Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 19: The Reign of Relativity > Chapter 1: The Cosmos of Change

The Cosmos of Change

The universe comes, exists, goes, comes again, and repeats this cycle. Man does the same until he breaks the illusion of common experience and penetrates into the reality behind it all and behind himself.

The discovery of relativity leads to the conclusion that we know only the appearances--and partial ones at that--of an incomprehensible creative Mystery.

All existence is stamped with these two characteristics--a coming-to-be and a passing-away. Where is the reality in, or behind, them?

Once we understand the true nature of Mind, and the universal law of Karma under which it operates, we can understand why the cosmos, as a series of dependent evolving mental images, has no end and no beginning and must be as eternal as Mind itself.

We live in a cosmos wherein infinite being is forever expressing its own inexpressible self. But as the limitations of it are done in time space motion and form, we are in a never-ending never-successful process.

Maya is inexplicable: Reality is ineffable.

Because the world-thought issues ultimately from the World-Mind, it cannot be wholly excluded from Reality. It may even be called Reality because it is the ground of everything else, yet is itself derived from Nothing.

Nothing that is to be found in space and that exists in time can continue in perpetuity. It will, it must, disintegrate and disappear.

All things are either changing or will be affected by change: physical things like peas and mountains, mental things like impressions and imaginations. Is there no unchanging element at all in this ever-changing world?

The region of real power, real knowledge, is not in duality, not in the contrast of good and evil, light and dark, but in THAT which transcends them. Can we gain access to it?

We live in the Real--all of us--but only few know it.

This is a paradox of existence: that the Real is beyond the illusory and yet the illusory is derived from the Real.

Only when one stands upon this mystical mountaintop does one begin to see how, in a made universe, there cannot be the pleasurable, the joyful, and the sweet alone. Wherever there is birth there must be death; wherever there is a possible pleasure there must be a possible pain. The recognition of the unpleasant things may sound quite inhuman, and in a certain sense it is; but then, it was not a human being who fashioned the universe.

The notion that the world is not what it seems to be, that it is an appearance quite other than the reality behind it, is a true one. But it ought not to be misused to support escapism, apathy, the sense of futility and of the uselessness of life. Fit it to the other half of truth, that the Reality from which the world (which includes oneself) is derived, is divine, with all the wonderful meanings of the word. The correct consequence should follow--inspiration and invigoration.

The upward spiral course of the line of Eternal recurrence reveals the relativity of this phenomenal world, not only in time but also in space, and in a kind of substance--from which it is formed.

If there is one thing that is forever what it is, itself unchanging and unaffected, it cannot be found in this world of time and space.

The world is seen and man must live in it. But he can do so deceived by the feeling of its reality, or awake to the reality itself, which hides behind the appearance.

The unseen energy from which atomic physics derives the universe is beyond investigation by scientific apparatus. But the first effect is not so exempt. The split atom reveals itself in the cyclotron as nuclear particles which have definite form. From them the universe is built and thus matter appears. Energy form--matter--this is the sequence but where is mind in all this? Consciousness and intelligence exist in man. He is only a part of the universe. The whole is greater than the part (that is, mind). Therefore mind exists in the universe (that is, Nature). Careful analysis combined with its opposite, profound meditation, shows using the knowledge derived from atomic physics, this universal mind to be none other than the unseen power--God.

If the world is unreal, as Advaita asserts, it nevertheless does appear. As Brahman it does not appear; this is the function of Maya. Brahman, however, is the reality underlying the unreal appearance of Maya.

The world appearance

The world is not illusion: it is relative, or an appearance, a changing phase of reality. Nor is it purposeless. It exists to evolve the individual entities to their goals.

There is a view that human existence is a kind of sleep-walking, that it is God imagining himself to be man but that one day he wakes up and discovers his real nature: this is a view which needs deep careful consideration before summary rejection.

Both philosophy and metaphysics and even some religions agree in calling the universe an illusion. But they do not all agree in their attitude towards it. Only philosophy draws attention to the fact that even if its existence is an illusory one, it is still there, for we are aware of it. Mental denial does not lead to physical non-reporting of it by the five senses. It is better to admit this existence and to put it in its proper place rather than to say it is nothing, that it is not there.

We are trapped in the world of time, embedded in our earthly selves, limited by this five-sensed body, and entirely deceived by the seeming reality of things into believing it to be the final reality.

There is no thing, be it as vast as a sun or as small as a cell, which is not subject to the law of opposite polarities and which therefore does not manifest itself in two entirely contrary ways. Yet man, because his senses are so limited, sees it in only a single way. It is this incompleteness which creates his illusion that the thing really exists in time, is measured in space, and is shaped in form.

Not only is this world not the real world, it is not even its shadow, but only the shadow of its shadow.

The world does exist, we are surrounded by it, and usually we apply the term to something that does not exist. It will be more correct to translate the term Maya not by "unreal" but by "not what we think it to be." We must not deny the existence of the world--that would be lunacy--but we must try to get a correct understanding of its hidden nature.

It is a mistake to translate the Sanskrit term lila as play in the sense of sporting idly. The correct meaning is play in the sense of a theatrical show.

"All the world is but a dream," sang the Mahratta mystic, Tulsidas, thus echoing the misunderstanding which has stamped mystical thought throughout India.

A "delusion" is wholly false and untrue, whereas an "illusion" has some kind of basis beneath it.

There is no need to insult intelligence by denying existence--whether the world's or the body's--but we can try to understand that there are different forms of existence and only one formless essence of it.

The world-illusion: it projects the unreal but hides the real.

Here is the essence of both the Theory of Relativity and philosophy's development of it. Two men standing on two different planets moving at different speeds and at disproportionately different distances from the same object at the same instant of time, will differently perceive this object and differently estimate both its character and the measure of the forces working upon it. How can it be said that one of these results is wrong and the other right? Both are correct, for both must be what they are from their respective standpoints. But the same object and the same forces cannot at one and the same time possess contradictory measurements and properties. Therefore these men are not really dealing with it but with their own observations of it. On the other hand, two entirely different objects may produce two entirely similar sets of sense-impressions, as in the case of the meteor called shooting-star and a genuine star. Hence the things and forces in the world are not really the world-in-itself but what we individually see and experience as the world. All that we really know of them in the end is the picture which forms itself out of our sense-impressions, and this picture alone has genuine existence. Anything beyond it has only a supposed existence. But these impressions when thoroughly analysed are found to be only forms which the mind has unconsciously made for itself, just as a dreamer unconsciously makes his dream world for himself. The world of man's experience is always entirely relative to the individual man himself. All that he sees and smells lies wholly within his consciousness and not outside it.

It is, of course, almost impossible for a non-mathematical brain to be able to comprehend processes which are essentially mathematical. However, I cannot agree with the criticisms that the ancient philosophical form of this doctrine was no more than a guess. Certain mental powers of insight into the nature of things were developed by a few ancient philosophers through concentration and reflection. By the exercise of these powers they arrived at a result which is different only in form, but not in essence, from the modern theory of Relativity.

Whatever the universe be in human experience, it is, in important ways, like a dream. That is, we must grant existence to a dream world as an indubitable fact because it is a perceived and experienced world; but at the same time we must refuse its form ultimate existence, and hence enduring reality, because it is neither perceived nor experienced after we awake from sleep. This twofold character of the dream world also belongs to the familiar and so-called real universe. It is plain, yet paradoxical at the same time. For this reason, ancient Tibetan philosophers declared the world to be both existent and non-existent. To the unenquiring mind it vividly is what it seems to be, but to the awakened insight of the sage its form presents itself like a more enduring version of the transient form of a dream world. Both forms are thought-constructions. Both have Mind as their underlying "substance." Therefore Mind is their reality. Apart from Mind the world could not even exist, just as apart from the dreamer his dream could not exist.

When the analysis of his life is made he sees that it sums up as (1) a series of changing experiences through which he passes physically and (2) another series through which he passes mentally. Impermanence is stamped upon them. However welcome at first, they are disenchanting in the end.

In this matter of the real and the illusory, it is not enough to hear or to read about what is real; it must also be known by experience following intuition, which itself offers glimpses.

The world is not as real as we ordinarily see it: but neither is it as illusory as some metaphysicians see it. For insofar as it is an illusion there must be something behind it to create the illusion.

The world-illusion not only obscures the Reality behind it but deceives us into thinking of the Many as being Real, instead of being One.

When the old worn-out phrases about Brahman and maya are parroted from Shankara it is better to answer simply, "So what!" For still things remain the same as before, all the denunciation of the world has been merely maya and does not change its very real presence and actuality to us. The same applies to the other persons and individuals. Is it not better to say that the ego, with its body, emotion, and intellect, is part of the person's experience than to deny it altogether?

In itself the universe is not eternal, but its intermittent appearances are. If it were eternal, there would then be a pair of supreme realities--the Divine and the Material, God and Matter--each separately existing.

When they come out of their dreams and studies, these pedantic dismissers of the universe of their own selves still find the world and the body waiting for them and still confronting them with problems and cares.

To say that the world is maya is to say that it is changing, dependent, relative, mysterious, and illusory.

A thing becomes an illusion only when its reality becomes inferior to a higher reality that has already been found. Until then, it is still a reality. Only the sage has the strict right to call this world an illusion. If anyone else does so, such talk is mere babble.

Are the lake waters and massive Alps which present themselves to my gaze nothing but an illusion? Do those terrible wars and tragic events through which the human race has lately passed deceive us about their reality?

We think we are experiencing a real world, but that is because we know so little and are deceived so easily. For we know only the appearances of things, see only the illusions of the senses.

Without an immeasurably swift vibratory movement of the flashes of energy which constitute it, our illusion of a world around us could not exist.

The actions and movements of figures on the cinema screen are optical illusions. The screen really registers thousands of individual still photos. The illusion of motion is created because the eyes cannot register each picture separately, the speed of release per second being too high for its own power to do so. Thus the sense organ deceives us into thinking that the actors are moving, when really each and every photo shows them still. If the reels of film were turned just slowly enough to depict each photo separately, the illusion of living movement would disappear altogether.

The senses tell us that a star is only a speck. Reason corrects their judgement and tells us that it is an object of immense size.

The world's reality is only apparent, its eternality is only relative. Its true nature eludes the senses, its timeless essence eludes the mind.

What the Hindus call maya is what the Westerners often call "illusion"; it is also what Gandhi called "appearance," Fichte called "idea," and Schopenhauer "representation."

The world as it appears to our eyes is not the same as the world as it would appear to the eyes of a two-dimensional being.

We live in different worlds which interpenetrate each other, for there are simply different levels of consciousness. This is as true of the so-called dead as it is of us and it explains the coexistence of heaven and hell.

It is more careful to admit that our experience of the world is both real and illusory than to dogmatize that it is only illusory.

All things are relative to other things and are subject to change. Every object which seems completely real is only so for a limited time and in a certain form.

It is truer to say that the world is an appearance than that it is an illusion, an experience rather than an unreality.

Philosophy does not advocate belief in the orthodox Christian theory that the universe was created from nothing, nor its related notion of a sudden first creation, which is an equally untenable assumption. There is no moment when the universe has not existed, either latently or actively, and consequently there will be no moment when it will not continue to exist, either latently or actively. This is so because the world does not arise by a sudden act of creation but by a gradual process of manifestation. Since there is no particular moment in the universe's long history when it could be said to have been first created, it has never had a beginning and consequently will never have an end. It has never been started so it can never be finished. It is eternal and self-sustaining because it is the body of God, who is eternal and self-sustaining. Creation begins and ends nowhere and nowhen. The conception of the universe which presumes to assign a date to creation is a nebulous one and will vary with the mere caprice of the "dater." He will hatch out a creation theory to suit himself, depending therefore on human temperament and taste. Philosophy repudiates the mentalistic theory as generally interpreted, for external Nature is not regarded as unreal. It is a fact that our experience of the world's appearance is ephemeral but our experience of the world's existence is essentially real. It follows therefore that those who would turn the world into an illusion to which no value should be attached are compelled to recognize its presence and evolve their theory to account for it. The truth is that the cosmos is truly a self-revelation of the World-Mind. It is spun out of God's very self. Thus instead of an absentee God, we have an everywhere-present one who is the very essence of the world.

He must not let the Ashtavakra Samhita be misunderstood. It does not preach mystic idleness and indifference. The world is there for both sage and student, and both must work and serve--the difference being mental only. Illusionism is not the doctrine except as an intermediate stage towards truth, which is higher. One must participate in God's work by assisting evolution and redeeming the world, not squat idly in peace alone.

Although we live in a world that is basically unreal--if we define reality as that which never changes, which ever was, is, and will be--we have to live in this world as if it were real, substantially real. We are compelled to do so, because we find ourselves here and we have to be active here. What it amounts to is that the maya of the Indians has to be treated as if it were Brahman, but we can only do so safely if we know the Truth.

The Hindu metaphysicians write off the Universe as our own fault, because we are deceived by the power of illusion, while our personal ego receives the same labelling: it is a fiction. At the same time they propound the teaching of a constant series of reincarnations in other forms which we have to undergo. Thus, their idea of immortality takes a different shape from the Christian one. We forget what we suffered and enjoyed, only to fall into new memories and new resurrections. Thus they deny we have any personal ego at all, yet go on behaving as if it is really there. The serious man may be forgiven his bewilderment. He is promised liberation (from the existence which at the same time is denied) if he rises to a height not only of incredible moral virtue but also of incredible psychological subtlety and semantic penetration, while we too have to go on attending to the earthly matters which are quite illusory.

There is a wide assortment of smiles. They can be prompted by traits as far from each other as hypocrisy is from sincerity, as selfishness is from compassion, as the falseness of treachery is from the realization of truth. They may look alike; this is an indirect, remote, but not unconnected illustration of the teaching that the universe is in reality not what it appears to be.

Of what use or help is it to tell the enquiring Westerner, "The Hindu sage does not see the world; he sees only Brahman!" If he does not see the world, then he does not see food in front of him, nor even his own body--both being parts of the physical world. Such statements merely create confusion for others. The Greek philosopher saw the world but understood it for what it really was. He did not need to deny its existence.

The status of the world is contradictory. It is a thing because it exists but a no-thing because it is only an appearance. It is like the hazy twilight, which is neither day nor night, yet in one sense day but in another night. It is like a dream, which is real enough while we are within it but unreal when we are not.

Alice in Wonderland: "You're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real," said Tweedledum. "If I wasn't real," Alice said, "I shouldn't be able to cry." Interrupted Tweedledum: "I hope you don't suppose those are real tears?"

The Hindu doctrine of world illusion is itself an illusion because it denies its own experience instead of admitting but reinterpreting (that is, understanding) it.

The first momentous discovery with metaphysical implications of the first order towards which science arduously laboured its way was that matter is in the end only an illusory appearance. The next great discovery of a similar character has already begun and it will finish with the corollary that time and space are also in the end illusory appearances. But as the world in which we live and the only one which we ordinarily know is a material, temporal, and spatial one, it follows that mankind is beset by the profoundest illusions. Thoroughly to understand the significance of illusions, however, is to understand that in the end it is the working of the Mind alone that plays these tricks on man and clothes the world for him in matter, time, and space. If therefore he wishes to free himself from these three universal illusions he must achieve conscious control of the mind's activity. This he can succeed in doing through Yoga; concentration on a single thought theme or object, when persisted in to the bitter end, stops such mental activity and thus the illusions which accompany it also stop.

The relativity of things, ideas, and experiences should not be used to assert that one thing is as good as another, one truth as valid as another. That would be idiotic. All is illusion but all is not equally illusive.

When the meaning of relativity is only half-understood, and its place in the scheme of things wholly misunderstood, then all statements are equally true, or equally untrue.

The doctrine of relativity has a grave danger of its own. When we see that numerous standpoints may rightly exist, we may claim despairingly, "Beauty, truth, and righteousness have no real existence but only an imagined one."

The sceptics who deem this world-appearance impenetrable, who would say that the only truth is that there is no truth, only opinion, are honest but not fully informed.

All knowledge presupposes both a subject and an object, the two thoughts "I" and "another."

From one standpoint Relativism reveals all knowledge to be but a bundle of illusions.

Such is this relativity of all things to their knower that because the world we experience is our mental world, we never see the world as it really is in itself or as a being who was observing it from outside would observe it. The consequence is that we never see the world without unconsciously seeing the world mixed up with the self. The "I" plus something other than the "I" constitute our field of consciousness. We never know the world-in-itself but only the world-in-a-state-of-interaction-with-the-self. We never know the self-in-itself but only the self-in-a-condition-of-interaction-with-the-world. Such are the actual and compulsory conditions of the so-called experience of the world and our so-called experience of the self.

What does experience mean in the light of this analysis? It means not only that the world in itself is never known in isolation but also that the "I" is likewise never isolated.

Can the observer who sees, the knower who knows be himself made an object to be perceived? No! says the intellectual; Yes! says the mystic philosopher.

In the awareness of a thing, a scene, or an event there is awareness inside time and space, and hence inside their limitations. The subject is present, tied as ever to an object; the observer is involved as always with the observed.

Whoever claims to possess an absolute knowledge of Truth is suspect. Without going to the opposite extreme and agreeing with French novelist Anatole France that "all is opinion," and without proceeding to his dry conclusion, "My opinion is to have no opinion!" we may grant that the personal status of a man and his particular standpoint lead to the kind of "truth" he attains.

The spectacle of this world is subject to change, but the spectator himself never changes. These constant transformations are plainly to be seen but he who sees them is deeply concealed.

If the relativity of human knowledge is so striking a fact, how then, it will be asked, can philosophy be of any service to the quest of truth? It can only destroy the intellectual positions of others but cannot establish an absolute final position of its own.

To take the world as it really is demands a profound insight which arises as all the old dualisms dissolve.

If anyone proclaims it to be Truth, then it must be portrayed as living truth, something with a living God behind it.

As a man grows more aware of philosophy's truth, he grows more aware of the ephemeral nature of things.

Both the subject and object of consciousness are only one.

Man sees the world all right, but seldom sees himself in the act of seeing the world.

Which, amongst so many conflicting teachings, is the true one? Their effect upon the thoughtful seeker is to produce bewilderment. But he who understands the relativity of ideas may move through them all with unruffled detachment.

Man himself is an evolving and therefore a changing entity. His perceptions and his understanding are growing in range. How then dare he claim that any of his knowledge is final, any of his truths absolute?

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.