Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 28

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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Go to Part 27

III - Upädhi or the condition that appears to limit ätmä

Explaining the arising of the error, çästra says that the body-mind-sense-complex is intrinsically insentient. Because of avidyä, ätmä is mistaken to be the insentient body-mind-sense-complex. This wrong identification limits ätmä to the body-mind-sense-complex.


It must be noted that ätmä, which is the whole, can have no personal sense of ‘I’. The physically inert body-mind-sense-complex including the buddhi can have no sense of its own. Therefore, this wholly unreasonable limited I-sense, which is present, is explained as the veiling of the truth and projection of the false brought about by avidyä. This is why we require a means of knowledge to recognize the true self.


Explaining it in physical terms through an example, when a red flower is placed near a colorless crystal, its colorlessness is concealed and the crystal appears to be red like the flower. If it is taken away, there is no redness in the crystal. The color does not belong to the crystal. It belongs to the flower. The crystal always remains colorless, despite appearing to be red, when the red flower is next to it. It is in a similar way that the body-mind-sense-complex, which is limited, conceals the real nature of ätmä and imposes its own attribute on it with the result that ätmä, which is limitless, appears to be limited to the body-mind-sense-complex. Even as the colorless crystal never becomes colored, ätmä never becomes limited. The limitation belongs the body-mind-sense-complex alone. The technical expression defining this situation is that the upädhi [193] of the body-mind-sense-complex imposes its attributes on ätmä, the upahita. Upädhi is translated as the conditioning adjunct and upahita as the conditioned entity. In our waking state, the upädhi of the body-mind-sense organs appears to limit ätmä to it, in the dream state, the upädhi of the mind appears to limit ätmä to it and in deep sleep state, the upädhi of the causal body appears to limit ätmä to it. Ätmä is not actually affected by any of the upädhis at any time.


IV - Adhyäsa or knowing a thing as something else


The ascription of qualities to an entity that does not really possess them is called adhyäsa. [194]. Adhyäsa is wrong attribution leading to the knowing of one thing erroneously as another. Adhyäsa is also referred to as adhyäropa or the erroneous superimposition on the real entity [195].The real entity is then called adhiñöhäna or the real basis for the erroneous attribution. (adhiñöhäna is usually translated as “substratum”.)


With reference to the individual, when we say, “I am the body-mind-sense-complex”, “I am”, which is the unconditioned consciousness, provides the basis. This “I-am-ness” allows or lends a seeming reality to the body-mind-sense-complex, which is the conditioned consciousness. The conditioned “I”, which is the individual, becomes conscious and he lives in a conscious body with conscious mind and sense organs. Thus, the conscious body-mind-sense-complex exists because of the consciousness inherent in it and giving it sentiency. Unfortunately, as the basis is not recognized and gets super-imposed, as it were, we suffer the apparent loss of our true self as the unconditioned consciousness and we take our apparent conditioning to be the true self.


The adhyäsa or erroneous understanding of the true self is present throughout:

• When I say I am a tall male weighing 90 kilos, I consider myself to be the physical body; there is adhyäsa of the physical body on ätmä since it is the physical body which is tall, weighing 90 kilos and not ätmä;

• When I say I am hard of hearing, I consider myself to be the sense organs; there is adhyäsa of the sense organs on ätmä since it is the sense organ that is affected and not ätmä;

• When I say I am worried, I consider myself to be my mind; there is adhyäsa of the mind on ätmä since it is the mind that is worried and not ätmä;

• When I say I am intelligent, I consider myself to be my intellect; there is adhyäsa of the intellect on ätmä since it is the intellect that is intelligent and not ätmä;

• When I suffer from a sense of hurt or guilt, there is adhyäsa of memory on ätmä since it is the memory which has the hurt or guilt and not ätmä;

• When I say, “I know”, “I am the doer”, “I am the experiencer” and “I have these likes and dislikes”, there is adhyäsa of the knower, the doer, the experiencer, the liker, the disliker on ätmä since it is the I-sense associated with the body-mind-sense-complex which is the knower, the doer, the experiencer, the liker and the disliker and not ätmä;

• When I say my family, my house, my money, my reputation, my country, my religion, my guru, my Éçvara, I extend my I-sense to the family, the house, the money, the reputation, the country, the religion, the guru and Éçvara and there is adhyäsa of my-sense (mamakära) in respect of all these on ätmä since all these are connected with the I-sense and not with ätmä;

• Finally, when I say that I am a separate entity or jéva, there is adhyäsa of the nature of jéva on ätmä since ätmä is not a jéva.


There is not only adhyäsa of what is not ätmä (anätmä) on ätmä but also mutual adhyäsa of ätmä on anätmä in every case. When I say that my body, sense organs, mind and intellect are sentient and that I am a self-conscious being with a name and form, there is adhyäsa of ätmä on the body, the sense organs, the mind, the intellect, the name and the form. The mutuality of super-imposition of ätmä on anätmä and of anätmä on ätmä causes their fusion, as it were, into one, creating confusion about their nature and causing difficulty in unraveling them.


193. Samépavartini vastuni svadharmän ädadhäti| Places its own attributes on something that is nearby.
194. Çaìkaräcärya’s in his introductory commentary to Brahma-sütra calls it atasmintadbuddhiù or knowing a thing as something else.
195. We make this super-imposition due to ignorance. When we consider the linga to be Éçvara, we make the super-imposition intentionally.

Go to Part 29


Page last updated: 02-May-2016