In this answer and in the answer that followed the Maharshi was gracious enough to point out a mistake in my treatment of the subject by showing me how I had based my arguments on a wrong presumption. He explained to me the correct viewpoint at some length. My purpose in writing that book was to prove that the concept of maya as propounded by Sankara is fully borne out by the modern theory of relativity. This theory, as is well known, maintains that time and space are purely relative notions dependent entirely on the conventions governing the observer and the object under observation, and that there is no such thing as objective space and time. When two observers, taking different positions in space, observe a particular event, they obtain different time-space measures that will conflict with each other and necessarily vitiate any conclusion they may arrive at concerning the particular event. Sri Maharshi pointed out to me that the very presumption of two observers being situated at two given points is itself an unwarranted one. It was a revelation to me that Sri Maharshi could judge off-hand, as it were, such modern theories as that of relativity, proceeding entirely on the basis of his own experience of the absolute.
Verse sixteen of Sat Darshana clearly declares Sri Maharshi’s views on space and time:
Where is space without me, where is time? The body exists in space and time, but no body am I. Nowhere am I, in no time; yet I am everywhere and in all time.
This is the perfect spiritual experience that dispels all false notions about time and space. Time is not an objective reality with a beginning and an end. The very idea of attributing a beginning or an end to time is something absurd and fantastic, since what preceded and followed the beginning and end of time must also come within the time span. The approach to the problem of time as described by verse sixteen does away with past and future, the only reality being the eternal present. But such a description of the one reality as the ever-present and changeless Self demands of the earnest seeker the faith and conviction that the realisation of his perfection must be here and now and not in some remote future. Moralists never tire of pointing to some distant future as the golden age to come, preceded by a long period of evolution. But all evolutionary theories require a uniform, objective time. According to both Vedanta and modern science, there cannot be an objective time. The theory of relativity has finally demolished it. To try to build a theory of evolution conflicting with the established data of science and alien to the upanishadic conclusions as expressed by the mahavakyas may be more unhelpful than edifying.
And now, as previously promised, I should like to record some of Sri Maharshi’s very interesting answers to various questions about the reality of the world. They are not part of a continuous dialogue, for I jotted the answers down at different times. Some of the questions were my own, but most were raised by fellow visitors to the ashram.
Q: Is the world real or false?
M: So long as there is mind, the world is there. During sleep there is no mind, so the world is not there.
Q: While I am sleeping, other people who are awake continue to see the world.
M: The people who are awake at that time are part of the world [whose existence you are trying to prove], so what they say cannot be taken as a piece of admissible evidence. At that time [when you are asleep] it [first] has to be proved whether or not other people exist. That which has to be proved cannot be taken for granted as existent. Their existence has to be proved independently, but such a proof cannot be found. Those who are awake have minds that are moving; that is why they see the world. So, the world exists in relation to the mind. It is not a thing independent and existing by itself.
Q: What is the relationship between maya, the power that makes us take the world to be real, and Atman, the reality itself?
M: A man gets married in a dream and there the groom is real but the wife is false. And when he wakes up he is the same man as before. Similarly, the real Atman always remains as it is. It does not get affected or contaminated by maya. It does not marry either maya or anatma [the not-Self] because it is complete, whereas the substance of the world is unreal.
The individual ‘I’ is like the dream state of the man. When it begins to arise, the mind and the sense organs begin to operate. When it goes, they also go away. The root of all perceived material things is this ‘I’. Aham, ‘I’, is real, but ahankara, the ego ‘I’, is false.
Q: Just as in a rope the knowledge of the serpent is false, so in Brahman the knowledge of the world is false.
M: That is correct. It is not necessary to keep knowledge of a thing that is not real.
Q: It could be said the window has come out of the wood, but still it is not separate from the wood. If one can give up the knowledge of the work done on the wood, then it is wood only.
M: That is true.
Q: In a rope a snake is seen. It is possible to argue that, for the illusion to be effective, one must have seen a real snake at some other place and time in order to know what a snake looks like. Only then can the illusion occur. In the same way, if at some place the real world is seen, then only can an illusion of it appear in Brahman.
M: That [analogy] is known as anyatha khyati [an argument put forward by the Nyaya school of philosophy], but it has no validity.
Q: In the alatha-shanti of Gaudapada’s Karika [v. 97], it is said that if the slightest vaidharmata bhava [the attitude that there is something that exists other than the Self] remains, then oneness will not be established and the breaking of the veil that covers the Self will not take place. In that context, what is the meaning of vaidharmata?
M: In that verse the term vaidharmata should be understood to be parichinna bhava [an attitude of restriction]. If you want God, he is there all the time. So long as the world is not realised to be false, thoughts of the world will keep on coming. So long as the snake is seen, the rope does not appear. The mind that creates the world will not be able to take the world as false. As it happens in the dream state, so it also happens in the waking state. Without the mind there is no world. In sleep, since there is no mind, there is no world. Therefore it is not necessary to think of the world that is imagined by the mind.
That which is nitya nivritta [always removed, that is, never existing] need not be given any thought to. A barber, after having thrown out someone’s hair does not count how many are black and how many are white as all of them have to be thrown away. Similarly, it is not necessary to count imaginary things. It is only necessary to cease to imagine that they are true. To remove the snake from the rope, it is not necessary to kill the snake. In the same way it is not necessary to kill the mind. By understanding the complete non-existence of the mind, the mind will go away.
The experience that is without the seer and the seen, that is without time and space, is the real experience. When we have a dream, we see many varieties of forms. Out of them we believe one form to be ‘my’ form and we also believe that ‘I am that’. If we are the manufacturer of the dream, then we are the actor in all the forms in the dream as well as the actor in our own form. The one who has the dream believes that all the forms [in the dream] are real, and that they are separate from each other. And he also believes that in the dream he himself has a form. He is not aware that he is both the actor of the dream and all the other forms [that he sees]. He realises on waking that everything in the dream was he and he alone. In the same way, a jnani knows that the world [being only a dream] is never created. Whatever is there is all his own Self, one and undivided.
Q: In golden ornaments both the gold and the ornaments seem to be real. The only difference is that the piece of gold does not have the same beauty as the ornament. Likewise, both Brahman and the world appear to be real.
M: Whether you keep the gold or the gold ornaments, in both, the basic material is the same. The name given to a form is for everyday activities. If there were a lot of gold ornaments lying around, and if we were to say, ‘Please get the gold’, the job could not be done. Similarly, there is only one ‘I’ and it is the same in all people, but for worldly activities we cannot say, ‘Please call that “I”’. That is why some ‘I’s are called ‘Ramachandran’ and some ‘Krishna Lal’. Even so, there is only one ‘I’.
Q: If the ‘I’ at one place calls the ‘I’ at some other place ‘you’, many mistakes will happen.
M: During worldly activity, if your attention is fixed on the fundamental reality, there is no difficulty. But ordinary people forget the reality and take the name alone to be real. The different ‘I’s are not real. There is only one ‘I’. The separate ‘I’ is like a watchman in a fort. He is like the protector of the body. The real owner in everybody is only the one real ‘I’. So, when the separate ‘I’ surrenders to the real ‘I’, then, [because the idea of a separate self who ‘owns’ the body disappears], ‘I’ and mine are eliminated. The true state comes into existence when, after sorting out what belongs to whom, the ego ‘I’ surrenders itself to the real owner.
Q: If such teachings are spread in the world there will be no wars.
M: [No reply.]