Q.529 Comments on mithyā

Q: Do the Upaniṣads talk about or mention mithyā? If not, why not, when Advaita seems to speak so much about it?

A: The absolute ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is as expressed by Māṇḍūkya Up. and Gauḍapāda’s kārikā-s, namely that there is no creation, no one has ever been born etc. Māṇḍūkya 7 is the final word on the matter:

“This (consciousness) is known as the ‘fourth’. (It is) neither (the knower of) the internal (world), nor the external. Neither (is it the knower of) both. (And it is) not (just) a ‘mass’ of consciousness. (It is) not consciousness (in the empirical sense of conscious ‘of’) nor (is it) unconsciousness. (It is) imperceptible, transaction-less, not ‘graspable’, un-inferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. (It is) the essential ‘I’-experience. (It is) the negation of the experience of all plurality of the universe. (It is) pure, tranquility, and non-dual. This is the Self. This is to be understood.”

Consequently, anything in experience (i.e. dualistic) cannot be real. Yet we DO experience the world. Therefore, it has to be mithyā. No need to specifically talk about it. Gaudapada does, in fact, in Chapter 2, which is called ‘Vaitathya Prakaraṇa’. Vaitathya is essentially a synonym for mithyā. (My book ‘A-U-M’ is all about this – https://www.advaita.org.uk/extracts/a_u_m_unreal.html).

Ṥaṅkara also talks about it in BSB 1.4.19; 2.1.14; bhāṣya on Mand. Up. 7; Gaud.  kārikā 4.9 and Vivekacūḍāmaṇi 194 -5 (ish).

The distinction between paramārtha and vyavahāra is also effectively another way of talking about mithyā. Vyavahāra is ‘appearance’, whose substantive reality is actually Brahman. Every discussion about ‘name and form’ as opposed to reality is about mithyā, whether or not the word is used.

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 6

Mantra 5

*** Read Part 5 ***

यत्र सुप्तो न कञ्चन कामं कामयते न कञ्चन स्वप्नं पश्य्ति तत् सुषुप्तम्।
सुषुप्तस्थान एकिभूतः प्रज्ञानघन एवानन्दमयो ह्यानन्दभुक् चेतोमुखः प्राज्ञस्तृतीयः पादः॥ ५॥

yatra supto na ka~nchana kAmaM kAmayate na ka~nchana svapnaM pashyati tat suShuptam |
suShuptasthAna ekibhUtaH praj~nAnaghana evAnandamayo hyAnandabhuk chetomukhaH prAj~nastRRitIyaH pAdaH || 5 ||

tat suShuptam – That (is called) the deep-sleep state
yatra supto – in which the sleeper
kAmyate na ka~nchana kAmaM – desires nothing (not any desired objects)
na pashyati ka~nchana svapnaM – nor sees any dreams.
tRRiitIyaH pAdaH – The third aspect
prAj~naH  – (is called) ‘the one who knows or understands’,
suShuptasthAna – the state of deep sleep.
ekibhUtaH – (In this state), everything is undifferentiated (literally ‘one element’),
praj~nAnaghana eva –  just a homogenous mass of Consciousness
AnandamayaH – full of bliss,
hi Ananda bhuk – indeed the ‘enjoyer’ of bliss.
chetomukhaH – (Literally) it is the one whose mouth is intelligence.

The third aspect of the Self is prAj~na. This is the deep-sleep state in which one neither desires anything nor sees any dream. Everything is undifferentiated; simply blissful Consciousness alone, gateway to the other two cognitive states.

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Q.528 Confusions in Advaita

Q: I am reading your book ” Confusions in Advaita Vedanta”.

I am from India, born in the Smarta Brahmin tradition of The revered Adi Shankara.
The purport of Adi Shankara as repeatedly explained by you is that no pramana or meditation except shabda pramana, teaching of scripture expounded by qualified teacher can give jnana. And this understanding happens in the process of listening once. Repetitions don’t help.

This caused both enthusiasm and later negativity in me. I have heard scriptures being expounded by Swami Dayananda, Swami Paramarthananda, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Parthasarathy, Sri Gangolli (translator of Swami Satchidananendra) etc. But no understanding or Jnana has resulted.

Am I doomed? Or Does it mean I was not qualified enough? More yoga sadhana required for purifying my mind? Of course there can be no doubt that the teachers were qualified. So fault is mine.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 5

Mantra 4

*** Read Part 4 ***

स्वप्नस्थानोऽन्तःप्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोन्विंश्तिमुखः प्र्विविक्तभुक् तैजसो द्वितीयः पादः॥ ४॥

svapnasthAno.antaHpraj~naH saptA~Nga ekonaviMshatimukhaH praviviktabhuk taijaso dvitIyaH pAdaH || 4 ||

dvitIyaH pAdaH – The second aspect (of the Self)
taijasa – is called taijasa.
svapna sthAna – (Its field of action is) the dream state.
antaHpraj~naH – (Consciousness is) turned inwards (as opposed to the waking state in the previous mantra, where it was turned outwards).
sapta a~Nga – (As with the waking state) (it has) seven divisions.
viMshati mukhaH – (and) nineteen interfaces.
praviviktabhuk taijasotaijasa is the enjoyer (bhug = bhuk = bhoktA; experiencer, enjoyer) of the private, internal world (pravivikta).

The second aspect of the Self is taijasa. This is the dream state in which one’s awareness is turned inwards. taijasa has seven parts and experiences the dream world via 19 interfaces.

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Q.526 MithyA

Q: In your comment on the article by Arun Kumar, I was confused but intrigued that you define Mithya as something that simply explains the fundamental nature of the Brahman in life and its objects. I have not so far found any dictionary that defines mithya as anything other than false or illusory nor discovered any major scholar-philosopher who thought that Shankara viewed this world as a reality – as real as the ornament in your metaphor. You say that Shankara himself by discriminating between the waking and dream states suggests that novel meaning of Mithya. Is this your own interpretation or does Shankara himself link the ability to differentiate between those states to explain mithya?

You raise the example of how jumping into the middle of traffic would help one realize why this world is NOT an illusion… but it is not convincing enough. Potentially, both a person jumping in front of a truck and his consequent “death” could be perceived as illusory events too. The real question I have is whether Shankara himself viewed this world as illusion and used Mithya to convey that or not. And, if it was an illusion for him, what did he think the meaning of life was? If on the other hand life was Not an illusion to him, as you seem to suggest, what was its purpose in that case?

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 4

Mantra 3

*** Read Part 3 ***

जाग्रितस्थानो भिष्प्रज्ञः सप्ताङ्ग एकोन्विंश्तिमुखः स्थूलभुग्वैश्वानरः प्रथमः पादः॥ ३॥

jAgaritasthAno bahiShpraj~naH saptA~Nga ekonaviMshatimukhaH sthUlabhugvaishvAnaraH prathamaH pAdaH || 3 ||

prathamaH pAdaH – The first aspect (of the Self)
vaishvAnara – is vaishvAnara (or vishva)
jAgaritasthAna – (This is) the waking state
praj~na – (and it is one in which one’s) knowing awareness
bahis – (is) turned outwards
sapta a~Nga (a~Nga literally means ‘limb’) – (This aspect has) seven divisions  ekonaviMshatimukhaH – and nineteen interfaces (with the outside world) (viMshati is ‘twenty’ and ekona is ‘one less than’; mukha literally means ‘mouth’ or ‘opening’)
sthUlabhugvaishvAnaraH  – vaishvAnara (is) the enjoyer (bhug = bhuj = bhoktA; experiencer, enjoyer) of the gross world.

The first aspect of the Self is vaishvAnara. This is the waking state in which one’s awareness is turned outwards to the external world. vaishvAnara has seven parts and experiences the universe via 19 interfaces.

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Time according to Advaita


Your post made me realize that I have rarely, if ever, encountered any definition/explanation of the concept of time in Advaita. It set me off on a search of my library to try to find something. Apart from those books which index every word they contain (e.g. Krishnaswamy Iyer’s ‘Vedanta or the Science of Reality’ has 107 page-references to ‘time’), I could not find anything in any of my physical books. A search of my electronic database came up with very few references and the only scriptural one I could find is from Vivekachudamani 497:

sthulādibhāvā mayi kalpitā bhramā-dārōpitānusphuraṇena lōkaiḥ |
kāle yathā kalpakavatsarāya-ṇartvā dayō niṣkalanirvikalpe ||497||

John Grimes translates:

Sthūlādi = gross and so on; kalpita bhramāt = erroneously imagined; āropitānu-sphuraṇena = manifestation superimposed; kale = time; kalpaka = eons; vatsarāyaṇa = years and half-years; ṛtvādi = seasons and so on.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 3

Mantra 2

*** Read Part 2 ***

सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मायमात्मा ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा चतुष्पात् || 2 ||

sarvaM hyetad brahmAyamAtmA brahma so.ayamAtmA chatuShpAt

sarvaM etad – Everything here
hi – (is)certainly
brahma – brahman.
ayam AtmA – This Atman
brahma – (is) brahman.
saH ayam AtmA – This very Atman
chatuShpad (= chatur + pAda) – (has) four aspects.

Absolutely everything is brahman. This Atman is brahman and has four aspects.

In the first mantra, OM was said to be everything. (How this is so will be analyzed in mantras 8 – 12.) The Upanishad now asks what is the nature of this Self, Atman; mantras 2 – 7 make this enquiry.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 2

*** Read Part 1 ***

Mantra 1

हरिः ॐ।
ॐ इत्येतदक्शर्मिदं सर्वं तस्योपव्याख्यानं भूतं भवद्ः भ्विष्य्दिति सर्वमोंकार एव।
यच्चान्यत्ः त्रिकालातीतं तदप्योंकार एव॥ १॥

hariH OM |
OM ityetadakSharamidaM sarvaM tasyopavyAkhyAnaM bhUtaM bhavadH bhaviShyaditi sarvamoMkAra eva |
yachchaanyatH trikAlAtItaM tadapyoMkAra eva || 1 ||

OM iti etad akSharam – Thus, this syllable OM
idam sarvaM – (is) all this.
tasya upavyAkhyAna – The explanation begins with this:
oMkAra – the syllable OM (is)
iti eva – thus truly
sarvaM – everything –
bhUta – past,
bhavat – present
bhaviShyat – (and) future.
yat cha anya – and what is other than
atIta – transcending these
trikAla – three time periods
tat eva – even is that only
oMkAra – OM
api – as well.

The syllable OM is everything. The explanation follows (with this Upanishad). All that is past, present and future is OM. And, whatever is beyond the three periods of time, that too is only OM.

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E-Books offer

Just a brief notification that all my E-books are available at 50% off from the publisher’s website – a ‘Christmas Sale’ to promote their venture into E-commerce. Not all have been published as E-books but I can’t immediately say which.

Go to https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/our-books/jhp-books/, or click on the direct link below, select your books and enter the discount code FESTIVE50 at checkout. (Note that my latest ‘Confusions’ book was not published by John Hunt.)

P.S. I have now managed to log in to the publisher database. I was surprised to find that only two of my books are not available as E-books. So you may obtain the following at 50% off:

Book of One (2nd edition)
Back to the Truth
Advaita Made Easy
Answers to the Difficult Questions
Sanskrit for Seekers
Western Philosophy Made Easy
Time For the Wind