Absolute and relative reality – Satya and Mithya

Satya, Asatya and Mithya are three categories of reality as per Vedanta.

1). What is Satya or Sat ?

Satya or Sat means real. What exists in past, present and future is called Sat.  In our own experience  “I AM” or I exist is my experience in past present and future. Hence “I AM” is sat.

I exist during my waking, dreaming and deep sleep conditions. Hence “I AM” sat.

2). What is Asatya or Asat

What does not exist at any point of time is called asat.  For example horns of a rabbit. It is impossible to see a rabbit with horn at any point of time. Another example is child of a barren woman.

3). What is Mithya ? 

Mithya is unreal. Unreal is not false. What is not real but not false is called unreal.

Unreal exists during some point of time. But it is not existing all three periods – past, present and future. For example : Mirage in desert. Mirage appears to exist till we examine it closely.

Another example is world I see.

  • World appears in my waking state but disappears in my deep sleep state.
  • World is constantly changing. “I AM” the witness of the world never changes. Hence I AM is sathya and world is mithya.

Aitadaatmyamidam sarvam tat satyam,
Sa aatma tat tvam asi, Svetaketo iti, – Chandogya Upanishad

The essence of whole universe the very existence principle – you Shwetaketu. 

“I AM” Brahman is the essence of the entire universe.

  • Gold ornaments – Forms can change. Bangles can be made into chain and vice versa. Ornaments are mithya. Gold is sathya.

4). Why mithya is called anirvachaniyam ?

Anirvachaniyam means what you cannot speak of in definite terms.  Let us take following examples.

  • Mirage in desert appears to be there. Is it sat – real ? No. It disappears on closer examination. Is it asat ? No. Since it appears for some point of time. Hence we cannot say anything about it. It is anirvachaniyam
  • World appears in my waking state, disappears in my dream state. It keeps changing all the time. Hence it is anirvachaniyam.
  • Shri Prakashatma yati gives one more definition for the world.

Neha naanasti  kinchana – Kathopanishad

There is no duality whatsoever.

The world is superimposition on Brahman. Brahman is not available for sense organs and hence can not be seen. I am perceiving the world. There is nothing real here other than “I am” non dual SELF.  Hence the world is mithya.

5).  Is world unreal from the point of Advaita ? 

     World is considered as mithya from point of view of Advaita. Mithya does not mean non-existent or false. Mithya means appearance depending on frame of reality.  For example let us take water. Depending on frame of reference, water has following connotations. 

  • River
  • Molecules of H2 and Oxygen
  • Atoms of  Oxygen and Hydrogen
  • Sub atomic particles
  • Energy

All the above are true from respective frame of reference. The perception can happen with different frames of reference.   Non of them is absolutely true. Names given can vary depending on frame of reference. Names vary but the substratum does not vary. From absolute perspective water is Brahman only.  All others are name and forms of Brahman only. The unchanging substratum is Brahman.

Another example we can take.  Take piece of cloth.  Cloth is mithya while thread is Satya. At next level, thread is mithya, cotton is Satya. Cotton is mithya and Brahman is Satya.

6).  Everything being mithya why does Advaitin drink coffee not poison ?

Advaita does not mean non-discrimination.  Even though both poison and coffee are made up of atoms and molecules depending on frame of reference, he will chose coffee not poison using discrimination.

Shri Ramkrishna Paramahamsa used to say both cow and tiger are Brahman only. However, you will do namaskaram for  cow from near and namaskaram for tiger from a distance.

7). How does enlightened one deal with mithya ?

      On enlightenment, the world does not disappear for jivanmukta. Objects of world are available for sense perception.  However, jivanmukta is aware of mithyatva of objects.  While all objects are Brahman in absolute perspective (paramarthika) , from relative perspective (vyavaharika) they appear in different name and form.  When the mind rushes to give a name and form for a object, jivanmukta understands all frames of reference are arbitrary and does not cling to any particular frame of reference. He sees Brahman only. Being non attached to any particular frame of reference, he can chose any frame of reference with total freedom of a jivanmukta. Being established in Brahman jivanmukta rides the waves of maya. Hence behavior of different jnanis varies. Some may become kings, some may become monks, some may stay in palace, some may stay in mountains.

8). How Satya and mithya are related ? 

The question of Satya and mithya can come only in the domain of relative (vyavaharika) plane. Satya can be discussed only in mithya plane. While mithya depends on Satya, Satya depends on mithya. Even shruti is in the domain of mithya.

Without mithya sathya will be absolute reality – where there is no world, no objects, no bondage and no liberation. This will lead to ajativada ( no creation).






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