The BG 2.16 and The Three States (avasthAtraya)
In the Bhagavadgita chapter 2 the verse 16 reads:
नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सतः ।
उभयोरपि दृष्टोऽन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभिः ।।१६।।
Of the unreal there is no being; the real has no nonexistence. The nature of both these, indeed, has been realized by the seers of Truth.
This extremely significant concept can be seen to apply to our day to day experience of the three states. These states are the waking, dream and deep sleep. While the states keep alternating one after the other, each state, during its pendency, does not give room for the other two states. Thus, during the waking, the dream and sleep states are absent. During dream, the waking and sleep are not there and during sleep the waking and dream cease to be. This annulling of the states mutually is the proof of the truth enunciated in the first half of the verse: the unreal has no being. A question would arise, ‘how could it be said that the states get annulled mutually when they are experienced?’ The reply lies in recognizing that, firstly, the states themselves have a beginning and end. When the waking ends either dream or sleep occurs. When the dream ends there is either waking or sleep commencing. When sleep ends either waking or dream starts. There is the rule in the scriptures that whatever has a beginning and end is deemed to be not there before it commenced and after it ended. Thus, the waking was not there before the person wakes up and after the waking has given place to dream or sleep. This happens with the other two states too.The Bhagavatam teaches:
प्रत्यक्षेणानुमानेन निगमेनात्मसंविदा ।
आद्यन्तवदसज्ज्ञात्वा निःसङ्गो विचरेदिह ॥९॥ (uddhavagita 23.9 of the Advaita Ashrama edition)
Secondly, following from the mutual annulling of states, it is to be recognized that even while a state is experienced to be going on, actually it is not there. The rule is enunciated by Sri Gaudapadacharya in the mAnDUkya kArikA (2.6) that explains this maxim: anitya is asatya:
आदावन्ते च यन्नास्ति, वर्तमानेऽपि तत्तथा ।
वितथै: सदृशा: सन्तोऽवितथा इव लक्षिता: ॥ (२.६)
[That which does not exist in the beginning and in the end is equally so in the present (i. e in the middle). Though they are on the same footing with the unreal, yet they are seen as though real.]
The idea is: That which is not there before and after the appearing of the object/event, is deemed to be not there in the period of its appearing too. This amounts to saying: The object does not exist in all the three periods of time: past, present and future.
After having studied the first half of the first line of the Bhagavadgita verse we took up, let us look at the second half of the first line: na abhAvo vidyate sataH which means: there is no non-existence of the Real.
Even though the three states keep alternating, one giving place to the other, there is one entity that does not cease to be during any of the three states. It continues to be in all the three states despite the absence of each of the states while alternating. This feature is well experienced by all of us: I who slept well am now awake and working. I who had that pleasant dream am now recalling the dream events. It is evident that I who am awake will go to sleep. These experiences show that the I the experiencer, the witness of the three states have continued to exist in all the three states. This is our everyday proof of the Real not ceasing to exist at any point of time.
While such is the day to day experience, one can appreciate the validity of this twin-rule of the unreal not having a real existence and the real never ceasing to exist, by extending the feature to longer durations of time like a month, year, and even longer periods as brought out in this beautiful verse of the Pandhadashi:
नोदेति नास्तमेत्येका संविदेषा स्वयंप्रभा ।७।
nodeti nAstametyekA saMvideShA svayaMprabhA |7|
This Consciousness is One only through out the different months, years, yugA-s and kalpA-s in the past or in the future. It has no birth and no death. It is self-effulgent.
The appreciation of the above truth opens the door to the recognition of higher levels where this truth applies. That forms the topic of the Immutability of Brahman and the unreality of the not-brahman consisting of the world. In fact the mAnDUkya upanishad teaches exactly this. All the three states named jAgarita sthAnam, swapna sthAnam and suShupti sthAnam form the three pAda-s of Brahman while the Turiya which subsists through all these states and transcends them. The upanishad in the seventh mantra negates all the three states, which are actually the ‘world’ that is experienced during them, and holds out the Turiya as ‘prapanchopashamam’, free of the world. Shankara’s extremely significant comment to this word ‘prapanchopashamam iti jAgradAdisthAnadharma-abhAvaH uchyate’ [‘by the word ‘prapanchopashamam (free of the world) what is being conveyed by the mantra is: the absence/non-existence/unreality of the attributes of the states of waking etc.’] This shows that the states of waking etc. are the ones that constitute the world and apart from the three states there is no such thing called the world. This mantra is denying the existence of the world by that word ‘prapanchopashamam’ . Thus, the three states that are the projection of the jiva are nothing but the projection of the world by the jiva who is in truth Brahman, the Consciousness. The Pure Consciousness, free of the projections and the projector is what the seventh mantra specifies as ‘shAntam, shivam, advaitam, AtmA.’ This is what is conveyed by the BG 2.16 in the words ‘na abhAvo vidyate sataH’. The non-existence of the prapancha, the three states, is what is denoted by the words ‘na asataH vidyate bhAvaH’. Hence the immense utility of the study of the BG 2.16 and the three states. The Upanishad teaches that absence not just from the individual standpoint, vyaShTi, but also from the cosmic, total, standpoint, samaShTi. So, the prapancha, in the form of the three states, is a projection both from the individual and the cosmic standpoints.
Om Tat Sat