Q.448 Are animals real?

Q: I am struggling to understand where reality ends and mithyA begins.

I understand that everything in my experience is Consciousness. But I cannot reconcile this with seeing ‘things’ in the ‘world’. I appreciate that, if I am Brahman, meaning that my little jIva consciousness is actually Brahman, then it is my consciousness that is generating this entire perception of nature and mammals. In other words, the only thing going on with the ‘jIva seeing world and objects’ is Consciousness.

But what is going on for the animals and objects? Are they really there or not? Are they appearing just through my human mind via Brahman/Consciousness? Are there no objects in reality? When I see a leopard, all that is real is Consciousness seeing Consciousness? Then how are the leopards appearing with so much complexity and purpose?

I realize that time and space are appearing in Consciousness; I realize that leopards are appearing in Consciousness. But what are they? Do you have any way to answer this that doesn’t rely on the Advaita Vedanta language since that language isn’t getting through to me? I.e. dependent reality, Ishvara, mAyA, mithyA: none of these words seem to be pointing me in the right direction.

A: Here is a story reported as told by Swami Dayananda:

“There was a King in whose court there were a number of preceptors from various philosophies, including one from Advaita. The King was very close to the Advaitin and the other philosophers were looking for the first opportunity to prove the Advaitin wrong. One day, when the King and his retinue were walking in a forest, suddenly there appeared a wild elephant. The Advaitin was the first one to take off and run for cover. Later, when all of them assembled in the King’s court, preceptors of other philosophies wasted no time in grasping the opportunity to point out to the King, that though the Advaitin taught everything was mithyA, he was the first one to run on seeing the wild elephant – and they asked ‘Why would the Advaitin run on seeing the wild mithyA elephant?’ The Advaitin answered them calmly ‘yes I did run – but who said my running was satyam – it was also mithyA’”.

Your viewing animals and objects etc. is all within the realm of the empirical – the world of experience. And, within that context, the animals are real. It is like talking about dreams. The world of the dream, with all its characters and places and objects is real for the dreamer. It is only when you wake up that the waker can say that the dream was ‘not real’. For the waker, the dream is mithyA, being dependent upon the waker’s mind for its existence.

For the jIva, the separate entity in the empirical world, the animals are real. The jIva is real. But the consciousness of the jIva is a reflected Consciousness only. This reflected Consciousness nevertheless has the power to animate the body-mind of the jIva and to impose name and form upon the Consciousness ‘out there’, making it appear to the mind that there are separate entities, when there is really (from the ‘perspective’ of absolute reality) only non-dual Consciousness.

Within the context of the waker-world, the animals are separate entities with their own reflected Consciousness. You might imagine that there are countless mirrors in existence, each reflecting the sunlight. Vegetable life-forms are very poor reflectors, animals are much better and humans are the best. Humans reflect the Consciousness so well that the mind is self-aware and can even become enlightened!

Q: So are you saying that the animals exist only in the reflected consciousness of the jIva’s mind? Meaning that when the jIva’s mind dies or the reflection wakes up to its reality, the animals will not (really) exist? Or will the animals still exist in the minds of all the other reflections?

Who is dreaming this dream of the universe with animals? Because I don’t think it’s Brahman …

A: “So are you saying that the animals exist only in the reflected consciousness of the jIva’s mind?”

– No. That would be solipsism. In the waking world, the animals exist in the reflected consciousness of everyone’s mind (including those of other animals).

“Or will the animals still exist in the minds of all the other reflections?”

– Yes!

“Who is dreaming this dream of the universe with animals?”

– Within the context of the waking world, the only answer is ‘Ishvara’, I’m afraid. But remember that it is your mind that, through ignorance, is imposing name and form upon the formless Consciousness. From the vantage point of absolute reality, there is no waking world …

Q: I have been reading Swami Dayananda’s teaching where he shows a flower and then starts to take it apart to find out which bit is the actual flower. And I suddenly had an insight. Oh, what they are saying is: when you think about an object, it is obviously appearing in your consciousness but when you perceive an (external) object, it’s actually the exact same process! An image appears in your consciousness – you are never experiencing an object that does not appear in your consciousness because perception is simply the prompting of imagery in the mind, same as any thought! There is never direct contact with any external object, ever, even your own body.

This is correct, right? I mean even scientifically correct? This opens up a floodgate of insight. I am only this consciousness, everything is in it and is it, and so am I – the end!

A: What you are saying here is effectively Kant’s distinction between phenomenal and noumenal. Our senses are so limited that we can never perceive the ding an sich – the thing in itself. Our senses pass on a small amount of the total available data from objects to our mind and we are aware of that mind-presented thing, not the actual object.

But this is not quite what Advaita is saying. Kant is acknowledging that there are actual objects, just that we can never really apprehend them. Advaita is saying that there are no actual objects, that our minds effectively fabricate them by separating them out from the rest of what is ‘out there’ and giving them names.

The deconstruction of the flower is showing that the name ‘flower’ only applies to a particular form for which we have an idea in mind. If you take the thing to bits, there is no actual object which we can say is the flower. Have you read my ‘story’ based around this? (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/advaita.htm.)

Your last sentence is, of course, correct!

Q: I see what you mean about Advaita versus Kant. What I’m seeing is that the entire world is not actually out there as a bunch of stuff. All of it is being produced, so to speak, in and via consciousness. The names and forms are obviously an error, but that isn’t where I’ve been stuck.

I’ve been stuck because I have believed that what my senses tell me about the world is a direct result of the objects in the world being real. I.e. I see a rock because a rock is there. And when I see it, I think I see an exact replica because I believe that the mind is a perfect mirror of reality, at least to scale.

But now I’m seeing none of this is correct. When I see a rock, all that is happening is that an image is being generated in the mind which is ‘made of’ Consciousness. The rock is in Consciousness; the image is in Consciousness; and the name and form are in Consciousness. And Consciousness is one continuous whole with no parts or limits – there is no inside/outside Consciousness.

A: Sounds great! If you genuinely believe that, no problem at all! It’s only a way of looking at it, of course, from the vantage point of the jIva in a world where everything is Consciousness. But you cannot get any ‘closer’ to reality than that via the spoken or conceptualized.

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