‘Unreality’ Defined in the bhagavad gItA
In advaita vedAnta, the world is held to be ‘mithyA‘. This term is variously rendered in English as ‘unreal’, ‘dependently real’, ‘seemingly real’, ‘relatively real’, etc. The most popular definition of mithyAtvam, ‘unreality’, as given in the advaitasiddhi is: ‘That which appears in a locus where it does not belong in the three periods of time.’ Thus, in the rope-snake analogy, the snake appears in the rope where it does not belong in the three periods of time. The rope is not the locus for the snake to exist. Yet it is apprehended there due to ignorance of the locus, rope. When the true knowledge of the rope arises, the snake is known to have not been there.
Similarly, the world (and samsAra) is imagined to be present in the substratum, locus, brahman. When by the help of the Scripture and the Preceptor the knowledge of brahman arises, the world will be known to have not been there. In the sequel a study of the application of the above definition of ‘mithyA‘ is taken up with the bhagavadgItA as the source for the definition.
In the ninth Chapter of the gItA the Lord says:
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By Me, the Unmanifested, all this world is pervaded.
All beings dwell in Me; and I do not dwell in them.
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Nor do these beings dwell in Me; behold My Divine yoga!
Sustaining all the beings, but not dwelling in them, is My Self, the cause of beings.
In the first quoted verse, the Lord states the relative situation: the world rests in Him, brahman. However, He clarifies that brahman does not inhere in the world. This is the first part of the definition of mithyAtvam: the appearance of the world in the locus, brahman.
In the next verse the Lord hastens to add: Nor does the world rest in brahman. This is the absolute position that translates the second part of the definition of mithyAtvam: ….where it does not belong in the three periods of time.
Thus, the Lord, by first stating the ‘presence’ of the world in brahman and immediately denying the presence of the world in brahman, has stated in so many words that the world is just an appearance in brahman.
Quite interestingly, He has supplied some more dimensions of the definition of mithyAtvam: the substratum does not exist in the superimposed object. This He says in the first as well as the second verse. Yet, the substratum can be spoken of being a support, only contextually, to/of the superimposed object in as much as the object ‘exists’ only with the borrowed reality of the substratum. One is able to talk about the apparent snake only because the rope is there really existing. If there had been no rope at all, there would not be a superimposition of snake possible.
The world has thus a dependent reality while Brahman’s is Independent Reality. Without the Reality of brahman the world would be simply naught. Thus, perforce, one has to admit that it is Brahman that appears as the world. In a way, we can say that the world has brahman for its ‘source’, origin, just as it is possible to say that the superimposed snake has the rope for its source. It is indeed the rope that constitutes the source material for the one who sees it erroneously as a snake. What he has contributed is his imagination born of unclear knowledge of the rope lying there.
Even so, owing to the ignorance of the true nature of brahman, the world involving a body-mind apparatus, the subject and all the objective variety is imagined. Thus the duality of subject-object is churned out of this ignorance of the Non-dual brahman. This is the famous ‘vivarta-vAda‘ of vedAnta.
It would be interesting and illuminating to note the upaniShadic basis for the above gItA verses. In the mANDUkya upaniShad, the Absolute Reality, brahman, is presented as ‘constituted’ of four quarters or limbs or components. The waking, dreaming and sleeping states are the first three and the state transcending these is taught as the turIya, the Atman. We shall list the Mandukya-Gita connection as follows:
• The third quarter of the mANDUkya upaniShad corresponds to the first verse of the gItA quoted above. There, the Ishwara-pAda of the mANDUkya upaniShad says:
//mantra 6 – He is the Lord of all. He is the knower of all. He is the inner controller. He is the source of all; for from him all beings originate and in him they finally disappear.//
The gItA verse says: All beings dwell in Me.
• The fourth quarter, pAda, of the mANDUkya upaniShad corresponds to the second verse of the gItA quoted above. There, the turIya-pAda of the mANDUkya upaniShad says:
//mantra 7 – It is the cessation of all phenomena; ‘prapanchopashamam‘. It is all peace, all bliss and non-dual. This is what is known as the fourth (turIya). This is Atman and this has to be realized. //
The gItA verse says: ‘Nor do these beings dwell in Me.’ The world, prapancha, is not present in brahman, says the Lord thereby translating the term ‘prapanchopashamam‘ of the mANDUkya upaniShad into the gItA language.
- The mANDUkya upaniShad says that the Ishwara-pAda is the source and sustainer of the world. gItA says that brahman is the support of the world.
- ThemANDUkya upaniSha, by saying that the turIya, brahman/Atman is ‘indescribable’, conveys that the Ishwara-pAda of the third quarter is only relatively placed, just as the Lord says in the gItA that ‘He does not dwell in the world’.
- While the first three pAda-s of the mANDUkya upaniShad constitute the ‘adhyAropa‘ or deliberate superimposition by the upaniShad, the Gita first verse is an ‘adhyAropa.’
- While the fourth pAda is the negation, ‘apavAda‘, of what was stated in the earlier three quarters, the gItA second verse is a negation of what the Lord said in the first verse.
While the Lord says explicitly that ‘It is My Divine Yoga’ which is Maya that is at the root of the appearance of the world and its non-existence in brahman, the mANDUkya upaniShad only implicitly states this by negating the entire world-phenomenon of the three states in the Fourth.
shaMkarAcharya brings out the ‘asanga‘ or unattached nature of brahman:
// I do not dwell in those beings, because of the absence of contact with others, unlike corporeal things.// (9.4).
The rope, even though ‘supports’ the snake, does not inhere in the snake as it has no contact with the illusory snake. Clay is the support of clay-products. Can we really say that clay inheres/dwells in the clay-products? When we realize that clay-products are only clay in truth (based on the ‘vAchArambhaNa shruti‘ of the chhandogya upaniShad Chapter VI), there would be no meaning in asserting that clay inheres the clay-products. Nor would be there any meaning, at that stage, in asserting that the clay ‘supports’ the clay-products. Similar is the situation with regard to brahman and the world.
• The mANDUkya upaniShad says:
//mantra 2 – All this is, indeed, brahman. This Atman is brahman. This same Atman has four quarters.//
This shows that brahman pervades the ‘four (three) quarters’. The Lord says in the gItA:
// By Me, the Unmanifested, all this world is pervaded.//
The rope is said to ‘pervade’ the illusory snake in the sense that the snake has no existence independent of that of the rope. Terms like ‘support’, ‘pervaded’ only indicate that the one supported and pervaded is saturated by the one that supports and pervades it. For example, space supports and pervades all objects situated in it.
brahman is in and through the world that It supports and pervades. That this ‘supporting’ and ‘pervading’ by brahman is only relative is known by the mANDUkya upaniShad and the gItA negating the very world that is first admitted to be supported and pervaded.
The sAdhana, the Path
Having seen these parallels between the mANDUkya upaniShad and the gItA, let us see what constitutes the sAdhana that helps us to get at this truth: The world is mithyA. The mANDUkya upaniShad, as quoted above, explicitly says: All this is brahman. The gItA only states this implicitly by negating the world in brahman. Since the world is only dependently real, when it is negated altogether, having no reality whatsoever, it is known to be mithyA.
This knowledge born of logic, mananam, has to be internalized, through nididhyAsanam, focused contemplation on the Truth. Since the mANDUkya upaniShad also said, ‘This Atman is brahman,’ the sadhana has to be on the lines of contemplating: I, the Pure Consciousness, Atman am the Non-dual Truth, Independent of everything. This objective world which depends on me for its existence does not exist in me the Consciousness. I am neither the support of this world nor do I inhere in the world. My pervading the world is also only relative to the world having an existence.
In other words, the All-pervading nature of brahman is also only relative to the existence of ‘all’. When the ‘all’ itself is negated, there is no question of brahman pervading anything. This is because the pervading-pervaded relationship is possible only in the wake of two real entities. That such is not the case is being clarified by the Lord. I, the Non-dual Consciousness alone am the Truth. There is no such thing called the world. I have no saMsAra. I have no birth nor will I die. I am the Eternal unchanging Consciousness, brahman. This is the kind of sAdhana that will result in freedom from bondage.
[The above sadhana is wholly based on the teachings of the mANDUkya upaniShad and the gItA.]