Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A Realist view of Advaita
Part X
Chittaranjan Naik

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Part X - Summary

Om Gurubhyo Namah


If we are to understand Advaita as a darshana of absolute non-duality, then our interpretation of it must not deliquesce into a kind of disguised duality. We must find the dialectic wherein the thing that Advaita negates does not stand as a second thing apart from the reality that it posits as the sole Reality. In order to achieve this, the negation must not negate 'something' and then say euphemistically that what it negates is 'nothing' - because the 'something' that it negates is seen, and is not like the 'son of a barren woman' that is neither seen nor conceived. Therefore we must seamlessly reconcile the two statements that represent the final vision of Advaita:

- Brahman alone is real, all else is unreal. - Brahman is That by knowing which all this is known.

How are we to interpret these two statements so that there may be samanvaya (reconciliation) and not virodha (contradiction) between them?

The answer lies in the dialectic in which the ALL is not denied, but the condition whereby the ALL appears to be ELSE is denied. For the ALL to be ELSE, it must stand in OTHERNESS from Brahman. That otherness from Brahman constitutes the core of the negation that is employed in Advaita. Therefore Advaita remains as the highest expression of Absolute Non-duality, because there is only Brahman and nothing else, and still there is no-thing that is actually denied, because the All that is denied as standing in otherness from Brahman is affirmed as being subsumed in the Oneness of Brahman.

Shankara, in one of the most telling commentaries, and perhaps the only place where he explains the snake-rope analogy, elucidates this Oneness:

Chandogya upaniShad (VI.ii.3): "That (Existence) saw, 'I shall become many. I shall be born'."

Shankara: "How did That visualise? This is being answered: 'Syam, I shall become; bahu, many; Prajayeya, I shall be born excellently', like earth taking shapes of pots etc. or ropes taking the shapes of snakes etc. imagined by the intellect."

Objection: "In that case whatever is perceived is unreal, like a rope perceived in the shape of a snake etc."

Shankara: "No. Since it is Existence itself that is perceived otherwise through the duality of different forms, therefore, THERE IS NO NON-EXISTENCE OF ANYTHING ANYWHERE. That is what we say."

Shankara (continuing): "As the Nyaya school, after assuming that a thing is different from existence, says again that it has no existence before its birth and after its destruction - it is not assumed by us in that way, at anytime or anywhere, that any word or any thing denoted by the word can be there differently from Existence. But all words and all things that are spoken of with THE IDEA OF THEIR BEING DIFFERENT FROM EXISTENCE, are Existence only, just as in the world a rope itself is spoken of as a snake, under THE IDEA THAT IT IS A SNAKE."

Shankara equates the false idea 'that it is a snake' to the false idea 'of the world being different from Existence' thereby denying the otherness of the world while retaining the Existence of the world.


The locution in which the unreality of the world arises cannot be considered in isolation from the dialectic that is used in Advaita. This dialectic is a tension of opposing poles wherein one pole is the pole of truth and the other pole is the pole of falsity. What is not separate from something is separate from it only through falsity. That is the same as saying that it is not separate from it.

For example, guNa (attribute) is separate from dravya (substance) only through falsity. It is the same as saying that the guNa is one with dravya. Its separateness can arise only through speech because speech has the capacity to allow it to be articulated in a manner whereby it can be spoken of as separate. But in speaking thusly, speech speaks discordantly with the nature of the thing and it therefore speaks falsely.

The strange thing about speech is that it allows the false to be spoken. The perplexing and bewitching nature of speech whereby difference arises is logically inexplicable. It is anirvacanIya because it arises through the self-referencing nature of mAyA (for mAyA is self-referencing to itself). What it shows forth as identity in perception, it makes separate when the distinctions are cogitated upon. But what is cogitated upon is not the same object seen in the perception because it is mediated by the cogitation itself, i.e. the object in the cogitation is another thing that is self-referencing to the cogitation itself. Discursive thought is the loss of spontaneity in the neurosis of saMsAra. Neurosis is the schism of being separate from the Self when in truth there is no separation. That is why, in the language of certain schools, realisation is termed 'union' and in others it is called 'healing'.


Now, the dialectic that is employed in Advaita both affirms and negates the world. The effect (the world) is non-different from the cause (Brahman). The seeming separateness of the effect from the cause is 'vacarambhanam', it has only speech for its origin. In the dialectic, the pole of truth is the identity of the effect with the cause, and the pole of falsity is the separateness of the effect from the cause. The falseness is 'vikarah', transformation, that is 'namadheyam', having its origin in name only. But the effect is always pre-existent in the cause and undergoes no real transformation. It is the mystery of speech that generates the illusion of a changing generative world. Therefore, the locution of 'jaganmithyA' relates to the speech-generated pole of falsity. But the pole of truth is that the world is non-different from Brahman and hence the world - in truth - is real only.

It is due to the non-difference of the world from Brahman that the All is known when Brahman is known. Shankara points this out in the bhyAShya in the context of the instructions given to Svetaketu (BSB, II.III.i.6):

"Hence it is to be understood that the all-knowingness is concerned with the knowledge of everything without exception, and that this statement is made from the point of view that everything is an effect of Brahman."


Advaita cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the nature of speech because it is the differentiating mystery of speech that is at the heart of the dialectic used in Advaita to show that Brahman is the material cause of the universe. Unfortunately most (contemporary) interpretations of Advaita pay scant respect to Advaita's philosophy of language and thereby remain sequestered from the breath of the Divine. There are three important but related doctrinal tenets that the Acharya mentions in the bhyAShya. These are:

1. A word is eternal and is eternally connected to its object.
2. A word denotes the samanya and not the vishesha.
3. A particular (vishesha) is non-different from the universal

These three tenets are combined in the conclusion that the difference of the effect from the cause arises due the mystical difference in THE CONDITIONS OF SPEECH. The Brahma Sutra ( states:

"If it be argued that the effect did not exist before creation, since it is declared (in the upaniShad) as 'non-existent', then we say, no, because from the complementary portion it is known that the word is used from the standpoint of a difference in characteristics."

Shankara explains: "The condition in which name and form become evolved is different from the condition in which name and form is not so evolved. Hence although the effect exists as non-different from the cause before creation, still from the standpoint of this difference in conditions the effect is declared to be non-existent before creation."

Later: "Therefore this declaration of non-existence of the effect before creation is made from the standpoint of a difference of conditions. Since in the world a thing is said to exist when it manifests itself through name and form, therefore, as a concession to common sense, the universe is said to be non-existent before being evolved through name and form."

The evolution of names and forms (vivarta) is what the Vakhyakaras call the staging of speech. The stages are parA-vak, pashyanti-vak, madhyamA-vak and vaikharI-vak. They are the different stages of speech and yet in each stage the word and object of the word remains the same. A form is not a non-form because it is unmanifest, for in that unmanifest state it is the very same form that is manifest. In the words of the Katha upaniShad:

"What indeed is here, is there; what is there, is here likewise. He who sees as though there is difference here, goes from death to death."

Difference is seen in the world of particulars. But a particular is the universal instantiated as a particular. The samanya is the fullness of the vishesha. Therefore avidyA, the privation of knowledge, is the showing forth of the limitedness of the unlimited. This is avacchedavAda, the doctrine of the falseness of the limitedness of the unlimited. I had borrowed the term 'avachhedavada' from the Bhamati school of Advaita to convey this meaning, but later I discovered that there is another word for it. Abhinavagupta, the great exponent of Advaita-Tantra in Kashmir Shaivism, uses the term 'apurnakhyati' to express (what I think is) the same idea.


Creation proceeds out of the evolution (vivarta) of names and forms. But whatever is 'created' is only the showing forth of what is pre-existent in Brahman. Therefore there is in truth no creation. That which is always already born cannot be born again. This is vivartavada - the doctrine of non-creation. An object is said to be transitory only in so far as we are habituated to predicating existence to its mere manifestation, but in truth the existence of an object is eternal, and the predications of 'existence' and 'non-existence' as applied to it only points to its modalities in the world of vyavahAra. What is false is the transitory nature of things rather than the things themselves, for it is in no way possible for something that is seen, even once, not to have been existing at the moment prior to its creation when it is still originating - because the 'it' that is denoted when we say that 'it is originating' is the very same object that stands posterior as the created thing. Thus the thing exists prior to its 'creation'.

The real is defined as that which is trikala-abadhyatvam - that which persists in the past, present and future. Shankara says that "all things, that are spoken of with the idea of their being different from Existence, are Existence only" and that "there is no non-existence of anything anywhere."

Therefore all things are eternally existing. It cannot be said that this perspective is from the vyAvahArika point of view because a jIva in vyavahAra does not perceive the world in this manner. Shankara says that the transitory nature of objects is only admitted as a concession to vyAvahArika-satya as borne out by these words from the bhAshya (BSB,

"Since in the world a thing is said to exist when it manifests itself through name and form, therefore, as a concession to common sense, the universe is said to be non-existent before being evolved through name and form."

Therefore, the vision that "there is no non-existence of anything anywhere" is certainly not from the point of vyAvahArika-satya, but is the unbroken vision of paramArthika-satya. Likewise the affirmation of the 'all' in the statement 'all this is Brahman' is paramArthika as this is the vision of the j~nAni.

Things change not. It is Time (mAyA) that is the substratum of change, and it imbues objects with its own attribute (of change) thus creating the chimera of ephemerality that we falsely attribute to objects. The j~nAni sees truly that nothing is born and nothing dies.


Brahman is Pure Knowledge and Pure Knowledge has no form. A form is not the form of its Knower, but is the form that the Knower knows. The object of knowledge is not descriptive of knowledge itself. How then can one describe Brahman? It does not have the svarUpa of anything It knows. It cannot be said to be of any guna. In the words of bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad:

"O Gargi, the knowers of Brahman say this Immutable is That. It is neither gross nor minute, neither short nor long, neither red nor oiliness, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether, unattached, neither savour nor odour, without eyes or ears, without the vocal organ or mind, without the vital force or mouth, not a measure, and without interior or exterior. It does not eat anything, nor is It eaten by anybody."

Brahman is nirguNa.

Forms do not describe Brahman, but Brahman is Pure Knowledge in which all forms are eternally present as forms that He Knows. Therefore the highest truth is that Brahman is nirguNa, and nirguNa Brahman is pUrNa with knowledge. That is His omniscience.

nirguNa Brahman is Itself Its all-knowingness. And Its all-knowingness is Itself the reality of the all. The All does not contradict the perfect formlessness, the perfect immutability, the perfect Oneness, and the sole reality of Brahman. This is the Brahman of the Vedas. It has to be known through the Divine Third Eye. The third eye is the eye of Shiva. He who opens it is Shiva.


avidyA never 'is' while adhyAsa is the 'is' that is not. avidyA and adhyAsa are two facets of the same non-thing - the one being unmanifest and the other being manifest. avidyA is not a thing. It is a privation of knowledge. adhyAsa, on the other hand, is a wrinkle - it is the superimposition that is contingent upon avidyA. Shankara defines adhyAsa as simply the mistaking of one thing as another.

(Preamble): "From every point of view, however, there is no difference as regards the appearance of one thing as something else." The false appearance is adhyAsa, superimposition.

All this is Brahman. The unknowingness that all this is Brahman is a privation of knowledge. It is avidyA. It is no thing. It is the unmanifest root from which false bhAva-s rise up as its multifarious branches and colourful foliages. The most primary of these bhAva-s is that all this is 'other' than Brahman. But there is no otherness in Brahman. Therefore, the 'otherness' of the world is superimposition. This is the core of adhyAsa.

Concealment, or privation of knowledge, is no-thing. It is the avidyA that is called mUla-avidyA, while the notions we falsely attribute to the world, because of this privation of knowledge, are the bhAva-rUpa-s of avidyA. Bhava-rUpa-avidyA is adhyAsa. It has its roots in mUla-avidyA, for in the absence of concealment, the truth is known and there is no scope for superimposing a false notion. To understand it, one needs to understand the mystery of AvaraNa - the unknowingness in knowing.

When we see something, the object is known because we see it. Yet the object is not known because we have questions about it - its true nature remains concealed even when we are cognising it. We see with unseeing eyes. This is the feature that characterises our lives as samsarins wending our way through the universe. The aj~nAni's cognition of the world has in that very cognition a concealment of the nature of the world. That is why the knowledge of the world derived from its cognition fails to be apodictic.

If the cognition of the world revealed the nature of the world, then we would not have had questions about it, and there would have been no sciences in this world. It is because the natures of things are concealed even when we cognise them that we have questions about them, and that is the reason we have the sciences. But the explanations about the natures of things that proceed out of the sciences, or out of people's notions, are untrue if they do not conform to the intrinsic natures of things as they are. Any explanation that is contrary to the nature of the thing, and which makes us fixated in the artefacts of our explanations as being the truth, is false. These artefacts are adhyAsa - superimpositions - on the world.

So, when Advaita says that avidyA colours the world, it is not saying that the world itself is false. It only means that the world, which the aj~nAni sees, is false insofar as the aj~nAni has a false notion of what the world is due to his seeing it with unseeing eyes, as it were. The third eye - the eye of knowledge - has to open for him to see that the world is Brahman.

The closure of the third eye is the sleep of saMsAra. suShupti, svapna, and jAgrat are not merely alternate states, but they are also states overlaid one on the other. All three exist in the waking state as explained in the mANDUkya upaniShad bhyAShya (I.5):

"Since sleep, consisting in the unawareness of Reality is a common feature of the two states (waking and dream) where there are presence and absence (respectively, of perceptible gross objects), therefore the adverbial clause, 'where the sleeper' etc., is used in order to keep in view the state of deep sleep. Or since sleep, consisting in the unawareness of Reality, is equally present in all the three states, deep sleep is being distinguished from the earlier two states."

Again in explaining GauDapAda's KarikA (I.2), Shankara says:

"This verse aims at establishing how all the three starting with Vishva, are experienced in the waking state itself.... The causal state, too, is verily experienced in the body, inasmuch as an awakened man is seen to have such recollection as, 'I did not know anything'. Hence it is said, 'tridha dehe vyavasthitah' - existing in three ways in the body."

Shankara speaks about it also in the BSB (I.IV.i.3):

"Without that latent state, the absence of birth for the freed souls cannot be explained. Why? Because liberation comes when the potential power (of Maya) is burnt away by knowledge. The potential power, constituted by nescience, is mentioned by the word unmanifest. It rests on God, and is comparable to magic. It is a kind of deep slumber in which the transmigrating souls sleep without any consciousness of their real nature. (Br.III.viii.11)."


We conclude that in Advaita everything that has a name is real. It is not possible for a thing to not be. Shankara says (Ch.VI.ii.3):

"It is not assumed by us in that way, at anytime or anywhere, that any word or any thing denoted by the word can be there differently from Existence. But all words and all things, that are spoken of with the idea of their being different from Existence, are Existence only."

The unreal truly cannot be pointed out - it is 'the son of a barren woman' which is not there to be. It is a kind of sleep, the causal state of 'privation of knowledge', which carries with it the potency for superimposing false notions to things. This potency generates the second type of 'unreality' that is characterised by loss of genuineness (one thing appearing as another, like the rope as a snake). It is this second meaning of the word 'unreal' that we find in the context of adhyAsa. All this is nicely (:-)) summarised in the table below:






one thing appearing as another



bhAva-rUpa avidyA

pramana (pure vRRitti-s as chaitanya rUpa)

vikalpa (son of a barren woman)

viparya (snake on a rope)

j~nAna (knowledge of everything)

(privation of knowledge

adhyAsa (false knowledge - superimposition)

advaita (non-duality)

dvaita (causal-state of duality)

dvaita (manifest state of duality)

All this is Brahman (world is real)

world as avyakta (no world)

world as upadhi (world is unreal)

In recent years, there has been a well-meaning attempt by Swami Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati - whose views are ably articulated on the Advaitin list by Atmachaitanyaji, Bhaskarji, Stigji, and others - to 'show' that bhAva-rUpa-avidyA is an aberration of Shankara Advaita. The prime consideration in espousing such a view seems to be the apprehension that admitting of bhAva-rUpa-avidyA would amount to an admission of a 'real' avidyA and that such an avidyA would occlude the possibility of moksha and make the Advaita position indefensible. But such an apprehension is ill-founded. MUla-avidyA and bhAva-rupa- avidyA are nothing but sushupti and adhyAsa. The attempt to cleanse Shankara Advaita is commendable, but I'm afraid that a large part of Shankara bhyAShya is being jettisoned in the process of cleansing.

Bhava-rUpa-avidyA does NOT make Advaita vulnerable to the attacks of the purvapakSha because its very manifestation is parasitic upon moola-avidyA, which is no-thing. In the vision of Truth, there is no privation of knowledge (avidyA), and hence there is no scope for superimposition. The purvapakSha loses the weapon of a 'real' avidyA with which to attack Advaita because the causal state of avidyA is no-thing and bhAva-rUpa-avidyA too is not a thing but a wrinkle that cannot exist without this no-thing. Therefore no thing is there to go in moksha.


One of the main objections brought forth by the purvapakSha against Advaita is that it is 'mAyAvAda'. This objection is based on the premise that Advaita equates adhyAsa with the world. But this objection loses its ground when it is seen that the world in Advaita is real and that the locution of world-unreality relates only to the superimposition of the notion of otherness (of the world from Brahman). Again, the purvapakSha's allegation that Advaita injects an extra-Vedic notion of adhyAsa into the Vedanta sUtras has no base to stand on because adhyAsa is nothing but the no-thing of avidyA. An avidyA that is not equated to the world is a common feature of all schools of Vedanta. Therefore, the purvapakSha's argument that Advaita is non-Vedic in character is groundless. When the cloud of confusion regarding 'mAyAvAda' clears up, what remains are the real differences between Advaita and other schools of Vedanta. These differences ultimately reduce to the difference of 'difference'. In the essay on 'Advaita' (Part VIII), it was shown that any difference between the world and its substratum is not sustainable and is false. The pratibimba is always one with the bimba.

The samanvaya of Advaita reveals the perfect and immaculate non-duality of Brahman without necessitating that anything be euphemistically called non-existent. There is no contradiction between statements of jaganmithyA and statements about the world being real because the former speaks about the falseness of adhyAsa and the latter about the truth of the identity of the world with Brahman. Again, there is no contradiction between the Advaita position that the world is mithyA and the Advaita argument against the Buddhists that the world is real. How is this so? It is in this wise:

Advaita position: Brahman is the Self of the world. It is the sat of the world -- It is what gives to the world its reality.

Argument against the Buddhists: The Buddhists deny a substratum to the world. For them, the world is void like the illusion of a firebrand. Shankara argues that the world is not void, but has a real substratum (Self) and is therefore not unreal. The world is indeed real.

Argument for jaganamithyA: The jIva, characterised by avidyA, affirms the world, but does not see the Self of the world. He sees the world bereft of its Self. Shankara says that such a world (that is bereft of the Self) is unreal, and hence arises the expression of 'jaganmithyA'.

Samanvaya: Each of the above two statements is made conditional to a stated (or implicitly stated) position. But unconditionally - in truth - the world is real because it has Brahman as its substratum.

That it is in this wise is borne out by the Acharya's explanation (in the BSB, II.III.i.7) made in reply to the doubt expressed by the opponent that the Self may be a product:

"Now, if even the Self be a product, then since nothing higher than the Self is heard of, all the products counting from space will be without a Self, just because the Self is itself a product. And this will give rise to nihilism."


In VishiShTAdvaita, the relationship between Brahman and the world is that of substance-attribute and hence the world is said to be the body of Brahman. In Dvaita, the relationship between Brahman and the world is that of independent-dependent-existences and Brahman is said to be the independently existing Bestower of dependent-existence on the world. Another school of Vedanta tries to express the relationship as achintya-bhedabheda (unthinkable-identity-and-difference). Advaita does not subscribe to any of these doctrines. According to Advaita, the world is one with Brahman and there is no relationship that can describe the oneness of the world with Brahman. Shankara says:

"Brahman's relationship with anything cannot be grasped, It being outside the range of sense-perception."

The relationship between Brahman and the world cannot be grasped by the mind because it is not a relationship. Nothing can fully express this wonder because it is already the relation-less unity in the expression of the world. This mystical nature is neither opposed to reason nor is it fully expressible by reason. It is the quiescence of reason when reason has returned to the Heart of the Living Waters of Advaita. What remains is the Song of the Avadhuta!

I offer these words at the lotus feet of my Guru, Sri Sri Tryambaka the thirteenth, who is the revelation of all paths.

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