Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Illusory Nature of the World
Andrew Vernon commenting on Sri Ranjit Maharaj

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Way of the Bird

Andrew Vernon

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The following extracts are taken from the section on 'The Illusory Nature of the World' in the book 'The Way of the Bird: Commentaries on the Teachings of Sri Ranjit Maharaj' by Andrew Vernon.

1.16 “The world you see is nothing but a reflection of reality. Reflection cannot be true.”

 Here Maharaj offers another way to approach the idea that the world is not true. Reality is absolute awareness, but it cannot perceive itself because it is One. In order for the absolute knowledge even to know that it exists, it must manifest itself and become two. The world is the mirror that the Absolute holds up in order to see Itself. The reflection has no existence in itself. This act of manifestation is the creation of duality, and in duality, the whole world appears. In the first chapter of the Amritanubhav , Jnaneshwar, the great Maratha saint of the twelfth century, describes this appearance of the world as the play of Shiva (the unmanifest Absolute) and Shakti (the manifest divine power):

Through Her,
The absolute void becomes the manifest world;
But Her existence is derived from Her Lord.
Shiva himself became His beloved;
But without Her presence,
No universe exists.

1.17 “When you say that the reflection is true, you are lost.”

 It would certainly be very strange if, when one saw one’s face in a mirror, one were to suppose that there was a person there. It is perfectly obvious that one is the cause of that reflection. Yet this does not happen with the world in general. The mind is turned outward and takes the reflection to be real and forgets that all appearance depends entirely on the existence of the one who perceives it.

The root cause of the illusion of the world is forgetting your true Self. You remember yourself and think of yourself as the body, the mind, and the ego. However, to remember yourself as the ego is to forget that you are the Self, the reality. When you forget that you are the Self, you are lost because you do not realize that the reflections are not separate from the Self. They appear to have an existence or a life of their own.

1.21 “Anything you see is not there. It is space, it is zero.”

 Twentieth century atomic physics demonstrated that all matter is nothing but energy. This evidence appeared a few thousand years after the sages of ancient India expressed the same truth in the Upanishads! The physical eyes of the human body of course cannot see objects as space or energy. Because of the limitations of visual perception, we see objects as colored forms with edges that appear to separate them from other forms. This is no more a “correct” way of seeing solid, three-dimensional objects than if one was to see them as luminous, amorphous, animated beings. However, it is what we are accustomed to.

Vedanta states that the objects of the world are “ namarupa ” only. Nama means name and rupa means form. The forms and their names go together in the mental process of perception and recognition. Both are projections on the non-dual reality, in the same way that images are projected on a screen. The images are only colored light, the light itself is uncolored. Objects, although they appear to have form, and are recognized by their names, are still non-separate from the space that pervades them. Space allows all the forms of the world to appear. But reality is subtler than space, because it is aware of it.

1.22 “Truth always remains the truth. What is not true never existed.”

 What does it mean that something is true? It means that it exists, it is real. Truth is not an idea or a set of ideas but is a word-pointer to that which never comes and never goes away, that which can always be relied upon. The words reality, truth, existence are all pointers to that which always remains. Truth has permanent being, or existence. That which is not true, on the other hand, does not have any reality and cannot exist, has never existed.

1.25 “What is there when everything is zero? What is true?”

 Maharaj would often say “Nothing is true.” Someone would ask “Surely your words are true?” But he would reply “No, Master’s words are not true and Master is not true either.” So when he said “nothing” he really meant it! One way to look at this is to break up the word “nothing” into “no thing,” so that the phrase becomes “no thing is true.”

Imagine a balance with Zero on one side and One on the other. Anything that can be objectified—thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences, as well as what we consider to be physical objects in the gross world—all this is placed on the zero side of the balance and is called “this,” ( idam in Sanskrit). On the other side of the balance—the One side—is that which can never be objectified, but which is always there. It is not a “thing” and is called “that” ( tat in Sanskrit). That is what is true.

1.27 “What you know is nothing. If it is true, you cannot know it.”

 It is characteristic of the ego that it believes that it knows everything it needs to know. Many people speak and act as though they know exactly what the world is like, the right way to live, the correct way to behave. They never question the validity of their opinions. Scientists, materials, atheists, as well as believers in one or the other of the established religions, all feel that they have the inside track to the truth. And yet all of this scientific and worldly knowledge is knowledge of nothing. Knowledge of objects does not last. It disappears altogether when the knower goes to sleep. That which truly exists, the Self, cannot be known because it is not an object. Can the eyes see themselves? Can the tongue taste itself ? Can the knower know itself? The Self is what you are. You cannot get outside of it in order to know it.

1.29 “When nothing is, all is only beliefs and concepts of the mind.”

 We live in an interpreted world. The world in itself has no meaning; it has only the meaning that we give to it. A small child does not experience a world of things, of separate objects, but experiences only itself. Gradually, as concepts and beliefs accumulate, the world takes shape together with, and based on, the “I” sense. Nothing (no thing) is outside of that sense of one’s own existence. Everything (every thing) is contained within it. The multiplicity of the apparent creation emerges from the “I” sense like a great tree unfolding itself from a small seed. The appearance of the gross world depends on the thoughts and concepts of the subtle world, and the appearance of the subtle world depends in turn on the space and nothingness of the causal world. Before the beginning, there is nothing there, and then, in the beginning, is “the Word.” That word is “I.”

1.31 “Even though everything seems to be, nothing is. It is exactly like a card trick.”

 Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said that although the world can be said to appear, it cannot be said to Be. That which has being has real existence, while that which only appears is not true. The power of Maya makes this world appear and tricks us into taking it to be true by veiling the Self with ignorance. In ignorance, you forget your true nature as the Self and take yourself to be one separate entity among many others. As long as you remain ignorant of the Self, you cannot see through the trick of the apparent creation. Self-enquiry, leading to Self-knowledge, removes this ignorance and with it the illusion of existence as a separate entity.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012