Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Two types of adhyAsa
Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda (ed. Dennis Waite)

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Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda


Read Sadananda's other discourses.


(From a post to the Advaitin Egroup, Aug 2008)

The first type is based on perceived attributes – the object is mistaken as something other than what it is. Here the problem is one of incomplete knowledge or partial ignorance. The attributes are only partially recognized (due to dim light for example), and we mistake one object for the other due to similarities in the attributive content. The traditional example is mistaking a rope for a snake in which, based upon the perceived attributes, the object is recognized as a snake instead of a rope.

Here, partial ignorance is the basic problem. Partial ignorance means that only partial knowledge is revealed. That 'there is an object' is definite. The perceived attributes may tell us that it is five feet long, soft when stepped on, lying in the alley, etc. These are sufficiently distinctive for us not to mistake the object as an elephant or a tree but not distinctive enough to differentiate between a snake and a rope. Here ignorance partially covers the knowledge and the mind projects a snake in place of the rope. But the mind that is projecting does not think that it is projecting or imagining, since it takes the object as a real snake. The subsequent physical, physiological and psychological reactions at body, mind and intellectual level are all consequences of the clear understanding that there is a snake out there.

The most important point to note here is that the vikShepa, or projecting of a snake where there is rope, is done by the individual mind. Hence, when that individual mind subsequently realizes that it is rope, the snake completely disappears. This is one kind of adhyAsa – vikShepa by the individual mind – projecting the illusory snake in this example. And, when the mind sees the reality of the object there, the false projection disappears.

This example, along with its limitation, has to be understood in relation to Vedanta. Ignorance contributes to error in perception of the reality; adhyAsa occurs when we see something as other than it is.

There is also a second type of adhyAsa that is discussed in the knowledge series. In contrast to the previous form, this involves transferring the attributes of one thing to another. The classical example is that of a clear crystal appearing as red due to its proximity with red cloth. A more modern example is that of sunrise and sunset or stationary trees appear to move in the opposite direction as the train is moving. In these cases the attributes of one thing are being superimposed on the other to give false understanding of the facts. In contrast to the previous rope-snake example, the error and projection of the error are not made by the individual mind per se. The individual mind reaches its conclusion based upon what it sees. What this implies is that the error is not due to mental projection at individual level. Hence, not only one individual, but everyone sitting in the train will have the same experience and everyone on this earth sees sunrise and sunset in the same way.

Thus, we can regard this as not an individual creation but the creation of Ishvara since the error arises from the relative motion and the reference frame from which the motion is measured. Here, two aspects are important:

Firstly, the creation or projection is by the total mind, Ishvara, and the reference frame from which the observation is made. The implication of this is two-fold. First, unlike the rope-snake case, the underlying truth of the apparent movement of the trees is difficult to perceive while one is riding on the train and the sunrise and sunset necessarily appear whilst we are on this planet earth. This is also one of the reason why self-realization is rather difficult whilst sitting in the BMI but we do not have much choice in this! Most importantly, it requires some knowledge of science or shAstra to understand that, in spite of the apparent movement of the trees, the trees do not really move and it is the train we are on that is moving and that, in spite of the apparent sunrise and sunset, the sun does not rise or set; it is the movement of the earth we are on.

The second aspect of this is that, as long as we are in the train, in spite of the knowledge that the trees do not move and that it is the train that is moving, we will still see the trees moving. Similarly, we still see the sunrise and sunset, even after we understand the correct explanation. Hence, in this kind of adhyAsa, knowledge does not eliminate the observation or error. We recognize and admire the relative mechanics whilst sitting on the train or on this earth.

From these two examples what do we understand?

The correct understanding from both adhyAsa-s is:

1) As long as the vikShepa or projection is by the individual mind, as in the case of rope-snake, then the knowledge that reveals the truth also eliminates the vikShepa (e.g. projected snake).

2) But if the vikShepa is not by the individual mind but by collective mind or Ishvara’s mind, the individual mental knowledge does not eliminate the collective projection or Ishvara sRRiShTi.

Individual mental projections normally come under prAtibhAsika and Ishvara’s projection comes under vyAvahArika. The first example helps us to understand that the mental projection of individual suffering is due to mistaken relationships at the individual level; i.e. saMsAra is due to the first type of adhyAsa - seeing a snake where there is only a rope. asohyAn anya sochatvem - you are crying where there is no reason for you to cry.

In the case of individual mental projection, the cause for the projection is the partial ignorance that covers the knowledge of the object – that we call avidyA.

In the case of Ishvara’s projection, we do not want to say that Ishvara has ‘ignorance’. Instead, we say that the projection is the result of His power (shakti) of mAyA. The cause for the projection by Ishvara is the karma of all the jIva-s, since He does not have any karma of his own for him to exhaust. Since vyavahAra is Ishvara’s creation, the jIva’s knowledge that ‘all this is not real and the reality is the consciousness that I am’ does not eliminate Ishvara’s projection, as long as he is traveling on the train or sitting on this earth or has upAdhi-s which are part of the creation of the Ishvara (the jIva does not create his own upAdhi-s!). Just as we know that trees do not move even though they appear to move, the j~nAnI knows that he is pure consciousness but, due to his upAdhi-s, he sees the projection of Ishvara as jagat and transacts with the world as long as he is in the jagat! (But of course with the knowledge that he is not transacting, since he must have studied the bhagavat gItA, if not all Shankara’s bhAShya-s; and he knows that prakRRiti alone does all the actions and he was never a doer (even while he was an aj~nAnI) [prakRityevaca karmaaNi kriyamaanaani sarvaShaH| yah pasyati tat aatmaanam akartaaram sa pasyati]. Understanding of this adhyAsa will help us to recognize the roles of Ishvara and jIva correctly and we will have compassion for those who are not able to see Ishvara’s sRRiShTi correctly.

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