‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 1/4

    राजविद्या राजगुह्यं पवित्रमिदमुत्तमम् 
प्रत्यक्षावगमं धर्म्यं सुसुखं कर्तुमव्ययम्   — 9.2, BG.

[This is the Sovereign Knowledge, the Sovereign Profundity, the best sanctifier; directly realizable, righteous, very easy to practice and imperishable.]

What is this world that is available for our experience?

“The world is a ‘superimposition’ (adhyAropa). In other words, it merely appears to be present but does not really exist. It is like ‘casting forward’ a non-existing or unreal “form” (objects) onto the Eternal, Immutable and Real ‘Substratum’ (adhisThAna) or the Supreme Self,” avers the Advaita Vedanta. Because of our inherent inability to know what “exactly” out there, our intellect ‘confabulates’ what could be present out there and ‘externalizes’ the imagined ‘form’ as a projection.

Shankara in his introduction to the Vedanta aphorisms (sUtra-s) explains to us that this ‘superimposition’ is natural (naisargika) to us – i.e., it exists from our birth itself. Left to itself uninvestigated, adhyAsa seems to have no locatable or known beginning-point (hence, anAdi); nor an end-point (hence, ananta).

No meaningful answer can be given to a question like “What is north of North Pole?” Similarly, a point of ‘beginning’ cannot be indicated for something which is outside of our familiar time-space dimensionality. “anAdi” also implies that it lies beyond our time-space framework. As a result, we find ourselves inexorably caught up in its snares and suffer the consequences as helpless victims trapped within the jaws of a mighty ‘diaphanous power.’

A superimposition or a projection is, however, an ‘action.’ There cannot be an ‘action’ without an ‘agent’ who does the act.

If I am just a ‘victim’ and not the doer of this projection, who is the ‘agent’ that does the ‘superimposition’?

And in the answer lies a great twist in the story.

The ancient Indian Sages unraveled the mystery of superimposition. They discovered and realized the counterintuitive Truth behind the projection. It looks, as though, we cast a spell on ourselves and got deluded in the process, forgetting ‘what we actually were, are even today and forever’!

There never was any second entity that did the superimposition. What was, is and ever exists is One Alone without a second (ekameva advitIyam – 6.2.1, chAn.U.) and That Itself is “us” (tat tvam asi – 6.8.7, chAn.U.). This is the Advaita philosophy in gist and the scriptures help us to grok it by gently reminding us who we are. They nudge us back to abide as That, the Not-twoness (a-dvaita) vide 1.1.4, BSB; 1.4.10, BUB; 2.1.20, BUB). So, there’s really no culprit, no spell, nor a victim!

The Advaita teaching, therefore, asks us to ‘realize’ to be the unchanging stable Substratum, the True ‘Me’ which we have never actually left. It urges us not to be interested in and be a part of the ever-changing superimposition. Some teachers may formulate the instruction as though it is a journey from one place (adhyAropa) to another (adhisThAna) laterally following a path; yet some others may compare it to ascending a ladder, vertically up, one rung at a time. Whichever way one picturizes the travel, it involves no movement at all. It’s quite easy to attain, as Krishna says at 9.2, BG, because that Substratum is what our very intrinsic Self is. That’s what we already are. We do not have to acquire anything new, the Upanishads assure us; we just have to rediscover our True Self (2.5.1, kaTha.U. See here). Steeped in duality, however, we find it to be a formidable task. Even Krishna admits so at another point (7.3, BG). Therefore, let us explore this slowly.

We experience the ‘superimposed world’ essentially in two states – the awake and the dream states. However, we don’t see or know a world or even our own body in deep sleep. Gaudapada, the first Advaita Guru in human form (going by ‘The Hymn to the Lineage of Gurus’) tells us that, if we consider the aspects of ‘unreality’ and ‘projection,’ the dream world and the awake world are practically alike. Both are equally false. He writes:

अन्तःस्थानात्तु भेदानां तस्माज्जागरिते स्मृतम् 
यथा तत्र तथा स्वप्ने संवृतत्वेन भिद्यते     —  2.4, GK.

Meaning:  As dream objects are unreal in a dream, so also, because of that very reason, the objects in the waking state are unreal. But objects (in the dream state) differ because of existence inside (the body) and because of contraction (in the dream).

Shankara explains in his bhAShya:

Just as objects (“perceived”) in a dream, are false, so also the objects are false in the waking state. The fact of “being perceived” is present in both the states. Therefore, falsity is admitted of objects in the waking state as well. The dream objects differ from the objects of the waking state because the former is confined within and being contracted. The common features in both the states are the facts of being perceived and being false.

Gaudapada adds further,

आदावन्ते यन्नास्ति वर्तमानेऽपि तत्तथा 
वितथैः सदृशाः सन्तोऽवितथा इव लक्षिताः    –   2.6, and 4.31, GK.

Meaning:  That which does not exist in the beginning and the end is equally so in the present (i.e., in the middle). Though they are on the same footing with the unreal, yet they are seen ‘as though real.’

Shankara clarifies: The different things noticed in the waking state are unreal, for this additional reason that they do not exist in the beginning and at the end. The different things seen in the waking state, are indeed unreal, they being similar to (on the same footing with), unreal things like the mirage etc., on account of their non-existence in the beginning and at the end and yet, they are perceived as though real, by the ignorant who do not know the (True) Self.

If the objects in both the states of awake and dream worlds be unreal, who apprehends these objects and who is indeed their imaginer or creator (that means, who ‘superimposes or projects’ those objects)?

Gaudapada provides the answer. He says,

कल्पयत्यात्मनात्मानमात्मा देवः स्वमायया 
एव बुध्यते भेदानिति वेदान्तनिश्चयः     —  2.12, GK.

Meaning: The self-effulgent Self imagines Itself through Itself by the power of Its own mAyA. The Self Itself cognizes the objects. Such is the definite conclusion of Vedanta.

Shankara makes it clear for us. He comments that, “Through Its own mAyA, the self-effulgent Self, Itself imagines Its own self in the Self, as possessed of different forms to be spoken later, just as snakes etc., are imagined on the rope etc. And in the very same way It Itself cognizes those objects, such is the definite conclusion of Vedanta.”

[Note:  The word ‘mAyA,’ refers to an undefined black-box mechanism, not unlike the unknown ‘magic’ behind a magic-show performed by a magician.]

How is this done?

विकरोत्यपरान्भावानन्तश्चित्ते व्यवस्थितान् 
नियतांश्च बहिश्चित्त एवं कल्पयते प्रभुः ॥   — 2.13, GK.

Meaning:  The Lord diversifies the mundane things existing in the mind. Turning the mind outward, he creates the well-defined things (as well as the undefined things). Thus does the Lord imagine.

[Note: It helps to remember that what Gaudapada proposes here is only a ‘tentative’ answer (or ‘model’) and the actual teaching of Advaita is that ‘nothing has ever happened,’ as he himself underlines later on at 2.32, GK (Also see here).

brahman” is actaully a Non-doer (akarta), Gaudapada, therefore, uses the word “Lord” in this model to refer to brahman under the assumption that He does the action of “imagining” a world.]

Shankara adds in his commentary: The Lord diversifies the non-transcendental, mundane objects such as sound and other manifested objects existing inside the mind, in the form of impressions and tendencies. And having the mind turned outward, the Lord diversifies things well-defined, such as the earth etc., as also not well-defined, that exist so long as the imagination lasts. Similarly, he diversifies as objects of the sense of sight etc., they have a vividness, (that fact) is not due to the existence of the objects themselves; for this distinction is noticed even in dream.

But the awake world objects appear to us with a “Vividness” that is not present in the dream objects. What is the vividness due to?

Gaudapada and Shankara tell us that the vividness of the awake world objects is caused by the organs of perception (i.e. the five sensory organs providing additional inputs to assist the mind. This is unlike in the dream state when the mind alone functions and the sensory organs are at rest (2.15, GK).

When and how does the process of ‘imagination’ (creation/projection) happen?

(Contd…  Part – 2/4)

3 thoughts on “‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 1/4

  1. This is a stand alone post which flows naturally until the question “how is this done”. And all of a sudden where did the “Lord” come in from? A little intro to this lord will bring the reader on track.

  2. This is a stand alone post which flows naturally until the question “how is this done”. And all of a sudden where did the “Lord” come in from? A little intro to this lord will bring the reader on track.

    I see you did state that in your link to “ …biggest lie”

    Hence, we are told that the God created the world and it has its origin, sustenance and dissolution in Him. Our attention then hopefully shifts to the Creator. When it is said that the Creator Himself is shining as the world, we will begin to see the God. We will not stop seeing the percept, but we will notice it to be the God’s shine.

  3. Hi Vijay,

    Thanks for your comment.
    I am glad that you found that the reference to verse 2.13 GK was not abrupt and it was covered by me in my Note just above the Question, “How is this done?”

    Anyway, in order to make it less confusing, I split the two parts of my earlier Note and posted them separately. I also added a little explanation on the word “Lord.” Hope this solves the problem that you mentioned. Please let me know if things are still not clear.


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