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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sat (Reality) and Asat (non-reality)



How do you define reality? Sankara defines it as something which is changeless and eternal.

Is asat, opposite of sat or absence of sat?  Sankara defines asat as absence of sat. He also thinks that Sat can be of three kinds – 1. When it is pure, changeless and eternal - paramarthika  2.  With changes and impermanence – vyavaharika, (phenomenal)  and 3. Real sometimes, not real sometimes such as mistaking rope for a snake before you see the actual thing – called prathibhasika. The word Mithya is used to denote items 2 and 3.

How do various systems of Indian philosophy deal with this?

Charavaka says: Universe is real. Brahman is not. (since it is a concept and there is no direct proof)

Nyaya-Vaiseshika: Universe is real; so is Brahman.

Samkhya says; Universe is unreal (it is active only because of Purusha); Purusha (Brahman) is real.

Advaitham says: Brahman is real. Universe is both real and unreal (mithya)

Dvaitham: Universe is real; so is Brahman

Why did Adi Sankara bring in the concept of mitya and ma̅ya? If you say that Brahman created the cosmos, what did He use to create? If He used something other than Himself, then you cannot say that all of this Universe came from One. If you say He became the Universe, just as milk becomes curd (pariṇama va̅da), then the original has lost its originality. It is not there anymore. Change is not the feature of the original, primordial. This is why Ṣankara suggested that this universe is mitya, neither real nor unreal. It appears to be separate; but it is not. It is ma̅ya.

Buddhism says: Universe is unreal and so is Brahman (Atman). They are misperceptions by our senses and the mind. (Sunyatta)

All this means, no one knows for sure. That is where humility has to come in, as was shown by our ancestors in the Nasadiya Sukta of Rg Veda. I posted it on March 21, 2010. Here it is again.
It is the 129th hymn, in Chapter 10 of the Rg veda. It is attributed to Rishi Prajapathi, is about Parabrahman and is in Anuhstup chandas, 4 lines of 11 syllables each. It is called Nasadiya because it starts with the words: naasat aasit no sad aasit   which means “in the beginning there was no asat (opposite of sat, non-existent, un-manifest, non-being), nor was there any sat, being”. 

Here is my own translation of the Sukta with one word of caution. I am no scholar in either Sanskrit or Rg Veda.


“In the beginning there was no asat (non- existent, un-manifest, non-being), nor was there any sat, being. Then, there was no earth, no sky. In that state, who (what) was covering what? And for what purpose? Was there deep water?             (Sloka/Stanza1)

There was no death; no immortality either; There was no means for finding out the difference between day and night. Not moved by any wind, it was breathing by its own power. There was nothing else.                                               (Sloka/Stanza 2)

Some say that there was darkness or there was water enveloped in darkness. But, that all powerful Brahman covered by Maaya came into manifestation by austerity and transformation from that one Brahman.                                                         (Sloka/Stanza 3)

The seed of the mind of this, which first came into existence, became desire (kaama) (to create the world). Great minds have seen that this is the initial relation between the sat (the manifest, the being) and the asat, the unmanifest Parabrahman.       (Sloka/Stanza 4)

A ray fell transversely between them. If you say It was below, It was also above. Some of these grew bigger pervading on one side by Its own prowess and pervading everything on the other side.                                                                                  (Sloka/Stanza 5)        

Who is there who can explain how the sat (the manifest) developed and from whom? Who knows for sure? Even the gods came only after the sat came into being? Then, who is to know from where it came?                                                               (Sloka/Stanza 6)

The adhyaksha (the Primordial One) may know how the development of the Sat came about or did not come about. Perhaps, even He may not know that!"             (Sloka/Stanza 7)

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