We ought to know first what really real Reality is in order to find it. To say so does not make sense either. If we knew the Reality already, what’s the purpose of this struggle?
Obviously, we don’t know the Reality. Still, we can say what reality cannot be.
Vedanta gives us a working definition for reality:
त्रिकाल अबाधितं सत्यम्
Meaning: The Truth is that which exists the same in all three periods of time (past, present and future). (Not a good definition, but let’s stay with it for now).
Truth should not keep changing from man to man, place to place and time to time. If it is so highly variable, there can never be anything that can be said to be a Reality.
But before proceeding further we have to be aware of one more quality of the mind, the tool with which we investigate. Our mind has a tendency to reify or deify.
How does mind reify or deify?
The world (जगत्) by definition is that which is in constant ‘movement’:
जायते गछति इति जगत् |
‘Time’ is our imaginary construct to measure the observed change in the world. It was the renowned Physicist J.A. Wheeler who described ‘time’ as the book-keeper of change.
Based on time, ‘causality’ is an imaginary construct that the mind derived as a pattern seen in the world. It exploited the cause-effect relationship profitably in ensuring security for us, as mentioned in the Part – 1 of this Series.
Reification and Deification are two other important techniques that our mind had adopted to help in the protection and perpetuation of our body-organism.
As the Biologists tell us, the first and foremost tool in the survival kit acquired in evolution by all creatures is the tactic of “fight or flight.” It is the mind that decides whether the creature has to take flight or stand up and fight it out in a given situation of a perceived ‘threat’ to its life and limb.
For a proper assessment, the mind has to first observe and grasp the situation (either imaginary or real). That is to say, the mind has to get a “hold” on the situation before it can evaluate the various pros and cons to arrive at a decision to signal the appropriate action to the motor organs. So the mind assumes a vantage position for itself by separating itself from the scene as a distinct observer aloof from what is being observed through the senses.
Separation creates a distance, a space, between itself and what is being observed. The ‘observed’ entity is called the ‘object.’ Therefore, this process may be described as the ‘Objectification’ of the ‘observed’ entity.
‘Objectification’ also includes assigning (i) finite dimensions to the object (compared to either itself or one another within the objects); and (ii) certain physicality to the entity/entities observed. We may call this process as “Reification.”
Reification helps the organism as a scale to measure its own ability in facing the perceived threat. (It does not matter whether the threatening stimulus comes from sources that are external or internal to the body). Repeat replays of ‘Reification’ eventually lead the organism in reinforcing its presumptuous belief in its own separate existence as an individual.
Suppose in certain situations, the organism is unable to stand up to the perceived threat. The obvious thing for it to do then is to take flight and save its skin. If the organism, say, is so weak-kneed or has developed cold-feet even to run, the best thing to do in the interest of its safety is to play possum. A clever or more modern way of doing so is to ‘surrender’ and lay prostrate before the advancing threat seeking refuge.
Man had been able to realize long back his own extreme fragility, vulnerability and weakness in front of the unrelenting natural hazards or wild creatures. So, he quickly learnt the survival trick of deifying them and surrendering to them by paying obeisance. This process can be described as “Deification.”
So to ‘reify or deify’ is the mantra, a modified and sophisticated form of the natural mechanism of ‘fight or flight’ syndrome, that our mind has carved out and mastered in the game of survival.
The best example for reification is the very entity we call ‘mind’. ‘Mind’ is talked about as if it is an object rather than a process. Some of the ancient Indian schools of Philosophy had even postulated a mental body, mental plane, mental world etc. and postulated that they were made up of supposedly subtle “mindstuff.” They assigned to it “absolute reality.”
(But we also have in our scriptures ‘mind’ rightly described as a throb, a vibration).
We have many examples for deification. Deification is the reason for our habit of worshiping many of the natural elements attributing godly forms and superhuman qualities to them.
The most curious example for deification, however, is the Goddess ‘mAyA.’
mAyA, a black box mechanism, is nothing but an explanatory artifact used to explain creation. For example, Shankara mentions in his commentary on Gaudapada Karika, IV – 58:
माया नाम वस्तु तर्हि ; नैवम् , सा च माया न विद्यते । मायेत्यविद्यमानस्याख्येत्यभिप्रायः ॥
Meaning: (The Opponent) : Then there must be something real known as mAyA.
(Siddhantin) : Not so. That mAyA is never existent. “mAyA” is the name we give to something which does not (really) exist (but which is perceived). (Translation: Swami Nikhilananda).
Some authors compare mAyA to the operator ‘plus’ sign in a mathematical equation.
Suppose we write: “brahman + thought is the world.”
The plus (+) has only a symbolical value in the above equation. It does not do anything involving itself into the action or altering the operands. But, in contrast, look at the way ‘mAyA’ is deified in Vivekachudamani.
अव्यक्तनाम्नी परमेशशक्तिः अनाद्यविद्या त्रिगुणात्मिका परा ।
कार्यानुमेया सुधियैव माया यया जगत्सर्वमिदं प्रसूयते॥ — 108, Vivekachudamani.
Meaning: mAyA, (also called the ―Unmanifest) is the power of the Lord. It is without beginning; it comprises the three gunNa-s and is superior to their effects (as their cause). It is to be inferred only by one who has a clear intellect, from the effects it produces. It is this mAyA which projects the entire universe. (Translation: Acharya P. Chaitanya).
Vedanta tenaciously points out the deceitful processes of objectification and reification that are carried out by the mind below the radar of our conscious detection and exhorts us to transcend it.
Therefore, ‘mind’ occupies a significant place in the teaching of Vedanta philosophy. All the talk of liberation pertains to the mind only.
Religion, however, welcomed and even took advantage of “Deification” to build complex edifices of faith based on belief systems.
(To Continue … Part – 7)