Gita Study: Class 19


Topics for today:

  1. Opening prayers and Gita Dhyanam
  2. Chapter 2. Verse 16

 Highlights of today’s class:

Discussion on sat and asat

  • To understand this verse (naasato vidyate bhaavo naabhavo vidyate satah, ubhayorapi drustontastvanayostattvadarshibhih), we must understand what is meant by the words ‘sat‘ and ‘asat‘.
  • asat means something that does not exist independently and sat is what exists independent of anything else.
  • sat-chit-ananda atma alone is sat and everything else including body, mind, senses, physical objects of the world, thoughts and emotions of the mental world – are asat. Because upon enquiry we will find that none of these objects really can exist independent of the subject, atma. Whereas atma does not require any of them for its existence.
  • To illustrate dependent existence (asat) and independent existence (sat), the example of a clay pot is useful. Among ‘pot’ and ‘clay’ in a clay pot, the ‘pot’ is purely a name for a form, a form of clay. What really exists there is clay, in a given form which is referred to by a given name, called ‘pot’. Take clay away and the pot goes away too. Whereas clay can exist even in forms other than that of a pot, such as a saucer or a vase. So clay is said to have independent existence and pot is said to have a dependent existence. In a world of clay objects such as a clay pot, a smaller clay pot, a clay saucer, a clay vase, a clay spoon, a clay doll, a clay toy, etc. clay is the independently existing thing which we call sat and the pots, saucers, vases, spoons, dolls and toys are all asat, being dependent on clay for their existence.

Proper understanding of asat

  • asat is to be carefully understood. An asat vastu (object) is not totally non-existent (it doesn’t have atyanta abhaava). Examples of totally non-existent objects can be things such as horns of a human being, hair of a tortoise, etc. These do no exist in creation. Such totally non-existent objects are called tuccha in Sanskrit. asat objects are not tuccha.
  • asat objects have a degree of reality. They are available for our experience in the world around. We transact with asat objects. My body, the physical objects I use, the house I live in, the people I interact with at home or at work, the mountains and trees I see, and so on, are all existing in a sense. They cannot be dismissed as tuccha. Neither are they sat, independently existing by themselves. Such things are called asat – those enjoying a degree of reality in between sat and tuccha.


  • Another word for asat is mithya. sat is also referred as satya. Both pairs of words can be used interchangeably in this context: sat-asat or satya-mithya.


  • In understanding sat and asat, we also make use of the terms ‘kaarya‘ meaning ‘effect’ and ‘kaarana‘ meaning ’cause’.
  • If we examine any object of the world (which is invariably an asat vastu), we find that it is a kaarya or effect of something else. In other words, it has a cause, kaarana, different from it.

asat vastus reduce to sat vastu

  • For example – a shirt is a kaarya of cloth. Take the cloth away and the shirt cannot exist anymore. So cloth is a kaarana for shirt. Cloth is not the absolute kaarana however. It further has a cause, the thread with which it is made. So cloth is a kaarya and thread is the kaarana. The thread further is made of material such as cotton which is its kaarana. This reduction can go on further to the molecules that make up cotton, the atoms that make up the molecules, sub-atomic particles, and yet to be discovered sub-sub-particles, and so on, until we reach an existence that can no longer be reduced. It is an existence because the shirt has come out of it. An existing shirt cannot come out of a non-existing cause. Thus upon analysis asat vastus reduce to sat vastu and depend upon sat vastu for their existence.
  • Take another example – a tree. A tree is the name we give to an assemblage of leaves, branches, trunk, roots and so on. Without these constituents, there is nothing called a tree. Take away the leaves, branches, trunk and roots and there won’t be a tree left. So the name tree and the form it describes, reduced to a set of names and forms. Each of these names and forms such as leaves will further reduce to even more names and forms. As in the prior example, this reduction goes on until we end at sat vastu. All levels starting from tree downward are asat, names and forms.

Two cognitions: ‘is-buddhi‘ and ‘object-buddhi

  • Sankaracharya presents an explanation that helps us understand the constancy of the subject amidst changing objects of experience.
  • In any experience of cognizing an object like say a pen, actually two cognitions take place. One is that “there is something” and subsequent to that is the cognition that “there is a pen”. The first cognition that ‘there is something’ is called “is-cognition” or “is-buddhi”. The second cognition of the pen is the “pen-cognition” or “pen-buddhi”.
  • If we examine the nature of these two cognitions, we find that the “is-buddhi” is always present even as the specific object of cognition undergoes change. Now I am cognizing a pen, then I cognize a book, after that I cognize a chair, then I cognize a table. When I cognize a pen, there is an “is-buddhi” and a “pen-buddhi”. When the cognition shifts to the book, there is still the “is-buddhi” and the “book-buddhi” replaces the “pen-buddhi”. Later the “chair-buddhi” replaces the “book-buddhi” while the “is-buddhi” remains intact. Then the “table-buddhi” replaces the “chair-buddhi” even as the “is-buddhi” remains. That ‘there is something’ is always known and the specific object of knowledge keeps changing. Even when there is no object being cognized, there is the cognition that no object is being cognized. Thus the “is-buddhi” is ever-present.
  • We will continue the topic in next class.

om tat sat


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