The Great Indian Rope Trick:

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.

The manifestation of the deep sleep, dream and waking is analogous to the throwing of the rope by the magician (in the above illustration) and the (empirical selves known as) prAjnaviswa and taijasa, related to the three states, are similar to the magician who appears to have climbed up the rope. As he, the illusionist, remains on the ground unseen (by the onlookers), having veiled himself, as it were, by his illusion, so also the truth about the Highest Reality known as turIya.

Therefore, those noble seekers looking for liberation evince interest in the contemplation of this turIya, but not in the creation which is futile. — Translation by Swami Nikhilananda, 1936.

Shankara @ 1.1.2, aitareya Upanishad:

Having thought over, He, the Atman, created these worlds. Just as an intelligent carpenter etc., constructs palaces etc., after having thought over within himself, “I shall make thus and thus.” Or else, it may be more properly said, that just as an intelligent magician, without any other material cause creates himself in another form as traveling in air, so the omniscient and omnipotent Atman, the great illusionist creates himself as other than himself in the form of the universe. — Translation by S. Sitarama Sastri, 1923.

Shankara @ 1.1.17, Vedanta sUtra-s:

The Lord differs from the ‘self’ (vijnAnAtman) which is embodied, acts and enjoys, and is the product of nescience, in the same way as the real magician who stands on the ground differs from the illusive magician , who, holding in his hand a shield and a sword, climbs up to the sky by means of a rope ; or as the free unlimited space differs from the space in a jar, which is determined by its limiting adjunct, (viz. the jar). — Translation by George Thibaut, 1890.

Here is a link to a partial version of the Rope Trick: Click

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