Friday, February 15, 2013

How come we see a changing world and not The Immutable Brahman?

Question: How come we see a changing world and not The Immutable Brahman?

ramesam:  The manifestation of the Non-dual, Attributeless, Immutable  and Eternal Consciousness (= Brahman) as the impermanent ever changing world (multiplicity) in a sense is an “explanatory gap” from a strict rationalistic point of view. Why the apparent world has that specific structural and textural variability as observed and did not arise in some other pattern (e.g. 'utopian' model or without the predator-prey struggles)  is, perhaps, the ‘weakest link’ in the Advaita siddhanta (theoretical framework).

Having said so, there are a number of ways to resolve the 
‘One --> many’ problem. I shall list here several metaphors just to answer the “appearance” of the world part without getting into the bigger questions related to why and how of “creation” itself (origin of the universe).

1.  Scriptural view: The Upanishads (e.g. Chandogya, Taittiriya) state that the undifferentiated changeless “That” desired to become ‘many.’ Because of the observed ‘change’ in the state, one may post facto deduce that a ‘power’ must have caused it. The name given to that power is mAyA. mAyA has no, ontologically speaking, independent existence. It is not ‘sat’ (real).  But it wrought a change. Hence it is not non-existent either.

In other words, it is the indefinable, not-real-but-also-not-unreal  power of mAyA that gives raise to the false appearance of the world.
This type of modification of the immutable Oneness into multiple forms is described by the scriptures as vivarta (Sanskrit word which can be translated as ‘changeless change’). The resultant product (appearance of the world) is placed in the category of real-unreal or mithya.

One can never locate or find an entity mAyA anywhere. The scriptures narrate through several stories the futility of searching for mAyA. Therefore, admittedly, ‘mAyA vAda’ is an explanatory artifact.

Ignorance on your part: The scriptures invoke ‘ignorance’ (avidyA) also to explain the manifestation of the variegated manifold. Ignorance arises with your forgetfulness. When a thought arises in you, you tend to forget your true nature and you will ‘run’ (metaphorically) with the thought. Thus you ‘ignore’ your True Self (of being Brahman). The ignorance tentatively, in effect, ‘veils’ what you truly are. When you forget thus who or what you truly are, you begin to see multiplicity instead of Oneness.

Other models: There are many other explanatory devices one comes across in the scriptures to elucidate the appearance of a world based on the concepts of ‘karma’ (as an effect of past actions), ‘divine play’ (a game played with no purpose), ‘anAdi’ (cyclic operation with no known point of origin) etc. etc. 

In Reality (with a capital ‘R’), the apparent world that is perceived is comparable to a dream. It lasts as long as the dreamer believes in it and does not wake up from his/her dream.  So the world is described to be no more than a “Flower in the sky” (gagana pushpa) or a “Castle in the air” (gandharva nagari).

What has to be fundamentally appreciated is the Advaitic philosophical truth that the very question of “why” (under the assumption that there has to be a preceding ‘cause’ for ‘what I see as a changing world’), makes the world to arise! In the absence of a ‘thinker’ asking such a question, ‘Whatever-Is-There’ simply IS. And that ‘Whatever-Is-There’ is Brahman. It is beyond the scope of the present space here to expand the intricate philosophical doctrine involved.

2.  “Throb in the Blob” Metaphor:  I proposed this metaphor in my Post of 23 Sep 2012 to answer essentially the same question but formulated slightly differently. 

Imagine a homogeneous isotropic indivisible infinite shapeless Blob that has awareness. Say a small throb occurs somewhere within it. The throb is a movement. The movement takes the shape of a wave with crests and troughs. Space is required for any movement to take place. Movement also necessarily involves time for the change of position from one place to the other. So along with the throb, space and time are simultaneously engendered.

Fig.1.  The mind and sensory organs act like a prism
in showing an illusory manifested manifold (After R. Spira, 2008).
As the Blob looks through the oscillatory movement (i.e. The Blob being aware, it is aware of itself), variegated, colorful and multiple shapes appear to it, much like the one uniform white light passing through a prism  gets refracted into multicolored spectrum. (See Fig. 1 and Fig. 2.)  Also bear in mind that all this is taking place somewhere within the Blob itself and not anywhere outside the Blob because there is no ‘outside’ to the Blob.  The ‘Beingness’ of the Blob gets refracted as space and ‘Eternity’ as time by the vibration. 

Fig. 2. Sensory Organs superimpose their own qualities
on to the Attributeless Consciousness (Visualization to R. Spira's explanation). 

In the above metaphor, the Blob is Brahman; the throb is a thought; and the colorful spectrum is the world. The ‘throb’ represents the thought of the “desire to see.”

The throb vibrates like a ripple. It raises and falls. With each rise of the thought, a world is generated. With each ending of the thought, the world is dissolved.

If there is no throb, there is no thought.
If there is no thought, there is no world.

The moment the throb (thought) rises, so does the world. The moment thought dissolves, the world too ends. Hence the appearance of the world happens from moment to moment.

Dennis Waite pointed out (in a private e-mail) that even language (when we try to communicate the Oneness) may act like a prism and create duality because language by its very structure is dualistic.

3.  The Computer Screen Metaphor:  Another good way to understand the multiplicity is the analogy with the computer screen.

Suppose there is a picture on the screen. When you look at the picture, apparently you see the colorful girl, the running water, green trees, red flowers etc.  But where is the screen? Has the screen disappeared anywhere? Whether it is the tree or flower or river, it is all screen only. At one pixel position, the screen takes the form of a flower and at another pixel it appears as river. But has it ever stopped being the screen whether you see a tree or water or whatever? Irrespective of the form it takes, it is always screen only. The picture on the screen temporarily veils the screen, but the screen does not disappear anywhere nor the screen stops being what it is. You are always and everywhere looking at the screen only unless you are absorbed in the content of the picture element forgetting the screen.

So also everything that appears is Brahman who tentatively appears at that point in that shape when you begin to look at things using your mind (and senses).
The everlasting screen is comparable to Brahman. If you ‘misidentify’ yourself with one of the characters on the screen or ‘non-apprehend’ the screen wherever you are, you do not see the screen, but you keep seeing the other picture elements. 

4.  The Forest and the Trees Metaphor: There is One Brahman alone and no second ‘thing’ (ekameva advitIyam). Therefore, Brahman has infinite freedom and none  who can impose restraints or controls on Brahman. So Brahman can appear in any form It chooses.
Then automatically it means whatever is appearing is Brahman only. So what you may call as the ‘world’ is nothing but Brahman. It cannot be any other thing!
Let me give you a small example. I say there is a man only here and nothing else.
But you may say, “I find two hands hanging down a torso which is standing precariously on two slender awkwardly shaped pillars. There is a round thing on the top of this structure with some holes, two small shiny moving balls covered by lids etc.  I see many things there but not a man.  Where is the man?”

The obvious thing is that you are looking at Brahman but you are fragmenting it into several parts and seeing the different parts. The entire thing is Brahman only. You are missing the wood for the trees!

Isavasa Upanishad says ‘isaavaasya midagam sarvam’ (what there is around is permeated by Brahman only), Chandogya Up. Says ‘neha nAnAsti kincana’ (there is no multiplicity here).

5.  The Eye can’t see itself:  You see with your eye; but the eye cannot see itself. Similarly, the seer can never become the seen. The moment a thing is ‘seen’, there has to be someone different there who is the seer. Right?

You are yourself Brahman (the Seer like the eye). Then how can you see yourself?
Let me give you an example. Suppose you are a drop of water. You want to find out what an ocean is. So as a drop of water you enter the ocean. What happens? Can the water drop see the ocean as a separate thing sitting out there away from itself? The water drop in the ocean loses its identity. It is as much the ocean as what is around.

Frustrating though it is, you (i.e. the one who thinks (s)he is this body-mind seeing a world out there using his sensory organs) can never see Brahman. He will see a world only.
In fact the sensory system of the human body is so built that it is sensitive to notice ‘change’ only. If there is no change, the neurons in the brain become ‘adapted’ and fail to perceive anything, (For example: have you been feeling the shirt on your back until I point out now to you?) 

6.  Looking makes the world to arise:  Brahman becomes the world the moment you look at It.

To look at a thing, you have to position yourself away from what you look at. That means you create space and distance between you and the thing you are looking at. That in turn means, you think that you are separate from the thing being looked at.

In other words, the sense of separation actually comes first and then you are able to look at a thing. When the sense of a separate ‘me’ here looking at a thing there arises, the ONE Brahman gets divided into two – “I” here and the “world” there. If there is no sense of separate ‘me’, there is no “I” here and a distant “world” there. All are One.

7.  Mind as Mirror:  Suppose you want to look at your face. How do you do it? You use a mirror. Without a mirror or some reflector, you cannot see your own face. Similarly, when Brahman gets a thought to look at itself, the ‘thought that I am separate’ comes. This ‘thought I am separate’ has the name ‘mind.’ Mind works as the mirror. So Brahman looking at himself through mind, sees his reflection – which is called the world.

The mind works with the assistance of the five senses. The five senses pass on their own qualities to what is observed (like colored filters painting their own color). As a result the one Brahman appears as multiplicity.

8.  Limitation of the Apparatus:  Suppose you are sitting in  a closed room and looking out through a small narrow window. Obviously then the view you get will be limited. It is so because of the inherent limitation or defects in the apparatus you are using to look at; but it is not a limitation of what is out there.  The mind and the sensory organs you use are inadequate to show the infinite Brahman and provide you fragmented views broken as per the senses – something visual, some part auditory, yet another part tactile and so on instead of the one “Whole.”  So you think what is seen is divided into parts attributing the limitation of the instruments of perception to what is seen.

A common example given in the Vedanta is appearance of ‘two moons because of defective vision in the eye’.  Though there is actually only one moon, a short-sighted man sees as if there is more than one moon in the sky. So your inability to perceive the unchanging Oneness of Brahman is because of the limitations of your mind and the sensory organs.

9.  The Moth and the Flame Metaphor: Thought is basically incapable wrapping itself around the conundrum of changing changelessness of Brahman like the proverbial moth rushing into the flame for a taste of it. The brilliant exposition of Rupert in this less than 8 min Video clip titled "Reality is neither Changing nor Unchanging" captures this well. 


Peter Francis Dziuban said...

Thank you very much ramesam for another of your as-usual insightful, articulate and creative posts. Here's to Blob-ness!

ramesam said...

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much for the kind words.

I am ever indebted to you for your teachings and blessings.