Posted by: adbhutam | June 2, 2011

Can an Unreal object produce an effect?

श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः 

The following remark supplies the material for this post:

// Moreover, the objects in this world and its experiences satisfy   human ends i.e. arthakriyakAritva. 
Unreals cannot satisfy us. They are non-existent. //    sourced from the following URL:

 From the above remark it is clear that according to the Dvaitin:
  1. An unreal object is the same as a non-existent object
  2. If there is arthakriyAkAritva then the object must be admitted to be real.

The BhAgavatam  proves these assumptions/beliefs wrong. In Chapter 23, verse 5 of the ‘UddhavagItA’, the BhAgavatam says:

छायाप्रत्याह्वयाभासा हि असन्तः अपि अर्थकारिणः
एवं देहादयः भावाः यच्छन्ति आमृत्युतः भयम्॥५॥

//A reflection, an echo, and an illusive appearance (like the appearance of silver in nacre), even though unreal, produce some effect.  So do things like the body etc., cause fear till death.//

In the above statement the Lord teaches that ‘though unreal’ , asantaH, there is seen to be some or the other ‘effect’ produced by them.  In the same way the body, etc. though unreal, produce the fear called samsara.  And this fear lasts till one realizes that they are unreal.  What is important in the verse is that the Lord holds that ‘even unreal objects have ‘arthakriyAkAritvam’ (utility).  There is no rule that an object, if it has utility, should be absolutely real.  One fine example for this we have seen in recent times is the ‘gumma’ of the song/s of Purandaradasa. The Bhaagavatam is teaching that the ‘objects like the body etc.’ are unreal.  From the word ‘bhAvaaH’ we have to take the entire objective world which the body-mind-instruments experience.  In effect, the entire kShetram is to be included in this category.

That ‘gumma’ has utility is not in doubt; it is proved in the song where the Lord, as a baby, complies with the mother’s requirements/stipulations.  So, gumma has ‘arthakriyAkAritvam’ (utility).  Yet, is gumma a real entity? No, for the other song proves this:  The Lord declares that He has searched the whole of the universe and not found gumma anywhere.  This example proves that ‘असत् चेत् न प्रतीयेत’ ‘If a thing is absolutely non-existent like a hare’s horn, it would not be experienced/produce any utility.  On the other hand, if it is ‘sat’, absolutely real, it would not get sublated: सत् चेत् न बाध्येत. Neither sat nor asat, such an object is ‘unreal’, mithyA, sad-asad-vilakShaNam. So we have a modified definition:

अर्थक्रियाकारित्वे सति, प्रतीयमानत्वे सति, बाध्यमानत्वं मिथ्यात्वम् । Despite being experienced and despite being endowed with utility, getting sublated upon enquiry, is the character of an unreal, mithyA, vastu.

It is also to be noted that the word ‘asat’ is used in Vedanta in different senses depending upon the context.  The word could mean ‘atyanta abhAva vastu’ like the hare’s horn/vandhyAputra, etc.  It could also mean a mithyA vastu of the above definition as for example when used in the BhagavadgItA 2.16: न असतो विद्यते भावो …where even the word ‘bhaavaH’ takes the meaning of ‘absolute existence without getting sublated’.  We can also see the word ‘asat’ being used in the sense of mithyA vastu alone in the above BhAgavatam verse too: asantaH (in plural).

MAyA / prakRti /avidyA though belonging to this asat/mithyA category does possess utility.  Since it is made of the three guNa-s: sattva, rajas and tamas, the utility is also of these categories. It is mAyA/prakRti that produces samsara consisting of sukha and duHkha and it is the very same mAyA/prakRti, through the sattva guNa, is responsible for jnAna and mokSha too.  Thus mAyA/prakRti though experienced (प्रतीयमानत्वे सति), though possessed of utility (अर्थक्रियाकारित्वे सति) is seen to be sublated through knowledge (बाध्यमानत्वम्). Gumma was experienced (the fear it produced is the proof of its being experienced), produced effects/utility (compliance/obedience is the proof for utility) and yet upon growing up/searching is sublated (not there to be identified as ‘this is the gumma that produced fear/utility’).

In fact Vedanta goes a step further to fine-tune the above definition to say: Everything that is experienced as an object, producing utility/effect, is for that very reason unreal, mithyA.  This is the definition that we derive from the above quoted bhAgavatam verse.  SvarUpa jnAnam, Brahman, Consciousness, does not fall under this category.  For It is not ‘experienced’ as an object; It is the very subject and It does not produce any utility whatsoever.  And It never gets sublated. We shall see in later posts verses from this very chapter many other dimensions of these concepts.

Most importantly the above verse is the validation of Shankara’s assertions in the Brahmasutra bhashya  about the fact of ‘an unreal object producing a real/cognizable/non-trivial effect’.

Of special significance is the BhAgavatam listing commonplace phenomena like a reflection/shadow, echo as ‘unreal’, ‘asat’, mithyA.  The article cited above too lists a number of such phenomena.

We can also appreciate the fact that GaudapAdachArya has discussed these very things like ‘utility’, ‘experienceability’, etc. as grounds for determining the waking world to be on a par with the dream world. One can see this discussion in the mAnDUkya kArika-s 2.7, 9,14,15 in particular and in all those verses from 2.7 through 15 in general for appreciating the BhAgavatam verse quoted above.  In fact it looks like the kArika-s are an elucidation of this cited verse of the BhAgavatam.

To conclude, the BhAgavatam verse cited above is a fine scriptural testimony to the fact of  ‘असतः (मिथ्यावस्तुनः) साधकत्वम् (अर्थक्रियाकारित्वम्)’.  One must note carefully that the word ‘asat ‘ here does not mean that category under which a hare’s horn, etc. are included, where of course there is no sAdhakatvam because of their impossibility of prateeyamAnatvam. The word asat here means mithyA objects like for example a picture, the shape of lines to denote a sound through a letter of the alphabet.

In the category of ‘asatya vastu’ that produces a valid effect, in other words असतः साधकत्वम् , here is another set of examples:

//Latitude and longitude are the basic tools of map-making. They are the language used by mapmakers to communicate accurately about the locations of the various places on planet earth. Latitude and longitude are imaginary lines traced on the surface of the earth for the purpose of locating a specific place.//

// On the map shown, and for that matter on all other maps, the Arctic Circle, Antarctic Circle, Equator, Prime Meridian, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn are imaginary lines. //

// In simpler language, the Equator is an imaginary line on the Earth’s surface equidistant from the North Pole and South Pole that divides the Earth into a Northern Hemisphere and a Southern Hemisphere. The equators of other planets and astronomical bodies are defined analogously. //

(see this URL for the ‘purpose/use’ of the Equator)

We can express area in square feet or square meters or hectares/cents/acres, etc.  All these units of measurement of area are ‘anavasthA’, that is, have no ‘absolutism’ while the area is the same in whatever units it is expressed.

The same with the measurement of volume.  We have pints/ounces/gallons/litres etc.

About weight of an object too, while the weight remains the same the expressions vary with kilograms/pounds etc.

With heat it is F or C.  There are many other things in the above category where the ‘content’ is ‘real’ but the ‘container’ is ‘unreal’.

While the language, for example the adherence to PANini, might remain the same, the script through which it is written can vary.  It is very unlikely that Shankaracharya wrote the commentaries in the same script that we are reading them today.  Even in our own lifetimes the very devanAgari script has undergone changes with respect to certain letters.  Tamil and Malayalam letters too have undergone changes in the recent past.  It is these that have been categorized as unreal, anRtam, by Shankaracharya while He said in the BSB 2.1.14:

तथा अकारादि-सत्य-अक्षर-प्रतिपत्ति

र्दृष्टा रेखानृताक्षरप्रतिपत्तेः ।

//Also, the knowledge of the ‘real’ letters/sounds like ‘a’ is seen to be acquired through the ‘unreal’ letters (script) written by the use of lines (curved, straight, etc.).//

An explanation to the above is:
(रेखासु अकारत्वादिभ्रान्त्या सत्या अकारादयो ज्ञायन्त इति प्रसिद्धम् )
[It is well known that the sounds ‘a’ etc. are known through the ‘delusion’ with regard to the ‘lines/scripts’ that they themselves are the sounds.]

Thus there is the fundamental sound that is ‘real’.  But the line/figures that represent that ‘real’ sound is ‘unreal’.  Why? The sound does not change but the method/medium through which it is expressed can/does change over a period of time and across different languages thus proving that there is no finality, absolutism, with regard to them. The ‘same’ (‘real’) ‘bhavAnyaShTakam’ can be written in different (‘unreal’) languages/scripts Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, etc.

It is in this sense that the BhAgavatam says that unreal objects too generate utility.  So we have

(1) natural ‘unreal’ objects like a shadow, a reflection, an echo, appearances like the sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moon
set, the earth appearing to be static to those who dwell here though ‘really’ the earth is in constant motion and
(2) manmade ‘unreal’ ‘imaginary’ objects like the latitudes/longitudes, weights and measures, scripts for expressing sounds, etc. all of which have some or the other utility.  This is the असतः साधकत्वम् the scripture (bhAgavatam) and Shankaracharya point out to.

The example given in the scripture is aimed at teaching that the entire kShetram, the created universe, is only an expression of the Truth, Brahman.  The ‘total’ utility, the परमप्रयोजनम् of the unreal kShetram is to inform us about the real kShetrajna, Brahman/Atman.

The kShetram has प्रतीयमानत्वम्, अर्थक्रियाकारित्वम् and बाध्यमानत्वम् .  The last verse of the 13th chapter of the BhagavadgItA (भूतप्रकृतिमिक्षं च ) is the proof for this.

The srImadbhagavatam has one more verse where the concept of ‘असतः साधकत्वम्’ is taught:
In the uddhavagita chapter 24 verse 22 the Lord says:

एषा बुद्धिमतां बुद्धिः मनीषा च मनीषिणाम् ।
यत्सत्यमनृतेन इह मर्त्येनाप्नोति माऽमृतम् ॥

//Herein lies the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the intelligent, that in this very birth they attain Me, the Real and Immortal, by means of something that is unreal and mortal.//

By unreal and mortal is meant the human body-mind complex.  With this as the means one puts the effort and attains the goal of the Real and Immortal.

Although unreal, the body serves to attain the real, the Atmatatvam.  Actually, Atman is not ‘attained’ but only the ignorance that separates one from his Atman-nature is what is dispelled.  And in this process, the body, the very product of avidya, is used to grow out of ignorance.  Thus, the sAdhakatvam of an asadvastu, the body, is taught by the Lord.  We have seen elaborately the Shankara bhashyam in connection with this concept.

As a corollary, the Lord is also teaching that unreal, asatya, and mortal, anitya, are the same. In the manner of Shankara’s bhashya, anityatva being a characteristic of anything that is sa-avayava, is vikAri and therefore not real.  That which is satya cannot and does not undergo changes.  His famous definition of satyatvam is:

यद्रूपेण यन्निश्चितं तद्रूपं यन्न व्यभिचरति, तत् सत्यम् ।  यद्रूपेण यन्निश्चितं तत् तद्रूपं व्यभिचरति, तदनृतमित्युच्यते । अतो विकारोऽनृतम्, ’वाचारंभणं विकारो नामधेयं मृत्तिकेत्येव सत्यम्’, एवं सदेव सत्यम् इत्यवधारणात् ।

//As for satyam, a thing is said to be satyam, true, when it does not change the nature that is ascertained to be its own; and a thing is said to be unreal when it changes the nature that is ascertained to be its own.  Hence a mutable thing is unreal, for in the text, ‘All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only.  Clay as such is the reality.’ (Chandogya Up. 6.1.4), it has been emphasized that, that alone is true that Exists (Ch.Up. 6.2.1)

Also in the commentary to the Gita verse 2.16, the Acharya says:

यद्विषया बुद्धिर्न व्यभिचरति तत्सत्, यद्विषया व्यभिचरति तदसत् …।

[That is said to be Real, of which our consciousness never fails; and that Unreal, of which our consciousness fails.]

Please also visit the following URLs for additional reading on the subject:


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