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Daily RC Article 183

Essence Beyond Appearance: Unveiling the Illusion of Reality in Philosophy and Religion

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The whole of religion and philosophy has its root in the thought that the universe is only appearance and not reality; that is to say, the entire external universe, with its infinite ramifications in space and time, as also the involved and intricate sum of our inner perceptions, is all merely the form under which the essential reality presents itself to a consciousness and independent of it; that, in other words, the sum-total of external and internal experience always and only tells us how things are constituted for us, and for our intellectual capacities, not how they are in themselves and apart from intelligences such as ours.

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It is easy to show how this thought is the basis and tacit presumption, more or less consciously, of all philosophy, so far at least as this name is not made to serve as a mere cloak for empirical sciences. For all philosophy, as contrasted with empirical science, is not content to learn to know objects in their circumstances and surroundings, and to investigate their causal connections; but it rather seeks beyond all these to determine their nature, inasmuch as it regards the sum-total of empirical reality, with all the explanations offered by the empirical sciences, as something which needs to be yet further explained; and this solution is found in the principle which it sets forth, and from which it seeks to infer the real nature of things and their relation. This fact, then, that philosophy has from the earliest times sought to determine a first principle of the universe, proves that it started from a more or less clear consciousness that the entire empirical reality is not the true essence of things, that, in Kant’s words, it is only appearance and not the thing in itself.

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The objects which lie around us on every side in infinite space, and to which by virtue of our corporeal nature we ourselves belong, are not “things in themselves”, but only apparitions. According to the doctrine of the Upanishads, they are not the âtman, the real “self” of the things, but merely mâyâ, - that is to say, a sheer deceit, illusion. It is true that the term mâyâ occurs for the first time in Svetasvatara Upanishad; and therefore some writers have hazarded the assertion that the conception of mâyâ is still unknown to the more ancient Upanishads. How in the light of this assertion they find it possible to comprehend these older Upanishads they themselves perhaps know. The fact is they are penetrated throughout by the conception which later was most happily expressed by the word mâyâ. In the very demand which they make that the âtman of man, the âtman of universe, must be sought for, it is implied that this body and this universe which reveal themselves to us unsought are not the âtman, the self, the true reality; and that we are under a delusion if, like the demon Virocán, we regard them as such. All worldly objects and relationships are of no value for their own sake, but for the sake of âtman; nay, they exist solely in the âtman, and that man is utterly and hopelessly undone who knows them ‘apart from the Self’.

This exploration delves into the foundational idea that the universe is mere appearance, not reality, shaping the roots of religion and philosophy. The discussion unveils the pervasive notion that our perceptions, both external and internal, only reveal the world as it appears to us, not as it truly exists independently of our consciousness. Examining the philosophical pursuit of a first principle, the narrative emphasizes the inherent understanding that empirical reality is not the essence of things, echoing Kant's notion of appearance versus the thing in itself. The concept of m?y? (illusion) in the Upanishads underscores the idea that the world around us is not the true self of things but a deceptive veil, emphasizing the quest for the ?tman (self) as the ultimate reality.
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