World of Forms vs. World of Content

Yes, there are two distinct worlds – World of Forms and World of Content. You cannot live in both the worlds at the same time; you can only live in either one of the worlds. Most of us live in the World of Forms. This is the only world we know. All the forms are the different objects in the universe. There is a large variety of forms or objects that we perceive through our five senses. There is an unlimited number of objects seen through our eyes. What a variety of sound forms we hear through our ears! In the same way, there is a huge variety of smell forms, taste forms, and touch forms. What a complex and massive number of forms are present in the universe! We (our ego) interact with these object forms daily. From the moment we wake in the morning till the time we go to sleep, we are immersed in these objects. These forms and objects are the only thing we know, and the world of forms seems absolutely real. We have no doubt about this fact.

What about the World of Content? Most people may answer that the world of content is part of the world of forms. There is no separate world of content. The world of content is the underlying substratum of these object forms. So, what is the substratum of these object forms? Science will tell you that subatomic particles are the basis of all the visual object forms, so logically they are part of the world of content. All objects are made up of these subatomic particles. Is this correct? Are subatomic particles really part of the world of content? As science has advanced, so has the depth of knowledge of subatomic particles. Initially, it was thought that atoms were the building blocks of all the object forms. Then, it was found that electrons, protons, and neutrons make up the object forms. The question which comes up is: of what are these particles made? On investigation, it was found that quarks and other such particles make up the next layer. Is this the ultimate layer? No, scientists are already speculating that vibrating strings are the next layer. Currently, the search continues to understand the vibrating strings. If they do find this layer, the next question would be: of what are the vibrating strings made? These questions can continue endlessly. So, finding the World of Content looks difficult.    

Scientists want to find the ultimate layer—the Theory of Everything, a source which is common to all the object forms. The problem is that there is a lack of proper understanding of what is content and what is form. By investigating the subatomic particles, they think they are working in the world of content, to understand the building blocks of the object forms. But, in reality, all subatomic particles are very much part of the world of forms; they are not the content. These subatomic particles appear as inner layers of objects, but they still aren’t part of the world of content. They function only within the world of forms.

So, what is the World of Content? The best way to start this discussion is to understand the popular Vedanta metaphor of pot/clay.

Pot/Clay Metaphor

We know that clay pots come in many different sizes, shapes, and designs. Some are tall, some are short, some are round, etc. There seem to be unlimited possibilities for shapes and sizes. If you study all the clay pots carefully, you will see that each clay pot has the following two components: content and form. So, which part is the content and which part is the form? The answer is obvious—the clay is the content, and the pot is a form of the clay. With different shapes and sizes, the form of the pot could vary, but the content of all the pots will always be clay. 

Clay Pot = Clay (content) + Pot (form)

A simple question: in the clay pot, what is the weight of the clay (which is the content), and what is the weight of the pot (which is the form)? The answer is obvious: the clay has all the weight, and the pot has no weight. Another question: can you separate the form of the pot from its clay content? The answer is that it is impossible to separate the pot form from the clay content. They are inseparable. The pot form is an idea or concept which has been superimposed on the clay. Remove the clay, and the pot form just disappears. Without the clay, the pot form cannot exist.  In all the pot forms, clay is the only content. Clay is the common content for all the pot forms.

People admire the features of the pot forms, without realizing that all the pots’ forms are only clay. The focus is on the form and not on the content. They will say, “What a lovely pot”; they will not say, “What lovely clay.”

Here are some important conclusions that we can draw from the above discussion:   

  1. Every object in the universe must have two components—Form and Content.
  2. Content is the only ingredient. There can be no form without content. Form is just an idea superimposed on the content. The form is external to the content.
  3. The form cannot exist on its own. It is always dependent on the content. Without the content, there can be no form. However, the content can exist on its own; it does not need any form.
  4. If you superimpose a form on the content, there is no change to the content. The content will always remain the content. In this case, clay will remain clay irrespective of the form it is given.
  5. All the world forms are made up of the same content. This common content makes up the world of content. Clay is the common content to all the pot forms.
  6. We all focus on the forms of the objects and not the content.

The clay/pot is just a metaphor. Let us apply these conclusions to the real world. Let us investigate the World of Content and the World of Forms. 

World of Content

So, what is the content of all the objects in the universe? Vedanta teaches us that a good starter question is: how do we know an object exists? The simple answer is that we are aware of the object. We see it, we know it, we can touch it, and we are aware of it.

How do we know the tree is green? Because we are aware of it. 
How do we know sugar is sweet?
 Because we are aware of it. 
How do we know we have two legs and two hands?
 Because we are aware of them. 
How do we know the weight of the chair is 20 lb?
 Because we are aware of it. 
How do we know the smooth touch of silk?
 Because we are aware of it. 
How do we know we are listening to music?
 Because we are aware of it.

The common thread that connects all these questions is Awareness. Awareness is a prerequisite to observing any object. Awareness is a prerequisite for the existence of any object. Without Awareness, we would not know any objects which are perceived by the five sense organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. No object can exist without Awareness. Awareness must infuse the object to be perceived. To see a tree, the tree form must be imbued with Awareness, only then do we perceive the tree. Every branch, every leaf, every fruit must be infused to see the complete tree. No part or area of the tree can remain uncovered by Awareness. This logic will apply to all the objects “out there,” whether of sight, sound, taste, smell, or touch.

The next question is: from where does Awareness come? What power is there within Awareness which enables objects to be perceived? To any newcomer, Awareness is just another English word, with a dictionary meaning of “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” Awareness is much more than an English word. Awareness is the most powerful force in the universe, and it is the underlying reality of this universe. If you perceive an object, it must be made up of Awareness.

As we have discussed in many different essays in my book, Science Meets Vedanta, our REAL SELF is Awareness. Our innermost core is Awareness. This Self generates Awareness. This Self is like a Bulb of Awareness—it radiates and shines Awareness. It does not do anything other than radiate Awareness.

So, what is Awareness? As we have discussed in many essays, Awareness is made up of a Subject, Object, and Intelligence, and it has three different powers of Awareness.

  • Awareness = Subject + Object + Intelligence
  • Power of Awareness = Power of Knower + Power of Known + Power of Knowing

It must be understood that the Subject, Object, Intelligence, and the three powers are not something outside in the world; they are within Awareness and are the ingredients of Awareness. Whenever you are aware of anything, there must be present Subject, Object, and Intelligence with all the three powers. If any one of them is missing, there will be no Awareness.

How should we understand Awareness and the content of objects? Power of the Known is a power within Awareness dealing with objects. This power manipulates Awareness so that it becomes the required object. If the incoming signal is that of a tree with all its branches and leaves, Power of the Known will manipulate Awareness so that it becomes that tree. A good metaphor to explain this is that Awareness is like a lump of Play-Doh, which is formless. You can manipulate the Play-Doh to become a tree, car, or any other object. One thing which must be understood is that whatever shape you create, the content is always only Play-Doh.

In the same way, Awareness by itself is formless, but it has the potential to become any object. Power of the Known manipulates the formless Awareness to become that object. The object will depend on the input received from the five senses. Just like the Play-Doh, the object could be anything, but the content is always Awareness.

So, to summarize, the World of Content is Awareness. Awareness is our inner core, our REAL Self. So, our Real Self is the content of all the objects. This is an amazing conclusion. This is worth reflecting on and pondering upon.

World of Forms

We now know that the content of any object is Awareness. What about form? This is not an easy question to answer. In the clay/pot example, we saw that the content is clay alone. There is no place for pot form in the content. Pot form is something that is introduced from outside the clay; we can agree that it is just an idea which is superimposed on clay (by the potter). Yet, though it is external, the pot form cannot be separated from the clay. The pot form is totally dependent on the clay. The clay can exist on its own, but the pot cannot exist on its own. Even after the superimposition of the pot form, the content is still clay. There is no change to the content. The idea of the pot does not make any difference to the clay. Clay is still clay.

Using the same logic, the content of all the objects in the world is Awareness. There is no place for form in this content. There is no denying that we do see form everywhere. This form cannot be part of the content; it cannot be part of Awareness. It is something external being superimposed on Awareness. The form may be external, but it cannot be separated from the content and the form cannot exist on its own; it is totally dependent on the content.

This is where our ignorance plays a major role. When we forget our true nature, a veil of ignorance is created and covers Awareness. This veil is external to Awareness. The Veil of Ignorance has nothing to do with Awareness. See the connection—the veil of ignorance is external; the form of objects is external. Based on this, it is possible to conclude that the Veil of Ignorance is the source of the World of Forms.

Veil of Ignorance = the source of the World of Forms.

Yes, the Veil of Ignorance is the source of the World of Forms. The underlying reality of every object in the universe is ignorance. The tree outside, the car on the road, your friend sitting next to you, even the stars and planets “out there,” all the possible forms in the universe are built by ignorance. It may not be easy to comprehend how ignorance can be the source of all forms. Ignorance has that power. The classic example given by Vedanta is the rope/snake example. We are walking on the road in the evening, and we confuse a rope for a snake. We see the snake and think it is real. When we shine a torch on it, we realize it is a rope. A question: of what is the snake made? The simple answer is that it is made up of our ignorance. Our ignorance has projected the snake on the rope. Ignorance has this power. The World of Forms is made up of only ignorance.

Our ego is also a product of ignorance. Since we have forgotten our Real Self, this ignorance creates the ego. This ego masquerades as the Real Self. This ego lives in the World of Forms. This ego interacts with object forms “out there.” There is a fully functioning World of Forms, and our ego is an active participant.


The World of Content is the Real World. This is the world of Awareness. The Real Self is Awareness. The Real Self is the Subject, the Real Self is the Object, and the Real Self is the Intelligence. The Real Self has nothing to do with Ignorance. The Real Self has nothing to do with the Form of the Objects—it is the Content of the Objects. This is the Real World but it is unknown to the ego.

Self-realized people live in this World of Content, the world of Awareness. They have no ignorance. A more accurate statement would be to state that they are Awareness. They are the Awareness in the objects. They are not part of the form. Since they are Self-Aware, they see their own Self in all the objects. There is no separation between them and the Awareness in all the objects. Awareness in all objects is their Self. 

The World of Forms is the world of the ego and the mind. This is the world we live in. This is the world whose source is Ignorance. The ego functions in this world. Everything we see around us functions in the World of Forms. The World of Forms is elaborate; it appears so real. Such a huge universe “out there.” It appears real, but it is not real. The World of Content is the only Real World. Just like clay is the only real thing in the pot/clay example.

If you think about it, the World of Content or Awareness is hiding in plain sight. When you perceive an object, you cannot say you are not aware of that object. It is a matter of focusing on the Awareness part of the object and not on the form part of the object. If you say, “I am aware of the object” and focus on the Awareness part and not on the form part, you will conclude that the object is made up of Awareness. Practice this when smelling objects or when listening to music or when tasting objects. As long as you are aware of these experiences, Awareness must be the only content of those objects.

10 thoughts on “World of Forms vs. World of Content”

  1. The Pot/Clay metaphor is so simple yet so powerful. It powerfully explains the veil of ignorance in our observation. I also liked the explanation on Awareness very much.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. If you properly understand Awareness, you will understand your inner core and the universe out there.

  2. Thank you for helping with my understanding. I’m presently reading the Gita and pondering these concepts.

  3. Awareness is nothing but self is beautiful idea. However self gets veiled by ignorance most of the time. Is meditation the solution ?

    1. It depends. Meditation is always a good practice. It has many benefits. However, if the goal is to reach the inner Self, then the focus must be on the Self and not any external object. Focusing on the feeling of I, is a good practice. Ramana Maharishi was a strong supporter of this method.

  4. Dnyaneswari, one of the greatest commentaries on GITA, in its first Ovi itself, calls ॐ as स्वसंवेद्य, which means it is SELF / Awareness and at the same time is aware of itself. It is ‘observer = observed’ or ‘experiencer = experienced’ phenomenon prescribed by many philosophers including J krishnamurty.

    1. Well Said. Self-Awareness means Self is Aware of the Self. Self is the Observer and Self is the Observed. Since Observer = Observed, Self-Awareness is non-dual.

  5. Thank you for building this great platform at the cross section of Vedant and science for seekers like us.

Comments are closed.