Random Musings- Part 37- Brahmo Satyam, Jagat Mithyam

Nithin Sridhar


1. Shankara has been bashed enough for this statement but without proper understanding.

2. The terms Satyam and Mithyam are indeed related to Nithya and Anithya. A simple translation as illusion is misleading.

3. Regarding the necessity of using the terms Satyam and Mithyam instead of Nitya and Anitya, the reason was the Status of the world in terms of Reality was being defined from he stand point of its existence.

4. Nithya is that which is always eternal and hence absolutely existing at all the times and hence called Satya or Existence. And the opposite of this Existence is Asatya or Non-Existence. But, there are two kinds of Non-Existence, one that never exist like a barren woman’s son and the other which is transient and hence, only temporarily perceivable between its birth and death. The Former is given the name “Tucham or Absolute Non-Existence” and the latter is given the name “Mithyam”-That which is neither Absolute existence nor Absolute Non-existence.

5. Hence, any understanding of Mithya is only valid with a proper understanding of Satyam. Satyam refers to Eternal Absolute Existence without birth or death. Satyam is connected to Nithyam. Satyam is a term that explains the Existence, where as Nityam describes the eternality.

6. A person who is completely immersed in samsara will say “Jagat Satyam” as he does not even perceive Brahman. As a person spiritually evolve, he will realize that the worldly objects are impermanent and behind them there is Brahman which is Permanent. On introspection, he realizes that Brahman is the substratum from which the worldly objects derives its existence as well. Hence, it is Brahman Satyam Jagat Mithyam- Brahman alone which Exists, and Jagat is merely an appearance which has no independent existence on its own but derives existence from Brahman which is its substratum. Finally on the attainment of Jnanam, one realizes “Brahman Satyam”- Brahman alone exist. Jnana does not refer to Samadhi etc. On attainment of Jnana one perceives Atman in all objects and all objects in Atman. I.e. the whole world is perceived as being Non-different from Brahman hence, “Brahman Satyam” as Brahman alone exist.

7. Another way of looking at this is, from the standpoint of objective experience, Jagat Satyam, Brahmo Asatyam. From standpoint of Logic, Brahmo Satyam, Jagat Mithyam and from Standpoint of Jnani, Brahmo Satyam (Jagat has been understood as being non-different from Brahman).

8. The point I am trying to make is that, the instruction Brahmo Satyam, Jagat Mithyam has a specific meaning and importance. Though it is a Universal teaching, yet the specific audience to which it is specially taught are the Mumukshu, the seekers of Moksha. The statement in-fact is illustrating the process of Vichara or Self Enquiry by which one must attain Atma-Jnana. A Mumukshu, with a firm conviction that his Atman alone is Real and Eternal and the world and various thoughts are mere mental vrittis, mere appearances that come and go, should reject them as Mithyam or Temporary appearance. When through such a Vichara, one arrives at a state of Chitta Vritti Nirodha or a state of Witness (Asambhuti), then he is taught the Mahavakya, which will induce Akhanda-kara Vritti, whereby all manifestation is perceived as Non-different from Brahman.

9. Hence, the instruction is actually aimed at those Mumukshu, who arrive at proper vivekam through rational analysis before starting or during the the process of Vichara. This description of Mithyam implies two things, one the world is Temporary and second, the world is an appearance. The Sruti stated that Brahman is both material and intelligent cause of the Universe. Now, the question arises, if he is material cause how did he manifest Universe? Did he himself undergo a Real Transformation to become Universe? Or did any part of him transform into Universe? or Was there any other third manner? The Upanishad describes Brahman as Santam, Ajatam or Advaitam. Hence, Brahman cannot have himself really transformed and taken birth as Jagat. Another point is, if Brahman himself had undergone real transformation, then then the instructions of Sruti that asks a person to attain Brahman is meaningless and Jagat is already infront of us and there is nothing more to be attained. Just like milk becomes curd, if Brahman has become Jagat, then there is a permanent transformation of Brahman into Jagat and hence Brahman will cease to exist after Jagat appears. But, this goes against Sruti as well as the Anubhava of the Jnanis. Regarding the second view-point that a portion of Brahman became Universe, this is again refuted by Sruti that says Brahman is without parts and is Advaitam. As Brahman is Infinite Whole without duality, without parts, how can it manifest Universe from any part of it? It is because of the logical limitations and because they go against Sruti that Shankara rejects both view points. He instead suggests that Brahman is indeed material and Intelligent cause, but he manifests the Universe as an appearance, as an apparent transformation. The way, Magician conjures an elephant that is clearly perceived, or the way mirage happens in desert. This means that, Brahman is though without birth, he appears to undertake birth through his mysterious power, and though he is non-dual he appears to manifest multiplicity of universe, and though he is without parts, he appears to have multiple limbs. It is only through this Mysterious power (called as Maya), that this accomplishment of opposite thing is possible. Hence, Shankara praises Maya has she who makes impossible possible. Therefore, the statement Brahman Satyam, Jagat Mithyam has significance in such a rational analysis of Universe that results in Vivekam and Vairagyam and helps a Mumukshu practice Vichara.

10. Therefore, this statement must be understood as a Statement on the nature of existence of Brahman and Jagat when considered from the standpoint of World/Ignorance but analyzed using Yukti. Mithyam denotes “impermanence” and “apparent nature” of the Jagat.

11. If many modern or even past authors have misunderstood the statement, the fault definitely lies within the authors themselves and not Adi Shankara.

12. The fact that, the statement Satyam is related to Nityam and is defined using Nityam is attested by Sringeri Shankaracharya himself in one of his Anugraha Bhashanams. So, When the traditional lineage that represents Adi Shankara itself is clearly stating the meaning of Satyam and Mithyam, it is entirely our fault if we still attribute a different meaning to it.

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