Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Reality and Suffering
Madathil Nair

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(This material was posted to the Advaitin Email Group, Feb 2005 )

I went to bed with a very full and upset stomach. The rumblings and discomfort in the bowels caused a dream – a dream in which I was running downhill at break-neck speed and panting.

Another dream – I am blind or have great difficulty opening my eyes. Reason – I am half awake, my eyes are perhaps half open and there is a lot of light falling on them.

The relative truths in the above examples are stomach discomfort and light falling on the eyes. If I were fully conscious, they would have been known as such. However, in the dreams, the subconscious was in operation and, hence, the misinterpretations. In other words, the subconscious is not fully qualified or doesn’t possess the ability to understand the relative truths as they really are.

Taking these two examples as an Advaitic tool (without stretching them too far, of course), we can now say that our so-called conscious state is not fully qualified to understand the real Truth that we are. Therefore, the truth is misinterpreted. This is the misapprehension of Reality we talk about in Advaita. Instead of seeing the Real One, we end up seeing a multiplicity of hills, run down them scared and panting, suffer from fearful eye conditions including blindness. What is the solution? Waking was the solution to escape the clutches of the nightmares. Waking therefore to the Truth is the only solution we have to escape the incubus called ignorance, which erects a life of misery. That means sAdhana, chitta shuddhi and knowledge.

The ‘process’ by which misapprehension of reality is caused and the One and only One seemingly ‘splits up’ into several is called mAyA. Actually, when the misapprehension is undone and when the One shines as One, what is realized is not the absence of a past misapprehension but the fact that there was never ever any misapprehension at all. Why? Because never and ever are temporal. Truth has no place for time.

So, from the point of view of the Absolute, there is no misapprehension or creation of a world at all. This should be borne in mind when we take up Bhagavan Krishna’s statements in the Bhagavad Gita (BG). In the scenario of BG, where Bhagwan teaches the Truth to an ignorant Arjuna, such statements and expressions are unavoidable. We can understand this better if we make equations out of the scenarios that are possible in the quest for Truth:


[The Absolute scenario. Both sides being equal, there actually is no LHS or RHS. There is in fact nothing other than TRUTH (BRAHMAN).]

2. “I” (the perceiving, isolated me) + all that is perceived = mAyA

[This is the quest where I go about alone on the road of Self-enquiry. Brahman is understood as the essential substratum of this equation.]

3. I (Bh. Krishna) + you (Arjuna, or the perceiving, isolated me – the reader of BG) + all this (this perceived world) = mAyA [The BG situation, where the Lord as a mediate has been brought into the quest, where again Brahman remains the essential substratum.]

If the world were a misapprehension of reality, then the RHS of equations 2 and 3 should have been Brahman. Although that conclusion is quite right, we don’t say so because, if we do, we would be compromising our Advaita by admitting that the indivisible Brahman has undergone a split or saying that the total of certain limited entities is limitlessness. So, as I pointed out above, from the absolute Advaitic standpoint, there is never ever any misapprehension at all. However, in the realm of vyAvahArika where the misapprehension is fully operational with temporal/spatial elements thrown in and where we confront the split, all of us and even Bh. Krishna have necessarily to mouth certain expressions and explanations. In Self-Realization, however, all the ingredients of these expressions and explanations which constitute the LHS and RHS of both equations 2 and 3 or, in one word, mAyA, resolve or sublate into 1. Thus, 1 is the One and Only Truth. 2 and 3 are fully mAyA. Although 2 and 3 are 1, to be really Advaitic we have to assert that there is only 1.

Well, you may ask: Why all this Advaitic labour? Can’t we accept the world as it appears as science seems to be doing? Well, science is not staying put. It is asking unending questions and getting unending answers in a vain search for an End, which it intuits exists. No quest is justified without an intuited end. This means that science cannot put up with situations of infinite regress – non-situations - although that is what it is getting day in and day out, with questions finding answers and answers generating questions ad infinitum. These non-situations are mAyA. Advaita in contrast puts an end to all non-situations by pointing at the Final Reality that pervades and sustains all non-situations. An Advaitin thus accepts the world for what it is while fully abiding in what he really is. That is not saying Brahman has dual nature. An Advaitin shouldn’t see such a meaning in the quoted BG references through a literal understanding.

Thus, the tsunami is mAyA. Advaitically, I pervade and sustain tsunamis and calamities. Does that mean that I have multiple natures as Brahman, tsunami and calamities? I am Brahman and that is no nature at all!

An Advaitin shall not shiver when calamities express their devastating fury. Standing firm, he chants: “ Om shAntih, shAntih, shAntihi” to keep the usually dreaded three, viz. AdhyAtmika [ resulting from self, i.e. problems such as pain and mental suffering] , Adhibhautika [ (resulting) from such things as wars, disagreements, natural disasters] and Adhidaivika [ (resulting) from the presence of divine or supernatural forces] away. But, it doesn’t matter a wee bit to him whether they are away or around.

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