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             Nature of Reality
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                           THE NATURE OF REALITY
   By Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna Centre, New York, USA.

As early as the Vedic times, the Rishis investigated the nature of reality from two levels of experience, one of which may be called the absolute, acosmic or transcendental level and the other relative, cosmic or phenomenal level. At the phenomenal level one perceives the universe of diversity and is aware of one's own individual ego, whereas at the transcendental level, the differences merge into an inexplicable non dual consciousness. Both of these levels of experience are real from their respective standpoints, though what is perceived at one level may be negated at the other.

Reality experienced at the transcendental level is called
BRAHMAN. This term denotes the non-dual PURE
CONSCIOUSNESS which pervades the universe yet remains outside it.(Just as the sun pervades all life on earth yet remains outside it). Brahman is described as the first principle; from it all things are derived, by it all are supported, and into it all finally disappear. In Brahman alone the apparent differences of the phenomenal world are unified. Brahman is identical with the self of man, known as atman.

The word ATMAN signifies the consciousness in man which
experiences gross objects during the waking state, subtle
objects during the dream state, and the bliss arising from
absence of the duality of subject and object in dreamless sleep.

The Upanishads speak of the transcendental Brahman as
devoid of qualifying attributes or indicative marks, and of the
phenomenal Brahman as endowed with them. The attributeless Brahman is called the supreme or unconditioned Brahman, and the other the inferior or conditioned Brahman.

When the sense perceived world is regarded as real, Brahman is spoken of as its omnipotent and omniscient Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. But when the world is not perceived to exist, as for instance in a deep meditation, then one experiences Brahman as the unconditioned Absolute; the idea of a Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, becomes irrelevant. The transcendental Brahman appears as the cause of the universe in association with maya, and becomes known as the conditioned Brahman or Brahman
with attributes, or by such other epithets as the Lord and the
personal God.

The unconditioned Brahman is free from the limiting adjuncts of space, time and causation.

In describing Brahman as infinitely great and infinitely small, the Upanishads only point out that it is absolutely spaceless. It is 'one and infinite: infinite in the east, infinite in the south......The SupremeBrahman is not to be fixed; it is unlimited, unborn, not to be reasoned about, not to be conceived.'

The Rishis often describe the unconditioned Brahman
as existence-Knowledge-Bliss pure and absolute. Existence,
Knowledge and Bliss are not attributes of Reality, they are its
very stuff. Brahman is Knowledge or intelligence. The identity
of Brahman and Atman or the Self , has been expressed in
the well known Vedic dictum 'THAT THOU ART'. The very
conception of Atman(Self) in the Upanishads implies that it
is the knowing subject within us. It is the inner Consciousness
and the real agent of perception, the senses being
instruments. The Upanishads repeatedly say the
realisation of the unconditioned Brahman is the supreme
purpose of life, because it bestows immortality.

From the relative standpoint, however, the Vedas concede
the reality of the phenomenal universe with all its limitations,
and of finite living beings, who need an object of prayer and
worship. A phenomenal creature needs a liberator, a saviour
to whom he can pray, a personal God, benign and
compassionate, to whom he can stretch out his hand for
succour in the hour of stress and trial. By means of its
inscrutable power called MAYA, the unconditioned Brahman
becomes the conditioned Brahman endowed with attributes
(eg. has four hands holding mace and discus, conch shell
and lotus etc.)- the personal God, always ready to bestow
His grace upon all who pray to Him in distress.

It is the conditioned Brahman (called ISHWAR), by whom the
universe has been created, and by whom, after being created, it is sustained and into whom in the end, it is absorbed. Creation, preservation and destruction are the activities of the conditioned Brahman or the personal God which can never affect His transcendental nature; they are mere waves on the surface of the ocean which cannot touch the serenity of its immeasurable depths.

According to the non-dualistic Vedanta, this conditioning of
Brahman is not real, but only apparent. The conditioned
Brahman is a part of the phenomenal world and appears to
be real as long as the universe is regarded as real. In the
infinite ocean of pure consciousness, He is the biggest wave.
But the unconditioned Brahman and the conditioned Brahman are not two realities. The wave is not essentially different from the ocean; the sea is the same sea, whether it is peaceful or agitated.

The conditioned Brahman is called ISHWAR (the Lord), because He is the all powerful Lord of all, the ruler of the universe. He, the Lord, is the bestower of blessings, the adorable God.

Vedanta philosophy often uses the word MAYA to describe
the creation. Maya, which is not essentially different from
Brahman, is the material cause, and Brahman, as pure
intelligence, is the efficient cause of the universe. After
projecting all material forms, Brahman enters into them as
life and consciousness and animates them. Thus Brahman,
which is transcendental, becomes immanent in the universe.

A unique manifestation of the conditioned Brahman is
the AVATAR or incarnation of God, to fulfil a cosmic
need whenever such a need arises.


LEVEL ONE                                                 LEVEL TWO

Absolute                                                           Relative
Acosmic                                                           Cosmic
Transcendental                                                  Phenomenal


At level one:                                                      At level two:

Differences merge into an                              One perceives the universe of
inexplicable non-dual consciousness.             diversity. Is aware of one's own
                                                                  individual Ego. 

In the Vedas, reality experienced at                The conditioned
transcendental level is called Brahman.           Brahman is called ISWAR (the
This term denotes a non-dual pure                  Lord). By means of its own
consciousness which pervades the                 inscrutable power called
universe and remains outside of it.                  MAYA, the unconditioned
                                                                  Brahman becomes the
                                                                   Conditioned Brahman endowed
                                                                   with attributes. Creation,
                                                                   preservation and destruction are
                                                                   the activities of the conditioned


The word Brahman denotes an                       The word Atman signifies the
entity whose greatness, powers                      consciousness in man which
of expansion no one can measure.                  experiences gross objects
The word ATMAN signifies the                        during the waking state, subtle
consciousness in man.                                  objects during the dream state,
Brahman is identical with the Self                   and the bliss arising from the
of man, known as ATMAN (the                       absence of duality of subject
embodied soul).                                            and object in dreamless sleep.                      

Level one-------------------------------------------------------    Level two---------------------------

The transcendental Brahman is                       Phenomenal Brahman is
devoid of qualifying attributes,                          endowed with attributes of
devoid of indicative marks, and                         indicative marks, is called
is called SUPREME or                                    inferior or conditioned Brahman.


Described as 'NOT THIS, NOT                         Described by such positive
THIS' (neti-neti) when the world                        statements as whose body is
is not perceived to exist, as for                        spirit, whose form is light,
instance in contemplation, then                       whose thoughts are true,
one experiences Brahman as the                     whose nature is like akasha
unconditioned Absolute. The idea                     (space), from whom all works,
of a creator, omnipotent and                            all desires, all odours proceed.
omnicient becomes irrelevant.                          When the sense-perceived
                                                                     world is regarded as real,
                                                                     Brahman is spoken of as its
                                                                     omnipotent and omnicient
                                                                     creator, and destroyer.

Level one----------------------------------------------------------Level two.......---------------------

One loses one's individuality in                         One worships the conditioned
the experience of the unconditioned                  Brahman in the ordinary state
Brahman.                                                        of consciousness. 
(It can be experienced)                                      (It can be experienced)


Unconditioned Brahman is indicated                  From the relative experience
by the Vedas as that 'from which all                   Brahman is described as the
speech, together with the mind, turns                cause of the universe. The
away, unable to reach it.                                   transcendental Brahman
It is unperceived (by any sense organ),               appears as cause of the
unrelated to (anything), incomprehensible           universe in association with
(to the mind), uninferable, unthinkable,               MAYA, and becomes known
indescribable.                                                  as the conditioned Brahman,
                                                                      or Brahman with attributes, or
                                                                      such other epithets as the Lord
                                                                      the personal God, saguna (with
                                                                      form) personified.      

The unconditioned Brahman is free
from the limiting adjuncts of space,
time and causation. Brahman is not
born, It does not die.


Brahman is unknown and unknowable.
To be known, a thing must be made an
object. Brahman as pure consciousness, is
the eternal subject, and therefore cannot
be made an object of knowledge.
Unconditioned Brahman is described as
existence-knowledge-bliss pure and absolute.
Existence,knowledge and bliss are not attributes
of Reality; they are its very stuff. Pure existence
is the same as pure knowledge and pure bliss.
Just as a mirage could not be seen without the
desert, which is its unrelated substratum, so also
the universe could not be seen if Brahman did
not exist as its substratum.

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