[Advaita-l] GITA - 2.16 : part 1

Amuthan Arunkumar R aparyap at yahoo.co.in
Sun Dec 25 08:04:36 CST 2005

namo nArAyaNAya!

kR^iShNa gives further reasons to patiently bear the
various dualities by teaching the nature of the world
of dualities. this shloka is very important since it
establishes the nature of the subject-object duality
as mithyA if interpreted properly. 

nAsato vidyate bhAvo nAbhAvo vidyate sataH.
ubhayorapi dR^iShTo.antastvanayostatvadarshibhiH..

the unreal never comes into existence and the real is
never nonexistent. the truth of these two has been
realized by the seers of reality.   

to understand this shloka, we first need to understand
what is real and what is unreal. first, the criteria
for deciding whether an entity is unreal will be
given. once this is done, the criteria for an entity
to be real follows easily: that which is not unreal is

MS defines asat (unreality) as follows: that which is
limited (by atleast one of) space (desha), time (kAla)
or 'matter' (vastu) [1][2] is unreal. 

anything that has a finite extent in space is
spatially limited. anything that has a beginning or an
ending in time or both is temporally limited. 

for instance, a pot has spatial limitation since it
occupies a finite volume in space. it is also
temporally limited since it comes into existence at
some instant of time and gets destroyed at some other
instant of time. (incidentally, the inclusion of
spatial limitation in the definition of unreality
rules out the tArkika's theory that atoms form the
ultimate building blocks of the universe). 

an entity is said to have objective limitation if
there exists another entity from which it is
different. this difference can be interpreted in two
different ways:
in the first case, it refers to the threefold
difference, namely, 1. sajAtIya bheda - the difference
of an entity from other entity of it's own variety
(jAti), 2. vijAtIya bheda - it's difference from
entities of a different jAti, and 3. svagata bheda -
it's difference from it's own parts [3]. for instance,
consider a tree. it is different from other trees
(sajAtIya bheda). it is different from non-trees (like
cloth, water etc. - vijAtIya bheda) and finally, it is
different from flowers, fruits etc. (svagata bheda)
which are it's own parts. 

in the second case, any objective limitation has to be
one of the following five bheda-s: jIva-Ishvara bheda,
jIvaparaspara bheda, jIva-jagat bheda, jagatparaspara
bheda or Ishvara-jagat bheda (this is identical to the
five differences postulated by the so called
'tattvavAdin-s'). here, we will consider the first
interpretation as it is more useful.  

the necessity for including 'objective limitation' in
the definition of unreality is as follows: space
itself is neither spatially nor temporally limited. so
is time. but space is objectively limited since it is
different from time. putting it the other way, time is
different from space. thus, both space and time are
unreal according to this definition. 

from the definition of unreality, it follows that the
real (if it exists) is that which is unlimted by
space, time or substance. some conclusions can readily
be drawn about the real based on the definition alone.
it is one only (otherwise it will have objective
limitation), infinite (otherwise, it will have either
spatial or temporal limitation) and 'homogeneous'
(otherwise, it will have svagata bheda). thus,
non-duality of the real is a necessary result of this
definition of unreality. 

it should be noted that based on this definition of
unreality alone, it cannot be concluded that an object
which is unreal is non-existent. for instance, it may
well be the case that the unreal has an independent
existence though in that case it has to be anityam
(this is how dualistic schools interpret this shloka).
in order to show the non-existence of the unreal,
kR^iShNa says 'nAsato vidyate bhAvaH' - 'the unreal
has no existence'. to put it in more familiar
language, this is the same as 'jaganmithyA'. the
multiplicity of objects (which are unreal according to
the present definition) that we perceive is only an
appearance similar to the appearance of water in a
mirage. it does not exist in reality.  
a small logical trap is worth mentioning here. it
cannot be argued that reality itself is unreal since
it is different from the unreal and hence has
objective limitation. this argument is valid only if
the unreal has an independent existence apart from the
real. but since it has been taught to be abhAva or
non-existent, this argument is not tenable. (this can
be understood on the basis of an analogy. we cannot
assert that an object X has objective limitation
because it is different from a hare's horn. this is
because a hare's horn never exists. hence, there is no
such objective limitation for X because of this and
the argument is invalid, though the statement is what
present day logicians may call as being 'vacuously
true'. similarly, reality cannot be thought of as
having objective limitation compared to the unreal,
since the latter does not exist at all.) 

the meaning of the rest of the shloka will be taken up
in the next part of this mail.


[1] '...yatkAlato deshato vastuto vA parichChinnaM
tadasat...' (G.D. 2.16)

[2] here, 'matter' is a translation for 'vastu'.
however, 'material limitation' is not a very good
translation for 'vastu parichChinnam' since this does
not cover non-material entities like space and time.
hence, 'vastu parichChinnam' will be translated as
'obective limitation'.  

[3] '...sajAtIyabhedo vijAtIyabhedaH
svagatabhedashcheti trividho bhedo
vastuparichChedaH...' (G.D. 2.16)

vAsudevaH sarvaM,

Amuthan Arunkumar R,
Final year, B.Tech/M.Tech Dual Degree,
Dept. of Aerospace Engg., IIT Madras.

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