Tat tvam asi?

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 21 21:54:55 CST 2002

>So shruti and reason go hand in hand.

In case this gets interpreted :

Though shruti and logic can go hand in hand still it is not advisable to
adhere to this principle in all the aspects of the shruti.

Reality is beyond the intellect and so there's little to be gained by trying
to reconcile the Upanishadic concept of the Atman with our phenoemenal life.
Rather use the intellect where it is valid - analyze the categories of
unreality. And be guided by the shruti as to what categories of unreality to
analyze and understand. As far as the Atman is concerned it is enough to
know that such a thing - permanent and non-dependent - exists.

Ofcourse the spiritual excercises suggested in the shruti are also of great

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>From ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG Fri Feb 22 12:07:59 2002
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Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 12:07:59 +0530
Reply-To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
From: hbdave <hbd at DDIT.ERNET.IN>
Subject: Advaita : Some Basic Explanations - 5
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Dear List Members,
Here is posting no. 5

Best wishes to all,
-- Himanshu

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Advaita : Some Basic Explanations - 5
                                                -- Himanshu
We had in previous posting an introduction to Kutastha (Self).
There are a few more things to be discussed about it, but we
shall return back to it after we develop understanding of
some required background.

In discussions rearding the Ultimate Reality, a question comes up
- what do we mean by "is" "this is" or "existence" of some thing?
This is a very confusing question and the ideas presented here
should be very carefully contemplated.

When we say "this flower is beutiful", the English verb "is" is
used to state a fact about a flower. In other words, we are
declaring an *attribute* of an object. It is a kind of a relationship
between the object (flower) and the attribute (looks) and the attribute
has a value (beutiful).

When I say "this is a cow" (pointing to the animal), I am stating an
attribute "cow-ness" to "this" (an object).

The same verb "is" is also used to state the existence -
"there is God".

We shall be concerned mostly with this second way of using the verb "is".

Because I am saying the sentence, pressumably I am the observer and
the fact is being stated in my perception or level of reality. That is,
I feel that flower is beutiful and I state it, but this statement is
conditioned on my clarity about the reality. For example, suppose I say
"this flower is red." Now as we shall show later on, colours have no
existence outside our brain. I am assigning an attribute (colour, with
a value = red) to the object (flower), which may be truth from my view
point, but it may not be the truth from some other view point.

We have to be very careful about such matters. With that rather rough
introduction we start.

The Sanskrit words used to denote that something is existing are :

{\skt sattaa} -- {\skt sat taa} the property of being;
{\skt bhaava} -- {\skt bhuu} to be; to be such, i.e. existence;

When we say that something is like this, for example when we say "the grass
is green", it, the process of stating, is called {\skt khyaati} -- the way
of stating or description.

These words are necessary because we are going to talk about the meaning of
the phrase "this is", and our difficulty is that the very same phrase need
be used in the discussion.

There are three kinds or levels of existence {\skt sattaa} accepted by
thinkers :

{\skt vyaavahaarika sattaa} --  existence as we normally understand,
        under usual conditions; what is called the empirical existence.

        For example, we say "tree is tall", "it is morning now", "this
        is a chair".

        This is the kind of existence by which our day to day activities
        {\skt vyavahaara.h} are carried out. Most of people take this
        to be the only kind of existence and think that everything that
        they see or perceive is this type of existence. Or, alternately,
        whatever they see or feel is in reality like that only and nothing
        else. That this is a BIG mistake will be clear from our discussions

{\skt praatibhaasika sattaa} -- phenomenal existence; existing only in
        appearance, not in reality. There are a number of examples of this
        level of existence in our day to day life.

        The mirrage seen in desserts,
        the rainbow,
        the silver seen in an oyster,
        the LCD digits in an electronic clock or calculator,
        the Sun rising in the East,
        are some of the well known examples.
        The case of a cord ({\skt rajju.h}) seen in semi-darkness as a
        snake ({\skt sarpa.h}) is used by Indian philosophers to discuss
        the phenomena.

Consider a rainbow. Suppose when you are seeing it, I ask you : "what is the
height of the rainbow?" Can you answer that?
Or, if you try to find how much time an aeroplane will take to pass through
it? Can you find it out?

Such existence is called phenomenal existence by Western philosophers,
i.e., something is existent as a phenomena, as an occurrence only.
Most people accept objects having {\skt praatibhaasika sattaa} to be same
as those having {\skt vyavahaarika sattaa} and do not differentiate between
them. Their argument may be "I see them with my own eyes, it not it?" For
example, they see a stone and a rainbow and take them to be existent in the
same way, but a little bit of reflection will convince them of the
Here I am reminded about a famous encounter between Albert Einstein and
Kavivar Ravindranath Tagore. Ravindranath stated something like "this
chair is not existent as a reality." Einstein later said, "that man was
telling me that the chair on which he was sitting, which I can see with
my own eyes clearly, is non-existent." Remarkable, is not it?
(From my faint memory, do not catch me on details!)

{\skt paaramaarthika sattaa} -- object which is existent in past,
present and future and whose existence can not be refuted under any
circumstances, is said to be having such {\skt sattaa}. In our discussions
I have called it Ultimate Reality.

Doubt : What do you mean by Ultimate Reality?

Reply : It is my proposition that "Constraint is the Creator", i.e.,
the limitations of the observer gives rise to phenomenal existences. For
example, consider a gold ornament. The layers of reality can be taken to
be :
[ornament]-->[piece of gold]-->[collection of molecules}-->
        [collection of atoms}-->[collection of protons, neutrons, electrons}-->
        [collection of quarks}--> ...--> ... ???

So what is the reality? The reality is defined by the limitations of the
observer. To a woman it is an ornament, because she is limited by her
attachment to golden ornaments. To the goldsmith it is possibly a piece
of gold, because he is interested in the value of the thing. To a phycisist
it may be a collection of molecules etc., depending on his understanding.

Doubt : But all of them will see the golden ornament with their eyes,
is not it? Their brain will register an image of the shape of the ornament.
Or, are you trying to say that they actually  *see* differently?

Reply : Of course, all of them will see with their eyes the same
ornament, but what do you mean by "seeing"? It is the perception that
we are talking about, because their respective thinking and behaviour will
depend upon their perceptions and not seeing (image on the retina of eye).

A collection of quarks is seen as an ornament, thus the limitations of our
eyes, brain and mind sees an ornament, where, at the deeper level of
reality, only quarks are there. (Yes, we do not know if the quarks are realy
the final building blocks. Our experience of development in science should
make us suspect that they are not.) Thus the limitations (Constraints)
*as if* create the object, an ornament.

In the above paragraph note that we have used the words "as if". There is
actually no creation of an ornament (like a potter makes a pot from
clay) or transformation of quarks into an ornament (as milk gets transformed
into curds).

Doubt : Wait, wait. Did not some goldsmith actually make the ornament?

Reply : Do not confuse our level of discussion. There is an ornament being
seen by a woman, a goldsmith and a physicist. The physicist says "here are
some atoms", a woman says "here is an ornament." When she says so, the atoms
do not turn into the ornament. It was already an ornament (if you want to
call it so.) We are talking about an object being "seen" differently by
different observers.

As an another example, note that in the nature there are really nothing like
colours. The colours are creation of our eyes and brain. There may be
specific frequencies of Electro-Magnetic radiations, which our brain
interpretes as various colours, but colours themselves are not there. We
say, we are ascribing an {\skt upaadhi} (an *assigned* characteristics or
attribute) to the light waves. The colours are the way our eyes and brain
*interprete* the light waves. The attributes are not really there, but
they are assigned by us, due to limitations of our eyes and brain.

This word {\skt upaadhi} is important and should be understood well. In the
previous example of "this flower is red", the redness is Upadhi - an
attributed attribute.

Doubt : Why do you call it a limitation? Is it not an ability to see
colours? Some people who can not see all the colours are called

Reply : From the view point of day-to-day existeance it is of course
true that seeing colours is an ability, but we are talking about the
reality, what is realy there. You will find such situation at many places in
our discussions. The limitations at a higher plane of reality looks like an
ability at lower plane of reality. We shall come back to that point again in
our discussions.

You may also think that not being able to see all the colours (note that
this itself is a relative ability; how am I sure that I am seeing all the
colours exactly as you are seeing? The standard colour-blindness tests are
based on the Test-Card used by the doctor.) can be taken to be a form of
ability. One would not be bothered by colour of something. Being deaf gives
one ability to keep noise out.

What we have been calling {\skt sattaa} is also called {\skt satya} -
(relative) truth.

Almost all schools of philosophy accept that this world ({\skt jagat}) is
not {\skt paaramaarthika satya}, i.e., it does not have existence as an
Ultimate Reality. Some accept it to be {\skt praatibhaasika satya}, i.e.,
having phenomenal existence -- they do not worry about the order or way in
which the world was generated and generally avoid taking stand in
discussions about it.

Some philosophers accept it as {\skt vyaavahaarika satya} and they discuss
how the Creation took place and the order of creation.

Doubt : But if you say that this type of philosophers also do not accept
the world as Ultimate Reality, then how can it be reconciled with the above?

Reply : To understand that, first we have to define a few words. There
is difference between :

{\skt naa"sa} (destruction), and
{\skt baadha} (suspension, annulment).

An object is called {\skt mithyaa} (phenomenal, unreal) if its non-existence
can be shown under certain circumstances, it is different from {\skt asat},
which is always non-existent ({\skt abhaava}). For example, "son of a barren
woman" is always non-existent, {\skt asat}. Other examples are -
a square circle, horns of a hare (yes, all these standard examples in
Vedantic literature.)

Thus a rainbow, a mirrage, the digits seen in a LCD clock, a snake seen in
place of a cord, etc. are all {\skt mithyaa}.

Now we are able to show the difference between {\skt naasha} destruction and
{\skt baadha} (suspension).

Thus :

[{\skt bhaava}]--> {\skt naa"sa} --> [{\skt abhaava}]
(existence) --- destruction ---> (non-existence)

[{\skt mithyaa}]--> {\skt baadha} --> [{\skt adhi.s.thaana}]
                <-- {\skt adhyaasa} --
(phenomenal)    --- suspension -------> basis
                <-- superimposition ---

{\skt adhi.s.thaana} means the Basis, on which the illusion is seen. The
cord in case of snake, hot air in case of a mirrage, water particles in case
of a rainbow, Liquid Crystal fluid in case of LCD, are all basis,
{\skt adhi.s.thaana}.

Advaita Vedant says that you can not have a phenomenal existence without
a basis, but more about it later.

We now redefine {\skt vyaavahaarika satya} as one whose {\skt baadha} does
not take place without {\skt brahmaj~naana} (proper knowledge about nature
of Ultimate Reality), but  whose {\skt baadha} does take place with
{\skt brahmaj~naana}.

We may also redefine {\skt praatibhaasika satya} as one whose {\skt baadha}
can be achieved without {\skt brahmaj~naana}, i.e., through logical
arguments, as we have done in case of a rainbow.

Finally {\skt paaramaarthika satya} is one whose {\skt baadha} can not be
achieved at any time.

Thus Shri Krishna has said in Geeta that {\skt tattvadar.sii}, those who
have realized the Ultimate Reality, differentiate between {\skt sat}, what
is really existing i.e., {\skt aatmaa} and {\skt asat}, what is not really
exiting, i.e. illusory existences called {\skt anaatmaa}. The pleasures
and pains of the human existence are illusory, {\skt mithyaa}.

We shall see this further.

Best to all,

-- Himanshu

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