In Bhagavan’s teachings there is usually a distinction made between God and Brahman. Iraivan, the Tamil word used here for God, corresponds approximately to Iswara, the generic Sanskrit term for the personal God who supervises the activities of the world. God, the world and the jivas (individual souls) arise and subsist together, but they are not, according to Bhagavan, fundamentally real entities since they are not permanent. Eventually, they all merge into Brahman, the impersonal absolute and unchanging reality, and disappear.
When the world is seen as a separate entity by the jiva, there is also a God who manages the affairs of that world. When the jiva no longer exists, the world and God also cease to exist. An objection could therefore be raised to this verse which says that the world does not exist in the perspective of God. Bhagavan would normally say that the world does not exist in Brahman, but it does exist in the perspective of God.
Sadhu Om has recorded an incident in which Bhagavan himself queried Muruganar about the vocabulary used in this verse:
The Tamil word iraivan is usually understood as meaning God, the Lord of this world, and as Bhagavan has elsewhere explained, the trinity of soul, world and their Lord will always appear to co-exist in maya, and thus the apparent world does exist in the view of its apparent Lord, God. Therefore, on seeing this verse, Bhagavan remarked, ‘Who said that there is no world in God’s view?’, but when the author, Sri Muruganar, explained that he had used the word in the sense of the Supreme Brahman, Sri Bhagavan accepted this meaning and approved the verse. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, tr. Sadhu Om, p. 8)
There are a few other instances (see verses 33 and 38, for example) in this section where Muruganar uses the word ‘God’ when ‘Brahman’ might possibly be a more appropriate term.
You who believe that the world, which is experienced merely as an object of the senses, is real, and who cherish it as something worthwhile, come ultimately to grief, like the parrot that waits for the silk-cotton fruit to ripen! If this world is real merely because it is perceived, then water seen in a mirage is also real because it too is perceived.
The fruit of the silk-cotton tree is a large pod that always remains green. When it finally ripens, it bursts open, revealing its insides — an inedible, white, fluffy mass of fibre. Expecting the world to produce real benefits is compared to the fruitless vigil of the parrot that ignorantly expects something delicious to come out of the silk-cotton tree’s pod.
Do not get confused by abandoning the state of clarity, the swarupa perspective, and then pursue appearances, taking them to be real. That which appears will disappear, and hence it is not real, but the true nature of the one who sees never ceases to exist. Know that it alone is real.
Since the world appears only to mind-consciousness, the distortion produced by maya, and not to the Atma-swarupa that exists as the source of that mind, can there be any world that truly exists?
Do not be confounded by this worthless samsara that appears as a dream in the deluding [sleep of] ignorance. In a mind that has an intense desire for reality — consciousness, the supreme — it is impossible for the binding mental delusion that arises in the dense darkness of ignorance to remain.
Samsara is the continuous round of birth and death to which the jiva is subjected until it attains liberation. In a more general sense it denotes worldly life.
You who shrink from the world, trembling in fear! There is definitely no such thing as a real world. Therefore, to be afraid of the imaginary world that appears to be real is like fearing the imaginary snake [that is misperceived] in a coiled rope.
The world is seen fully and distinctly only in the waking and dream states in which sankalpas [thoughts] have arisen. Is it ever seen during sleep, where there is absolutely no arising of thoughts? Therefore, sankalpas alone are the material substance of the world.
Bhagavan: Sankalpa [thought] creates the world. The peace attained on the destruction of sankalpas is the [permanent] destruction of the world. (Padamalai, p. 264, v. 6)
If the perceived world is only the glorious play of thought, why does it still appear as it did before — albeit like a dream — even when the mind remains tranquil, without thoughts? This is because of the unexhausted momentum of the previous imagination.
Like a spider that has the wonderful power to extrude the strands of its web from its mouth and then withdraw them back there, the mind unfolds the world from within itself and then withdraws it back into itself.
Bhagavan: Just as the spider spins out the thread from within itself and again withdraws it into itself, so the mind projects the world from within itself and again absorbs it into itself. (Who am I? essay version, The Path of Sri Ramana, Part One, p. 184.)
Question: What is the relation between mind and object? Is the mind contacting something different from it, viz., the world.
Bhagavan: The world is ‘sensed’ in the waking and the dream states or is the object of perception and thought, both being mental activities. If there were no such activities as waking and dreaming thought, there would be no ‘perception’ or inference of a ‘world’. In sleep there is no such activity and ‘objects and world’ do not exist for us in sleep. Hence [the] ‘reality of the world’ may be created by the ego by its act of emergence from sleep; and that reality may be swallowed up or disappear by the soul resuming its nature in sleep. The emergence and disappearance of the world are like the spider producing a gossamer web and then withdrawing it. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 25)
When the mind emerges first through the brain and then through the senses, along with it names and forms are pushed out from within. Conversely, when the mind rests in the Heart, they enter and subside there again.
Through names and forms the world appears in all its discordant diversity. When names and forms cease forever, it [the world] is Brahman. A person with a limited mind masks the true God [Brahman] with concepts of name and form, sees it as a world, and is bewildered and frightened.
Bhagavan: It is said that Brahman is real, and [the] world an illusion; again it is said that the whole universe is an image of Brahman. How are these two statements to be reconciled? In the sadhak stage, you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way, because when a man forgets that he is the Brahman, who is real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion. Why? Because, his vision, which has forgotten its own Self, is dwelling in the external material universe and will not turn inward into introspection unless you impress on him that all this external, material universe is unreal. When once he realises his own Self, and also that there is nothing other than his own Self, he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman. There is no universe without his Self. So long as a man does not see his own Self which is the origin of all, but looks only at the external world as real and permanent, you have to tell him that all this external universe is an illusion. You cannot help it. Take a paper. We see only the script, and nobody notices the paper on which the script is written. The paper is there, whether the script on it is there or not. To those who look upon the script as real, you have to say that it is unreal, an illusion, since it rests upon the paper. The wise man looks upon both the paper and script as one. So also with Brahman and the universe. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 24th August, 1946)
The world that associates with us as an appearance of names and forms is as transient as a lightning flash. The faltering understanding ‘I am the body’ is the deceptive device that makes us desire the world as if it were real, [thereby] entrapping us instantaneously in the powerful snare of bondage.
Muruganar: Since the world does not appear without the body, the confused belief ‘I am the body’ is said to be the maya that projects the appearance of names and forms. The delusion that causes the name-and-form appearance to be seen as different from swarupa is that which insists that the world is real. Its root is the primal ignorance ‘I am the body’.
This world phenomenon, consisting of dualities and trinities, shines because of thoughts. Like the unreal circle traced in the air by a whirling firebrand, it [the world phenomenon] is created by the spinning of the illusory mind. However, from the point of view of swarupa, the fullness of intense consciousness, the illusory mind is non-existent. This you should know.
The dualities are pairs of opposites such as happiness and sorrow, and the trinities are the groups of three: seer, seeing and seen and knower, knowing and known. Whenever the Sanskrit word ‘triputi’ is used in this text, it refers to one or both of these two groups.
The analogy of the moving firebrand that creates an illusory pattern comes from Gaudapada’s commentary on the Mandukyopanishad:
As a firebrand, when set in motion, appears as straight, crooked, etc., so also consciousness, when set in motion, appears as the perceiver, the perceived, and the like. (The Mandukyopanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika, 4.47)
You worldly minded man, [you] who do not accept as true the fair and reasonable teachings of supreme jnana that are declared by jnanis! If you thoroughly examine the world, this vision misperceived by a jaundiced eye, this bloating out of a great delusion, it is merely a deception caused by vasanas.
Vasanas are mental habits or tendencies. They are the desires and aversions that impel one to behave in a particular way. In common with other advaita teachers, Bhagavan taught that one’s vasanas not merely determine one’s behavior, they actually create and sustain the illusion of the world by taking one’s attention away from the Self and onto the external objects that one wants to enjoy or avoid. These buried or latent habits of the mind withdraw into the Heart at the moment of physical death, but they are not extinguished there. Their unexhausted momentum will cause them to take a new form, a new body, a new incarnation through which they can continue to thrive. Vasanas are therefore the fuel that drives samsara, the continuous cycle of birth and death.
What exists is the plenitude of object-free jnana, which shines as unconditioned reality. The world appears as an object that is grasped by your suttarivu. Like the erroneous perception of a person with jaundice who sees everything as yellow, this entire world is a deluded view consisting wholly of a mind that has defects such as ego, deceit, desire, and so on.
Suttarivu is a key word in Muruganar’s writings. Arivu means consciousness or true knowledge, and it is often used in Tamil as an equivalent of jnana. ‘Suttu’ means ‘pointed at’. Arivu is the true consciousness, the true knowledge that is aware of nothing other than itself. However, when attention is externalised and ‘pointed at’ phenomena which are assumed to be external, the trinity of seer, seeing and seen arises. This creates the idea of an individual self who sees an external real world, and while this suttarivu process is functioning, the reality of the undivided Self is hidden.
The term suttarivu comes from Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, a subject Muruganar had a strong grounding in, but it does not appear in Vedanta. The word is generally translated as ‘objectifying consciousness’, ‘objectified consciousness’, ‘objective knowledge’ or ‘relative knowledge’, but since these terms are a little abstract and do not fully convey this process whereby the externalising of attention brings about duality, we have retained the Tamil word suttarivu in many of the verses.
In the following selection of verses from Padamalai Bhagavan explains the nature of suttarivu and the means by which it can be eradicated:
Bhagavan: Though the Atma-swarupa is one’s own true nature, the reason why it appears difficult to attain is because of the powerful illusion wrought through suttarivu.
That which exists is only the one consciousness. The many conceptualised varieties of objectified consciousness are only an imaginary notion in that which is.
It is foolishness to suffer by desiring and struggling to know the Self in the same way that sense objects are known by the suttarivu.
It is not possible to see the eye with the eye. [In the same way] it is not possible to see the Self with suttarivu.
The experience of the bliss of blemishless, true jnana-samadhi will abide in a heart in which the suttarivu has perished.
Knowledge of the reality of the knower terminates mind-consciousness, the suttarivu that knows the non-Self.
Confusion, the whirling of the mind that is suttarivu, will not cease except by internal renunciation.
The cavorting mind, suttarivu, will not die except by awareness of the truth of the real nature of the thinker. (Padamalai, pp. 148-150, vv. 2, 3, 10, 11, 19, 21, 22, 24.)
Just as yellow turmeric powder loses its colour and becomes white under sunlight, this wholly mental world perishes before the sunlight of the knowledge of reality. Therefore, it is not a creation of God, the sun of true jnana. Like the many-hued eye of the peacock feather, this bright world is only a vast picture, a reflection seen in the darkened mirror of the impure mind.
Bhagavan: If the obstacle of the ego-impurity is destroyed, the creation [srishti] that appeared as the world will become a mere appearance [drishti]. (Padamalai, p. 272, v. 16.)
In the experience of true knowledge, which is the reality of the Self, this world is merely the beautiful [but illusory] azure-blue colour that appears in the sky. When one becomes confused by the veiling, the ‘I am the body’ delusion, those things that are seen through suttarivu are merely an imaginary appearance.
This world, a vast and harmful illusion that hoodwinks and ravages the intellect of all, has arisen through nothing other than the mistake of pramada, which is abandoning one’s true nature instead of remaining merged with it.