Life Divine Chapter I & II (Dec 1996) - Track 203

Sri Aurobindo describes his experience in this chapter; if you read this paragraph loudly we shall get the description of that experience.

“For at the gates of the transcendence stand that near and perfect spirit described in the Upanishad luminous pure sustaining the world inactive in it without sinews of energies, without flow of duality, without scar of division, of relation and of multiplicity. The pure self of the Adaivatins the inactive Brahman the transcendent Silence and the mind when it passes those gates suddenly without intermediate transitions seems the essence of the unreality of the world and the sole reality of the Silence which is one of the most powerful and convincing experiences of which the human mind is capable.”

This is experience that one gains and based upon this experience which has been described in the Upanishads, Shankara builds up his entire philosophy. This philosophy has two layers – the intellectual layer and the spiritual layer. So let me first of all expound to you the intellectual layer of his philosophy. According to Shankara this world that we see is intellectually impossible; rationally it is impossible it is impossible for it to exist. This world is a world of change. Now change implies the cause and effect relationship. Every effect must be contained in the cause. If it is not contained in the cause then from where does it come? It can’t come out of nothing because nothing comes out of nothing, so it must be coming out of the cause. If it comes out of the cause then it is identical with the cause, if it is identical with the cause, what is it that makes it different from the cause? There is nothing which makes it different from the cause therefore effect cannot come out of the cause. On the one hand effect must be in the cause; on the other hand if it is in the cause it must be one with the cause, if it one with the cause then what is it one with the cause what is it that makes it different from the cause. There is nothing that makes it different from the cause therefore it is not different from the cause. Therefore effect as an effect, effect as a change is an impossibility. The world therefore it is supposed to be an effect of a reality, of the cause is an impossibility this is the basic argument intellectually which says the world that we see is a world of change, the world that we see is a world of effects which must have a cause. If it has a cause it must be existing in the cause, if it exists in the cause it must be one with the cause, if it is one with the cause, what is it that makes it different from the cause ‒ there is nothing therefore it cannot be different from the cause. If it is not different from the cause then it is not changed therefore the change is an impossibility or it’s an illusion. So this is his basic intellectual argument. The same thing can be argued in regard to the world as a matter of quality. It may be argued that the world is nothing but quality, whatever you are experiencing is nothing but some kind of quality. Now quality cannot exist by itself, you consider any quality; you will find that quality must belong to some substance.

Now therefore the quality must be in the substance. If it is in the substance it must be identical with substance then what is it that makes it different from the substance? Nothing, therefore it must be one with the substance therefore quality as different from the substance cannot exist; therefore the world does not exist. The world of qualities does not exist. The cause, substance must be quality less. The cause which is the cause of the whole world must be a substance which is absolutely quality less. His conclusion was that all quality, all relationship, all movement, all change, which we call the world, is impossibility and somehow it appears to us before our eyes. Therefore he was obliged to say that this world which cannot exist somehow seems to exist unaccountably. You cannot give any reason as to how and why it came into existence but really doesn’t exist, it only seems to exist it is only an appearance.

Now if you ask them that even as an illusion how does it come into existence, even if you grant that this world is an illusion how does it at all come into existence even as an appearance, even as an illusion. For that purpose he gives us two or three analogies which are very powerful. One analogy is that of a dream. Just as a human being in his dream consciousness sees so many objects but on opening his eyes and awakened condition they all disappear. Similarly we are today in a dream state all of us according to him and therefore we see all these articles, all the objects of the world. But when we become awakened then you find there is nothing of the kind at all only stillness and silence. The entire world of change, causality, quality, movement all ceases like a dream it vanishes.

Question: How can you define quality in this context?

Answer: (French)

So the second analogy is the analogy of the perception of the snake in a rope. Supposing you are walking and from far you see a rope but being its similarity with snake somehow, sometime you may say: Oh! There is a snake. When you come very near it then you find Oh! This is only a rope. So suddenly you find the whole idea of snake disappears, it was not there at all, even originally it was not there it was only a rope. Even when you thought it was a snake it was a rope and now also you discover it was a rope therefore temporary perception of a snake was only illusory. So according to Shankara this world is only in the mind, it’s only in your mind it doesn’t exist there that is what he calls the cause of this false perception, he says it is ignorance. It is what he calls Avidya, Avidya means Vidya means knowledge, Avidya means ignorance; vidya is knowledge Avidya is ignorance, not knowledge. This world is a result of ignorance.  The third analogy that he gives is that of the illusion of the colour of a white marble, colour of the white marble as red because of the flower which is red which is lying on it. If there is a marble which is purely white but on it you put a red flower the reflection of red flower falls upon that marble and then you say that is red marble. Actually it is a white marble which seems to be red because of the association of the red flower on it. So when you withdraw the red flower from it and the reality of the marble, the whiteness of it becomes evident. Similarly this world is like the red flower on the reality which is absolutely white, which is absolutely without any stain whatsoever, no change, no quality, nothing of the kind and when this illusion disappears you will see the whiteness of the reality. These are the three analogies that Shankara gives to indicate to us as to how and why this world which really cannot exist, which really does not exist, yet appears to exist.