Chapter 41 — Use of Words; Description of Ignorance

Rama said, “Sage, I feel your speech to be as cooling and shining as the water of the milky sea. It is as deep and full as the vast ocean. Sometimes I am puzzled, other times I am enlightened by the variety of your discourses, as a rainy day is now hidden by a cloud, and again shines forth brightly with sunshine. I understand Brahman as infinite and inconceivable and the life and light of all that exists. I know that light never sets. But tell me, how do people attribute many qualities that are foreign to his nature?”

Vasishta replied:—

The wording and meaning of my lectures to you are all used in their right and ordinary sense. They are neither insignificant nor meaningless, equivocal or ambiguous, or contradictory of one another. You will understand the proper significance of my phraseology when the eyesight of your understanding becomes clearer and when the light of reason rises in your mind. Do not make the mistake of relying upon your ordinary understanding to interpret the meanings of my words or the phraseology I have used to explain the subject of my lectures and the intention of the scriptures. When you come to know the clear truth of Brahman, you will know more regarding the distinctions of significant words.

Distinctive verbal signs are invented to communicate our thoughts, to convey our instructions to others, and for our knowledge of the intention of the scriptures. Words and their meanings and phrases and their constructions are used for the instruction of others. They are applied for the use of the ignorant. They never apply to those who are acquainted with truth.

10 There is no attribute or imputation that bears any relation with the free and unsullied soul. It is the dispassionate spirit of the supreme Brahman, and the same is the soul of the existent world. 11 This subject will again be fully discussed and expanded upon with various arguments when we arrive at the conclusion of this subject (in the Book of Nirvana).

12 I have said this much about words and terminology because it is impossible to penetrate the deep darkness of ignorance without the means of much talk. 13 As conscious ignorance offers herself a willing sacrifice on the shrine of knowledge, she bids her adversary, the destroyer of error, to take possession of her seat in the bosom of man. 14 One weapon is foiled by another, one dart is removed by the other, one poison is destroyed by another, and one foe is driven out by another enemy.

15 So Rama, the mutual destruction of errors brings joy to the soul. It is hard to detect the error, but no sooner it is found out than it is destroyed. It means the refutation of false doctrines by one another.

16 Ignorance obscures the keenness of our insights and presents the false and gross world before us. We all view this wonderful universe, but we do not know what or how it is. 17 Unobserved, it rushes to our view, but being examined with attention and keen observation, it flies away. We know it is a phantasm, and yet find it appearing with dimensions and forms before us. 18 O the wonderful enchantment that has spread out this world and made unreality appear as a sober reality to the knowledge of every one of us.

19 This earth is a distinct, widely extended superstructure resting on the indistinct surface of an unknown foundation. He is the best of beings who has stretched this enchantment. 20 When you are enlightened with the thought that all this is non-existent in reality, you will become the knower of the knowable (God) and understand the meaning of my lectures. 21 So long as you are not awakened to true knowledge, trust my words and know this immensity to be the creature of the incorrigible and immovable ignorance. 22 All this immensity that appears to sight is only the picture of your mistaken thought. It is all unsubstantial, only a mere manifestation of your deluded mind.

23 He is entitled to liberation whose mind is certain of the reality of Brahman, and who knows the moving and unmoving figures outside to be the thoughts of the mind presented to the sight. 24 The whole immensity of the earth is like a net set to catch the birds that are the fleeting mind. It is as false as a landscape in a dream, an unreality that appears as real to the mind.

25 He who looks upon the world without attachment to it is never subject to grief or sorrow on any account. He who thinks all these forms are formless sees the formless spirit. 26 The forms of the formless spirit are the formation of ignorance. When the blemishes of passions and change do not belong even to great souls, how can these attributes relate to the greatest God?

27 Attributes given to the Supreme Spirit are like dust thrown upon the surface of clear water. Only our thoughts attribute qualities to the inconceivable one, just as we attribute certain meanings to words that have no corresponding substance in reality. 28 Custom establishes the meanings of words that continue to be inseparably joined with them. It is custom that determines the use of words in scriptures.

29 As cloth cannot be thought of without its thread, so the soul is unintelligible without the medium of words giving its true definition. 30 It is possible to gain knowledge of the soul from scriptures without one being self-conscious of it, just as it is possible to cross the sea of ignorance by means of spiritual knowledge.

31 Rama, when the soul is in any way polluted by the blemishes of ignorance, it is impossible to arrive at the state of what is called imperishable life and bliss. 32 The existence of the world truly depends on the existence of the Supreme. Know this and do not question how or where it came to exist. 33 Let your thoughts be focused only on how to get rid of this unreality, for it is upon the disappearance of the unreality that you can know the real truth. 34 Leave off thinking from where all this came, how it is, and how it is destroyed at last. Believe that it is really nothing, only appearing without being actually seen.

35 How can one know how his mistake makes unreality appear as reality when the mistake has taken a firm footing in his mind? 36 Try your best to destroy your mistaken prejudice and then you will know the truth. Truly men who are freed from prejudice are the greatest heroes and the most learned in the world. 37 Strive to destroy your harmful ignorance, or it is sure to overpower you as it does the rest of mankind. 38 Take care lest your ignorance should enthrall you to the pain of repeated reincarnations. Know ignorance to be the root of all evil and companion of every vice. It creates a man’s interest in what proves to be his peril. 39 Quickly abandon this false view, the harmful cause of your fears and sorrows, and of your diseases and dangers, and the germ of errors in the mind, and thereby cross this perilous ocean of the world.