[Advaita-l] AN UNREAL CAUSE CAN BRING ABOUT A REAL EFFECT
v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Apr 13 01:16:22 CDT 2010
** <http://blogs.sulekha.com/tags/> ShrIgurubhyo NamaH
In Vedanta the Ultimate Absolute Truth Brahman is Advaitam. There is no
other entity apart from Brahman. The Mandukya Upanishad 7th mantra says
that this Absolute is ‘free of the created universe’, ‘prapanchopashamam’.
This is the very nature of the Truth. The word ‘prapanchopashamam’ is used
unconditionally by the Upanishad.
It does not say: Brahman is ‘prapanchopashamam’ only on certain conditions
being fulfilled. It is Always so.
The Veda, being a part of the world, prapancha, too is included when the
word ‘prapanchopashamam’ is used.
This very Upanishad says in the beginning: ‘This letter Om is all this.
Of this a clear exposition is started. All that is past, present or
future is verily Om. And whatever is beyond the three periods of time
is also verily Om. (1). Shankara clarifies: And whatever else there is
that is beyond the three periods of time, that is inferable from its
effects but is not circumscribed by time, e.g. the Unmanifested and the
rest, that too is verily Om.
The next mantra 2 says: All this is surely Brahman. This Self is
Shankara clarifies: All this, that is, all that was spoken of as but Om
in the earlier mantra, is Brahman.
Thus, as per this Upanishadic teaching, implicitly, the Veda too is not
there in Brahman the Absolute in all three periods of time.
This would raise a question: The very Absolute can be
known only with the help of the Veda. And if the Veda itself negates
its existence in Brahman, during all three periods of time, how is valid
knowledge of the Absolute secured at all? How can the unreal produce the
knowledge of the Real? Since this question is important for Vedanta,
Shankaracharya, anticipating this question deliberates on this crucial
issue in more than one place in His commentarial literature. Here is one
such instance from the Brahma Sutra commentary (188.8.131.52)
(G.Thibaut’s translation found in
// But how (to restate an objection raised above) can the
Vedânta-texts, if untrue, convey information about the true being of
Brahman? We certainly do not observe that a man bitten by a rope-snake
(i.e. a snake falsely imagined in a rope) dies, nor is the water
appearing in a mirage used for drinking or bathing.
This objection, we reply, is without force (because as a matter of fact
we do see real effects to result from unreal causes), for we observe
that death sometimes takes place from imaginary venom, (when a man
imagines himself to have been bitten by a venomous snake,) and
effects (of what is perceived in a dream) such as the bite of a snake or
bathing in a river take place with regard to a dreaming person.—
But, it will be said, these effects themselves are unreal!—
These effects themselves, we reply, are unreal indeed; but not so the
consciousness (knowledge) which the dreaming person has of them. This
(knowledge) is a real result; for it is not sublated by the waking
The man who has risen from sleep does indeed consider the effects
perceived by him in his dream such as being bitten by a snake, bathing
in a river, &c. to be unreal, but he does not on that account consider
the consciousness he had of them to be unreal likewise.–(We remark in
passing that) by this fact of the consciousness of the dreaming person
not being sublated (by the waking consciousness) the doctrine of the
body being our true Self is to be ‘considered as refuted.
Scripture also (in the passage, ‘If a man who is engaged in some
sacrifice undertaken for some special wish sees in his dream a woman, he
is to infer therefrom success in his work’) (Chandogya Up. 5.2.9)
declares that by the unreal phantom of a dream a real result such as
prosperity may be obtained. And, again, another scriptural passage,
after having declared that from the observation of certain unfavourable
omens a man is to conclude that he will not live long, continues ‘if
somebody sees in his dream a black man with black teeth and that man
kills him,’ intimating thereby that by the unreal dream-phantom a real
fact, viz. death, is notified.–It is, moreover, known from the
experience of persons who carefully observe positive and negative
instances that such and such dreams are auspicious omens, others the
reverse. And (to quote another example that something true can result
from or be known through something untrue) we see that the knowledge of
the real sounds A. &c. is reached by means of the unreal written
Nor can it be maintained that such states of consciousness do not
actually arise; for scriptural passages such as, ‘He understood what he
said’ (Ch. Up. VII, 18, 2), declare them to occur, and certain means are
enjoined to bring them about, such as the hearing (of the Veda from a
teacher) and the recital of the sacred texts. Nor, again, can such
consciousness be objected to on the ground either of uselessness or of
erroneousness, because, firstly, it is seen to have for its result the
cessation of ignorance, and because, secondly, there is no other kind of
knowledge by which it (the newly arisen knowledge) could be sublated. //
Thus Shankara has Himself given a number of examples, *both from
scripture* and from daily-life to disprove the proposition that non-Advaitic
schools have advanced: `any mithya vastu has no jnAna sAdhakatva (capacity
to bring about knowledge).’
Over and above what is contained in Shankaracharya’s commentary, let
us take some more instances:
1. Trijata’s dream:
In the SundaraKaandam, Trijata’s dream is explained in detail. Dreams are
premonition of events, to
pious persons who are spiritual in nature. This dream came true as
Anjaneya then caused devastation by setting Lanka on fire and Ravana
met his death after war with Rama. Trijata explaining her dream, as Rama
and Sita in Lanka present in a chariot is well described in this as
Ihopayadha kakusthaha seethaya saha bhaaryaya / Lakshmanena saha braathraa
vimaane pushpake sthtitha /(sarga 27 sloka 18).
Trijata dreamt Rama in such a grandeur.
2..The case of Drona – Ashvatthama:
//Just before the great Kurushetra war began, Dharmar (the head of Pandavas)
– the eldest brother of Arjuna, prostrated to Drona – who was in the side of
Kouravas – enemies of Pandavas, and sought his blessings.
Drona informed him, “Had you not come, you would have lost the battle. I
will tell you the secret of killing me. If I receive any sad news, I will
give up the battle. Ask somebody to kill me then”. Dharmar passed this info
During the battle, elephant Ashvathaama was killed. Krishna spread the news
saying that Asuvatama was killed in the battle. When Drona heard this, he
asked Dharmar – who always spoke the truth. Krishna blew the conch at that
time, making sure Drona did not hear anything except `AshwatthAmaa
hataH …’“Ashvathaama is killed”. Immediately Drona, threw his weapons
away, and sat
on the ground. Drishtadyumna reached him and cut his head. //
In the above narrative, Drona had agreed to give up arms upon hearing some
sad news. He was given the news of Ashwtthama’s death. Ashvatthama was
Drona’s son. Even though only an elephant named Ashwatthama was actually
killed, and even though Drona’s son Ashvatthaama was not really killed, yet
Drona got the impression that his son was killed. This sad news made him
give up arms and this resulted in his getting killed. Thus it was the
mistake/error element that is the key to the killing of Drona. This error
element that is the characteristic of a superimposition cannot be denied by
anyone. One thing happened and quite another was comprehended. This
miscomprehension is called adhyAsa that all schools accept. *An unreal
event caused a real effect of Drona laying down arms. *
3. Now we can see an instance that is only too familiar to us to
reject it. In our south Indian households when a mother wants to
make the child listen and obey, she has a weapon called
`gumma’, `gogga’, `poocchaaNdi’ etc. in various
languages. This `gumma’ is a ficticious entity that no
mother has so far seen. Yet for ages she scares the child with the
name of this mithya entity and every child obeys. The mithya vastu
`gumma’ brings about a `jnana’ in the child that if
it does not obey, the `gumma’ will catch hold or abduct or
harm. Thus, the mithyaa vastu is not only jnana and bhaya saadhaka in the
child but also the saadhaka of the karma of feeding the child.
There is a famous Purandara Dasa song: `gummana kareyadire,
ammaa neenu….’ where the Bala Krishna pleads with Yashodha
`O Mother, please do not summon that gumma’.
4. Scarecrow: A scarecrow is a device, traditionally a human
figure dressed in old clothes, or mannequin that is used to
discourage birds such as crows from disturbing crops.
(Wikipedia) . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarecrow
A crow sights a scarecrow implanted in a field. It mistakes the stuffed
human that is put up to scare the birds to be a real human there who could
harm it if it goes into the field. It is this erroneous thinking on its
part that gives it an impression that there is a real man there. This error
none can deny. This is the key to the working of a scarecrow. The *unreal
man in a scarecrow causes the real effect of the crow being scared away from
the field. *
The figure is not a real man; mithya. Yet the birds and crows take this
to be a person and keep off the field. A mithya object can be a jnAna
saadhaka (in this case, to the birds) which has a prayojana too : of
crops from preying birds. Thus, an unreal vastu is very much a prayojana
saadhaka as well.
5. I have seen in my young days milkmen bringing a cow for
milking, sometimes carrying a stuffed calf. The poor cow would have
lost its calf very young. Milkmen have concluded by anvaya/vyatireka
that the cow would yield more milk when the calf is present while
milking. So, when the calf dies, they stuff the carcass and carry
it and place it before the cow while milking. The cow even licks the
calf in all love as though the calf is alive. Thus, a mithya object can
be a jnana saadhaka and kArya upayogi.
6. Any model used for educational and other purposes is a mithyA
object. For example, in schools a globe or Atlas is used to teach
geography, etc. Even though it is only a drawing, a picture, and not
the real country, region, continent, yet it is capable of producing
`knowledge’, jnana, in the students. This jnana is definitely
valid knowledge for it is not falsified later.
The case of Atlas/map:
Spreading an Atlas, a teacher points to the Indian subcontinent and tells
the pupils: ‘This is our country. We are here.’ Now, both the teacher and
the pupils know for sure that ‘this one inch square area on the canvas/paper
of the Atlas is NOT their country and they are NOT located in that tiny
area. This is the ‘unreal’ aspect in the analogy. Yet, the pupils get an
understanding of where the Indian subcontinent is placed in relation to the
entire Asian continent and the whole World. This is a case of a
fundamentally unreal input giving rise to a real outcome. Applying
Shankara’s definition of an adhyasa, the Atlas invokes the thought of real
oceans, continents, etc. in the students and the teacher. They
willfullysuperimpose on it their own country and its people.
This kind of superimposition does not give rise to any adverse effect; it is
only favourable. Another example is that of Vishnubuddhi in a sAligrama
It is pertinent to point out here that Shankara has cited a similar case
in the Brahmasutra quote provided above. Supposing I know three Indian
languages. A friend promises to give me in writing a hymn for my use.
He knows that I am versed in the three languages. He chooses one to pen
the hymn. I read it and commit it to memory soon. Now, the song is in
my mind; no matter in which script it was written by my friend while
giving it to me. The `sound’ is what matters and not the
script. Shankara says that the script, just a way of expressing a
sound, is unreal; the sound alone is real. This is because we can
`do away’ with the script; the sound recorded intact in memory.
Thus the unreal script produces the knowledge of a real sound.
We can add wax models of fruits, etc. that a teacher uses in a
classroom. Students do get a valid knowledge from these make-believe
Puppet shows too produce valid knowledge about the theme presented.
This knowledge does not get falsified later.
7. There are several stories told to convey moral values. Many of
these are animal stories like the hare and the tortoise, the crow and
the jackal, the lion and the mouse, etc. An interesting story is woven
around these animal characters with a lot of dialogue and humour. The
listeners know even while listening that it is only a story; the animals
after all, do not converse the way it is presented. Yet, the moral is
conveyed even though the story-part is discarded. Thus, an unreal
object or event does produce valid knowledge.
8. Here is an instance from the field of science:
Benzene’s ring structure was discovered in 1864 by German
chemist Friedrich August Kekule. He was inspired
by a dream he had, in which he envisioned organic molecules as snakes
and he saw one of the snakes biting its own tail. In his own words, from a
speech he gave twenty-five
// During my stay in Ghent, I lived in elegant bachelor quarters in the main
thoroughfare. My study, however, faced a narrow side-alley and no daylight
… I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress;
my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed.
Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the
smaller groups kept modestly in the background.
My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind,
could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows
sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in
snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized
hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if
by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the
night in working out
the consequences of the hypothesis.//
He published his paper concerning benzene’s structure less than a year
later to the Chemical Society of Paris solving a problem that had concerned
modern chemistry for years. His findings weren’t only of great theoretical
but were useful in the dye industry of the time, and Kekule was
offered an appointment to the University of Munich based on them alone.
Thus, a mithya event like in a dream, and the mithyA snake seen there, can
be a `jnAna sAdhaka’
and be valid in the waking.
9. The above instance has an additional feature useful for the
present discussion. Kekule says: As if by a flash of lightning I
awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out
the consequences of the hypothesis. The impact of the dream
event is so strong even in the dream that it forces the person out of
the dream. He wakes up as if jolted. This is very common in fearful
dreams or nightmares. A dog or a bull chases the dreamer-subject and
the man dreaming lying on the bed wakes up suddenly and even sweats and
sometimes trembles for a few seconds.
10. The Placebo effect.
Another instance, this one from the field of Medical science:
One Patient Stands Out
One patient stands out in the memory of Stephen Straus, M.D., for her
remarkable recovery, more than 10 years ago, from chronic fatigue
syndrome. The woman, then in her 30s, was “very significantly impaired,”
says Straus, chief of the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation at the
National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “She had no energy, couldn’t work, and
spent most of her time at home.” But her strength was restored during a
study to test the effectiveness of an experimental chronic fatigue drug.
“She and her parents were so thrilled with her recovery that they were
blessing me and my colleagues,” recalls Straus, the principal
investigator on that study.
Like many drug studies, the chronic fatigue medication trial was a
“placebo-controlled” study, meaning that a portion of the patients took
the experimental drug, while others took look-alike pills with no active
ingredient, with neither researchers nor patients knowing which patients
were getting which.
It’s human nature, Straus explains, for patients and investigators alike
to try and guess in each case: Is it the real drug or a dummy pill? But
people shouldn’t kid themselves, he says, that they can consistently
tell the actual drug from the sham by seeking out tell-tale signs of
Turns out, the woman’s quick turnaround from chronic fatigue occurred after
taking placebo pills, not the experimental drug. Straus says, “She was
amazed by the revelation that she’d gotten better on placebo.”
Research has confirmed that a fake treatment, made from an inactive
substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution, can have a
“placebo effect” that is, the sham medication can sometimes improve a
simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.
For a given medical condition, it’s not unusual for one-third of
patients to feel better in response to treatment with placebo.
It is interesting to note that Shankara has included a similar case in
the Brahma Sutra quote provided above.
“Expectation is a powerful thing,” says Robert DeLap, M.D., head of one
of the Food and Drug Administration’s Offices of Drug Evaluation.
The more you believe you’re going to benefit from a treatment, the more
likely it is that you will
experience a benefit.”
Placebo-Controlled Drug Studies
To separate out this power of positive thinking and some other variables
from a drug’s true medical benefits, companies seeking FDA approval of a
new treatment often use placebo-controlled drug studies. If patients on
the new drug fare significantly better than those taking placebo, the
study helps support the conclusion that the medicine is effective.
11. The following one is about an event in the life of Sri Vaadiraja Tirtha,
a great scholar-monk of the Madhva tradition:
// Blessing the Goldsmith community - Sri Vaadiraja is highly devoted to
shri Hayavadana, and the Lord Himself used to appear in the form of a white
horse to please His devotee. It so happened that a goldsmith was trying to
make a gold statue of Ganapati. To his surprise, the idol kept taking the
shape of Lord Hayavadana. The goldsmith re-tried many times, and each time,
the cast took the shape of Lord Hayavadana. The goldsmith got tired and
frustrated, and started hitting the idol with a hammer. To his surprise,
however hard he hit, no damage was happening to the statue. Then, one day
the goldsmith had a dream. In the dream, he saw Sri Hayavadana Himself
telling him to give the statue to the saint who would be approaching him the
next day. Sri Vadiraja Theertha then went to the goldsmith, as directed by
Sri Hayagriiva, and asked for the promised icon. The goldsmith prostrated at
the feet of Sri Vaadiraaja Theertha and offered the icon of Lord Hayavadana,
which the saint then consecrated and used for worship. //
12. This incident is from the life of Swami Vivekananda:
// Swami Vivekananda was travelling in a train, tired and famished. When the
train stopped at the station in Ayodhya, a stranger came running to the
compartment with sweets, to offer it to the Swami. He told him that Lord
Rama appeared in his dream the previous night and had asked him to take care
of the Swami and had given a description of Vivekananda’s idenitity.This
happened 100 years back. //
This is only a representative sample to prove that ‘the unreal can produce
knowledge/effect that is real’ characterized by:
- AgAmi-sUchakatva, etc. from mithyA vastu/event.
One can keep adding to the list *ad infinitum*. It is again surprising that
Shankaracharya has, in the above Sutra Bhashya, covered all types that we
have covered in the above list. We have only cited some instances suitable
to the modern day.
The starting point of the discussion was: whether the Veda that is well
within the realm of the vyAvahArika, created, world and not belonging to the
PAramArthika realm of Brahman in all three periods of time could be
'BrahmajnAna-sAdhakatva?'. We conclude with the observation that it is
decidedly possible as borne out by the innumerable instances shown as
examples from the Shruti, SmRti and lokAnubhava based on yukti.
भव शङ्करदेशिक मे शरणम्
Om Tat Sat
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