Understanding Reality

Understanding Reality
in the Vision of Advaita Vedānta

by Wolfgang P., wpl@gmx.net

We, as human beings, are interested in reality. Unlike animals, we are able to ask questions about the nature of our experience. We understand that experiences are numerous and fleeting, so the question arises: What is the reality behind those experiences? From this question subsequent ones emerge: What does it mean to say something is ‘real’ or ‘unreal’? What is the nature of reality? Vedānta is a body of knowledge to analyze the nature of reality and its relationship to the individual (jīva). It applies a teaching methodology that has been handed down from teacher to student since time immemorial. The aim of Vedānta is to make one understand its fundamental tenet:1

ब्रह्म सत्यं जगत् मिथ्या जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः

brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ

Brahman is the only truth (satyam), the world, jagat, is unreal (mithyā), and there is ultimately no difference between brahman and the individual self (jīva).

In this article I will explain the three categories Vedānta provides to understand reality: sat or satyam, asat, and mithyā.2 When we talk about reality, we need to distinguish that-which-is-real from that-which-is-not-real. This discriminative inquiry is called tattva-viveka. In Sanskrit, that-which-is-real is called satyam, whereas that-which-is-not-real is called asat. Continue reading