[The world and everything in it are imaginary (mithya) ‘names and forms’! Therefore, tradition depicts Ishwara as a pauper because he does not possess any worldly wealth. However, he transcends the worldly objects and is said to be an embodiment of the Self. In contrast, Kubera possessed a lot of worldly treasures, a collection of mere names and forms, but lacked the real wealth of Self-knowledge. So, he sought guidance from Ishwara.]
Lord Ishwara was holding court in Kailasha. His consort and both his sons were also seated with him. There were several nobles and other gods in attendance. The gurgling flow of the Ganges from the matted hair of the Lord and the chirping of the birds and other creatures around were sounding like a background drone reciting the name of Shiva-Shiva-Shiva. The God of Riches, Kubera, famous for his wealth, came to meet Ishwara. He bowed to the Lord and worshiped him as per the tradition. Kubera had a deep philosophical question and posed the same to Ishawara requesting the Lord to relieve him from the doubt.
Kubera: This entire world of tangible and intangible things is known and experienced through our sensory organs; we interact with the world using our motor organs. All these actions are possible only when our mind and intellect function along with the I-consciousness (ahamkAra) in a cause-and-effect relationship. Please tell me, My Lord, how am I to attain ‘That’ which is beyond these transitory worldly entities. How do I get to grasp the truly real substance which is Eternal?
Ishwara: The answer is in your question itself, Kubera!
Unknowingly, you referred to the inescapable triad that is the characteristic of the world. You, as the knower, (pramAta), ask for the means (pramANa) to know that which is Real (prameya). The observer-observing-the observed or the knower-knowledge-known is the typical form the triad takes. Whether it is a happy or unhappy situation, whether it is day-to-day activity or spiritual practice, the triad (tripuTi) is necessarily present in your worldly experience.
Kubera, take a step back and see who exactly is the one that cognizes these three elements of the tripuTi. It is that sense of ‘Me’ which is unchanging and unwavering within you. You are that very Witness-Consciousness that cognizes the three elements of the triad. Its nature is sat-cit-Ananda (Knowingness-Beingness-Infinity). It cannot be understood so long as you remain in or as the tripuTi. Know first how did the triad originate.
After all, the triad cannot create itself nor can it create you. You are the sentient self-illuminating Knower, the Self. Only the Self could have imagined (created) the triad. What the Self creates, however, is only apparitional (AbhAsa) and not real. Therefore, none of the elements within the triad can be an illuminator to show the others.
Consider for example the dreams. The triads within the dream are created by the dreamer. In fact, the dreamer did not create the various dream objects. He himself became those objects! So they are illusory (mithya). Being insentient, they cannot know the dreamer. Nor can a dream object illuminate another dream object. It is not dissimilar to the awake state – the awake world objects too cannot see one another; only you, as the Consciousness, know them.
Therefore, Kubera, only the Sentient you can cognize all ideas and objects (nAma = ideas; rUpa = objects) that constitute the world about which you talked about earlier. An outsider cannot know your Sentience. You are the Self of the nature of Beingness-Shine-Attractiveness (asti-bhAti-priyam) and only you are self-effulgent. The sweet, cool, liquid water is the “Self” for the waves, spume, foam, bubbles and spray. That being so, wouldn’t it be foolish for a wave to want to meet water which is said to be its ‘self’? It’s a shame to say that the all-knowing you want to know your Self which is asti-bhAti-priyam!
Kubera: What are bondage and liberation?
Ishwara: They are both your egoic thoughts. When you identify yourself with a thought modulation of the form of bondage or freedom, you become that. They are not any substantive entities that I can tell you about!
Kubera: How am I to be free from happiness and misery?
Ishwara: You are the Witness-Consciousness of happiness and misery. How can they affect you? Happiness and sorrow are the properties of the mind. Don’t take yourself to be the mind.
Kubera: How do I control the mind?
Ishwara: You are space-like Consciousness. Mind is like the wind blowing within space. In what way does the movement of wind affect the space? It has no impact on the space. Mind is made up of the sattvik parts of the five elements. You are far beyond the five elements. Mind may or may not affect the five elements. Of what concern is it for you to control or not the mind? When everything is Consciousness-Beingness-Infinity, does a mind or a Kubera exist anywhere?
Kubera: When I do not exist, how can you exist? After all, only if ‘I’ am, there is scope for a ‘you’ to exist. When a ‘me’ is not there, there cannot be heaven or hell; bondage or liberation; happiness or sorrow and so on. Everything is sat-cit-Ananda.
Ishwara: That is fine. Who are you then?
Kubera: I am of the nature of sat-cit-Ananda. Fuel-wood cannot remain as itself when in contact with fire. It transforms into fire. I am like the logwood. You are fire. I offer myself to you.
Ishwara: When there is fuel, only then can fire exist; when you yourself are not there, how can I be?
Hey, Kubera! When the ego-consciousness (the sense of a separate ‘me’) does not exist, where are you?
Kubera: (Remains silent as there is no more scope for speech).
Acknowledgements: The Post is a translation of a dialog in the Book by Swami Visuddhananda. The Picture of Kubera is that of a 1st Century statuette in Mathura Museum, adopted from Wikipedia.
Thanks for another interesting story that I had never encountered before.
If you will allow one comment, though, lest anyone be misled: mithyA does not mean ‘imaginary’ or ‘illusory’.
Thanks for the observations.
The Dictionary gives the meaning for the word ‘mithya’ as “falsely / wrongly / illusory.”
Swami Krishnananda of The Divine Life gives the meaning as “false, unreal, illusory” in his Glossary.
The phantasmagoria of the world is also often described as ‘imaginary’ in the literature.
May I know the equivalent word that you consider that fits better.
When not splitting an advaitic hair, authors most often translate ‘mithya’ as ‘illusion’, ‘illusory’, ‘false’ or ‘unreal’.
Baladeva Vidyabhūsan – ‘illusion’
Chandra Bhan Prasad – ‘illusion’
Dada Bhagwan- ‘illusion’
P. K. Rajan- ‘illusion’
Baij Nath Puri- ‘illusion’
P. K. Sasidharan Nair- ‘illusion’
Swami Ātmānanda- ‘illusion’
Rajendra Prasad- ‘illusory’
Shiri Ram Bakshi- ‘illusory’
K. Seshadri – ‘illusory’
Mysore Sivaram- ‘illusory’
Gummaraju Srinivasan- ‘illusory or false’
Hari Prosad Bhattacharyya- ‘false or illusory’
Swami Prajnanananda- ‘false’
Alladi Mahadeva Sastri- ‘false’
Paul David Devanandan- ‘false’
Swami Prajnanananda- ‘false’
A. P. Karmarkar- ‘false’
John B. Chethimattam- ‘false’
Thomas Mannumel- ‘false’
Aditi De- ‘false’
Sobharani Basu – ‘false’
Karl H. Potter – ‘false’
Rewati Raman Pandey – ‘false’
Jayantakr̥ṣṇa Harikr̥ṣṇa Dave- ‘unreal’
Madan Mohan Agrawal- ‘unreal’
Trevor Leggett- ‘unreal’
Daljeet Singh- ‘unreal’
N. K. Venkatesan- ‘spiritually unreal’
Shripad Dattatraya Kulkarni- ‘relatively real’
I am certainly not splitting hairs! Translating mithyA as false or illusory must be one of the most common sources of confusion for seekers. I am not going to spend time now searching out quotes as Rick has done. This is one of my tasks for later, when I look up the five definitions of mithyA in Advaita Siddhi. But, from my own present point of view, suitable candidates are ‘neither real not unreal’, ‘deriving existence from Brahman’, ‘name and form of Brahman’ and such like.
When enlightened, traditional authors use terms such as ‘false’, I suggest that they do so knowing that the knowledgeable reader will be perfectly well aware of the correct ‘mithyA’ understanding. On the other hand, there are defintely many writers of books that supposedly explain Advaita who clearly do NOT understand the correct meaning!
Here is a defintion that was given by S. N. Sastri:
“Similarly, the world appears on the substratum, brahman, but it has no absolute reality. It does not have the same ontological status as its substratum. It is neither real like brahman, nor is it unreal like the horn of a rabbit. so it is said to be ‘sattvena asattvena vA anirvacanIyA’, what cannot be described as either real or unreal. It is vyAvahArika satya while the substratum, brahman, is pAramArthika satya. Both vyAvahArika satya and prAtibhAsika satya are mithyA. The former is negated only by the knowledge of brahman while the latter is negated by the knowledge of its substratum. ”
Ramesam, I would suggest simply using the word ‘mithyA’ without attempting to find a suitable English word. In fact, I seem to remember saying as much in one of my books as justification for using Sanskrit terms; namely that some Sanskrit words simply do not have an English equivalent – and I gave mithyA as an example!