The Theory of Vivarta


Advaita Vedaanta explains the creation of the world by the theory of vivarta. (…) According to Advaita, the effect is not an actual transformation of the cause. Brahman is immutable and there can be no transformation of it. It only serves as the substratum (adhishThaana) for the appearance of the universe, just as the rope serves as the substratum for the appearance of the illusory snake.


This appearance of the universe is due to avidyaa, or nescience, which conceals Brahman by its veiling power (aavaraNa s’akti) and projects the universe by its power of projection (vikshepa s’akti). The universe is therefore said to be only a vivarta, or apparent transformation, of Brahman. Like the illusory snake with rope as the substratum, the universe is illusory, or mithyaa, with Brahman as the substratum.

But there is a vital difference between the illusoriness of the rope-snake and that of the universe. While the snake is purely illusory, or praatibhaasika, the universe has empirical, or vyaavahaarika, reality. That means that the universe is real for all those who are still in ignorance of Brahman. It loses its reality only when Brahman is realized as the only reality and as identical with one’s own self, or, in other words, when identification with the body-mind complex completely disappears.

Bondage is nothing but identification with the body-mind complex. This identification being due only to the ignorance of the truth that one is really the aatmaa, which is the same as Brahman, it can be removed only by the knowledge of one’s real nature as Brahman.

Vedanta Spiritual Library |                                                 Elucidation of Terms and Concepts in Vedanta                                                         [Based on the Commentaries of Sri Sankaracharya and other authoritative texts]                                       By S. N. Sastri

Three Advaitic Views on Creation



The Supreme Brahman is both the material as well intelligent 
cause but unchanging;

The creation is transfiguration and not production of a thing not 
existing before or transformation.

97668_web_R_by_Hans Georg

  1. yathA srShTi tathA drShTi – as the creation so the vision 
(experience) is put forth by advocates of many 
individual souls. Hence creation of the world is by God; certain experiences (universal) like fire burning whether you know it or not, 
sun will rise in east and set in west even if you know truth to be 
otherwise; sky will appear blue though colourless…. World has 
empirical reality.
  1. yathA drShTi tathA srShTi – as the vision (experience) so the 
creation is put forth by advocates of single soul. 
One’s own likes and dislikes are the cause for 
experience of pleasure and pain and contact of senses with objects is 
the producer of heat and cold. So whole world is subjective. World is 
apparent reality.
  1. ajAta – not separately born is put forth by those who say there is 
no individual soul separate from brahman at any point of time. 
As all have to agree that in the beginning (before world) only brahman was there and after dissolution it is only going to be there, that 
which was not in the beginning and not going to be in the end need not be accepted to exist in the middle. Since Vedas declare all these are brahman only, they hold at no point of time there is a jIva
(individual soul) ever separated from brahman to be re-united through efforts and become brahman – none in bondage or trying for release or as released. Since brahman cannot be grasped but is the substratum of this 
superimposed world, all talk about world/its creation by Veda is to teach about the brahman.

All three are advaitic in nature and based on Vedas. So no one school needs to criticize the other two.

From a post of Br. Pranipata Chaitanya in the Yahoo Advaitin group (March 2009)

Photo Credits: Hans Georg

Creation according to Vasishtha

P1000932asa~NkalpajAlakalanaiva jagatsamagraM

sa~Nkalpameva nanu viddhi vilAsacetyaM
sankalpamAtramalam utsRRijya nirvikalpa

mAshritya nishcayam avApnuhi rArna shAntiM (39)


VASISTHA continued:

To illustrate this there is an interesting legend. Kindly listen to it,

A young boy asked his nanny to tell him a story, and the nanny told him the
following story to which the boy listened with great attention:

Once upon a time in a city which did not exist, there were three princes who
were brave and happy. Of them two were unborn and the third had not been conceived. Unfortunately all their relatives died. The princes left their native city to
go elsewhere. Very soon, unable to bear the heat of the sun, they fell into a swoon.
Their feet were burnt by hot sand. The tips of grass pierced them. They reached
the shade of three trees, of which two did not exist and the third had not even been
planted. After resting there for some time and eating the fruits of those trees, they
proceeded further. Continue reading

Topic of the Month – Creation



The ‘original’ topic for discussion! Lots of potential material here. I have a number of interesting extracts to post, as soon as I can get around to scanning them in.

Meanwhile here are a couple of my favorite quotes, which I used in ‘Book of One’:

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move. Douglas Adams

In the beginning there was nothing and God said ‘Let there be light’, and there was still nothing but everybody could see it. Dave Thomas (This one especially for budding Buddhists)

Buddhi is also something perceived

“To arrive at the conclusion that this solid-seeming world is a mere thought does not solve the whole problem. It cannot give entire satisfaction, for the thought-world remains.

The examination did not give satisfaction because it was conducted from the level of the buddhi which was left unexplained.

Buddhi is also something perceived. Is not oneself (Consciousness) the real Perceiver? To examine thoughts one has to take one’s stand in perceiving Consciousness

When it is seen that the content of thought is nothing but Consciousness, thought vanishes and Consciousness remains.”

Sri Atmananda, Atma Darshan

Buddhi – An Invitation to Use the Mind

620396_web_R_K_B_by_Jakob Ehrhardt_pixelio.deWhen introducing Advaita Vedanta the mind is one of the first things I deal with for two reasons:

  1. the average Western seeker is “anti-mind”. So he needs to start to appreciate this instrument, which for Advaita Vedanta is indispensible.
  2. The average seeker (probably the world round) is confused about what is going on in his mind and needs to be able to distinguish between its useful and its less useful functions.

In my experience seekers respond very positively when learning about the four different functions of the mind (in fact four different aspects of thought): manas, chitta, ahamkara and buddhi. This teaching is helpful in two ways: it enables the seeker to distinguish between manas and buddhi, and it enables the seeker to understand the nature of the ego. As the latter is not the topic of this month, I will not go into ahamkara (ego) here but concentrate on buddhi.

As to what buddhi is, I think that Dennis’ quote sums it up excellently,

The average Western seeker has never heard of buddhi or any of the different functions of the mind. For them mind is a uniform thing, a container filled with thoughts, perceptions, knowledge, abilities, experiences and possibly feelings. Why I say “possibly feelings” is because, at least in German speaking countries, feelings or emotions will never be accounted to the mind but to the heart, a mysterious entity which no-one is able to locate or clearly define except for pointing vaguely to the physical heart region. Continue reading

“Who / what am I” is the fundamental question the buddhi has to decipher

As one journeys through life, it may happen that questions arise as to what is the nature of the world around me, what is the purpose of life, how should one live, how / why do some experiences (good or bad) happen to me and not to anyone else. And for some, that may lead to a quest to find answers to such questions.

It may be that through science, through philosophy, or through religion one finds a path. The questions may initially be outwardly focused. But as one investigates the external world, the inevitable question must arise – what is the nature of ‘me’ that is trying to investigate the world?

So the ultimate quest has to be self-investigation; for without this self, there is no world that can be investigated. And in investigating the nature of one-self, one gradually realises that the body, mind and feelings are not really me, leaving only that which is the witness of all this. But this is elusive.

Vedanta is a set of beautiful pointers to help your buddhi gradually see the transiency of the world, and turn to the one constant that is conscious of the world. It is a pointer, because once the direction of travel is understood, it is no longer necessary to keep looking at the map. For understanding the vedantic scriptures is not the goal; understanding what is it that I am is the goal.

And to do that, it must be insufficient to simply accept some authority saying that ‘you are Brahman’. Liberation, freedom, can only mean absolute freedom from everything – including any and all authority. It means being able to stand alone, without any supports or crutches, and find out what it is you really are.

And so many of the sages of the 20th Century – Sri Ramana, Sri Atmananda, J Krishnamurti and Sri Nisargadatta advised just this.

Sri Atmananda commented (in Notes on Spiritual Discourses):
144: The basic error is the false identification of the ‘I’-principle with the body, senses or mind – each at a different time. This is the pivot round which our worldly life revolves.
151: Exactly in the way that the ego would examine other persons or activities outside you, standing separate from and unattached to the person or thing examined. Here you should stand separate from the body, senses and mind; and dispassionately examine them.

Sharp vs. Subtle Intellect

A suggestion has been made elsewhere in these columns that “Vedanta differentiates between what is called ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) and ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi).”

Experienced Vedantins may differentiate ‘sharp intellect’ from ‘subtle intellect’ in trying to make a point in order to explain contextually some specific concept they would like to amplify on.  But it is doubtful if Advaita Vedanta itself has  anywhere  highlighted the difference between ” ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) and ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi).” If we ask whether there is a vedAnta vAkya or shruti mantra to support a claim of difference between the two types of buddhi, the answer is perhaps a resounding “No.”

Vedanta does, of course, contrast ‘sUkshma‘ in relation to ‘sthUla‘ form of  many entities (e.g. sharIra, buddhi, loka-s). Bhagavad-Gita too talks of a stratified order from gross to finer when referring to objects to sensory organs to mind to buddhi &c.


There is also an idea promoted in some quarters that  ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) is useful more often in Science whereas ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi) is utilized in Vedantic study. The reason given is that “The former is the analytical mind characteristic of the scientist [whereas] the latter [i.e.] the ability to integrate rather than divide [is the requirement of Vedanta], to see the unity in diversity.” Continue reading

Buddhi as intermediary step in cognition.

‘Moreover, the connection of the Self with the buddhi, its limiting adjunct, depends on wrong knowledge, and wrong knowledge cannot cease except through perfect knowledge. Hence, as long as there does no rise the cognition of Brahman being the universal Self, so long the connection of the soul with the buddhi and its other limiting adjuncts does not come to an end. Thus scripture also says, “I know that great person of sun-like lustre beyond the darknes. A man who knows him passes over death; there is no other path to go.” (Sv. U. lll.8)’ —  Br.S.B., ll.iii.30-31.

Topic of the Month – buddhi

The mind in Sanskrit is antaHkaraNa. It is the seat of both thought and feeling. It derives from antar – within, interior – and karaNa, which means “instrument” or sense-organ. The mind consists of a number of separate functions – manas, buddhi, chitta and ahaMkAra. The buddhi is responsible for discrimination and judgement, perhaps nearest equated to the intellect in Western usage. It differentiates between pairs of opposites, particularly between transient and eternal. In terms of the ‘spiritual development’ of a man, it is the most important function of the mind, since it is able effectively to exercise control over all of the rest of the body-mind instrument. Without it, we are no better than animals, driven by primitive instincts and selfish, acquisitive urges. Continue reading