‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 2/4

[Part – 1]

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

Shankara contends in his ‘adhyAsa bhAShya’ (Intro to his ‘Commentary on the brahma sUtra-s) that the formless, featureless and functionless, unbounded, immutable Beingness does not ‘cognize’ or ‘act’ unless Its Infinitude is somehow compromised. He writes, “The unrelated Self cannot become a ‘cognizer’ unless there are all these mutual superimpositions of the Self and the body and their attributes on each other, because perception and other activities (of a man) are not possible without accepting the senses etc. (as his own); the senses cannot function without (the body as) a basis; since nobody engages in any activity with a body that has not the idea of the Self superimposed on it.” [Slightly re-arranged the clauses for easy comprehension.]

[Note:  This does not imply that Shankara proposes a causal relationship between the two, or that one event happens first and the n the other is triggered; the two may be coeval. Expressed differently, we may say that these are all different ‘models’ suggested. For example, Lord Krishna provides a different ‘model’ at 2.26, BG, based on the assumption that “the Self is transient, and becomes born with the birth of each of the numerous bodies; and dies, along with the death of each of these (bodies).” These have to be taken as “upAya-s” (devices) to arrive at the final teaching of Advaita, namely, “Nothing is ever born” – 2.32, GK. Whatever may be the device used, it helps to bear in mind that it is a mere deliberate ‘superimposition’ which eventually gets rescinded as the student deepens his/her understanding. The Ultimate Reality, Whatever-It-Is, does NOT do anything; It is akartA, (1.9, sve. U.) as we shall see later.]

Gaudapada explicates in simpler terms. He says:

जीवं कल्पयते पूर्वं ततो भावान्पृथग्विधान् 
बाह्यानाध्यात्मिकांश्चैव यथाविद्यस्तथास्मृतिः   —  2.16, GK.

Meaning: First, He imagines the individual separate self, and then He imagines different objects, external and personal. The individual gets his memory in accordance with the kind of thought impressions he has.

Shankara expounds further adding,

“Like the fancying of a snake in a rope, He first imagines on the pure Self that is devoid of such characteristics, the individual (separate finite ‘self’), that is a bundle of causes and effects expressing themselves through such beliefs as “I act; and mine are the resulting sorrows and happiness.”

What is the possible reason for that imagination?

The individual that is imagined by the Lord is himself capable of imagination. The individual gets a memory in accordance with the kind of thought impressions that the individual is possessed of. He apprehends one of his ‘fancies’ as the cause and another ‘fancy’ to be the effect. He, thus establishes an ‘imaginary’ cause and effect relationship between two fancied objects – for example, if there is an imagination of ‘eating’ and another imagination of ‘satiation,’ the two get related as “eating results in satiation.”

Awareness of multiples of such causal relationships establish cliques of networks of memory relating one object to another triggering actions to secure a particular ‘result.’ In this way, the Lord imagines diversely the things, both personal and external, that are mutually the causes and effects.

This verse establishes that the ‘imagining individuality (that ‘I am a separate self’) is at the root of all other imaginations.

How does the separate individual’s imagination proceed?

Gaudapada provides an answer at the next verse.

अनिश्चिता यथा रज्जुरन्धकारे विकल्पिता 
सर्पधारादिभिर्भावैस्तद्वदात्मा विकल्पितः    — 2.17, GK.

Meaning:  As a rope whose nature has not been well ascertained is imagined in the dark to be various ting like a snake, a line of water, etc., so also is the Self imagined variously.

Shankara adds for clarity: The Self is imagined to be an individual creature or the vital force etc., just because It has not been ascertained in Its true nature. The Self in Truth is pure intelligence, existence, and Non-duality. It is different from such evils as cause and effect that are characteristics of the mind and the world. This is the conclusion of all the Upanishads.

If it be a well-ascertained ‘Fact’ that the Self is but One, why should It at all be imagined as so many infinite things like the vital-force etc., that constitute the phenomenal existence? 

A surprising answer comes at 2.19, GK.  The Self is imagined to be the infinite objects like prANa (the vital-force) etc. owing to the mAyA of that self-effulgent One by which He Himself gets deluded!

As the magic spell, created by the magician, makes the very clear sky appear as though filled with leafy trees in bloom, similar is the mAyA of the self-effulgent One; but by this mAyA, the Lord Himself seems to have become influenced. Krishna admits that “My mAyA is difficult to get over” (7.14, BG). It is almost like a drunken man getting deluded by his own inebriation.

Is there no exit route for this self-delusion?

Gaudapada assures us that there is. He says,

निश्चितायां यथा रज्ज्वां विकल्पो विनिवर्तते 
रज्जुरेवेति चाद्वैतं तद्वदात्मविनिश्चयः    —  2.18, GK.

As illusion (on the rope) ceases and the rope alone remains when the rope is ascertained to be nothing but the rope, so also is the ascertainment about the Self.

Shankara writes in his bhAShya: As on the ascertainment that it is nothing but a rope, all the imaginations like ‘It is a water-mark; a crack; a stick; a garland; a snake; etc., disappear and there remains the rope alone without anything else. Likewise, from the scriptural text, “Not this; not this (4.4.22, BU), establishing the Self as devoid of all worldly attributes, there dawns the light of the Sun of “Realization” which leads to the firm conviction about the Self, viz., “All this is but the Self (7.25.2, chAn.U.); [the Self is] without anterior or posterior, without interior or exterior (2.5.19, BU); the Self exists internally and externally, and hence It  is birthless (2.1.2, muNDaka); undecaying, immortal, undying, fearless (4.4.25, BU); One indeed without a second (6.2.1, chAn.U.).

In addition, as commented by Shri Carlo Rocchi Ji on the Part – 1 of this Series, Gaudapada tells us that what we refer to as mAyA is nothing but the perceptual worldly knowledge (i.e., information obtained by us using the five sensory organs + mind). He writes:

नेह नानेति चाम्नायादिन्द्रो मायाभिरित्यपि ।     —  3.24, GK.

Meaning:  The scriptures say that there is no diversity here and that and the Lord (i.e. the Self),  (is perceived as manifold) on account of mAyA.

Shankara expands the meaning behind those  cryptic words of Gaudapada to say:

If creation were to have taken place in ‘reality,’ the manifested multiple objects would also have been real. If so, no scriptural text should have existed showing their unreality.

Opponent: But does not the word mAyA imply ‘knowledge’?

Vedantin: That’s true. But this kind of ‘knowledge’ obtained through the senses comes from “not-knowing-the-Reality” (2.5.19, BU) or in one word, ‘ignorance.’ Further, “realization” of Oneness is a fruitful thing as mentioned in the scriptures. The Unitive Vision is the definitive conclusion of the Upanishads which ‘condemn’ the idea of heterogeneity implied by creation etc.

The above statements of Shankara convey to us another hugely important message, though it is not explicitly stated by him here. Though we are slightly digressing, let us make a note of the point as it helps us in subsequent Parts of this Series. I shall try to illustrate the message though an analogy.

Suppose one lives in Mumbai or New York or London. Someone says that excellent Blue diamonds exist in Colombo. Searching for Colombo within one’s own city or country, exploring every corner thoroughly with expert help and knowledge will NOT show that which is beyond one’s city or nation-state. Even searching on the top of a mountain or the depths of the sea will NOT reveal the diamonds. One has to go to Colombo only.

Likewise, when Advaita Vedanta talks about “THAT’ which is BEYOND (i.e., prior to the superimposition of the misconstrued) time-space-causational phenomenal limitations, searching for THAT, one has to transcend time-space-causation. All of our thinking, analysis, knowledge, expertise, logic is necessarily within time-space-causation. Therefore, Non-dual brahman is NOT something within our conceptual or perceptual abilities. We have to go to Scripture only which can give us the key for IT.

It is said that brahman Itself gets deluded by Its own magic. Does it not then imply that there is really creation and a world out there?

(Contd. … Part – 3)