Being mindful of the real and the unreal
- One of seven Great Contemplations or Mahavakyas, excerpted from the
approximately 14-page article:
Brahma satyam jagan mithya
Brahman is real; the world is unreal
(The absolute is real; the world is unreal or only relatively real)
THE GREAT UTTERANCES: The Mahavakyas are the Great Sentences of
Advaita Vedanta, and are contained in the Upanishads. Maha is Great,
and Vakyas are sentences, or utterances for contemplation. They
provide perspective and insights that tie the texts together in a
cohesive whole. The contemplations on the Mahavakyas also blend well
with the practices of yoga meditation, prayer, and mantra, which are
ROOT OF THE WORD BRAHMAN: The word brahman comes from the root brha
or brhi, which means knowledge, expansion, and all-pervasiveness. It
is that existence which alone exists, and in which there is the
appearance of the entire universe.
NOT SUBJECT TO CHANGE: Brahman means the absolute reality, that which
is eternal, and not subject to death, decay, or decomposition. In
English, we speak of omnipresence or oneness. This is the principle
of the word brahman.
BRAHMAN IS REAL: The way in which brahman is real is like saying that
the clay in a pot is real, or the gold in a bracelet is real
(metaphorically speaking). The idea is that first there was clay and
gold, and when those changed form, there now appears to be a pot and
THE WORLD IS UNREAL: However, when the pot is broken, or the bracelet
is melted, there is once again only clay and gold. It is in that
sense that the pot and the bracelet are not real; they come and go
from manifestation. They are not as real as are the clay and the
gold. (Remember that these are metaphors, and that obviously, we
could also say that clay and gold also come and go, such as when
planets are born and die from the nuclear fire of suns. Also, note
that using the English words real and unreal for the Sanskrit words
satyam and mithya, are not perfect, but they are the best we have to
SOMETHING IS MORE REAL THAN THE TEMPORARY: In saying that the world
is unreal, it means to say that literally everything we experience in
the external world is, like the pot and the bracelet, in a process of
coming, being, and going (so too with all of the objects of the
subtle realm). If the Mahavakya stopped there, this might appear to
be a negative, or depressing comment. But it does not stop there. It
makes the added comment that this absolute reality is, in a sense,
more real than the temporary appearances.
TWO POINTS: Thus, the Mahavakya does two major things:
REMINDER OF THE TEMPORARY: First, it serves as a reminder of the
temporary nature of the worldly objects.
REMINDER OF THE ETERNAL: Second, it serves as a reminder that there
is an eternal nature, that is not subject to change.
AN INVITATION TO KNOW: In these reminders there is an invitation to
come to know, in direct experience, the existence, consciousness, and
bliss that is this eternal essence of our being.
DON'T STOP LIVING IN THE WORLD: When practicing contemplation with
this, and the other Mahavakyas, it is important to not allow the
reflection that the world is unreal to stop you from doing your
actions in the external world. To think that the world is unreal, and
therefore we need not do anything is a grave mistake. The realization
of the unreality of the world and the reality of the essence behind
the world brings freedom, not bondage or lethargy.
WHAT TO DO: The purpose of contemplation and yoga meditation
exercises is to attain Self-realization, or enlightenment, which has
to do with knowing or experiencing the deepest, eternal aspect of our
own being. By working with this Mahavakya, one increasingly sees the
difference between what is temporary and what is eternal.
BE MINDFUL OF PASSING OBJECTS: One way to work with this Mahavakya,
is to simply be mindful of the world around you. Gradually, gently,
and lovingly observe the countless objects that are ever in a process
of coming and going.
REMEMBER THE ETERNAL: Allow yourself to also remember the eternal
nature that is always there, enjoying the beauty of how this process
ebbs and flows through that unchanging, eternal essence.
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR OWN TEMPORARY AND ETERNAL: As you witness the
external world in this way, allow your attention to shift to your own
physical, energetic, and mental makeup. Gradually comes the insight
that these more surface aspects are also temporary, and in a sense,
are also unreal, or only relatively real. It increasingly allows the
mind to see that there is an eternal aspect of our being, and that
this is actually the source of the mind itself. The mind comes to see
that it must, itself, let go, so as to experience the eternal that is
PRACTICE THIS AT DAILY MEDITATION TIME: By observing the world in
this way, it is then easier to do the same kind of silent observation
and contemplation while sitting in the stillness of your meditation
time. Over time, the depth of the insights increase, as an inner