Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A Realist view of Advaita
Part V
Chittaranjan Naik

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Part V - Authenticity and the Knot of the Heart

Om Gurubhyo Namah


It would seem that the topic of authenticity is out of place in a discussion on Advaita, but the bhashya of Sri Shankaracharya lays such great stress on authenticity that our study of the bhashya would not be complete if we do not make an attempt to examine its meaning in the context of Advaita. This is what Shankara says in the bhashya:

1. And it cannot be that the very thing perceived is non-existent. How can a man's words be acceptable who while himself perceiving an external object through sense-contacts still says, 'I do not perceive, and that object does not exist', just as much as a man while eating and himself experiencing the satisfaction arising from the act might say, 'Neither do I eat, nor do I get any satisfaction?'

2. Accordingly, those who accept truth to be just what it is actually perceived to be, should accept a thing as it actually reveals itself externally, and not 'as though appearing outside'.

3. This conclusion is not honest, since the possibility or impossibility of the existence of a thing is determined in accordance with the applicability or non-applicability of the means of knowledge to it, but the applicability or non-applicability of the means of knowledge is not ascertained in accordance with the possibility or impossibility (of the thing).

4. As for the view of the absolute nihilist, no attempt is made for its refutation since it is opposed to all means of valid knowledge. For human behaviour, conforming as it does to all right means of valid knowledge, cannot be denied as long as a different order of reality is not realised; for unless there be an exception, the general rule prevails.

5. That being so, it cannot be asserted by a man, who feels the difference of the two, that the perception of the waking state is false, merely on the ground that it is a perception like the perception in a dream. And it is not logical for those who consider themselves intelligent to deny their own experience.

6. Moreover, one who cannot speak of the waking experience as naturally baseless, just because that would contradict experience, wants to speak of them as such on the strength of their similarity with dream experiences. But anything that cannot be the characteristic of something in its own right cannot certainly be so because of a similarity with another. For fire, which is felt to be warm, does not become cold because of some similarity with water.

Why is it that authenticity is so important in Advaita? Why does Shankaracharya call us back to the world when the world is said to be unreal? If the world is false, then surely there would be no efficacy in returning back to the world. And it is also not reasonable to assume that Shankara, the boldest votary of truth, is being untrue to his own philosophy by discordantly shifting his stand against the Buddhists merely as an expedient measure. It appears to me that there is a logical connection between philosophy and authenticity.


Authenticity leads us back to the truth of experience. A thing seen in experience is what it is seen to be. The truth is not seen by rejecting the world, because such rejection is nothing but a twisted affirmation of the world - it affirms the world by making it the object of negative attention. Rejection leaves the rejected to be accounted for and that sows the seeds for 'REDUCTION'. Thus, objects become nothingness, or impressions, or quantum phenomena. All these are not truths but reductions of what is seen into something else.

Reduction is the weapon of darkness with which Maya bewitches the mind. It is the perpetuation of the primordial confusion between 'sameness' and 'difference'. But a thing is what it is; it is not another. This is the central axiom of logic, and points to the inviolable truth that a thing is itself. It is the fundamental law of identity. The law of non-contradiction is posterior to this law, for unless a thing is identical to itself, and unless such identity remains persistent, the law of non-contradiction does not hold, for without the law of identity the thing may be not-itself and hence can legitimately be contrary to itself. The law of identity is thus the first and most fundamental law of logic. Reduction contradicts the law of identity and is therefore illogical and false. Reduction is known as viparyaya, the mixing up of the meaning of one with the meaning of another, and a corruption of the vritti whereby the object is not true to its name. And it is this propensity for reduction that Shankara attacks when he refutes the doctrine of the Buddhists, which holds that objects are internal impressions. An internal impression is not an external object. The meaning of the phrase 'internal impression' presents a different form than the phrase 'external object' and the two are not the same. The words 'internal' and 'external' are the attributions of space, and a metaphysic that holds that objects are only internal impressions contains the fallacy of ascribing reality to space and denying it to objects in space. But an object is just what it is seen to be. An object that we perceive such as a pillar is a pillar in space to be sure and not any other thing known by any other name like 'impression' or 'idea'. For the contrary would mean that we could, with equal justification, call a 'cow' a 'horse'. A cow is a cow, known as a cow through its cowness than because of any other reason. It is the same theme that we find in the dialogues of Plato - in Socrates' unrelenting convergence to absolute forms, as illustrated beautifully in these words from the Phaedo:

It seems to me that whatever else is beautiful apart from absolute Beauty is beautiful because it partakes of that absolute Beauty, and for no other reason. .... Well, now, that is as far as my mind goes; I cannot understand these other ingenious theories of causation. If someone tells me that the reason why a given object is beautiful is that it has a gorgeous colour or shape or any other such attribute, I disregard all these other explanations - I find them all confusing - and I cling simply and straightforwardly and no doubt foolishly to the explanation that the one thing that makes that object beautiful is the presence in it or association with it of absolute Beauty.

Reduction is non-abidance by the law of identity. It has its roots in the unknowingness of the known-ness of objects. A thing seen in experience is what it is seen to be. It is therefore already known. It is known, for otherwise we could not question it, for we can't question what we don't know. Yet it is not known because we have questions about it. Thus, it is known and it is not known. We cannot know it by rejecting it, because that would be a rejection of what is to be known. We cannot know it by bringing alien characteristics to it, for that would be the knowing of an-other and not knowing what was to be known. To know it, one has to pierce the mysterious darkness that hides what is already known.

The world is Maya, and Maya is Stree. She likes to be looked at. But when we look at Her through eyes cast with sleep, She hides behind the veil of Otherness. But when we awaken our eyes, She sublimates into our very Self, and Her otherness dissolves into the mists of nothingness.

The truth cannot be seen through the mind that warps in seeing. It is seen through the mind that is transparent to the Witness of seeing. Reduction is a warp of the mind. It is the non-acceptance of the object of experience and the consequent bending of the object into an- other because its non-acceptance leaves the fact of experience to be still accounted for. Such reduction is a violation of the pramanas, for according to the epistemological order of the pramanas, a fact of pratyaksha cannot be negated on the grounds of reason.


Abidance by the law of identity fixes the reality of the world and directs the intellect to the expansive nature of Brahman. It fixes the universe 'as it is' in its true nature so that in contemplating Brahman as the material cause, the aperture of our vision may enlarge to know the sweeping compass of Its presence. Brahman is the material cause of this world and It pervades the universe like the yarn pervades the cloth. It pervades the vast expanse of hills and rivers, mountains and oceans, and everything from the familiar earth to the farthest galaxies. Brahman is large enough to accommodate the universe as we see it, and does not require that the universe be compressed into a restricted conception of what the mind thinks is possible or impossible of the world to be. The word 'Brahman comes from the root 'brmh' which means growth, and with the suffix 'man', it points to an absolute freedom from limitation. Brahman goes farther than conception can go and stretches farther still beyond the farthest horizons. It is absolutely not contained or limited by anything else, as is beautifully articulated in these words of the Svetasvatara Upanishad:

The whole universe is filled by the Purusha, to whom there is nothing superior, from whom there is nothing different, than whom there is nothing either smaller or greater; who stands alone, motionless as a tree, established in His own glory.

All faces are His faces; all heads, His heads; all necks His necks. He dwells in the hearts of all beings. He is the all-pervading Bhagavan. Therefore he is the omnipresent and benign Lord.

He, indeed, is the great Purusha, the Lord who inspires the mind to attain the state of stainlessness. He is the Ruler and the Light that is imperishable.

The Purusha with a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, compasses the earth on all sides and extends beyond it by ten fingers' breadth.

The Purusha alone is all this - what has been and what will be. He is also the Lord of Immortality and of whatever grows by food.

His hands and feet are everywhere; His eyes, heads, and faces are everywhere; His ears are everywhere; He exists compassing all.

Grasping without hands, hastening without feet, It sees without eyes, It hears without ears. It knows what is to be known, but no one knows It. They call It the First, the Great, the Full.

I know this undecaying, primeval One, the Self of all things, which exists everywhere, being all-pervading, and which the wise declare to be free from birth. The teachers of Brahman, indeed, speak of It as eternal.

That is Agni; It is Aditya; It is Vayu; It is Chandrama. That Self is the luminous stars; It is Hiranyagarbha; It is water; It is Virat.

Thou art woman, Thou art man; Thou art youth and maiden too. Thou as an old man totterest along on a staff; it is Thou alone who, when born, assumest diverse forms.

Thou art the dark-blue bee; Thou art the green parrot with red eyes; Thou art the thunder-cloud, the seasons, and the seas. Thou art beginningless and all-pervading. From thee all the worlds are born.

Authenticity leads us to the Infinity and not to the 'nothingness' of Brahman.


The mind of a jiva is warped by avidya. It is the primordial warp that has 'shrunk' the self into the confines of the body. When a jiva tries to conceive of the Self, it is trying to conceive the Infinite through the same warp that has compressed the Infinite into the finite cage of the body. I believe that this knot is what Tantra calls the coiled kundalini shakti. It is the knot of the heart that must be released before the self is set free of the shackles of the finite. It is a knot of contraction. It has contracted the Infinite into the finite. Thus, when the jiva says that the world is not separate from consciousness, it is susceptible to the fallacy of contracting the world to fit into the contracted notion of self it has created by the warp of its avidya. Brahman cannot be limited to the consciousness of an individual jiva until that consciousness 'expands' to encompass the consciousness in all jives, in all of the universe, in the trees and birds, in the roving animals of the wild, in the hearts of the immortals of heaven, in short to attain identity with Brahman. How can Self-knowledge limit the superabundance, power and grandeur of the Infinite Self? The Supreme Knowledge is the 'expansion' of consciousness to engulf the universe rather than its 'compression' into the nothingness of nihilum. The Self is All-knowing. How can one realise the Self that is All-knowing if the All has been negated?

Proceed to sixth essay.

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