Friday, January 16, 2009

Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya

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Brahma satyam, jagat mithya is one of the hallmarks of Adi shankara's philosophy. The usage of jagat being Mithya is later, an addition by Adi Shankara. There is reference of the world being referred to as a MithyA entity by any of his predecessors.

The meaning of this popular phrase is beautifully enfolded when we look at the acutual meanings of the term involved. The terms involved in the phrase are-

Brahman - ब्रह्मन - literally, it means one which expands.

Brahman is the most fundamental physical entity which makes up universe.Using modern physical terms as an analogy, it can be said that quantum fields which is hypothesized to make up everything in universe is Brahman. Now quantum fields may or may not be brahman.If it is proven that quatum fields do make up everything in this world including space-time and dimensions then it will be proven that quantum field is Brahman.If not, then perhaps there something even more fundamental in this universe than quantum fields.

It was just that they expected, just like modern physicists, universe is madeup of some fundamental entity. Indian philosophers did not inquire into the physical nature of that fundamental entity. Practically, it was impossible as they were bronze age people with bronze age technology. Hence they simply named this expected fundamental physical entity as Brahman, without inquiring much about its nature.

Satyam - one which is eternal, changeless and existent

Jagat (Universe/World)- This is an interesting term to think upon.

Jagat - Ja + Ga
Ja - jaayate (to arise, originate, born)
ga - gamana: - ga - (one which goes/moves or changes)

It means, one which is born (janana) out of gati (speed/change) is Jagata: That is Universe is said to have come into existent due out of constant change.

Mithya - has word root as 'Mith'. This is the most interesting and illuding term on this phrase.

As given by Apte Sanskrit Online dictionary, Mith - to associate with; to unite; to hurt; to understand; to wrangle; to grasp

Thus, when we apply these meanings to the phrase Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya, following meanings are deduced.

1) Brahman is existent, jagat is associated (with Brahman)
2) Brahman is Existent, jagat is united (with Brahman)
3) Brahman is existent, jagat is hurt (does not make sense)
4) Brahman is existent, jagat is understood by (brahman)
5) Brahman is existent, jagat is wrangled/tended/herded (by brahman) (wrangle = to herd, to tend)
6) Brahman is existent, jagat is grasped by brahman

The popular translation of Brahman is truth and world is false is in fact a disbelief.I guess the word root Mith which makes up the word MithyA, is also the word root for Mithuna and Maithuna (sexual intercourse), which again is related to union or being associated with.

When translated all the words, the phrase becomes-

"That one which originates/exists due to constant change (jagat) is associated with/United with/being tended by (mithyA) Brahman which is changeless existence (satya) - Brahma Satyam, jagat MithyA..."

There is one more meaning of word MithyA - to be made up/ to fall in place. 

Perhaps the word Mith is originated from same Proto-Indo-European ancestor which also makes up the greek word (mythos). Mythos also means to be made up. From Mythos comes Mythology. 

When applied this meaning, the phrase translates as

"That which arises out of change (jagat) is a phenomenon of things falling in place/made up, where as Brahman is changeless existence."

There is a catch though. This meaning is not corroborated from any online sanskrit dictionary, but I distinctly remember reading it in some authentic source. 

Furthermore, the interpretation of word Mithya determines whether a person is advaitin OR dvaitin OR vishishtadvaitin.

If Mithya is taken as United, then a person is advaitin (brahman and jagat are united and satya).  This is in sync with Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma (everything that exists is Brahman)

If mithya is takes as association, then the person is vishishtadvaitin. (brahman is satya and jagat is associated with satya, but not completely satya). 

If mithya is taken as wrangled (to tend), then, he becomes a dvaitin (brahman is satya, jagat is being wrangled/tended/herded (by brahman)). Here, World is being herded by the separate herder that is God.

Thus we can see, differential interpretation of this phrase by Shankara eventually ends up in conjuring vastly different world views towards life and universe. I pay my homage to great genious, Adi Shankaracharya...


Sanket said...

Great Post. Cleared some of my misconceptions.

light said...

Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma (everything that exists is Brahman)

If everything that exisits is Brahman then why the distinction between Brahman and Jagat.

Can't it be concluded as Brahman and Jagat are one and the same.

Chiron said...

ब्रह्म सत्यम जगत मिथ्या जीवो ब्रह्मैव ना पर:

Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya Jeevo brahmaiva naaparah

This is the complete verse of Adi Shankaracharya..

It means, Brahma satyam jagat mithya and Jeeva is no different from brahma.

That is, Jeeva is in fact Brahma.. This further testifies the Mahavakya - सर्वं खलु इदं ब्रह्म - Sarvam khalu idam Brahma..

Jagat is that aspect of brahma which comes into existence due to constant change. That aspect OR form of Brahman where change is the only constant, is called Jagat.

As per Advait siddhanta, we think that jagat itself is an ultimate reality because of Maya. Adi Shankara merely says that what we see as "world" is infact ephemeral and constantly changing and not satya.

Satya means that entity which is present everywhere and eternally changeless.. Jagat does not qualify the definition of Satyam.. Jagat is in fact Rutam (ऋतं)..

Jagat is also Brahman.. But jagat is not Satyam.. Only entity which qualifies the epithet of Satyam is Brahman..

Looking forward to your response..

Thanks for the valuable comment !!

Viswapriya said...

if brahma is satyam then how can jagath be mithya. if HE is sathya then his creation can only ve sathya and mithya. The only meaning which can be assigned to mithya is "materail" ie., those things that are not permanent but real. Similarly if brahma and jeeva are one and the same then why that distinction or even the terminology as brahma and jeeva. as jeeva is doshakara ie., subject to dosha can we also conclude that brahma is also doshakara

Pathmarajah said...

I stumbled onto this site. Great post Chiron.

I am familiar with Advaita Siddhanta and if I may add.

Siddhanta defines pati as sat, pasu as sat-asat and pasam as asat. All three are different. As per the definition only God is Real. The soul is Real but has a non-real component. The world is Unreal.

What it further means is that the world and souls have empirical existence but is not real. Existence and Reality are two different things, and this is where most people misunderstand.


Kal_Chiron said...

@Viswapriya ji and Pathmarajah ji

I guess, you are referring to the Dichotomy of "Satya" and "Rutam" when you speak of Permanence and Reality respectively.

Satya - Entity which exists eternally in space and time and beyond - Brahman

Rutam - Entity which is limited in existence in either space OR time OR both - Jagat

The term "Mithya" here refers to this temporary existence. As per the Mahavakya "Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma - Everything that exists is Brahman", it is possible to have a "Rutam" aspect of "Satya-Brahma".

The biggest example is this world.

The hypothesis of "Maya" makes the Advaita Siddhanta a bit tenuous in the minds of Dvaita-Vaadins. IMO, it is somewhat similar to the "Cosmological Constant" which was introduced by Einstein in his General relativity to make it consistent with steady-state universe.

Your arguments are perfectly valid without the "Hypothesis of Maya".

If we temporarily discard this Hypothesis of Maya, we find that the meaning of term "Jagat" as "world" or "His creation" is most unsuitable for the argument.

However, if we take Jagat to mean as "rutam" OR constantly changing apparent reality, then the argument fits in rather well.

Applying modern physics understanding to the argument, if we assume that "Quantum Strings" are "Brahman" which make up the very fabric of the space-time continuum of the Universe (or multiverse, whatever), then the world as we see it today (Jagat) is indeed a temporary and local manifestation of strings of quantum fields.

This does not mean that the strings of the quantum fields are "Asatya". It simply means that their association with each other in the current form as we see it and call Jagat is temporary, that is Mithya.

Regarding Jeevo Brahmaiva na Para - It translates as Jeeva is not "Beyond" brahman..

Thanks for the valuable comments again. Waiting for your inputs and insights on the argument..

Pathmarajah said...

Thank you for your response Chiron.

Can you please give me your definitions of 'sat' and 'asat' as that is key in understanding advaita siddhanta.

This is my website:

and this is the forum:;f=3

You'll find my many articles on siddhanta under the thread Hindu Gems, especially in the last 6 pages.

This is the link to the 12th century SivaJnanaBodham, a 12 sutra scientific treatise on siddhanta by Saint Meykandar.

For the first time in the world a philosophy entered into the realm of science as it is based purely on logic and not testimonies of scriptures and saints. It refuted all other philosophies in the world, and itself stands irrefutable.

Chiron, you need to read this text entirely and become a master in logic.

I'll respond more later.

Kal_Chiron said...

Pathmarajah ji,

1) Sat - One which exists or holds true in all times and all places. In other words, one which exists everywhere, all the time, without changing at all is Sat. Only Brahman OR the fundamental principle is considered as Sat.

2) Rutam - One which exists but not everywhere, all the time and which changes with change in space and/or time is Rutam. Everything apart from brahman is not constant and is hence Rutam.

3) Asatya - Non-existence - one which does not exist at all is Asat.

bhattathiri said...

Excellent and informative website.

Indian Vedic contribution is a reservoir of Vibrant Information and Harmonious Creativity. May the womb of nature embrace all with tranquil blessings from this day forward? Let this attract one's attention affecting them positively. It is a sanctuary of the self a creative venue which serves as an enduring expression of lightness, where a peaceful atmosphere with sunlight flows and serene atmosphere prevail.

In the storm of life we struggle through myriads of stimuli of pressure, stress, and multi problems that seek for a solution and answer. We are so suppressed by the routine of this every life style that most of us seem helpless. However, if we look closely to ancient techniques we shall discover the magnificent way to understand and realize the ones around us and mostly ourselves. If only we could stop for a moment and allow this to happen. May all beings be happy (Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu) is the essence of Indian philosophy?

The ancient Indian philosophy of keeping mind and body for the well being has entered the managerial, medical and judicial domain of the world. Today it has found its place as an alternative to the theory of modern management and also as a means to bring back the right path of peace and prosperity for the human beings.

Jithesh said...

Nobody says the truth actually


The truth is deep inside this word "brahma sathyam jagath mithya"

Once you experience then there will be no more questions :)

ibrilian said...

Thanks so much Chironji. That is answering a lot of my enduring queries about brahman and jagad mithya. Keep up the excellent works! Namaste. Om swastiastu (balinese greeting)

Srinidhi Bharadwaj said...

If Brahma is Satya, Jagat,which is his creation must be Satya. How can it be Mithya?And why are humans subjected to clutches of Samsara when Jeeva can become God?

Keshav said...

Let us synthesize the learning experienced till this moment and present it to be still pleasanter.

Human neuron temporal can perceive the space transforming in time since infinity. The evolved Mind knows now that it is the perceiver of truth that has been existing and growing always again and again from dots to multiverses including us the human beings.

If I'm to write my story I ought to start from present to past infinite as well as future infinite.

Obviously, past ought to be considered equal to the future making me 50% years old always.

Keshav said...

What is Atom/Adam?

Aadamee and Aatman are the two terms perhaps most important in the historical evolution of learning and communication.

Atom being the smallest particle capable of fusion and fission cannot stay without being a molecule, i.e., anhu (Samyakkrit Sanskrit). History is all its story only. As we are all conglomeration of atoms only, what any of us writes about amounts to be known as and called Atma-kathaa/gaathaa only.