Ignorance and the World

After the two long discussions on this fascinating topic, I would like to offer the following as my final word on the subject (hopefully!):

The world is brahman – sarvam khalvidam brahma. So we can say that the cause of the world is brahman (and shruti does say this!). The cause is not ignorance. It is because of ignorance that we see the world as separate objects and people but that is not the same thing. Yes, we superimpose ‘things’ upon the non-dual reality. That is adhyAsa. But that is not the ‘cause’ of the world. Ignorance is absence of knowledge and the world could not arise from an ‘absence’ or nothing. Brahman is the cause and, for the sake of ‘explanation’ we posit that it does so via the power of mAyA. Even so, the world is nothing other than Brahman, since Brahman is both material and efficient cause.

Ignorance is not the cause of the world; it is the reason that we fail to realize that the world is Brahman. When that ignorance is removed, the realization dawns; but since it had nothing to do with the appearance, the world does not disappear when the ignorance goes. If the (appearance of the) world had not been there to begin with there would have been nothing for us to superimpose upon. It was and remains mithyA – dependent upon Brahman for its reality. When we gain Self-knowledge, what goes away is the ignorance, not the world.

57 thoughts on “Ignorance and the World

  1. Since a man without self-identification with the body, mind, senses, etc., cannot become a cognizer, and as such, the means of knowledge cannot function for him; since perception and other activities (of a man) are not possible without accepting the senses etc. (as his own); since 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; since the unrelated Self cannot become a cognizer unless there are all these (mutual superimposition of the Self and the body and their attributes on each other); and since the means of knowledge cannot function unless there is a cognizership; therefore it follows that the means of knowledge, such as direct perception as well as the scriptures, must have a man as their locus who is subject to nescience.

  2. A man who is subject to nescience is one in whom the means of knowledge and perception can function.
    A man without self-identification with the body, ie where the Self is not superimposed with a body, cannot become a cognizer and the means of knowledge cannot function for him; and perception is not possible.

  3. US 17.2: All this world is unreal and proceeds from nescience, because it is seen only by one afflicted with nescience and is not seen in dreamless sleep.

  4. Could you check reference again, please. My versions of upadesha sAhasrI do not have that at chapter 17 verse 2.

  5. This is really reiterating what has been said previously regarding Gaudapada kArikA-s. Waking and dream states are associated with both ignorance (avidyA) and error (superimposition of name and form – adhyAsa). The deep-sleep state is associated with ignorance only. The mind and senses are inactive in sleep so there is no error/superimposition.

    The error that we make is thinking that there is duality – me and lots of separate objects. The enlightened man does not make this error. His vision is no different from that of the unenlightened man. Both see only brahman. But the unenlightened superimpose forms on this and give them names, believing them to be separate. The enlightened knows that what he sees is not other than himself.

    The rope-snake metaphor is appropriate here but must be applied carefully.

    The totally ignorant man sees nothing, so is not frightened. This occurs in darkness and is analogous to being in deep sleep.

    The partially ignorant man sees the rope but superimposes the image of a snake upon it and is frightened. This occurs in partial light and is analogous to waking and dream states.

    The non-ignorant man sees the rope and knows it to be a rope, so is not frightened. This occurs in bright light and is analogous to the one with Self-knowledge who ‘knows’ turIya.

    We interpret the metaphor by equating the rope with Brahman and the snake with the world but there is obviously a danger here of believing that the world disappears when we know it to be Brahman. This is not the case.

    The correct way to think of it it is to equate the rope with Brahman and the snake with the appearance-of-duality. What we call the ‘world’ is Brahman all the time; there never was any real duality. In ignorance or partial light, we project names and forms onto the non-dual reality. With Self-knowledge, we realize that this is happening and no longer make the mistake of believing in the separateness.

    When metaphors begin to confuse, it is best to drop them and use a different one. Better than rope-snake in this example is the mirage. Here, in ignorance, we see the light refracted through the rising hot air and we think that we see water. Upon closer examination, it is realized that it was only a mirage. But even though this is now known to be the case, we still see the water-appearance when viewed from the same position as before. Similarly, in the case of sunrise, knowing that the sun is not moving does not alter the appearance. I.e. knowledge may remove the ignorance, but it does not always remove the perception.

    And this is the case with the perceived world. Initially we believe in its multiplicity; with knowledge, we realize its non-dual reality BUT the appearance remains. Regardless of the appearance, it was, is and always will be only Brahman.

  6. Hi Dennis

    I think we understand that position, which you have again reiterated.

    I’ve provided two quotes from Sankara which challenge that position. One from the preamble to BSB which I understand is highly regarded in its exposition.

    Don’t you need to engage directly with those. Or simply acknowledge that Sankara can be interpreted in different ways as to how a jnani perceives the world.

    Best wishes

  7. Hi Venkat,

    What I have just written was a ‘reasonable’ interpretation of US 17.20 and is what I believe was intended by Shankara. It is always very dangerous to try to interpret verse literally and must be a source of many misleading commentaries. In verse, words are chosen to match metre and rhyme etc. as much as providing precise understanding on their own. I rather think that verse form was intended to be easily memorable as a reminder for someone who already understood the principles.

    Please requote the precise sentence from adhyAsa bhAShya which you think contradicts the understanding of my last post (so I don’t have to re-read 100+ comments!).

    Best wishes,

  8. Hi Dennis,

    It is my first post on this article: “Since a man without self-realisation . . .”

  9. Hi Venkat,

    I don’t see anything else to say actually. My response answers both quotations. When ignorant, we think that the oasis (that our perceptual mind superimposes on the refracted image of the mirage) is real. When we gain knowledge/understanding of what is really the case, we no longer make the error, even though we still see the ‘oasis’.

    I think perhaps the translation of Gambhirananda is not helpful. Here is the corresponding translation by V, H, Date:

    “The absolutely free and unattached Atman cannot be said to be the knower unless the body, the mind and the senses are first superimposed upon it, and there arise the wrong notions such as ‘I am this’, ‘this is mine’, etc. And, secondly, it is only after the knower is established that the body and senses will be active, and the means of knowledge will be employed.”

    Presumably neither of us is denying the fact that both j~nAnI and aj~nAnI are embodied and so are capable of utilising the body and senses. The difference is that the aj~nAnI believes what he sees (the separate world) whereas the j~nAnI does not.

  10. Dennis, the point I think you are missing is the idea that the jnani ‘does not believe what he sees’. Clearly that is an important step, But a person is still there who ‘does not believe’.

    Gaudapada / Sankara is very clear that there is no person, and that particular consciousness disappears.

    I think we will need to agree to disagree on this.


  11. 15+ years ago in the Advaitin List, there was a contributor who used to (try to) bring practically all discussions to an end by pointing out to ajAti vAda. From an absolute point of view, of course, it was not possible to refute him. However, it tended to make somewhat pointless the entire teaching of Advaita.

    I seem to recall that you suggested earlier that I was ‘picking and choosing’ from Shankara quotations. It now seems that you may yourself be rejecting 95% of Shankara’s writing and choosing just the bits from Mandukya (which bhAShya may not even have been written by him) and one or two other places.

    The teaching of Advaita is intended to begin from where we are and end up with ajAti vAda. All of it is vaild and useful, including the 99.9% that is retracted when the seeker reaches the end. And it is why we HAVE TO accept the vyavahAra-paramArtha distinction.

  12. Actually Dennis I’d say I’m pretty faithful to MK. Gaudapada himself equated very clearly waking state to dream state as equally illusory. I’ve pointed out in quotes that Sankara says that ignorance is the cause of the world.

    You have overlaid an interpretation, in which you say Sankara words can’t be taken literally . . .

    In this vein, you also include his writing on no particular consciousness, and on sannyasa.

    Case of pot calling kettle black?

  13. Yes, that’s what I said – you are following Gaudapada and Shankara’s (possibly) comment on that. But you are choosing to ignore all of the myriad places where Shankara (definitely) talks about things which are clearly in the realm of vyavahAra.

    As regards the ‘similarity of dream and waking’ for example, Shankara (definitely) says in BSB 2.2.29 (Gambhirananda translation):

    “It has been said by those who deny the existence of external things that perceptions of things like a pillar etc. in the waking state occur even in the absence of external things, just as they do in a dream; for as perceptions they are similar. That has to be refuted. With regard to this we say the perceptions of the waking state cannot be classed with those in a dream.”

    and later in the same commentary:

    “…it cannot be asserted by a man… that the perception of the waking state is false, merely on the ground that it is a perception like the perception in a dream. (And it is not logical for those who consider themselves intelligent to deny their own experience.)”

  14. Dennis,

    Regarding your reference to 2.2.29, BSB:

    This was my comment on 2015/07/12 at 1:46 am:
    I am copying below for your ready reference:

    Quote begins.

    About waking and dream being identical:

    The BS II-ii-29 you referred to and discussed in Appendix 6 of your book does NOT negate the standard Advaita view of the waking world being similar to the dream world in its origination. As you know, the whole pAda starting from BS II-ii-1 is concerned with ‘paramata nirAkaraNa.’

    In II-ii-29, the kshanika vijnAna vAda is being refuted and the argument is in progress. Shankara is establishing by these progressive arguments that the vijnAna vAdin’s concept of the absence of a ‘substratum’ behind the ‘appearances’ is incorrect. One should not, IMHO, read II-ii-29 in isolation but should continue on to read the next sutra-s till II-ii-33 where refutation of the Buddhistic view is completed. Therefore, I do not think that Shankara’s purpose here is to establish that waking state is totally dissimilar to dream state in its “origination.”

    In Yogavasishta, Sage Vasishta at one point shows, as a part of an argument, that, in fact, dream world has at least some basis and the wakeful world lacks even that much of a reason and hence more nebulous than a dream!

    At many other places, Yogavasishta promotes the view that there are only two states — deep sleep and dream state (dream world + wakeful world) and not three states. Aitareya (I-iii-12) treats all the three states as a single state. So these are all parts of an effort in directing the seeker to the unchanging turIya.

    Further, let us not forget that, while dreaming, we view the dream world to be ‘external’ (from the perspective of the dreamer) only and we do not see it to be ‘inside.’ So it is as much like in the state of the awake world which we view to be external to us.

    As Shri S N Sastri clarified, the character of “perceivability’ (i.e. objectafiability) is common to both dream and awake states and that is the ONLY criterion that matters to direct the attention of the seeker to the non-objectifiable (adRishya) “Subject.” Hence, we may not conclude that dream world and awake world have different ‘originations.’ Quote ends.

    2. Having painted yourself into a corner re: prArabdha and rebirth, you suddenly shifted to “The teaching of Advaita.”

    The discussion or your post, to my understanding, is not about the relevance of or otherwise of the “The teaching of Advaita.” The point being discussed and argued, IMHO, is about the appearance of a world after one’s sense of separate ‘self’ collapses. The topic, therefore, is about post-Realization (after shravana, manana, nididhyAsana are completed).

    3. You not only seem to deny what Shankara repeatedly points out in his bhAShya-s and US, but you also seem to deny the mANDUkya upanishad and its mantra 7 which is a foundational concept of Advaita.

    The said mantra speaks about “prapanca upashamaM” meaning “the negation of all phenomena” as the turIyam – brahman. The mantra did not say that the “world without ignorance” is brahman as you seem to imply, when you say: “When we gain Self-knowledge, what goes away is the ignorance, not the world.” Needless to say that what we call as the perceived world is “phenomenal.” And the mantra says “the negation of all phenomena.”

    In the famous Advaita expression, attributed to Shankara, it is said that the “jIvO brhamaiva nAparaH.” It did not say “jagat brahmaiva nAparaH”!

    “jagat” by nature is ever on the move (jAyate gacchati iti jagat), vyabhicAri and Krishna in Ch 2 of the BG takes considerable pains to point out that the perceived world is impermanent, subject to birth, growth, decay and death unlike brahman which is eternal, unborn, immutable and immortal.

    But you appear to tell us that the world will forever be there!

    It will be beneficial to take a look at “The Essential Gaudapada” by Shri SSS wherein the fallacies of such arguments as the continuity of the world post-realization is demolished by him.


  15. Ramesam,

    As you say, Appendix 6 of ‘A-U-M’ explains this in some detail and concludes that there is no contradiction – Mandukya explains the similarity of waking and dream, while BSB explains the differences. The quotations I gave are self-evident, I believe.

    You both seem intent upon misinterpreting my comments! In saying that the world does not disappear, I was clearly saying that this is so because the ‘sat’ aspect of the world is brahman and therefore cannot disappear, since this is all there is. What disappears is the mistaken belief that there are separate ‘objects’ in the world, whose ‘forms’ we percieve and to which we give names.

    And I have no idea why you say that I have ‘painted myself into a corner’. It is an irrefutable fact that Shankara speaks at length about prArabdha and rebirth, as well as about the non-dual nature of reality. How and why could he/does he do this except that it is a natural aspect of the adhyAropa-apavAda teaching of Advaita??

    I am increasingly mystified at the arguments being presented. It as though I am trying to defend Advaita against those who would refute it! I have also spent far too much time on this and must apologise for my disappearing patience.

    Also, as you know, my latest book tries to refer back to prasthAna traya and Shankara (and occasionally Sureshvara) for the ‘final word’ on any given topic. In attempting to trace how erroneous notions have arisen, I have had cause to criticize Vivekananda and Ramana amogst others. The others also include many post-Shankara works in which the teaching diverges from Shankara. I do not know Yoga Vasishtha well enough to determine the degree to which that also suffers from such criticism but at present I do not have time to find out.

    Best wishes,

  16. I discovered that the Advaitin List has been discussing a tangential topic and a post from Sri Putran (who writes as thollmelukaalkizhu) was very apposite. He has given his permission for me to post it here:


    The question is on duality, causality, order and change. So ‘this’ is the seen and ‘the questioner’ is the seer posing the question. So the discussion is within the seer-seen duality or vyAvahArika context.

    Who sees? The seer. Who is the seer? There are two choices: 1. the Self or 2. a superimposition/appearance/projection on the Self

    What does the seer see? The seen. What is the seen? There are two choices: 1. the Self or 2. a superimposition/appearance/projection on the Self.

    If the seer and seen are Self, and the Self as the seer sees the Self as the seen, then the connective seeing is, or is indicative of, mAyA. The seeing is by Self (since the seer is Self) of Self (since the seen is Self). Hence, the fact of seeing the seer-seen duality postulates an intrinsic mAyA-shakti in the Self, its power to see/project as seer and seen. By this shakti, the Self projects/appears as Ishvara-jIva-jagat. So, when we take the vyAvahArika standpoint and seek to know Brahman, it is appropriate to know Brahman as Ishvara; not the God in the movie but the God who manifests the movie of Ishvara-jIva-jagat.

    Remember our question is about this movie, the seen, having order in jagat and self-will in jIva. Within the movie there is Ishvara, who maintains the order, grants karmaphala etc. There is internal appearance of causality: Mickey Mouse punched Donald Duck, who fell down. When we seek the knowledge of Brahman while still relating to this movie duality, He will be known as the self-determining Ishvara, whose determinations we deem as order and free-will in the seer-seen duality.

    The other answer – that the seer-seen duality is superimposition on Brahman – seeks the standpoint of the Self beyond all separation and duality. There is no place for question (and technically even consideration) of duality, its order and causality. It is only Brahman that in the lower standpoint is identified variously and ultimately as Ishvara. These identifications however are superimposition like snake on rope; there is no bat hit ball and ball went 40 feet, why!?! It is Brahman above, below, behind; the Self of all, the Self in all, the Self is All. All nAma-rUpa has only Brahman as referent, so where is the question of change and order?

    I don’t see this as a negation of the seen or that the seer alone is real and seen unreal. That word usage is mixing contexts (although such may be used for particular purposes). It is transcending the seer-seen divide which is the superimposition. Either you are in vyAvahArika standpoint, or in pAramArthika knowledge. You always saw only the Rope, never the snake. When you think it is snake, you respond like it is. Negation of snake is not negation of what you saw but what you imagined (of Self). Likewise it is wrong to say the Self is the Dreamer and not the dream. What is the dream if not Self? The realization is that Dreamer-dream is all the same Self appearing in the dream-standpoint as if two.

    What is an appearance will vanish in Knowledge: the snake is gone when rope is known. So in Knowledge of Brahman, the seer-seen duality vanishes in and as Brahman, beyond change no matter the appearance. This appearance is therefore mithyA. It is mAyA. It is anirvachanIya.


    Just to clarify, I asked the following question:

    “I believe you are NOT saying that the world disappears on gaining Self-knowledge. It is known that there is no duality, that sarvam khalvidam brahma, but even so the appearance of the world continues. (At least, I hope this is what you are saying!)”

    and he responded:

    “Yes I am pretty sure that is how I meant as well, though it does not necessarily mean I know what I mean :). Advaita is not easy for body-identified ‘person’!”

  17. Dear Dennis,

    First a quick short response on your Comment of Oct 07, 2020 @ 20:21.

    It gives the impression that you have misunderstood what I said. Hence briefly, my three points were:

    1. One cannot cite and hold 2.2.29, BSB to say that Shankara contends the perceived forms (objects) to be real. Shankara’s philosophy, as you are well aware, is that all forms are apparitional and have no reality being “mithya” – whether awake objects or dream objects. The difference between them depends on which state is taken as the base while comparing to the other.
    Hence, one cannot present 2.2.9, BSB to argue that objects survive and continue to appear after the pravilApana (dissolution) of names-forms post-realization, IMHO.

    2. I alluded to the phrase of being “painting oneself to a corner” because you have been vocal at this site in expressing your disbelief in the concept of “rebirth.” But you are obviously retracting from that if you now plead that “prArabdha” is a reality.

    3. What you say is irrefutable when you write that “the ‘sat’ aspect of the world is brahman and therefore cannot disappear, since this is all there is.”

    The point I wanted to highlight is that the eternal “sat” is all-pervasive and FORMLESS. The Self-realized one has identified himself/herself post-Realization with the “formless sat” and hence s/he will not find himself distinguishable from ‘whatever all’ there IS. Formlessness cannot see formlessness (no difference being there – because we ‘see’ difference only).
    That Absolute homogeneity is what is indicated by the phrase “prapanca upashamaM” of 7, mANDUkya, IMHO, after one attains the total realization of Oneness.

    Superimposition, adhyAsa, appearance of objects, karma, prArabdha etc etc are all valid till everything is “sublated.” In a post-sublation stage, I suppose, one cannot recount those issues to support one’s contentions.

    I am not attributing anything to you. I just clarified my own position.


  18. Hi Dennis,

    Thanks for a copy of a post from the Advaitin list.
    I do not wish to really get into a discussion on this without knowing the complete context and from what position the particular discussant is making a specific statement.

    But at the very ‘initial position’ there appears to be a wrong assumption which surely will lead all the subsequent logic and deductions to smithereens! And, as you know, you yourself were kind to make me aware of it when I was going by the concepts of the Kashmir Shaivism people. So I believe you cannot overlook it here.

    The fact is, as you yourself keep telling, ‘brahman does NOT do anything.’ So to assume the ‘Self sees’ is untenable. Only the superimposed little ‘self’ can see or do anything!


  19. Ramesam,

    You appear to be bent upon destroying straw men with your arguments! I have never claimed that objects (really) exist at any time. What I have been arguing is that appearances exist; that before Self-knowledge, one believes these to be real, separate entities; that afterwards, one knows them to be Brahman. So I do not know how you can claim that I am citing Shankara as saying that perceived objects are real!

    The second straw man concerns rebirth. You are right, I personally have never accepted rebirth. But it is a fundamental aspect of Advaita teaching, along with karma. And we are talking here about the teaching of Advaita. As I said, 99.9% of the teaching of Advaita concerns the ‘path’, which proceeds from total ignorance and is always about the ‘appearance’. The last bit is the ‘ladder which you throw away when you get to the top’.

    The third straw man is your claim that I am saying that Brahman DOES something. I don’t believe I have ever said that.

    You are still avoiding what obviously has to be the case namely that, although one realizes identity with Brahman when one gains Self-knowledge, one is still in the body-mind of a person and functioning as such. It is this body-mind that continues to see and act until death.

    Best wishes,

  20. Dennis,

    What is this – why are you shooting me down with your words!?
    Please be kind.

    2.2.29 BSB, prArabdha, Advaita teaching, Seeing by the Supreme Self (through reference to a post) etc. are all points brought by you into the discussion. I was only submitting that those points may not be exactly relevant when the discussion is on post-sublation, post-Realization phase.
    None of those points were raised by me.

    As you said, if my memory is correct, (or is it Venkat – surely I am fuzzy), it was nobody’s case that an “existing” world will disappear on the dawn of full understanding and realization of the Supreme Self by a seeker.

    After all, there has never been a world; it was a misconception. On the dawn of Self-knowledge (or on the dropping of the obscuring veil), the misconception and the illusion disappears.

    I think at one time you were an ardent reader of SSSS.
    May I request you to take a second look at what he writes at p: 201 to 205 in his book, The Essential Gaudapada – available at:


    Just about 4 pages. I hope you will have the time.

    For anyone who has no time, a little gist, as I understand.
    Worldly life is ‘like’ a dream. When once I “really” wake up from the dream, there is no possibility of the dream world surviving. To think I awoke from dream but still continue to roam in the dream world casts a doubt on my “waking up.” Not my words. SSSS almost says so. The waking up goes automatically with the disappearance of the dream world. I do not have to “do” anything to smash the dream world, as if it were there at all.

    The argument that “I see the awake world as I see a mirage after Self-realization BUT now I know that there is no real water in it” is a lot misleading.


    Because, the transaction with the mirage water just does not stop with vision and concluding that water to be unreal. One still brings potfuls of it home, cooks food, eats and does all “transactions” including securely saving fat money in big Banks! So the other sensory and motor organs + mind do not “ignore” the mirage water. 🙂


  21. So, to be clear, the illusory body-mind that thought it was real and separate, now thinks that all (including itself) is Brahman?

    But that is still a thought, of the body-mind. And that body-mind will continue to experience its prarabdha, until it ends. Following your argument, Gaudapada is mistaken in saying there is no birth, no death, no jiva. Because something clearly does ‘die’. You can hide behind “relative” vs “absolute” truth, but that is just ducking the question.

    Another tack:
    The one that ‘knows’ advaita is not real. It is like the child of a barren woman knowing it was born of a barren woman. It is meaningless. Knowing in your sense is intellectual, and is still part of the illusion, which ajata vada flatly contradicts.
    Hence why Sankara emphasises neti, neti. There is not a thing that can be thought of or experienced that is it, including the jnana-thought.

  22. Guess we might as well all go home now, then. There is clearly no point in any of this, since it is all a dream and clearly a total waste of time and energy. Why bother trying to get enlightened when you do not exist? Don’t bother reading any scriptures other than part of Mandukya and kArikA-s, maybe ashtavakra gIta and a very small part of remainder. All of it is false and of no value. Just accept that ‘everything is Brahman’. That is all you need to do. Sorry – what do you say? That does not accord with your experience? Tough!

    (Just to reassure anyone who may be following these posts in order to try to learn something, I am being heavily sarcastic here!)

  23. Venkat:

    “The one that ‘knows’ advaita is not real. It is like the child of a barren woman knowing it was born of a barren woman.”

    This is an erroneous use of that metaphor. The ‘child of a barren woman’ is tuchCha; the one who ‘knows Advaita’ is Brahman. Slight difference!

  24. Ramesam:

    I don’t believe SSSS (via D. B. Gangolli) is saying anything different from what I have been saying. The dualistic world is not real. Before enlightenment, the aj~nAnI believes it to be real; afterwards he knows it is unreal, even though it still appears.

    Best wishes,

  25. Why bother trying to get enlightened when you do not exist?
    – Don’t shoot the messenger – go back and read Gaudapada, MK2.32
    – Again, there is no one bound, no one to be enlightened.

    There is clearly no point in any of this.
    – Agreed.
    – There is absolutely no point in anything we think is important. Hence Sankara’s constant refrain of sannyasa – renunciation of possessions and actions.
    – Nisargadatta frequently points this out

    Sorry – what do you say? That does not accord with your experience?
    – Perhaps you need to analyse your experience more carefully, before giving up

    Anyway. good to see you are starting to make progress Dennis. 🙂

  26. My God!
    What colored Glasses have you given to my good Friend, Dennis!!

    Here is what SSSS is saying at p: 201 of the above cited book:

    “One particular group of Advaitins say : ….. although the external world of prithvi, Ap etc. exists as before, the Jnani attains mere Dvaitanivritti alone but not Prapanchanivritti at all.”

    This opinion, theory is not correct.”

    Again from the bottom of p: 201 to continuing to 202:

    “…. to say that – “There exists a Prameya devoid of Pramatru” … is meaningless, ridiculous.

    It being so, the statement that – “Even after the Adhyasa (misconception) of the Pramatrutwa is removed, the entities like Prithivi, Ap etc. which are Prameya continue to exist” – is rendered meaningless indeed.”

    And a little later at the same page:

    “Therefore, the argument that – “Even after one attains Atmajnana,
    the Dvaitaprapancha invariably exists” – is untenable.

    The words used with regard to the statements like “even though it (the world) still appears,” are:



  27. Yes – the dvaita prapa~nCha does not exist – either before or after. But the appearance does! That appearance is Brahman (sarvam khalvidam brahma).

    When Gangolli wrote all this he (Gangolli) was translating material written by SSSS (who was commenting on material from Shankara, who was commenting on material from shruti) into English. How many separate ‘incorrect’, ‘meaningless’, ridiculous’, ‘untenable’ things are we talking about here??

    Are you just trying to wind me up here or is reason supposed to be dropped when a text such as this is taken up?

    Neither of you has yet provided a simple explanation in accord with reason, without referencing other sources to try to substantiate what you are saying. At least agree that it is impossible for you to do so!

  28. You are treading into very strange allays, Dennis!

    But before that, let us admit that SSSS did not say the way you claimed he said (“I don’t believe SSSS (via D. B. Gangolli) is saying anything different from what I have been saying.”)

    Now the strange part: “That appearance is Brahman.”

    brahman is inaccessible to the word and mind (2.4.1, taittIriya) – brahman is avAngmAnasagocara – another description.
    Appearance is for the senses. brahman is beyond senses + mind.

    Appearance is always mithya – not brahman.
    Appearance is subject to birth-death cycle (2.18, 2.27, BG) unlike brahman (2.20, BG)
    What you said a few days ago (“the ‘sat’ aspect of the world is brahman”) is correct as per shruti.

    Can you please cite any shruit where it says ‘appearance is brahman’?


  29. What else COULD the appearance be when there is ONLY Brahman?? mithyA means that its ‘existence’ ‘comes from’ Brahman, just as the ‘snake’ ‘comes from’ the rope. What do you understand from ‘sarvam khalvidam brahma’? What is the ‘all this’ of sarvam? Shankara says, in his bhAShya on Chandogya 3.14.1:

    ” idam – this world diversified through names and forms, (and) which is the object of direct perception etc. has Brahman as its origin.” (Gambhirananda translation)”

    Does this reference suffice?

    Best wishes,

  30. Brahmasutra 2.2.28 addresses the concerns expressed by the pUrvapakShin-s [ 😉 ] in this discussion.

    2.28 says: “(External objects are) not non-existent, for they are perceived.” This forms part of the arguments against the Buddhists, but never mind.) Shankara comments:

    “It cannot be asserted that external things do not exist.
    “Because they are perceived.” As a matter of fact such things as a pillar, a wall, a pot, a cloth, are perceived along with each act of cognition. And it cannot be that the very thing perceived is non-existent. How can a man’s words be acceptable who while himself perceiving an external object through sense-contacts still says, “I do not perceive, and that object does not exist”, just as much as a man while eating and himself experiencing the satisfaction arising from that act might say, “Neither do I eat, nor do I get any satisfaction”?

    Vij~nAnavAdin: Well, I do not say that I do not perceive any object, but all that I hold is that I do not perceive anything apart from the perception.

    Vedantin: Yes, you do speak like that, since you have no curb to your mouth; but you do not speak logically, for something other than the perception has to be admitted perforce, just because it is perceived. Not that anybody cognizes a perception to be a pillar, a wall, etc., rather all people cognize a pillar, a wall, etc. as objects of perception. And it is for this reason that all people understand those others (viz the Buddhists) as really assuming the existence of an external thing even while they deny it by saying, “That which is the content of an internal awareness appears as though external”. For they use the phrase “as though” in the clause “as though external” just because they too become aware of a cognition appearing externally in the same way as is well known to all people, and yet they want to deny any external object. Else why should they say, “as though external”? For nobody speaks thus: “ViShNumitra appears like
    the son of a barren woman”. Accordingly, those who accept truth to be just what it is actually perceived to be, should accept a thing as it actually reveals itself externally, and not “as though appearing outside”.

    He continues in this vein to refute possible objections.

    Best wishes,

  31. Dear Dennis,

    Hoping that you have not gone to bed yet, I am giving a quick reply from memory without verifying the records.

    Anyway, one synchronistic fact is that when I noticed your comment above, I was listening to a 2018 Talk of one Ayon Maharaj, an ordained Monk of the RK order on the philosophical viewpoint of Ramakrishna Paramahansa.

    Your stand and what you have been expressing exactly matches with that as expounded by this Young Monk, in spite of your open dislike to the philosophical approach of the Vivekananda-Ramakrishna group!

    So, Congratulations, you fit into the league of the likes of Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, William Hamilton, possibly I. Kant, Ramanuja, Kashmir Shaivism et al!

    The speaker, a Ph.D. from Berkeley has even a nice name for it. He called it “Vijnana Vedanta.”

    In the Q&A after the talk, precisely your favorite quote from chAndogya was discussed. The Young Monk, Surprise Surprise, uttered almost your exact words!

    So, please watch, it may be satisfying to you (at least ffrom about 30 min into the video for about half an hour):


    I requested you in 2015 and again I plead – please do not take recourse to 2.2.28, 2.2.29 BSB etc. to prove that Shankara establishes the reality of objects. No, HE DOESN’T. Period, IMHO.

    You see the Buddhists’s stand is that all objects originate moment to moment mutually depending on one another and there is no need to talk of an eternally existent Self (brahman) that is ever present. Shankara’s argument is to show that a Common Beingness (satta sAmAnya) is ever there as exemplified in cloth “is,” pot “is,” pillar “is” etc. His emphasis is on that Is-ness and not the existence of a particular “object” – be it a cloth, pot, pillar.
    Thus, he counters the stand of the Vijnana vadins trying to bring to their notice that it is NOT void (shUnya) on which the objects arise as per their theory of ‘Dependent Origination,’ but Self is ever there and on which ‘superimposition’ takes place. Hence, I guess you may stop citing 2.2.28 BSB for your argument. (I will verify and come back if I am wrong).

    About your claim: “the ‘snake’ ‘comes from’ the rope.”

    Does it really? I guess you may have to brush up Shankara’s adhyAsa bhAShya once again.


  32. Ramesam,

    My understanding is that Shankara is refuting the idealist position of the Buddhist. The kShANika vAda aspect is another problem. He is saying that the object is not an impression only existing in the mind but an actual external appearance. Of course, as I keep saying, there is no real ‘object’. Hence the metaphor of the mirage. It is the mind that superimposes (adhyAsa) the name and form certainly. But the mind does not disappear after enlighenment either. (Enlightenment is an event IN the mind!) So the mind still continues to perceive the objects even though the intellect now appreciates what is happening and recognizes that all is Brahman.

    And I am NOT saying that Shankara is establishing the reality of OBJECTS. He is establishing the reality of the PERCEPTION of objects, which are really Brahman. (I.e. they are not like the dream objects, which only exist in the miind).

    Best wishes,

    (Of course, the snake ‘comes from’ the rope is a way of putting it. I am perfectly aware that it is an adhyAsa action of the mind, as you perfectly well know!)

  33. The child of a barren woman (the mind) knows that is the child of a barren woman, and so goes about its prarabdha.

  34. (Dennis)
    A few years ago I had a protracted debate with a friend lasting for about two months, in which my friend took to defend the (provisional, relative, vyavahara) position concerning the individual or person and I defending the exclusivist position (paramartha) – Atman-Brahman is alone real. We were both ‘extremists’ of sorts, hence the heat of our debate. At that time I also came across the works of R. Balsekar. He also gave relative reality to the jivatma, saying as a proof, ‘If I am walking on the street and someone behind me calls my name, I turn around’.* That argument seemed to me, and still does, to be flimsy and unconvincing (was it a gut feeling on my part?).

    I think there is a risk in either position, the second or exclusivist one being possibly a sign of immaturity or prematuredness, as happens in Neo-Advaita. But the first – provisional, tentative or relative – position may psychologically slow the aspirant down in the assimilation of Advaitic doctrine — particularly the central piece: non-duality, which initially seems to be so counter-intuitive.

    Dennis’ overall position** appears to be the same as that of Balsekar and my friend. Well, Dennis has a (vyavaharic) responsibility, but for the rest, every time one affirms or gives credence to plurality and the separate ‘I’ (ahamkara), s/he takes it away from the reality behind it. Or so it seems to me.

    * ‘That identification with a name and a form as a separate identity must persist until the death of the body’ – ‘The seeking’, 2004.

    ** Dennis: Oct. 8/20. ‘… although one realizes identity with Brahman when one gains Self-knowledge, one is still in the body-mind of a person and functioning as such. It is this body-mind that continues to see and act until death’.

  35. You are right, Martin. I presume that by ‘vyAvahArika responsibility’ you are acknowledging the fact that I have been pointing out that this site aims to present, explain and discuss the teaching of Advaita; i.e. the WHOLE of the teaching of Advaita is relevant and should be acknowledged.

    In fact, I, too, tend to take the absolutist (i.e. pAramArthika) position ‘privately’. (e.g. I do not accept free-will, reincarnation, Ishvara…) But obviously if the sole purpose of the site were to present ajAti vAda, there would not be much material. Nor would many people bother visiting it!

    My aim in the book I am currently writing, and for this site, is to present Advaita as taught by Shankara and those whose views tally with those of Shankara.

  36. 1) In the past too we have had teachers with the exclusive USP, “Advaita as taught by Shankara.” Do we listen to them?

    2) At one end of the teaching we have Shankara at 2.40, BG assuring, “Anything done, however little it be, in this Path of Yoga, saves one from
    great fear, from the fear of samsAra, of birth and death.”

    3) At the other end, it is Shankara again who cautions at 4.94, GK, “Those, who exert multiplicity (so that vyAvahArika is possible), … … never realize the natural purity of Atman on account of their ever-being lost in the multiplicity.”

    4) Further, Shankara says at 1.4.2, brihat, “fear comes of a second entity, and that notion of a second entity was removed by the knowledge of unity ; it was non-existent.” What is vyAvahArika for the Knower of the Truth?

    The final blessing Sage Yajnavlakya gives to the Emperor Janaka is, in the words of Shankara at 1.2.4, brihat, “You have attained That which is free from fear.” Would it then imply that Shankara teaches to hang on to the apron strings of vyAvahArika?

  37. Also, Ramesam, you still seem to be implying that I am somehow advocating vyavahAra as the ‘truth’. Or at least suggesting that we ought to remain (?) in vyavahAra even after realization.

    What I am saying is the indisputable truth that Advaita TEACHES in vyavahAra. ALL of the teaching of Advaita is in vyavahAra. WHAT it teaches is paramArtha, but it cannot go there. Nor can we. paramArtha cannot be experienced; it can only be ‘known’ as an intellectual realization. The j~nAnI is the ‘lucid dreamer’ of the waking state.

  38. … And I have the vyavaharic duty of thanking Dennis for being responsible (and originator) of this site and for elucidating many points of contention. And also Ramesam for keeping it alive. Thank you both.

  39. Would like to strongly second Martin’s sentiment above, and then profusely apologize for all sins of commission/omission (screwed if you do, screwed if you don’t, which I think most accurately describes the human condition.)…I owe many answers to Ramesam/Venkat who may have forgotten the questions they raised in response to my effusions, for which I have no answers.

    Dennis, above – “…paramArtha cannot be experienced; it can only be ‘known’ as an intellectual realization. The j~nAnI is the ‘lucid dreamer’ of the waking state..”

    And in those quotation marks in Dennis’ words lies the entire mystery, clear as mud. ‘Known’ and ‘lucid dreamer’.
    Hard determinisim suits me best and even Sabina Hossenfelder seems to agree …superdeterminism, that is.

  40. Dennis, Ramesam and Martin, with their different perspectives and approaches have written and stimulated some thought-provoking articles and discussions over the many years.

    I have learnt more about Sankara’s advaita from trying to find quotes to annoy Dennis, than I would have otherwise.

    Warm wishes,
    Bruised son of a barren woman.

  41. Yes. As Martins says, all of us here, the contributors as well as the many silent visitors to Advaita Vision site do owe real gratitude to Dennis. I trust I have not failed to acknowledge that as and when the occasion arose.

    Dennis not only provides funding support for the site, he takes up the ‘thankless job’ of the laborious and time-taking maintenance and upkeep without which the site would have easily deteriorated to a position of unworthiness to take a peek.

    Coming to the point of his concern about the “teaching value of the site to the novice entrants to Advaita,” I am afraid that we cannot circumscribe every comment and expression in these columns within that objective.

    Honestly, how many essays does a new reader will need? 10? 20?
    Perhaps, there are already several times more such articles/sources at this site to cater to the needs of a novice.

    IMHO, at least the discussion parts should not be saddled with any such preconditions as to meet the requirements of a new reader.


    Next, let me refer to the enigmatic question he posed above to me. Dennis asked: What authority do you recommend, Ramesam?

    I can’t fathom what he had in mind in asking that question.
    As he knows well, Advaita accepts six pramNa-s and each is an authority in its domain. Surely, he must be hinting something else.

    Regarding the other point he makes, it is undoubtedly true that the entire game of ignorance and its redemption takes place with the vyAvahArika world of the finite mind. But like the very igniting fire that self-extinguishes itself at the end of consuming all the faggots, the finite mind “gets” consumed on “grokking” the Infinity. It does not retain, IMHO, its bounded finiteness and also be Infinite at the same time. It CANNOT. Scriptures make that much clear to us.

    Then a question comes up. What will it be like?
    And that is impossible to answer.

    Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life writes: “Originally, what was there? It was pure stability, profundity, stillness, absence of any kind of movement, no light, no darkness. We cannot know what was there. It is impossible to describe, impossible to conceive. There was Pure Being as the potential of future creation. The Nasadiya Sukta of the Vedas says: nāsad āsīn no sad āsīt tadānīṁ nāsīd rajo no vyomā paro yat (N.S. 1). There was neither existence nor non-existence, because there was nobody to conceive the factor of existence or non-existence. Nobody was there to say that existence was; nobody was there to say that nothing was. Therefore, in the absence of any kind of awareness of there being either this or that, it could not have been described in any other manner except as neither existence nor non-existence. Pure Being, as such, was.”

    To that I add my question:

    How can it be any different post-realization?


  42. Thank you all for your kind comments!

    In response to Ramesam: You say that “I can’t fathom what he had in mind in asking that question”, the question being: “What authority do you recommend, Ramesam?”

    I was merely responding to your last post in which you gave seemingly contradictory quotations from Shankara and seemed to be implying that we could not rely upon what he said.

    Regarding catering for new readers, I agree that there is ample material now on the site to cater for all standards. But I still have the concern that new seekers visit and only read what happens to be current. If they encounter such bald statements as we encounter in ajAti vAda, they may just throw up their hands and never come back. So I like to include occasional ‘justification’ comments for them.

    In any case, we can never ignore the fact that ALL statements, however ‘extreme’ are still in vyavahAra.

    As you know, I refute any claims that the mind ‘gets consumed’ upon enlightenment. Of course it doesn’t, Otherwise there would never have been any enlightened people, ever. This is another facet of the ‘disappearing world’ concept.

    What will it be like? NOT impossible to answer. It will be the same as it is now except for the fact that we will know that it is only an appearance. This is Brahman NOW. There is only Brahman. (Oh dear; have I said this before??) As you say: “How can it be any different post-realization?”!

    Best wishes,

  43. (Thank you Ramesam)

    ‘Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning,
    Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
    Sages who searched with their heart’s thought
    discovered the existent’s kinship in the
    Transversely was their severing line
    extended: what was above it then, and
    what below it?
    There were begetters, there were mighty
    forces, free actions here and energy up
    Who verily knows…

    (Nasadiya Sukta – Griffith translation)

  44. Dennis,

    Here are my clarifications:

    D: “you gave seemingly contradictory quotations from Shankara …”

    Goodness, no.
    Why should one view the two endpoints ( say 2.0, BG and 1.2.4, brihat) to be orthogonal pair of opposites? The two make up a continuum like a solid solution series!

    D “Otherwise there would never have been any enlightened people, ever.”

    Leaving apart Sages like AparAtamas et al and Avatars (who anyway are strictly not “people”) is not ‘enlightened people’ a self-glorifying oxymoron, like saying an ‘Infinite finite’?

    Secondly, as Shankara himself assured, there will always be ignorant people seeking and redeeming Knowledge like two sides of a coin. There will always be a teacher that is commensurate with the student’s needs. After all avidyA is said to be beginningless and it comes with its flip side too!

    D: “This is Brahman NOW.”

    It is ‘brahman + ignorance / mAyA / avidyA / upAdhi / appearance / paricchinna’

    D: “How can it be any different post-realization?”!”

    Couldn’t know that it is presently like what nAsadIya sUkta -1 says.

    One look here for the novice, one stamp on his/her face saying “it is only an appearance; now you are enlightened” and lo behold, s/he can now start her own business of ‘stamping’ putting to shame 7.3, BG, 1.2.7, 2.1.1 KaTha. 🙂


  45. Ramesam,

    R: “Leaving apart Sages like AparAtamas et al and Avatars (who anyway are strictly not “people”) is not ‘enlightened people’ a self-glorifying oxymoron, like saying an ‘Infinite finite’?”

    So who is it who is ‘enlightened’ then? Brahman? Of course it is people. As I have said innumerable times, enlghtenment is an event in the mind of a person. It is the intellectual realization of the truth of non-duality. It is when Self-knowledge elimates Self-ignorance in the mind.

    D: “This is Brahman NOW.” Does it not HAVE to be, since sarvam khalvidam brahma?

    I don’t understand any of your last remarks. Never heard of ‘nAsadIya sUkta’.

    Best wishes,

  46. Thanks Dennis for posing your comment as a question to me as it gives an opportunity for me to share my understanding.

    I think a lot of the problem is in the definitions too.

    As our scriptures tell us, “people” are the product of some pending unfulfilled karmic load.

    The specially commissioned Sages and Avatars, in contrast, do not take birth because of undischarged karma. They come with a clean slate (not a result of karmic balance) and hence they stay right from the beginning free from being affected by sukha – dukha etc. pairs of opposites.

    The ordinary “people” (products of karmic effects) who are born have two components in them. One is the inert part constituting the body-mind etc. and the other is Self or Consciousness. The upAdAna kAraNa for the inert part is mAyA or ignorance through ‘pariNAma’ (modification). The Self appears within each “as though” It is delimited and is confined within that body through changeless change (vivarta). As aitareya explains, we can think that the body part and Self part come to be the ‘individual’ following two distinct evolutionary paths.

    The resulting strange mix of the body-mind + (as though) delimited Self together generates a pseudo “I” claiming ownership and doership. As long as this claim of ‘ownership-doership’ lasts, the individual (jIva) continues to exist as a separate entity and gets subjected to the sukha-dukha cycles.

    The body-mind being inert cannot have liberation. The ‘as-though’ delimited Self does not need any liberation. The pseudo “I” is the one which needs, seeks and gets liberation. Expressed in a different way, the abandonment of the sense of “ownership and doership” is virtually the death knell for the pseudo “I” or the separate self.

    Now what is brahman, Pure and Untainted?

    It is That which is there before the pariNAma of mAyA into the form of a body and the vivarta of the Self to be as the ‘pratyagAtma’ have taken place.

    Even after these changes, i.e., the impurity getting added up, the core substance of all entities remains brahman only. [See later under Atman.]

    [Actually the entire brahman never gets involved in this process – it is as though a little of It somewhere goes through these unreal changes (vide puruSha sUkta).] So appearances are not Pure and Pristine brahman. They are brahman + the above two modifications. Until the modifications cease, Pure brahman remains obscured.

    Putting the above model in terms of jagat-jIva-Ishwara, jagat can never have liberation (being inert like body), Ishwara doesn’t need liberation. being omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent and it is only the mix-up of jIva who needs, seeks and gets liberation.

    Even though you often use the word Self-ignorance, it is not a meaningful coinage. Yes, we do say Self-knowledge, but there we also know that Self = Knowledge. They are not two different ‘things.’ They are synonyms. But we cannot have a similar expression wrt the Self and ignorance! It will be like saying that light and darkness cohabit. It does NOT happen.

    In sum, who is it that gets liberated? It is the pseudo ‘self’ with its sense of ownership and doership. What is the mechanism of liberation? Honest answer, IMHO, is “none knows.”

    Post-Shankara Advaitins (perhaps starting with the 15th CE Sadananda yati) imagined a mechanics that is similar to object recognition that takes place in a finite mind. They conceived of a possible modification of the mind (citta vRitti) in the nature of brahman and called it AtmAkAravRitti / akhaNDAkAra vRitti / brahmAkAra vRitti etc. IOW, virtually the finite mind sheds its limits and becomes ‘identical’ or absolutely one with the Infinite brahman. Can anyone certify that such mechanistics does happen? I doubt.

    The word Atman = brahman refers to the ground substance. An example could be that “wood” is the Atman of all wooden furniture. That is to say that the Atma of tables, chairs, doors, shutters, stirrers, walking sticks etc. is Atma. Our perception can see and know only the extraneous forms and infer certain qualities, but can never really experience the very subtle (subtler than space) Atman, the substrate of the entire universe.


  47. Ramesam,

    I largely agree with most of what you say, although this is all diverging from the main topic of the thread and I do not want to get involved in ‘extraneous’ discussions.

    I must just clarify, though, that what I mean by ‘Self-ignorance’ is that the mind is ignorant of the Self, not that the Self is ignorant! Similarly, ‘Self-knowledge’ is the mind acquiring understanding of Advaita, nothing to do with Brahman being ‘equal’ to knowledge.

    Also, I’m afraid that ‘specially commisioned sages and avatars’ fall into the same category as reincarnation for me!

    Best wishes,

  48. Interestingly, the Question “Who gets liberated?” is answered in the first 4 min of this Video of Swami Sarvapriyananda. Worth listening to.

    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAQ_kG54G04

    Re: “specially commisioned sages and avatars”

    You may have some definitions, but scriptures and purANa-s deal with these terms giving clear cut explanations which are pretty standardized.


  49. Thanks for the link, Ramesam. A very clear answer. He is certainly an excellent teacher!

    I don’t deny that there are ‘clear-cut explanations’ of avatars etc. in the scriptures. Ditto reincarnation and free-will etc…

    Best wishes,

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