Clay Pot – The reality of the Universe
Self-knowledge sets you free. It gives you Moksha (freedom/lasting happiness), if you are ready to receive it (i.e. you are a ‘qualified student’ – http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/the-4-qualifications-for-limitless-happiness/ ).
So what is this ‘Self-Knowledge’? The Vedanta teaching answers (in Tattvabodha): “The Atma is Satyam. Everything else other than Atma, is Mithya.” This alone is Self-Knowledge. If you understand this 1 small sentence, it’s all over. You win the jackpot. You’re done – you achieve the highest goal of all human existence. You are officially enlightened (atma-jnani)!
Really? Just 1 sentence…sounds easy. But what do these 3 new Sanskrit words mean in the sentence: (1) Atma, (2) Satyam, (3) Mithya. Let’s see each one:
- Atma = Self/ I / Me. Whatever you mean when you use the word “I” is Atma. Let’s take this simple meaning for now as this will be examined in more detail later (by the author of Tattvabodha).
- Satyam = That which has an independent existence. E.g. Clay
- Mithya = That which has a dependent existence, dependent on Satyam. E.g. A Pot made of Clay
1 makes sense. But 2 and 3 probably don’t – they need more explanation since they are very subtle concepts. Chandogya Upanishad (Vedanta source text) famously explains 2 and 3 using the brilliant example of a ‘clay pot’…
Imagine I hold up a clay pot in front of you and your friends. I then ask: “what is this?” Person A says: “it’s a pot”. Person B says: “it’s clay”. Hmmm…this is strange – person A and person B have used 2 different words to describe the same thing I held up. Why? Do both words (Clay & Pot) have the same meaning? Are these 2 words synonyms? No – Clay does not mean pot, and pot does not mean clay. Ok…if they do not mean the same thing, then 1 word must be ‘more right’ than the other. If so, then which word is ‘more right’ and why? Think carefully! The answer is…Clay. The Chandogya Upanishad says: “mrtika iti eva satyam” (Clay alone is truth, is ‘more right’). Why? Because the word ‘pot’ is just a name (nama) for a particular form (rupa) and function (karma) of clay. Clay is the substance (Satyam) that the pot is made of. In fact, what is the pot? Nothing but clay in a particular form/shape (it has a hollow centre, a base, round sides, an edge) with a particular function (the pot’s function is to hold liquid. That’s what makes it a pot and not a chair.)
Ok, let’s do a magic trick….let’s make this pot disappear. So imagine I am holding a pot in front of you. I will now ask you some simple questions:
– Is the pot on the clay? No
– Is the pot in the clay? No
– Is the pot outside the clay? No
– Is the pot next to the clay? No
Then where’s the pot!? Please show me! I don’t see a pot. I see only 1 thing: Clay. Side is clay, base is clay, weight is clay, smell is clay, texture is clay….there’s only clay. There is no pot, separate from clay. The pot is clay. That’s the fact. The clay is the very substance that makes and pervades (upadana karana) the so called ‘pot’. Even a clay spoon is really nothing but clay. A clay plate is really clay. A clay chair is clay. So you see 4 things: pot, spoon, plate, chair. And there are 4 things from the perspective of them all having different shapes and names and functions (Nama-Rupa-Karma). True. But what are all of these 4 in essence? What is their very substance which pervades them? Only 1 thing – Clay. There is only 1 clay, but multiple names and forms of clay.
The word describing the reality of the clay, the substance, is ‘Satyam’. The word describing the reality of the multiple names and forms made of the substance is ‘Mithya’. So Mithya cannot exist without Saytam. Because Mithya is Satyam (Pot is clay). But Satyam is not Mithya (Clay is not pot).
Therefore in summary:
– Satyam = Independent Existence. Unchanging Substance. Only 1.
– Mithya = Dependent Existence on Satyam. Name-Form-Function, multiple & changing.
Right. So what’s the point of this clay pot example? What has a clay pot got to do with Self-Knowledge and Moksha? Well, the original definition given for Self-Knowledge was this (see the start): “Atma is Satyam, everything else is Mithya”. Means what?
It means you can say this: “The existence of the entire Universe depends upon me. I am the substance which makes up the entire universe (jagat). Nothing in the whole world could exist without me (Atma).” This is Self-Knowledge from the Upanishads, that will set you free.
Sounds impossible/ridiculous/outrageous? Yes….it should at this initial stage. This requires a full explanation and proof – which the Vedanta teaching (in tattvabodha) will proceed to unfold in astounding detail through the next few chapters.