[Advaita-l] mithyA

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Mon Nov 5 12:22:40 CST 2007

This is a sequel to my earlier post on mithyA:

When the question is raised, "is the world real", we first need to
understand what is meant by "world". By "world" we essentially mean
diversity or (to use a more technical term) duality. When we ask "is
the world real", we are actually asking, "are the diverse entities of
our perception real"

To perceive diversity, we need to draw boundaries. To differentiate
between one entity and another, we need to demarcate their boundaries.

For diversity to be inherently true, these boundaries have to be
inherently true. In other  words, there should be one and only one way
of drawing these boundaries. If a boundary is real, then I would have
to accept it come what may. There should be no choice in the matter

But we find that this is not the case. Boundaries are drawn as per the
context, for reasons such as convenience etc. There are no real
boundaries. This is what is illustrated by Swami Dayananda Saraswati
in his famous flower example. There is no real entity called a flower.
Rather, we collect several entities - petals, stamen, stalk, etc and
draw a boundary around them, and call what is contained within this
boundary as "flower". Hence, as Sadananda-ji would say, the flower has
no svarUpa lakShaNa. Hence, "flower" is an *arbitrary* construct, a
name given to a collection of parts, and therefore it is mithyA.

mithyatva implies that all boundaries (and hence distinctions) are
outcomes of classificatory schemes. A scientist may classify animals
as "vertebrates & invertebrates" or as terrestrial, aquatic & aerial".
Two species might be within the same category in one classificatory
scheme and in different categories in another scheme. The
classificatory scheme chosen says more about the scientist's
priorities than about the nature of that which is classified. In this
example, the only invariant is the classifier (who is called a
classifier only when he classifies) - the parallels with advaita are

Hence, when we say that we perceive diversity, what we are actually
saying is that we are employing a classificatory scheme. A scheme is
chosen based on its utility in a given context, and not because it is
inherently real (in which case there would be no choice of scheme).
Therefore all distinctions are *arbitrary*, not "really real".

I also feel that many advaitins don't use the common vivartavAda
examples to their fullest advantage. The common usage of vivartavAda
is broadly as follows:

Both the gold ring & the gold chain have gold only as their
substantative reality. The ring & the chain are only different
nAma-rUpa-s of gold, which remains invariant. This logic is generally
used to explain brahman as the upAdAna-kAraNa or material cause of the
world. Nevertheless this is a causal model, and all causal models,
whether pariNAma or vivarta, are predicated on differentiating between
cause (brahman) & effect (world). In that sense, all causal models are
deficient, as they end in duality and not advaita.

But the gold ring & gold chain example can be used more imaginatively.
Suppose I melt a gold chain and make it into a ring. If my
classificatory scheme is based on shape, there has been a change - the
chain has become a ring. If my classification is based on chemical
properties, there has been no change, as the gold has remained gold.
Hence, whether or not we perceive change is dependent on the
classificatory scheme we choose. Therefore, all perceptions of change
(or no change) are arbitrary, being dependent on our frame of

Hence, all causality is mithyA. This is what the chAndogya upaniShat
implies when it says "vAcArambhaNam vikAro nAmadheyam". All change
originates in language, i.e. in our classificatory scheme.

What does the mithyatva of causality lead to? ajAtivAda.

One can explain ajAtivAda without ever taking recourse to causal
models such as pariNAmavAda & vivartavAda.

Comments welcome

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