In Shankara’s explication of the Advaita Vedanta, as we all know, the concept of “adhyAsa” or “superimposition” plays a significant role. This technique of ‘superimposing’ a non-existing imaginary thing (adhyAropita mithyA vastu) on a really existing substratum (adhisThAna) and later rescinding or negating (apavAda) the superimposed object has been an age-old method of imparting the Knowledge of the Self (Atman / brahman) to an eligible student. Shankara himself reveals this fact in his commentary at 13.13, BGB.
Unfortunately in the present day, the ‘eligibility criteria’ for the student are so much discounted that one doesn’t often know whether a student truly obtained the intended ‘meaning’ of the teaching or goes away with his/her own ‘idea’ of what is taught because of the unprepared nature of and/or other prior notions cluttering up his/her mind.
The actual position of Advaita siddhAnta (doctrine) is that there is no creation at all and the visible touchy-feely world is a mere imaginary (kalpita) thing that we by birth naturally “superimpose” on a rock-stable, immutable, infinite, eternal, ever-tranquil, some-indescribable, “no-thing thing.” This nameless “no-thing thing” is indicated for communicational purposes by the word, brahman. And the most popular metaphor used by Shankara in his commentaries is that of seeing mistakenly a snake in place of a rope under semi-lighted conditions. The world we see is comparable to the ‘imaginary’ snake which doesn’t really exist and brahman is like the rope.
In the snake-rope example, there is really no relation between the snake and the rope. The rope did NOT change to be a snake nor did it produce the snake. Even when we mistakenly “see” and feel the snake, the rope itself continues to be rope only! So also is the case with the world and brahman.
The inevitable question that pops up then is: “How did the world come about at all in the first place?” Well, Advaita Vedanta does not really explain. As Dennis wrote in a comment at another thread, “Brahman does not act” to bring about the snake-like world! It’s admittedly an “Explanatory Gap.” If one still insists, the scripture says that the appearance of the world is merely a hallucination on the part of the questioner. It’s stand is: “Nothing really happened!”
In order to appease the curiosity of an inquisitive seeker, shAstra (scripture) introduces a slight ‘slack’ to allow some sort of a ‘perturbation’ within the ‘unchanging’ brahman. Basing oneself on such an assumed ‘perturbation,’ explanatory “models” are built — the complexity of the model increasing with the increasing number of questions raised by the seekers.
However, one should remember, as Swami Prakasanandendra Saraswati said in the linked Video at the other thread, that any ‘model’ is still a ‘thought-construct’ in our awake world like any idea within a dream is part of the dream only (watch from about 5 min into the Video). To really understand the Truth (with Caps “T”), one has to wake up from the world that we perceive. Moreover, Shankara also agrees that the concept of “ignorance” one proposes as an explanation for our inability in knowing the truth is an explanatory artifact; he admits the ‘logical untenability’ of superimposition, as Smt. Manjushree Hegde said in the other Video linked at that thread (at about 45 min into the Video).
Hence, any answer to a question about the mechanism of superimposition necessarily involves certain ‘assumptions.’ Venkat in a comment wrote that “the individual mind is itself a superimposition on Consciousness.” I agreed with that broad suggestion. Dennis, initially, raised the Question: “Who it would be that is doing the superimposition and what mechanism they would be using?”
Later, he modified the question to add “it cannot be an action of the mind (in any of its aspects) if the mind itself is a product of the superimposition. And it cannot be Brahman, since Brahman does not act. So what exactly are you saying??”
At this stage, I would like to open up the topic for a discussion by all the participants. In the interest of having a smooth and focused deliberation on the subject, I would like to request all to let me have the freedom to edit out or alter any words in the comments that are likely to impede our main purpose of reaching a logical conclusion. In case my alterations are not acceptable, I request the author of the comment to please write to me at my e-mail so that we can arrive at mutually acceptable wording.
I broadly agree with your statement of the problem. However, I am not entirely happy with your proposed method for discussion. I have already noted that, in my research for the ‘Confusions’ books, I have encountered several instances where revered translators/commentators of scriptures and bhAShya-s have worded their English according to their own understanding and not in simple translation of what was said by Shankara. It is not that I think that you would deliberately do this but it might occur inadvertently.
I would be happy that you delete or reword any ‘hostile’, ‘sarcastic’ (or any similarly unhelpful ‘attitudinal’ wording) but not the actual substance of any points being made. I suggest that there will be so few participants to this discussion that we ought to be able to rely upon individual probity to maintain a ‘vAda’ context.
If I may make an initial observation: you said [[[As Dennis wrote in a comment at another thread, “Brahman does not act” to bring about the snake-like world! It’s admittedly an “Explanatory Gap.” If one still insists, the scripture says that the appearance of the world is merely a hallucination on the part of the questioner. It’s stand is: “Nothing really happened!]]]
Are you able to cite an actual quotation for this (“the appearance of the world is merely a hallucination on the part of the questioner) because, of course, such a questioner would him/herself also be part of that appearance, in which case the statement does not seem to make any sense.
Also, I apologise that I have still not watched the referenced bits of video. I will do this before making any further comments.
Thanks for your observations.
It is needless, I suppose, for me to assure that it is not my intention at all to alter/emend or modify “the actual substance of any points being made” by any discussant. As you rightly pointed out, my idea is only to see that we don’t get digressed by such words that may create avoidable friction in the smooth flow of our exchanges here or harm our ability to stay focused on the topic.
Secondly, as we are all aware, we are not adjudicating any one or any concept as in a court of Law; therefore, we don’t have to spend too much of time upfront establishing the prelims like rigid definitions, conditionalities, legal torts etc. We shall carry forward the discourse in an atomos of mutual trust, faith and respect. If it doesn’t seem to help, we can always call it a day and close it.
Re: “the appearance of the world is merely a hallucination on the part of the questioner …”
I suggest that we may not get bogged down by certain words or expressions, as long as the basic structure of what is being said is not in violation of shruti vAkya which is the pramANa for us. We know the ancient Sanskrit language allows a lot of fluidity with words and does not imprison them within fixed iron frameworks. So, it is reasonable that we may allow an author some freedom in his choice of usage of words, subject to the condition that there is no dissonance with what the shruti and bhAShya say.
Coming to the specific case in point, I felt that the sentence I wrote succinctly captures the spirit behind at least three quotes from the scriptures.
i) Shankara makes it clear at several places in his commentaries that the purpose of shruti talking about creation is NOT to tell us that creation did actually happen but to establish the Oneness of the individual and brahman (e.g. 2.1.33, BSB);
ii) Gaudapada tells us that the world is merely a hallucination (1.17, GK). The Sanskrit word for hallucination is mAyA as can be seen in a standard dictionary. Words like ‘bhrama,’ ‘moha,’ ‘indrajAla’ also are equivalents to hallucination.
iii) Shankara answers the question of “Whose ignorance is it because of which one sees a multiplicity?” by saying that it belongs to the questioner himself who asks the question (13.2, BGB; 4.1.3, BSB; US).
iv) Expressions like, “like the splendour arising from the fantasy of a dream” for the worldly actions/results are used by Shankara himself in his commentaries.
Finally, we all know that neither words nor their referents are significant in the Advaita Vedanta and what is important is that Oneness towards which they all are pointing to. I guess we need not be too legalistic in our approach.
I don’t think this is going to work. It seems likely that we will be unable to agree on the ‘rules of engagement’, before even beginning any discussion! Also, I still think that you are being overly optimistic here. Even at the height of our ‘world disappearing’ discussions, there were rarely more than 3 discussants. Where are they all going to come from that such elaborate ‘controls’ are needed?
[[[Re: “the appearance of the world is merely a hallucination on the part of the questioner …”
I suggest that we may not get bogged down by certain words or expressions, as long as the basic structure of what is being said is not in violation of shruti vAkya which is the pramANa for us.]]]
But it is precisely the words that are being used that are the sources of confusion. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why we use Sanskrit terms in discussion – the words that ARE actually used in shruti as opposed to premeditated translations. In the example above, the word ‘hallucination’ is a provocative and inaccurate one. I would want to insist on a word like ‘mithyA’. But then we have the problem of ensuring that a reader understands the word ‘mithyA’. It does NOT mean ‘hallucination’ or ‘unreal’, for example!
In this quotation, Gaudapada is saying that the world cannot ‘disappear’ because it doesn’t really exist in the first place, like the dream or rope-snake. What ‘disappears’ is the belief that it is real, not the appearance itself. The world is like the mirage or the bent pencil partly under water. That the world appears to exist is due to ‘mAyA’, for the sake of providing some sort of cause. And, if you like, this ‘mAyA’ does not go away on the dawn of Self-knowledge. Accordingly, this mAyA will still be generating the appearance of the world. But the j~nAnI will no longer be ‘taken in’ by it, just as the magician’s audience can enjoy the ‘sawing of the woman in half’ without calling for an ambulance.
Shankara, commenting on 1.17, says:
“The magic projected by a magician (mAyAvinA prayuktA mAyA), neither does it (na eva) really exist at the time of appearance (vidyamAnA san satI) nor does it go away (na eva nivRRittA) when what was covering the eyes (chakShuH bandha) of the spellbound people watching the magic show (tad darshinAm) is removed (apagame), for it did not really exist at the time of knowledge.” (Ref. 325)
So the universe never comes into being, nor does it disappear on enlightenment. It does not need to disappear because it didn’t exist to begin with.
P.S. You really must stop using the expression ‘as we all know’! I presume to say that it is frequently the case that we do NOT all know. And I know (and suspect that you also know!) that I personally often disagree with what you are saying! 😉 (I hope you will take this as an amusing observation and not as an ad hominem criticism. I really do not intend to be nasty in any way!)
Thanks for the thought-provoking post Ramesam-ji. My 2cents on the topic under discussion 🙂
The teaching starts in duality and concludes in non-duality. The teaching “tat twam asi” leads to the profound realization aham brahmAsmi!
The pot-space appears to be separate from the all-pervading space because of the appearance of the pot. If the adjunct (pot) is removed, the substance (space) alone remains. If the phenomenal world that the jIva (in ignorance) spontaneously superimposes on the substratum brahman is removed, there is nothing left to separate the individual from Consciousness.
Doubts will continue to persist if we try to negate the superimposed world without grasping the substratum. The snake will disappear only after the rope is perceived, and not by simply wishing the snake to go away. Shankar says in aparOkshAnubhuti. Verse 116.
दृष्टिं ज्ञानमयीं कृत्वा पश्येद्ब्रह्ममयं जगत् । aparokShAnubhUti, 116
“If we perceive the world from the viewpoint of Consciousness, the world will appear as Consciousness.”
The superimposition/sublation is a great tool/teaching that helps the seeker first separate the anAtma from the Atma, and eventually throw it all back into the Atma
Quite amusing, though, it is, it does look like “We all know that we all do not know!” 🙂 🙂
I yield and shall stop using the expression “We all know …”!
2. In order to get more readers to participate in the discussions, how about another approach?
For example, is it okay that if each one just spells out the model of the ‘Mechanism of superimposition’ as per their own understanding, instead of trying to shoot down what another said?
Let that be so at the first cut and see what common elements are present in those mechanisms. Later on we can try to harmonize the differences rather than trying to steamroll everyone’s ideas to fit into a single model right at the first shot. Will that be an acceptable approach? Will that attract more participants to share their views?
[Aside from the above general observations, for my own information, ‘are you able to cite an actual quotation for this (“What ‘disappears’ is the belief that it is real, not the appearance itself”)?
Secondly, have you been able to watch Smt. Hegde’s Video? At about 40 min into the Video, she quotes Shankara to say that the knowledge of the rope removes the ignorance of the rope; but not the superimposition of the snake. But she adds almost immediately, ‘though the superimposition also disappears when the rope is known. Then she refers to the two different types of adhyAsa and goes on to say what is the position of Shankara.]
I think that the only way to ensure something is kept on topic is to discourage any unfocussed posts and restrict discussion to one very specific idea at a time. Ideally this might be the meaning of a single word but certainly no more that a single sentence or idea relating to a clear subject. If we follow that approach, then asking participants to describe their ‘model’ is far too broad.
I did watch both videos to which you referred at the approximate locations. I’m afraid I could not ‘tolerate’ the Smt. Hegde. I could not follow the very long Sanskrit quotations and found her presentation style to be over-enthusiastic.
I have written about the various ‘types’ of adhyAsa (far more than two!). I don’t see how any of this can provide an answer to my original question.
You have not responded to my statement of the meaning of kArikA 1.17 and Shankara’s commentary.
This is a good example of what I just said about a strict, single topic at a time. As soon as more than one is dealt with, there is a danger of (possibly the most important!) points being missed or ignored.
Thanks for joining us!
You said: “If the phenomenal world that the jIva (in ignorance) spontaneously superimposes on the substratum brahman is removed, there is nothing left to separate the individual from Consciousness.”
I would make two points here.
Firstly, it is neither necessary nor possible to ‘remove the world’ (and who would do this?). The problem is the ‘superimposition’ that is being done by the jIva. Whether you believe that adhyAsa is ’caused’ by avidyA, or whether you believe these are two words for the same thing, it is the ignorance that has to be removed, not the world.
Secondly, the body-mind of the jIva is also a ‘part’ of the world. And this comes back to one of the two problems that I challenged Ramesam about in his earlier posts. How do you explain the mechanism of this superimposition? Obviously it cannot be brought about by the mind (in any of its aspects) if the mind itself is a product of the superimposition. And it cannot be instigated by Brahman, since Brahman does not act. So who or what is ‘doing’ the superimposition?
Will you please give your own answer to your Question: “How do you explain the mechanism of this superimposition? Obviously it cannot be brought about by the mind (in any of its aspects) if the mind itself is a product of the superimposition. And it cannot be instigated by Brahman, since Brahman does not act. So who or what is ‘doing’ the superimposition?”
2. To remind, ‘are you able to cite an actual quotation for this (“What ‘disappears’ is the belief that it is real, not the appearance itself”)?
It was Venkat who made this statement and you agreed with him. I have never claimed that the mind is a ‘superimposition on Consciousness’. One does not make a statement and then ask someone else (who does not accept it) to explain it! If I did not know better, I would have to conclude that you were trying to wriggle out of this. First you ignore it, then you ask someone else to explain it! 😉
The second statement is my own, based upon my understanding. I do not know of a source where Shankara literally used these words. I have just given (above) Shankara’s bhAShya on GK 1.17 which effectively says this. But you have still not responded.
You have understood the question with the baggage of its history in these columns. I moved away from that baggage and am asking from the angle of ahdyAsa bhAShya where, as you know, Shankara himself talks of “superimposition.”
Do you like to consider from that perspective?
As far as I am concerned, I have already shared my thoughts in the OP.
2. Just as you say, regarding citations, all of us do make statements based on our own assimilation of the subject matter, whatever limitations each one may have. You did ask me for citation re: my sentence, “the appearance of the world is merely a hallucination on the part of the questioner.” I said that it was a succinct summation of at least 3 quotes and provided the citations including 1.17, GK. As far as my reading goes, and as per the teachers I have heard from, I suppose that it supports my statement.
[P.S.: Things appear to be going in circles; participation is not increasing. I feel this post does not have the needed traction. I propose to take it down, if you do not mind. My apologies to Smt. Padma Ji.]
My understanding of the entire purpose of this post was to move the questions that I asked at the end of the ‘MokSha is not escapism’ thread to a new thread of its own since the former had become unreasonably long.
I have tried to ensure this by repeating the questions. But now you are saying that this is ‘baggage’??!
I also asked for a response to the comments I made regarding Shankara’s comment on GK 1.17.
Finally, I do not think it is reasonable to deny Padma the opportunity to respond to my comments on her remarks.
I confess that I am entirely mystified now. As I pointed out right at the beginning, I did not expect much in the way of ‘participation’ anyway.
If you take the post down, it will convey the message that you are unable to answer the questions I posed. It is also just possible that some seekers are reading this thread and eagerly awaiting developments. So, yes, I would mind.
Yes I feel also bad that I had to recommend taking down.
For example, let’s be honest, the conditionalities that you added as a later thought re: ‘superimposition’ that Venkat mentiomed were not by him. I thought you had a reason to add them and you were making a significant observation.
But the conversation is changing to “He said – She said” type rather than adding any substantial viewpoint. I clearly said in the OP that if one takes the imperturbable stability of brahman, one has to stay with ‘No creation.’ Unless a slack is allowed, there cannot be a ‘superimposition.’ Shankara himself said that there is a natural superimposition because of the mixing up of the Reality and non-Reality, as you know.
I am sure all the sensible readers following the thread can see the relative stances of the discussants. I do not see I have anything valuable that I can add to what is already expressed. I see that you have also amply made clear your point.
[Padma says] If the phenomenal world that the jiva (in ignorance) spontaneously superimposes on the substratum brahman is removed, there is nothing left to separate the individual from Consciousness.
[Dennis says] …it is neither necessary nor possible to ‘remove the world’ (and who would do this?). The problem is the ‘superimposition’ that is being done by the jiva. Whether you believe that adhyasa is ’caused’ by avidya, or whether you believe these are two words for the same thing, it is the ignorance that has to be removed, not the world.
I think Padma may be having support for thinking that knowledge somehow ‘removes’ the phenomenal world. After all, there are passages from Shankara where he certainly appears to agree. Shankara tells us, “Knowledge arises of itself and cancels ignorance, and on account of that, this entire world of names and forms together with its inhabitants, which had been superimposed by ignorance, vanishes away like the world of a dream.” (BSB 3.2.21) Again: “All the Upanishads declare that, in the supreme state (paramartha-avastha), all empirical experience is absent (sarva-vyavahara-abhava).” (BSB 2.1.14) Elsewhere he asserts that the material elements are dissolved (pravilapita) by knowledge of Brahman “like rivers entering the ocean,” after which they disappear (vinashyanti). At this point, he declares, “pure knowledge-infinite, supreme, pellucid-alone remains.” (BrUB 2.4.12)
Sorry to intrude, but we have been down his path before (so what’s new?)
The world does NOT disappear
Posted on March 17, 2021 by Dennis Waite
(Response to those who claim it does)
My modest contribution, apart from reproducing some off the wall suggestions by Sri Ramana which you can read at the link, (even though I esteem him very highly) was this:
on March 19, 2021 at 02:44 said:
You always emphasize “common sense” and “reason and logic.”
Why then, do you not see that Adhyaropa-apavada” can work only if the world is a momentary phenomenon where there are no separate cause and effect but only an undivided whole. Moment by moment. And seeing this is indeed awakening.
Verse 8 of Drg Drsya Viveka says: the relationship between mind and body is due to karma, between mind and reflected consciousness is natural, and between mind and original consciousness is due to ignorance. The last one is relevant to the current topic.
Thanks for those quotations, Rick. In respect of the first (BSB 3.2.21) I have written:
“During the prolonged discussions on this topic at my website (Advaita Vision – https://www.advaita-vision.org – beginning late August 2020, the most ‘damning’ quotation was from Swami Gambhirananda’s translation of Shankara’s bhAShya on Brahmasutra 3.2.21.” And I followed this by around 2000 words explaining why it should not be interpreted literally. This explanation is not merely ‘reasoned’ by myself but supported by ample other quotations.
Essentially, it has to be understood within the context of what is being discussed, namely the distinction between nirguNa and saguNa Brahman, and upAdhi-s. I suggest that you read the entire topic (The nature of Brahman) from 3.2.11 because Shankara addresses the question of whether the topic from sutras 11 to 21 should, in fact be two separate topics (11-14 and 15-21). And Sutra 3.2.21 is specifically discussing whether there are two types of injunctions regarding Brahman in the scriptures.
It is clear from the introductory statements in this paragraph (‘no one could destroy this actually existing world’ and ‘there would be nothing left after one person was enlightened’) that the latter statements are figurative only. ‘Destroying the world’ means realizing, through gaining knowledge of Brahman, that the world is mithyA. Just as we do not actually ‘destroy’ the pot when we realize that it is entirely clay, we do not ‘destroy’ the world when we realize that it is entirely Brahman.
You will have to wait for Vol. 2 of ‘Confusions’ to read the complete arguments!
Brahmasutra 2.1.14 is tadananyatvamArambhanashabdAdibhyaH. meaning that the world, which is an effect, is non-different from Brahman, the cause. (There is) ananyatvam – identity, non-difference; (between) tat – Brahman (and the world); (on account of) shabda – the texts about; ArambhaNa – beginning, undertaking, commencement (i.e. origin of the world); Adi – etc.
And, of course, I should have quoted this during recent arguments with Venkat and Ramesam regarding the meaning of sarvam khalvidam brahmA!
I had no issues with that sutra and have quoted from it, I think, around 8 times in ‘Confusions Vol. 2’. It is quite a long sutra, and I cannot immediately locate your quotation. But common sense suggests that it is either a mis-translation or a misunderstanding. “In the supreme state (paramartha-avastha), all empirical experience is absent” is a truism at the very least but there is no such thing as a pAramArthika ‘state’. I cannot believe Shankara would have made this statement with that translated understanding.
Finally, as regards ‘pravilApya/pravilApana’, we have discussed the error of interpreting this literally in Ramesam’s post – https://www.advaita-vision.org/dissolving-the-apparent-world/.
BSB3.2.21 needs to be understood in its context. The opponent is arguing that there is a scriptural injunction to action / meditation to sublate the world in order to realise Brahman. Whereas Sankara is emphasising that knowledge of Brahman is the pre-requisite to sublate the world.
The opponent states:
“And as darkness, standing as an obstruction to the perception of a vessel etc. covered with darkness, is removed by one who wants to know the vessel etc., so the world of manifestations standing opposed to the realization of Brahman has to be sublated by one who wants to realize Brahman”
The Vedantin responds:
“Here our question is: What is meant by this sublation of the universe of manifestations? Is the world to be annihilated like the destruction of the solidity of gbee by contact with fire; or is it that the world of name and form, created in Brahman by nescience like many moons created in the moon by the eye-disease called timira, has to be destroyed through knowledge?”
He then goes on to dismiss the possibility of being annihilated “that is a task impossible for any man, and hence the instruction about its extirpation is meaningless.” Sankara is clearly taking “annihilated” literally, as he goes on to say:
“Moreover, (even supposing that such a thing is possible, then) the universe, including the earth etc., having been annihilated by the first man who got liberation, THE PRESENT UNIVERSE SHOULD HAVE BEEN DEVOID OF THE EARTH etc.”
Sankara / the Vedantin then switches to the alternative:
“if it be said that this universe of manifestations superimposed on the one Brahman alone through ignorance has to be sublated by enlightenment, then it is Brahman Itself that has to be presented through a denial of the manifestation superimposed by ignorance . . .When Brahman is taught thus, knowledge dawns automatically, and by that knowledge ignorance is removed. As a result of that, this whole manifestation of name and form, superimposed by ignorance, vanishes away like things seen in a dream”
This then also explains MK1.17:
“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 is saying across his bhasya is that the world and jiva have no existence – it is only the partless, homogenous Brahman. Therefore it is incorrect to say that the world has been created and then ceases to exist on realisation. Both the world and the jiva are never anything but an illusion, a superimposition on the substratum of Brahman; otherwise for a world to exist (even saying it is an effect of a cause (Brahman)) violates nonduality. So the world cannot cease to exist; it simply “vanishes away like things seen in a dream”
If one remembers that according to Vedanta, everything has to be an illusory superimposition on Brahman – in order for non-duality (partless, homogenous) not to be violated – and not get confused in teaching concepts about relative vs absolute reality – then the context and intent of Sankara can be better discerned:
BSB 4.1.2: “Although the Self to be realised is partless, still many constituents are superimposed on It, such as the body, sense-organs, mind, intellect, perception on objects, etc.”
BSB 3.2.11 is also pertinent here:
“With the help of Upanisadic texts, the nature of that Brahman is now being ascertained with which the individual soul becomes unified in sleep when its limiting adjuncts become quiescent.”
And as Suresvara conclusively avers in NS 2.45:
2.45: It is impossible to establish the existence of any real entity other than the Self, whether we take such entity to be essentially identical with the Self or essentially different. Therefore the ego-sense and the rest of duality are imagined in the Self, as if they were the Self.