The Greatest Argument of All

Why do people go to all the trouble of proving things, even though proofs are generally very complicated ? The reason is that people hate to believe in something today, and to find out later that it is wrong. We want to know the truth. There are many different kinds of proofs.

However, it is beyond doubt that, to prove any thing, there must be some premises, some assumptions. The assumption behind all of Science is that if something is true, there must be experimental evidence of it. Even Science which many believe in, has its assumptions. The difference between Science and Religion then, is only that the assumptions behind Science are very "natural" to believe.

In the argument that follows, there will be assumptions. But these assumptions too are very natural to believe, as natural as those of Science. One should not disregard its validity, merely because it is not based on the same assumptions as those of Science. Here is the argument:

The intuitive principle that we always access in order to determine the truth of individual propositions, I call as Truth (with the upper-case T). Truth is unchanging, eternal, omnipresent and is the basis of all that exists. To see that this is true, consider anything that "changes". For example think of water turning to ice. First, there was something which appeared to be liquid. Then we thought that the "truth" is that, it is liquid. Then something happened and now it appears to be solid. Now we think that it is solid. But really liquid and solid are only appearances. The actual substance present there is neither liquid nor solid. It is something else. The actual substance present there has not changed. "Truth" has not changed. Note that by saying that solid and liquid are "mere appearances", it is not meant that they don't exist. It means that they exist relative to some unchangeable substance, of which both are composed. They cannot exist independant of that unchangeable substance.

Since this argument can be applied to anything that changes, it follows that there must be something unchanging, behind everything that changes. In the same manner, whenever we observe a "difference" between two entities (objects, concepts, or anything else), there must be some underlying unity between them. For example, we see the colours "red" and "blue" as different. But there is some underlying similarity between them, in that, both are colours. Both red and blue are appearances of the same fundamental entity, colour. What is the similarity between a song and a chair, you may ask. A song is an object that can be perceived through the ear, a chair through the eye - both are sense-objects. This may appear to stretch it too far. But really, it shows that the very fact that we can perceive two different things means that there must be some underlying similarity between them.

Thus there is something which remains same whenever anything changes. Behind every form, there exists the same entity. The very fact that a particular form exists implies that that entity is present in it. That entity is Truth. This then is the proof that Truth is unchanging, eternal, omnipresent and is the basis of all that exists. Infact this may be taken as the definition of Truth.

As we delve deeper into physics, we observe that all objects are made of the same particles. Energy and matter can be produced from one another. Matter results in "curved space". Space and time are actually not separate, but part of the same thing called as space-time. Hence even Science supports the view that there is one unchanging substance and everything else is an appearance of it. However one should not rely solely on scientific theories since they are bound to change. They are also based on assumptions, which are based on our notion of Truth. The above argument hence, provides a more direct way of achieving the same result. The argument will not change, whatever may happen to Science.

We now come to the second phase of the argument.

Whenever you observe something, say a chair, you seem to have a clear distinction between subject and object. The chair is that and this is me, and both are different. The notion is that, the entity which observes is you and that which is observed is not you.

Is that entity which is observing, the same as your eyes? No. There is something deeper. That entity, which is "you", has remained the same all through your life, and will continue to do so. Your body may have changed. Your mind (your thoughts) may have changed. But you are still the same. You are that which observes. The witness to everything. You witness everything that changes. You witness all forms. But you don't change. Infact, you can't change. If you change, then how can you witness the fact that you have changed? If you can, then that witness will be you, and that witness could not have changed. This is a contradiction. Hence you are unchangeable.

You are that pure witness. One cannot perceive or imagine that witness. It is not like imagining an object such as a chair. This is because the very fact that something is perceived means that there is a subject and an object. The witness is the subject which is different from what is perceived. The presence of the pure, unchangeable witness can only be inferred, just as we infer things in mathematical proofs when things approach infinity.

The witness alone is that which is unchangeable. Everything that changes is an appearance. Behind everything that changes, there is something that does not change. Everything that changes, depends on the presence of that which remains same. This implies that there must be some unchangeable entity upon which all existance depends. That entity we previously defined as Truth. That entity, we now define as the pure witness. Both must be one and the same.

This ends the argument. The more one thinks about it, the more it becomes obvious how simple and true it is. Contemplate on it and relish it. Contemplate on that pure witness which is the basis of all that exists. That by which the eye sees, but which the eye cannot see; that by which the ear hears, but which the ear cannot hear...


Viveka Chudamani by Adi Sankaracharya

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