occupies space. So if an object exists in a space, another object cannot occupy the same space.
That’s exactly what Advaita teaches too.
The wall in the room is occupying certain space. Your body too, in order to be able to pass through the wall, has to occupy the same space as the wall from the point of its entry into the wall to its exit on the other side of the wall. It cannot happen so because your body and the wall are two “objects.” The body, however, can go through the wall if there is a break in the wall.
And here lies the critical point that Advaita tells us. Your body is as much an inert ‘object’ as the wall is. You are NOT your body much like you are not the wall – both are mere objects ‘seen’ by you, both are mere perceptions.
Generalizing the above conclusion, any and everything that you perceive cannot be “You.” Expressing in different words, what you are ‘conscious of’ is not you. ‘You’ are that very ‘ability’ because of which you are conscious. ‘You’ are that very ‘quality’ of Consciousness. (Please see the Note at the end).
If you have to see an object in space, you need light shined onto the object. If there is no illumination, you cannot see anything, though your eyesight is good. But the lamp giving off the light does not need an external illuminator to show itself. We describe the lamp to be self-illuminating. Similarly, you, as Consciousness do not need any more external agency or illuminator. You are your own illumination. That is to say that ‘You’ are Self-effulgent.
For example, when you enter a totally dark room, you cannot see any objects in the room but you know immediately two things: You see ‘darkness’; and you also know your own presence (beingness). Though no external light illuminated the ‘darkness’ showing the darkness (as an object) to the eye, you are able to see the darkness. Secondly your own presence (beingness) is also realized without a doubt. Clearly, ‘You’ as Consciousness are Self-illuminating.
From the discussion thus far, we could understand that Advaita teaches us that you are not the gross physical body that you mistake yourself to be when you ask the question “Why I cannot walk through the walls?”
What you truly and really are is the Self-effulgent Consciousness.
The nearest analogy we can have for Consciousness is infinite unbound space. Just like space, it allows all things to happen in It – space does not bother whether you build a room or park within it; equally it does not bother whether people come to blows within it or hug lovingly each other. Space does not get affected or show any preference. It does not move either. Likewise Consciousness too is unaffected, unchanging, stable and eternal. Consciousness does not pass through walls. All walls and objects and even space are within It. No object knows Consciousness whereas Consciousness knows all.
If Consciousness knows all, our puny mind comes up with another question. Why do not “I” know everything that happens in the world?
Nisargadatta Maharaj (M) was asked such a question. I am quoting from his dialogs below:
“Q: If time and space are mere illusions and you are beyond, please tell me what the weather in New York is. Is it hot or raining there?
M: How can I tell you? Such things need special training. Or, just travelling to New York. I may be quite certain that I am beyond time and space, and yet unable to locate myself at will at some point of time and space. I am not interested enough; I see no purpose in undergoing a special Yogic training. I have just heard of New York. To me it is a word. Why should I know more than the word conveys? Every atom may be a universe, as complex as ours. Must I know them all? I can — if I train.
Q: In putting the question about the weather in New York, where did I make the mistake?
M: The world and the mind are states of being. The supreme is not a state. It pervades, all states, but it is not a state of something else. It is entirely uncaused, independent, complete in itself, beyond time and space, mind and matter.
Q: By what sign do you recognise it?
M: That’s the point that it leaves no traces. There is nothing to recognise it by. It must be seen directly, by giving up all search for signs and approaches. When all names and forms have been given up, the real is with you. You need not seek it. Plurality and diversity are the play of the mind only. Reality is one.”
The moral of the story is just as you are not your body, you are not your mind also. You are Consciousness in which all things happen.
[Note: The statements in blue are valid only tentatively. They are a concession for the present level of argument. Eventually as one understands fully, these statements are falsified in Advaita. We shall take these up at a later date depending on Readers’ Interest.]