[Advaita-l] Can a mithyA-vastu produce an effect? असत्यवस्तुनः अर्थक्रियाकारित्वम्

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Wed Apr 20 19:09:30 CDT 2011

The following remark supplies the material for this post:

Moreover, the objects in this world and its experiences satisfy
 human ends i.e. arthakriyakAritva.
Unreals cannot satisfy us. They are non-existent. //  sourced from the
following URL:


>From the above remark it is clear that according to the Dvaitin:

   1. An unreal object is the same as a non-existent object
   2. If there is arthakriyAkAritva then the object must be admitted to be

The BhAgavatam  proves these assumptions/beliefs wrong. In Chapter 23, verse
5 of the 'UddhavagItA', the BhAgavatam says:

*छायाप्रत्याह्वयाभासा* हि *असन्तः अपि* *अर्थकारिणः*।
एवं देहादयः भावाः यच्छन्ति आमृत्युतः भयम्॥५॥

//A reflection, an echo, and an illusive appearance (like the appearance of
silver in nacre), even though unreal, produce some effect.  So do things
like the body etc., cause fear till death.//

In the above statement the Lord teaches that 'though unreal' , asantaH,
there is seen to be some or the other 'effect' produced by them.  In the
same way the body, etc. though unreal, produce the fear called samsara.  And
this fear lasts till one realizes that they are unreal.  What is important
in the verse is that the Lord holds that 'even unreal objects have
'arthakriyAkAritvam' (utility).  There is no rule that an object, if it has
utility, should be absolutely real.  One fine example for this we have seen
in recent times is the 'gumma' of the song/s of Purandaradasa. The
Bhaagavatam is teaching that the 'objects like the body etc.' are unreal.
>From the word 'bhAvaaH' we have to take the entire objective world which the
body-mind-instruments experience.  In effect, the entire kShetram is to be
included in this category.

That 'gumma' has utility is not in doubt; it is proved in the song where the
Lord, as a baby, complies with the mother's requirements/stipulations.  So,
gumma has 'arthakriyAkAritvam' (utility).  Yet, is gumma a real entity? No,
for the other song proves this:  The Lord declares that He has searched the
whole of the universe and not found gumma anywhere.  This example proves
that 'असत् चेत् न प्रतीयेत’ 'If a thing is absolutely non-existent like a
hare's horn, it would not be experienced/produce any utility.  On the other
hand, if it is 'sat', absolutely real, it would not get sublated: सत् चेत् न
बाध्येत. Neither sat nor asat, such an object is 'unreal', mithyA,
sad-asad-vilakShaNam. So we have a modified definition:

अर्थक्रियाकारित्वे सति, प्रतीयमानत्वे सति, बाध्यमानत्वं मिथ्यात्वम् ।
Despite being experienced and despite being endowed with utility, getting
sublated upon enquiry, is the character of an unreal, mithyA, vastu.

It is also to be noted that the word 'asat' is used in Vedanta in different
senses depending upon the context.  The word could mean 'atyanta abhAva
vastu' like the hare's horn/vandhyAputra, etc.  It could also mean a mithyA
vastu of the above definition as for example when used in the BhagavadgItA
2.16: न असतो विद्यते भावो ...where even the word 'bhaavaH' takes the meaning
of 'absolute existence without getting sublated'.  We can also see the word
'asat' being used in the sense of mithyA vastu alone in the above BhAgavatam
verse too: asantaH (in plural).

MAyA / prakRti /avidyA though belonging to this asat/mithyA category does
possess utility.  Since it is made of the three guNa-s: sattva, rajas and
tamas, the utility is also of these categories. It is mAyA/prakRti that
produces samsara consisting of sukha and duHkha and it is the very same
mAyA/prakRti, through the sattva guNa, is responsible for jnAna and mokSha
too.  Thus mAyA/prakRti though experienced (प्रतीयमानत्वे सति), though
possessed of utility (अर्थक्रियाकारित्वे सति) is seen to be sublated through
knowledge (बाध्यमानत्वम्). Gumma was experienced (the fear it produced is
the proof of its being experienced), produced effects/utility
(compliance/obedience is the proof for utility) and yet upon growing
up/searching is sublated (not there to be identified as 'this is the gumma
that produced fear/utility').

In fact Vedanta goes a step further to fine-tune the above definition to
say: Everything that is experienced as an object, producing utility/effect,
is for that very reason unreal, mithyA.  This is the definition that we
derive from the above quoted bhAgavatam verse.  SvarUpa jnAnam, Brahman,
Consciousness, does not fall under this category.  For It is not
'experienced' as an object; It is the very subject and It does not produce
any utility whatsoever.  And It never gets sublated. We shall see in later
posts verses from this very chapter many other dimensions of these concepts.

Most importantly the above verse is the validation of Shankara's assertions
in the Brahmasutra bhashya  about the fact of 'an unreal object producing a
real/cognizable/non-trivial effect'.  This aspect is elaborately explained
in this article:


Of special significance is the BhAgavatam listing commonplace phenomena like
a reflection/shadow, echo as 'unreal', 'asat', mithyA.  The article cited
above too lists a number of such phenomena.

We can also appreciate the fact that GaudapAdachArya has discussed these
very things like 'utility', 'experienceability', etc. as grounds for
determining the waking world to be on a par with the dream world. One can
see this discussion in the mAnDUkya kArika-s 2.7, 9,14,15 in particular and
in all those verses from 2.7 through 15 in general for appreciating the
BhAgavatam verse quoted above.  In fact it looks like the kArika-s are an
elucidation of this cited verse of the BhAgavatam.

To conclude, the BhAgavatam verse cited above is a fine scriptural testimony
to the fact of  'असतः (मिथ्यावस्तुनः) साधकत्वम् (अर्थक्रियाकारित्वम्)’.  One
must note carefully that the word 'asat ' here does not mean that category
under which a hare's horn, etc. are included, where of course there is no
sAdhakatvam because of their impossibility of prateeyamAnatvam. The word
asat here means mithyA objects like for example a picture, the shape of
lines to denote a sound through a letter of the alphabet.

Om Tat Sat

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