Part 13 - navya nyAya analysis Part 5
In the vedAntaparibhAShA (VP), we are discussing how inference can be used to prove that the universe is mithyA, i.e. it is neither real nor unreal. Everything that can be objectified or perceived is mithyA. We keep the word mithyA, without translating it as ‘illusion’, since ‘illusion’ implies that it is not real, whereas mithyA is both ‘not real’ and ‘not unreal’. It is not unreal, since it is experienced, unlike the example of the son of a barren woman. This aspect was discussed earlier, using the example of the perception of silver where there is actually nacre.
VP defines mithyA using the language of navya nyAya, saying that mithyA consists in something being the counterpositive of the absolute nonexistence that abides in whatever is supposed to be in its substratum (mithyAtvamca svAshrayatvena abhimata yAvanniShTA athyantAbhAva pratiyogitvAt). In the case of the silver-nacre example, the silver is mithyA since the counterpositive absence of its existence is in the place that it is seen, i.e. the nacre. That is, there is absolutely no silver at the locus at any time.
When the object was seen for the first time, due to the perceived dominant silvery-ness of the object, it was cognized as silver. This was not the cognition of real silver but of false silver. Cognitions are based upon attributes, not on substantive. In this example, the dominant attributive knowledge was of the silvery-ness of the object. Consequently, the false or mithyA silver was taken as real silver and effort was made to pick it up. When the object was picked up and seen at close quarters, it was recognized as nacre, and the knowledge arose that there was no silver here.
This understanding involves, not that there is an absence of silver now, but there might have been silver there before; it is knowledge of the absolute absence of silver at all the times in the place where it was seen. In the terminology of navya nyAya, it involves existence of the absolute non-existence of silver at all times in the place where the nacre is. Hence, it is ‘counterpositive absence’, involving constant absence independent of time, including even the moment when it was originally seen as silver, prompting an action to pick it up. What is falsified is ‘false silver’ even though it was taken as real at the time, since there was never actually any real silver. This definition for mithyA is one of the five definitions of falsity that MadhusUdana Saraswati uses in his Advaita Siddhi.
We can now apply this to the perceived world. Whatever is seen is mithyA but is taken as real just as the silver was taken as real. We perceive ‘silveriness’ where there is actually only nacre and conclude that there is silver. We see ‘worldliness’ where there is actually only brahman and conclude that there is world. The ‘existence’ part of the world provides the basis for the falsity of the world but is actually the ‘sat’ of brahman. There is no ‘real’ world, just as there is no real silver. Hence, the resulting suffering associated with attributing reality to the world follows. When I realize that ‘I am not this that I thought I was’ but ‘I am that Brahman, the substantive for all, including the world that I see and transact with’, the reality associated with the world is falsified. It is recognized as mithyA; i.e. the counterpositive of absolute nonexistence at any time at the locus where it is seen.
Hence, reality of the world was not there, is not there and will never be there; what is always and only there is Brahman (that I am), which is ever present, eternal, never-changing and infinite existence- consciousness. The false world that is still seen is nevertheless falsified or recognized as false. Just as the silvery-ness of the object nacre still remains, but the wrong notion that ‘there is silver’ has now been dispelled with the understanding that it is nacre. Thus, the mithyA attribute of silver remains without assigning any substantive reality to the silver. It is also understood that the absence of silver is counterpositive absolute absence at all time, including even in the past when I thought that there was real silver. Similarly, when I realize Brahman, the world is recognized as mithyA and not real, as I had thought it was. Hence, the mithyAtvam (unreality or illusory nature, although not a correct translation) of the world is recognized only when I have the clear understanding that there is only Brahman and I am that Brahman. Knowledge of Brahman does not negate the world, but negates the reality assigned to the world, just as the appearance of silver is not negated in the knowledge of nacre. Only the reality that ‘this is silver’ is negated with the knowledge that there is no silver here in the object.