Experiencing Tattva


I was walking down an avenue in Birmingham, Alabama, with one of my daughters not long ago. We were discussing the concept of “reality.” And what constitutes truth.

We tried this experiment: I asked her to silently observe what she was seeing on our stroll for a minute and I would remember what I saw. At the end of the minute we would compare observations.

Well, you guessed it, neither of us looked at the view the same way. We remembered seeing completely different things. Of course, there was some crossover, we both noticed the park. But one of us noticed a bench in the park; the other noticed a playground. I recalled a truck on an overpass and she remembered a tree in front of a store.

The exercise with my daughter suggested that trying to identify “the real” is no easy feat. It brought to mind one of the first Hindu mantras from the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad:

Om asato ma sad gamaya

Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya

Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya

Translated, this is generally taken to mean:

Lead us from the unreal to the real

Lead us from darkness to the light

Lead us from the fear of death,

To knowledge of immortality.

There are two tales of Krishna that illustrate this really well. The first: One day Krishna is playing with his friends and eats mouthfuls of mud. His mother spies him with mud all over his face. Krishna suggests that his mother, Yasoda, look in his mouth to see what is there. He opens wide and Yasoda sees “the universe of moving and non-moving things; space; the cardinal directions; the sphere of the earth with its oceans, islands and mountains; air and fire; and the moon and the stars. She saw the circle of the constellations, water, light, the wind, the sky, the evolved senses, the mind, the elements, and the three guna qualities.” She sees the nature of space, time, and karma as well