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Pratibhasika Satta In Hindu Philosophy

In Hindu philosophy, Pratibhasika Satta is a conceptual term meaning ‘appearance as reality.’ There is a familiar saying in the works of Adi Shankaracharya on Absolute Monism. It reads as follows –

Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya Jivo brahmaiva naparah (Brahman is reality, the universe is illusion and the individual self is none else than the Brahman (Universal Being) – (Adi Shankaracharya – Vivekachudamani).

The world, which is ever realized and ever experienced by all creatures, has to be divided in its existence. Shankara was bold, courageous and intelligent to take this important decision. He had to resort to the principle of maya (illusion), already referred to in Svetasvatara Upanishad (IV.9.10). As a corollary to this may, he brought forward the existence always experienced by all of us but rarely noticed. This three-fold existence is stated as –

  • Absolute supreme existence (Paramarthika Satta)
  • Practical existence (Vyavaharika Satta)
  • Illusory existence (Pratibhasika Satta)

Absolute existence is the Universal Self or the Supreme Reality, which is eternal and has neither a beginning nor an end. It is the source, the sustenance and the end of all creation. And even during the Deluge (pralaya) it exists.

Practical existence is the existence we really experience in daily life. The world and all its subsidiaries appear to be true to us, and we behave accordingly. On the higher level of philosophy, the whole world has no real existence because it is transitory and perishable. In one sense, it is also illusory but not as illusory as the third category.

Last is the illusory existence. The difference between practical and illusory existence is that, while in practical existence we get what we think, in illusory existence the sense organ gives the perception of one thing which in reality does not exist at all. The well known illustrations are rope serpent, mirage, conch shell-silver and dirtiness of sky.

In these instances, the rope has a practical existence, but the serpent is an illusion; the sand and sun have existence, while a mirage is mere appearance. The conch-shell is practically real, but the appearance of silver is an illusion. Dream experience is also illusory but is more real than the above illustrations, as we experience physical and mental effects thereof afterwards.

So long as knowledge of the self has not dawned and so long as ignorance exists, the world has a reality for all practical purposes. After knowledge, the world also has no practical existence. It becomes an illusion.

(Jnate tattve kah: Samsarah – After knowing reality, the world has no existence.)

Shankara was wise to offer practical existence to worldly existence to worldly existence; otherwise it was almost impossible to establish Absolute Monism. True existence or existence par excellence has a past, a present and a future. The world exists in the present only.