Book – II Chapter – V : The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination- Para – 1

Study Notes


     This chapter presents the essential arguments that counteract Adi Shakara’s philosophy. In the earlier chapters Sri Aurobindo agreed with the fact that on the experiential level it is difficult to refute Adi Shankara because his experience is absolutely valid. However, Sri Aurobindo says that there is an experience beyond what Adi Shankara had and had he waited a longer he could have gone higher and had a different vision of the world which is also real. In this chapter he leads us from argument to argument. He logically explains Adi Shankara’s stand on various concepts like the illusory nature of the world, dream state of human beings and the hallucination of rope as the snake and then gives his own explanation for accepting or refuting them – Courtesy: Dr Ananda Reddy: Deliberations on The Life Divine: SACAR: p. 1)

     (You know we in India are famous for talking lightly. We say ‘brahma satyam jagan mithya,’ Brahman is the real thing, the world is false. Ever since the days of Shankara, this stamp that the world is not real has overshadowed all philosophical thinning. Even illiterate peasants will talk in this language: after all, this is a transient world, we come today, we go tomorrow; whatever is our fate, we go through it. This strain of depreciation of this world, life in this world, has been more widespread in India than perhaps in any other country. Indeed, there were other philosophers who came afterwards, who said it is not that the world is not true, but as long as you are there in it, it is real to you. But once you go to the real Truth, you find all this was an illusion, a falsehood. If at all it is real, it is an inferior reality. The Truth is elsewhere. So, the mind goes on weaving, arguing, constantly affirming things, followed by spells of negation – Shri M.P.Pandit: Talks on The Life Divine: Vol II: p.62-63)

Thou who hast come to this transient and unhappy world, turn to Me.


     On the face of it everything in this world is transient. Nothing lasts. All is subject to an incessant change. Life is constantly faced with death or agents of death. Added to this fleeting nature of the world there is unhappiness, pain, suffering. If there be moments of happiness they are overwhelmed by constant threats of loss of happiness. The sum of negative elements seems to outweigh the positive ones. There is no security, no peace, no joy in such a world involved in the cycle of birth and death. The only way to assure ourselves of peace, security and cheer is to turn to the Divine Lord who is the fount of all weal and joy. He is there present behind every appearance, holding all together, preventing this brittle world from dissolving. In Him is permanence, in Him is happiness. We begin to live in That which is stable behind all movement, permanent behind all mutation. We touch the Eternal.

This Self is a self of Knowledge, an inner light in the heart; he is the conscious being common to all the states of being and moves in both worlds. He becomes a dream-self and passes beyond this world and its forms of death. . . .
                                                                                               (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad


     There is a physical self, a vital self, a mental self; but these are only projections of a central Self in the physical, vital and mental natures. This Self is instinct with Knowledge because he is all-pervading, all-supporting. He is there at the core of things illumining them from within. He is self-luminous and does not need the outer light to see or show. Though there are different states of being viz. The waking state, the dream state, the sleep state, this Self experiences them all. In fact they are states of consciousness of this one Self, for the Self is a conscious being, not an inert Spirit. This Self comprehends and moves freely in this world of waking and the world beyond, the dream world. When the Self takes his position in the dream-state, naturally he exceeds the waking world and its movements of death. There is no death to forms and beings in the dream world. There is only change. Thus the Self takes cognisance of both the world of waking with all its density and the world of dream with its subtler texture.

There are two planes of this conscious being, this and the other worlds; a third state is their place of joining, the state of dream, and when he stands in this place of their joining, he sees both planes of his existence, this world and the other world. When he sleeps, he takes the substance of this world in which all is and himself undoes and himself builds by his own illumination, his own light; when this conscious being sleeps, he becomes luminous with his self-light. . .

                                                                                                 (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.9)

     The Self lives on two planes of consciousness: from one he functions in this material world, the wakeful existence, from the other in the worlds beyond. In between the wakeful and the beyond is the dream state – a bridge between the two – and when the Self poises himself at this junction, he is able to command the view of both the states of existence. Beyond the dream state is the state of sleep. But it is not sleep of the unconscious kind; this sleep of the Self is supremely conscious. While in this state, the sushupti, the Self gathers the stuff of our world manifestation and fashions it anew. In this work of dismantling and reconstruction or new creation, the Self acts by his own intelligence, his own light. The sleep of this Self is luminously creative. What is so created here by the Self takes form in the worlds below.

There are no roads nor chariots, nor joys nor pleasures, nor tanks nor ponds nor rivers, but he creates them by his own light, for he is the maker. By sleep he casts off his body and unsleeping sees those that sleep; he preserves by his life-breath this lower nest and goes forth, immortal, from his nest; immortal, he goes where he wills, the golden Purusha, the solitary Swan. They say, “the country of waking only is his, for the things which he sees when awake, these only he sees when asleep”; but there he is his own self-light.

                                                                                      (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.4.3.10-12,14)

     In the creative world of the Self in the sleep state, there are no projections from the material world below. All is created by the luminous Self in his concentration of consciousness. This Self is the Arch-maker. In this state the Self frees himself from the limitations of the physical embodiment. Awake in dense consciousness he sees all that sleeps in the lower worlds. The Self does not allow the physical body to dissolve, he keeps it alive by his life-breath. And when he thus goes forth from his dwelling place on the physical plane, he affirms his innate, immortal state, unbounded power, the plenary truth-consciousness.
     It is not that the country of waking is his only domain as what he beholds when asleep is what he sees in his waking state. The fact is that his creative world is independent of the waking world, he moves there on his own, by his radiance and power.

What is seen and what is not seen, what is experienced and what is not experienced, what is and what is not,—all it sees, it is all and sees.
                                                                                                                       Prasna Upanishad.4.5


     After all, it is said by certain philosophies, we experience only through the mind, we see through the mind. What the mind does not recognise does not exist for us. Hence it is Mind that is the reality. All else is real to us because it is so experienced by the Mind through its sense faculties. No Mind, no world, so runs the argument of the idealist philosopher.
     No, replies the opponent, the world existed before your mind came on the scene to see and experience things, it will be there when your mind ceases to be present. The Mind is a part of the universal manifestation. Besides, there are other ways than the mental, of experiencing the world.
     It is the Self that acts through the mid which is its instrument. The Self is real, the mind is real, the world is real.

(Source Shri M.P.Pandit: Legends in The Life Divine: p. 119-124: Dipti Publications, Puducherry)


     ALL HUMAN thought, all mental man’s experience moves between a constant affirmation and negation; there is for his mind no truth of idea, no result of experience that cannot be affirmed, none that cannot be negated. It has negated the existence of the individual being, negated the existence of the cosmos, negated the existence of any immanent or underlying Reality, negated any Reality beyond the individual and the cosmos; but it is also constantly affirming these things—sometimes one of them solely or any two or all of them together.


     All our thought, all our mental experience moves between two actions – a constant affirmation and negation. There is no truth of idea, no result of experience that cannot be affirmed. That is if the mind takes up an idea it is quite possible for it to affirm the truth of that idea. Mind can always prove the validity of an experience it has undergone. At the same time our mind is capable of negating the very truth it has affirmed or the very experience it has testified. This is how contradictory philosophies arise and differing scientific opinions are pronounced.
     For example, the Mayavadic philosophies negated the individual existence, cosmic existence, existence of the immanent (indwelling) divine Reality. Materialists negated any Reality beyond the individual and the cosmos.
     At the same time some other mental experience affirms the existence of any one of them solely or two of them or all of them together.

It has to do so because our thinking mind is in its very nature an ignorant dealer in possibilities, not possessing the truth behind any of them, but sounding and testing each in turn or many together if so perchance it may get at some settled belief or knowledge about them, some certitude; yet, living in a world of relativities and possibilities, it can arrive at no final certainty, no absolute and abiding conviction. Even the actual, the realised can present itself to our mentality as a “may be or may not be”, syad va na syad va, or as an “is” under the shadow of the “might not have been” and wearing the aspect of that which will not be hereafter.


     Why is the mind unsure of itself? Because our mind in its very nature is an ignorant dealer in possibilities. Even in our day-to-day life while making a decision we look at various options. Because our mind lacks certainty of knowledge. Our mind does not possess the truth behind any of the possibilities it deals with. It sounds and tests each possibility in turn or many together so that by chance it may arrive at some settled knowledge about them.
     Yet, we live in a world of relativities and possibilities. Nothing can be absolute here. Nothing can be arrived at with an absolute and abiding conviction.
     We are not sure about whatever we have realised. We can arrive at something which we think may or may not be the truth. Or we think it is a truth but we view it under the shadow of doubt that it might not have been the truth or it will not be the truth hereafter.

(….. the thinking mind is a dealer in possibilities. It makes a statement. Immediately there is another idea, another thought arises: it may or may not be completely true, it may not work in some other circumstances. Some philosophers take it to a logical conclusion. They say that for every statement, there are seven alternatives, may be or may not be…. No human knowledge is final, ultimate. All is in a flux, all is possible – Shri M.P.Pandit: Talks in the Life Divine: Vol II: p. 64)

Our life-being is also afflicted by the same incertitude; it can rest in no aim of living from which it can derive a sure or final satisfaction or to which it can assign an enduring value. Our nature starts from facts and actualities which it takes for real; it is pushed beyond them into a pursuit of uncertain possibilities and led eventually to question all that it took as real. For it proceeds from a fundamental ignorance and has no hold on assured truth; all the truths on which it relies for a time are found to be partial, incomplete and questionable.


     Our vital part also suffers from the same incertitude. We are not sure about the aim of our life. It is driven by desire. It wants to possess, expand itself, achieve power and authority. Yet we are not sure as to which life activity will give us a sure or final satisfaction or to which we can assign an enduring value.
     Human nature starts from facts and actualities which it takes for real. It is pushed beyond these apparent facts into a pursuit of uncertain possibilities. Finally, it is led to question all that it took as real. For example we think there is happiness in our material possessions and pursue after them. After some disillusionment we realise that they do not bring us real happiness.
     Our life-being (vital part) proceeds from a fundamental ignorance and it has no hold on assured truth. It only relies upon truths that are partial, incomplete and questionable.