Chapter 5: The Nature of the Universe
1. The Guru said: This universe of names and forms has its origin in ignorance. It is dissolved by knowledge of the Self. The universe, being other than the Self, is unreal like a dream. It is like a mirage.
The universe is a big house of disconnected family-members. Though it is in fact a "universe," it appears as a "multiverse" due to the differences in the natures of its contents. Every living organism possesses such characters as to make it a body completely separated from the whole. Thus the universe is like a "house divided against itself."
The universe is a negation of Brahman, or rather a disfiguring of Brahman. Existence and content are non-separate in the fundamental nature of the Reality. The universe is noted for such a distinction between every two conceivable, aspect or portion of itself. The universe is torn to pieces of scattered characteristics everywhere conflicting in their qualities and actions. The cosmic mind and the individual mind are complementary creators of the presentation of the universe.
The cosmic vibration of the universal psyche pulsates in every speck of space and projects the vast body of the physical world in the same way as the individual consciousness materialises itself. The universe exists as long as there is faith of the individual in its existence. But the Self-realization of the individual does not totally destroy the objective universe, because, though the world is the production of the thought of the individual in relation to its own life, the power that sustains the outer world is in the totality of the mentations of all the individuals constituting the universe. This totality of minds is the cosmic mind a part of which is the individual mind. The dissolution of the universe in Self-Knowledge is only in relation to the consciousness of the individual concerned and therefore does not hold good in relation to other conscious centres which are of a different stage of evolution.
Anything other than the Absolute cannot exits. Duality cannot be eternal. Therefore, the universe, being other than the Absolute or the Self in its basic nature, must be a dream-like perception and cannot be a reality. It must be so unreal as a mirage appearing in the desert, for it cannot be given any substantial value in the region of truth due to the inconsistency of its existence with the enduring Truth.
2. Just as a snake is superimposed on the rope, silver on the mother-of-pearl, a thief on the post, city in the clouds, mirage in the desert, blueness in the sky, so also this world is superimposed on Brahman.
A rope is mistaken to be a snake. This is taken as an illustration to prove the similar superimposition of the world on Brahman. When a person mistakes a rope to be a snake, he remembers a snake which he has previously seen and the form of the snake and the rope being similar, there is an intelligible occasion for mistaking one thing for the other. The memory of a thing seen in the past becomes the cause of the mistaken notion. But the critic asks, what object that is similar to the world has the individual previously seen in order to commit the mistake of superimposing it on Brahman? There is no possibility of the Jiva's having seen any such thing before in its life in the course of evolution. Therefore the hasty thinker concludes that the universe is not a superimposition but must be a reality.
This wrong judgment is born of stretching the illustration beyond limits. The illustration is employed merely to suggest that the Eternal Brahman is the sole reality and that the universe is neither a limitation nor a manifestation nor a changed form of Brahman, even as the snake is not the effect of any change on the part of the rope. It is not meant to be pulled in any way beyond this meaning. According to Gaudapada, the perception of the snake and perception of the rope are both unreal. The appearance of the universe is due to no change of the Reality even as the mirage is not the effect of any change in the sun or the dream objects are not the productions of any change of the dreaming person. The whole question is centred round mere "thought", a form of Consciousness itself and nothing more. The universe is an appearance, nothing else!
Similarly the other illustrations cited are not meant to be taken in their literal sense but only in their spirit which is used to solve the mysterious relation between Brahman and the universe. They all go to prove that the world and the Reality are not related as two objects but as an identical Oneness. Vidyaranya says that if there is any relation between Brahman and the Jiva, it is one of the Self, Identical Homogeneity of the One Undivided Essence and not anything else
3, 4. Just as it is water alone that appears as waves, ripples, etc., gold alone as earrings, bangles, etc., clay alone as pots, jars, etc., threads alone as cloth, towels, etc., so also does Brahman alone appear as many universes.
The idea that the universe is Brahman Itself absolutely is brought out by the illustrations of causes and their effects which bear the identity of nature. These illustrations are again not without the defects which generally appear before the critic's eye. For, these illustrations again involve modification of the cause. Waves and ripples are the formation of the blow of the wind on the surface of water, but what is the air that disturbs the surface of Brahman, so that it may project forth the waves of individuals and universes? This force which gives rise to universes in Brahman is Maya or the Shakti of Brahman. Seeing that it is impossible to consider Brahman to have created differences within Itself, Sri Sankara said that Brahman is the only reality and the whole universe is a mere phantasmagoria arisen in the mind.
We find again Uddalaka explaining to his son Swetaketu how the knowledge of Brahman involves the automatic knowledge of everything else, by giving examples of a lump of clay and its formations, a nugget of gold and its modifications, a pair of nail-scissors and the iron instruments. These illustrations make one feel that the One Brahman has modified itself as the multiple universe. But a subsequent sentence of the same Upanishad says that "all modifications are false, a mere name, a mere play of speech." Evolution is found to be an impossibility in Infinity and the Supreme majesty of Sankara's Advaita or Gaudapada's Ajativada or acosmism becomes the inevitable conclusion of philosophical speculations.
Sri Sankara has told in his commentary on the Upanishads that the stories of creation etc. in the Upanishads act as suitable preparations for the grasping of the transcendental Truth of pure Non-Dualism where change, progress, downfall, evolution, involution and all such changes get cancelled due to the rigour of the Truth of Indivisible Absoluteness, we have therefore to look upon the universe as Brahman Itself illumining without changing itself even in the least.
5, 6. Children regard a wooden elephant, as an elephant, but the grown-up persons treat it as wood. Even so the wise behold only Brahman everywhere but the ignorant perceive the non-self only.
A wooden elephant is the imitation of the form of an elephant, though the essence of the form is only wood. Children in their credulity, with undeveloped consciousness see the form merely and not the essence or the substance which has taken a form. In fact, forms have no sane basis to be regarded as realities, for it is only the mode of the arrangement of the substance and the way of the individual's vision of it that certifies the existence of a particular form. A given number of straight lines which have no relation at all in truth with any object of the universe can be arranged in such a way as to present before us a picture of any desired object, by manipulation of their positions and forms. Mud has in itself no specified shape but the shaped forms derived from it are nothing more than mud. When the form is broken, the original clay only remains. When the wood is cut, the elephant vanishes. Therefore, those persons who are endowed with a broader vision of life perceive the wood in the elephant and do not run away from it in fear. The sages who see the Essence of Satchidananda in the manifold forms of the universe fear not from anything of the world, not even from the terror of death. It is only the individual with a constricted consciousness that is dreaded by the workings of the universal nature because of the absence of the knowledge of the substance of Brahman.
These examples are to show the omnipresence and the matchlessness and secondlessness of Brahman and not to prove that Brahman can be moulded into forms just as wood, clay etc. Illustrations cannot be carried too far. The reality is that Brahman alone exists and the universe is not, except as a mere jugglery or the trick of Maya. Only the vision of a sage or a Jivanmukta can perceive this Supreme Truth which hails as the Light of lights, Sun of suns, and the Common Goal of all religions, faiths, philosophies and every form of true endeavour to achieve Immortality and undying Bliss.
7. The whole universe is within Brahman. It appears as external to you, just as your body appears external to you in the mirror on account of Maya.
The whole universe is included in Brahman. The Purusha Sukta says that one-fourth of the Supreme Reality appears as the universe and that three-fourth of it is exalted beyond the earth as the glorious Immortal. Lord Sri Krishna, the personified essence of the Absolute says that the whole universe is sustained by a part of Himself and that he pervades the whole universe without any remainder. This does not mean that Brahman can be divided into parts, for it is Indivisible. What is meant is that the universal manifestation is only an insignificant factor in the vast expanse of the Truth of Brahman. Brahman cannot create a universe. Why? If Brahman has created a universe, then, where is the material for Brahman to fashion the creation? We have then to say that it is Brahman only that has become the universe. If it has become the world, then, is it a part of Brahman or the whole of Brahman that is changed? If it is a part of Brahman, we thereby assert that Brahman can be cut into parts. If it is the whole of Brahman that has become the universe, we again assert that there is no Reality beyond the universe. Hence creation becomes impossible and absolute non-duality alone remains.
The universe appears external to the self due to the reflection of itself in the disturbed form of thinking, just as a second face is seen in a mirror. The power of thought stands for the mirror and the eternal Self for the face. The method of arrangement or the constitution of the objects of the universe is directly dependent on the way in which the One Self has split up the constitution of the mode of its thinking. Hence, when thought is corrected, the whole universe also is corrected. When the cause is perfected, the effect also is perfected. The world is dissolved in one's Self, the moment thought is withdrawn to its Source.
8. Just as a man does not behold the object which he has seen in his dream when awake, so also the Jivanmukta does not perceive the universe after he attains knowledge of Brahman.
There are countless images seen in a dream. So long as the person is dreaming, the objects of the dream appear to be absolutely real. The consciousness of the dreamer is confined within the four walls of the dreaming state, and it cannot remember anything that is outside that limited consciousness, neither the past nor the future. Nor does the dreaming person know when the dream will terminate. His whole thought is concentrated on the state of life dominated by the dream and that condition becomes the only reality for the dreamer. Ages after ages appear to pass in the dream consciousness and the waking into another state is realised only after the event actually takes place. Critically examining, it cannot be said whether one is really dreaming or waking, for both states have similar characteristics, similar space and similar timing.
The nature of the existence in the life of the universe cannot be realised to be otherwise so long as the person is within the range of the physical consciousness. The universe is absolutely real until another conscious state is reached. The test of reality is non-contradiction. The consciousness of life in the universe is further contradicted by a higher and wider experience where lower states are not only included but transcended. The individual leading the earthy life cannot understand when the dream of the universe will come to an end. Even just a minute before the waking into the superior state of consciousness the Jiva will be conscious of the preceding state merely and the blossoming into the greater experience is realised only after the actual transformation. The person who has woken up from the dream does not perceive any object of the past beheld in dream. Where they went and why he does not bother about. He is simply contented with the subsequent consciousness because he feels that the dream perception was false. The Jivanmukta who has woken up to the day of Self-Knowledge does not perceive the universe of his past dream and does not feel inquisitive about its disappearance from his vision. He rests contented in the Bliss of Brahman.