Musings on Life and Death

656152_web_R_by_luise_pixelio.deHearing of our friend Peter’s death, Dhanya commented Death is a strange phenomenon in our world.  One minute the person is alive and available, and the next minute totally gone, thereby summing up in simple words how it feels to experience the death of another person.

Reflecting on her statement, I came to look at death from the perspective of the dying one – noticing that life turns into as strange a phenomenon as death.

Perceiving with these mithyA-senses and this mithyA-mind a mithyA-body-mind entity called Sitara that is part of a mithyA-universe, whirling and twirling around in orderly beauty. All of this is obviously ‘here’ and yet also dreamlike, for neither Sitara nor the universe has always been here, nor will they eternally remain here in this form. All phenomena are in a constant flux, forever appearing and disappearing to something that is itself neither alive nor dead nor even different from the appearances and disappearances themselves.

Life is such a colorful, diverse, multidimensional phenomenon and, to almost everyone, it seems to be absolutely real. Yet it does not serve any purpose except for one peculiar one: to realize that this full explosion of creativity is no more real than the moon’s shining.

What a strange phenomenon is life – and how blessed is everyone who knows him/herself as life, death and beyond.


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About Sitara

Sitara was born in 1954, she became a disciple of Osho in 1979. In 2002, she met Dolano and from then on,discovered Western-style Advaita teachings, especially those of Gangaji. After reading Back to the Truth by Dennis Waite in 2007, Sitara started to study traditional Advaita Vedanta (main influences being Swami Paramarthananda, Swami Dayananda and Swami Chinmayananda). She teaches several students on a one-to-one basis or in small groups (Western-style teaching inspired by Advaita Vedanta). Sitara is highly appreciative of Advaita Vedanta while at the same time approving of several Western Advaita teachers. She loves Indian culture and spent many years in India.

8 thoughts on “Musings on Life and Death

  1. “All phenomena are in a constant flux, forever appearing and disappearing to something that is itself neither alive nor dead nor even different from the appearances and disappearances themselves.”

    Well said. This reminds me of the following two statements:

    ‘People forget the reality of the illusory world’ — Huang Po

    ‘Never say “nothing is real”. This world by itself is illusion.
    God, as the world, is Real. — Robert Adams

  2. Hi Martin, Huang Po’s statement is beautiful and poetic. But, him being a mystic, to many seekers it would also be enigmatic. That’s why I prefer the more precise terms of Vedanta. To talk of reality and illusion causes too many misconceptions. I don’t think there is any expression more accurate than the word mithyA to point to the nature of the world (including jiva). Regarding Robert Adam’s statement: in vedantic terms jiva, world and God are all mithyA, relatively real. Only Brahman is satya, absolutely real.

  3. Thank you, Sitara. I can see why the terms ‘illusion’ and ‘mystic/mystical’ be better avoided, prominence given instead to a systematic teaching, like that of Advaita Vedanta, which proceeds step by step. Yet, the expression ‘relatively real’ can also be difficult for ordinary mind to grasp. ‘Mysticism’ has the problematic connotations, stemming from much of Christian example, of being passional or too emotional (and dualistic). However, serious authors, like S.N. Dasgupta and R. Puligandla support the view that the Upanishads are mystical treatises in themselves — prajna and anubhava being of paramount significance and equivalent to real mysticism? Words are perhaps not so important in the end – but they are so to begin with!

    • I agree that words with precisely defined meanings are of utmost importance to the seeker of Truth. I objected to the words “reality” and “illusion” (not to the word “mystic”) because everyone has different notions about what they mean. That’s why I prefer the technical term “mithya”. As a technical term it is obvious that it needs to be understood in order to use it, whereas “real” or “illusory” are vague terms in English language, signifying all and nothing. Everyone feels entitled to use them at his convenience and understand them at his convenience. Of course many would have difficulty with the translations “relative truth” resp. “absolute Truth”. But someone understanding logic can grasp what is indicated – and then needs to enquire further into what the original term, i.e. “mithya” is supposed to mean.
      As to the term “mystic” there has been a misunderstanding. The term is perfectly fine and so are the mystics – in fact more than fine! A mystic is a self realized soul who sings his truth, beautifully, poetically. Mystical utterances are of great inspiration to many. But mystics in that sense are not teachers, they have no methodology. So for the seeker, especially one who lacks viveka, mystical statements are of limited use.
      One could call Upanishads mystical, although they are dialogues between teacher and student. It is due to them having mystical elements that the teaching methodology (sampradaya) is so important.

  4. Thank you very much Sitara. I am completely satisfied with your clarifications. I don’t want to take of your time, but would you say that ‘mithya’ is equivalent to ‘relative’ in senses 2 and 3, but not 4, below? Also – would you agree with what I wrote sometime ago (further down)? Much appreciated.

    relative (adjective): 1) referring to something else; 2) not absolute or independent; 3) related or connected to; 4) true, or real, to a particular degree (comparative use)

    … I said … that if we use the term ‘ego’ in a normative way, thus equivalent to ‘soul’ or ‘person’, even if seen as separate, autonomous, it has a nucleus of reality in it, since once the limitations attached to it (name and form) drop away through understanding, what remains is the Self that ever was. Not so with ”ego” as seen by modern psychology and psycho-analysis, which is a psychological construct without a projection into the infinite and eternal, and thus ultimately without any reality subjacent in it. (( YOU CAN OMIT THIS)There was no contradiction or ambiguity in Schuon, but by employing the term ‘ego’ in his teaching he must have created confusion in modern minds, I am pretty sure, be they believers or unbelievers, not excluding some at least of his followers.)

  5. Hello Martin,
    this is my view: mithya is
    2) not absolute or independent: applies.
    1) referring to something else: applies because mithya without reference to satya does not make sense: without satya mithya is non-existent.
    4) true, or real, to a particular degree: applies because, although there is only one absolute reality/truth (=Brahman), mithya is real or true to a particular degree. It has functional reality. BUT mithya cannot be said to be comparatively less real than satya, as satya is not increased reality compared with mithya. This is because mithya is real or true to a particular degree only BECAUSE of satya (this being inherent in the term mithya).
    3) related or connected: does not apply because satya and mithya do not touch, they are not related or connected to each other. In fact ultimately mithya is nothing but satya. Advaita means that there are not two. Wave is water. We have the two principles only in order to explain why plurality is perceived although scriptures and teachers claim that there is only one principle (Brahman).
    I tried to make this as concise as possible but maybe it needs further clarification. Please feel free to ask if that is the case.

    I agree with what you said about usage of the term ego.

  6. Superb answer!

    I thought 3 would apply in the sense of ‘relative to’ – a verbal connection: mithya refers to, or has in view, reality, and thus has that functionality, even though, as it stands, it is wrong (“good effort!” – one might say).

    Sitara: “mithya cannot be said to be comparatively less real than satya, as satya is not increased reality compared with mithya”

    I understand the reason is that there is incommensurability between the two, as there is so between truth and error. Is everything from the perspective of vyavaharika (as also from pratibhasa) ultimately not an error (something that can be sublated)? An error may be said to point to the truth but, by itself, is not true (repeating what I said in the 1st paragraph).

    Jiva (or ego), seen as a separate being is obviously mithya, a perceptual error by the/a mind, a mistaken identity. I suspect all you said about mithya applies also to ego or jiva as just defined.

  7. You say: An error may be said to point to the truth but, by itself, is not true
    Yes, all of mithya is pointing to satya alone.

    Yes, if you replace mithya with the word jiva , satya has to be replaced with the word atman.

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