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The subjects of knowledge and ignorance, and of the knower, knowing and the known, are naturally connected to ideas about the reality of the world. Before I give some of the Maharshi’s view on this subject, I should mention that it is a subject I had long been interested in myself, so much so that I had, prior to my visit, authored a small book entitled Maya in which I had attempted to relate certain Indian ideas on the reality of the world to those propounded by Einstein in his theories of relativity. I had sent the Maharshi a copy prior to my visit and was very curious to know what he had thought of my basic thesis.


Question: Professor Einstein has recently proved by the method of mathematics that space, time, objects, form, weight and speed, etc. are all relative to the sight of the seer. A small booklet called Maya was sent to you on this subject.


Maharshi: Yes, what you say is true. I liked it and I have read it fully. By correcting the seer, everything gets corrected. In the book there is talk of many seers, but in reality the seer is only one. The many are in the imagination of the seer only.


In this answer and in the answer that followed the Maharshi was gracious enough to point out a mistake in my treatment of the subject by showing me how I had based my arguments on a wrong presumption. He explained to me the correct viewpoint at some length. My purpose in writing that book was to prove that the concept of maya as propounded by Sankara is fully borne out by the modern theory of relativity. This theory, as is well known, maintains that time and space are purely relative notions dependent entirely on the conventions governing the observer and the object under observation, and that there is no such thing as objective space and time. When two observers, taking different positions in space, observe a particular event, they obtain different time-space measures that will conflict with each other and necessarily vitiate any conclusion they may arrive at concerning the particular event. Sri Maharshi pointed out to me that the very presumption of two observers being situated at two given points is itself an unwarranted one. It was a revelation to me that Sri Maharshi could judge off-hand, as it were, such modern theories as that of relativity, proceeding entirely on the basis of his own experience of the absolute.


Verse sixteen of Sat Darshana clearly declares Sri Maharshi’s views on space and time:


Where is space without me, where is time? The body exists in space and time, but no body am I. Nowhere am I, in no time; yet I am everywhere and in all time.


This is the perfect spiritual experience that dispels all false notions about time and space. Time is not an objective reality with a beginning and an end. The very idea of attributing a beginning or an end to time is something absurd and fantastic, since what preceded and followed the beginning and end of time must also come within the time span. The approach to the problem of time as described by verse sixteen does away with past and future, the only reality being the eternal present. But such a description of the one reality as the ever-present and changeless Self demands of the earnest seeker the faith and conviction that the realisation of his perfection must be here and now and not in some remote future. Moralists never tire of pointing to some distant future as the golden age to come, preceded by a long period of evolution. But all evolutionary theories require a uniform, objective time. According to both Vedanta and modern science, there cannot be an objective time. The theory of relativity has finally demolished it. To try to build a theory of evolution conflicting with the established data of science and alien to the upanishadic conclusions as expressed by the mahavakyas may be more unhelpful than edifying.


And now, as previously promised, I should like to record some of Sri Maharshi’s very interesting answers to various questions about the reality of the world. They are not part of a continuous dialogue, for I jotted the answers down at different times. Some of the questions were my own, but most were raised by fellow visitors to the ashram.


Q: Is the world real or false?


M: So long as there is mind, the world is there. During sleep there is no mind, so the world is not there.


Q: While I am sleeping, other people who are awake continue to see the world.


M: The people who are awake at that time are part of the world [whose existence you are trying to prove], so what they say cannot be taken as a piece of admissible evidence. At that time [when you are asleep] it [first] has to be proved whether or not other people exist. That which has to be proved cannot be taken for granted as existent. Their existence has to be proved independently, but such a proof cannot be found. Those who are awake have minds that are moving; that is why they see the world. So, the world exists in relation to the mind. It is not a thing independent and existing by itself.


Q: What is the relationship between maya, the power that makes us take the world to be real, and Atman, the reality itself?


M: A man gets married in a dream and there the groom is real but the wife is false. And when he wakes up he is the same man as before. Similarly, the real Atman always remains as it is. It does not get affected or contaminated by maya. It does not marry either maya or anatma [the not-Self] because it is complete, whereas the substance of the world is unreal.


The individual ‘I’ is like the dream state of the man. When it begins to arise, the mind and the sense organs begin to operate. When it goes, they also go away. The root of all perceived material things in this ‘I’. Aham, ‘I’, is real, but ahankara, the ego ‘I’, is false.


David Godman Books


Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings

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