Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

mithyA and pa~ncha kosha

flower picture

Anything that changes, anything that comes and goes is part of mAyA. The only `thing' which doesn't come and go or change is the Self, which you actually are. When you say `I' that word actually labels the Self. The Self is also called `Brahman.'

The teachings of Vedanta do not dismiss mAyA as being totally unreal. All things which are part of mAyA are placed in their own category, and are called mithyA. MithyA means those things which have no being of their own, and which depend for their apparent existence on something else

What do they depend on for their existence? The Self or Brahman.

Sometimes one might say, `This statement or teaching is a mixing of levels.' So what is that? What is a mixing of levels?

A mixing of levels is confusing that which is mithyA, (that which is changing and which depends for its being on that which does not) for Brahman, or vice versa. That, plain and simple, is what a mixing of levels is, and it is done all of the time in neo-Advaita teachings much to the confusion of the seekers who hear those words.

An example of this would be to say, `I never do anything.' At the same time that person might be cheating on his wife, lying, stealing, etc., and yet that person says, `I never do anything.' So on the one hand the Self  which I am never does anything, and on the other hand, the `person' does a lot.

So what does the phrase `I never do anything' mean? It all depends on where the word `I' is taken to land. Does it land on Brahman which is timeless and changeless, or does it land on the body/mind which performs actions and does dharma and adharma? I use this example because it was one that used to confuse me the most.

In the teaching of Advaita/Vedanta these two levels, the relative (changing, mithyA) and the absolute, (Brahman, unchanging) are first separated out from each other. One way of doing this is to point out that while everything having to do with the body/mind changes, `I' do not.

In the end, the relative and the absolute are put back together, as it were. And it is shown that the relative has no existence of its own.

One way of doing this is to show that everything which changes can be divided infinitely, including time. Consequently, anything which changes does not ultimately exist. Yet Vedanta would not say that those things which change are totally non-existent. They are mithyA. They have their own order of reality. They have a relative order of reality and are dependent upon that which does not change for their `apparent' existence.

This is an exceedingly brief synopsis of the teachings, and I hope that it does not add to confusion, but rather provides a level of clarification.

Any sort of categorization of the individual, such as pa~ncha kosha,(which is a categorization of the body/mind/sense organs individual into five parts, or sheaths, or koshas, each part providing a locus of misindentification of the Self), any sort of explanation of reincarnation, any explanation of those things which change, any sort of system about changing phenomena, is in the realm of mithyA, relative reality.

And Vedanta accounts for that which is mithyA in spades. There are many categorizations having to do with just about everything that one can see and perceive.

The only `thing' which cannot be categorized numerically is Brahman, or let's say the only way to categorize Brahman would be to say that Brahman is one without a second.

The teachings of Advaita/Vedanta hopefully begin where the student is. Despite all of the teachings which many of us have been exposed to, despite our intellectual understandings, many of us still take the Self which we are to be one with, dependent upon, and a product of the body/mind.

So Vedanta begins there. The pa~ncha kosha-s are a way of categorizing the body and mind in order that they eventually be dismissed as not `I', because the only `thing' I really am is Brahman, and Brahman is not a `thing' in the usual sense of the word.

You cannot take any type of categorization of anything in duality - anything which changes - and apply it to Brahman. They won't match up. All categories are within the realm of duality. The only way to match up that which is categorized with that which is non-dual is to see that that which changes and is available for categorization is dependent for its being on that which does not, on that which is in a category of its own, called the absolute reality, which is unchanging, without parts, not subject to time, and non-dual.

Categories are useful. They make order out of duality. Duality is all around us. We as individuals are a part of it. It has a wonderful order. And that order is divine. There is nothing in that divine order which is away from my being, and my being is non-dual Brahman, which is the substrate reality of it all. The categories are just useful ways of viewing that order.

But with the pa~ncha kosha category, the point is to see that from the gross physical body, to the very subtle qualities of the mind such as bliss and happiness, all of these are not `I,' and they all provide a `place' for mistaken identity to occur, such as: I am my mind, I am my body, I am happy, I am blissful, I am blind, I am deaf, etc. None of those statements is true. The only part of those statements which is ultimately true is `I am.'

For the rest, these things have a relative order of reality, they come and they go. They are ` not I.' Yet here they all are.

Return to Dhanya main menu

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012