[Advaita-l] mithyA

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Fri Nov 2 14:59:49 CDT 2007


This is with reference to the post by Satya (Poritiu Daniela) on 17th
Oct. I seem to have missed it earlier and read it only today after
Jaldhar responded to it.

On 17/10/2007, Porutiu Daniela - SATYA <omsatyaom at yahoo.com> wrote:
<<The only One that exists is the Truth. For the sake  of  language
as a matter of explanation we can say the world is Brahman, and
because Brahman is seen as fullness, Purna  BUT  the nature of
Brahman  Itself  excludes the world>>

Porutiu Daniela's statement above that "the nature of brahman itself
excludes the world" has prompted this post from my side.

The advaitins often say that the world is mithyA. This is a term that
causes much confusion. Many advaitins who talk about the "unreality of
the world" or about "illusion" have probably not given much thought to
what the term mithyA indicates.

So here is my understanding for what its worth. I am sharing this
because this understanding came to me during one of those rare moments
of insight, and filled me with exhilaration for a short while :-)

When it is said that the world is mithyA, it does not mean that the
world does not exist at all (like a hare's horns or a sterile woman's
son) or that it is entirely a product of one's imagination. Rather,
mithyA refers to that which is true within a given frame of reference.
In that sense it is *arbitrary*, not "really real". This is opposed to
satya, which is truth beyond any frames of reference.

Here is a simple (perhaps simplistic) example to illustrate this:

Suppose I were to take 6 men to the banks of the river Ganga. I point
to the river and ask each of the men, "whats this?"

Their responses are as follows:
A: That's a fluid
B: That's water
C: That's a chemical made up of two elements - hydrogen & oxygen
D: That's a river
E: That's the Ganga
F: That's a goddess - Mother Ganga

Which of the above is correct? Actually all of them are correct, but
only within their own frames of reference, and each frame is
*arbitrary*. What is relevant for one person is not relevant for the
other. It is in this sense that world of objects is mithyA, which is
somewhat misleadingly translated as "illusory".

And yet, inspite of the seeming differences, there is a fact common to
all the statements - all the men perceived *something*, they only
called it by different names. That *something* is the substratum which
is pure being - brahman.

Now, is brahman the fluid? Yes
Is brahman the water? Yes
Is brahman the river? Yes

The fluid, the water and the river are *relative realities* (mithyA).
They are real within their respective frames of reference. At the same
time, they are also the absolute reality (satya), as they are brahman.

So is the world of objects real?

All objects are brahman and hence real, but a given name-form is
mithyA as it is true only within a frame of reference.

The above example, if understood clearly, would be a counter to those
who mistakenly criticize advaita for being "world denying" or for
encouraging a "negative attitude towards life". One could even say
that an advaitin who has a negative attitude towards life hasn't
understood what is meant by the term mithyA.

Another interesting point emerges from the above example: while there
can be no mithyA without satya, there can be no satya without mithyA
either (in the sense that satya is perceived only through the lens of
mithyA). For "pure" satya alone, one has to resort to ajAtivAda, in
which there is no saMsAra, no mokSha, and certainly no mailing list!!

Yet another point from the same example: the world of objects does not
disappear into nothingness on enlightenment. If that were the case,
jiivanmukti would not be possible, as living requires interaction with
the external world. With his senses, the jnAnI perceives objects like
anybody else. But he recognizes that when the mind rushes to attach
name & form to that which is perceived, it does so only within a frame
of reference. And as all frames of reference are arbitrary, the jnAnI
does not cling to any. In that sense, the jnAnI sees brahman alone.
This "non-clingingness" is the essence of manonAsha (destruction of
the mind) & vAsanAkShaya (elimination of attachments & aversions)

But this does not prevent him from using any frame of reference. On
the contrary, while we the unenlightened are constrained to use only
this or that frame (due to our vAsanA-s), the jnAnI is utterly free to
choose whatever frame he pleases. By being established in brahman, he
can ride the waves of mAyA with utter abandon! That is why jiivanmukti
is described as "freedom", "bliss" etc

Hence one finds that some jnAnI-s stay in solitude, while others are
very active in the world. It is their absolute freedom!

Comments and brickbats welcome


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