by Swami Krishnananda
The relationship between Existence and non-existence was held to be impossible. Na yuktas tamasā sūrya nāpi cāsau tamomayaḥ, sac-chūnyayor-virodhi tvāt śūnyam āsīt-kathaṁ vada (33). The sun is neither associated with darkness, nor is he himself an embodiment of darkness. In such a case, how would it be possible for anyone to say that there was such a thing called non-existence? How could it be meaningful to assert that, once upon a time, there was non-existence? Non-existence cannot be conceived. The moment it becomes conceived, it becomes existence. If it cannot be conceived, it is not there. So the affirmation of a thing which is contrary to common sense and the principles of logic should not be admitted into the field of a reasonable way of understanding the great statement of the Upanishad: One alone, without a second, was.
Viyadāder nāmarūpe māyayā suvikalpite, śūnyasya nāmarūpe ca tathā cet jīvyatāṁ ciram (34). It may be argued that things like space appear to be perceptible on account of association with names and forms falsely foisted upon space – such as dimension, colour, depth, etc. There is no measurable dimension of space; also, no depth is conceivable, and it has no colour. In spite of its being of this nature, commonsense perception seems to hold the view that there are these characteristics in space. They are falsely assumed. If non-existence also is conceived in a similar manner and its untenability is due to association of negative characters, then we ask you to remove those negative characters; what remains is the positive character of non-existence. Minus ‘non’, only ‘existence’ remains.
Sao’pi nāma rūpe dve kalpite cet tadā vada, kutreti niradhiṣ ṭhāno na bhramaḥ kvatcit īkṣyate (35). Even the concept of existence is sometimes objectified. For instance, when we say, “The world exists,” we forget that we are also a part of the world and, therefore, we cannot make a statement like that. Yet, we assume a sort of subjectivity of consciousness in our own selves. We feel that we are the perceivers of something which is not our own selves, and which we call the world. This is, again, an instance of foisting characteristics of externality onto a thing which is not really external. The world is not an external object. It is not outside us. It is not outside us, and yet we see it outside. This is a mistake that we commit. It is an error in the very structure of perception.
In a similar manner, if we say that non-existence has been conceived properly, we ask the question again, “Where does non-existence exist?” Which is the adishthana or the substratum of non-existence? It must exist somewhere. Even non-existence, in order that it may have any significance, must exist. If it exists , it is no more non-existence. So the argument of the nihilist is refuted.
Sadāsī diti śabdārtha bhede vai guṇya māpatet, abhede punarukti syāt maivaṁ loke tathekṣaṇāt (36). The statement of Uddalaka in the Upanishad is, “Existence alone was”: sad eva asi. Now the objector raises a question. “Why do you say, ‘Existence was’, as if it is not, now?” What is the purpose of the teacher making this statement in this manner, as if it was there once upon a time?
To this, the answer is: It is only a metaphorical way of expressing a fact which requires to be properly understood by the mind of an ordinary human being. The objection is that ‘existence’ and the verb following it, asi, or ‘was’, are to be separated as two different connotations; then there would be duality. And if we say that the verb is identical with existence, it would be tautological. It is like saying, “What is, is ‘is’”; or “What was, was ‘was’.” What was, was; what is, is. This is called a tautological argument. So we are involved in a repetitious way of describing a thing in a way which the word ‘sentence’ seems to connote – namely, sat asi. Asi is a Sanskrit word. It is the past tense of asti, ‘exists’. Existence existed. It seems to be the meaning. We should not make statements like that because nobody says, “Existence existed.” That is a repetitious way of making a statement. That is called tautological. So either it is a tautology or it is characterised by duality. The word ‘asi’, or ‘existed’, should not be there.
The answer is that every sentence requires a verb. We cannot merely make a statement with one word: existence. The teacher cannot convey any sense to the student by saying, “My dear boy, existence.” A sentence has to be uttered, and whenever a sentence is formed, there is a subject and a predicate. There is a noun and a verb; otherwise, the sentence does not convey any sense. So to create meaning in the statement that the Guru makes, the verb is used. It is not intended to create a duality, nor is it intended to be tautological, but it is only a metaphorical way of expressing a sentence which cannot be grammatically expressed in any other manner.
For instance, when we say, “The deed is done; the speech is spoken; the burden is borne,” statements like this are not to be considered as tautological. “The deed is done.” Do we not say that? It has a meaning of its own. “The deed is done,” means the deed has been executed. “The speech is spoken,” and “The burden is borne.” The great teacher Uddalaka has employed that same means of expression when he said “Existence alone was” as is employed in these common expressions such as “The deed is done”, etc.,
The idea of ‘was’, or past tense, is to take into consideration the standpoint of the student because students like us are likely to feel that the world has been created, and it is filled with names and forms that have an origin. And before the origin of names and forms in the form of this world, there were no names and forms. What was there then? Pure Existence was. It does not follow that Existence is not now. It is even now, but from our standpoint of an acceptance of there being such a thing called creation in terms of name and form, it is to satisfy our curiosity and sentiment that statements of this kind are made: “Existence was.” Existence was, in the sense that there was only existence, minus association with name and form as they appear to be now in the form of the world of perception. So for our elucidation and instruction such statements are made; but they are not to be taken literally. Any illustration should not be stretched beyond limits.
The superimposition of the world over Brahman has taken place. It is said that as the snake is superimposed on the rope, the world is superimposed on Brahman. This analogy is only intended to convey the act of superimposition, but it does not mean that the world is long like a snake or curved like a rope, and so on. That is called an extension of illustration beyond the permissible limit.
In a similar manner, we have to understand the intention of the author when he says that Existence was. The spirit of the argument is more important than the letter. We should not linguistically, grammatically construe the meaning of that sentence and say it is tautological, or it implies duality, and also Existence could not be a past tense, it should be universal, and so on. It is correct, but the student cannot understand it. The student's point of view is more important than the teacher's point of view in educational policy.
Kartavyaṁ kurute vākyaṁ brute dhāryasya dhāraṇam, ityādi vāsana viṣṭaṁ pratyā sītsadi tīraṇam (37). As we say “the deed is done,” etc., so it was said by Uddalaka, “Existence was, and Existence alone was” because there was no time at that time. During creation, there was no time. Time is an evolute. Time is something that proceeded later on as an effect. In Pure Existence, prior to the manifestation of name and form, there was no time. The idea that pura, once upon a time, in ancient days, God alone was, Existence alone was – statements of this kind imply the timelessness of God, the non-temporality of Existence.
Kālābhāve pure tyuktiḥ kāla vāsanayā yutam, śiṣyaṁ pratyeva tenātra divitīyaṁ nahi śaṁkyate (38). When we say, “Originally, God only was,” the term ‘originally’ means beyond time. For the elucidation of the student who is not able to understand anything except in terms of visible objects, creation, name and form, etc., such statements are made; so please understand the spirit in which it is said and do not take it literally.
All argument, all questioning is on a dualistic basis. We cannot have a non-dualistic question or a non-dualistic answer. Codyaṁ vā parihāro vā kriyatām dvaita bhāṣayā, advaita bhāṣayā codyaṁ nāsti nāpi taduttaram (39). Chodyam is the question. Parihara is the answer. We raise questions in the language of duality because questions are raised in the form of sentences. Sentences are divided into subject and predicate. So the very question implies duality in a grammatical proposition, and the answer also has to be given in a sentence, in a similar manner. So any kind of question, whether philosophical, metaphysical or religious, is based on the concept of duality on account of the fact that expression is not possible unless consciousness is rooted in duality. So is the case with the answer. But in pure indivisibility, no question arises and no answer is necessary.
In the beginning, there was a total equilibrium of forces. This is what the Nasadiya Sukta of the Veda tells us, which is quoted here in the fortieth verse. Tadā stimita gambhīraṁ na tejo na tamastatam, anākhya manabhi vyaktaṁ sat kiñcit avaśiṣyate (40). Originally, what was there? It was pure stability, profundity, stillness, absence of any kind of movement, no light, no darkness. We cannot know what was there. It is impossible to describe, impossible to conceive. There was Pure Being as the potential of future creation.
The Nasadiya Sukta of the Vedas says: nāsa̍dāsī`nnosadāsītta`dānī (N.S. 1). There was neither existence nor non-existence, because there was nobody to conceive the factor of existence or non-existence. Nobody was there to say that existence was. Nobody was there to say that nothing was. Therefore, in the absence of any kind of awareness of there being either this or that, it could not have been described in any other manner except as neither existence nor non-existence. Pure Being, as such, was.
Nanu bhūmyā dikaṁ mā bhūt paramāṇ vanta nāśataḥ, kathaṁ te viyato’sattvaṁ buddhimā rohatīti cet (41). The question is, we can imagine the subtlety to which all physical objects like elements can be reduced. They can be reduced to such subtlety that they may be not there at all, for all practical purposes. They get reduced to powder, dust, atoms, forces, so that the gross elements are not there. So we can conceive such a state of affairs where the visible physical objects, such as the five elements, become invisible to the senses.
Can it be said that space is also of the same nature? How could we say that space is an inconceivable object? How do we conceive space? Does space exist, or does it not exist? The existence of space has been accepted on account of its being visible to the eyes and our experiencing spatiality, or room, around us. There is a consciousness of room around us, accommodation; therefore, we feel that there is space. Or because of the fact that we can see also some greater distance apart from us, we feel that there is space. It is actually bereft of any kind of concreteness or solidity.
Atyantaṁ nirjagad vyoma yathā te buddhi māśritam, tathaiva sannirākāśaṁ kuto nāśrayate matim (42). The question was raised as to how Pure Existence could be conceived in the mind. It is conceived in the same way as space is conceived. Though space is not an object of perception and yet it is considered as an object of perception by the senses, Pure Existence is not an object of perception and yet it can be conceived in such a manner as to include the perceiving consciousness also, and yet remain as a temporally conceivable object – as space is in front of the sense organs.