Chapter 113 — Description of Ignorance & Delusion (Avidya)

Vasishta continued:—

False desires that continually rise in the heart are like the appearances of false moons in the sky and should be shunned by the wise. They rise in the minds of the unwise amidst their ignorance. Everything that is known only by its name and not in actuality cannot reside in the minds of wise people.

Be wise, O Rama, and do not think like the ignorant. Consider well all that I tell you. There is no second moon in the sky, but it appears so only by deception of our optical visions. There exists nothing real or unreal anywhere except the only true essence of God, just like there is no substantiality in the continuity of the waves other than the body of waters. There is no reality in anything, whether existent or non-existent, all which are mere creations of your shadowy ideality. Therefore do not impute any shape or figure to the eternal, boundless and pure spirit of God.

You are no maker or master of anything. Then why consider any act or thing as your own? You do not know what these existences are, or by whom and from what they are made. Do not think you are an actor because no actor can attempt to do anything. Discharge whatever is your duty and remain at your ease with having done your part. Though you are the actor of an action, do not think of yourself as such. Mind your inability to do or undo anything. How can you boast of being the actor when you know your inability for action?

If truth is delectable and untruth is odious, then remain firm to what is good and be employed in your duties. 10 But as the whole world is a gallery, a magic, and an unreality, then say what reliance is there in it and what signifies pleasure or displeasure to anybody?

11 Know Rama, this egg of the world is a delusion and being nonexistent in itself, it appears as a real existence to others. 12 Know this busy sphere of the world, so full with its non-existence, to be an ideal fantasy presented for the delusion of our minds. 13 It is like a beautiful bamboo plant, all hollow within and without pith or marrow inside, or like the curling waves of the sea, both of which are born to perish without being uprooted from the bottom.

14 This world is as evaporated as the air and water flying in the air, incapable of being touched or held in the hand, and as precipitous as a waterfall in its course. 15 It appears as a flowery garden, but never comes to any good use at all. The billowy sea in the mirage presents the form of water without quenching our thirst. 16 Sometimes it seems to be straight, and at others a curve. Now it is long and now short, and now it is moving and quiet again. Everything in it, though originally for our good, conspires to our evil only. 17 Though hollow inside, the world appears to be full with its apparent contents. Though all the worlds are continually in motion, yet they seem to be standing still.

18 Whether they be dull matter or intelligences, their existence depends upon their motion. And these, without stopping anywhere for a moment, present the sight of their being quite at rest. 19 Though they are as bright as light to sight, they are as opaque in their bowels as the dark coal. Though they are moved by a superior power, they appear to be moving of themselves. 20 They fade away before the brighter light of the sun, but brighten in the darkness of the night. Their light is like that of the mirage created by the reflection of sunbeams.

21 Human greed is like a black serpent, crooked and venomous, thin and soft in its form, but rough and dangerous in its nature, and ever unsteady as a woman. 22 Without the objects of our affection, our love of the world soon ceases, like the lamp is extinguished without its oil and as the vermilion mark is soon worn off. 23 Our false hopes are as transient as the impermanent flashes of lightning. Hopes glare and flare for a moment, then disappear in the air like these transitory flashes of light.

24 The objects of our desire are often had without our seeking, but they are as frail as the fire of heaven. They appear to vanish like twinkling lightning, and being held carefully in the hand, they burn it like an electric fire. 25 Many things come to us unasked and though appearing delightful at first, they prove troublesome to us at last. Hopes delayed are like flowers growing out of season which neither bear their fruit or answer our purposes. 26 Every accident tends to our misery, as unpleasant dreams annoy our sleep and disturb our rest.

27 It is our delusion (avidya) that presents these many and big worlds before us, just like our dreams produce, sustain and destroy all appearances of vision in one minute. 28 It was delusion that made one minute appear as many years to King Lavana, and the space of one night seem like the long period of a dozen of years to Harish Chandra. 29 Such also is the case with separated lovers among rich people: that in the absence of their beloved, a single night seems like an entire year to them. 30 It is this delusive avidya that shortens the flight of time to the rich and happy and prolongs its course with the poor and miserable, all of whom are subject to the power of delusion (vipary’asa).

31 The power of this delusion is essentially spread over all the works of creation, like the light of a lamp spreads over things in its brightness and not in substance. 32 As a female form represented in a picture is no woman and has no power to do anything, so this delusion that presents us the shapes of our desired objects in the picture of the mind can produce nothing in reality.

33 The delusion consists in building aerial castles without substance in the mind. Though these appear in hundreds and thousands of shapes, they have no substance to them. 34 It deludes the ignorant, like a mirage misleads deer in a desert, but false appearances cannot deceive the knowing man. 35 These appearances, like foaming waters, are as continuous as they are impermanent. They are as fleeting as the driving frost that cannot be held in the hand. 36 This delusion holds the world in its grasp and flies aloft with it in the air. It blinds us like flying dust raised by its furious blasts. 37 Covered with dust and with heat and sweat of its body, it grasps the earth and flies all about the world. The deluded man ever works with persistence and runs everywhere after his greed.

38 As drops of rainwater falling from the clouds form the great rivers and seas, and as scattered straw tied together make a strong rope to bind beasts, so the combination of all the delusive objects in the world makes the great delusion of reality and lust.

39 Poets describe the fluctuations of the world as a series of waves and the world itself as a bed of lotuses, pleasant to sight but floating on an unstable element. But I compare it to the porous stalk of the lotus, full of perforations and openings inside, and to a pool of mud and mire with the filth of our sins.

40 Men think much of their improvement and of many other things on earth, but there is no improvement in this decaying world that is like a tempting cake with a coating of sweets, but full of deadly gall within. 41 It is like a lamp whose flame is lost and fled we know not where. It is visible as a mist, but try to lay hold on it and it proves to be nothing. 42 This earth is a handful of ashes which being flung aloft flies in particles of dust. It is like the upper sky which appears to be blue but has no blueness in it.

43 This delusion on earth as like the appearance of two moons in the sky, or in the vision of things in a dream, or in the motion of immovable things on the land to the passenger in a boat. 44 Men being long deluded by this error which has tightly laid hold of their minds, imagine a long duration of the world, as they do of the scenes in their dreams. 45 The mind being thus deluded by this error sees the wonderful productions of world to rise and fall within itself like the waves of the sea.

46 Things which are real and good appear otherwise in our error, while those that are unreal and harmful appear real and good to our deluded understandings. 47 Our strong greed, riding on the vehicle of the desired object, chases the fleeting mind as bird-catchers chase flying birds with nets. 48 Delusion, like a mother and wife, often offers us fresh delights with her tender looks and breasts distilling sweet milk. 49 But these delights serve only to poison us, while they seem to cool the worlds with their distillation, just like the crescent orb of the moon injures us with too much of her moistening influence, while it appears to refresh us with her full bright beams.

50 Blind delusion turns meek, mild and mute men into giddy and clamorous fools, like silent vetala ghosts in their dancing revelry in the silent woods at night. 51 It is under the influence of delusion that we see shapes of snakes and serpents in our brick-built and stone-made houses at nightfall. 52 It makes a single thing appear as double, like the sight of two moons in the sky, and brings near to us what is far away, like in our dreams. Delusion even causes us to dream that we are dead. 53 It causes long to appear as short, as our nightly sleep shortens the duration of time and makes a moment appear as a year, as in the case of separated lovers.

54 Look at the power of this unsubstantial ignorance, a negative thing, and still there is nothing which it cannot alter to something else. 55 Therefore be diligent to stop the course of this delusion by your right knowledge, just as they dry up a channel by stopping the current of the stream.

56 Rama said, “It is wonderful that a false conception that has no real existence and is so delicate as almost a nothing (but a name) should thus blind the understanding. 57 It is strange that something without form or figure, without sense or understanding, and which is unreal and vanishing, should so blindfold the world. 58 It is strange that a thing sparkling in darkness and vanishing in daylight, and shortsighted as the brooding owl, should keep the world in darkness. 59 It is strange that something prone to doing evil and unable to come to light and flying from sight, and having no bodily form whatever, should thus darken the world. 60 It is a wonder that one acting so miserly and consorting with the mean and vile, and ever hiding herself in darkness, should thus dominate the world. 61 It is wonderful that fallacy attended with constant sorrow and peril, and which is devoid of sense and knowledge, should keep the world in darkness. 62 It is to be wondered that error arising from anger and greed, creeping crookedly in darkness and liable to instant death, should yet keep the world in blindness. 63 It is surprising that error which is a blind, dull and stupid thing itself, and which is falsely talkative at all times, should yet mislead others in the world. 64 It is astonishing that falsehood should betray a man after attaching as closely to him as his consort, and showing all her endearments to him, but flying at the approach of his reason. 65 It is strange that man should be blinded by the womanish attire of error which beguiles the man but dares not to look at him face to face. 66 It is strange that man is blinded by his faithless consort of error which has no sense or intelligence and which dies away without being killed.”

67 “Tell me sage, how this error — which has its seat in the desires and is deeply rooted in the recesses of the heart and mind, and leads us to the channels of endless misery by subjecting us to repeated births and deaths and to the pains and pleasures of life — is to be dispelled?”