Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 29

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 28

V - Mixing up of the untruth with the truth

We may now look into adhyäsa through the traditional example of mistaking the rope for the snake. A rope is lying on the ground. In broad daylight, it is recognized as a rope and there is rope-knowledge. In darkness, the rope is invisible and there is no perception of the rope. There is rope-ignorance; but no error is committed about the object. In semi-darkness, the existence of an object is known but it is not recognized correctly but erroneously. The existing rope is mistaken to be the existing snake. From the standpoint of the rope, we can define the error as mistaking the rope as something else [196]. From the standpoint of the snake, it is a non-existent snake, which is superimposed, as it were, on the rope [197].


The comprehensive understanding of the situation is that there is a mixing up of what really exists with what it is actually not. What is real is that a thing is existing. What is unreal is that the existing thing is identified wrongly as a snake. In the statement “this is a rope”, both “this is a” and “rope” are true. But in the same situation, in the statement, “this is a snake”, “this is a” is true, while “snake” is untrue. That is, in the unitary perception of the person, who commits the mistake, there is the mixing up of the truth with the untruth. Similarly, in the statements “I am tall”, “I am short of hearing”, “I am disturbed”, “I am intelligent”, “I am the doer”, “I am the experiencer”, “I am the mortal jéva” and “I am the limited jéva”, “I am” is the true part. But whatever is stated after “I am” is not true as they do not belong to consciousness, but to the body-mind-sense-complex, which is not the same as consciousness. All these constitute the mixing of the untruth (anåta) with the truth (satya). This is why we require a means of knowledge to recognize the true self. [198] Untruth is non-ätmä, or anätmä. The mixing up of the untruth (anätmä) with the truth (ätmä) is known as the knot of ignorance in the heart [199]. It is called a knot since it binds and as the tendencies and impressions created by ignorance are hard to untie like the knot.


VI - Adhyäsa is central to our living


Adhyäsa is central to our living as it is pervasive in everything that we know, that we do and that we experience. The self is non-relational consciousness but it is wrongly viewed as the subject in relation to objects. The self becomes an “I” (aham-padärtha) because of adhyäsa and becomes a knower, a doer and an experiencer. It becomes an individual with the I-sense or a jéva. All actions that are derived from the I-sense become personal and give rise to accrual of puëya and päpa to the doer-jéva. This obliges the jéva to take another body after death to experience the fruits of such actions. Again, in the new body, because of avidyä, it considers itself to be a jéva with the limited I-sense and the process of trying to become complete through action starts all over again. This results in accrual of fresh puëya and päpa. This necessitates another birth and the life of becoming or samsära for gaining fulfillment continues endlessly.


This jéva is now striving for freedom. What çruti teaches the jéva is that he has erroneously imposed the limitations on himself by mixing the untruth with the truth and that all that he needs to do to be free from the life of becoming is to become free from all the incorrect notions through ätmajïäna.



I - Satyaà jïänamanantaà brahma

Having known the self as consciousness, we may now turn our attention to the object. The object consists of the entire manifestation. In this regard, çruti reveals Brahman and states that this manifestation is its incidental nature. As for Brahman’s essential nature, it says that it is “one only, without a second” and that “in the beginning all this was existence (sat) alone”. [200] We may first consider its essential nature and then its incidental nature.


The word “Brahman” means “big”. It is a noun formed out of the Sanskrit root “båh”, which means to “to grow” or “burst forth”. “Big” is used as a noun by the çruti to indicate that it is not used as an attribute to a thing but as an entity in itself. It means that it is not something that is relatively big [201] but that it is unconditionally big where nothing different from it exists. What can be different from it could be only of three kinds. Differences may exist within the entity itself like the trunk, the branch, the leaves, and the flowers in a tree [202]. Differences can be there within the same class as between various trees like the banyan and the cocoanut. [203] There can be difference owing to the existence of diverse classes like the trees, the animals and the birds [204]. In the case of Brahman, no difference can exist out of others in the same class, as there is nothing, which is similar to Brahman for it to arise. As regards internal differentiation, Brahman is not a whole consisting of parts for it to be present. As regards the difference due the existence of a different class, there is nothing, which is second to Brahman for it to be there. These facts are made clear by the çruti through the words ekam (one), eva (only) advitéyam (without a second).


The only one, without a second is unfolded by Taittiréya Upaniñad [205] by quoting a RRig-mantra as “satyaà jïänamanantaà brahma”. The three words, satyam, jïänam and anantam mean respectively, existence, consciousness and limitless. These words are related grammatically to Brahman in the same way . Such words are normally adjectives distinguishing the qualified entity from others of its class. For example, when we say “blue, big, fragrant lily”, the words, blue, big and fragrant qualify the noun, lily to indicate that among the lilies of different color, size and fragrance, we mean only that lily which is blue in color, big in size and fragrant in smell. But the words ‘blue, big, fragrant” are not tight since they can fit in at many other places as everything that is blue, big and fragrant is not a lily. These words therefore serve merely to indicate some attributes or viçeñaëas of the lily in question to distinguish it from lilies with other attributes.


But in the case of Brahman, no other Brahman exists for this Brahman to be distinguished from other Brahmans in this manner. So, we have to release these words from being adjectives. The distinctly different purpose that the three words satyam, jïänam and anantam, serve is to serve as indicators (lakñaëas) to unmistakably reveal Brahman. The words indicate its svarüpa-lakñaëa, or its essential nature through their intended or indirectly expressed meaning (lakñyärtha). Even though three words are used for the purpose, each of them, in their lakñyärtha, by itself indicates Brahman. This is so since:

• what is existence (satyam) is consciousness (jïänam) and is limitless (anantam) and is Brahman;

• what is consciousness (jïänam) is existence (satyam) and is limitless (anantam) and is Brahman;

• what is limitless (anantam) is existence (satyam) and is consciousness (jïänam) and is Brahman.

196. Anyathä-grahaëam.
197. Adhyäropa.
198. This is termed as satya-anåta-mithunékaraëam.
199. Avidyägranthi. (MuëDaka Upaniñad, 2.1.10.)
200. Sat-eva somya-idam-agra asét-ekam-eva-advitéyam. (Chändogya Upaniñad, 6.2.1.). Åg Veda (10.129.) refers to it as tat-ekam or “That One”.
201. Relative bigness varies; the bigness of the big particle and the bigness of the big mountain are different.
202. Svagata-bheda.
203. Sajätéya-bheda.
204. Vijätéya-bheda.
205. Taittiréya Upaniñad, Brahmänandavalli, 1.

Go to Part 30


Page last updated: 30-May-2016