PagesHinduism & Quantum Physics
======= Understanding Hinduism =======
The Nature of Reality
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The Nature of Reality
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.