The Difference between the Objective and Subjective Orders of Reality

Dear Ted,


This is regarding a clarification of two concepts—vyavaharika satyam and pratibhasika sathyam. I am a little confused as to how to draw a clear distinction between vyavaharika sathyam and pratibhasika sathyam.


What I have understood is that vyavaharika sathyam is empirical reality. We experience the world and understand what it is. For example, we touch the fire and understand that it is hot. We see the slice of a fruit. We taste it and realize that it is a mango. Here our cognition of an object is based on our transactional experience of it.


When it comes to pratibhasika sathyam, we project our imagination and judgments on what we see or what we have not seen. For example, we see a man. And we immediately conclude that he is a pompous person. In other words we are projecting our judgments and opinions upon him thereby understanding what he is. Another example would be this: we hear about a place, which we have not seen. But we conjure up an image of that place in our mind based on our imagination.


Are these concepts actually in the way I think?


Thank you,




Hi, Tilak.


Your understanding of vyavaharika satyam and pratibhasika satyam is correct. There are two further considerations to take into account.


First, technically speaking, pratibhasika satyam is actually an aspect of vyavaharika satyam. Though the thoughts, feelings, and sensations experienced within the mind are not available to anyone other than the particular person in whose mind they are occurring, these phenomena are ultimately composed of the gunas, which means they are Isvara shrishti (i.e., God’s “creation” or manifestation). For the purposes of analysis, we divide the manifestation into “outer” objective and “inner” subjective aspects, but truly speaking the entire projection is nothing other than pure awareness made to appear as subtle and gross objects (i.e., anything perceivable or conceivable, which includes both objective phenomena and the interpretations and evaluations superimposed upon them) by means of the conditioning influence of maya. This understanding is important not only in terms of recognizing the fundamental non-dual nature of reality, but also alleviates the sense of personal responsibility for all the thoughts and feelings we experience. Since these phenomena are essentially Isvara’s projections, there is little we can do about their appearance in our minds. What we do have a modicum of control over, however, is whether we choose to follow any particular train of thought and the degree to which we lend it credence. It is in this regard that self-inquiry differs from self-improvement, so to speak. We are not trying to be “perfect” people who think only “perfect” or “beautiful” thoughts. We are simply discriminating between that which is real and that which is not. In the process, our quality of our thoughts might improve, but the real goal is to see that we are not our thoughts—or, for that matter, any of our experiences, for all experiences are experienced as thoughts in the mind—and, thus, are free of our thoughts not matter what their quality.


Second, our experience of vyavaharika satyam is never wholly free of the influence of pratibhasika satyam. Not even a jnani (i.e., one who has fully assimilated self-knowledge) is free of the conditioning of vasanas. While all of a jnani’s raga-dveshas (i.e., compelling likes and dislikes, desires and fears, which are based on vasanas, the impressions etched in the mind from one’s past experiences) have been rendered non-binding, as long as their remains prarabdha karma to play out through the present body-mind-sense complex, one will continue to harbor preferences. The difference is that the jnani does not believe his or her happiness, contentment, and security are based on indulging these preferences, and thus his or her actions are not compelled by them.


All the best,