The Orders of Reality – Why Knowing What They Are Makes All The Difference
Everyone everywhere has their own take on what life is all about and also what they perceive as what is real vs. what is unreal. From a certain perspective nobody can really argue with another person about whether what they perceive is real or not. Why? Because we all have our own individual perspectives and experiences that, from where we each sit, are valid in how we perceive the world – even though that perception might not be wholly accurate. Due to these variations of what is real and unreal, conflicts, delusions, misinterpretations and often grave errors are committed that only cause further problems/challenges/upheavals.
It stands to reason that there must be some way to know/perceive what is real and unreal so that there is common ground which would make all of the difference in focusing and choosing more objective approaches which in turn would save everyone a lot of grief and aggravation. More importantly, it would provide a platform of objectivity that provides the individual with the opportunity to rise above and/or go beyond the unreal and thus become free from all the spin that never really ends and was and is ultimately never really real in the first place.
The question then arises, how do we come up with a commonly shared perspective that is logical, reasonable and does not brook any change to its definition much less it pulls the rug out from anyone’s feet.
While there may be many schools of thought out there that may accurately address this challenge, there is a definitive analysis found within the Vedantic tradition that nails it. Since the orders of reality defined therein are based in knowledge one cannot really challenge, dismiss or disagree with how they are defined. Just as in any other study, anything that is knowledge based is irrefutable. For instance, no one can dispute the fact that 2+2=4. Moreover, since these definitions really work, why would anyone want to refute them anyway? Conversely, if someone is feeling ornery, persnickety or otherwise fiesty and/or just wants to establish whether these definitions are true or not, they get to and they will then understand how and why they work. As the saying goes: “The proof is in the pudding.”, so go for it!
That said, just what are the orders of reality and how are they defined? They are:
1. Paramarthika Satyam = Absolute Reality – That reality that never changes no matter what happens;
2. Vyavaharika Satyam – Transactional Reality – That reality which is always changing; and
3. Pratibhasika Satyam – Subjective Reality – A reality that is based on each individual’s perception of the other two realities.
With these definitions, it becomes abundantly clear that everything falls within the scope of these 3 definitions. Therefore, it is evident, that really speaking, there is no such reality that is totally unreal since by definition what is totally unreal would not, could not exist at all, e.g. the natural born son of a barren woman. Anything that would fall into this category is neither a problem, something to contend with or something to relate to since it is, was and never will be there. This is important to understand so that in terms of defining the realities, the word “unreal” cannot be used since it is not there in the first place. Hence, the 3 orders of reality must be more clearly described:
1. Absolute Reality – It is the reality that never changes i.e., it is not subject to time = timeless.
Is there such a thing and if so, where is it, and what does it look like? It cannot be any “person”, “place”, “thing”, “event” or anything else that is found within the empirical world because, as we are all fully aware, all of these objects exist within that world. In fact, the paradox of the world is that it is the place in which “the only constant is change.”
Based on that fact, the question then is: Does such a really real reality exist? Since it is not available for perception, how do we know it even exists? The answer to this question is a big one but for our purposes in keeping this short and sweet, the easy peasy yet very profound answer is that we are in and of that reality. In fact, we are that reality! How?
We are ever present in all the levels of our day-to-day experiences. We are observers/witnesses of what we see in the world, what we see in our bodies and what we see in our minds. We observe that the world keeps changing, our bodies are in a state of flux and we can barely keep up with our minds!
But we are always, always the observers/witnesses of all of these levels. As such, we never become what we are observing/witnessing. It is simply impossible to be both the observer and the observed.
This then means that since everything in the empirical world is always changing and we as observers are not in or of that world, then it stands to reason – and it is a fact – that we are not changing = timeless = always present. In the west, we use the term “immortal soul”. What is immortal can never become mortal and therefore is ever free from mortality.
Again, while there is so much more to be said about this, another simple fact is that we are ever present – we never go anywhere. There is even a bumper sticker that supports this logic: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Further, we cannot dismiss ourselves because if a person makes the statement that: “I don’t exist.” The very person making such a statement has to exist in order to say it!
So, being ever present a/k/a always there, a/k/a timeless all of which = what is absolutely positively really real! Then, what does knowing this do for us? A lot, a lot, a lot, but basically, it frees us from all sense of limitations because we are timeless. Limitations are always in our face and on our minds because at every turn we are hit with some challenge either in the world (includes other people, places, things, events) or our bodies are reminding us of our imperfections and our minds are ever bouncing all over the place with more problems relating to all of the above!
When the facts are recognized that we can never be limited by time, cut to size or circumscribed, we gain a great huge sense of relief! The pressure is off, the weight of all this stuff is lifted and we are left with a sense of well-being and abiding fullness. At the end of the day, this is where everyone wants to end up no matter who they are, where they are and what they are doing.
But then, if someone turns around and says, “Well that’s all well and good but I am not exactly feeling that way right about now.” The response would be: “Understood. And the reason you might not be feeling this impact is because you are suffering from a case of mistaken identity wherein you are identifying with the wrong realities.” Therefore, in order to be as you are = really real, you need to shift your identity. You need an attitude adjustment based on knowledge. This leads to taking closer look at the other 2 orders of reality.
Stay tuned for next installment.
2. Vyavaharika Satyam – Transactional Reality – That reality which is always changing-impermanent.
This order of reality is the source of all suffering due to the fact that it is always fooling us with its appearance of being really real. Yet when you try to pin it down and hold onto it, it escapes your grasp and slips away. How is it further recognized? Through our everyday life experiences in which we find that we cannot stop the clock or speed it up. It is a reality that is bound by time and forever moving forward and does not concern itself with whether or not we can keep up with the changes. Everything found within its sphere is governed by this unstoppable time. “Here today. Gone tomorrow.” Put another way it is likened to the swift moving waters of a rushing river in which we are floating in like fallen leaves being carried along with no ability to stop the flow or escape its treacherous currents.
While this description paints a bleak picture, it is really intended to help wake people up so that they realize these facts. To quote two once popular songs: 1. Joni Mitchell sang in Circle Game: “We’re captive on a carousel of time. We can’t return. We can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game.” 2. In “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas: “Same old song. Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. It slips away and all your money won’t another minute buy. Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind. Everything is dust in the wind.”
A dreary dilemma indeed! What to do about it? First recognize the facts, then set about discovering and then focusing on what is Really Real. As pointed out in the first installment of this article on the Absolute Reality, the initial steps to take are really not a “doing thing”, rather, it involves a “knowing” thing. Afterall, no focused enterprise is ever begun without first knowing what the plan is. And, as in any form of knowledge-based study, the more you become familiar with the topic the more your mind absorbs the subject matter and is able to clearly see what it is unfolding.
Here, since the Reality is always you and is never away from you; as you understand it and keep reinforcing it, you are able to shift your identity from thinking that you are stuck in a changing body with a racing mind to recognizing your own limitless fully abiding nature. When you consistently see that then the ravages of time do not touch you even as they impact your body, mind and the world around you.
Another helpful way to get a grip on the transactional reality is to analyze it and see it for what it really is – a set up that ultimately has no real substance. Why? There are number of ways to explain this but for purposes of brevity, a simple to the point way to recognize this fact is to look at how science – and in particular, physics - describes the universe as nothing but a bunch of atomic and sub-atomic particles.
For instance, when you look at a car and break down its components, two things happen. The first is that you see that no single part of a car can be definitively identified as the whole car – each part is only one aspect of the car that contributes to is function as a whole. Since you can’t say the car is the single part you can only say that the car is a collection of parts put together in such a way that makes it into a moving vehicle that goes wherever you drive it. So, in essence, the car itself is singularly defined and in fact, it leaves you with a realization that beyond this basic description, the car can never be fully defined.
As you move through that analysis you go one step further and break down the components of the car which are metal, plastic and some other materials that when further defined yield to compounds, minerals, molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons and particles. So truly speaking the car is nothing but atoms and sub-atomic particles. But here’s where it gets trippy because even thought all that it is are atoms and particles and in fact, that’s what you are really looking at; yet at the same time, you are not seeing atoms and particles, you are seeing “solid” substances which, upon analysis and fact, we know that those forms are not really there because they are atoms and particles! Is that crazy or what? Like this car, the entire universe can be analyzed and thus recognized as seeming to have some substance, but not really. Everything that you look at is nothing but particles but that is not what you are seeing! And if you took those particles away you would have no objects of any kind, anywhere, any way or anyhow.
This analysis provides a basic understanding of the “as though” real nature of the transactional world. In the last installment on this topic, we will look at the subjective reality of the individual.
3. Pratibhasika Satyam – Subjective Reality – A reality that is based on each individual’s perception of the other two realities.
The last order of reality is a real doozie because it is based purely on a person’s own view of the world. Simply put, any number of people attending the same event will all come away with a perspective that, while similar to the other attendees, is uniquely his/her own. Why? Because everyone is coming from his/her own background, specific experiences, individual grasp of the situation, likes or dislikes and reactions to that situation and other myriad factors. From each person’s own standpoint, his/her perspective is totally valid, and no one can say otherwise in that regard.
Yet, subjective reality being what it is, it may or may not be in keeping with what actually occurred at that event. At a minimum, it should line up the commonly experienced aspects of the event, such as the time it started, the type of food and drink that was served, what the entertainment may have been.
Thereafter, any reactions, interpretations and perceptions may end up being a total departure from those basic experiences. In other words, the takeaways may be entirely different. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions in these matters, when there is too much of a disconnect from what actually occurred and/or it does not align with the situation then the person is at a serious disadvantage and will suffer from the consequences of those misinterpretations.
That is why anyone trying to spin a reality that is too far out of sync with the transactional reality is living a life that is marginal at best since there such a departure from what it is as a transactional event. If a person is able to realize this, then he/she can focus on how his/her mind works and avoid all the spin thinking that blocks him/her from seeing the world for what it truly is. If the perception/disconnect is continuous then it is especially harmful because that person is always out of sync with what is actually there and is unable to derive any benefits from it. When it is in the extreme, then that person has a continuous misperception of the world and he/she is considered to be crazy and/or suffering from some mental problem or the other.
The question then arises: “How do I ensure that my world view/perception is accurate while at the same time I can create my own individual unique perspective that is beneficial and not harmless to myself or others? The answer is simple – focus on the Absolute Reality first and foremost and thereafter you can see both the transactional and the subjective realities for what they are and will deal with them accordingly. You will not get fooled again since your foundation – the Absolute Reality - is solid and reliable. Because of its unchanging, supportive and complete nature, the world it provides an unshakeable perspective that is never displaced despite being amidst the ever-fluctuating world. Like the water is never displaced, affected or challenged by the ever-changing ocean and waves that it not only supports but is also the very essence of both. Similarly, the Absolute Reality is the basis for both the transactional and subjective realities but is always free from both of them. When this is fully recognized on an individual basis, the knower ever stands free and clear of all of the stress, aggravation and sorrow of the transactional and individual realities.
OM TAT SAT