Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Purnamadah Purnamidam Revisited
Madathil Nair

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(The following was the basis of a discussion topic on the Advaitin Egroup)


The pUrNamadah verse, appearing at the end of this post, is the shAntipATa (prayer verse) with which IshAvAsyOpaniSad begins. It is familiar to all of us and is often chanted at the end of satsangs all over the world. However, we miss its profundity because that is the time we feel our pockets for the car keys in our hurry to reach back home. Usually, the gastric fire is also at work in the hope of a sumptuous prasAd more calorific than normal meals!

Exhaustive interpretations for the verse exist. I have found the explanations of Sw. Chinmayanandaji and Sw. Dayananda Saraswathiji very enlightening. It is usually deciphered by first equating “I” with “THAT” (adah) of the shrutIs. Analogies of snake-rope, post-ghost, gold-ornaments, ocean-waves etc. are then effectively employed to explain the relation between “THAT” and “THIS” (idam) and then unravel the advaitic truth remaining hidden in the verse.

I believe pUrNamadah can be lived every moment of our life. I am therefore making an attempt here to understand the verse with my eyes open looking at the duality of the world, a duality that spans from ants to stars and galaxies, but yet standing firmly rooted on scriptural pronouncements and affirmations.


I look out through the window. There is the unending expanse of the sky speckled with glittering stars. I close my eyes and look inside. There are scintillating thoughts, ideas, concepts and memories streaking my unending mental sky.

Did I use the words out and in? The outside and inside of what? There is no answer to that question because I cannot set borders for the being that I am and because all that listed above, from thoughts to stars, including my awareness of myself, are the things seen, acknowledged or objectified. They are all there. That is all I know. I exist knowing them all – a self-evidence that is formlessness.

All that are experienced and objectified constitute the universe for the purposes of this discussion. Since the day man began to think, the shape of the universe (of course, sans what he falsely considers himself to be) has been his biggest botheration. He sees a tree, he sees a mountain, he sees his wife. All of them have definite borders, precise forms. Naturally, therefore, he expects the same of the universe. It should have a form. He should know its limits.

He thus began theorizing. The basic assumption that went unquestioned in his pondering was his ‘taken for granted’ separate identity (from the object of study, i.e. the universe) as the theoretician existing within and bounded by the outer limits of his skin. Thus, the universe for him remained an outside with he himself appropriating and identifying with the inside together with its perceived borders!

Naturally, due to this separation, he visualized the universe as an object born in a Big Bang that occurred several billion years ago or as something that has always been existent in a steady state. Whatever these theories, they left several questions unanswered and gave rise to several other intractable conundrums. If the universe originated in a Big Bang, what was it that ‘banged’ and where did it exist? What was the ‘before’ of the Bang like? If the universe is still expanding after the Bang, where is it expanding in and to? Bang or steady state, where are its outer limits and what lies beyond them?

Some argued the primordial atom that banged big existed in a meta-universe. That raised unanswerable questions about the origin and limits of that meta-universe. An added problem when the one in hand was already begging answers! Others thought that time and space began with the Bang. But how could there be the existence of the something that banged without time and space? That was ridiculous.

As no satisfactory answers emerged, the spiritually inclined among the theoreticians threw their hands up and exclaimed in exasperation: “The universe is infinite.” They were then closer to the truth than ever before. But, there was opposition as some others swore that the universe was finite – as finite as an apple-pie. They brought in evidence like Olber’s Paradox to support their contention. The pity was that finitude was too familiar for their scientific minds to think in the opposite direction of utter freedom. In fact, they were wary that a no man’s land lay in the opposite way, a wilderness where profound-looking philosophers and theologians wandered aimlessly, to navigate which there were no frames of reference available to them. And the problem was that they were vainly trying to impose finitude on the universe as that is the only way they were scientifically comfortable.

As finite models fell far short of offering satisfactory answers, some of them had argued that the universe, as it spanned countless light-years, couldn’t be looked at simply from the Euclidian angle. The space-time continuum was brought in with gravitational bending of space. Others had speculated additional dimensions forgetting that that could give rise to the possibility of countless dimensions. An unending multiplicity of universes one within the other didn’t matter to them as long as they thought they were really researching. Actually, they were staring in the face of the infinite but vehemently refusing to acknowledge it in the vain hope of finding salvation in finitude. Succumbing to ‘uncertainty’, they thought, was more desirable than acknowledging the infinitude of the really infinite!

Whatever theories or mathematical equations the human mind cooks up, the questions that unendingly beg answers will remain the ‘before’, ‘after’ and ‘beyond’ of the universe. There is no hope of salvation without undoing these three that emanate from space and time in whose prison all empirical thinking is condemned to languish. The only solution, therefore, is to consider all creation, objectified both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ us, as one single universe and understand it as infinite – an infinity in relation to which time and space have no meaning.

To any enquiring mind, this infinitude of the universe should be as evident as broad daylight. The universe that I am trying to limit by being strictly empirical is in fact limitless. It is the infinite or infinity!


Infinite and infinity are perhaps the most misunderstood words in English language. Our dictionaries suggest that infinite is the antonym of finite and infinitesimal. Some people see it as the opposite end of zero. Philosophically, that is our undoing.

Mathematics has made things worse. There was this mathematics teacher of mine in high school who was in the habit of showing off his knowledge. While on an uncalled for digression into mathematical infinity, he asked the class to answer the question of infinity divided by infinity. The brightest among us said one. Asked why, he explained that a number divided by the same number is always one. He was applauded. I had a doubt. I mustered enough courage to point out that there simply couldn’t be two infinities for the division to be performed. The teacher chided me and dubbed me an idiot trying to be smart!

Many decades have passed since then with me remaining an idiot and the world very intelligent. Else, how can we explain the way infinity continues to bother our finest minds. Type out the word ‘infinity’ in a Google search. You will see what I mean. Or, try this website for some fun.

With our Vedantic knowledge, let us try to find out what the Infinite or Infinity is not or has not:

Infinity is unending. It never therefore began.

Infinity being boundless, it cannot have an outside. There is therefore no question of a second infinity. It is, therefore, one without a second.

Infinity therefore has no antonyms.

When there is no outside, no inside is warranted. So, infinity is without parts or contents.

When there are no parts, no separation is generated. Thus, infinity is spacelessness.

As space and time go hand in hand, infinity is timelessness too.

Infinity is thus fullness or completeness; nothing is there to add to it; nothing can be taken out from it; no outside agency can exist that can do the addition or subtraction!

Infinity alone remains.


But, all this is contrary to my experience. I see the universe as composed of many different things like galaxies, stars, planets, living beings, the unknowns etc. etc. They are all separate. Then, there is me theorizing about the universe standing aside and altogether separate from it! Thus, the universe and me are mutually limiting.

vedAnta comes to our rescue here. It says that the experience of separation is an error and the multiplicity or duality generated thereby is non-real. The different entities objectified, including the limited me with all my internalizations, are mithyA. The seeming reality of duality is thus negated.

In contrast, mathematics, the first systematic language of ignorance, wants infinity to serve it as its house-maid while it does book-keeping for mithyA – the non-reality of finitude!

Experience connotes duality – an experiencer and experienced. The fullness or completeness called infinity doesn’t brook two or more. My sense of having a separate existence from the universe as its experiencer should, therefore, be an error that needs correction. If the outsideless and partless infinitude of the universe is granted, then my separation ends. I am then the universe and the universe is me. Experience of duality is thus understood as non-real, mithyA, an appearance. Then, my false conclusion that I am different from the universe or the universe is different from me stands corrected.


Thus, in the pUrNamadah verse, idam (meaning THIS) stands for this one-without-a-second universe [idam sarvam (all this) or idam vishvam (this world)]. I am IT.

adas means THAT. What THAT? The THAT of the mahAvAkya tat tvam asi (That Thou art). “Thou” corresponds to the ‘I” of the other mahAvAkya “aham brahmAsmi” (I am Brahman). Thus, THAT means the one-without-a-second Brahman of vedAnta which is ME!

Brahman and the infinitude called the universe are thus identified as one and the same. The universe, which appears to encompass within itself the experiencing limited me and all the diverse experienced phenomena as separate entities and thereby imposes limitations on itself, is in fact the one-without-a-second *partless*, *indivisible* fullness called Brahman!


Thus, this universe is completeness. The Brahman of vedAnta that is me is completeness. The apparent universe of duality, where the limited I see limited things, rises (udacyate) from Brahman or me. The rising is only an appearance – mithyA, because completeness is indivisible. It is like a city reflected in a mirror (vishvam darpaNadrishyamAna nAgarI… of dakShiNAmUrtyaShTakam).

The verse continues to say: Taking away fullness from fullness or adding fullness to fullness, fullness alone remains. Take away this universe (of experienced forms, of appearance) from me (Brahman), I still remain fullness – This is what happens when I sleep every night! Bring back the universe in the morning when I awake – Even then I alone remain fullness in spite of the seeming appearances. Thus, nothing can be removed from “This is that I am”. Neither can anything be added. Thus, “this-is-that-I am” is an imperishable fullness that always remains.

All standard interpretations understand AdAya as both additive and subtractive. The word with its opposing meanings, therefore, fits the context perfectly as it emphasizes the impossibility of enhancing or reducing the already full fullness. Nothing can be added to fullness. Nothing can be removed from fullness. It also seems to laugh out aloud at the finitudinal naivety of mathematics’ attempts to add/subtract infinity to/from infinity!

Thus, I am not apart from the universe. Neither am I a part of it. I am it. Thus, the sense of seeing (experiencing) as seer (experiencer) apart from the seen (experienced) is the nature of my ignorance. When this is realized and the false sense loses grip, seeing ‘stops’ to spontaneously become being. The universe will then not be seen. Nay, the appearing universe then resolves into the erstwhile seer’s or experiencer’s total being – infiniteness, fullness and completeness. He begins to ‘heave’ with the whole universe in and as his being like Lord dakShiNAmUrti – an ocean of fullness. The waves then are an appearance that resolves in the depths of his silence. Thus, what is negated (neti, neti) is the appearance and not the infinitude called the universe. Negating that infinitude is tantamount to negating me!

The infinitude of the universe is the anirvachanIya (indefinable) that we discuss here frequently. It is ineffable only as long as we stand apart totally confounded and scratch our heads in awe. When pUrNamadah is properly understood, no anirvachanIya remains. What is there indefinable in my knowledge of myself? In the silence that I am, my pUrNa nature is crystal-clear to me. Indefinability arises only when I try to communicate with others. Well, then I am apUrNa by creating duality and playing with mithyA, as I am doing now!


Even when my *sense* of separation is understood and acknowledged as an error, the world doesn’t simply disappear as one would expect. In nirvikalpa samAdhi, which I haven’t experienced, it is said that the world vanishes. I cannot go into that. Nevertheless, it would help noting that whoever testified so had come out to the external world of duality to say so! Perhaps, in samAdhi, the samAdhist’s apparent separation from the world coalesces into his fullness with time and space undone. He thus becomes totally and experientially convinced of the non-real nature of what he ‘sees’ when he is not in samAdhi. However, I can’t help repeating Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji’s very profound and enlightening observation in this context:

A fullness dependent on experience grants reality to duality. To enjoy such a fullness one engages in various practices seeking the release of nirvikalpa-samAdhi, or one courts moments of great joy. Courting the experience of non-duality is based on fear of the experience of duality. Duality is seen as something from which one must escape. But escape by means of experience is false freedom. You, the limited being, and this world, which limits you, are always waiting when the experience is over.


Let the mountains, rivers, stars, and all the beings therefore remain as they are. What does it matter? If I am fullness, for which shruti is my guarantee, the mountain cannot be outside me or other than me. Therefore, the mountain is me. Thus, the river is me, the star is me, everything is me. I am the fullness that pervades all of them. They are not parts of me or in me (Ref: bhagavad gIta – 9 th Chapter), because as fullness I can’t have parts or contents. They are all verily me! When I am ‘looking’ at them, I am ‘face to face’ with infinity – the reality that I am!

Thus the pUrNamadah verse has all vedAnta encapsulated in it!

The deluded and limited me is just an appearance like all the rest of the things in this perceived universe. They are just non-real (mithyA) superimpositions on the reality that I am. Take them away or bring them back – the fullness that I am remains unaltered and undiminished, whether the seeming me is awake, asleep or dead!

Thus we sing:

Om pUrNamadah pUrNamidam
pUrNAt pUrNamudachyate
pUrNasya pUrNamAdAya
Om shAntih, shAntih, shAntihi

[Completeness is that, completeness is this,
from completeness, completeness comes forth.
Completeness from completeness taken away,
completeness to completeness added,
completeness alone remains.
Peace, peace, peace!]

(Translation from Sw. Dayanandaji’s interpretation)

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012