“All this is the Self “

There has been an interesting discussion going on at one of the Online Advaita fora on Self-inquiry. One of the discussants posted the view of the well-known 16th Century Advaitin, Swami Madhusudana Saraswati in understanding the oft-quoted statement, “All this is the Self.” Madhusudana Saraswati says in his magnum opus, Advaita siddhi as follows:

एतच्च सर्वमुक्तं विवरणे – निषप्रपञ्चास्थूलादिवाक्यानुसारेण ‘इदं सर्वं यदयमात्मे’ त्यादीनि निषेध्यसमर्पकत्वेनैकवाक्यतां प्रतिपद्यन्ते ; सुषुप्तौ निष्प्रपञ्चतायां पुरुषार्थत्वदर्शनादिति |

Meaning: All this has been said in the panchapAdikA vivaraNa – Sentences such as “All this is the Self” must be interpreted in such a way as to indicate the negation of the world’s reality, so that there is consistency of meaning with sentences that reveal the nature of brahman as one completely devoid of the world, such as “not gross”, etc; for the achievement of the fundamental aims of human existence lies in the attainment of brahman in which the world is completely absent, which is experienced in deep sleep. [English Translation by:  Sri S. Venkatraghavan. Accension by me.]

The above should bring to rest at least for now, the unending debate on understanding the chAndogya mantra 3.14.1.

Those readers who are unable to go with “the world is completely absent,” may consider the following alternative. It occurred to me while reading the sUtra bhAShya, from what Shankara says at some other place, that the “absence of the visible world” may not imply that the physical world has evaporated into thin air. For example for some one deeply focused on a particular issue, the rest of the surroundings and related matters totally go out of attention and s/he would not be aware of any other thing than what is in focus. It is as good as the rest of the world does not exist. For one who is completely focused on the asti-bhAti aspects of brahman, nothing else may be appearing in his/her view, thus virtually transcending the nAma-rUpa-kriya vyAvahAra. I hasten to add that this is just a suggestion and under no circumstance I mean to say that this IS the way that happens in the case of a Self-realized individual.

10 thoughts on ““All this is the Self “

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    You don’t give up, do you?!

    “The validity of the Vedas holds good only with regard to matters concerning the relation between ends and means of Agnihotra etc., which are not known through such valid means of knowledge as direct perception, but not with regard to objects of direct perception etc. because the validity of the Vedas lies in revealing what is beyond direct perception… Surely even a hundred Vedic texts cannot become valid if they assert that fire is cold or non-luminous…” Shankara bhāṣya Bhagavad Gitā 18.66.

    Scriptures can tell us that the world is not separate, not real in itself, mithyā, or that it is Brahman, because these things do not contradict the appearance. They cannot tell us that it does not exist, cannot be seen etc., because such statements contradict pratyakṣa.

    Best wishes,

  2. Dear Dennis,

    Thanks for your comment.
    As you know well, Truth is the only thing that can’t be and shouldn’t be given up! 🙂

    Yes, as you say, Vedas are no authority for what is available for the dualistic worldly percepts and perceptual knowledge. But as Shankara said at that very 18.66, BGB, “shruti is an authority only in matters not perceived by means of ordinary instruments of knowledge, such as pratyakSha or immediate perception.”

    In fact, Shankara, at the same place adds for emphasis, “indeed, shruti is intended as authority only for knowing what lies beyond the range of human knowledge.’ (Translation: A.M. Sastri, 1897).

    It is needless to say that the discussion is on Self-knowledge (not worldly knowledge) which is NOT available for the senses and mind.

    Moreover, pratyakSha cannot obviously be given supremacy for true ‘prama,’ as we know, for example, the earth is not flat in spite of the eye saying so nor can we take that we are in a geocentric universe and not in a heliocentric system.

    Further, Shankara at 1.18 GK clearly says: “Duality does not exist when one, as a result of the teaching attains Self-knowledge, i.e. realizes the Highest Reality.” (Translations: Swami Nikhilnanda, 1949).

    We have Gaudapada telling us at 4.75 of his kArikA-s: “Man has mere persistent belief in the reality of the unreal (which is duality). There is no duality (corresponding to such belief).”

    Shankara writes in his explication: “As objects are, really speaking, non-existent, therefore, people who believe in their existence have, in fact, attachment for duality which is unreal. It is a mere belief in the (existence of) objects which (really speaking) do not exist. There is no duality. The cause of the birth is this attachment.” (Translation: Swami Nikhilananda, 1949).

    Can things be anymore clear?


  3. Nothing that you have said changes anything, I’m afraid. There has never been any dispute about the non-reality of duality; only about its appearance. The discussion is NOT about Self-knowledge. We are arguing precisely about worldly appearance.

    So, yes, what you say above is perfectly clear. It is simply that you are drawing a conclusion that is in no way implied by any of it. You even attempt to use the same examples – flat earth and sun rising. No amount of shruti, Shankara or Ramesam reasoning will make it appear as though the sun does NOT rise!

    Best wishes,

  4. Dear Dennis,

    My interest has always been about understanding the “vision” of a jnAni, post-realization. However, relegating my statements to the back burner for now, may we focus on the view expressed by Swami Madhusudana Saraswati quoted in the Blog Post please.


  5. I question the appropriateness of inferring a certain interpretation MUST be true (i.e., “All this is the Self” must be interpreted in such a way as to indicate the negation of the world’s reality…”) simply to ensure it stays logically consistent with another interpretation (i.e., “so that there is consistency of meaning with sentences that reveal the nature of brahman as one completely devoid of the world…“).

    It would be very easy to claim, for example, multiple interpretations of

    1: “world”
    2: “devoid”
    3: “completely”

    Per Dennis’s point above, the meaning of each term changes significantly depending on the reference frame adopted (i.e., phenomenal or noumenal? Which of these reference frames is the most ‘valid’ one? What constitutes ‘validity’ in this context? etc.).

    Moreover, the meaning of each term changes drastically depending on your interpretation of the teaching’s intent: is the intent descriptive or prescriptive? If the intent is prescriptive, these words are not meant to describe noumenal reality, but are phenomenal in nature and meant to help people realize self.

    To illustrate my point every further….
    If you use set-in-stone “official” definitions of these words as they are currently defined by the Merriam-webster dictionary in 2021, “devoid” means “being without a usual, typical, or expected attribute or accompaniment”.

    This “official” definition of devoid leads to a widely different meaning of “the nature of brahman as one completely devoid of the world”, one that clearly does ***not*** assume a negation of the worlds reality.

    For these reasons, I believe it is inappropriate to claim “The above should bring to rest at least for now, the unending debate on understanding the chAndogya mantra 3.14.1.”

  6. Dear Ramesam,

    Teachers post-Shankara frequently diverge from the teaching of Shankara, presumably either because they think he got something wrong or because they think they have a better explanation. Accordingly, whilst I am certainly happy to hear their ideas, I am not all that interested in refuting them. A good example is the idea of manonāśa that we have discussed previously, although I have in fact written to refute this in the case of Ramana.

    Madhusūdana does certainly appear to say that the world is not real in your extract. But there has never been any denial of this. Shankara clearly says that jagat is mithyā. (But remember that mithyā here means that its substrate is Brahman.) So I guess what you are really suggesting is that “the attainment of brahman in which the world is completely absent” means that, when one gains Self-knowledge, the world disappears?

    If that is the case, may I draw your attention to the following statement by Madhusūdana, also in advaita siddhi:

    “Ignorance has more than one power. In the case of the jīvanmukta the power of concealment is lost. However, the power of projection remains. It will be lost only at the end of his prārabdha. The śruti says: ‘By meditating on him, by joining him, by becoming one with him, there is further cessation of all ignorance in the end’ (śvetāśvatara upaniṣad 1.10). It can also be said that the minute forms of ignorance are its parts. Even after the destruction of ignorance its minute particles, which are competent to keep the body, continue to exist. Therefore, there is no harm in saying that there is a state of jīvanmukti.”

    Here, he is clearly saying that the Self-knowledge gained from śravaṇa only destroys the āvaraṇa element; the vikṣepa continues to operate to maintain the forms of both the world and the jñānī. So, here, is obviously saying that the world DOES continue to appear after gaining Self-knowledge.

    I will leave it you to reconcile these contradictory views from the same author.

    Best wishes,

  7. Shruti, yukti and anubhava are important in Advaita teaching. It does not propose or claim to contradict experience. The thurst is to refute wrong conclusions drawn from the experience. The world is experienced before Self-knowledge and continues to be experienced on and after Self-knowledge. While it is experienced, it is mithya for a realized person.

  8. Madhusudana Saraswati: “Sentences such as “All this is the Self” must be interpreted in such a way as to indicate the negation of the world’s reality, so that there is consistency of meaning with sentences that reveal the nature of brahman as one completely devoid of the world…”

    Pace Madhusudana, his statement is one of countless in traditional Advaita metaphysics maintaining the so-called unreality of the world. The world, as non-different from Brahman, enjoys the same permanency and reality as Brahman. As Shankara puts it, “Just as the Brahman, the cause, is never without existence in all the three periods of time, so also the universe, which is an effect, never parts company with Existence in all the three periods.” (BSBh 2.1.16). One need not deny the reality of the world in order to affirm the non-duality and limitlessness of Brahman. The tendency to do this is owing to the erroneous notion of the separateness of the world from Brahman. We don’t need to deny the many in order to affirm the one, when ontological non-duality is affirmed and when the many is seen as non-different from the one. Advaita teaches that the world emerges from Brahman, is sustained by Brahman, and returns to Brahman, without in any way limiting or diminishing Brahman. Post-Shankara Advaitins use maya to disconnect the world from Brahman in order to secure Brahman as limitless and non-dual. Shankara himself never describes the world as the creation of maya but consistently as the creation of Brahman. This in fact is his main argument against the Sankya tradition that traces the origin of the world to insentient matter.

    For Ramakrishna, the world-denying outlook of Advaita Vedanta is based on a genuine but intermediate stage of spiritual realization, which is surpassed by the vijnani’s realization that Brahman alone exists and that everything in the universe is Brahman sporting in a variety of forms. Ramakrishna maintains that both jiva and jagat are real manifestations of Shakti, which is itself an ontologically real aspect of the divine reality. Advaitins deny the reality of the universe and so maintain that there is no ‘all’ but only Brahman. From Ramakrishna’s perspective, ‘sarvam khalvidam brahma’ means that everything in the universe actually is “Brahman in different forms”.

  9. The statement “All this is the Self” describes the perspective of a Self-realized person. He or she understands it in different ways though essentially the same. (1) Anything other than the Self is mithya and need not be counted thereby confirming the statement. (2) The world is a manifestation of Brahman, as the metaphor of ornament and gold. It is to be noted that whereas both gold and ornament are material, Brahman is non-material and the world is material. (3) The world borrows its existence from Brahman and is therefore mithya. That the world is mithya confirms that a Self-realized person does experience it. In fact, he or she has to necessarily experience the world so as to exhaust the prarabdha.

  10. Rick,

    It appears to me that you are back with your claim that “[The world] is a deliberate creation of brahman, an outpouring of fullness (sRiShTi), …” etc. etc.

    You have chosen, for some reason, not to respond to the 2-Article Series (that was effectively dedicated to you) tried to establish how your view “fundamentally contradicts Shankara’s position.” As you may be aware, the articles were published under the title “The Lie of the Upanishads” with the link being:


    You quoted the 2.1.16, BSB in your comment of Aug 30, 2021.
    I wonder if you had a chance to take a look at 2.1.14, BSB. Please do take a few moments to read its translation either by Dr. Thibaut or Swami Gambhirananda. It answers all your likely questions. To be brief, I am giving two short excerpts below:

    1. With regard to the world on Self-realization:

    एवं परमार्थावस्थायां सर्वव्यवहाराभावं वदन्ति वेदान्ताः सर्वे etc. etc. — Shankara at 2.1.14, BSB

    “In this manner the Vedanta-texts declare that for him who has reached the state of truth and reality the whole apparent world does not exist.” – Thibaut.

    “Thus, all the Upanishads speak of the cessation of all empirical dealings in the state of the Highest Reality.” – Swami Gambhirananda.

    2. With regard to creation and God:

    ननु कूटस्थब्रह्मात्मवादिन एकत्वैकान्त्यात् ईशित्रीशितव्याभावे ईश्वरकारणप्रतिज्ञाविरोध इति चेत् , न ; अविद्यात्मकनामरूपबीजव्याकरणापेक्षत्वात्सर्वज्ञत्वस्य । ‘ तस्माद्वा एतस्मादात्मन आकाशः सम्भूतः’ (तै. उ. २ । १ । १) इत्यादिवाक्येभ्यः etc. etc. — 2.1.14, BSB

    “Opponent: Since the believers in a changeless Brahman have a predilection for absolute unity, there will be no ruler and the ruled, so that the assertion that God is the cause (of the universe) will be contradicted.

    Vedantin: No, since that omniscience (of God) is contingent on the manifestation of name and form which are creations of ignorance and which constitute the seeds of the world. In accordance with the texts like, “From that Self which is such, originated space” (Tai. II. i. 2), it was asserted under the aphorism, “That from which this world has its birth etc.” (B. S. I. i. 2), that the origin, continuance, and dissolution of the world result not from the insentient Pradhana or anything else, but from God who is by nature eternal, pure, intelligent, and free, as also omniscient and omnipotent. That assertion remains intact. Nothing contradictory to that is stated here again.” — Swami Gambhirananda.

    Thus, even the saguna brahman Creator God is a product of Nescience. The above should also clarify that what you quoted at 2.1.16, BSB is about “pradhana” being not the source of creation. A similar mistke is also done by Prof. A. Rambachan in his book, “The Advaita Worldview – God, World and Humanity, 2006.

    Finally one request.

    Bringing in Ramakrishna’s views will only muddy the things. Ramakrishna Paramhansa obviously has a philosophy subtly different from that of Shankara, a point their latest anointed young Swami Medhananda is bringing about through his Ph.D. thesis etc.


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