I think it is worth recaping the discussion to date. Dennis made two critical assertions:
(1) ”Ignorance is not the cause of the world; it is the reason that we fail to realize that the world is Brahman.”
As part of this discussion Dennis also disagreed that Sankara ‘approximated’ deep sleep to jnana.
(2) ”we superimpose ‘things’ upon the non-dual reality. That is adhyAsa. But that is not the ‘cause’ of the world.”
Lets clearly address each in turn:
(1) ‘Ignorance is not the cause of the world’ and Sankara never equated deep sleep to jana
In Upadesa Sahasri, Sankara unequivocally writes the opposite of this assertion.
17.20: ”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.”
19.5: “When thou hast ceased to function there is no notion of difference, through which one suffers, through illusion, the delusion that there is a world. For perception is the cause of the rise of illusion. When sense of difference is absent as in dreamless sleep, no one experiences any Maya”.
Next, Brhad Up 4.3.32 says:
It becomes (transparent) like water, one, the witness, and without a second. This is the world (state) of Brahman, O Emperor. Thus did Yajiiavalkya instruct Janaka: This is its supreme attainment, this is its supreme glory, this is its highest world, this is its supreme bliss. On a particle of this very bliss other beings live.
This verse describes the supreme attainment. Sankara in his bhasya on this attainment compares it directly and unequivocally to deep sleep
“When, however, that ignorance which presents things other than the self is at rest, in that state of profound sleep, there being nothing separated from the self by ignorance, what should one see, smell, or know, and through what? Therefore, being fully embraced by his own self-luminous Supreme Self, the Jiva becomes infinite, perfectly serene, with all his objects of desire attained, and the self the only object of his desire, transparent like water, one, because there is no second : It is ignorance which separates a second entity, and that is at rest in the state of profound sleep ; hence ‘one.’ The witness, because the vision that is identical with the light of the self is never lost. And without a second, for there is no second entity different from the self to be seen. This is immortal and fearless. This is the world of Brahman. In profound sleep the self, bereft of its limiting adjuncts, the body and organs, remains in its own supreme light of the Atman, free from all relations, O Emperor. Thus did Yajiiavalkya instruct ]anaka.”
So, Sankara is equating realisation with deep sleep, in which no second thing is seen.
In his bhasya to 2.4.12, he states that the jiva has arisen from the delusion caused by the body/organs (and their perception of the world). Therefore when the delusion has gone, there are no more differences created by ignorance, and no more particular consciousness.
“That separate existence of yours, which has sprung from the delusion engendered by contact with the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, enters its cause, the great Reality, the Supreme Self, which stands for the ocean, is undecaying, immortal, beyond fear, pure, homogeneous like a lump of salt, Pure Intelligence, infinite, boundless, without a break, and devoid of differences caused by the delusion brought on by ignorance. When that separate existence has entered and been merged in its cause, in other words, when the differences created by ignorance are gone, the universe becomes one without a second . . .
How can the knower of Brahman, who is established in his nature as Pure Intelligence, possibly have any such particular consciousness? Even when a man is in the body [ie in deep sleep] particular consciousness is impossible; so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organs?”
(2) Adhyasa is superimposing things on the non-dual reality
No. Actually, when Sankara talks about adhyasa, it is the mutual superimposition, through ignorance, of a insentient body with Consciousness, from which arises a false notion of a jiva, which projects a separate world. This is made clear in Sankara’s preamble to BrahmaSutraBhasya:
“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.”
Dennis referred to V H Date’s translation, which actually reads similarly:
“In the first place, the absolutely free and unattached Atman cannot be said to be the knower, unless the body, mind and senses are first superimposed upon it, and there arise the wrong notions such as “I am this, this is mine’. 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”
Ignorance is the mistaken superimposition of body and consciousness, which is the cause of subject-object separation. SSSS clarifies this in his commentary on MK 2.16 (page 152 of The Essential Gaudapada):
“ ‘First they imagine, conceive’ does not mean first temporally. For a universe comprising the whole gamut of distinctions – like time, space, causation, action, means of action, fruit – is appearing co-evally, co-existentially with the waking state. Therefore the expression here – ‘They first of all conceive of Jivatwa’ – means that by forging ahead with the concept of Jivatwa, then on the strength, basis of that rudimentary concept (called ‘I’ concept), all other concepts are entertained.
Thus beginning with the jiva-concept at the root of all other thoughts, and on the strength of that fundamental ‘I’ concept the other concepts are entertained – in fact for conceiving internal concepts and external percepts this basic ‘I’ concept is alone the support”
Dennis is essentially postulating that ignorance is believing that the world is separate from ‘me’ – and realisation is when we have the knowledge in our mind that it is actually not separate, and thus we continue to live in our body-minds.
The above I think demonstrates that Sankara points to a realisation that is far more profound than this simple ‘knowledge in the mind’. Indeed he says so in Bhagavad Gita Bhasya 4.24:
“But those who maintain that one has to superimpose the idea of Brahman on the ladle . . . cannot be the intended subject matter dealt with here, because according to them ladle etc are objects of knowledge. . . knowledge in the form of superimposition of an idea cannot lead to liberation as its result.“
Finally, of course, the idea that there is a body-mind that continues to function in the “relative” world as if separate, but with the knowledge in the mind that it is not ‘really’ separate, clearly goes against Gaudapada’s ajata vada – there just is not, never was and never will be a jiva, because the jiva itself IS the ignorance:
MK2.32: There is no dissolution, no birth, none in bondage, none aspiring for wisdom, no seeker of liberation, and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.