The famous Indian Rope Trick is Shankara’s favorite to illustrate how the world or an individual separate ‘self’ originates. He says that it is like the mesmerizing show created by a Magician, himself being unaffected and uninvolved and standing unseen, “veiled magically,” on the ground. Here are three instances where Shankara refers to the Rope Trick in his Commentaries:
Shankara @ 7, Ch 1, Gaudapada kArikA on mANDUkya:
The magician throws the rope up in the sky, climbs by it with hands, disappears from sight (of the spectators), engages himself in a fight (in the sky) in which his limbs, having been severed, fall to the ground and he rises again. The onlooker, though witnessing the performance, does not evince any interest in the thought in regard to the reality of the magic show performed by the magician. Similarly, there is a real illusionist who is other than the rope and the one that climbs up the rope. Continue reading →
When Arjuna laments at the prospect of killing his loved ones in the war, Krishna tells him, “It was not that I was not existing before nor will I stop existing in the future.” That means there is no beginning or end, nor do the birth and death exist. Life is merely a transitional form that arises in between the unreal appearance of birth and death. Since birth and death are unreal, we (as the Self) are already liberated.
“How can you perceive the relation between the Self and avidyA? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidyA, at the same moment (that your Self cognizes avidyA); for, the cognizer (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidyA. (The Self cannot be both the perceiver and the perceived at the same time). Continue reading →
What we have are clearly two entities. They are the kShetra, the field comprising all that which is the knowable, and the kShetrjna, who is the Knower. If ignorance and misery were to be the inherent properties of the Self, it amounts to say that Self perceives Itself because the Self is able to know them (the misery and nescience). That obviously is an absurd position, “since one and the same thing cannot be both the agent and the object of an action.” Whatever is perceived, as for example form and color, cannot be a property of the perceiver.
Likewise, it is the Self that perceives joys and sorrows. They cannot perceive themselves. They are objects to the Self; they are not the Self. For the Self to perceive these, they must be different from the Self. Only then can they be experienced. If the object is totally identified with the Self (me), it cannot be perceived anymore. It itself becomes the Self.
Hence it is incorrect to say that “nescience and misery and the like are the attributes and specific properties of kShhetrajna.” Continue reading →
Shankara is very categorical in his observation that “Very rare is the person who attains discriminating wisdom. The ignorant don’t follow the man of Wisdom, because of their attachments and evil passions which necessarily lead to action.” He regrets that such people resort to even black magic. He adds that “Therefore, samsAra is only based on avidyA and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the world as it appears to him. Neither avidyA nor its effect pertains to Kshetrajna, pure and simple.”
9. A Man of Erudition (paNDita) vs. A Scholar:
Shankara says that, not only many of the common people, even some of the scholars (Experts in shAstra-s) fail to understand the essential message of the scripture. Proud of their knowledge in the Vedic rituals, they think that they are the doers (with a strong sense of a “me”) and believe they will attain great merit (as “mine”) in this life-time so that they can reap the fruits of their meritorious actions in the next world. They perceive their body, life-force, senses, and mind, but are unable to grasp their innermost Self (pratyagAtmA) which is the actual witness to all that they perceive. If they are able to recognize their inner Self, they will easily cognize the Supreme Self (paramAtmA) that is present everywhere and in everything. They will come to realize that their inner Self is not different from the Supreme Self. As the Gita says,
Any feelings, like joys or sorrows, that we experience are not what we are. They are experienced by us. Everything is known by that one no-thing thing which is the Knower (Knowingness). It is we who experience even birth and death. After all, death does not experience its death, nor does birth experience its birth. Whatever experiences the birth and death cannot Itself be born. Nor can it die. Once we are able to clearly discriminate and understand this truth, we will stop identifying ourselves with the wrong entities like the body. Knowing clearly who we are, and abiding as that Knowledge is liberation from ignorance. Liberation is not something that we attain in some heavenly abode, a remote Vaikunta or Kailasha. Nor it is to be attained sometime in the future. It is right here and right now.
There is no separate self within us waiting to be liberated. Liberation is our very nature. Joys and sorrows are not our nature. That which comes (Agama) and goes (apAya) is not what we are. That which we perceive is not us. We perceive a thing only if it is different from us. What is inherent to us, what we are, namely the Self, cannot be perceived, nor is It something we can add on to nor can be gotten rid of. We are It, space-like, all-pervasive, formless, and blemishless. Continue reading →
5. Discriminating the Self (Atma) from the not-Self (anAtma):
That which cannot perceive, but can become an object of perception is anAtma (not-Self). For example, our body is inert. It has no sense of “I am.” It cannot perceive anything. But our consciousness can perceive the body. Just as we perceive body and mind, we also perceive joys and sorrow, likes and dislikes. The polar pairs of opposites like joy and sorrow, are also a result of our ignorance. Consciousness Itself is untouched by them.
Consciousness alone is Atma. Everything else in the world is insentient. Not only inanimate objects such as chairs and tables, but also our bodies, life-force, and senses are insentient. Movement does not imply sentience. Wind moves, but wind is insentient. The air around us, the light that travels through space, and the five fundamental elements are insentient. Only Awareness that can feel “I AM” is sentient. Every object is known to our Awareness, but no object is aware of its own being-ness. A tiny spark of Awareness that is aware of all the objects is within every one of us. It is the Inner-Self (pratyagAtma). Continue reading →
Ignorance is like a gossamer sheath that covers up and conceals our true Knowledge. An analogy may help. Think of a muslin cloth in which a few pieces of asafetida are kept wrapped in. The smell of asafetida lingers on the cloth even after the asafetida is consumed and the cloth is washed. Like the persisting smell on the cloth, impressions from the past experiences get stored in the causal body. Just like the smell of the asafetida that cannot be gotten rid of easily, the clinging impressions on the causal body too are difficult to be eliminated. These lingering traces of the effects of past actions are called as the vAsanA-s. They get expressed as the desires in the mind, and also as the individual’s likes and dislikes, proclivities, etc.
The Yoga system of Patanjali says that the causal body must be controlled so that the machinations of the vAsanA-s could be neutralized. Shankara advises us that the causal body must be completely annihilated because suppression and control give scope for violent return of the vAsanA-s. He says that it must be completely melted away leaving no trace of the vAsanA-s so that desires do not sprout up in the mind. This process of dissolving the causal body is called pravilApana. Continue reading →
We are all familiar with our gross physical body. It is available to our direct perception and it gives us our ID. Vedanta tells us that we are blessed with two more bodies — the subtle body comprising life-force, the mind and the intellect, and a totally imperceptible third body, subtler than the subtle body. It is called the causal body, the source of the other two bodies. Advaita Vedanta avers, as we all know, that what we truly are is Pure Consciousness. Consciousness is our nature. It is the very Self that knows “I AM.” It is not that the Self possesses Consciousness. Self is Consciousness. We are actually none of these bodies.
But for some unknown and indeterminate reason, the Self, instead of being the Subject, the Knower or the Seer, got contaminated. We superimposed the Self with the known and the seen, the objects. We shifted our ID from being the Self to being a body – mostly as the gross physical body, and sometimes as the subtle body. That is a great fall for the Self – from Self to not-Self because the bodies are insentient (anAtma). The strong association we experience with the three bodies stands as a proof of the apparent fall. The severity of the fall could have been far less had we considered the bodies to be “mine” instead of taking them to be “me,” identifying ourselves with them as “I am my body.” Continue reading →
Q: I’m struggling (a lot) with ‘believing in’ Brahman.
I realize the problems inherent in this struggle: (1) It’s probably futile in my early stage of Advaita studies; (2) Brahman is beyond mind, so any attempt to truly apprehend it is doomed to failure. And yet I persist. 😉
I can walk with Advaita Vedanta through all the Neti-ing – I/Truth am not this, not this – but when Advaita makes the leap to IS THIS … I shake my head and turn away. Brahman seems like an abstraction born of fear/uncertainty, like other similar abstractions such as Heaven, The Ground, The Truth, etc. (I am not saying I know that Brahman IS an abstraction born of fear, rather that it seems to me that it could be.)
So I keep looking for analogies, things I can/do or ‘believe in’ that might be similar enough to Brahman that I could relax into it a bit.
Today I thought: Perhaps Brahman is (quasi-)synonymous with Nature? Nature – ‘everything that is’ – is all-encompassing in a way that suggests Brahman to me. Science’s take on Nature is conceptual, but the essence of Nature is, I think, not conceptual.
So: ‘Everything that is’ + non-conceptual – this sounds Brahman-esque to me. Yes? No?Continue reading →