Printable version
Related Pages
Font Size    

Illustrations in Vedanta

by Swami Sivananda


The Vedanta Philosophy is best taught through practical illustrations of daily life, because its abstract truths cannot be understood by the finite intellect very easily. The main purport of Vedanta is that Brahman alone is real and the whole world of appearance is unreal, and that the Jiva is nothing but Brahman Itself. This abstruse theory cannot be comprehended by ordinary men of small understanding, who are immersed in the life of relativity and ignorance. They are taught this sublime Truth by means of illustrations suitable to them, so that they may fix their minds on the Reality through various angles of vision.

Section I

1. Rajjusarpa-Nyaya

In the twilight a man treads upon a rope, and mistaking it for a poisonous snake, jumps in hurry, and cries out in fear. His heart throbs quickly. But when a light is brought by a friend of his, he finds that it is not a snake but only a rope, and then all his fears vanish. This is to illustrate the unreality of the world and its superimposition on the supreme Brahman. Brahman is the Reality and the world is only a superimposition on Brahman just as the snake is a superimposition on the rope.

2. Mrigatrishna-Nyaya

In the desert a traveller sees at noon a mirage where water, meadows, trees and mansions are seen. He believes the sight to be a true one and pursues the spot. The nearer he thinks he is to the spot the further it retreats from him. He leaves his way out far and wanders in the desert. Then he realises that he has done a mistake in straying away from his path in search of this false appearance of water. He once again does not get deceived by this kind of mirage. This is given, in Vedanta, to illustrate the falsity of the universe which appears to give pleasure, with objects for indulgence, to the wanderer, the Jiva. When the Jiva realises through Jnana or Knowledge of the Self, that this world is unreal and that he had done a mistake in turning away from the true path leading to his original State of Perfection or Svarupa, he stops from running after the false mirage of this life of sensual pleasure on earth. The world is only an appearance, just like a mirage which is only an appearance of sun's rays.

3. Shuktirajata-Nyaya

This is similar to ‘Akashanilima-Nyaya' or 'Stambha-Nara-Nyaya' (Man in the post). These are also similar to Rajjusarpa-Nyaya. These illustrate the superimposition of the unreal on the real. The mother-of-pearl is mistaken for pure silver, the attributeless sky appears blue, the post is mistaken for a man at night. The knowledge of the Supreme Brahman, the Reality, comes after proper understanding, through discrimination, patience, endurance, renunciation and meditation. The world is an appearance of Brahman, just as the man in the post is only an appearance of the post, and the silver in nacre an appearance of nacre.

4. Kanakakundala-Nyaya

This is similar to Mrittika-Ghata-Nyaya and the analogy of iron and implements. All the ornaments are made of one type of gold, but they are of diverse forms. They are all gold only in reality. There are various kinds of jars, pots and vessels, big and small, round and narrow, and of all forms, but all of them are but mud in reality. Various kinds of implements and tools are manufactured, with various forms and uses, but all of them are iron only in reality. The names of those various formations and their forms are false, since they are, in reality, only the original source, the gold, mud or iron. This is to illustrate that the various names and forms of this world and its contents are simply false, for all are in essence Brahman only. Brahman alone is appearing in many names and forms.

5. Samudrataranga-Nyaya

There are countless waves rolling in the vast ocean. Each wave is distinguished from the other and each wave can be perceived separately, one by one. But all are water only, and are not separate from the great ocean. All are one only in reality. The difference is only apparent. This illustrates that all the innumerable Jivas that appear in this universe, though apparently they are perceived to be separate from one another, are in reality that one Ocean of Satchidananda and are all identical with it. There is no difference or diversity.

6. Sphatikavarna-Nyaya

This is the analogy of colour in crystals. The Sphatika or the brilliant crystal is pure in itself and has no particular colour of its own. But when a coloured object is brought near it, it reflects the same colour and itself appears to be of that colour, blue, red or whatever it be. In the same manner, Brahman or the Atman is colourless, taintless and attributeless, but only the Upadhis or the limiting adjuncts make it appear as different and of various qualities, names and forms.

7. Padmapatra-Nyaya

This is the analogy of the lotus-leaf and water. Rain water often falls on a lotus-leaf but the water drips down and the leaf does not get stained by or attached to the water on it. In the same manner, this Atman or Brahman is untainted, though there are countless worlds rolling in it, and countless bodies are seen to be put on by it.

8. Vatagandha-Nyaya

The wind carries whatever scent is exposed to it and spreads it everywhere. But the air is pure and is not defiled by bad scent or ornamented by a good scent therein. This is similar to the illustration of the lotus-leaf and water to show the unattached state of the Atman or the Brahman, though it puts on various names, forms and actions in the appearance of phenomena.

9. Oornanabhi-Nyaya

The spider brings forth the thread from its mouth to weave its web and withdraws it again into its mouth. But the thread is nothing but the body of itself and is one with it. Even so this world is projected forth by Brahman and then again withdrawn by Brahman. But the world is nothing but the Being of Brahman only appearing. This shows that all is Brahman alone in reality.

10. Surya-Bimba-Nyaya

There is only one sun illumining all the worlds. But there are perceived as many different reflections of the sun, as there are ponds, tanks, rivers, mirrors, etc. The sun is reflected in all waters, but there is only one real Sun. So also there is only one Supreme Existence-Absolute, the infinite Brahman, but that One Reality is reflected through the Upadhis of Maya and Avidya as various worlds and Jivas. This is false, for it is only the appearance of reflections. The Truth is only One.

11. Ghatakasa-Nyaya

This is the analogy of ether in a pot. There is the great Ether or the Mahakasa pervading the whole universe and there is the same ether inside a jar also. But the ether in a jar can be differentiated from the great ether on account of the ether being enclosed and contained by the jar. But the ether is in no way affected even in the least by the partitions made by the walls of the jar. When the jar is broken the ether in the jar becomes one with the great ether, having undergone no change at any time. Even so, the Atman in the individual is partitioned by the mind and the body, but, in reality, it is one with the great Paramatman, the Supreme Soul. When the body is broken and the mind is destroyed the Atman becomes one with the Supreme Brahman, having undergone no change due to the appearance of the mind and the body, the products of Avidya or Upadhi or ignorance.

12. Bhramara-Kita-Nyaya

The Bhramara or the wasp is said to sting the insects or the Kitas which it brings to its hive and through stinging them and poisoning them makes them feel its presence alone everywhere, at all times. The insects, so to say, meditate on the presence of the wasp, at all times, and in turn become wasps themselves thereby. This is to show that by meditating on the formula 'Aham Brahma Asmi' or 'I am Brahman' the Jiva becomes Brahman itself in the end.

13. Dagdhapata-Nyaya

This is the analogy of the burnt cloth. If a cloth is burnt you will see, even afterwards, that there is the same form of the cloth appearing. But when touched with the hand even slightly, it is reduced to ashes. Even so is the body of the Jnani or the Jivanmukta. He does possess a body, but it is like the burnt cloth. It only appears, but it has no reality. It is burnt by the fire of Wisdom and there is no ego to sustain it. The Jnani is untouched by worldly taints and leaving that appearance of a body he attains Sadyo-Mukti or Kaivalya-Mukti.

14. Arundhati-Nyaya

To show to a person the star Arundhati in the sky, one points out at first to a big star above and says that that big star is Arundhati. The person is first led to a big star that is clearly seen and is said that that is the Arundhati. Then after rejecting that star the real star is shown. Even so, the aspirant is at first shown a physical method of approaching the Reality through service and formal worship of forms, but afterwards he is led gradually to the Supreme Truth which is formless and impersonal.

15. Bija-Vriksha-Nyaya

The seed is the cause of the tree and the tree is the cause of the seed. It cannot be said which is the cause of which. This is to illustrate that every question and statement has got a counter-question and counter-statement, that every this is also every that, that the whole world is bound in relativity, and that the Ultimate Truth is Silence, which Dakshinamurti followed.

16. Markata-Kishora-Nyaya

The child of a monkey catches hold of the mother's breast and never leaves it even in times of extreme danger. It does not rely upon the mother for its safety, but struggles for itself. This is to illustrate the nature of the aspirant on the path of Jnaa-Sadhana, who does not rely upon any external help or grace for his salvation, but struggles for himself and attains Wisdom of the Self.

17. Ashma-Loshta-Nyaya

This is the analogy of stone and mud. Mud is very hard when compared to cotton but it is very soft when compared to stone. This is to show that a thing may be bad as compared with better things, but is good when compared with inferior things, and vice versa. This is used to illustrate that there is no quality in things by themselves, that there is no plurality in life, and that difference is caused only through imagination.

18. Kakadanta-Nyaya

This is akin to Vandhya-putra-Nyaya, Gaganaaravinda-Nyaya, Gandharvanagara-Nyaya or Shashavishna-Nyaya. It is useless to search for the teeth of a crow, for it has no teeth. Similar is the case with the son of a barren woman, a lotus grown in the sky, a city in the clouds, and the horns of a hare. This is to show that it is meaningless to question about the contradictions and mysteries of existence like - Why did the Perfect God create an imperfect world? etc., for there is no real change and there is no creation at all in reality, and that these ques­tions arise so long as the Sun of Wisdom has not arisen.

19. Dandapoopa-Nyaya

When many cakes are tied to a stick and one says, the stick has been pulled down and is not to be found, it naturally follows that the cakes also are missing. This is to illustrate that all doubts are cleared and desires pacified when it is known that Existence is Eternal, Infinite and Changeless, Udivided, Intelligence and Bliss! For, doubts and desires arise only when there is change or evolution.

20. Kshaurikaputra-Nyaya

A king asked a barber to bring the most beautiful boy in his kingdom. The barber searched in the whole country but could not find a really beautiful one. He felt very sorry and came to his house in distress. But finding his own son in his house, who was actually an embodiment of ugliness, he thought that his son was the most beautiful in the world and brought him to the king. This is to illustrate that whatever is dear to one and whatever is one much attached to, is found to be the best and the most precious and that men have love only for the world, as they are strongly attached to it. Everyone is shut up within his own limited individual experience.

21. Visha-Krimi-Nyaya

Worms revelling in poisonous substances are not affected by that poison and are happy there. This is to denote that, though a thing is worthless and low to one, it may be very good to another and may be the very thing that the other wants and craves for, and also vice versa. It illustrates that creatures of the world are happy in it, for they know not aanything higher.

22. Kakataliya-Nyaya

A crow came and sat on a palmyra tree, and just at that time, a fruit of that tree fell on its head and killed it. The falling of the fruit had really no connection with the crow's sitting on the tree. The coincidence of the two events was merely accidental. This illustration is used to describe anything which is purely accidental and has no reason behind. It is said in the Yogavasishtha that the appearance of a common world to many Jivas, each of whom has really an independent world of itself, is only accidental (Kakataliya) and has no reason or any other meaning for it whatsoever.

Section II

1. Butter in Milk

Butter or ghee exists in milk. But where is it? It cannot be perceived. But it is present everywhere in milk, in each and every drop of milk. There is no particle of milk where butter or ghee is not present. In the same manner Brahman is present everywhere; and there is no speck of space where Brahman is not. But Brahman cannot be perceived and It seems to be nowhere. It is the very essence of cream of existence, but It is nowhere to the eyes of a worldly-minded man. This illustrates the omnipresence of Brahman.

2. Fire in Wood

Fire is present in all parts of wood, just like butter in milk. It is only one fire that is existent in all woods, but it becomes various in name, form and action when it manifests into visible fire. Even so Brahman which is the Reality in all things appears as many in name, form and action when manifest in various Jivas and countless worlds. But the Truth is only One; it only appears to be many.

3. Smoke and Fire

Smoke emanates from fire. The dense smoke covers the bright fire and the fire cannot be seen. But the smoke comes only from the fire and is only a part of the burning fire. It is one with fire. Similarly Maya projects itself forth in the being of Brah­man and clouds the appearance of Brahman so that Brahman is not perceived and there is variety in existence. But Maya is one with Brahman and is Brahman only appearing, the Effulgent, Consciousness-Bliss.

4. Thread and Necklace

The necklace contains many beads of various forms, but there is one single thread that connects them all and keeps them in unity. The thread is their very support and being. Even so in the diverse Jivas and worlds that exist, there is one common Life-Principle, the Supreme Brahman, as it is called, that unifies the entirety of Existence, and is the very support and being of all that is.

5. Wearer and Apparel

The old and used clothes are thrown away and new clothes are put on by man. In the Bhagavadgita this is given to illustrate that the Jiva throws off an old and used-up body and assumes a new one, and that the Jiva therefore does never die in reality.

6. The Chameleon

The chameleon is an animal which changes its colour at any time according to the colour of the surface it moves on. A person who has seen the chameleon when it is assuming the colour red says that the chameleon is red. But the other one who has seen it only when it is assuming the colour green says that the chameleon is green. But a person who has watched the chameleon all along, carefully, under the tree, knows all its colours, and does not have any more doubts. This is to illustrate that people who have only a partial understanding of the Nature of God quarrel among themselves that this is right and this is wrong, God is like this, God is like that, etc. But a Brahma-jnani who has calmly watched the nature of the whole existence knows its true nature and does not have any more doubts regarding the nature of the Absolute.

7. Salt and Water

A particle of salt dropped in a large vessel of water dissolves itself in the water and is no more perceivable to the eye. But any part of that water, if tasted, is felt to be saltish. In the same manner the Jiva, on attaining Wisdom, dissolves itself in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss and becomes one with the All. All is felt to be the Supreme Bliss. It is everywhere the same.

8. Two Thorns

If a thorn gets stuck to the leg, it is carefully removed with the help of another thorn. But after the work is over, both the thorns are thrown away and one becomes happy. Even so, the evil qualities and ignorance born of Avidya should be removed by virtuous qualities and knowledge and after attaining Peace, one has to discard them both and transcend all differences.

9. Sword and Philosopher's Stone

At the very touch of a philosopher's stone the sharp iron sword is turned into gold and afterwards it does not cut, even if it has the appearance of a sword. Even so, the ego of the Siddha-Jnani or the Jivanmukta, though it has the appearance of individuality and presents a physical body, cannot bind the Siddha again to rebirth, for it is transformed into Suddha-Sattva by the touch of the Supreme Wisdom of the Absolute.

10. Chandelier and Electricity

In a chandelier various bulbs of different colour are seen and there is a grand diversity in their forms. But the basis of the entire light is the one power of electricity charged from the dynamo, which is the common force of all bulbs, and which has no colours of varieties. Even so, there are various worlds and creatures of multifarious names and forms, but all are having their basis or support in the one Power, the Supreme Brahman which is Indivisible and Attributeless, Nameless and Formless.

11. The Two Birds

Two birds live in the same tree as comrades. But one of them eats the sweet fruit of the tree and gets bound in delusion. But the other bird does not eat anything and remains an eternal witness. This analogy occurs in the Rigveda and the Mundaka Upanishad. This is to illustrate that the Jiva and the Paramatman are both in the same body, but the Jiva enjoys through contact the pleasures and pains of Samsara and gets bound, whereas the Paramatman or the Supreme Soul, the Kutastha, remains as a Sakshi or a witness and exists ever in Absoluteness.

12. Man and the Necklace

A person wears round his neck a gold necklace and in excitement and confusion searches for that necklace here and there. He walks and runs this side and that side but nowhere does he find the necklace, though it is around his own neck. Similarly, the individual or the Jiva searches for Perfection and Bliss outside, everywhere, forgetting the fact that the Immortal Seat or Brahman is its very being itself and that it is identical with that Brahman.

13. Silk-Worm and the Cocoon

The silk-worm projects forth a certain thread from its mouth and then binds itself within a cocoon. Similarly, the Jiva binds itself through ignorance and attachment, and suffers from the bondage of embodied life through births and deaths.

Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!


copyright © 2020 the divine life society. All rights reserved.