The Color of Reality

By Swami B.V. Tripurari

Are colors real? Not according to modern science. Although the entire world of our experience resides in the subjective realm, the dominant philosophical perspective today is that only the objective world is real. All subjective experience and the sense that there is a self who experiences are considered an illusion. However, my spiritual tradition of Gaudiya Vedanta begs to differ. The subjective realm is the realm of greater possibilities, and when honed through meditation, Gaudiya Vedanta claims that one arrives at a deeper, more dynamic sense of reality, a truly colorful super-subjective realm.

Dorothy’s waking life in Kansas is depicted in black and white, while her dream of Oz is in color. Greater possibility resides in Oz, and many things can be learned there that when applied to Dorothy’s waking life, enrich it. But Dorothy’s dream does not arise out of a controlled meditative mind, and thus she cannot stay in Oz. And in the end, she longs to go, and must go, “home” back to black and white to try to make it better. Of course, she does so simply by willing her way back.

But is there an Oz from which there is no return and from which one would never desire to depart? If so, going there would require some information about it and, according to Gaudiya Vedanta, a mastery of the subjective realm of the mind as the means to attain it. Dorothy’s return was inevitable because as colorful as Oz was, it was based upon her waking life and its apparent limitations, and it did not arise out of a concerted effort to master the mind. But if information about a realm beyond both waking and dreaming was available, and if it was contemplated with a meditative mind as the means to attain it, lessons learned along the way could not only improve our black-and-white life to some extent, moreover, in the end, we could enter there, never to return to rounds of birth and death.

For the most part, science both hard and soft has studied the mind for centuries now, only to speculatively conclude that the very large and spacious world of the mind resides in some small yet-to-be-discovered place in the human brain. As such, we are all nothing more than physical machines that inexplicably experience the illusion of experience. Sages, on the other hand, have explored the mind with meditative techniques and mastered it. That is to say, they have experienced a realm uncluttered by thoughts about things and have found it in the least to be extremely peaceful—santi santi santi. At peace with themselves and the world around them, they are left only with compassion for the mental plight of humanity and compassion for all beings, having risen above the limited human-centric perspective. They have experienced that which the sacred texts of the East describe, and they are not returning to thoughts about things, the longing for them that haunts us, and the vacuous sense of being derived from our false sense of having.

Gaudiya sages, in turn, speak to us of a love that transcends the peace of compassion for the plight of material existence. This love brings the perfect person—purusottama—into the picture, framed in his land of lila—spontaneous playfulness—from which there is no return. The possibilities in this super-subjective realm far exceed those of the physical world as well as those of the mind in its efforts to expand those possibilities. There is no dearth of information about it, and the meditative method is also friendly. This method posits an object of thought worth contemplating and thus works with the mind, which constantly seeks an object of thought. To stop the mind from thinking is difficult, but to think of Gopala Krsna is by comparison much more user-friendly.

That which we think about has much to do with what we talk about. And there is much to be said and sung about the transcendental cowherder, Krsna. Indeed, there is a rich tradition of song—kirtana—describing his form, qualities, and lilas arising out of his name, from which he is nondifferent. Sitting in silent, peaceful, meditative trance identified with the indeterminate feature of the Absolute is no doubt deep, deeply peaceful, and well lit, but not necessarily colorful. However, calling Krsna’s name in kirtana in the Gaudiya tradition gives rise to meditative experience of the determinate feature of the Absolute, about which one cannot say enough. He is a theological person made real in meditation or applying oneself to the means to attain him. And he is undoubtedly a very colorful person.

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3 Responses to The Color of Reality

  1. You might be interested in the perspective of devotees who are afflicted with a recently-identified malady known as “aphantasia.” We lack the ability to “picture” images in our minds. Apparently, when other people “picture” a beautiful sunset, they can literally see in their “mind’s eye” that sunset. People with aphantasia can conceptualize that sunset, and even mentally understand what is present in that conceptualization, but apparently others can “see” in their minds in full color not much differently than they see with their eyes. Interestingly, my dreams are in full color and richly detailed, just like my waking experience. It’s only my “visualization” that is crippled.

    This is where Gaudiya siddhanta makes its presence so valuable. When I look at a beautiful blue image of Krishna, or a bright yellow Mahaprabhu, I am reminded that my physical idea of “blue” or “yellow” is at best a mediocre simulacrum of Their true color. Furthermore, each aspect of their divinity is whole; They are fully present in their Form, Pastimes, Qualities, and Name. As such, someone who cannot “visualize” a colorful Krishna can still meditate fully on Him by becoming absorbed in His Name. Someone who sees the “yellow” of Mahaprabhu but has no grasp of His internal life is not seeing Him as clearly as one whose material eyes are colorblind but who is able to see through the eyes of bhava.

    • Interesting. One thing to consider is that the mental picture of Krsna that one focuses on in and effort to control the mind is one thing, but when the form of Krsna that is within his name manifests in nama bhajana, that picture is another thing. And it will appear even to one afflicted by aphantasia. Dhrtarastra asked Krsna for eyes to see the majestic from he had manifested before Duryodhana, but Krsna replied, “Without eyes see my majesty” and the king saw that form!

  2. Oh Srihara, how is it that you slip into the faded tissue of the trikala spiral in exchange for the sweet and colorful reality eternally surrendered at His lotus feet in saravarati bhakti sara? Dorothy! seems to me you don’t know about it and not have listened well from the power of Nama, don’t you believe it’s time for a new movie with Him? Sssshh… sraddha, saranagati, atma nivedana as progressives extras… from the aphantasia until Oz, only follow first the yellow way, Gouranga? Jaay! Thanks for sharing! =)

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