Satya vs Astaya
Nitya vs Anitya


Satya is Nitya = Truth is eternal 
Asatya is Anitya = False
 is shortlived.

Illusion / Maya, real / unreal, truth / false – what does it all mean ?

Translations of language is simple.  Translation of ideas is sometimes not so easy.
Some of the best known terms in Hinduism that have been badly misunderstood for centuries are illustrated here as an example. 

Illusion – dictionary definition means – that which is unreal.
So what is “unreal” ?

Real – that which does not change.  That which is “real” does not decay – even with time.
So what is "real" ?

Unreal – that which is prone to change.  That which does not remain constant, and keeps changing, is called “unreal” in Sanskrit.  Time transforms most things.  Hence, things that get transformed by time are called unreal.

What scriptures DO NOT MEAN is that they don’t exist !  As we can all touch and feel them, they obviously “exist” – but – because they are constantly changing, these material things have no permanent shape or form.  What which is impermanent, is called “unreal” in Sanskrit.


So, if we apply this to the term “illusion”, reading it from scriptural point of view, it means, illusion is that which appears permanent, but is actually prone to change.  As it keeps changing, and has no fixed name or form, it is unreal.   

So the body is called a foetus > baby > toddler > youth > wo/man > parent > son > master > slave > host > guest > old > young - will one day be burnt or buried, is constantly changing.  Thus, body is made from materials that will transform, evolve and combine with other materials to keep changing.  As it’s physical form is transient in nature, ancient philosophers called it “unreal” and “illusionary”.  This however, does not mean it doesn’t exist in the physical realm or that is “unreal” in the conventional sense.  It is solid enough and physical enough to touch, it is simply not permanent enough to be called “real” from spiritual point of view.

That which decays, dies.  Death in this instance is means simply “absence of life”.

Yet, we see these material objects, which can decay and die, to be “alive” !  Though that life is “transitory”, what causes that object to appear to be “alive” ? 

Scriptures have judged “atma” – the spark of life – to the only permanent thing.  It does not change.  It simply transfers from one material object to another.  While the spark is there, the material object – which has no life-force of its own – appears to “live”, “breath”, “move” and go through “physical changes”.

So, sages contemplated on this question of what is “real” and “unreal”, “permanent” and “impermanent”, “alive” and “dead”.  Atma makes the “dead”, “material world” seem alive, hence, the sages called this an “illusion” or “maya”.  Maya came to encompass all “illusional” things – including life !


Real – unreal – illusion – truth – these questions have vexed Indian philosophers for centuries.  Many have decided that since the physical and material world is essentially “transient”, its is not worth worrying about.  The only thing we should worry about is the “permanent” realm of the soul – atma.   

Based on this approach, and these interpretations, huge number of sects and philosophies in India have taken this approach.  Some have gone so far as to brand any action in the material world as pointless and futile.  Many sects have exhorted their followers to seek rewards in the “here-after” by living as if the “here and now” has no value at all ! 

This is where I think a lot of Indian sects have got the wrong end of the stick.
By being so fixated with real, unreal, illusion etc, they have forgotten that they live in a physical world and must make every effort to make it a nice place to live - for themselves as well as others around them.

Krushna exhorts Pandavas to make the here-and-now as wonderful as they can.  If heaven is more important, why would Krushna encourage Pandavas to fight the dreadful wars throughout their career ?  Why would Krushna encourage Pandavas to perform Rajasu-yagna or expand Indraprastha if this life is so unreal ?

Why would Vishnu take so many incarnations if this world is just a figment of someone's imagination ?
Why would Devi slaughter rakshashas if they are "unreal" ? 
Why would Shiva bother to take a break from his meditation and come to teach humanity if this entire universe is just an illusion and fake ?
Why bother with family, friends, civilisation, good behaviour, karma or dharma if all of this is just a dream ?

This is why I think people need to interpret these words correctly and understand that when sages originally wrote these verses, they had no idea how tangentially people will interpret their words.


© Bhagwat    [email protected]

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