Revered Shankara is by nature such a perfect and committed bhAShyakAra (Commentator) that he never deviates from the text on which he is commenting upon. He always stays within the bounds of the purport of the textual line that he abhors to venture out to exploring the connected lanes and bylanes related to the topic or give vent to his own ideas based on his knowledge. However, in the entire corpus of the bhAShya literature of his, there are a handful or about half a dozen places where he takes liberty to make certain observations of his own. Very rare precious gems, unavailable for the reader anywhere else in the whole gamut of shruti and smriti lore come out from his pen in those few occasions. One that immediately comes to mind is his expanded commentary at 13.2, BGB where he lets out the fact that the ignorance of not knowing one’s own true nature belongs to that very person who thinks he has ignorance. He raises the question and answers himself:
“ सा अविद्या कस्य इति ।
Whose ignorance is it? [You say that the entire appearance of the world is ignorance. But you also argue that the only One that exists, the Self, cannot have ignorance. If that is the position, who has ignorance?]
यस्य दृश्यते तस्य एव ।
Whosoever sees ignorance, it is his only.”
Another significant instance when he refers to the incredulity of the Upanishads is available at his long Intro to the 4th section of the 2nd chapter of the aitareya Upanishad. He raises a question and answers himself again about the improbability of creation and the ‘pravesha shruti’:
“ अन्यत्र च सर्वगतस्य सर्वात्मनो वालाग्रमात्रमप्यप्रविष्टं नास्तीति कथं सीमानं विदार्य प्रापद्यत पिपीलिकेव सुषिरम्?
Seeing that there is not so much (of a space) as a point of hair unoccupied by brahman, the all-pervading Atman of all, if it be asked how It entered cleaving the head as the ant enters a hole?
नन्वत्यल्पमिदं चोद्यम् । बहु चात्र चोदयितव्यम् ।
We say, this is a small matter to raise a question about and there is much more here deserving to be questioned!”
However, he quickly adds that the Upanishads do so only in the interest of the student who is normally, otherwise, incapable of understanding the Truth if delivered straight. Perhaps, his commentary at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka is another place where he reveals hidden gems in his Advaitic thoughts.
Though the Creation models in Advaita refer to Ishwara as the mAyAvi, the controller of mAyA and the Creator, Shankara tells us that an entity which has a cause to assume different forms cannot be eternal in the context of refuting the vRittikara’s (probably, Upavarsha’s) argument that the word brahman at 1.4.10 brihadAraNyaka refers to saguNa brahman. Shankara writes at the beginning of his commentary that, “There is no such thing in the world that really assumes a different state through some cause and still is eternal.” In other words, nirguNa brahman can never manifest Itself as the multiplicity. This observation once again underlines the fact that there is no creation whatsoever.
But, unfortunately, our entire perceptual knowledge is capable of showing us only the ‘form’ and not the substance. Unaware and unconscious of the disconnect between the actual Reality that IS and what our own perception shows to us, we hypothesize that we see ‘substance.’ In order to be able to see the real ‘substance,’ we need to have a different “vision,” a vision that is filled with Self-knowledge, as Shankara describes as:
” दृष्टिं ज्ञानमयीं कृत्वा ” | — 116, aparokShAnubhUti.
This would obviously then give raise to the question, as Shankara poses at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka:
“Has the seer then two kinds of vision, one eternal and invisible, and the other transitory and visible?”
Once again, he himself answers it to help the Non-dual seeker, with an emphatic ‘Yes.’ He writes:
“Reply : Yes! The (first is the) transitory vision (which) is familiar to us….
[The second is] that unfailing eternal vision, which is identical with It and is called the self-effulgent light. Through that the Self always sees the other, transitory vision in the dream and waking states, as idea and perception respectively, and becomes the seer of sight. Such being the case, the vision itself is Its nature, like the heat of fire, and there is no other conscious (or unconscious) seer over and above the vision, as the vaiseShika-s maintain. It, brahman, knew only Itself, the eternal vision, devoid of the transitory vision etc. superimposed on It.”
As our colleague, Vijay, pointed out at another thread, Shankara also clarifies further that the words “It knew only Itself,’ only means the cessation of the superimposition of ignorance, and not the actual cognizing of the Self as an object,” a very significant observation to really decipher the gravitas of the message. Shankara adds to mitigate any further doubts on how It became all:
“Since by the cessation of the superimposed notion of not being brahman, its effect, the notion of not being all, was also gone, therefore, It became all.”
The process of becoming all, if it can be described as a process, it is something akin to saying that a man feels satiated as he eats the food (Shankara’s words).
Shankara also gives a very important and helpful ‘indicator’ to a seeker at 1.4.10, brihadaraNyaka. He says:
“As in the world a form is revealed as soon as the observer’s eye is in touch with light, similarly the very moment that one has the Knowledge of the Supreme Self, ignorance regarding It must disappear. Hence, the effects of ignorance are impossible in the presence of the Knowledge of Brahman, like the effects of darkness in the presence of a lamp.” Even Gods cannot stop the disappearance of ignorance on the attainment of Self-knowledge.
However, the body being an effect of the past karmic load that had already begun to show its results (i.e. the prArabdha), the body persists after the attainment of the Self-knowledge. Shankara observes that “until the body falls, it cannot but produce, as part of one’s experience of the results of past work, just so much of false notions and the evils of attachment etc. Self- knowledge cannot stop that, for they are not contradictory. Self-knowledge, however, stops the effects of ignorance which are contradictory to it and are about to spring up from (the ignorance lying in) the self.” We may understand that to be the causal body, the embodiment of ignorance. But Shankara assures us a little later that the man of Knowledge is not affected by any of those false notions, when they happen to raise because the Truth is already known to him. Shankara clarifies that “the acts of seeing etc. together with their results, which are dependent on many factors created by ignorance, are possible only in the state of ignorance, when the Self, the Reality that has no second, appears as something else, like a second moon when one has got the disease of double vision.”
Shankara, in fact, avers that “The whole of this Upanishad is exclusively devoted to showing the distinction between the spheres of Knowledge and ignorance.” And this section 1.4.10 is a gist of that objective.
[Note: All the translations of the brihadAraNyaka Upanishad in the above essay are from Swami Madhavananda’s work.]