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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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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Word by Word Scriptures

From 2015 to 2017, I posted a series of ‘Notes on Tattvabodha’ (31 parts) by Dr. Vishnu Bapat. (Beginning at https://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/bapat/bapat01.html.) These provided word by word translations of the Devanagari Sanskrit as well as an English commentary.

Dr. Bapat now has his own site at Vishnu Rao Bapat – Soulbliss where he has continued this practice and has similar translations of Bhagavad Gita, Atma Bodha, Dakshinamurti Stotram, Bhaja Govindam, Astavakra Gita, Amrita Bindu Upanishad and Devi Stotram.

Here, as an example, are two verses from the Bhagavad Gita. 

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Q.521 External Objects

Q: Do objects exist independently? For example, if one is not seeing the moon then does moon exist or not?

A: From the perspective of absolute reality (paramArtha), of course there is no problem; no question or answer! There is only Brahman; no creation and no objects. But I assume that your question relates to empirical reality (vyavahAra). Here, Advaita teaches that Ishvara governs the ‘creation’, setting and maintaining the physical laws that apply to the universe and the karmic laws that apply to the jIva-s. It is only some post-Shankara philosophers who try to make out that there is only one jIva so that, as soon as this jIva is enlightened, the apparent creation comes to an end. You can read all about the ‘world disappearing on enlightenment’ in the seemingly endless discussions we had on that topic beginning in 2020 (I think).

So, as regards your specific question, objects continue to exist when you go out of the room (for example). Otherwise, other jIva-s would not be able to enjoy them! Suppose that you go outside at night with a friend and both look at the moon. And suppose that you turn away but your friend doesn’t.  If the moon ceased to exist, so would your friend (who is also an object at the gross level).

Advaita is not subjective idealism. Objects are not ‘in the mind’ (although the names and forms that we give them ARE in the mind – hence we can see a rope as a snake). But the moon is not ‘real’ in an Advaitic sense; it is mithyA. The story of the sage and the wild elephant is relevant here. A seeker saw his guru run away when a rogue elephant charged. Afterwards he asked why his teacher had run when he would say that the elephant is mithyA. The teacher replied that the ‘running away’ was also mithyA. (At least, that is how I recall the story.)

Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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Swami Dayananda Interview (cont)

The following is the continuation of an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts. Read Part 1

NDM: An Indian sage once said, “No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary to know the self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself.”     

            Swamiji: He does require a mirror to see his face. No man requires a mirror to find out whether he exists or not, correct. But if he wants to see his face, he requires a mirror.           

            I have no question about myself whether I exist or not. I don’t have a doubt. I don’t need any mirror. Even my eyes and ears, nothing I require, because I exist and therefore I use my eyes. I exist and therefore I use my mind.

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Mistakes and Misconceptions In Vedantic Investigation – 2/2

Part – I

Historically, Buddhism and Zen came to the West prior to the Advaita philosophy. Their teachings made a deep impact on the Western mind. Particularly, the Mountain and River Sutra and the Return of the Bull to the Market are well-remembered today even by those who moved on to the Advaita philosophy. The Mountain and River Sutra runs something as follows:

“When I first began to practice, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. As I trained, mountains were not mountains; rivers were not rivers. Now that I am established in the way, mountains are once more mountains and rivers are once more rivers.”

However, when viewed from an Advaita philosophy angle, the last line above gets modified roughly as: ‘Now that I am established in the Advaita way, I find that mountains are the Self, rivers are Self, and there is Self Alone and no second (thing).’ In the second story too, the fulfilled seeker would usually end up with no interest in the market or conducting transactions within it, because his/her sense of doership – experiencership (kartrutva – bhoktrutva) doesn’t continue after Self-realization is fully achieved.

But the Western Advaita teachers like to hold that “nothing needs to change” on the attainment of Self-realization and that the multifaceted world and their interactions within it will continue. In order to buttress their argument, they tell us that Ramana quotes Shankara to say that, “brahman is the universe” and being already brahman, the world cannot get affected. From their own personal code of conduct and behavior (see The Pre-requisites, we referred to in Part – 1), an observer gets the impression that they would, as though, like to keep their one leg entrenched in the dualistic world and its allurements.

[Note: True, nothing needs to change ‘out there.’ But a change does happen in one’s “vision” after Self-realization, as we will see towards the end of this article.] 

The Ramana quote claiming brahman is the world does sound a bit strange; It’s like saying all Gold is ring. But did not Shankara Continue reading

Mistakes and Misconceptions In Vedantic Investigation – 1/2

Shankara, the 7th-8th CE AcArya and unquestionably the biggest exponent of Advaita, maintains that:

नोत्पद्यते विना ज्ञानं विचारेणान्यसाधनैः 

यथा पदार्थभानं हि प्रकाशेन विना क्वचित्      —  11, aparokShAnubhUti.

Meaning: Knowledge of the Self is not brought about by any other means than inquiry, just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of illumination.

Thus, “inquiry” or “investigation” is the unique and incomparable tool available for a committed seeker in search of Truth in the Advaita philosophy. The prominent trio of Advaita teachers of the 20th century popularized this method of approach called ‘Self-inquiry’ through what they often referred to as the Direct path. With its simplicity of expression and the promise of directness of access to the Self, the Direct path attracted many Westerners into its fold, resulting in a mushrooming of teachers, more condensed processes like Neo-Advaita, and even premature declarations of attainment of the Self.

Alas, people have totally forgotten what Shankara said in a verse just ahead of the one quoted at the beginning of this article. He said: Continue reading