Part XXIV – adhyAsa or error superimposition
In the discovery of the reality of the object – that it is a rope and not a snake – the existence of the object or the knowledge of its existence is not negated. What is negated is that the object is a snake, by the correct understanding that it is a rope. Thus, by gathering more attributes of the object, we are negating our previous knowledge of the object as a snake by affirming that it is a rope. Thus ‘there is a snake’ is replaced by ‘there is a rope’. The ‘there is’ part remains and only the ‘snake’ part is replaced by the ‘rope’ part. That which remains the same or remains changeless is the truth and that which changes is the false. This error is called adhyAsa or error of superimposition. On the ‘there is’ truth part, ‘there is a snake’ knowledge is superimposed. Shankara defines adhyAsa as the ‘mixing up of that which is partly true with that which is partly untruth to arrive at a unitary experience’ – ‘satyAnRRita mithunIkaraNam adhyAsam’.
The importance of adhyAsa or error of superimposition becomes obvious if we understand that Brahman, which is changeless, alone is the truth. The world of plurality is just a superimposition on that truth and is constantly changing. When we say ‘the world is’, it is a notion in our mind that ‘the plurality that we see is real’ and ‘the world is out there’. The world of plurality or the objective world (in the waking state) is not my mental creation, although I perceive the world only through the mind. The world is a creation at the collective level or macro level and therefore knowledge that the world is only superimposed on Brahman does not negate the world. What it negates is only that reality assigned to the world. A j~nAnI or a realized soul operates in the world, with a different attitude since he knows it has only a notional significance in relation to the absolute truth. [Note: If the meaning of this paragraph is unclear, don’t worry – the subject will be covered in more detail later.]
Thus, the world is ‘real’ based on our day to day experiences, just as sunset and sunrise are real based on our day to day experience. Vedanta as an independent means of knowledge says: sarvaM khalvidam brahma – all this (the world) is verily Brahman. When I realize the falsity of the world by recognizing the substratum Brahman through the process of inquiry, then the false knowledge falls away. Just as, knowing that there is no sunrise or sunset, one can still enjoy the sunrise and sunset, one can recognize that there is nothing other than Brahman (neha nAnAsti ki~nchana) and I can still enjoy the plurality of the world. The knowledge will only eliminate the delusion that the world of plurality is real. What is recognized is that the plurality is only apparent and apparent plurality is not reality. The person who has gained that knowledge is called a jIvanmukta. By analogy, a scientist, knowing very well that everything is nothing but electrons protons and neutrons, can still enjoy the food while discarding the garbage. The nature of the absolute reality can be understood, without confusing it with the relative reality of the world. ‘Punishing the wicked while protecting the good’ can go on without discarding the truth that all are in me, the unmanifest.
The teacher-student teaching that ‘everything is just one’ can go on without any confusion, with the teacher not discarding the knowledge of the unifying principle. Some of the objections raised against advaita Vedanta stem from incorrect understanding of advaita. Advaita is non-duality in spite of duality. Duality is not negated; what is negated is the reality assigned to the duality. Krishna himself says ‘I am Arjuna’ while teaching Arjuna that everything is in Him only. What it amounts to is that there is no confusion in understanding the pAramArthika satyam while still acting at the vyAvahArika level. What is negated is only the reality assigned to the vyAvahArika satyam. It is apparently real but not really real.
Proceed to the next essay.