Illusion…Really?

5450669438_0edf4357cc_mThis article is written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:

A Guru and student chant the following peace chant together

ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Saha Nau-Avatu |
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Meaning:
1: Om, May God Protect us Both (the Teacher and the Student),
2: May God Nourish us Both,
3: May we Work Together with Vigour,
4: May our Study be Enlightening and not give rise to Hostility,
5: Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.

Guru: It is question hour. Have you any questions?

Student: Yes Guruji, you mentioned about the nivritti sastras of the vedas. Out of the 6 vedic darsanas three are considered to belong to this group. What is nivritti?

Guru: You know the word vritti as in citta-vritti. Vritti means activity. Ni indicates negation. Here nivritti would mean an activity to negate or remove something– something one does not want. Human beings (for that matter all beings) do not want pain or duhkha caused by whatever means. So nivritti would be activity by which pain can be removed. Nivritti would also indicate a state free from pain.

Student: All of us know in general how to remove pain of many kinds. When we have an ailment there are different systems of medicine offering different solutions to get cured. To protect ourselves from the fury of nature we have now innumerable means to remove the pain. If it is hot, we have air-conditioners and if cold a we have heaters. Earning money helps to meet all our wants. So what is special about these nivritti sastras?

Guru: Human beings are still in search of more and more means to eradicate pain. But these nivritti sastras viz., Samkhya, yoga and vedanta aver that the known means—known now and can be discovered in future– are neither sure nor permanent means of eradicating pain. There is no panacea, except according to them following the spiritual path, understanding the truth about the observed universe and equally important one’s own Self. What we consider as ourselves the seen, physical self and considered as oneself by everyone is not the real subject or self due to misunderstanding or avidya.

Student: Does it mean the billions of people, generation after generation are wrong and these neglected, negligible number of philosophers are right?

Guru: (smiles)

Student: I also read an episode in Yoga Vasishta . In it a siddha yogi traverses deep into the past and well into the future and interviews many people and concludes that most people were, are and will be unhappy most of the time. But I find that even though there is some unhappiness people are always trying hard to overcome unhappiness and get happiness. People do not appear to be as unhappy as these people portray.

Guru: But these people of the spiritual clan, are very sensitive. As you know Vyasa compares them to the eye which is very sensitive when compared to other parts of the body. All these three darsanas conclude that life is very painful and one should find a permanent and sure solution to this problem of unhappiness. Samkhyas say that all beings suffer from three fold duhkha of adhyatmika (inherent), adhibhautika ( caused by other beings) and adideivika (caused by nature). Yoga talks again about three fold duhkha of parinama (changes), tapa (not getting what one wants, not getting rid of what one does not want) and samskara (inability to change habits that cause duhkha or feeling sorrow is a samskara or a habit). Vedanta also talks extensively about dukha and adds that the universe is not really real and one should consider it no more important or valid than a dream.

Student: So the solution they offer is that one should realize the Truth about the Self

Guru: Yes. Samkhyas say that the means of permanent relief from duhkha is to know the 23 evolved principles or tatvas of prakriti, the source of it all called the mulaprakriti and then the Self, the 25th principle. According to them the Self constitutes the subject and all others in various permutations and combinations form the object. The mulaprakriti which inheres the three Gunas, satva rajas and tamas along with the 23 evolutes are jada or without consciousness and constitute the objects and the 25th tatva purusa is pure consciousness and is the Self or the subject. These three philosophies even as they talk about the origin of the universe and their evolution, focus on the subject/object relationship to know the nature of the Self.

Student: If all the three darsanas have the same goal of terminating the cycle of birth and death and all of them classify the subject as immutable, immortal pure consciousness, and all of them start from the subject/object relationship why are there three distinct philosophies. What is the difference?

Guru: They have the same goal but the approach is different. Many people emphasize the common goal of duhkha nivritti whereas many scholars bring up the differences among them. It is better to study all the three philosophies so that we can know how siblings work. There is a bondage as they belong to the same vedic mother, but the sibling rivalry is also quite intense. Samkhya talks about permanent and definitive relief from Duhkha. Yoga talks about hana or destruction of all future pain or duhkha. Vedanta after arguing that life itself is full of misery avers that atman/brahman knowledge will prevent the individual from taking another birth (na a punaravartate) and hence obviate future pain and sorrow

Student: What are the main differences?

Guru: Samkhya says that prakriti and purusha are real,and knowing the 24 principles of prakriti/three gunas and the purusha one would get permanent relief from duhkha. Here prakriti is the object and purusha is the subject. In case of Yoga even as it accepts the prakriti purusha framework, it breaks down the relationship as between purusha (subject)and chittavritti (object). It emphasizes the modification of citta so that ultimately citta the object is in a state of absolute peace, never again going back to the non yogic states of the mind. Vedanta says the origin of everything is the one and only brahman whose nature is absolute consciousness. The patent universe –according to one of the schools of vedanta– is born out of brahman and is not real, it is just a vision or illusion without any substance. The universe is not made up of trillions of tons of matter. zillions of cubic feet of space or trillions of calories of energy as we normally take it for granted. Everyone including the scientists start with the premise that the universe is real and come out with extraordinary theories about the origin of the Universe, called arambha vada, without first considering if the universe is real or just an illusion.

Student: I am intrigued by this illusion theory. I read some of the works on Vedanta. They give very graphic examples to ‘prove’ that the universe is an illusion. But while I appreciate the examples I am not able to connect the examples to the view that it is all an illusion.

Guru: What are the examples you have heard?

Student: For instance they say that the waking state experience is like the dream experience which is not real. The similarity between them is striking according to them. They say that the dream experience and waking experience, each appear to be real at the time they happen. Then the experience of one is contradicted by the other. So if the dream experience is false then the waking experience also should be false. Another example is that like space in a mirror which is an illusion. Snake erroneously seen in a rope, mistaking mica for silver, mirage and several similar examples. But can they explain on a step by step basis how the seen universe could be just an illusion.

Guru: Let us try this approach. As I mentioned earlier the Samkhyas explain it by the subject/object relationship, the prakriti and purusha. The Yogis’s masterstroke is to consider the cittavritti as the object and the purusha or drashta as the subject, because ultimately everything experienced has to be reduced to a cittavritti for the experience to take place. Several vedanta texts also start with the analysis of subject object relationship. In fact Sankara in the preamble to Brahmasutra, a basic text of vedanta starts with the analysis of “ I and You” or subject and object. We may also try the same approach here. Now tell me whether have you studied some science

Student: Yes Guruji. I was good in science in school.

Guru: Then briefly explain how do you see me. You are the subject and I am the object.

Student: Everybody knows this and you have also talked about it earlier. Light falls on you. Your skin absorbs some light and reflects and deflects some light variously. My eyes absorb some of that reflected light and let the light reach my retinas. They convert them into electrical impulses and send it to the brain. There is a sight center in the back of the brain a small area of a few square centimeters. There it is processed and the mind interprets the signals and thus we are able to see the object.

Guru: Is there anything else happening

Student: Of course there are other signals from the other senses and there is some coordination, then the emotions are added, the intellect analyzes the data and we get a composite picture of the object.

Guru: My question is simple. All these things happen in the brain, and the yogis beautifully call it as cittavritti. But then the question is all these are happening in the brain with neurons running around like headless chicken, but how is it that you are able to see me in front of you and not in just in your brain. Can you explain the further process of what happens in your brain being translating into the physical object in front of you.

Student: I never thought of this next step and nobody seems to think beyond saying the mind interprets and we are able to see.

Guru: Ok Then can you hazard a guess of what could be happening.

Student: Well, we may say that the brain projects the composite image which I see in front of me.

Guru: But the mind can only project an image. But I am in front of you in flesh and blood. You can touch me. You can grab me. If I were only an image projected by your brain then you can not touch me.

Student: Let us say then that my mind projects not only you, but also me the physical me in one composite projection. After all my eyes can see my body from outside and there are lots of nerves inside me transmitting information to the brain and so the projection can include me also—a feeling that I exist.

Guru: In that case you and I are both images and not real. But even if one accepts it grudgingly, this, your logical explanation, raises two more questions

Student: Guruji I am getting tired.

Guru: (Smiles)

Student: Ok. What are the two questions?

Guru: Since we cannot say for sure if you and I are projected outside the brain, we may say that the projections takes place inside the brain but appear to be outside of it– like in a dream, everything that you see in dream is so big when compared to your brain that even as it happens inside the head it appears to be outside of it. . So, firstly if you and I are projections of your brain, as you postulate, then the question is whether the brain has an independent existence. Since the brain also is part of you it should also be an image , and everything is an image or an illusion—the object, the subject and the the brain that projects them. You are an image projected by the brain which itself is part of you, itself an image. It is like the dog chasing its tail.

Student: I am tired. What is the other problem in my theory?

Guru: If all these projections are illusions including what we consider as you and I, then who is experiencing this? This question , one should address. The vedantins call it as Atman or Brahman and its only nature is pure consciousness and we can be charitable and call it is ‘ I ‘. So the subject is real and pure consciousness whereas all that is experienced, the total picture, the object is an illusion. It is easy to assume that the world is real, but is difficult to prove that it is real. On the other hand the advaita vedantins say that it is difficult to come to believe that the universe is an illusion but much easier to prove that it is not real. While there are scores of well accepted theories about the origin of Universe and the process of creation, known as arambhavada the first question, whether the universe itself is real or just an illusion should be addressed.

Student: I am confused.
Guru: Think about it

Student: But what is the benefit of this realization that the universe is not real?

Guru: In addition to the knowledge that all life is duhkha as considered earlier, there is an additional reason not to be too concerned with the world experience as it is just illusory or tuccha,vain. One may not take the outside world nor the physical self very seriously. For some it could mean the removal of an enormous psychological burden–. duhkha nivritti.

Guru and the student chant the following peace chant together again

ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Saha Nau-Avatu |
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

(image by AV Hire London on Flikr Creative Commons)

.

Website Designed by New Earth Vision