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Does Non-Existence Exist?
Ramji: Dear Kumari, it is indeed great to satsang with you. I am very impressed with your inquiry.
Kumari: While I say that I know I exist, and that existence cannot be anything but non-dual, thereby establishing my oneness with everything, I read your powerful statement in your exquisite commentaries on Narada Muni’s Bhakti Sutras that “You need to understand that you are the limitless self and that you are the love that creates, sustains and destroys the whole cosmos.” I now hear you saying that I should not automatically trust my feelings, and the logic you use makes perfect sense because so much of our beliefs and mental conditioning comes from a lifetime of having the wrong idea of who we are. I can see quite clearly that the disbelief obviously stems from taking myself to be an individual who very obviously did not create, sustain and destroy the WHOLE COSMOS. And I see quite clearly that awareful, non-dual existence is that without which I could not be me, nor without which could the ever-changing, incidental, mesmerizing body-mind-sense objects exist.
Ramji: If you take yourself to be an individual, by default you infer the existence of a container for the individual insofar as individuals don’t stand alone; they are completely dependent on their environment. But if there is no individual, just eternal existence appearing as individuals, then where is the cosmos? It too is borrowing its existence from existence itself. The statement “you are the love that creates the whole cosmos” is not ultimately true, because reality is non-dual, which precludes an independent cosmos. However, we cannot deny the existence of the cosmos, because it is established by perception and inference. We can deny its reality, however, because it is clear that it began and that it is subject to the inevitable end of all created objects. We can take the word of science on this point.
So how do we dismiss the cosmos? By inquiry. Did anyone ever actually experience “the cosmos”? To what does the word “cosmos” refer? We don’t have words for things that don’t exist. However, analysis of the cosmos, which is purely an object of thought, proceeds along the same lines that we use to dismiss any and all objects. We reduce the cosmos to its constituents, which is to say that we drill down into the elements until we arrive at existence/consciousness. The shirt reduces to cotton, cotton to atoms, atoms to mesons, mesons to quarks, quarks to bosons, bosons to space and space to consciousness because you can’t have a boson unless you have knowledge of it and you can’t have knowledge of any object without consciousness/existence. You can’t drill down any further, because existence stands alone; there is no second existence that can sublate it. Anything that does not stand alone is not real. Since there is only one existence/consciousness and you are existent and conscious, it stands to reason that the individual “you” is borrowing whatever reality it has from you, existence consciousness.
We can remove the cosmos in a simpler way. Gaudapada says that if something doesn’t exist before it is born and doesn’t exist after it dies, it doesn’t actually exist in between, although it seems (mithya) to. This is why the world is so crazy. Everyone thinks they are real and the world is real, but both the jivas and the world are only dream objects, as unreal as a mirage.
(Gaudapada’s whole argument is available in the eBook and video here.)
Vedanta provisionally accepts the cause-and-effect teaching, i.e. the idea that the self through the agency of Maya creates the cosmos, because it is just too much of a leap to accept the non-origination teaching. You don’t really need non-origination for moksa, however, because distinguishing yourself from your form, satya from mithya, is all that is required because once you know the difference, you won’t be seduced by mithya. Experience – feelings – are all mithya. This is why we shouldn’t trust them. This it not to say that we should deny them; it is impossible, because we are feeling something from womb to tomb, only keep them firmly in the seeming category to avoid the inevitable suffering that comes when we identify with them.
Kumari: Accepting the shastra’s statement that the universe depends on me – feels so weird to say it! – comes down, I am guessing, to the clear understanding of the nature of satya and the nature of mithya?
Ramji: Yes (see above).
Kumari: When it comes to “big” objects like “the whole cosmos,” I think my understanding of mithya gets fazed. It’s easy to recognise relatively transient objects, such as emotions, physical bodies, etc. as mithya, right? But what does “the whole cosmos” mean?
Ramji: The whole cosmos is transient too. It exists longer than feelings but it begins and ends. In any case, nobody worries about the end of existence, only the end of the body, about whose mortality there is no doubt. Accepting the mortality of something that is mortal is obviously a problem, but if you think about it, mortality implies immortality and immortality is immediately and always at hand as existence/consciousness, from which you are not separate. Sad to say, only a handful of people are willing to base their identity on knowledge derived from inquiry, so they stick with what they feel and worry endlessly and pointlessly, since the end they desire, an eternal body, is impossible logically and practically.
Kumari: Basically, I understand it to mean anything/everything with a form?
Ramji: Yes. The only things without a form is you. Forms present themselves to you as thoughts, which begin and end.
Kumari: And anything with a form implies it has “come into existence” or has been born or created as another separate thing, which cannot be real, because the thing cannot have its own separate existence, as existence cannot start and stop. Is this touching upon the teaching that the effect cannot be separate from the cause?
Ramji: Yes. If an effect is just the cause appearing as something other than the cause, there is no cause and effect. There is only the cause, which is to say that there is no cause, because cause implies effect. Sometimes the self is presented as the “causeless cause,” which gives a nod to the idea of cause and effect but still leaves the idea of duality. There is only you, existence/consciousness. If we take Maya into account, then this you is the substrate of your thoughts and feelings but it is unmodified by them. Only by knowing this can you free yourself of the experiencing entity. If you want to wait for Isvara to do it, you can count on a lot of worry till the day you die.
Kumari: I know that the scripture talks about pralaya – when the whole cosmos get resolved back into Bhagavan – but I can’t just believe this religiously. I have to know this for myself. As long as the belief remains that there is a big obect “out there,” there will be a little person “in here,” no?
Ramji: Yes, but you don’t have to know it for yourself. It is a matter of experience. You can trust science on this. People have a big problem with Vedanta because we dismiss the Creation and by inference the Creator, i.e. Maya. The Creation and the creature are not mutually exclusive; one implies the other. If you can dismiss one, the other falls.
Kumari: Space is the one that gets me. How do I know for myself that space is subject to change and therefore unreal? (I am not a physicist!) My reasoning has been that space does have attributes, though extremely subtle; it is “spatial” and allows dimensions to exist and allows one physical object to be here and another to be there. If I can find attributes, I can find duality and change and time, which are all the realm of mithya, even if I have never perceived a change in the object myself. Yes, I think that is the nub of it. There are the objects that I perceive as changing all the time, but the ones that seem eternal can seem to elude the logic.
Ramji: Yes, space is the most self-like object. It is often used as a symbol of the self. However, two facts negate it as reality. It is an object known to awareness and it is not self-knowing. As such it is dependent, which means that it is not real. It borrows whatever reality it has from existence itself.
Kumari: How am I doing here, Ramji?
Ramji: You’re doing great!!! I’ve got your enlightenment certificate in an envelope waiting for your address.
Kumari: Sandy and I are going over Gita, Chapter II, which is such a great one for satya/mithya, so that will be helping.
Ramji: Chapter II of Gaudapada’s karika – mithyatvam – is the last word on unreality of the individual and the cosmos.
Kumari: But it is so great to do this manana with you. I always feel like asking you a million-and-one things!
With inexpressible gratitude and much, much love, I am, as always, your own self.