Part XXV – What is Real?
We now provide an operating definition for real: ‘that which remains the same in all three periods of time’ or ‘that which cannot be negated is real.’ Unreal is that which has no locus for existence at any time, for example the son of a barren woman. The unreal can never be experienced. Then what about the world? The world is experienced, therefore it is not unreal. But the world itself (jagat) continuously changes and hence it is not real either. We have to come up with another word which means neither real nor unreal – this is the definition of mithyA. Some AchArya-s argue that there are only two entities – that which is not real has to be unreal and that which is not unreal has to be real and there is nothing that is neither real nor unreal that meets the criteria of mithyA. This criticism is wrong. Advaitic definitions are precise and are in tune with the Vedanta.
The apparent superimpositions are not real since they are only apparent. But the substantive for the superimpositions is real since it is changeless. We have illustrated this with the snake-rope example: the ‘there is’ part is real, since it is changeless; what changes is only from snake to rope in ‘there is a snake’ to ‘there is a rope.’ Similarly, the existence of the world is not negated. What is negated as apparent is the superimpositions ‘this’ and ‘that’, which are names and forms, nAma and rUpa associated with the world of plurality.
All the perceptual knowledge that we discussed above comes under the category of names and forms – therefore it is neither real nor unreal and is rightly called mithyA. To say that there is no such thing as mithyA shows a lack of correct understanding of the reality of the world. Shankara puts this crisply: the world is mithyA because I see it – dRRisyatvAt – i.e. whatever I perceive through the five senses is only mithyA and is therefore neither real and unreal. For any mithyA there has to be a substantive which is unchanging and that is Brahman. Thus for the changing world, which is mithyA, there is a changeless entity which is the truth and that is Brahman. Hence all of the scriptural statements:
. Brahman is the substantive for the world (material cause);
. the world is mithyA and therefore is only apparently real but reality of the world is Brahman only;
. every thing is nothing but Brahman (sarvaM khalvidam brahma);
. there is nothing other than Brahman (neha nAnAsti ki~nchana).
are all self consistent along with our analysis of how the knowledge of an object is nothing but the image of the name and form in the mind.
Proceed to the next essay.