Chapter 2: Pancha Mahabhuta Viveka – Discrimination of the Elements
The first manifestation of maya is space. Ādyo vikāra ākāśaḥ so’va kāśa svarū pavān, ākāśo’stīti sattattvam ākāśe’pyanu gacchati (60). He says, “Space exists, ether exists,” by wrongly attributing to Existence the character of a quality of ether. Instead of saying, “Ether exists,” it would be better to say, “Existence ethers.” That is a better way: ”Existence ethers,” not “Ether exists.”
Eka svabhāvaṁ sattattvam ākāśo dvi svathāvakaḥ, nāva kāśaḥ sati vyomni sa caiṣo’pi dadvayaṁ sthitam (61). There is only one quality in Existence, and that is existence only. There is nothing in Existence except existence. But space has the quality of existence plus spatiality. There is dimension. There is no dimension in Pure Existence. Dimension is a quality of space. So while Existence has only one character, space has two characters – that is to say, existence and dimension. Nāva kāśaḥ sati: There is no spatiality in Existence. Vyomni sa caiṣo’pi dadvayaṁ sthitam: Both these characters of existence and spatiality can be seen in sky, ether.
Yadvā prati dhvanir vyomno guṇo nāsau satī kṣyate, vyomni dvau sad dhvanī tena sadekaṁ dviguṇaṁ viyat (62). Apart from dimension, which is a quality of space, there is also the quality of reverberation of sound, which we can hear in space; but reverberation of sound is not a quality of Pure Existence. So, three qualities can be seen in space – existence, dimension and reverberation of sound – whereas in Pure Existence, there is no dimension and no sound. Sadekaṁ: Existence is one only. Dviguṇaṁ viyat: Double-characterised is space.
Yā śaktiḥ kalpayed vyoma sā sadvyomnora bhinnataṁ, āpādya dharma dhamitvaṁ vyatya yenāva kalpayet (63). We have studied this verse previously. Maya as a shakti of Ishvara, having created this dimension called space and having identified space with Existence, and making us feel that space exists, also creates an additional erroneous notion in our mind – namely, the attribution of quality to Existence and the substantive nature to space. We consider space as a substantive or a noun and Existence as a predicate or a quality. This happens when we utter a sentence like, “Space exists.” We should not say, “Space exists.” It is an error, philosophically speaking, in the very construing of the sentence, because Existence is not a predicate of space. It is prior to space. Maya distorts facts.
Sato vyomatva māpannaṁ vyomnaḥ sattāṁ tu laukikāḥ, tārkikā ścāva gacchanti māyāyā ucitaṁ hi tat (64). Great is the wonder in which maya distorts facts. Now logicians like the Naiyayikas and Vaishesikas consider space as an eternal reality, considering that it is an existence by itself. They regard space as Existence independently by itself by committing the same mistake that is made in a common sense by people when Existence is predicated to space, whereas, space is the subsequent evolute of Existence. We cannot give precedence to the effect and posterior importance to the cause. This is what happens by the working of maya.
Yadyathā vartate tasya tathātvaṁ bhāti mānataḥ, anyathātvaṁ bhrameṇeti nyāyo’yaṁ sārva laukikaḥ (65). Right perception is possible only by intuition, independent of sensory and mental cognition. Whatever is there should be known to be there as it is really there, not as it is not there. This is called right knowledge. Yadyathā vartate tasya tathātvaṁ bhāti: We must know a thing in the state in which it is. It is necessary to know anything from the point of view of its own existence and not from the point of view of our mental activity. This is not possible in this world of sense perception, inasmuch as we have no other faculty of knowledge except the senses. We cannot enter into the substance of things independently by themselves, and knowledge of Reality is not possible as long as we think in terms of mind and sense organs. We are befooled by the distortion contrived by the sense organs.
Anyathātvaṁ bhrameṇeti nyāyo’yaṁ sārva laukikaḥ: An illusion is presented before our eyes by the sense organs which tell us firstly that things are outside us, and secondly that Existence is a quality of name and form. We have to bestow deep thought on the nature of this involvement of Existence in name and form and carefully distinguish Existence also from the involvement in all the five elements: ether air, fire, water, earth.
Evaṁ śruti vicārāt prāg yathā yadvastu bhāsate, vicāreṇa viparyeti tatas taccintyatāṁ viyat (66). Please bestow deep thought on the nature of space with the help of scriptural statements like the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras, and by exercising your own reason. The nature of this analysis by which we distinguish between Existence and its involvement in the five elements is the subject of the following verses.
Bhinne viyatatī śabda bhedād buddheśca bhedataḥ, vāyvādi ṣvanuvṛttaṁ sat na tu vyometi bhedadhīḥ (67). Existence and space are two different things. They are different from each other on account of the reasons already mentioned. Firstly, there is the special definition of space as extension, or spatiality, and the cause of the reverberation of sound, which quality we cannot see in Existence. For this reason at least, we must distinguish between space and Pure Existence.
Buddheśca bhedataḥ: Our intelligence also says that extension cannot be the quality of Pure Being because divisibility is inseparable from extension. You can divide space into little parts. We measure our land, for instance, into so many hectares, so many acres, and we say so many kilometres long, etc. This kind of measurement is a division that we introduce into space, but we cannot do this kind of dividing of parts in Pure Existence. Anything that is divisible is perishable because it is cut into parts and, therefore, it ceases to be an indivisible whole by itself. Anything that is not indivisible is destructible; hence space, which is measurable in terms of distance, is to be considered as a finite object and it is not infinite indivisible Existence.
The same is the case with the other elements, such as air. Vāyvādi ṣvanuvṛttaṁ sat na tu vyometi bhedadhīḥ: For instance, space is not in air, but Existence is in air. We will not find the quality of extension and the production of sound by reverberation, in the element of space which occupies a lesser space than space proper. But Existence is there in air also; air exists, as space exists. So Existence is an invariable concomitant of all the elements like space and air, but space and air by themselves have independent qualities. On account of having independent qualities, they differ from each other. But Existence, being invariably present in both, does not differ between itself. It is uniformly present in all the elements like space and air. Vāyvādi ṣvanuvṛttaṁ sat na tu vyometi bhedadhīḥ: The extension that we see in space cannot be seen in air. But the Existence that is in space can be seen in air. By this method of anvaya and vyatireka we can conclude that Existence is permanently present behind all things, whereas the special characteristics of elements are independent only for themselves.
Sadvas tvadhika vṛttitvāt dharma vyomnastu dharmatā, dhiyā sataḥ pṛthakkāre brūhi vyoma kimātakaṁ (68). Inasmuch as Existence is uniformly present behind everything, it should be considered as something prior to the manifestation of all other things. It is the dharmi or the substance, and not the quality or dharma.
Vyomnastu dharmatā: Space and other elements should be considered as dharma, or a quality of Existence – that is, particular forms or manifestations of Existence. They are posterior, subsequent to Existence. Therefore, we should consider space and other elements as attributes. The Primary Existence is prior to the manifestation of space and name and form.
Sadvas tvadhika vṛttitvāt dharma vyomnastu dharmatā, dhiyā sataḥ pṛthakkāre: When we distinguish by penetrating understanding between Existence and space (that is, Existence and spatiality), we will find there is no Existence in spatiality. If we separate Existence from spatiality (which is the quality of space), there would be no existence of spatiality. The so-called existence of space is an illusion introduced into our mind by the wrong association of emptiness (which is the quality of space) with Pure Existence. But by intellectual analysis, if we can separate the element of Pure Existence from spatiality, we will find that spatiality is a non-entity. The space itself does not exist. The Existence is something different from what appears to be there in front of us. Dhiyā sataḥ pṛthakkāre: What is space? Please tell me. If it is divested of Existence, it is non-existence.
Avakāśā tmakaṁ tat cet asattaditi cintyatām, bhinnaṁ sato’sacca neti vakṣi ced vyāhati stava (69). We may say space exists as a dimension. It cannot exist; that is what I am saying. Even dimension cannot exist without its association with Pure Being. If Pure Being is separated from the spatiality of space, then the dimension of space also falls down. It does not exist any more.
Asattaditi cintyatām: Consider space as asat, non-existence, unreal when it is divested of Pure Being. Bhinnaṁ sato’sacca: We cannot say that space is separate from Existence and is existing by itself. These are contradictory statements. Either it is associated with Existence, or it is not. If it is associated with Existence, it is a wrong association, because space which is particularly characterised by qualities which are not of Existence cannot be associated with Existence; but if we say that it need not be so associated, it becomes unreal. So either way, space does not exist independently by itself.
Bhinnaṁ sato’sacca: We may say, “Space is visible to my eyes. How can I deny it?” Visibility is not the test of reality. We can see a phantasmagoria. We can see castles in the clouds. We can see a snake in the rope. We can see water in the mirage. It does not mean that because we see something, it is there. So we shouldn’t bring the argument that because I am seeing space, it must exist. If we apply our understanding, we will come to the conclusion that our seeing is defective. Our understanding will rectify our erroneous perception of the so-called existence of space, and will conclude that it does not exist at all.
Bhātīti cet bhātu nāma bhūṣaṇaṁ māyiksya tat, yadasad bhāsa mānaṁ tat mithyā svapna gajādi vat (70). As we see elephants in dreams, so we see the world of space. Elephants are moving about in the forest or jungles of the dream world. Are we not seeing them? But do we believe that they really exist there? So don't say that I am seeing space and, therefore, it must exist. Perceptibility is not the criterion of reality. The world is real in the same sense that elephants in dream are real.
Jāti vyakti dehi denau guṇa dravye yathā pṛthak, viyat sato stathai vāstu pārthakyaṁ ko’tra vismayaḥ (71). The species, or genera, is different from its particular. The body is different from its limbs. The substance is different from the quality. In the similar way, Existence is different from space.
As we distinguish between quality and substance, we have to distinguish between space and Absolute Existence. As the substance is not the quality, Existence is not space, and space is not Existence.
Buddho’pi bhedo no citte nirūḍhiṁ yati cetadā, anaikāgryāt saṁśayād vā rūḍhya bhāvo’sya te vada (72). You may say, “I am not able to understand what you are saying. After all, I am seeing space. You are putting forth some arguments to prove that logically space cannot exist. Maybe, but it does not enter my brain.” Why does it not enter your brain? Is it because you have doubts, or you have no strength to concentrate your mind properly? If you cannot concentrate, please develop the art of concentration.
Apramaṭo bhava dhyānāt ādye’nyāsmin vivecanam, kuru pramāṇa yuktibhyāṁ tato rūḍha tamo bhavet (73). The inability to distinguish between Pure Existence and the form which it has taken as space is due to the inability to concentrate the mind properly. We do not have sufficient logical capacity to distinguish between things; the real and the unreal get mixed up in our understanding, and we do not have that perspicacity of understanding by which such distinction can be arrived at. So the author says that we must develop the power of concentration. We must be very strong in our will, and we must be able to come to decisive conclusions through logical apprehension, if our difficulty is due to absence of concentration of mind.
Ādye’nyāsmin vivecanam: But if we have doubts, our doubts cannot be removed unless thorough investigation is made into our own psychic condition. Why do doubts arise in the mind? There is a muddle in our thinking. So psychological analysis is necessary in the case of doubts in the mind. And if it is absence of concentration of mind, meditation is prescribed.
Kuru pramāṇa yuktibhyāṁ tato rūḍha tamo bhavet: If this practice is resorted to, we will succeed in apprehending the great fact that Pure Existence pervades all things, and space, time, etc., are its apparent manifestations.
Dhyānāt mānāt yuktito’pi rūḍhe bhede viyat satoḥ, na kadācit viyat satyaṁ sadvastu cchidra vanna ca (74). After a deep investigation into the nature of fact, what do we conclude? By meditation, by the proper application of the right means of knowledge, by logical methods, we distinguish very clearly between Existence and form, and we will never again make the mistake of confounding Existence with space, or vice versa – space with Existence. The idea is repeated again and again to drive into our minds the Ultimate Reality of something which we cannot see with our eyes, and the unreality of that which we are seeing with our eyes.
Jñasya bhāti sadā vyoma nistattvo llekha pūrvavat, sadvastvapi vibhā tyasya nicchidratva puraḥ saram (75). People with wisdom and insight, who are called jnasya, can see right in front of them the pervasion of Universal Existence behind all things. Just as we can see light spread out everywhere when the sun shines, the jivanmukta purusha, the great realised soul, can actually, visibly, see God pervading all things. There is no necessity to argue about the existence of God. There is no necessity to go on investigating into the nature of Existence as different from space. The knower, jnani purusha, directly beholds Pure Existence as an inundating Universality, and he will not see space at all. He will see light and radiance flooding itself everywhere, and never see dimension, distance, etc.
There is no distance between things. Millions and millions of light years do not make any difference to Pure Existence, which connects all things together. In one second we can contact even the stars, though they may appear to be so far away, physically speaking. Physical distance is only an illusion created by the so-called dimension called space. So we must go deep into this matter and not get caught up in the illusion of there being such things called dimension and distance, which really are not there.
Vāsanāyaṁ pravṛddhāyāṁ viyat satyatva vādinam, sanmātrā bodha yuktaṁ ca dṛṣṭvā vismayate budhaḥ (76). The wise ones laugh at these people who go on arguing about the existence of space and name and form of the world, etc., again and again. Just as mature persons smile at the ignorant prattle of little babies, people endowed with the wisdom of the world smile at the ignorant statements made by the people of the world who see only the form and not the substance.
The child sees an elephant made of sugar. It is the mature mind that knows that it is only sugar; there is no elephant there. We can have a railway train, a fish, a biscuit or an elephant made of sugar. But the little child says, “I want elephant, I want biscuit, I want toy,” not knowing that there is no such thing as a toy, electric train, etc. It's substance is just sugar. A mature father or mother pays no attention to the prattle of the child who says, “I want elephant,” because they know there is no such thing as elephant; there is only sugar.
So too, the wise sage smiles at the prattle of ignorant people in the world who say, “We want this, we want that,” in the same way that children want toys made of sugar. Yet sugar is the Pure Existence out of which all those things are made; and whenever we ask for things, we are actually asking for the shape that Pure Existence has taken, not knowing that all the shapes are Existence only, and it is immaterial whether we get this or that. All things are equal in this world. Sanmātrā bodha yuktaṁ ca dṛṣṭvā vismayate budhaḥ: Wise people laugh at ignorant persons.
Evamā kāśa mithyātve sat sat yatve ca vāsite, nyāye nānena vāyvādeḥ sadvastu pravi vicyatām (77). Having finally ascertained the non-existence of space by this yukti or logic and investigating method, we have to apply this very same investigation, this method of argument, to arguing the other elements like vayu, air, fire, water, earth, etc. These solid elements, which are before us and seem to be threatening and frightening us every moment, really do not exist, and are like a lion made of sugar which is terrifying us with its long teeth and claws made of sugar. So is this terrific world of earth, water, fire, air and ether appearing to be solid and existing in front of us, contacting us. Really we are not contacting any one of these things. We are contacting Pure Existence even when we are contacting the earth.
When we worship the five elements or worship anything whatsoever as a divinity, and prostrate ourselves before an asvattha tree or a holy stone or a temple or anything whatsoever which we regard as sacred, actually what is intended behind this religious instruction is that we are prostrating ourselves before the substance of that form before which we actually offer our prostrations. We do not worship idols, just as we do not take into consideration the lion aspect of sugar. It is only the sugar aspect that we are taking into consideration.
So the wisdom of the sage tells us that all the world is worth adoring. Everything is divine. The whole world of name and form is scintillating Pure Existence and we can worship anything whatsoever, right from a pinhead to the solar system. It is all the same thing, just as different items made of one substance do not actually make a difference because of the uniformity of substance.
When we see the form, we cannot see the substance. When we see the substance, we cannot see the form. There is an ancient philosopher called Tirumulan; in his great poem he says, “Embrace the tree.” His instruction to students is, “Embrace the tree.” What is meant by this statement? He means to say, “Come in contact with the wood and not the furniture made by it.”
Another sage said, “When there is dog, there is no stone; when there is stone, there is no dog.” This is an enigmatic statement which is a spiritual instruction. The dog is actually a dog made of stone. That is what the sage says. When the stone is seen there, the dog is not there. When the dog is seen, the stone is not there. That is the meaning of saying that when there is dog, there is no stone and when there is stone, there is no dog. Or, embrace the tree; see the wood and not the furniture. See the gold and not the ornament. See the substance and not the quality. See Pure Existence and not the five elements. That is the analysis.