The Intelligent Design people and almost all religions speak about ‘Creation’ by a God accepting “The Doctrine of Creation-based perception (sRiShTi-dRiShTi-vAda).” The assumption behind this concept is that I am able to perceive a world out there because I am born into a pre-existing creation.
Biologists talk about ‘Evolution’ accepting Darwin’s Theory. The assumption behind this concept is that there exists an operational mechanism of natural selection and survival of the fittest in their struggle for perpetuation giving raise to a multiplicity of species.
Vedantins (Advaita school) consider the ‘unmanifest and unknowable something that IS or IS-not’ as an apparent cause for the ‘Illusory appearance of a world.’ It is called as the ajAti-vAda, The Doctrine says that ‘Nothing is ever born.’ It holds that an apparent creation happens when perception takes place.
We shall not for now get into other creation theories proposed in the scriptures. We shall also not get into a detailed discussion on the nitty-gritty of the three theories mentioned above.
However, I wish to bring to your notice one most significant difference in the POV of a man on the street and that of a Vedantin with regard to the progressive sequence of events which could have resulted in what we see as the world. The two views can be expressed schematically as follows:
The un-informed View:
World → Body → Brain → Mind → consciousness.
Advaita Vedanta View:
Consciousness → Mind → Body and World.
You can note that the schema run in exactly opposite direction to one another.
We normally think that there is a world, I exist in the world, I have a body, the body contains the brain, brain houses the mind and mind bears the conscious (knowing) element within me.
But for the Advaita Vedantins, the un-dimensional, attributeless, undivided Knowingness (labeled ‘brahman‘) is primary. The descriptors Un-dimensional and attributeless simply mean that there are no size, shape, color, weight, strength, or qualities like good-bad etc. etc. which can limit brahman to a describable “form.” Undivided means brahman is One single Wholesomeness without fragmentation.
A mind is a vibration, a thought-wave within brahman. We already saw that it is called Hiranyagarbha. Along with that thought-wave come a series of “rules and regulations,” a set order (niyati) according to which further “changeless changes” take place.
“Changeless change” is a peculiar transfiguration unavailable in any other philosophical system. It is unique to Advaita Vedanta. No other Indian philosophies could think of it. Therefore, one must be very clear about what it means.
The Sanskrit word for it is “vivarta.” There is no English equivalent except for the awkward sounding phrase “changeless change.” But the idea behind it is very simple and straight. What it means is that the basic substance without going through any actual change merely appears to have changed in its looks. Two different examples are popularly cited in our scriptures. The examples illustrate very clearly what “changeless change” is.
Example 1. A rope lying in your way appears in the form of a snake under dimly lighted conditions.
You mistake the rope to be a snake. You get scared, take a quick jump, you even sweat and shout for help etc. When someone brings a flashlight and shows it under bright illumination, you realize it is a rope only.
Now, when you saw it in dim light, it did appear like a real snake. Your heart pounded, you were scared. You cannot deny the fact that you did see a snake at that moment. But was a snake there at any time? If it was not there, why did you sweat and shout for help? So there was a snake when you saw it. The rope itself had gone through a “changeless change” in order to appear as a snake until the flashlight was brought in and shone on it.
Example 2: Your family had a heavy bangle made of gold. It was given to your mother by your Grandma. Your mother felt that it was too rustic in looks and got it changed as a chain. Your mother gave the chain to you. You wanted to be more fashionable and got it cast as a bracelet. The story can go on like this with that basic substance ‘gold’ appearing in different forms or many forms. Has there been any change at any point of time in the gold, the real substance? The gold and its actual value remained the same without a change. But each time it was reshaped, it had a change in appearance.
The second example teaches us one more aspect of the “changeless change.” In our normal parlance, we give more value to the “form” of the thing than to the substance. We say gold necklace, or gold ring or gold bracelet etc. We take all pains to preserve the form so that it does not get out of shape, or destroyed.
If the ‘form’ is so important, I tell you that I will keep the gold and you may take the ring, or chain. Can you take the form when the substance is not there? Obviously no.
In order to faithfully represent that the value of a substance is more important than the changeable shape, as per the convention in our language we have to use the “noun” form for the substance and the changeable shape as an adjective. So we should have been really speaking in terms of ringy gold, bangley gold, bracelety gold and so on. But we don’t! This is how mistaken we are with reference to the primordial substance indicated by the word “brahman” too. We habitually give more value to the form of the objects and people in the world, forgetting that the actual substance they are is “brahman.” brahman does not change though the apparent form It takes may change.
Thus, Vedanta holds, that all forms perceived are only “changeless changes” of that One thing, brahman. This is called as vivarta vAda, The Doctrine of Changeless change.
Understanding and assimilating the nature of ‘brahman‘ and to be as brahman is the True Knowledge. That’s what Narada went to learn from Sanatkumara after having studied the Vedas, sciences etc. available in his day, as per the story in Chapter 7 of chAndogya Upanishad.
The mind which is subtle and has no form gets more and more congealed and solidified resulting in denser and denser forms. This is a travel towards grossification. It is the path of explosion (pravRitti mArga). Travel in the reverse direction (metaphorically speaking) is gradual development of a tenuous mind from a gross form. It is the path of implosion (nivRitti mArga).
Our mind has several tricks in its bag in preserving its form resisting to take the path of implosion because of repeated practice and habit in its tendency to proceed towards gross objects of the world.
What are some of those tricks?
(To continue …. Part – 8).