Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

paramArtha - vyavahAra - pratibhAsa
Part 2

Definition by Ram Chandran:

In Vedanta literature there are some discussions related to the three notions of reality: prAtibhAsika satya, vyAvahArika satya and pAramArthika satya. Before the discussions, let us make sure that we understand that Truth is only one and it is never threefold. These narrations are just reflections of our own perceptions at different situations.

prAtibhAsika satya has neither basis, nor any existence. It is our illusion and a good example is the reality during dream. When there is twilight, a little light and a little darkness, we come by a rope and mistake it to be a snake. Really speaking, there is no snake there. The snake is only in our mind and the thing that is really there is only the rope. This is also referred as prAtibhAsika satya.

When we stand in front of a mirror, we see our reflection in it. When we move away, the reflection vanishes. Therefore, the reflection depends on the original object and only when it is there, will we see the reflection. Here, there is one basis, namely, the original thing. Without the original, there is no reflection. This is an illustration of vyAvahArika satya.

On the other hand, pAramArthika satya is an entity which is present everywhere and at all times. This is the true and eternal reality. A number of examples can be provided to illustrate the pAramArthika satya:

  • Gold and golden ornaments - here the form and names such as bangle, ring, necklace have changed but the gold remains without any change.
  • Clay and pots of different shapes and sizes.
  • There are many bulbs with many different voltages and different colors.
  • Even though we see many forms, many names, many races, many creeds and many castes in this world, we must know that the God that is present in all of them, the inner being, is in reality only one. Those with sama dRRiShTi and sama bhAva [unbiased, impartial perception and interpretation] will be able to see "Only God" with different names and forms.

Everything that we do is at the vyAvahArika level only and even the description and explanation of pAramArthika are also at the vyAvahArika level. No one except Brahman knows what the pAramArthika level is and even this assertion is only at the vyAvahArika level. The sages and saints are always careful and they have avoided making any false claims. Our problem is the lack of understanding of what they say and, most of the time, we attribute our mistakes to them.

They employ a `reference point' to illustrate the Truth at the vyAvahArika level and they are aware of our limitations. It seems that we overextend their assertions and try to go beyond! In the rope and snake example - the reference point (rope) is the Truth at the vyAvahArika level. Due to darkness (ignorance) the rope appears as the non-existent snake. But with the correct understanding (torch light) the truth is revealed.

Now reasoning is employed to illustrate the Truth at the pAramArthika level - the rope of vyAvahArika became the Brahman of pAramArthika and the non-existent snake of vyAvahArika became the non-existent World of pAramArthika. We do need to recognize that that this illustration with additional explanation is only at the vyAvahArika level! This example or analogy does not provide any clue about pAramArthika or Brahman to those who determine not to accept any analogy. The `dream' analogy is another example that is used to point to pAramArthika reality using a vyAvahArika framework.

The Truth at the pAramArthika level does require us to extend our understanding beyond the vyAvahArika level. Any of our claims about the TRUTH at the pAramArthika level are just further speculation. TRUTH can't be understood analytically by any `brilliant mind (intellect)' and that is the bottom line. This may explain why scripture becomes relevant for us to accept or reject a `speculated truth.'

For Hindus, the `Vedas or shruti - the revealed truth' became the authority for resolving issues related to the establishment of the Truth. The `shruti' is the experience of the `SELF' by the jIvanmukta. Any documentation of Vedas will not qualify for the term - `shruti.' All documented versions of Vedas become `smRRiti - a diluted form of Truth.' Consequently TRUTH (Self-Realization) can never be described in words. Everything that is written, spoken or remembered will fall into the vyAvahArika level.

Return to the Contents page for the Terms and Definition.

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012