Many people with a nodding acquaintance of Advaita often forget that the ‘ego’ is not totally non-existent. It is not ‘tuccha’ like ‘the hare’s horn’ or ‘the son of a barren woman.’ It has a relative existence. Like the world. Neither of these two have ‘Absolute Reality.’ In fact, the ego and the world are coeval – the ego with a sense of ‘agency’ and a claim of being the sentient ‘knower-doer’ and the world being the insentient ‘known’ and ‘the field for action.’ Because of their mutual dependency, there cannot be an ‘apparent’ world unless there is a seer to whom it has ‘to appear.’ Their relationship is something like that of the tree and the seed. Therefore, their real ‘source’ has to be something different from either of them – much like the earth without which neither there can be a seed nor a tree.
The ‘source’ for both the ego and the world, Advaita says, is the eternal immutable impartite brahman. Thus, in the Advaitic lingo, brahman is said to be the kAraNa for both the mutable ego and the world. Though the word kAraNa in common parlance means ‘cause,’ it does not stand to mean in that usual sense of a process relation, but it has to be taken to connote to be the ‘source for origination.’
The Upanishads tell us that the perceived world is nothing but a combo of nAma-rUpa-kriya — mind-matter-work / thought-things-movement / ideas-objects-action. For example, we have:
त्रयं वा इदं नाम रूपं कर्म — 1.6.1, brihadAraNyaka.
[trayam vA nAma rUpam karma – This (universe) indeed consists of three things: name, form and action.]
इदं जगत् , नामरूपक्रियावद्विकृतमुपलभ्यते यत् , तत्सदेवासीत् इति आसीच्छब्देन सम्बध्यते । — Shankara writes at 6.2.1, chAndogya mantra.
[idam jagat, nAma rUpa kriyAvadvikRitamupalahyate yat, tatsadevAsIt iti AsIcchadena smaadhyate – What is understood is that ‘this universe which with its names, forms and actions, is perceived as a modified product.’]
नामरूपकर्मत्रयं यन्मिथ्याज्ञानविजृम्भितं क्रियाकारकफललक्षणं … — Shankara states at 1.3.14, kaThopanishad.
[nAma rUpa karma trayam yanmithyAjnAnavijRimbhitam kriyAkAraka phala laxaNam — “name, form and karma, which are produced by false knowledge (ignorance)…”]
Shankara observes at 2.1.22, sUtra bhAShya,:
“अविद्याप्रत्युपस्थापितनामरूपकृतकार्यकरणसङ्घातोपाध्यविवेककृता हि भ्रान्तिर्हिताकरणादिलक्षणः संसारः, न तु परमार्थतोऽस्तीत्यसकृदवोचाम — जन्ममरणच्छेदनभेदनाद्यभिमानवत् ;
[Meaning: We have stated more than once that the mundane existence, characterized by the non-accomplishment of beneficial results etc., is an error arising from the non-recognition of the difference (from the Self) of the limiting adjunct constituted by the assemblage of the body and senses which are a creation of name and form called up by ignorance. It does not exist in reality. This (false notion) is of a piece with the notions that one has birth, death, injury, wound etc. (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).]
This or similar words as ” अविद्याप्रत्युपस्थापित ” (avidyA pratyupasthApita) is used by Shankara at as many as 11 places in his commentaries.
When the Upanishads assert that ‘what is all here is brahman,’ we have to be careful in understanding what the word ‘here’ (or ‘this’) refers to. Does it refer to the perceived ever-changing, observer-dependent time-space-phenomenal world which is an ensemble of finite percepts (visheSha – particulars) or an unalterable Universal (sAmAnya) which the nAma-rUpa veil behind them? For example, we have:
ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किं च जगत्यां जगत् । — 1, IshAvAsya.
[IshA vAsyamidam sarvam yatkim ca jagatyAm jagat| – All that is here in this ever-changing world constitutes the abode of the Ruler (He is the in-dweller in everything); (Translation: Karthik Sridharan).]
The entire world is of the nature of the Lord. But the mistake we do is that we perceive the world through ‘name, form and action.’ Name signifies the ‘thoughts’ that arise in the mind. Form stands for all the ‘objects’ perceived by the senses. Action is that which relates the two. There can be millions and millions of thoughts (names), and equally millions and millions of perceived objects (forms). There are innumerable movements and gesticulations done by the motor organs (actions). Behind these names and forms, which are the particulars, is the Commonality, the Universal, which is Beingness and Knowingness or sat–cit, aka, brahman.
सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्म — 3.14.1, chAndogya.
[sarvam khalvidam brahma – All this indeed is brahman.]
Explaining the above mantra, Shankara writes: “ln answer to the question ‘In what way is all this brahman?’ it is added : As it originates, becomes absorbed and lives in It; all this world has come out of brahman, gradually, through light, food etc., hence it is said to originate in It ; similarly in the same order of coming out, but reversed, the world becomes absorbed in the brahman becoming one with it. Hence it is said to become absorbed in It; similarly while the world continues to exist, it lives, moves, operates, in that same brahman ; hence it is said to live in It. Thus, at all three points of time, the world remains in the brahman, undifferentiated from lt, as is clear from the fact that it is never perceived apart from lt.” (Translation: Dr. G.N. Jha).
Therefore, ‘this’ in the above mantra refers to the ‘Universal’ substratum of the world and not the nAma-rUpa-vyAvahAra which are the perceivables.
(To Continue … Part 2)