The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 2:

Part – 1

Dennis raised a question on how one can conclude that the word “this” in the 3.14.1, chAndogya would mean “the ‘Universal’ substratum of the world and not the nAma-rUpa-vyAvahAra which are the perceivables.” His contention is that “this” refers to the percept itself.

If what is directly available for the five sensory organs + mind is itself brahman, neither the Upanishads nor the Advaitic teachers right from Gaudapada, Shankara and so on need to have taken any trouble at all  to point out to the seeker what brahman is. On the other hand, all the teachers go to considerable pains to explain that what is available to perception “veils” the Reality, the Substratum and that what is available for perception is a superimposed “falsity” out of our ignorance.

Shankara, in fact, is so tired of repeatedly pointing this fact in all his bhAShya-s that at 2.1.22, BSB, he writes out of exasperation that “We have stated more than once.” What is apparent to the senses and mind is out of “ignorance” as was already pointed out in the opening para of Part – 1.  In addition, we have from 2.4.1; 2.9.1, taittirIya shruti, “Failing to reach brahman (as conditioned by the mind), words, along with the mind, turn back.”

Venkat at another thread of discussions, has been kind to draw our attention to what Shankara says right at the beginning of his Intro to sUtra bhAShya. He makes it unequivocal that the apparent world available for our “perception” is a superimposition that we make out of our “ignorance.” Shankara writes:

“… since perception and other activities (of a man) are not possible without accepting the senses etc. (as his own); since the senses cannot function without (the body as) a basis; since nobody engages in any activity with a body that has not the idea of the self superimposed on it; since the unrelated Self cannot become a cognizer unless there are all these (mutual superimposition of the Self and the body and their attributes on each other) ; and since the means of knowledge cannot function unless there is a cognizership; therefore it follows that the means of knowledge, such as direct perception as well as the scriptures, must have a man as their locus who is subject to nescience.”

Further, Shankara says it so clearly that there is no scope for any doubt in his prakaraNagrantha:

“All this world is unreal and proceeds from nescience, because it is seen only by one afflicted with nescience and is not seen in dreamless sleep.” — 17.20, upadesha sAhasrI.

Shankara tells us at 1.3.1, BSB: अविद्याकृतं कार्यप्रपञ्चं विद्यया प्रविलापयन्तः तमेवैकमायतनभूतमात्मानं जानथ एकरसमिति  

The meaning is that, “after eliminating through Knowledge, the universe conjured up by ignorance, you should know that one and homogeneous Self alone that appears as the repository.”

[Apologies. It is proving too much time consuming and laborious to transliterate the Sanskrit script into Roman letters. That has become a great disincentive to post the articles. Hence, I have discontinued transliteration and anyone having a doubt can check any authentic translation based on the citation I have given for the quote.]

We have Shankara chastising us in his bhASya at BG, 13.2: अविद्यामात्रं संसारः यथादृष्टविषयः एव । 

Meaning: samsAra is only based on avidya and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the world as it appears to him.

Shankara clarifies at 2.1.20, brihat:

अपि च यथाप्राप्तस्यैव अविद्याप्रत्युपस्थापितस्य क्रियाकारकफलस्य आश्रयणेन इष्टानिष्टप्राप्तिपरिहारोपायसामान्ये प्रवृत्तस्य तद्विशेषमजानतः तदाचक्षाणा श्रुतिः क्रियाकारकफलभेदस्य लोकप्रसिद्धस्य सत्यताम् असत्यतां वा न आचष्टे न च वारयति, इष्टानिष्टफलप्राप्तिपरिहारोपायविधिपरत्वात् । 

[Meaning:  Had the shruti wanted to teach that brahman has diverse attributes such as the origin of the universe, like a painted canvas, a tree, or an ocean, for instance, it would not conclude with statements describing It to be homogeneous like a lump of salt, without interior or exterior, nor would it say, ‘It should be realized in one form only.’ There is also the censure, ‘He (goes from death to death) who sees difference, as it were, in It.’ etc.

And we need not forget that what is available for “perception” is only the “difference” and NOT the “homogeneity like a lump of salt, without interior or exterior.”

Shankara hammers it well on us at  2.3.40, BSB saying that “the scripture also shows that the individual self is an agent and an experiencer [only] when in a state of ignorance.” Hence, we experience “perception” only in a state of ignorance, not knowing the Reality, brahman.

One can fill volumes and volumes of pages with such citations as above. I shall, however, stop with those and shift to a different aspect of why such misapprehension about the percept itself being “Reality” (brahman) might have arisen.

Dennis himself gave a clue for this other aspect quoting 2.2.28-29 BSB. We have already discussed it at another thread. However, for the sake of an authentic record, let me quote a few excerpts explaining 2.2.28, BSB from a paper prepared by more knowledgeable people than myself.

Excerpt 1:

Brahma Sutra 2.2.28 (नाभाव उपल(धेः) is the first of a set of 5 Sutras comprising  अभावा-धकरणम, which is a refutation of vijnAnavAda…. Here is a sample of some of the arguments that ShankarAchArya makes in this sutra.

1)  That which is perceivable cannot not exist.
2)   That which is knowable by perception and other pramANAs is possible, that which is not knowable by any pramANA is impossible. Here external things are, according to their nature, apprehended by all instruments of knowledge.”

On the face of it, this is clinching evidence of ShankarAchArya’s view that external objects must be real. … Presumably, the train of logic is as follows: If external objects were real, it would mean that they existed independently of the seer, and consequently they existed independently of (and importantly, in the absence of) the seer’s perception. … However, ShankarAchArya’s comments on vijnAnavAda in BS 2.2.28 must be viewed holistically in light of what he says in his commentary to the GaudapAda kArika.

Excerpt 2:

[After several pages of analysis examining Shankara’s commentary at ch 2 and 4 of GK]:

1) In the vaitathya prakaraNA, Shankara holds that the objects perceived in the dream states and the waking states have a similar level of reality – objects of the waking state are no more real than the objects of the dream state.
2) Specifically, they are vaitathya, and the reason why they are so is because they are perceived.
3) The Self is the seer, and the seer creates as it were, all the objects perceived externally and internally.

Excerpt 3:

What is done in BS 2.2.28 to refute vijnAnavAda, is simply an exercise akin to prathama malla nyAya. That is, he is simply using another opponent’s (the dualist’s) argument against vijnAnavAda and not everything stated while making such a refutation represents the views of ShankarAchArya himself. Therefore, when ShankarAchArya
seems to be arguing for the reality of external objects in BS 2.2.28, we think that it should be viewed simply as him using the bAhyArthavAdin’s arguments to refute the vijnAnavAdin, not because he himself holds that external objects are real. Why? Because elsewhere (GK), he argues the opposite (that external objects are unreal) too!

2) Within BS 2.2.28 itself, what Shankara is refuting, is simply the vijnAnavAdin’s contention that what is perceived is atyanta asat (like a hare’s horn) – that is, he is refuting the vijnAnavAdin’s conception of the world, which lacks an changeless substratum / perceiver. Why do we say this?

In GK, he uses the hEtu of perception to argue for the vaitathyam of objects. Here (in BS 2.2.28), he uses the same hEtu of perception to argue against the abhAva (nonexistence) of objects. That is why in BS 2.2.28 he says that “I see Vishnumitra, the vandhyA putrah” is a statement that no one can make. Even the example he gives is
of the non-perception of an object like the son-of-a-barren-woman, a well-known idiom in Vedanta for atyanta asat objects.
Therefore, it is apparent that he does not consider vaitathya = abhAva/atyanta asat.

Therefore, what ShankarAchArya is against is atyanta asattA postulated by the vijnAnavAdin, not the vaitathya postulated by GaudapAda. Further, in arguing against the atyanta asattA of objects in BS 2.2.28, it would be wrong to conclude that ShankarAchArya is arguing for the sattA (paramArtha satta) of those objects either. If he were, there would be advaita hAni (harm to the idea of one, homogenous reality) as there would be two realities – the seer and the seen. Therefore, what he is arguing for instead, is that they are vaitathya (that is mithyA) –
the third predicate in advaita ontology. Neither sat, nor asat.

In response to the vijnAnavAdin’s contention that the advaitin is simply proving the self-evidence of consciousness which is the Bauddha’s
position in BS 2.2.28, Shankara says: “If you (vijnAnavAdin) finally
object that we (advaitin), when advocating the witnessing Self as self-proved, are simply expressing in other words the vijnAnavAda principle that thoughts are self manifested, we refute by remarking that your ideas have the attributes of birth, passing away, being manifold etc (whereas our Self is one and permanent)”. It is Brahman itself that appears as the many. What is rejected here is the vijnAnavAdin’s denial of the one permanent Self.

It is clear thus that one cannot take shelter under 2.2.28-29 to argue that the perceived objects have a reality and go on to construct a thesis on that basis.

(To Continue …. Part 3)

18 thoughts on “The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 2:

  1. Ramesam,

    I haven’t read the whole of this post yet because my attention was held by your beginning statements.

    I would accuse you of precisely the same error but in reverse. And with seemingly clear justification, since your explanation makes no sense.

    If the ‘this’ in Chandogya 3.14.1 is referring to Brahman, why would Gaudapada, Shankara et al expend so much effort?? Saying that ‘this Brahman is Brahman’ requires no explanation at all – it is necessarily so and self-evident.

    It is precisely because the ‘this’ refers to the appearance that so much explanation is needed. Because it is not at all evident that this world, with all of its seeming variety and separateness, is actually Brahman.

    Surely you agree that the world is mithyA? (jaganmithyA?) One of the definitions of mithyA is that it is not real IN ITSELF, because its real substrate is Brahman.

    Best wishes,

  2. Having read more of your post, I would also like to point out that I have NEVER claimed that the objects of the world are ‘real’!! Yet more straw men!

    Indeed, if you search through the site, you will know that whenever this topic arises, I refer to Chandogya vAchArambhaNa shruti – we impose form and give names to the non-dual reality.

  3. I seem to recall we have had the discussion about dream and waking before. And I put an appendix into ‘A-U-M’ to cover it. Dream and waking are not the same for the simple reason that a given dream is restricted to the single dreamer, whereas the waking experience is shared by all jIva-s. I believe I gave the reference where Shankara admits this.

    This is why dream is categorized as pratibhAsa, whereas waking is vyavahAra.

    (Incidentally, I will not be led into another discussion about eka-jIva-vAda!)

  4. Dennis,

    Sorry to say that one important and very relevant point is being obfuscated by you in all your arguments.

    Will you specifically and unambiguously agree that:

    1. Only form is available for perception; and
    2. When shruti says ‘all is brahman,” the reference is NOT to the “form” but to the substrate which is “unavailable” for the mind and senses?

    Let us not complicate with more terms, prAtibhAsika, vyAvahArika, real, unreal, mithya etc. etc. Let us just answer the above two points with clear Yes/No.

    As there have been no comments thus far, I have just begun to draft the continuation Part – 3 touching on some of these issues. I shall hold it for now so that duplicating the effort can be avoided.


  5. Ramesam,

    I am using (what I thought to be) commonly accepted terminology and usage of words here; nothing to do with Advaita. I thought that I was being crystal clear, whereas you are ‘obfuscating’ by bringing in your ‘shruti interpretations’. 😉

    1. What you see is what you see. You may subsequently analyze what what you saw and come up with all sorts of explanations – e.g. erroneously interpreted because of poor light (e.g. snake on rope); projected directly into your brain by a mad scientist; or whatever. All of this is ‘after the event rationalization’. What you saw is what you saw.

    2.When shruti says ‘all this is Brahman’, the ‘this’ is referring to what you see (all of it), BEFORE the rationalization. Brahman IS the ‘rationalization’ of what you see.

    Best wishes,

  6. Dennis,

    Do I read you correctly, Dennis?
    You yourself are an author of several books on Advaita, and you are telling here that I should read and understand the shruti vAkya the same way I would read Huckleberry Finn or Gulliver’s Travels?

    Do you want to, at one stroke, throw the entire field of Hermeneutics out of the window? Do you say that there is no need for the application of jahad-ajahal-laxaNa before we read a meaning into what a mahAvAkya from shruti says?

    I agree that sarvam khalu is not one of the 4 mahA vAkya-s – yet it is a mahA vAkya.

    Moreover, Shankara says while commenting at 3.14.1, chAndogya that this particular vAkya is for meditational purposes. That means, it is not for drawing the meaning as you suggest. He wrote that he explained its meaning in detail in the 6th Chapter. Are you sure you have checked what he explained in the 6th chapter?


  7. Ramesam,

    I have repeatedly said in the course of these discussions that I am trying to keep things simple. We are speaking of basic human experience and pramANa-s other than shabda. Everyone is familiar with these. It seems that people choose lots of scriptural statements and provide esoteric analysis to obfuscate the fundmental experience. It is not necessary.

    There is no need for shruti vAkya-s here and you know perfectly well that I am not suggesting they share the same value as fiction. But, as I also keep pointing out, Shankara and/or Gaudapada state that, if a shruti statement contradicts our reason and experience, we should not accept it.

    Here, there is no need to look for non-obvious meanings. The primary meaning is self-evident and in accord with reason. All this, that we see in front of us now, is Brahman, even though our mind imposes name and form upon it and sees it as separate; and what we see continues to be seen, regardless of our acquired knowledge to the contrary, until such time as the eyes can no longer see.

    If you give me a reference to Chandogya 6, wherein Shankara says something different, I will certainly look. But it will have to be extremely convincing and reasonable to make me believe anything different!

    Best wishes,

  8. Hi both

    Worth reading the whole of Chandogya 3.14.1:

    “All this is Brahman. From It the universe comes forth, in It the universe merges and in It the universe breathes”

    Therefore “This” cannot be referring to the (perceived universe), but rather the substratum, from which the universe comes forth.


  9. Not sure which commentary you are using, Venkat. Swami Gambhirananda translates: “All this is Brahman. (This) is born from, dissolves in, and exists in That.” and then comments: “…this world diversified through names and forms, (and) which is the object of direct perception etc. has Brahman as its origin.”

    Which I think I paraphrased fairly accurately…

    Best wishes,

  10. Ananda Wood gives this cryptic translation of 3.14.1:
    “In truth, all this
    is complete reality.

    [It is] that:
    [in] birth,
    [in] dissolution,
    [in] living on.”

    He then “retells” it:
    “In truth, this many seeming world
    is only one reality,
    in which all things seem to be born,
    seem to live on and pass away.”

    Patrick Olivelle is terse:
    “Brahman, you see, is this whole world.”

    Ganganath Jha’s translation with Shankara’s commentary has it thus:
    “All this indeed is Brahman, as it originates, becomes absorbed and lives in It…”

    BHASHYA – “… the whole of this world, differentiated in name and form, as apprehended by sense perception and other means of cognition, is Brahman, the original source.”

    In his translation, Nikhilananda clarifies the meaning of “All this” by stating, via Shankara, that it refers to “The visible universe diversified by names and forms.”

  11. 3.14.1, chAndogya is mainly for “MEDITATIONAL” purposes.
    As Swami Krishnananda points out, it is a very difficult process of meditation. He writes, “We are maintaining even at this moment an organic relationship. The difficult part of this meditation is that we ourselves, as thinkers, are associated vitally and organically with the Supreme Being on whom we have to meditate. We cannot think like this. For, the mind refuses to think. We can think something outside us and we can think of the whole universe practically, but we cannot think something in which we ourselves are involved, because there it is that the mind finds itself incapable of functioning. There is no such thing as mind thinking itself.”

    IMHO, an attempt is being made by some commentators to read into this Sandilya vidyA an interpretation that even Shankara did not make. He asked us to read his fuller explanation in the sadvidyA part of the Upanishad (i.e., Ch: 6).

    I think what was stated by Dr. Vidyasankar about a discussion on 3.14.1, chAndogya way back 23 years ago still stands valid today. Quoting below his cryptic comment of Jul 31, 1997:

    “What does it mean to see the physical world as brahman? Clearly, only one who has known brahman, and therefore sees the world as brahman, can tell us that. Till then, all we have is just disputation about whether the physical world appears or does not appear. But the least we can say is that the physical world is not seen as the physical world was seen in the state of ignorance. Most statements made about this are epistemological in nature. Do not attach too much ontological importance to them.”

    To underline the above fact (“the physical world is not seen [post-realization] as the physical world was seen in the state of ignorance), we may note that Krishna did not say “Hey, look, the tree yonder and the horse tail in front are brahman.” He had to gift Arjuna a Divine eye (see BG 11.8) to witness “That.”

    Shankara himself writes in 116, aparokShAnubhUti that one’s sight has to be Divine in order to be able to see “brahman” everywhere.

    Thus both these highly revered scriptures talk about a “changed vision” and do not refer to our ordinary way of seeing things in order to be able to “realize” the omnipresent brahman.

    Needless to add that rest is all a misunderstanding driven by overconfident misinterpretation.


  12. Ramesam,

    I realized after I had posted it that the comment I attributed to Swami Gambhirananda was in fact Shankara’s bhAShya. So I repeat what Shankara said (as translated by Swami G of course; it would take me a while to find Shankara’s actual Sanskrit comment and I would not be able to translate it myself anyway!).

    “…this world diversified through names and forms, (and) which is the object of direct perception etc. has Brahman as its origin.”

    This seems to me to be unambiguous and, with due respect, I am not really interested what Dr. Vidyasankar said about it.

    Best wishes,

  13. Just as a final comment, I looked at Shankara’s introduction to Chapter 6 of Chandogya (Som Raj Gupta translation). He says:

    “It was said (3.14.1): ‘Verily, all this is Brahman. From that is this born, into that is this dissolved, in that does this breathe.’ Now, how this world originated from that, how it dissolves into that, how it lives by it is to be explained.”

  14. Dennis and Friends,

    The “origin” (i.e. the kAraNa = the source) of the visible world is never in question. We all agree it is brahman.

    World is the effect (kArya).

    Let’s say Alice is the daughter (effect) and the source (mother) was Athel.
    Do I take Alice is same as Athel?

    “brahman” (source) is not available for perception.
    World (effect) is perceived.
    Can what is perceived be taken as the “original” itself?


  15. Dennis,

    I’d concur with Ramesam. I don’t understand what you are getting at in your quote at 16:37, as it is pretty much exactly the same as Swami Nikhilananda:

    “All this is Brahman. From It the universe comes forth, in It the universe merges and in It the universe breathes”

    The discussion is whether “this” in “all this” is Brahman or the perceived universe. Your latest quote from Sankara supports the contention that “this” is indeed referring to Brahman. Which is the point of Ramesam’s article!

  16. Thank you, Venkat, for bringing in the clarity.
    I have been listening to a Vedanta teacher (in Telugu). He has given a very powerful and irrefutable illustration to show that the perceived cannot be the source.

    When we perceive the mirage, we don’t see the Sun rays.
    We see water vapor like convection.
    But what is exactly there?
    Only Sun rays.
    He went a step further and said that the “Reality” CANNOT be seen; for, if It is seen, It will become the anAtma!

    Therefore, the substratum (origin/source) can never be perceived.
    Only the “superimposition” is perceived. Superimposition is not the Truth.
    He quoted Shankara saying “adhShTAne vijnAte sati” (only after seeing the substratum), one can know the Reality. I am unable to locate the reference for that quote.


  17. It was said (3.14.1): ‘Verily, all THIS (world) is Brahman. From THAT (Brahman) is THIS (world) born, into THAT (Brahman) is THIS (world) dissolved, in THAT (Brahman) does THIS (world) breathe.’ Now, how THIS world originated from THAT (Brahman), how it dissolves into THAT (Brahman), how it lives by it is to be explained.”

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