Gaudapada on the logical incoherence of the cessation of a non-existent world

Swami Ghambirananda provides a clearer understanding of MK1.17:

MK17. It is beyond question that the phenomenal world would cease to be if it had any existence. All this duality that is nothing but Maya, is but non duality in reality.

Sankara extract: “If one is to be awakened by negating the phenomenal world, how can there be non-duality so long as the phenomenal world persists?

The answer is: Such indeed will be the case if the world had existence. But being superimposed like a snake on a rope, it does not exist. There is no doubt that if it had existed, it would cease to be. Not that the snake, fancied on the rope through an error of observation, exists there in reality and is then removed by correct observation.

Therefore the purport is that there is no such thing as the world which appears or disappears.”

An illusory snake superimposed on a rope cannot be said to cease to exist, when it never did have existence. The illusion of the snake is dispelled and the rope remains. And remembering that the jiva that ‘perceives’ the illusory snake is also part of the illusion and is dispelled.

A world of difference.

22 thoughts on “Gaudapada on the logical incoherence of the cessation of a non-existent world

  1. Hi Venkat,

    I’m unclear what you are saying is a ‘world of difference’. It sounds pretty similar to Nikhilananda’s version (which I chose because that was the version selelcted by Ramesam).

    Also, you say in one sentence (correctly) that the illusory snake cannot be said to cease to exist when it didn’t exist to start with. But in the next sentence you say that the illusion is ‘dispelled’ along with the jIva that perceived it. Is this not a contradiction? Or are you saying that ‘being dispelled’ is not the same as ‘ceasing to exist’?

    You should also note that, if the world and jIva disappear on enlightenment, then mokSha would be an event in time and this would mean that we are not already Brahman and therfore unlimited and free. And this would be a clear contradiction of scripture.

    Best wishes,

  2. Dennis

    One is about perception, the other about existence.

    A dream does not exist. Therefore it cannot cease to exist. But it is dispelled on awakening,

    As for moksha being an event in time, time itself is within the parameters of the dream. If the dream is dispelled there is no concept of time to talk about. Similarly cause and effect.

    Another expression. You won’t argue that Brahman is subject to time or space. If moksha = Brahman, then your question is based on a mis-framing.

  3. Venkat,

    I still do not follow, I’m afraid. Could you please explain using just Nikhilananda’s and Gambhirananda’s translation of 1.17 and Shankara bhAShya, none of which mention dreams or cause and effect. (And I will not mention events in time!)

    Best wishes,

  4. Dear Dennis,

    Definitely it was a sportive and enjoyable move of yours to post an article with the title “Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world,” in order to counter my Post, titled “Gaudapada on the Appearance of a world.”

    A. You chose to present 1.17, GK in support of your argument indicated by the title of your Post. Alas, it belies your understanding of the thrust of 1.17 GK.

    A learned man like you cannot be ignorant of the fact that the verse at 1.17 in GK is NOT about the disappearance or otherwise of the world. You know well that it was as a reply to the question of the pUrva pakShin who claimed that if it is said that brahman will be revealed only on the termination of a world, it would imply that brahman does not exist when there is a world. The Vedantin replies that strictly speaking a ‘world’ has never been there at all to start with to talk about it being present or not. Thereby, the Vedantin asserts what really ever present is brahman ONLY and if anyone sees a world instead of brahman, it simply means that the seeker is a great ignoramus. IOW, unless there is “ignorance” one does not see a world. Expressed differently, one sees a world instead of what is really present due to his/her nescience like one seeing a snake (which has been never there really instead of the rope that is actually present). Therefore, the Vedantin concludes that “there is no such thing as the manifold about which appearance or disappearance can be predicated.”

    Hope you see now the correct position and “STOP PRINT” to make necessary corrections i your book on Confusions, in case it was presented there.

    B. I do not understand how you could miss the main theme of GK (about the inverse relationship between “appearance of a world and ending of ignorance or attainment of Self-knowledge”) which is made evident right from the word “Go.” I list a few below for your convenience:

    1. Shankara in his opening words says, “The self labouring under misapprehension, owing to identification of itself with misery, recovers its normal (healthy) state with the cessation (of the illusion) of duality which manifests itself as the phenomenal universe.”

    2. “In this way alone is Non-duality established by the removal of (the illusion of) the entire phenomena.” Shankara at mantra # 3.

    3. “The knowledge of duality cannot exist even for a moment immediately after the moment of the cessation of duality.” Shankara at mantra # 7.

    4. “Duality does not exist when one, as a result of the teaching, attains Knowledge, i.e. realizes the Highest Reality.” Shankara at the very next mantra you quoted in your write up!

    5. “Duality is perceived only by the deluded and Non-duality by us who are enlightened.” Shankara at 3.18.

    i can go on filling pages, but I shall stop here.

    (P.S. continued wrt other points)

  5. Dear Dennis,

    Let me continue here with some of the other misgivings you expressed in your above posts responding to Venkat or me.

    1. You write: “You should also note that, if the world and jIva disappear on enlightenment, then mokSha would be an event in time and this would mean that we are not already Brahman …”

    Clearly you missed what is being said. None claims that liberation is an event in time. What is being said is about “ignorance.”
    Please admit, for heaven’s sake that we are now in ignorance. This ignorance enveloping us is beginningless (anAdi). But is NOT endless.
    It ends at a time ON Self-realization (prAptasya prAptih). So ending of ignorance is in time.

    2. You had disagreed with my comment that the ‘seer’ and the ‘seen’ are mutually dependent entities like the seed and pant and in the absence of one, the other cannot exist.

    I wish to draw your kind attention to 2.3.50, BSB on “AbhAsa.” Shankara is very unambiguous in what he says there. He comments, “a false appearance is a creation of ignorance, it is but logical that the transmigratory state centering round that appearance must also be a creation of ignorance; and hence the instruction is logically proper that the identity of the soul [i.e. separate self] with Brahman, which is the supreme reality, is attained by eradicating that appearance.” (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).

    It should, therefore, erase all such beliefs that say that a finite seer ‘me’ that sees other finite objects (i.e. a world) survives after the “Realization” of brahman.

    3. You contend that “Basically, I do not accept that it is a correct translation of what Śaṃkara said” about Swami Gambhirananda’s translation of 2.1.1, taittirIya.

    What can I say if anyone doubts the knowledge of Sanskrit and English of a man like Sw-G! I am helpless.

    4. You suggested, ” Ask any Advaitin whether Śaṃkara was realized when he wrote his bhāṣya-s.”

    Oh, God! This reminds me of the story by Prof. R. Feynman about measuring the nose of an 8th Century King of Ming dynasty!
    Since when a “Truth” can be decided by “first past the post principle?

    5. You write, “There is no such thing as a ‘spark’ of Consciousness nor any ‘liberation’ from its ‘confines’. ”

    Are you not jettisoning the entire doctrine of Delimitation, which Shankara himself uses as an illustration in his bhAShya-s?


  6. Dear Ramesam,

    I only spent 2 – 3 years reading virutally everything ever written (in English or translated), and listening to hundreds of hours of talks, on the Mandukya and Gaudapada; and then a further year summarising, writing and rewriting the book ‘A-U-M’ on these topics. What are your qualifications exactly? Nevertheless, I of course bow to your greater knowledge, and I certainly would not want to try to compete with you regarding derogatory remarks. In any case, I was quoting Swami Nikhilananda, whose version you seem to view as authoritative, so I am not sure why you are accusing me of misunderstanding!

    But I do wish that you would comment on the correct relevant post. This was a post by Venkat and I asked him to explain what he was saying. Your interruption here does not provide that response.

    Best wishes,

  7. Dennis,

    I believe that you were interpreting MK1.17 to be saying that the world does not have to disappear to realise non-duality.

    By contrast, I interpret MK1.17 to be saying something entirely different: that the world does not exist at all, never has, never will. Full stop. It is mere illusion conjured up by Maya, like an elephant conjured up by a magician. Therefore it is illogical to talk about the dissolution of an elephant that never existed apart from a magic trick.

    “Verily it is not that the magic [elephant] conjured up by a magician exists in reality and is then removed on the removal of the optical illusion of its witness”

    Whether the illusion continues or not post-realisation, is not the purpose of MK1.17. The purpose is to emphasise that the world never existed in the first place, even pre-realisation.

    An argument as to whether the snake or the elephant continues to be seen post-realisation logically becomes irrelevant. As does the person making the argument, who is also drsti.


  8. Hi Venkat,

    You are partly correct. Certainly 1.17 is saying that the perceived world never existed as a separate entity. But no one (not even Shankara) can say that there was never the appearance of the world. Therefore, because it never really existed, it cannot disappear. But equally, because the appearance was only an appearance, why should IT disappear? Clearly whether it does or not IS an issue, since we have been arguing about it for the past year!

    I agree that this is not the subject of 1.17. I was simply quoting it in response to Ramesam’s quote and referencing the Nikhilananda quote since that was the commentary used.

    Nikhilananda goes on to say: “The difference between a j~nAnI and an aj~nAnI is that a wise man sees the universe as Brahman and therefore never sees in it any appearance or disappearance. But the ignorant person believes in the reality of the universe as apart from Brahman and therefore talks about its disappearance. What really disappears is the illusion that the manifold exists as something other than Brahman. The universe as Brahman does not appear and disappear. It always is. The meaning of the disappearance of the universe really is the disappearance of one’s notion of the illusion.”

    Best wishes,

  9. Dennis

    “Why should IT disappear” presupposes a subject that continues to see it. If neither subject nor object exist, then it becomes irrelevant.

    I think you’ll find that Ramesam and I have not advocated so much a disappearing world, as the dissolution of the jiva that sees the world. What happens after that dissolution is speculative – and irrelevant since neither exist.

    You however – like many others – seem to want to have your cake and it. Believing that you are jnanis – have assimilated the knowledge of ajata vada – but still continuing life as before in “relative” reality. But relative reality was only a concession to the ignorant, to be sublated.

    Further, IF one allows that a body-mind is there post-realisation, and realisation happens in the mind, then both the world and the personal desires / fears of the body-mind must become an irrelevance for that mind that has truly understood. It is, as Gaudapada says, a magic trick that has no existence.

    Hence why Sankara can say in Brhad that a jnani ‘lives on the strength of that knopwledge’. When that knowledge is realised, it must be transformative, otherwise it is just another concept that has been accumulated in the mind, similar to the concept that we all have assimilated – without vedanta – that we are all made up of the same, indistinguishable quantum particles. And that transformation is what Krishna describes as a man of steady wisdom.


  10. Venkat,

    To claim that the j~nAnI disappears instead of or as well as the world is even less credible. There are innumerable quotes in the scriptures and Shankara that show that neither held such a view. Even your own particular favorite of saMnyAsa would become meaningless for the j~nAnI, let alone all the teaching about prArabdha and the behavior of the man of self-knowledge etc. This is not even to consider all the consequences of eka jIva vAda, which is a silly, post-Shankara concept, that shows a lack of understanding and sullies the teaching of Advaita.

    And might I remind you that both the world and the j~nAnI are Brahman. How could either disappear?


  11. Dennis you really don’t have the sense to try to read and understand. As JK said you start from a position of knowing, and don’t even try to understand another perspective. No point in further discussion.

  12. PS. “world and the j~nAnI are Brahman”. No they are not; that is the whole point of Gaudapada and this particular verse!!! The world and jnani are Brahman is a teaching step that is sublated.

    What is it about the sentence: “Therefore the purport is that there is no such thing as the world which appears or disappears” that you don’t understand???

  13. Venkat,

    I have to say that I am getting a little tired of your continual rudeness. Keep it up and I will be obliged to remove you from the list of contributors. It should be perfectly possible to hold a contrary opinion and yet discuss in an amicable manner.

    Clearly YOU haven’t been reading what I have posted. Read again this quote from Swami Nikhilananda (assuming that you have some respect for what he says):

    Nikhilananda goes on to say: “The difference between a j~nAnI and an aj~nAnI is that a wise man sees the universe as Brahman and therefore never sees in it any appearance or disappearance. But the ignorant person believes in the reality of the universe as apart from Brahman and therefore talks about its disappearance. What really disappears is the illusion that the manifold exists as something other than Brahman. The universe as Brahman does not appear and disappear. It always is. The meaning of the disappearance of the universe really is the disappearance of one’s notion of the illusion.”

  14. It is truly unfortunate that the extra explanatory note of Swami Nikhilananda at 1.17, presumably provided by him to bring greater clarity, has become a point of contention.

    Regrettably, the Swami Ji is no more and in his absence, we can only second guess what he actually could have meant by his words. The various possible ways of resolving the issue, as occur to my little mind are as follows:

    1. Just ignore that extra para added by Sw-N and move on because it failed to bring the clarity needed.

    2. Just stick to only Shankara’s commentary as was done by Swami Gambhirananda and stay with his work.

    3. Consider that whatever the Swami said at 1.17 is only tentative to help the seeker at that level. Then move on to 1.18 where the verse makes things abundantly clear without any scope for doubt saying that

    ज्ञाते द्वैतं न विद्यते ॥

    Meaning: Duality (in explanation) ceases to exist when the Highest Truth is known.

    Sw-N says in his explanation at this verse that “The entire manifold is an illusion, it is not reality. It appears as real till one attains to the Highest Knowledge. … The appearance is also due to the non-apprehension of the Reality.”

    4. The explanatory note of the Swami Ji at 1.17 and also what he adds at the end of 1.18 GK have to be understood in a nuanced way from the way he developed his analysis without our presumptions. If one bears the dRg-dRshya verse 20 in mind, the logic adopted by the Swami becomes very clear without an iota of doubt.

    The Swami makes all his statements under the assumption that is already understood by the seeker that:
    i) The so-called world is only an “appearance” to the senses + mind;
    ii) All appearances are unreal;
    iii) Every thing in the apparent world comes with two components – a) the eternal unchanging brahman component (i.e. asti-bhAti-priaym) and b) the world component (i.e. nAma-rUpa).
    iv) When the illusion disappears what disappears is the world component and that the brahman component doesn’t;
    v) On the attainment of Knowledge, illusion disappears and hence the multiplicity which is purely the world component disappears – implicitly the world disappears;
    vi) As a result, the one who “realized” the Knowledge would now recognize that what he considered to be the world (the appearance) before the dawn of the Knowledge has ever been actually the brahman component only. And hence (what he called as world) is brahman alone is ever present.

    5. If one does not stop merely with what Dennis in his above comment quoted from Sw-N, but continues to read on what the Swami said in that explanation, the points mentioned by me at # (iii – vi) will be obvious. The Swami makes his intention clear when he says that “When the real nature of the rope is pointed out, what disappears is only the illusion which presented the rope as other than it is … … disappearance cannot affect the nature of Reality.”

    6. If any reader considers all this detailed amplification is cumbersome or convoluted, it is best for such a seeker to ditch Sw-N’s text and go by Sw-G.


  15. Thank you, Ramesam, for injecting some unemotional reasoning into the discussion.

    But I don’t think you are saying anything that has not been said before (dare I say ad nauseam? I am sure some of our readers – if there are any left – are getting a bit tired!).

    Your points 4 i – iii are not disputed. 4 iv is where you both go wrong. The ignorant make the mistake of thinking that the word is separately real. The j~nAnI know that it is only name and form of Brahman and does not make that mistake.

    Swami N, in the part that I quoted, said: “What really disappears is the illusion that the manifold exists as something other than Brahman.”

    It is unfortunate that he then goes on to use the rope-snake metaphor because, of course, the snake does disappear. But what ‘disappears’ here is the mistake, not the appearance. He should have used the metaphors of sunrise or mirage. The j~nAnI now knows that what he continues to see is but name and form of Brahman. But the fact that he does still see it means that he can continue to act and interact in the ‘illusion’ (as perceived from the standpoint of the other names and forms of Brahman) and thus help others to reach the same understanding.

    I suggest that Swami N’s amplification is very helpful to most readers who are trying to make sense of this topic and not at all cumbersome or convoluted, unless you are trying to maintain a totally unreasonable and illogical stance. 😉

    Best wishes,

  16. Thanks Dennis.
    Perhaps even the words, “I don’t think you are saying anything that has not been said before (dare I say ad nauseam)” have become a cliche by now! So I wouldn’t repeat them.

    Only point I may like to make is that the seeker who is now a jnAni and knows “that it (the appearance) is only name and form of Brahman and does not make that mistake” (“of thinking that the world is separately real”) is at the beginning of Stage 4 in the sapta bhUmika (Sevenfold Steps on the Knowledge Path).

    S/he has to continue on to move from there to Stage 5. Non-attachment (asamsakti); Stage 6. Non-perception or Non-conceptualization of objects (padArdha abhAvana); and finally, Stage 7. Ineffability (turyaga).

    So here’s something more for the interested Readers. They need not feel “tired.” They can “Congratulate” themselves for reaching Stage 4 in their pursuit of Self-knowledge and continue to earnestly explore further right at this site:
    pdf page 172/181 at:


  17. Dennis,

    Sankara in BSB1.3.1 categorically addresses your position:

    All that is in front is but Brahman, the immortal. Brahman is on the right, as well as on the left. Above and below too is extended Brahman alone” (Mu. II. ii. 11).

    From hearing in that context of the relation, existing between a container and the thing contained, and from the appositional use (asserting Brahman’s identity with all) in, “All is Brahman” (Ch. III. xiv. 1), the doubt may arise that just as a tree is a composite entity, comprising as it does the branches, trunk, and roots, so also the Self is variegated and possessed of diverse tastes. In order to obviate that doubt, the text declares with emphasis: “Know that Self alone that is one without a second” (Mu. II. ii. 5). The idea expressed is this: The Self is not to be cognized as a heterogeneous thing comprising the manifold created universe.

    How is It then to be cognized?

    The meaning is that, after eliminating, through knowledge, the universe conjured up by ignorance, you should know that one and homogeneous Self alone that appears as the repository.

    As for the use of “all” and “Brahman” in apposition in the text, “All this is (but) Brahman” (Ch. III. xiv. 1), it is meant for the elimination of the universe, and not for proving heterogeneity (in Brahman).

  18. Ramesam, I would not dream of challenging you on anything to do with Yoga Vasishtha, on which I acknowledge you as an authority. The problem is that I do not acknowledge this text as being representative of Advaita, maybe of Yoga. If you give me a reference where Shankara talks about these stages, maybe I would change my mind…

    Best wishes,

  19. Venkat,

    I acknowledge that this text, amongst many others, speaks definitively of the universe being nothing but Brahman. I have never claimed otherwise. But this in no way denies the appearance of name and form which, indeed, is self-evidently undeniable. In order to make your point, you would have to cite a quotation to the effect that the appearance of name and form ceases on realizing this truth. And why should it, since it is true before enlightenment as well?

  20. Dennis: “In order to make your point, you would have to cite a quotation to the effect that the appearance of name and form ceases on realizing this truth”

    BSB 4.1.3:
    The criticism is also unfounded that no one will be left over to practise the Vedantic path and that direct perception etc. will be outraged. For the transmigratory state is conceded before enlightenment, and the activities like perception are confined within that state only, because texts as this, “But when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one see and through what?” (Br. II. iv. 14), point out the absence of perception etc. in the state of enlightenment.

    Opponent: In the absence of perception etc. the Vedas also will cease to exist.

    Vedantin: That is no defect, since that position is admitted by us.

  21. Venkat: In BSB 4.1.3, Shankara has a pUrvapakShin asking about ‘realizing the Self’; whether the jIva becomes identical with Ishvara. Shankara subsequently speaks about perception post-enlightenment being comparable to dream. When we wake up, we understand that the dream world was not real. Similarly, when we become enlightened, we realize that the waking world is unreal. But this ‘enlightenment’ is Self-knowledge in the mind. We now know that the world is mithyA but the senses still function as before so the forms are still seen and the names associated with those forms are not forgotten. The knowledge is about paramArtha but it is nevertheless in the mind, which is vyAvahArika.

    This is corroborated by his commentary on Brahmasutra 4.1.15, where he clearly states that the body continues after enlightenment until the prArabdha karma is used up. “Only those virtues and vices are washed away by knowledge which have not begun to bear fruit.” And he references Chandogya Upanishad 6.14.2 as support.

  22. Dear Dennis,

    Thank you for thinking of me “as an authority” on Yogavasishta.
    But even by the remotest imagination, I am not so. That text of 32000 verses is an ocean by itself and what I know therein is very little.

    However, I can definitely avow that it is NOT a Yoga text that concerns itself with Sankhya and Yoga systems which are known as “dualistic.” Yogavasishta is out and out an Advaita text more inclined towards “ajAti vAda,” though it does discuss other approaches. The word Yoga in Yogavasishta is more generic in its meaning – like jIva-brahma “aikya,” having almost the same implication as the word ‘yoga’ we find in the BG.

    Coming to the question you ask regarding “a reference where Shankara talks about these stages” with regards to brahmavids, I have to admit what I cite may or may not change your mind. As you well know, ancient texts never follow any rigid word definitions or standardized uniform frameworks across different texts.

    We do see that Shankara does recognize gradations in ‘knowers of brahman’ from what he describes in his commentary at 3.1.4, muNDaka. May be people who are more knowledgeable than what I am can give better and more references. The muNDaka as well as Shankara speak at this mantra using the superlative degree of brahmanvid-s. Their nature is described. This can be taken to imply that there are other relative grades like good, better, best in brahmavids; otherwise, if they are all of the same mold like tin cans, using the degrees of comparison becomes meaningless.

    Shankara writes at the end “He who conforms to this description, who has nothing to transcend in his talk, who disports in his Self and delights in his Self, and who is fixed in brahman is brahma vidAm variShTaH, the chief among all the Knowers of brahman. (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).

    Though the Swami used the word “chief’ for variShTha, the dictionary gives the meaning for it as ‘the most excellent or the best.’

    Now may I request you to cite a reference from Shankara bhAShya-s where Shankara says that a Self-realized brahmavid continues to see the nAma-rUpa jagat after the attainment of liberation negating what is said by Sage Yajnavalkya at 2.4.14, brihat, so that I can change my mind?


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