Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century


(The following is extracted from Back to the Truth, Dennis Waite, O Books, 2007, ISBN 1905047614.)

The process of bAdha is defined in Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary as “a contradiction, objection, absurdity, the being excluded by superior proof (in logic one of the 5 forms of fallacious middle term)” The word used in English is “sublation” (or occasionally “subration”), which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “assimilate (a smaller entity) into a larger one.” But these descriptions confuse and over-complicate what is actually a simple process. All that it means is that we held one explanation for a situation in our experience; then some new knowledge came along and we realized that an entirely different explanation made far more sense.

For example, people used to think that the earth was flat†. If a ship sailed as far as the horizon, it would fall off the edge. Then some new knowledge came along – the earth is spherical. Now we can understand that the ship is moving further around the sphere and thus out of our sight. This new explanation has the added benefit of being able to explain how it is that a ship can return after having fallen off the edge! And it even explains why the horizon seems to be curved. So the old explanation – that the earth is flat – is said to have been “sublated” by the new one. It is said to be bAdhita – negated or shown to be contradictory, absurd or false.

The example always used in Advaita is that of the rope and snake. We see the rope in poor light and erroneously conclude that it is a snake. Once a light (i.e. knowledge) has been shone onto the situation, we realize our mistake. If we encounter the situation again, we may still imagine we see a snake but the likelihood of being deceived is now much reduced because we no longer accord the same level of authenticity to our perception. It is this process of rejecting the appearance in the light of our experience or new knowledge that is called sublation or bAdha. This also provides a useful definition of “truth” in that the less able we are to sublate an experience, the truer it must be.‡

† I've since discovered that this is a commonly-held myth and actually untrue - but it still serves as a useful example.
‡ Thus, one definition for reality is that which cannot be sublated.

The Enlish word 'sublate' is thought to derive from the German 'aufheben', meaning 'to pick up' (from the Latin 'sublatum', the past participle of tollo 'pick up'). Sunder Hattangadi has provided the following links, which provide some serious and some amusing information about this:

He also notes that Gearge Thibaut used this word in his translations of Shankara's
sutra-bhashya in 1890, and in Ramanuja's in 1904. [ Shankara 1890; Ramanuja 1904 ].

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012