Q. 372 – Superimposition and Memory

Q: What is the relationship between memory and superimposition (adhyAsa)? In the metaphor of rope and snake, we say that we fail to see the snake clearly, because of inadequate light – there is partial knowledge and partial ignorance. When we superimpose a snake on the rope, we are drawing on fear and memory. We must have seen a snake (or image of one in a film or book) before in order to be able to mistake the rope for one. Similarly, we mistake brahman for the body and the world etc.

 But what about a baby or someone who has no memory as a result of brain damage? Is there still superimposition in this case?

Responses from Ted, Venkat, Ramesam, Martin, Sitara and Dennis

A (Ted): We have to bear in mind that the example of a rope being mistaken for a snake is an analogy, and as is the case with any analogy, the example is imperfect. In the example, the snake image is based on a previous experience of the mistaken perceiver.

 In terms of mistaking the body-mind-sense complex as well as the innumerable other objects that constitute the manifest universe for Brahman, however, we are dealing with something a little bit different. Whereas in order to mistake the rope for a snake, one must have previously seen a snake, the projection of the apparent reality (i.e., the manifest universe in both its subtle and gross aspects) is not based on experiential memory, but rather results from the mind’s ability to recognize the “cosmic blueprints” that abide in dormant form in the Macrocosmic Causal Body, which is personified as Isvara, and are made manifest through the conditioning that maya upadhi, the limiting adjunct of causal matter, puts upon Brahman. That is, the mind is an instrument that is designed or a mechanism that is “programmed” to recognize these forms and, thus, is able to discern their apparent existence within the cosmic soup of pure potentiality (i.e., the unmanifest realm or “mind of God,” if you will) from the data it receives via the perceptive instruments/organs. Continue reading

Origin and Meaning of the word mithyA


Seekers often ask questions about the meaning of the word mithyA. It is, after all, one of the most important concepts in Advaita. Someone has just asked about the usage of the word itself: Did Shankara use it? Does it occur in the Upanishads? I had to do a bit of research on this one and thought others might be interested in what I discovered.

The dictionary definition of the word gives: 1) contrarily, incorrectly, wrongly, improperly; 2) falsely, deceitfully, untruly; 3) not in reality, only apparently; 4) to no purpose, fruitlessly, in vain. According to John Grimes, it derives from the verb-root mith, meaning ‘to dispute angrily, altercate’.

It seems that it only occurs in one Upanishad – the muktikopaniShad. This is the Upanishad which tells you which Upanishads you need to study in order to obtain mokSha or mukti. It says that you can, in theory, get away with studying only one – the Mandukya, with its bare 12 sutras. If this alone does not enlighten you, then you need to study the 10 major Upanishads (Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka). If you still haven’t got it, there are a further 22 making up the main ones. Failing that, you are doomed to have to study the 108 commonly recognized ones. (After that, you start again!) Continue reading