PART I: THE FOUNDATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY
Chapter 7: The Phenomenality of Empirical Knowledge
The Non-Difference of the World from its Cause
A clue to the structure of the world is given us by an investigation into the nature of causation and the resultant discovery that the effect is non-different from the cause. If the world is an effect, it must be non-different from Brahman, which is its cause. Individualistic perception is accustomed to make a distinction between effect and cause, between the world and reality. That the world is transitory is a fact borne in on us by its constant nature, its subjection to evolution and involution and its tendency to point to a being that is beyond itself. The things of the world are not ends in themselves, a fact which discloses itself in the constant urge that is seen in individuals to outgrow their limitations and aspire for a higher realisation. The contents of the world do not seem ultimately to satisfy any aspiring soul. The effect always yearns to unite itself to its cause, for its reality is not in itself but in its cause. The world can never be happy by itself, for its happiness is in its reality which is Brahman. The misery of the world is but the consequence of the erroneous consciousness that the effect is different from the cause, that the world lies outside Brahman. It is this error that is responsible for the unrest of the world and of the unceasing struggle of everyone to reach out to some permanent happiness. The relation between Brahman and the world cannot be strictly one of cause and effect. We cannot conceive of cause and effect without imagining at the same time a difference between the two. As Brahman is the sole existence, there can be nothing second to it, and if there is nothing other than it, there can be no effect outside it. The world is either one with Brahman or different from it. In the former case, there would be no world, and in the latter, no causation, and so, again, no world. That the world is a creation of Brahman is not an ontological truth but an empirical necessity arising out of the habit of the mind to seek a cause for every effect. The scriptures declare that there is freedom from the bondage of the world, but this freedom would be impossible if the world were a real effect. The highest bliss can be only in the knowledge of the non-difference of the world from Brahman.
The appearance of Brahman as the world is not analogous to the transformation of a cause into its effect. Brahman does not become the world but appears as the world. The rope never transforms itself into a snake, even when it appears to have all the characteristics of the snake, owing to erroneous cognition. The hypothesis that Brahman transforms itself into the world is logically unacceptable, for whatever is subject to transformation of essence is liable to destruction. The eternal Brahman does not really become the world. Real change of a substance is tantamount to its annihilation. The Upanishads proclaim that Brahman is the supreme ideal of life, and so its annihilation can never be conceived. The world is not a Parinama (modification) but a Vivarta (appearance) of Brahman. Brahman appears as the world, not in the manner of milk turning into curd, but of a rope appearing as a snake. Only the Vivarta view of manifestation can satisfactorily support the validity of scriptural statements, and also stand the test of reason. If Brahman has already become the world by a process of transformation of its being, then there is no Brahman whose realisation we can aspire for, and there is no Moksha or freedom of the soul from the bondage of Samsara. In the Vivarta view of the manifestation of the world, there is no such inconsistency involved, for, on this view, an effect appears on the substratum of the cause without there being an actual change in the being of the cause. The appearance of the world has to be attributed to wrong knowledge and not to an actual modification of Brahman.
The change of forms that we observe is not a change of reality. The substance remains unchanged and continues in spite of the appearance of the change of forms that takes place on it as its basis. The substance cannot be destroyed in the process of the change of its qualities or forms. In all change, the existence of a consciousness that knows all change, but does not itself get involved in change, has to be admitted. If even the consciousness of change were to change, there would be no such thing as consciousness of change. Change implies the changeless; the impermanent is known on the ground of the permanent. And if cause and effect are identical, even this change cannot be real. Change becomes an appearance, a phenomenon necessary and valid for an empirical individual, but inadmissible in reality. There is a logical contradiction involved in the non-acceptance of a changeless reality behind change and the acceptance, at the same time, of the reality of change. If change is to be real, reality ought to change; but nothing that changes can be ultimately real. Brahman which does not change is real, and the world which changes is unreal. The apparent existence of the world is borrowed from the being of Brahman, bereft of which the world is nothing.
The Meaning of Appearance
In our concept of the world are included the different degrees or grades of objective reality that presents itself to our empirical consciousness. The world is certainly not existent like Brahman, for it is subject to change and transcendence. It is also not non-existent like a human horn, for it appears to our consciousness. The term world includes also the objects seen in illusions and dreams. But the world, as it is commonly understood, consists of the objects of waking experience. The waking world has a practical reality that appears to have a higher workable value than the experiences in illusions and dreams. Illusory perceptions and dream phenomena have an apparent existence (Pratibhasikasatta), while the world of waking has an empirical existence (Vyavaharikasatta). Transcending these lower forms of existence is absolute existence (Paramarthikasatta) or Brahman. The world is real as non-different from Brahman, but unreal as consisting of particular names and forms. In none of the degrees in which it manifests itself can the world be ever denied, but has to be accepted as valid in its varying expressions of reality. It is real when it is experienced but unreal when contradicted in a higher consciousness.
The difference between Maya and Avidya that is recognised in the Vedanta explains the distinction between metaphysical idealism and subjective idealism. Maya is the substance out of which the whole world is manifested, the common ground of the expression of forms that are valid for all individuals experiencing them. Maya has an objective existence; it is the cause of even the internal organ (Antahkarana), the principle constituting the individuality of an individual. Avidya, on the other hand, is subjective and private, not universal and necessary for everyone, but restricted to different individuals. The world of Avidya is different from the world of Maya. This important feature is brought out in the famous distinction that is made between Jivasrishti and Isvarasrishti. Jiva is the experiencing individual and Isvara is the immanent intelligence of the universe. Isvarasrishti is the world of Maya, equally applicable to all percipients. But Jivasrishti is the world of Avidya, the plane of subjective relations and reactions abstracted from the creation of Isvara. The Jiva is a part of Isvara, and the body of the Jiva is one among the objects of the world projected by Maya which is the principle that defines Isvara. The objects of sense-perception are, therefore, not mere ideas or fancies in the mind of the subject. They are objective facts, as real as any knowing subject. The objects are different from the knowledge we have of them, for the knowledge of objects is on par with the reality of their forms. The structure of knowledge is determined by the form of the object. Perception is different from memory and imagination, because their objects are different. There is an immediacy of presentation in actual perception, but the objects of memory and imagination are mediate and remote. What is known merely to ideas is differentiated by us from what is known by the senses. This also accounts for the distinction made between waking and dream, notwithstanding the similarity of the framework in which experience is given to us in both these states. Dream and waking are different in the quality of knowledge that is manifest in them, though the mould in which experience is cast is the same in both the states. The subject and the object are always of the same degree of reality as far as the particular experience confined to them is concerned. The Vedanta theory of knowledge is a radical realism inasmuch as it accepts the outside world as independent of the knowledge which the subject has of it. But the question as to the ultimate nature of the objects of knowledge is a different thing altogether. An object may be independent of the mind which perceives it, and yet it may not be material in nature. Though the Vedanta holds that objects are extra-mental in so far as their relation to the subject is concerned, it recognises the ideality of all things in general in relation to the cosmic mind of Isvara. If the objects of the world are not contained in our minds, they are contained in the mind of God. This is the metaphysical idealism of the Vedanta as opposed to subjective idealism. The objects are essentially phases of consciousness, they are Vishayachaitanya. The reality behind both the subject and the object is Brahmachaitanya or the absolute consciousness.
While commenting on the Brahmasutras, dealing with the refutation of the Buddhist idealists, Swami Sivananda touches the point of difference between materialism and subjectivism on the one hand and a higher absolutism on the other. The Buddhist idealists have advanced sufficiently strong arguments against the materialist conception of the world. The existence of matter independent of knowing minds cannot be established. Matter that has no relation to mind is not known to exist. But the position of the Buddhist idealist, as it is generally understood, is not completely acceptable. It cannot be said that the external world is entirely non-existent, for, if this were the case, even the projection of the internal ideas externally would not be possible, or even conceivable. That there is an appearance outside shows that there is a reality behind it. That the world appears to consciousness intimates to us the existence of a changeless ground, albeit invisible to the senses. A non-existent world cannot be sensed or felt in any way. Even if we are to suppose that consciousness alone appears as an external object, we cannot admit that this appearance is possible without a reality outside, for the very possibility of the externalisation of consciousness proves that there is something outside not directly perceived by the senses. Setting aside the view that the world of sense-perception is totally non-existent as logically untenable, we may admit that the world, at least in one sense, is unreal like dream. But this analogy cannot be stretched too far, for the world of waking life is known to be like dream only under certain conditions and not in all respects. The structure of knowledge is the same in waking as well as in dream. In both the states, knowledge is characterised by space, time, the idea of materiality of objects, motion, change, causation and the presented nature of things. Further, as dream is contradicted in waking, the waking world is contradicted in the Atman. We cannot, however, deny that the order of the manifestation of knowledge in dream is different from that in waking, for we are all aware of it instinctively. This distinction has to be clearly understood if we are to have a correct grasp of the sense in which the Vedanta is called an idealistic philosophy. It is a realism epistemologically, but a spiritualistic non-dualism metaphysically. It does not deny the world that is known in any state of consciousness, but it recognises the highest truth of the contradiction of all relative phenomena in Brahman, which alone stands as the ultimately non-contradictable principle. The objection of Prakashananda in his Siddhanta-muktavali that, as dreams are manifestations of consciousness without any real objects underlying them, though they reveal the distinction of subject and object, the world of waking consciousness is devoid of a real content, loses its force unless the relation between dream and waking is understood in the manner pointed out above.
Empirical and Apparent Reality
Swami Sivananda distinguishes between two phases of the universe: the phenomenon and the illusory, the empirical and the apparent, the objective and the subjective. The objective universe is physical, while the subjective is psychical. By the word universe what we really mean is the experience of certain objective conditions. Both the physical and psychical experiences can be grouped under the general category of experience. Experience, again, is a term used to denote the awareness of a content in a knowing subject. This content appears as physical in the waking state and psychical in dream, though at the time of the experience of dream, the contents put on the character of physical entities. A comparative study of dream and waking would give us a clue to the relation between the world and God, between the relative and the Absolute. We usually take it for granted that the entities that we perceive in the waking state are physical, just as in dream, too, we take all percepts as nothing short of physical objects. The same analogy may be applied to our world-experience in the waking state in relation to the Absolute. As on waking one feels that the space, time and matter perceived in dream are comprehended in the waking consciousness, the world of waking life is known to be transcended, together with the waking subject, in a consciousness that rises above all existence and essence known to man.
On a careful scrutiny, another important factor will be seen to characterise our experience in waking as well as in dream. When the waking subject perceives an object, a twofold consciousness is found to be involved in it: a consciousness of the presence of a physical object, a physical state or condition, and a consciousness of the particular relation that the object bears to the subject. One does not merely see an object, but sees it also as having some relation to oneself. One likes it or does not like it, or is indifferent towards it. It is ‘mine' or ‘not mine', good or bad, pleasurable or painful, necessary or unnecessary, and so on. In fact, it is found that it is hard for one to have a consciousness of an object without at the same time involving a personal relation that obtains in regard to it. Now, this latter aspect of experience, viz., the consciousness of a relation, does not belong to the object, and so it is not an empirical reality. It is a projection from the subject itself, a reaction to the manner in which the object presents itself to the subject or is taken to exist in relation to the subject. The physical object is always seen to possess a greater reality than the psychical relation. It is this individualistic relation that constitutes all bondage. We have, thus, a complicated structure before us, which we call the world.
The Figure of the Cave
A beautiful illustration is given by Plato, in his Republic, of the general character of the world of sense-perception. Book VII of this great work begins with the famous description of the cave, which may be briefly stated as follows:
And now let me show in a figure how far human nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Imagine human beings living in an underground den, which has an opening towards light, through which light reaches all along the den. Here these persons have been living from their childhood, their legs and necks chained, so that they cannot move, but can only see things in front of them, they being prevented by the chains from turning their heads round. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way. There is also a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have before them. Men pass along the wall, carrying with them vessels, statues, figures of animals, stones and various other materials, which appear over the wall as shadows. And these inside the cave see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the wall which is opposite to the cave. And of the objects which are being carried, in like manner, they see only shadows. And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were addressing what was actually before them? And suppose, further, that the prison produced an echo of sounds that came from the other side. Would they not be then sure to fancy, when one of the passers-by spoke, that the voice which they heard came from the moving shadow? To them the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of substances.
And now, again, see what will naturally follow if the prisoners were released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and enabled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains. The glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which, in his former state, he had seen the shadows. And imagine someone telling him that what he saw before was a shadow and that now, as his eye is turned towards an existence of greater substantiality, he has a clearer vision,—what will be his reply? We may further suppose that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and asking him to name them,—will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects that are now shown to him? And if he is brought straight before the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away from the light and take refuge in the objects which he can see, and which he will consider to be clearer than the realities which are now being shown to him? He will take time to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And finally, he will see the sun himself in his proper place, and not as reflected in another, and he will contemplate him as he is. He will then proceed to argue that this is he who causes the seasons and the years and is the maker of all. that is visible in the world. And when he remembers his old dwelling, the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, he would greatly felicitate himself on the change that has taken place in him, and pity them for their ignorance. And if he and his companions in the den were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were clever in observing the fleeting shadows and stating which of them went before, or which followed after, and which were together, and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions in this regard, would he, in his present state of enlightenment, care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them?
This entire allegory may be appended to the previous arguments. The prison-house is the world of the senses, the light of the fire is the sun, the journey upwards is the ascent of the soul to the world of Intelligence, and the sun himself may be compared to the supreme Reality. In this supernal world the Idea of the Good appears as the highest essence, and is known only with an effort. And when known, it is recognised to be the universal author of all things. This is the principle upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed. Plato concludes that those who attain to this beatific vision do not descend again to human affairs, for their souls are ever hastening to the upper world of reality.
The Waking World is Like the Dream World
Swami Sivananda's treatment of the nature of the world as known to man is exhaustive. He touches it from every side and presents a finished product of the analysis and investigation of human experience. There is a world perceived in the waking state, and another known in dream. Both in waking and in dream objects are perceived as different from the subject. The character of being seen is common to things in both types of experience. There is subject-object relation in waking as well as in dream. This brings out the characteristic similarity between the two states. ‘Something is seen as an object' means that ‘something is other than the self.' The experience of the not-self cannot be real, for, if it were real, the self would be limited and unreal. The phenomenal experience of the not-self is common to both waking and dream. In waking the mind experiences external phenomena through the senses, and in dream the mind alone experiences them, independent of the senses. But in both the states the mind alone is the real experiencer of all things, ultimately. Dream is transcended in waking; waking is transcended in the Turiya or the Atman. Waking and dream contradict each other. When the one is, the other is not, and so neither of them is continuously existent. The real is eternal, while waking and dream are non-eternal.
Duality cannot be real, for it is the opposite of eternity. Without duality there is no perception, and hence anything that is perceived externally should be unreal, whether in waking or in dream. Dream is real when there is no waking, and waking is real when there is no dream. These characteristics demonstrate the unreality of both the states. They depend on each other for their existence and one cannot say whether one is dreaming or waking without referring one state to the other. Desires are the rulers of all experiences both in dream and in waking. During waking, desires move the senses, and in dream, they move the mind independently. Both these states are like flowing streams and do not continue to exist forever in any single condition. The real is that which persists unchangeably in all periods of time. Dream and waking have a beginning and an end. Change is the character of all perceived entities. Change implies non-existence in the beginning and in the end, with a temporary appearance in the middle. That which does not exist in the beginning and also in the end cannot be said to exist really even in the middle. When subjected to this test, dream and waking disclose their unreality.
Anything that is possessed of a form has to be considered to be real, for forms are special modes of consciousness. The forms in the waking state appear to be physical, while those in dream are mental. But all such experience is in terms of forms limited to space and time, and marked off by individuality. A form lasts only so long as that particular mental condition perceiving it lasts, whether this perception is of one mind or many minds. When there is a different mental condition, whether individually or collectively, the forms of perception also change. The form of the world vanishes in Self-realisation, just as dream phenomena are negatived in waking.
Both in dream and waking external percepts are considered as real and internal functions as comparatively unreal. If, in waking, we make a distinction between the real and the unreal, we do the same in dream, too. In both the states the objects of externalised experience are considered to be real entities. The dreaming state is real as long as it lasts; its unreality is revealed only when it is cancelled in waking. And waking, too, is real as long as it lasts, but is superseded in Samadhi or superconsciousness. While dream is unreal from the standpoint of waking, waking is unreal from the point of view of dream. And when compared to the highest Atman in us, waking is as false as dream.
It may be objected that entities in the waking state serve some purpose, while those in dream do not. The incorrectness of this argument becomes patent when we notice that the nature of serving a purpose which is seen in objects of waking experience is stultified in dream, and vice versa. The utility and objective worth of things in the waking state are contradicted in dream, even as the experiences in dream are invalidated in waking. Objects act as means to ends only in particular conditions of the mind, and not at all times. The causal relation of waking is rendered nugatory in dream, and vice versa. The logical sequence of waking experience is valid to itself alone, and not to dream. So is dream valid only to its own state. Further, the nature of serving a purpose is observed in objects of dream, also, while one is in that state. The objects of the waking world have the character of serving a purpose only so long as waking lasts. Both waking and dream have their own notions of propriety, and the one is meaningless to the other, though each may appear to be real to itself. Neither of them has any ultimate validity.
It may be contended that the objects of dream are queer, fantastic and unnatural, and hence waking cannot be like dream. But the experiences in dream, however grotesque and abnormal, are not so to the dreamer. They appear to be fantastic only in a different state, i.e., in waking. One cannot say what is really queer or unnatural and what is normal and real, unless one thing is compared with another. Independently every conscious condition is valuable to itself. The mind gives values to objects, and its conception of normality and abnormality changes according to the state in which it is and the standpoint from which it compares the relative worth of its experiences. There is no permanent standard of normality or reality, either in waking or in dream. The dreamer has his own conception of the structure of space, time and causation, even as one who is awake has his own notions of them. When viewed from an impartial standpoint, it will be found that there is no ultimate logicality or reality in either of these states.
The world of waking experience is ultimately ideal, for it is the projection of the cosmic mind. The fact that, in the knowledge of the Atman, there is cessation of all phenomena shows that the world of waking is not real. The external forms are the expressions of the internal Sankalpa or willing of Isvara. Hence these objects cannot be said to have a real value of their own. When the Sankalpa is withdrawn, the world of experience vanishes from sight. There is no such thing as externality and internality in the infinite Subject, viz. the Atman. The ego and the non-ego, the subject and the object, are relative elements contributing to empirical knowledge.
It may be said that the objects seen in waking are not mere mental imaginations, for they are equally seen by other people also, whether or not one's mind cognises them. Here it may be observed that in dream, too, objects are open to the perception of other people in the dream world, though the people as well as the objects of dream are negated in waking. It may also be argued that in waking we perceive things through the sense-organs and not merely through ideas, while it is seen that in dream only ideas begin to operate independently. This notion, however, gets refuted on the observation that even in dream we perceive things through the sense-organs belonging to the dream state, which, then, are not found to be less real than those of the waking state. Waking and dream have striking similarities.
The world of waking does not have any independent existence, because it has the knowing subject as its correlative. An object is called an object because there is a subject perceiving it. Similarly, a subject is called a subject because there is an object to be perceived by it. They lack self-existence and so fall short of reality. The mind perceives objects by relating one thing to another. The world is a bundle of relations which, when attempted to be understood independently, become unintelligible. And it is these relations that the mind attempts to organise into causes and effects.
As cause and effect are continuous, the very scheme of causation falls to the ground. We cannot conceive of a lapse of time in which the cause remains unchanged. If the cause can exist unchanged even for a moment, there is no reason why it should change at any time later. Either there is continuous causation or no causation at all. If causation is continuous, cause and effect become identical; and if they are identical, the process of causation is nullified. If there is no causation, there is no world, also. The whole causal argument seems to be illogical, for it either requires the existence of a first uncaused cause, or is itself meaningless. We cannot, however, conceive of a first uncaused cause, for by it we create a beginning for time. If causation were real, it would never have been possible for anyone to be free from the operation of its law. But scriptures declare that in Self-realisation the chain of causation is broken. As in dream also we experience the causal series, the waking world is false like the dream world.
The Waking World has Practical Reality
Waking experience is comparable to dream when judged from the absolute standpoint. But it has a relative reality (Vyavaharikasatta) which has a practical and workable value. From the standpoint of waking, dream has an apparent reality (Pratibhasikasatta) whose value is restricted to dream alone. The Turiya or the Atman is the absolute reality (Paramarthikasatta) in which both dream and waking are absorbed and transfigured. Waking is relatively more real than dream, and Turiya is more real than waking, though from the point of view of Turiya, both waking and dream are unreal. But waking, taken by itself, and in relation to dream, has a greater reality than dream. It can be said that, to a certain extent, waking is to dream what Turiya is to waking. Waking is the reality behind dream, and Turiya is the reality behind both waking and dream. Dream is no dream to the dreamer, for only by one who is awake is dream known to be a dream. Waking, in the same manner, appears to be real to one who is in the waking world. Waking is a Dirghasvapna (long dream) as contrasted with ordinary dream which is short.
Waking life is, in one sense, a part of the cosmic consciousness, though in waking this fact is not directly realised due to the ignorance in which one is shrouded. Waking consciousness is the connecting link between the individual and the physical universe. Man reflects over life and is able to use his higher discrimination when he is in the waking condition. In dream, the intellect and the will are incapacitated due to their being clouded by Avidya, and so deliberate contemplation becomes impossible there. The individual in the waking state is possessed of intellect and free will, but is destitute of the power of free thinking in dream. Dream is largely the result of impressions of waking life, while waking is seen to be independent of dream and its effects. Further, there is a kind of order or system in the form of waking experience, at least more than in that of dream. Every day the same persons and things become the objects of the waking consciousness; there is a definite remembrance of previous days' experiences and of survival and continuity of personality. The consciousness of this continuity, regularity and unity is relatively absent in dream. Dream is not well ordered, while waking experience is more systematic.
There are degrees in objective reality. The three main distinguishable degrees are the subjective, the objective and the absolute. Dream is purely subjective. Waking is objective when compared to dream. The Atman is the Absolute. The individual is the subject in comparison with the world which is its object. Both these are on an equal footing as far as their reality is concerned. Though there is an external world in dream also, the value of it is less than that of the world in waking. Though the form of the dream world agrees with that of the waking world, the former is lower in quality than the latter. Space, time, motion and objects, with the distinction of subject and object, are common to both waking and dream. Even the reality they present at the time of their being known is of a similar nature. But the difference lies in the degrees of reality manifested in them. The individual in the waking state feels instinctively that it is in a higher order of truth than in dream.
The argument that is advanced to prove the unreality of the waking world is that it is as much a play of the mind as the dream world. But it is not difficult to observe that the objects in dream are not imaginations of the dream subject, for it is not in any way the cause of or is more real than the dream objects. The subject and objects in dream manifest reality and unreality of the same degree. The dream subject and the dream objects are both constructions of the mind of the waking individual, which synthesises both of them in its unity. In like manner, the waking individual is not to be considered to be the cause of or to be more real than the objects known by it in the waking state, for all these belong to the same order of reality. None of them can be said to have a greater reality or unreality than the other. The virtues and defects that characterise things in general are to be found in everything that is known in the waking state. The knower and the known in the waking world are both effects of the workings of the cosmic mind which projects and also integrates them in its single comprehension. As the cosmic mind has a greater reality than the individual mind, the waking state is to be regarded as relatively more real than the dream state.
It is true that, as far as the manner of subjective experience is concerned, what is within the mind is often projected on external objects. But the objects themselves are not creations of the subjective mind. There is a difference between Isvarasrishti and Jivasrishti. The existence of the objects belongs to Isvarasrishti, while the relation that obtains between objects and the knowing subject is Jivasrishti. The Jiva is one of the contents of Isvarasrishti, and so it cannot claim to be the creator of the world, though it is the author of its own psychological modes. The distinction between the creations of Isvara and Jiva accounts for the difference in quality, though not in structure, between waking and dream. As perception precedes memory and is the cause of memory, waking precedes dream logically and becomes the cause of the impressions that are responsible for the dream-content. Dream is an externalisation of the effects of waking experience. To one who is in the state of Brahman, the waking world is unreal. But to the Jiva, it is a relative fact valid as long as its individuality lasts (First Lessons in Vedanta: pp. 163-180).
Every condition may, in the words of the teacher Gaudapada, be said to represent a framework of experience (Sthani-Dharma) related to the position and status of the experiencer in a particular order of consciousness. During dream, the dream world is real, for the subject in dream is placed in a status which is in harmony with the reality of the total framework of the dream world, of which the dream subject forms a part. The question of the unreality of an experience does not arise when the subject gets involved in the total system to which the experience is given. Only when the subject rises to a wider system of consciousness does it realise the existence of a higher order of being. But in the experience of a different realm of being the subject enjoys an altogether different status (Sthani-Dharma) applicable to a different framework of experience. A world of experience is relevant only to a particular frame of reference and is not valid to all orders of reality. The world is another name for experience.
The World is Unreal
Brahman and the world cannot both be real. Otherwise, one would not feel that one is caught in untruth, and the dissatisfaction, want and aspiration characterising everyone cannot be accounted for. There would be no use in the knowledge of Brahman, for the world, then, is equally real and good. None in this world would have desire of any kind, or would endeavour to obtain anything, for we are in a world that is real, and the real is not in need of any improvement. Nor is there any sense in trying to overcome certain circumstances in the world and desiring to be led to better ones, for the real is eternally unchangeable and perfect in every respect. There would be no imperfection in the world, for the real can lack nothing. But the world is not as we would prefer it to be. It has its seamy side.
Several works of Swami Sivananda, especially his Jnana-Yoga (pp. 62-74) and Practice of Vedanta (pp. 12-16), abound in various arguments for the unreality of the world, the essential significance of which may be brought out as follows:
Four kinds of objects are seen to exist in this world—objects that have only names; objects that have only names and forms; objects that have names and forms and are also fit for practical activity; reality which exists in all the three periods of time. Examples of the first type of objects are a barren woman's son (Vandhyaputra), the horns of a hare (Sasavishana), a lotus in the sky (Gaganaravinda), and the like. A snake seen in the rope (Rajjusarpa), silver seen in the mother-of-pearl (Suktikarajata), water perceived in a mirage (Mrigatrishna), a city in the clouds (Gandharvanagara), dream objects (Svapnaprapancha), etc., represent objects of the second type. A pot (Ghata), a cloth (Pata), etc., belong to the third type of objects. The Atman or Brahman is the fourth type of existence, which is ultimately real. An object of the first kind is called Asad-Vastu (nonexistent entity), of the second kind Mithya-Vastu (unreal entity), of the third kind Vyavaharika-Vastu (empirical entity), and the being corresponding to the fourth kind is the Paramarthika-Vastu (supreme substance).
What constitutes a solid object like a stone is a group of atoms revolving round one another. But to the ordinary sight, this collection of particles appears as a concrete static object. In fact, every object is made up of forces constituting these atoms. When a bamboo rubs against another bamboo in a forest, the atoms in them begin to rotate with great speed. Fire is thus generated. Fire is nothing but the revolution of atoms with a tremendous velocity. If a piece of paper is held in a flame, the atoms of the paper which are moving with a lesser speed begin to revolve with a greater velocity. We say, then, that the paper burns. When any portion of the body comes in contact with fire, the atoms in the skin and the subcutaneous tissues begin to rotate with an increasing rapidity. Then we say that the body is burnt. Being always attached to the body, the mind begins to feel pleasure or pain according to the manner in which the atoms in the body begin to revolve. The activity of the mind is tremendously influenced by the condition of the body. The agitated state of the mind is called pain, and its serene state is happiness. Fire, heat, etc. are all different states of the particles that constitute bodies in the universe. Every physical change produces, therefore, a corresponding experience in the physical realm.
The ultimate essences forming physical bodies are not different from aspects of the manifestation of ether. The rudimentary forces out of which physical bodies are made are observed, on careful analysis, to consist of a homogeneous energy which is indistinguishable from the substance of ether. Earth, water, fire and air can be resolved into the essence of ether. Ether is thus the ultimate stuff of the physical world. But this is not the ultimate reality possible, for space, time and energy, together with ether, have their roots in Brahman. “What we see outside is due to Avidya (ignorance). There is only light outside. There is only vibration. It is the mind that gives colour and shape” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 71).
Things cannot be said to be what they appear to be. The objects that are perceived outside are not self-existent entities. The things in themselves, or objects as such, cannot become the contents of the human consciousness. The eyes cannot see objects as they are. If the eyes can really see objects, they should be able to see even air and ether, and perceive objects in pitch-darkness. But they are not; and this inability is due to the restriction of the process of seeing to the region of colours. The eyes see only colours and not objects, though these configurations of colours made visible appear as solid substances. This deception is caused by the association of other senses of knowledge in the act of perception. The fingers feel that the table is hard to the touch, and the eyes confirm its existence by perceiving a shape made manifest by colour. The illusion that is involved in the perception of an object is thus the result of a joint conspiracy engaged in by the different senses to make the individual believe in its reality. What actually happens in perception is that the eyes do not see the table, but only the colour with some shape, and the fingers do not really touch the table having any such feature as solidity or hardness, but the forces constituting what appears as a table bring about an electrical repulsion when the forces constituting what appears as fingers come in contact with them. When the universal energy strikes the retina of the eyes with a particular velocity and modality, it appears as light; when it strikes the eardrum with a different speed and modal appearance it goes by the name of sound; and so on with the perceptions of the other senses.
When colours are perceived by the eyes, they assume an agency in that perception. As the water of a lake that enters an agricultural field assumes a triangular, circular or rectangular form, as the case may be, according to the shape of the plot, so the mind mixes with or enters the organ of sight and assumes the form of the organ which is supposed to reflect the form of the object outside. The ignorant individual takes for granted the reality of the object perceived, while in fact it has felt only certain reactions in consciousness, on account of the interaction of the external forms and the internal ideas. The mind is thus deceived in all its cognitions, wherein it confounds the percepts with what is existent outside. A man with colour-blindness sees green as red and red as blue. One suffering from fever finds no taste in milk. He who has a paralysed tongue cannot feel the taste in an orange or in salt. A microphone exaggerates the sound of the fall of a pin. He who has a cataract in his eyes sees a double moon. A frog, an elephant and an ant have their own different worlds. This world is a play of colours and sounds. A man with a perverted sense of touch feels the sensation of butter in stone. If we have quite a different pair of lenses, we will have another world. A round table will appear as a square one. The senses are deceiving us at every moment. Time is created by Kala-Sakti, space by Dik-Sakti and form by Rupa-Sakti. All are the products of Maya (Vide, Lectures on Yoga and Vedanta: p. 244). “It is only the individual mind that sees objects outside. If we see the same objects through a telescope, they appear different. If we can see with the mind directly, we will have a different vision altogether. Hiranyagarbha or Karya-Brahman has quite a different vision. He sees everything as a vibration or movement within Himself, as His own Sankalpa (willing), just as we can imagine within our own minds that a big war is going on and many people are dying on either side” (Mind and Its Mysteries: p. 70).
Whether objects really exist outside or not, the individual percipient has no capacity to know. What one is aware of is a group of sensations, and nothing more. Attributing reality to what are known in sensations, the mind undergoes the experiences of pleasure and pain. The real objects are beyond human knowledge, for they are subtler than the structural essences of the senses. That we see, hear, touch, taste or smell is no argument for the existence of real objects outside, for we do so even in dream. Sensations form certain vibrations in consciousness, from which what we can infer at the utmost is that there should be some cause for their occurrence, but not that we are aware of existent things in certainty. An analysis of sensations and perceptions leads us to the knowledge of a deeper ideality of the world, which gives an entirely different meaning to all our values of life.
It is not, however, true that human experience is throughout invalid, just because it does not present realities. A false fear of a false tiger seen in dream can cause a real rising of the mind to the waking state. The empirical concepts used as working hypotheses in the study and practice of philosophy and religion act as relative instruments in bringing about the rise of real knowledge, though they themselves may not belong to the realm of reality. False diseases do not require real treatment, and the confusion of consciousness that is this solid world of experience needs only a shrewd tuning up of the inner mechanism of knowledge to enable the individual to melt in the ocean of existence.