What is the difference between phenomenal and numinous in Gita 7.2

by Chaitanya Charan dasSeptember 28, 2014

Answer Podcast

Transcribed by: Geetanjali Nath

Question: What exactly do the word phenomenal and luminous mean in the bhagavad Gita 7:2 ?

Answer: Phenomena and numina are the philosophical terms which refer to , phenomena refer to things as experienced then , and numina refers to things as they actually are. Now is this really different or is this the same ? Normally if I see a particular object, and if I say ok this is my hand. now that’s what it seems to me, it is have s palm and it has some fingers and it has a particular shape, width length, so I think it object out there. Now we would say that the way I see it is the object is, so what is the difference between the world as we perceive it with our senses and as the world actually is. So the difference is that our sensory perception actually interacts only with certain features of the object, that means that we know that there are , there are dog whistles tuned here and the dogs come running, so something happens when the dog whistle is blown but we do not hear anything, sot he point is that our senses offer us limited windows to the world around us and through those limited windows as the things we seem, so it is not that just that we see the world limitedly, that means that what we see of that world with our finite sense organs, not only that, whatever we see, even if , if I see my hand right now, within my capacity of my eyes to see ,I can see with my eyes, but whatever I am able to see , even that I see limitedly, because I cannot see whether there are any wounds in my hand below the skin, whether the blood is getting clotted somewhere, whatever is happening below the skin , I cannot see, so that way our reception is limited, and because of that perception of the things that we perceive is limited, so we cannot know actually what things are in reality. Ok at least we cannot know through our senses. So one of the fundamental premises of the Upanishads is that reality is not what it seems to be, it appears as if we are the body, but actually within the body there is the soul and we are the soul. so this is of course going beyond the material to the spiritual, but even at the material level we can go beyond sensory perception and actually there may be another reality that may be different from what we are perceiving, so therefore, phenomena refers to the way we perceive things to be, and numina means , the way they actually are. So, now for example, going back to the point, the example of the hand, if i see my hand and I x-ray it, I will get a quite different picture of the hand now that is the scale of observation. now at the same time if , there is a crocodile in the lake and I put my hand in the lake , and the crocodile will see that not something as my hand but as a eatable, now this is of Couse a different kind of perception. Basic point is that because different people the perceive the same thing differently therefore, actually what we can perceive is not necessarily the same as what it actually si, So when Krishna is saying that jñānaḿ te ‘haḿ sa-vijñānam, idaḿ vakṣyāmy aśeṣataḥ. yaj jñātvā neha bhūyo ‘nyaj, jñātavyam avaśiṣyate and Prabhupada translates that I will give you knowledge of phenomenal and the nominal world, so that means that he is saying that Krishna is saying that there is the knowledge of the world as it appears to be that also I will explain to you and the knowledge of the world as it is, that also I will explain to you/ So that means as it is means, I see a hand , I see a laptop, I see a camera, I see a light, the things are just ,what are they actually ? at one level they are Krishna’s energy, Krishna tells this in the next few verses in 7:4 ,bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ, khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca, ahańkāra itīyaḿ me, bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā, so He says don’t just see all these verities of objects, see them as my energy combined together, essentially they r my energies. So seeing things , that means there are three levels. first is I see the object as it is, second is that I see not just the object but I see that it is made of fundamental elements, and the third level is that I just don’t see the elements, but I see those elements as Krishna’s elements, and this capacity to see things properly, things as it is, that is what Krishna is going to communicate to us, So jnanam te ham sa vihjnanam, Krishna will give us knowledge nominal and phenomenal. Thank you.


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Chaitanya Charan das

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