The uncompromising position of Advaita Vedanta is that “Nothing is ever born” as Gaudapada tells us in his mANDUkya kArikA (verse) at 3.48 and repeats it for emphasis at 4.71. As many as four Upanishads wrap up the Absolute Reality from the Advaita viewpoint in the following verse which appears also in Gaudapada’s kArikA:
न निरोधो न चोत्पत्तिर्न बद्धो न च साधकः ।
न मुमुक्षुर्न वै मुक्त इत्येषा परमार्थता ॥ — 10, amRitabindu upanishad; 2.31, Atma upanishad, 11, avadhUta upanishad; 5.13, tripuratApini upanishad; 2.32, Gaudapada kArikA.
[Meaning: There is neither Dissolution nor Creation. There is neither bondage nor any seeker for freedom. There is neither any one wishing for salvation nor any one who achieved it. This is the absolute Truth.]
Shankara revived the and expatiated on this Truth in the 8th century CE. However, it has been the toughest part of Advaita philosophy difficult to swallow for many. Perchance for that reason, Abhinava Gupta in the 10th century, Ramanuja in the 11th century, Madhwa in the 13th century and Chaitanya Prabhu in the 15th Cent, who though studied Shankara’s expositions, deviated from Advaita and propounded their own softer interpretations of the Upanishadic truth.
Consistent with the “Doctrine of nothing is ever born,” (i.e. ajAti vAda), a few Upanishads do not talk about creation and directly teach about brahman, the Truth. While this direct method of teaching may suit the most ripened and ready seekers (uttama adhikAri-s), the slow and intermediate type of seekers find the method to be unintelligible to them. Out of compassion for such seekers (the manda and madhyama adhikAri-s), a number of Upanishads adopt the “device” of superimposing an imaginary creation on the Reality of What-IS so that the seeker, who thinks that s/he is born into a pre-existing creation, feels comfortable with the teaching, and later when the student matures enough in his understanding, rescind the superimposed creation. This method of teaching is known as the Model of “Superimposition and Sublation” (adhyAropa and apavAda). Accordingly, if one reads the initial parts of the Upanishads, it does appear as though they are speaking about the creation to have taken place. It requires patience and perseverance on the part of the committed seeker to plough deeper and longer into the Upanishad so that the true message of its teaching, imparting the Oneness of the individual and brahman (jIva brahmaikya), becomes evident.
The mANDUkya initially talks about the creation of the syllables and the states of consciousness, but later proclaims that the three states of consciousness are untrue.
The taittirIya speaks about the creation of the five sheaths but finally affirms that they are unreal.
The prashna says that 16 components are created from the undivided Purusha (6.4, prashna). But the prashna Upanishad itself says later that all the components (parts) are unreal.
The muNDaka describes the entire creation in steps but finally asserts that the immutable brahman alone IS.
The Upanishads thus begin with explaining the creation, but end up saying that there is no creation. If there is no creation why to go on describing it? If creation is described as existing, how could it be said that there is nothing? This is a riddle. This is discussed in the chAndogya Upanishad in greater detail.
The purpose of describing the creation is only to point out that it is not real. It is pointed out that nothing is ever created, nor does a world exist. Just as the creation of the world is untrue, it is also equally untrue that the Self entered the human being. Creation is an untruth spoken by the Upanishads. It is a blatant lie. However, the justification is that speaking about the false story of creation is only an aid towards understanding the Ultimate Truth.
For example, the aitareya Upanishad says that the ‘known’ is same as the ‘Knowingness.’ But we are incapable of grasping this Truth immediately. We continue to see various percepts. We do not cognize their true nature which is ‘Knowingness.’
If we are told that the bodies of the spouse and children seen by us are untrue and that they are as real as the reflected images in a mirror, it is difficult for us to accept.
We are busy seeing the world; we tend to think that what is seen is real. But we hardly ask from where it originated. When a rope is not known and we see it mistakenly as a snake, we think that the snake which is apparent is real. We shiver and run for cover. We are not aware of the fact that it was only a rope but is being seen as a snake. We take that the dream world we see in our dream to be real because we are unaware of the awake state during the time of dreaming. If we are woken up from the dream, only then we realize the unreality of the dream.
Speaking about creation, though false, is like waking up the person who is dreaming. It helps to bring our attention to the “substance” that is actually present. Because we had not seen the real substance, we take for granted that the false snake-like appearance of the world is real. When it is pointed out to us what the real substance is and that what we are mistakenly seeing is only a false appearance, then our attention will go to the real substance.
Hence, we are told that the God created the world and it has its origin, sustenance and dissolution in Him. Our attention then hopefully shifts to the Creator. When it is said that the Creator Himself is shining as the world, we will begin to see the God. We will not stop seeing the percept, but we will notice it to be the God’s shine.
When we are reminded that there is someone there who is looking at the mirror, our attention goes towards that seer. We will become aware of the object and we will also know that the object itself is appearing as the reflected image inside the mirror. Thus, the world, which appears to be a solid physical matter, gets dissolved into our “Knowingness” which is brahman, the Reality that we truly are.
Next our attention is drawn to the inner individual. The inner individual is said to be a reflection of the Self in another mirror. Then, we will cognize that our limited knowingness is actually unlimited as the Self. The mind dissolves in (as) “Knowingness.”
Thus, both matter and mind get annihilated and merge in the Supreme Reality. Both are brahman. brahman is seated inside; yet brahman is impelling the two.
So, all This-IS is of the nature of brahman. When we grasp this truth, it dawns on us that “I am That brahman.”
Rick Riekert in his Comment at another thread cited a few Upanishad references and Shankara bhASya vAkya-s in support of his claim that “[The world] is a deliberate creation of brahman, an outpouring of fullness (sRiShTi), …” which fundamentally contradicts Shankara’s position. We shall examine those specific citations and what their true import is in the next part of this essay.
(To Continue … Part – 2)
[P.S.: Parts of this article are adopted from the Talks delivered by Advaita Vedanta Teacher Late Shri Y. S. Rao]