Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

paramArtha - vyavahAra - pratibhAsa
Part 1

Definition by Rishi Lamichhane:

The Ultimate Reality (pAramArthika satya) does not depend upon mental activity for its existence in any way. Illusions and hallucinations (which are prAtibhAsika satya) have no existence apart from the mind that imagines them. Relative reality (vyAvahArika satya) also depends upon mind for its existence, but the functioning of the mind is not enough in itself.

It might help to take an example of each.

pAramArthika: My existence is not dependent upon the mind in any way.

prAtibhAsika: The dream-tiger has absolutely no existence apart from the dreamer's mind, the dream-tiger is mental activity alone. Wherever the mind sees the dream-tiger, if it saw a dream-goat instead, the perception would be just as valid.

vyAvahArika: A pot does not exist unless there is mental activity superimposing it upon its material cause (i.e. clay). However, the pot's existence is not dependent upon any one mind and the same pot could be superimposed on the same clay by any mind. This means that it is possible to superimpose the pot on the clay because it has been designed that way for all minds, and not just for any one mind. It is only because the pot exists as a potential in awareness for all beings that it can be superimposed on clay by any being. Unlike prAtibhAsika satya, this superimposition is not arbitrary (i.e. you cannot superimpose a wallet on the clay instead of the pot, and if you do, it is no longer vyAvahArika, it is prAtibhAsika).

[Note that the word ‘satya’ should be understood in this context as ‘level of reality’; its usual meaning is ‘true or real’; e.g. brahman is spoken of as satyam, whereas the world is mithyA.]

Definition by Sampath:

Let us consider the following story,

“Once a young lioness, going about in search of prey, saw a flock of sheep and jumped upon them. She died in the effort; and a little baby lion was born, motherless. It was taken care of by the sheep and the sheep brought it up. It grew up with them, ate grass, and bleated like the sheep. And although in time it became a big, full-grown lion, it thought it was a sheep.

“ One day another lion came in search of prey and was astonished to find that in the midst of this flock of sheep was a lion, fleeing like the sheep at the approach of danger. He tried to get near the sheep-lion, to tell it that it was not a sheep but a lion; but the poor animal fled at his approach. However, he watched for his opportunity and one day found the sheep-lion sleeping. He approached it and said, ‘You are a lion.’

“’I am a sheep,’ cried the other lion and could not believe the contrary but bleated. The lion dragged him towards a lake and said, "Look here! Here is my reflection and yours." Then came the comparison. It looked at the lion and then at its own reflection, and in a moment came the idea that it was a lion. "I do not look like a sheep - it is true, I am a lion!" and with that he roared a roar that shook the hills to their depths! “

The following conclusions can be drawn from the above story:

  • The lion has realized that it has always been a lion even when it thought that it was a sheep. Thus the false knowledge that it had has been annihilated.*
  • The essential nature of the lion is unaffected at all times. It is pAramArthika. It is eternally unsublatable. It is in the play of vyAvahArika where we see the "becoming" and "unbecoming".
  • At the vyAvahArika level we may say that the sheep has "become" a lion. But the truth is that the lion was always the same like an infinite sky. The "Sheep" nature is like a cloud which comes over it, plays for a moment, then vanishes. But the sky is ever the same eternal blue.
  • The Sheep existed only in the mind of the lion! So is the vyAvahArika state unreal from the absolute standpoint. We see the world as we are! There is a tree in the dark. A thief would imagine it to be a police man. A boy would imagine it to be a ghost and so on. But the tree remains unchanged.

* A question may be asked: What benefit has the lion obtained by realizing that it is not a sheep? It could have spent its life happily thinking itself to be a sheep.

Reply: It has got rid of "FEAR" by realizing that there is nothing which could destroy it. This is surely a benefit in whatever way you may consider it! Fear is bondage. Fearlessness is liberation. Because fear arises out of duality alone! The Katha Upanishad says,

yadidam kincha jagat sarvaM praaNa ejati niHsRitam mahadbhayaM vajramudyataM ya etadviduramRitaaste bhavanti || 2 ||

Whatever there is-the whole universe-vibrates because it has gone forth from Brahman, which exists as its Ground. That Brahman is a great terror, like a poised thunderbolt. Those who know It become immortal.

bhayaadasyaagnistapati bhayaattapati suuryaH bhayaadindrashcha vaayushcha mRityurdhaavati paJNchamaH || 3 ||

From terror of Brahman, fire burns; from terror of It, the sun shines; from terror of It, Indra and Vayu and Death, the fifth, run.

This fear alone has kept the sun, air and death in their respective places and functions, allowing none to escape from their bounds. When the gods Indra, Chandra, Vayu, Varuna will attain to fearlessness, then will they be one with Brahman, and all this phantasm of the world will vanish.

Return to the Contents page for the Terms and Definition.

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012