The Creation Myth

  We all know that the shruti predominantly adopts the model of adhyAropaapavAda (superimposition – sublation) in imparting the incommunicable Advaita message. There are other types of models and prakriyA-s also available in the scripture and tradition but they do not seem to be as popular. The adhyAropaapavAda model superimposes an “imagined” or illusory creation on the really real Reality and as the student ingests the core Advaitic teaching, the superimposition is sublated. We find, however, that the shruti spends more time dealing with diverse aspects of the superimposed creation (birth, sustenance, death, action, fruits of action, rebirth etc.), the sublation being left to the ingenuity of the student as s/he reaches her/ his final understanding. One teacher estimates that Shankara in general devotes 90 percent of his time in most of his works on expiation of the Advaita doctrine and the attendant practices, leaving only a minor part on sublation and the outcome of the practices. This situation in some quarters has given rise to an insistence that the shruti teaches creation and that we have to take only the shruti vAkya-s and Shankara’s commentary on them as the pramANa (reference standard) for understanding the Advaita message forsaking other methods and vAkya-s in the scripture. Is that the intention of shruti?  What is the final position of the shruti about creation from an Advaita perspective?

In order to find an answer to the above questions, we present here  a compilation taken from different authentic sources / teachers with a deep sense of gratitude to all those original authors.

A.  Gaudapada kArikA:

1.  Verse 3.48:

कश्चिज्जायते जीवः सम्भवोऽस्य विद्यते 
एतत्तदुत्तमं सत्यं यत्र किञ्चिन्न जायते                        — 3.48

Meaning:  No jIva is ever born. There does not exist any cause to produce it. The highest Truth is that nothing is ever born.

This verse is repeated at kArikA 4.71 by Gaudapada, showing thus its primacy and importance in the teaching of Advaita.

Shankara writes in his commentary at 3:48:

“All these ideas about the discipline of the mind, evolution resembling the creation of forms from iron and clay, as well as the ideas regarding devotional exercises, are given as a means to the realization of the nature of the Ultimate Reality. They have no meaning in themselves whatsoever. The truth regarding the Ultimate Reality is that “no jIva is ever born.”  The jIva whom one knows as the agent and experiencer is not born in any way whatsoever.”

Shankara in his commentary on the same verse at 4:71 adds:

It has already been stated that the appearance of birth, death etc. of the jIva-s are possible in the empirical plane, as is the case with dream beings. But the Ultimate Truth is that no jIva is ever born. The rest has already been stated.

2.  Verse 3.31:

मनोदृश्यमिदं द्वैतं यत्किञ्चित्सचराचरम्
मनसो ह्यमनीभावे द्वैतं नैवोपलभ्यते                     —           3.31

Meaning:  All these dual objects, comprising everything that is movable and immovable, perceived by the mind (are mind alone). For, duality is never experienced when the mind ceases to act. (Translation Swami Nikhilananda).

Shankara in his commentary on the above kArikA says:

रज्जुसर्पवद्विकल्पनारूपं द्वैतरूपेण मन एवेत्युक्तम् तत्र किं प्रमाणमिति, अन्वयव्यतिरेकलक्षणमनुमानमाह कथम् ? तेन हि मनसा विकल्प्यमानेन दृश्यं मनोदृश्यम् इदं द्वैतं सर्वं मन इति प्रतिज्ञा, तद्भावे भावात् तदभावे चाभावात् मनसो हि अमनीभावे निरुद्धे विवेकदर्शनाभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां रज्ज्वामिव सर्पे लयं गते वा सुषुप्ते द्वैतं नैवोपलभ्यत इति अभावात्सिद्धं द्वैतस्यासत्त्वमित्यर्थः

Meaning:  “It has been said that it is the mind alone which appears as dual (objects) like the appearance of snake on the rope.

But what is its proof?

Our answer is this: We make the statement on the strength of an inference following the method of agreement and difference (anvayavyatireka). The proposition is that all this duality perceived as such by the imagination of the mind is, in reality, nothing but the mind. The reason for such an inference is that duality is perceived when the mind acts and it vanishes when the mind ceases to act; that is to say, when the (activity, i.e., the vRitti-s of the) mind is withdrawn unto itself by the knowledge got through discrimination, repeated practice and renunciation – like the disappearance of the snake on the rope – or during the deep sleep. Hence on account of the disappearance of duality, it is established that duality is unreal or illusory. That the perception of the duality is due to the action of the mind is further proved by this kArikA.” (Swami Nikhilananda).

Thus with the help of a syllogism, Gaudapada and Shankara reiterate in 3.31 that the observed world originates with the mind and folds up when the mind is not there. In other words, a created world does  not exist out there.

3.  Verse 2:32:

निरोधो  चोत्पत्तिर्न बद्धो साधकः 
मुमुक्षुर्न वै मुक्त इत्येषा परमार्थता                   —       2.32

Meaning:  There is no dissolution, no origination, none in bondage,  none aspiring for Knowledge, no seeker of liberation, and none liberated. This is the absolute Truth.

In his bhAShya Shankara says:

हि मनोविकल्पनाया रज्जुसर्पादिलक्षणाया रज्ज्वां प्रलय उत्पत्तिर्वा ; मनसि रज्जुसर्पस्योत्पत्तिः प्रलयो वा, चोभयतो वा तथा मानसत्वाविशेषाद्द्वैतस्य हि नियते मनसि सुषुप्ते वा द्वैतं गृह्यते; अतो मनोविकल्पनामात्रं द्वैतमिति सिद्धम्

Meaning:  “There is no origination and destruction of the rope-snake (which is just a mental concoction) in the rope. Nor is there its origination and destruction in the mind. Even so, dvaita (dvaita prapancha) is non-different from the mind. For, in the mind controlled (by meditation) or during deep sleep one does not experience duality (dualistic world). Therefore it stands established that duality (dualistic world) is only a mental concoction.”

The same shloka as at 2.32 Gaudapada kArikA also appears  in many other Upanishads as follows:

mantra 10, amRitabindu Upanishad,

mantra 10, (5), tripura tApini Upanishad,

mantra 31, Atma Upanishad,

mantra 8, avadhUta Upanishad, etc.

B.  brahma sUtra-s:

4.  In the sUtra ( 2-1-33), लोकवत्तु लीलाकैवल्यम्

Shankara says at the end of his Commentary:

चेयं परमार्थविषया सृष्टिश्रुतिः ; अविद्याकल्पितनामरूपव्यवहारगोचरत्वात् ,
ब्रह्मात्मभावप्रतिपादनपरत्वाच्चइत्येतदपि नैव विस्मर्तव्यम्

We should not forget that the creation shruti-s are not absolutely true.

He gives two reasons:

” i) The creation is seen to be endowed with mere name and form imagined due to ignorance (ignoring the Truth). [For example, little girls build castles in the sand on the beach, imagine their dolls as real princes and princesses, celebrate marriages and birthdays etc. as a part of their fun and enjoyment.]

ii) The main purpose of creation shruti sentences are only to establish the Oneness of brahman and Atman.”

5.  Gaudapada kArikA III-15 and Shankara commentary there on.

मृल्लोहविस्फुलिङ्गाद्यैः सृष्टिर्या चोदितान्यथा 
उपायः सोऽवताराय नास्ति भेदः कथञ्चन                         —  verse 15, Ch 3, G. kArikA

[Meaning: (The scriptural statements regarding) creation as illustrated by the examples of earth, iron, sparks etc., or otherwise, serve the purpose of (ultimately) explaining the unity of (jIva and brahman). (Really speaking) multiplicity does not exist in any manner.

Shankara bhAShya:

ननु यद्युत्पत्तेः प्रागजं सर्वमेकमेवाद्वितीयम् , तथापि उत्पत्तेरूर्ध्वं जातमिदं सर्वं जीवाश्च भिन्ना इति  मैवम् , अन्यार्थत्वादुत्पत्तिश्रुतीनाम्  पूर्वमपि परिहृत एवायं दोषःस्वप्नवदात्ममायाविसर्जिताः सङ्घाताः, घटाकाशोत्पत्तिभेदादिवज्जीवानामुत्पत्तिभेदादिरिति  इत एव उत्पत्तिभेदादिश्रुतिभ्य आकृष्य इह पुनरुत्पत्तिश्रुतीनामैदम्पर्यप्रतिपिपादयिषयोपन्यासः मृल्लोहविस्फुलिङ्गादिदृष्टान्तोपन्यासैः सृष्टिः या उदिता प्रकाशिता कल्पिता अन्यथान्यथा , सर्वः सृष्टिप्रकारो जीवपरमात्मैकत्वबुद्ध्यवतारायोपायोऽस्माकम् , यथा प्राणसंवादे वागाद्यासुरपाप्मवेधाद्याख्यायिका कल्पिता प्राणवैशिष्ट्यबोधावताराय ; तदप्यसिद्धमिति चेत् ; , शाखाभेदेष्वन्यथान्यथा प्राणादिसंवादश्रवणात्  यदि हि वादः परमार्थ एवाभूत् , एकरूप एव संवादः सर्वशाखास्वश्रोष्यत, विरुद्धानेकप्रकारेण नाश्रोष्यत ; श्रूयते तु ; तस्मान्न तादर्थ्यं संवादश्रुतीनाम्  तथोत्पत्तिवाक्यानि प्रत्येतव्यानि 

कल्पसर्गभेदात्संवादश्रुतीनामुत्पत्तिश्रुतीनां प्रतिसर्गमन्यथात्वमिति चेत् ; , निष्प्रयोजनत्वाद्यथोक्तबुद्ध्यवतारप्रयोजनव्यतिरेकेण  ह्यन्यप्रयोजनवत्त्वं संवादोत्पत्तिश्रुतीनां शक्यं कल्पयितुम्  तथात्वप्रत्तिपत्तये ध्यानार्थमिति चेत् ; , कलहोत्पत्तिप्रलयानां प्रतिपत्तेरनिष्टत्वात्  तस्मादुत्पत्त्यादिश्रुतय आत्मैकत्वबुद्ध्यवतारायैव, नान्यार्थाः कल्पयितुं युक्ताः  अतो नास्त्युत्पत्त्यादिकृतो भेदः कथञ्चन

The gist of the above bhAShya is: “If it is held that before creation the Unitary brahman alone was, post-creation there is the multiplicity caused by the manifold jIva-s. In other words, before creation there was advaita, post-creation there is dvaita.

This objection/doubt was already settled in the earlier discourse: The creation shruti-s have a different purport (than conveying the idea that multiplicity is created). Just as multiplicity is experienced when a person dreams, being projected by that very single person… and just as many pot-spaces are observed owing to many pots being created, even though only one space is there really…

Now, condensing the purport of all the differently speaking creation shruti-s (various creation shruti-s speak of creation with different analogies), it is stated: all the different creation shruti-s have the teaching of the identity, aikyam, of the jivAtma and paramAtma. Therefore, there is no way one can adduce any other meaning to the creation-shruti-s (such as teaching the multiplicity, dvaita). Hence there is no duality whatsoever (owing to the creation-shruti-s).

In the above kArikA bhAShya it is clear that the creation shruti-s such as the vAcArmbhaNam (clay, iron) and the muNDaka/brhadaranyaka analogy of fire-sparks are alluded to. It is also clear that these shruti-s have the teaching of aikya alone and not the actual coming into being of any new effect. From the bhAShya examples of dream and pot-space, it is clear that what is perceived is not real and there is a truth underlying that uninvestigated perception. In other words, the analogies of clay, iron etc. apparently giving rise to manifoldness and difference, is not the truth of those analogies but the statement of the truth of the cause alone and the unreality of the effect is what the purport is.”

6.  In the gloss on brahmasUtra bhAShya, the ratnaprabhA summarizes the Vedanta siddhAnta thus:

सृष्टिर्दर्शनमदर्शनं लयः

Meaning:  Perception is creation and non-perception is dissolution.

Therefore, creation story has the objective of establishing jIva-brahmaikya and not to teach creation.” 

C.  brihadAraNyaka Upanishad:

7.  Commenting on the mantra at 2.1.20 of brihadAraNyaka, Shankara writes:

तस्मात् एकरूपैकत्वप्रत्ययदार्ढ्यायैव सर्ववेदान्तेषु उत्पत्तिस्थितिलयादिकल्पना,


Meaning:  “Therefore the mention in all Vedanta texts of the origin, continuity and dissolution of the universe is only to strengthen our idea of Brahman being a homogeneous unity, and not to make us believe in the origin etc. as an actuality.”(Translation – Swami Madahavananda)

D.   About mAyA:

8.  Shankara mentions in his commentary on Gaudapada KarikA, IV – 58:

माया नाम वस्तु तर्हि ; नैवम् , सा  माया  विद्यते  मायेत्यविद्यमानस्याख्येत्यभिप्रायः 

Meaning: (The Opponent) : Then there must be something real known as mAyA.(siddhantin) : Not so. That mAyA is never existent. “mAyA” is the name we give to something which does not (really) exist (but which is perceived). (Translation: Swami Nikhilananda).

E.  A Talk on adhyAropaapavAda as a prakriyA (46 min):

9.  The talk in simple Sanskrit is by Dr. K. G. Subraya Sharma, a follower of Satchidaanandendra Saraswathi Swamiji of Holenarasipur.

Link:  Click

4 thoughts on “The Creation Myth

  1. Very interesting post, Ramesam. The only comment I had was that I would not really call the vAchArambhaNa verses ‘creation shruti’. They certainly confirm that there has been no creation but their purpose is to show how we effectively, ‘as if’ bring about duality by mentally dividing up what is perceived into separate forms and giving them names.

    Also, I wonder if I could make a general request here that any Devanagari script that is included in posts is also transliterated for those visitors who have never learned Devanagari. ( Personally, I am able to work it out eventually but it is an awful lot quicker if I can see the transliteration!)

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks Dennis for your kind comments.

    1. Re: If vAcArambhaNa can be called a “creation shruti” :

    I can only say here that I found real Pundits of Vedanta referring to it as a creation shruti. Perhaps, it depends on how one views it.

    2. Re: Transliteration:

    I guess conversion from Devanagari to Roman script should not pose a problem these days. Inclusion of both scripts is likely to clutter up the write up, particularly so if the passages are longish.

    I found this online tool today on the net and found it to be good.
    [Scroll down the page for the tool.]

    The linked page below shows the Shanakra bhAShya duly converted.

    See a sample here.

    I just copy-pasted the Sanskrit text on the left side and the Roman script appears on the right.


  3. Thanks, Ramesam. I do agree that it could be viewed as an ‘as though’ creation (on the part of the observer)! But it is hardly the same as pa~nchIkaraNa.

    Regarding transliteration of the Devanagari, I do already have such a tool. My point was that I thought most visitors would not be able to read it themselves and would not want the hassle of finding a tool to do it. Is it not in fact more difficult for you to post the script? (Incidentally, if you read Priya’s post, you will see that I commented about posting Devanagari there and woundered if you could tell us how you do it. I added a plugin some years back if you recall that enabled one to do this, but the originator did not keep the plugin up to date and it ended up preventing us from posting/editing new material. So I had to disable and remove it.)

    Best wishes,

  4. Thanks Dennis.

    Long back you suggested that I should prepare the write up in MS Word and then copy it to the blog. I have been following the same procedure ever since. I have no difficulty with the Sanskrit script at all. I compose the material in Sanskrit taking Google help (as though I am using Indian scripts in e-mail) and copy it on to the word file.

    Sometimes I have to edit sentence spacing after copying on to the blog page.


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