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Saturday, December 18, 2021

Satyam, Asatyam and Mithya

 I have written about my understanding of satya and mithya – which I translate in English into Truth and Relative Truth – in several posts in the past. In the present post, I wish to go a little deeper. The stimulus for this attempt is my recent reading for the nth time of Kanchi Periyaval’s lectures.

The word mithya was introduced by Adi Sankara. He acknowledged Truth as Absolute Truth (satyam) and its opposite asatyam, non-existent truth, which is obviously untruth, a lie. He compares asatyam to a horse’s horn, which, of course, does not exist.

Adi Sankara divides Truth into three varieties. One is the absolute truth, eternal, ever-present  satyam. Then comes relative truth or phenomenal truth, true from one point of view and not true from another point of view. This is vyavaharika satyam. The root word vyavahara captures the essence since this point of view is necessary for day-to-day transactions (vyavahara) in this world.

The third variety is called pratibhasika satyam by Adi Sankara. In English, let me call it Reflected Truth or a Mirage. The example given by Sankara is the way a piece of metal may look like a coin when light reflects off it at a particular angle. When approached closer the coin disappears but the metal which was the base for the misunderstanding remains. The other example is a piece of rope mistaken for a snake in darkness. Once a light is brought in, the snake “disappears”and the root cause of that false impression is left behind.

Satyam is True always. Vyavaharika satyam and pratibhasika satyam appear to be true and disappear when the basis of their relative truth is realized. These two categories are referred to as mithya by Adi Sankara. Asatyam is not true ever. 

The false impression due to Vyavaharika satyam is cleared when the permanence behind the ever-changing is recognized. The false impression due to pratibhasika satyam is cleared when one obtains true knowledge or attains gnana. In both these situations, the absolute truth is the basis (aadhara) for whatever appears to be true to our perception due to our projecting or hoisting (aarobhyam) something else on it.

The mechanism behind this mistaken belief due to mithya is called maya by Adi Sankara. Maya is, of course, is an activity of Brahman if you believe in Nirguna Brahman with no form.  If your belief system suggests Saguna Brahman with a form and a name called Iswara, the word lila is used instead of maya.

(If anyone finds errors in my understanding, please feel free to suggest corrections)


1 comment:

Kannan said...

I agree with you. Our Guru would repeat this subject often in his Vedantha classes.

"Vyavaharikta satyam has utility in vyavaharika plane. Therefore it has beauty, variety and novelty to suit different categories of people. But it does not have dependability.

Example is a cardboard chair. It is beautiful, has various forms and changes to contemporary style.

Enamoured by these qualities, forgetting it's a cardboard chair, if one tries to sit on the chair, 'fall' is assured.

So be wise to use vyaavahaarika satyam, avoid praathibaasika satyam and depend only on paaramaarthika satyam."