adhyAsa (part 5)

Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.

Read Part 4 of the series

Proofs for adhyAsa  
There are two shruti-based pramANa-s for adhyAsa , the first is ‘postulated’ and the second ‘inferred’.

The first takes an observed fact – for example I wake up one morning and find the road outside is flooded – and postulates an explanation for this – e.g. heavy rain occurred whilst I slept. Since I slept soundly, I have no direct knowledge of any rain but, without such a supposition, I have no reasonable way to explain the observed phenomenon. Other ‘unreasonable’ explanations may be put forward but the one suggested is the most plausible to the rational mind. In order to justify an improbable explanation, the more plausible must first be discredited. Since the observed fact can only be explained in this way, the explanation becomes a pramANa or valid means of knowledge. This pramANa is ‘perception-based’. as opposed to ‘shruti-based’. Shankara’s concept of adhyAsa is in fact a shruti-based ‘postulate’ since there is no mention of the subject in the veda-s themselves and it is in this way that it becomes a valid knowledge in its own right.

Just as this principle can be used to explain the flooded streets, shruti-based postulates can be used to explain that the ideas that we are mortal, doers and enjoyers are all due to error. For example, the kaThopaniShad (II.19) says ‘If the slayer thinks that he slays or if the slain thinks that he is slain, both of these know not. For It (the Self) neither slays nor is It slain.’ Also the gItA (V. 8) tells us that one who knows the truth understands that we do not act. We are not ‘doers’ or ‘killers’ or ‘killed’. Therefore, any statement such as ‘I am a doer’ or ‘I am an enjoyer’ must be an error, from shruti (and smR^iti) based postulate. Continue reading

Interpreting shruti vAkya for eka jIva

upanishad  The Upanishads are the records of the “Knowledge” gained by the supremely dedicated Sages and Seers in the distant times through their incisive questioning and unbiased inquiry. They are written in the idiom and style of the day, at the same time taking a great care to see that the purity and pristine nature of the message is preserved for the posterity without getting mutilated by the passage of time. Hence, access to them was highly restricted. Their wording is very cryptic, symbolical and often too profound to be apparent to a casual reader. The Knowledge Itself, however, does not come with any tags of intellectual property rights or authorship claims. But expounding the real meaning of the text (called as ‘mantras’) demands expertise in many auxiliary fields like logic (nyAya), grammar(vyAkaraNa), prosody (chandas), orthology (nirukta) and linguistics in addition to a familiarity of the cultural milieu of the times. The Upanishads were transmitted orally to a closed group of eligible and committed students either by a father to son or teacher to disciple tradition. This method of imparting the Upanishadic Knowledge is known as sampradAya. In the absence of a Guru explicating them, it is impossible to make sense of them or understand clearly the meaning in-depth. Prakashananada’s interpretation of the svetaswatara Upanishad mantra IV – 5 following a dialectical approach of taking the thesis of the opponent and then providing its rebuttal to establish the eka jIva vAda typically illustrates the point made above. It is presented here as a conversation between an opponent and Swami Prakashananda Saraswati. Continue reading

Reality of the world

The discussion that follows stems from a comment I made on a recent article in the July NOW Newsletter. This is produced by a group in Australia led by Alan Mann and is a resource for the works of Thomas Traherne, as well as Douglas Harding, John Wren-Lewis and George Schloss.

I publish our email exchanges verbatim, as they occurred, below. Please feel free to add any useful comments!

  1. ***************************************

Hi Alan,

Regarding your preferred definition of ‘real’ (“The definition of real which I prefer is: actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”):

Does a chair exist? As a chair? What if I remove the legs and back; is it still a chair? Was it a chair a year ago, 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What about similar periods in the future? I suggest that it is not the chair that exists at all, it is the wood out of which it is made. (And the same argument applies to the wood over longer timescales.) A ‘chair’ is not real; it is only name and form of wood. Etc. ‘Things’ are not real; no ‘thing’ exists in its own right; it is dependent upon something more fundamental for its existence. And this goes on, all the way back to Consciousness.

Have you read the story I wrote about this? – the ‘first definition’ at You can publish this in your next edition if you like.

Best wishes,
Dennis Continue reading

Advaita Vedanta – A Long Lost Tradition Revived

The terms  ‘Vedanta’ and ‘Advaita Vedanta’ are used loosely nowadays to describe teachings whose principles do not factually meet the subtlety within the profound truth of  ‘One-without-a-second’ or ‘There is only the Absolute.’ If this principle is corrupted or compromised then guidance to the truth can be affected from the beginning, which may in turn lead to an incomplete realisation. Alternatively, we may only hear statements describing the highest (Paramarthika) Reality without any means at our disposal for approaching such a Truth.

Being the foundation of its teaching, the principle of Advaita need not be compromised in allowing for the ‘mundane’, empirical experience of the seeker and the questions stemming from his or her experience – the entire Vedic system naturally accounts for development at all stages of life and Vedanta gives an understanding of the exact status of the world, as we experience it, in relation to Reality. Continue reading

Knowledge and Enlightenment

Over the past few months, we have had several posts following which there were discussions in which some participants attempted to argue that knowledge was not the direct cause of enlightenment. Alternative suggestions have been that enlightenment comes with nirvikalpa samAdhi or that one has to pursue some course of action, such as asking ‘Who am I?’.

I argued that neither of these were the case; that ONLY Self-knowledge could give enltightenment. This is primarily because ignorance is the cause of saMsAra and knowledge, not action, is opposed to ignorance. And I said that I would endeavor to find quotations from scripture or from Shankara to support this contention (since some participants were not prepared to accept arguments from such as Swami Dayananda).

Below, I have compiled a brief list of some of those quotations and hope these should be adequate to convice readers that the above is the stance of traditional Advaita and it is supported by clear, reasoned argument. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 26


VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 26 examines the nature of AtmA, utilising the ‘descriptions’ from the Brihadaranyaka, Kena and Mandukya Upanishads. How can we ‘know’ the Self, when it is not an object?

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.

My Tuppence Worth

tuppenceIt was over two scores and a half years ago. I remember an experience when I was living in that part of India venerated by the name AryAvarta, the holy land. The cows and other cattle had a right of way even on the so-called main roads, affectionately christened ‘M.K. Gandhi Marg’ ‘P.C. Chatterji Panth’ or some such tongue twisters by the locals. The citizens or rather the bodies of the inhabitants have a natural agility and ability to automatically adopt all the tricks of an expert contortionist in walking on the road avoiding the animals or their heaps and spurts of fragrant fresh just-in-time  deliveries – made, as though, just for you.  When you are all focused on keeping your balance as you never know where your next step may have to land, a hearty greeting jolts your auditory senses. You take time to locate the source of that sound, because there is obviously no face visible nearby. You see at a distance a half raised single hand, as a mark of showing respect for you. Adept practitioners of Zen may not know the clap of a single hand, but every one over there knows a salutation by one hand. Their shout says ‘su prabhAtaM,’ a literal translation for “Good Morning.” Continue reading



Continuing the reposting of blogs from Advaita Academy, here is one from 2010. It is interesting to note that I have not further encountered this word since then! So it was a one-off. Nevertheless, it remains an interesting one and has a useful message.

I encountered a new Sanskrit word recently and its use and interpretation are quite enlightening. No doubt we are all familiar with those statements in the Upanishads which extol the extreme virtues of brahman. For example, in the Katha Upanishad, we have “the self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest” (I.ii.20). And in the Isha Upanishad, we have “Unmoving, it moves faster than the mind” and “unmoving, it moves; is far away, yet near; within all, outside all” (verses 4 and 5). (These quotes are from ‘The Ten Principal Upanishads’ by Shree Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats – a poetic rendering.) Then again, in the Kaivalya Upanishad (v.20), it is said “I am smaller than the smallest; I am the biggest, I am everything…Continue reading

Creator and Created

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am the light that is above them all, I am the all,

and the all came from me and the all attained to me.

Cleave a piece of wood and I am there;

lift up the stone and you will find me there.

You can find thousands of sayings like this in the Upanishads, in the Gita, in Buddha, but you cannot find a single parallel in the Old Testament. So which scriptures has Jesus come to fulfill? He has come to fulfill some other scriptures, some other traditions. This saying is absolutely Vedanta, so try to understand first the standpoint of Vedanta, then you will be able to understand this saying.

Jesus was born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew – but this is only as far as the body is concerned; otherwise Jesus was a pure Hindu. And you cannot find a purer Hindu than Jesus, because the base of Upanishadic religion is his base. He created the whole structure on that base, so try to understand what that base is. Continue reading

Appearance and Reality – As Properties

“In order to understand a new material, one has to understand its Intrinsic properties as well as its Assumed (Transient) properties.  The intrinsic properties of Brahman are Sat (Reality), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Bliss).  His transient or assumed qualities are Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution.  One should know both these qualities of Brahman in order to understand him.  It is very difficult to directly comprehend or talk about the intrinsic qualities of Brahman.  That’s why, at many places, the Vedas firstly talk about the assumed, temporary or transient qualities of the Brahman and then explain Brahman in terms of his natural intrinsic qualities.

The following quote from Taittiriyopanishad is very pertinent in this context among all the statements in the Vedas about the transient qualities of Brahman:

यतोवा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते
येन जातानि जीवन्ति
यत्प्रय्त्यभिसंविशन्ति ||    —   III-1-i,  taittirIya upanishad

It means: “Brahman is that from which all the five major elements like the sky are born, by which all that were born are sustained and into which all those sustained finally enter and unify with it.”

The properties of creation, sustenance and dissolution do not always adhere to the Brahman. Therefore, they are to be called as temporarily assumed characteristics.  Both Vasishta and Valmiki Maharishis prepared the scope of their teachings in YogavAsiShTha keeping this fact in mind. ”  — From: p: 1-2, Yogavaasishta, Part III – Sustenance, K. V. Krishna Murthy, (English translation Dr. Vemuri Ramesam), Avadhoota Datta Peetham, Mysore, India, 2006.

The transient qualities are the Appearance.

The intrinsic qualities are the Reality.