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THE ROOTS OF VEDĀNTA

Selections from Śaṅkara’s Writings

Selected, edited and introduced by


Sudhakshina Rangaswami

PENGUIN BOOKS
Contents

About the Author

Dedication

Preface

Introduction

SECTION I (BACKGROUND)

Vedānta timeless

Situating Vedānta

Date of Śaṅkara

Life sketch

Works of Śaṅkara

SECTION II (VEDĀNTA TRADITION)

The roots of Vedānta

Advaita Vedānta

Philosophy of standpoints

Methods of Vedānta

SECTION III (CONCEPTS)

Superimposition

Ways of knowing

Concept of māyā

Being and becoming

Means to liberation

Spiritual discipline

Enlightenment

SECTION IV (PROCESS OF SELECTION)

Choice of texts and their translations

1 Epistemology
Pramāṇa (Means of Knowledge)

Scope of Pramāṇas

Interpretation of śruti

Scriptural Study

Instruction through Dialogue, Story

śruti, Yukti, Anubhava

Parā Vidyā and Aparā Vidyā

Pramāṇas Relevant Only Till the Self Is Known

Source of śruti

Adhyāsa (Superimposition)

Adhyāsa, the Key to Metaphysics and Spiritual Discipline

2 Māyā/ Avidyā (Nescience)

Nature of Māyā

Effect of Māyā

Māyā and Absolute Knowledge

3 Reality (Brahman)

Aspects of the Absolute Reality

Brahman Is Satyam, Jñānam, Anantam

Brahman as Existence (Sat)

Brahman as Consciousness

Brahman as Bliss

Brahman, Not an Object to Be Known

Brahman, Self-evident

Path of Negation to Know Brahman

Transcending the Mind

4 Jagat (World)

Brahman, the Cause of the World

Causation

Manifestation of Name and Form

Unreality of the World

5 Soul (Jīva)

Adjuncts of the Soul

The Self Is the Light Within

The Soul and the Lord


States of the Soul

6 Path to Perfection

Samsāra and Transmigration

Spiritual Path

Means to Liberation

Faith, and Prerequisites for Scriptural Study

Result of Self-knowledge

7 Liberation

Meditation

Direct Means to Liberation

Enlightenment

Conduct of the Liberated One

State of Release

References

Glossary

Acknowledgements

Copyright Page
THE ROOTS OF VEDĀNTA

Sudhakshina Rangaswami was born in Chennai, in 1955. She studied at the Dr S.


Radhakrishnan Institute of Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras and University
of Bombay, where she gained M.A. in Indian Philosophy, and Ph.D. for the thesis, ‘Influence of
Pāñcarātra Āgamas on Viśiṣtadvaita Vedānta’. She has worked as a lecturer in Indian
Philosophy at Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, Mumbai, and as a UGC Post-
doctoral Research Associate at Osmania University and University of Delhi before she joined
The Hindu where she was a writer of the popular, daily column on religion, and Book Review
Editor. Ms Rangaswami now pursues her wide-ranging interest in culture, spirituality and
Vedānta as a freelance scholar.
To my parents
Preface

It may sound a bit clichéd but, with the writing of this book, my life has come full circle. It was
the spirit of inquiry which had led me to pursue academic study and research in Indian
Philosophy, and my engagement with Vedānta since then has consciously and unconsciously
shaped my life, both personally and professionally. When I switched my career mid-stream
from academics in 1994 to become a writer of the daily, popular column on religion in The
Hindu newspaper, I embraced this change because it presented both an opportunity and a
challenge. For one who was familiar with the academic world, my day-to-day work from then
on afforded me the occasion to listen to the exposition of the scriptural texts by traditional
scholars; the challenge lay in presenting the abstract philosophical concepts to the general
reader. My work also reinforced the truth that Vedānta is not just armchair speculation but a
lived experience to be imbibed from those who have followed its tenets. It is a vibrant, living
tradition that can be understood in all its facets only when it is approached with the objectivity
of the scholar and with the right spirit of inquiry. It would not be an exaggeration to say that,
in the course of writing my columns over these years, I gained greater clarity of thought and
expression, because lucid communication and sustaining the reader’s interest are paramount for
a columnist. At the same time, it must be said that Vedānta cannot be diluted to make it
appealing. Anyone who wishes to study Vedānta has to make an effort to familiarize himself
with its fundamental concepts and terminology, as in the case of any discipline. The challenge
in writing this book, therefore, was to strike the right balance so that the abstract concepts
were intelligible even to the beginner.
It is the unique experience I have gained as an academic researcher and media practitioner
that prompted my book editor, Kamini Mahadevan, to propose that I undertake this exercise for
the Penguin Classics series. When she approached me in early 2008 with an invitation to put
together an anthology of Śaṅkara’s writings, my initial reaction was one of hesitation because,
for one, I felt that, after a break of fifteen years from academic work, I would not be able to get
back to research that such a project would entail. I also hesitated due to the commitment that
would be necessary to bring it to fruition because of the demands of my career and family life. I
succumbed because it afforded me a chance to revisit the classical texts with a different
perspective—making them accessible to the modern reader. For me, it was a nostalgic journey
back in time, a promise of new beginnings.
This book is an edited selection of Śaṅkara’s writings with the objective of presenting the
salient concepts of Advaita Vedānta according to Śaṅkara. While there is a rich corpus of books
available in this genre, this differs from them in that it presents the teachings of Vedānta in
Śaṅkara’s own words. Swami Atmananda’s Sri Sankara’s Teachings in His Own Words and A.J.
Alston’s six-volume A Śaṅkara Source-book, both published several decades ago, were undertaken
with a similar purpose. While the former is a handy volume mainly intended for the spiritual
seeker, the latter is a very comprehensive manual suitable for intensive study and research. This
attempt, on the other hand, strives to find the middle ground so that it can serve the interests of
both the student of Vedānta and the modern reader, for whom studying the original works of
Śaṅkara may be daunting. Besides, with Śaṅkara being the pre-eminent and central figure in
the Advaita lineage, it is necessary for the discerning reader of Vedānta to distinguish and
appreciate the differences between and the nuances of pre-Śaṅkara and post-Śaṅkara thought
and developments, for which grounding in Śaṅkara Vedānta becomes all the more necessary,
and this book will meet with this need.
I have organized the passages from Śaṅkara’s works in seven chapters covering all the
important concepts of Vedānta with a general introduction explaining the rationale of this
anthology. The general introduction by itself is a standalone summary of the life, mission,
works and teachings of Śaṅkara, and it also offers a bird’s-eye view of what is explained in the
chapters that follow. The introduction to each chapter is a concise account of the subject matter
dealt with in it, so that the reader can better appreciate the topics and the selected passages in
them. I have annotated the selected passages under every topic so that it is easy to follow the
nuances of the concepts and the arguments. The grouping of the passages also allows scope for
easy reference.
I began this preamble on a personal note because the writing of this book coincided with the
birth of my grandson Aniruddh, my migration to the USA, and moving on in life with the
promise and hope of new beginnings. I offer this anthology to my readers with the same spirit
that new vistas would unfold in their lives by engaging with Vedānta.

6 October 2011
Philadelphia
Introduction

SECTION I (BACKGROUND)

VEDĀNTA TIMELESS
In the days of yore lived Satyakāma and, true to his name, the yearning to learn the Absolute
Truth impelled him one day to ask his mother Jābāla, ‘Venerable mother! I wish to live as a
celibate in a teacher’s house. To which lineage (gotra) do I belong?’ The poor mother’s heart
missed a beat, for she had only her son left after her husband’s departure. Seeing his thirst for
knowledge, she knew the time had come to send him away to a Guru. How long could she hold
on to him? But she did not know their antecedents. In her youth, she had been busy serving
everyone in her husband’s house, and it had not occurred to her that destiny would deal a cruel
blow to her and that she would be left all alone to fend for her child and herself, for which she
had to know the ways of the world.
It is customary in tradition to introduce oneself by mentioning one’s parentage and gotra,
more so while seeking formal spiritual instruction under a Guru. Explaining her predicament,
Jābāla told Satyakāma to introduce himself as Satyakāma Jābāla, and gave him her blessings.
The boy went post-haste to the hermitage of the renowned sage Gautama, and expressed his
longing to become his disciple. The teacher, as expected, asked him his lineage. Without
hesitation, he repeated what his mother had told him, ‘Honourable Sir! I do not know my
lineage. I asked my mother, and she told me that she had had me in her youth when she was
preoccupied with service. Her name is Jābāla and my name is Satyakāma. Sir, such as I am, I
am Satyakāma Jābāla.’ His eagerness for acceptance was echoed by the ring of honesty in his
answer. Gautama told him, ‘Fetch faggots for sacrifice, dear boy. I shall initiate you, for you did
not swerve from truth.’
Thus begins the story of Satyakāma recounted in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad,1 and it goes on to
relate how Nature, pleased by his service and steadfast devotion to his Guru, taught him the
Supreme Truth. Satyakāma became three times blessed when Gautama imparted spiritual
knowledge to him, when he saw his face radiant with the bliss of the Self. In due time,
Satyakāma himself became a celebrated sage, and students flocked to him. The relevance of
such anecdotes from the Upaniṣads, which form the tap root of Vedānta, lies in their universal
and perennial appeal. Satyakāma’s case, for instance, conveys tellingly that Truth reveals itself
to him who upholds it and yearns for it, and in this quest, all other considerations pale in
comparison. Vedānta is a living tradition with its origin in the Vedas, but its spirit transcends
time. Yet, it is essential to situate it within, and approach it through the tradition that nurtures
it, to appreciate its eternal validity and rigorous method of transmission.

SITUATING VEDĀNTA
Sanātana Dharma, the tradition or way of life based on the Vedas, is popularly known as
Hinduism. The Vedic vision is holistic, encompassing the religious, spiritual, philosophical, and
socio-cultural aspects of human life. There are four Vedas: the Ṛg, Sāma, Yajur and Atharvaṇa.
Each Veda is divided into two sections: the kārma-kāṇḍa, which is the ritualistic portion, and the
jñāna-kāṇḍa, which deals with philosophy. These two are also expanded into four sections: the
Saṁhitā (Mantra), Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka, and the Upaniṣad. This division represents a progressive
evolution from karma (ritual and sacrifices) to jñāna (meditation and knowledge). Together,
they enable a human being to realize all the puruṣārthās—dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa—to
lead a fulfilled life here in this world, and liberation from transmigration, which is the summum
bonum of human life.
Eternal, and revealed at the beginning of every cycle of creation, the Vedas are the ultimate
authority, and all other scriptural texts are based on them. As the Upaniṣads form the
concluding portion of the Vedas, their teaching is literally termed as Vedānta (Veda+anta), and
the raison d’être of the Vedic teachings finds consummation in them. The primary scriptural
source of all Vedānta schools is the Upaniṣads. The Upaniṣads are many, and their teachings
offer varied philosophical views.
That the holistic vision of the Vedas has been preserved to this day is largely due to Śaṅkara
who appeared at a crucial time when it had lost its bearings. It was then being dominated by
the Pūrva-mīmāṁsā, which emphasizes only rituals (karma) for enjoyment—both worldly and
heavenly—to the exclusion of the Upaniṣads, which teach the Ultimate Truth. It is no wonder
that the religious tradition has exalted Śaṅkara to the status of an incarnation of Śiva. Even if
such a claim is overlooked, there is still enough substance to prove, just on the basis of his
commentaries on the prasthānatraya (Upaniṣads, Brahma-sūtra, and Bhagavad-gītā), that his
achievement during the brief thirty-two years that he lived was incredible by any standard.
The Vedānta tradition has a hoary antiquity, dating back to the Vedas. Hence, Śaṅkara’s
contribution must be seen in the light of the role he had in its long history. It must be noted that
Śaṅkara was not the founder of the Advaita system; there were preceptors before him. His Guru,
Govinda Bhagavadpāda, and his preceptor, Gauḍapāda, were renowned Advaitins, and Śaṅkara
acknowledges his indebtedness to them. To him fell the task of systematizing the tradition by
precept and practice.
The Upaniṣads are mystical in nature, and the philosophical systems based on them are called
Darśanas as their intent is to lead the seeker to experience the Truth. Veda Vyāsa 2 (Bādarāyana)
presented their teachings in a logical manner in the Brahma-sūtra (Vedānta-sūtra) to bring out
their import. Bādarāyana was not the first to present the teachings of the Upaniṣads and, in
fact, refers to seven Vedāntic teachers,3 who were earlier systematizers, but it is his work that is
extant, and has been commented on in the different Vedānta systems. The other basic text of
Vedānta is the Bhagavad-gītā, which occurs in the Mahābhārata, also written by Vyāsa. These
three texts together form the scriptural canon of Vedānta, the prasthānatraya, representing
different approaches to the Absolute Reality (Brahman): revelation (śruti), reasoning (yukti),
and experience (anubhava), respectively. They are also known as śruti prasthāna, nyāya prasthāna
and smṛti prasthāna.
As the prasthānatraya texts are difficult to comprehend, and also lend themselves to different
interpretations, different schools of Vedānta came into being as systematic presentations of
their viewpoints. The lives and works of the preceptors, who systematized the different streams
of Vedānta, must be seen in the context of the time in which they lived because they did not
profess to new interpretations of the prasthānatraya, and affirmed that they only consolidated
and rejuvenated the different systems to suit the need of the hour, which can be seen from the
fact that they express their indebtedness to thinkers before them in their commentaries. Śaṅkara
adopts a methodological approach in his writings wherein he gives primacy to śruti, then smṛti,
which are the works of sages, and finally to nyāya (reason).

DATE OF ŚAṄKARA
The advent of Śaṅkara (known reverentially as Śaṅkarācārya and Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda) was
a time in the history of Sanātana Dharma when emphasis on rituals (karma) had overwhelmed
the Vedic philosophical vision on the one hand and, on the other, the heterodox religions,
especially Buddhism, were spreading their wings across the land, thereby posing a challenge to
Vedic tradition. Śaṅkara rose to this situation with elan, as he was a multifaceted personality
who could tackle this at different levels. Rooted in tradition, he was convincing to the orthodox
and yet he was an idealistic philosopher who could carry the intellectual with him. Also, he was
a fervent devotee and mystic who could speak with the certitude of experience, which enabled
him to bring about the much-needed reforms to streamline the various religious sects within the
fold of Sanātana Dharma.
While there is not much dispute about the role assigned to Śaṅkara in tradition—as the one
who stemmed the tide of atheism and rejuvenated the Vedic tradition as a holistic way of life—
there is yet no consensus on the date of such an important personality, with traditional
accounts assigning him to the fifth or sixth century BC, and western Oriental scholars like
Gonda more or less agreeable to AD 788–820. This underlines the necessity of taking into
account both these approaches in a study tracing the roots of Advaita Vedānta, as Śaṅkara is
the central figure of this school and also of a religious tradition which is popular and vibrant to
this day. Vedānta is rooted in spirituality, and hence it cannot be approached only as a
philosophy in the Western sense of the term. Yet, Śaṅkara is a dynamic philosopher whose
works can stand alone as a corpus for evaluating his contribution as a thinker. He is the turning
point in the history of Advaita which falls naturally into two phases: pre-Śaṅkara and post-
Śaṅkara. The difference of over twelve centuries between the traditional and the modern
approaches in fixing his date is yet another pointer to the difficulties that arise when the tools
of historical dating are applied to religious personalities even as late as the early medieval
period, because biographical accounts tend to become hagiographical when faith takes centre
stage. Extensive research has been done by scholars to trace the sources for writing the life of
Śaṅkara; yet there is no consensus about his date, biographical details or his works. All the
biographical accounts on which tradition relies belong to a period much later than Śaṅkara.
Scholars who were forerunners (whose works were published between 1910 and 1930) in the
quest to reconstruct Śaṅkara’s biography, in which his date has been determined on the basis of
more or less the same facts, were T.S. Narayana Sastri, C.N. Krishnaswami Iyer, N.K.
Venkatesan, K.T. Telang, S.S. Suryanarayana Sastri, N. Venkata Ramana, Bhasyacarya, N.
Ramesan, Rajendra Nath Ghosh, Baldev Upadhyaya, Tapasyananda, T.M.P. Mahadevan and
K.G. Nateshan Sastri.4 Govind Chandra Pande has categorized as follows the sources available
to ascertain Śaṅkara’s date and life: contemporary or near-contemporary literature; traditional
biographical literature; extant biographies, monastic traditions and records; and miscellaneous
literary sources.5 He concludes that the dates of Śaṅkara could range from AD 650 to 775. R.
Balasubramanian takes into consideration the extant research of scholars, especially that of N.
Ramesan, who places Śaṅkara in the first century BC, and also refers to inscriptions and
archaeological findings, which point to ‘first century BC as the probable date of aṇkara’.6 S.
Sankaranarayanan’s opinion is that ‘Sri Śaṅkara could have belonged to an age much earlier
than seventh–eighth centuries (probably AD 400).’7 Even on the basis of the records and
succession of pontiffs of the maṭhas (monasteries) that Śaṅkara is said to have founded (there
are controversies about them, too), it has not been possible to fix his date with any certainty.
Paul Hacker concludes that Śaṅkara must have lived before or around AD 700, on the basis of
the reference made by Mandana Miśra (Sureśvara, who later became Śaṅkara’s disciple) to
Śaṅkara’s Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya in his Brahma-siddhi, and Śaṅkara’s familiarity with the Buddhist
philosopher Dharmakirti.8 Largely taking Hacker’s line, and on the basis of Śaṅkara’s direct
disciple Sureśvara’s mention of Dharmakirti, who taught in the middle of the seventh century
AD, A.J. Alston concludes that Śaṅkara must have been teaching around AD 700. He is also
critical of K. Kunjunni Raja’s arguments for a later date for Śaṅkara as he has overlooked
Mandana’s reference.9 Such varied opinions will continue to stimulate more research to reach a
consensus on Śaṅkara’s date.

LIFE SKETCH
Considering the absence of a contemporary biographical record, coupled with the availability of
quite a number of traditional biographies (Śaṅkara-vijaya) removed from him by many
centuries,10 it is no wonder that Śaṅkara’s life has become mixed up with a number of legends.
All the biographical accounts on which tradition relies belong to a much later period than that
of Śaṅkara, but there are certain details and incidents that are common to these accounts,
which can be taken to be the most probable incidents currently in vogue about Śaṅkara’s life.
Even if they are unacceptable to modern scholarship, they merit mention in a biographical
sketch of Śaṅkara to appreciate his singular status as a preceptor in the Advaita lineage
(guruparampara).
Śaṅkara was born in the village of Kālaḍi in Kerala. His father was Śivaguru, his mother,
āryāmbā. They were childless for a long time, and he is said to have been born as a result of
Śiva’s grace. Śaṅkara’s father died when he was young, and to his mother fell the responsibility
of his upbringing. Śaṅkara’s love for his mother has been documented in tradition by two
touching anecdotes. When she found it very difficult to go to the River Kālaḍi daily to bathe,
Śaṅkara turned its course with his yogic power so that it started flowing near their house. The
other relates to the promise he made to his mother when she allowed him to become a sannyāsin
that he would be by her side during her last moments. Not only did he keep his word, but he
also performed her last rites for which he was ostracized by his community. But he was unfazed
as he considered the word he had given his mother (to uphold truth) more sacrosanct.
He was prodigious and mastered the Vedas by the age of eight, and went in search of a Guru
towards the north, and is believed to have met Govinda Bhagavadpāda by the River Narmadā.
Govinda was Gauḍapāda’s disciple. Śaṅkara studied Veda and Vedānta under him, and took
formal renunciation from him. By the age of sixteen, Śaṅkara had accomplished all he wished
by way of education and spiritual learning. His mission from then on was twofold: to
consolidate the Advaita tradition and to revitalize the Vedic practices. With his Guru’s grace,
Śaṅkara went to Vāranāsi, the centre of philosophical and spiritual learning, and also toured
the country. He debated with scholars wherever he went to establish Advaita. One such scholar
of repute in Mīmāṁsā was Maṇḍana Miśra who, after accepting defeat, became his disciple with
the new name Sureśvara.11 Padmapāda, Toṭakācārya and Hastāmalaka were his other three
direct disciples. Another famous Mīmāṁsā scholar he wanted to win over in debate was
Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, but it did not come about as he was immolating himself in expiation when
Śaṅkara reached him. It is recounted that it was he who directed him to Maṇdaṇa, his brother-
in-law.
To perpetuate the spiritual lineage of the Advaita tradition, Śaṅkara established monasteries
(maṭhas). He gave responsibility for the maṭhas he established in the four corners of the country
to his four disciples: the Jyotirmaṭha at Badarīkāśrama in the north to Toṭakā; the Kālikāpīṭha at
Dwārakā in the west to Padmapāda; the Śāradāpītha at Śṛiṇgeri in the south to Sureśvara; and
the Govardhanapīṭha at Pūri in the east to Hastāmalaka. A fifth maṭha, the Kāmakoṭipīṭha at
Kāñchī, was also founded by him, according to its tradition. Some other versions mention many
more monasteries. It must be noted that the sources for the founding of the maṭhas are
traditional accounts and, there again, controversies abound. That these lineages are current is
enough to infer that Śaṅkara’s direct disciples were entrusted with the responsibility of
furthering the mission undertaken by him. He is also credited with organizing the itinerant
monks into ten orders (Daśanāmi),12 so that wherever they went, they would be able to motivate
the masses to follow the Vedic way of life. This gave impetus to Sanātana Dharma as monks were
able to ensure propagation of both the philosophical and the spiritual aspects of Vedānta by
example.
Next, he undertook the task of writing commentaries on the prasthānatraya: the Brahma-sūtra,
the major Upaniṣads13 and the Bhagavad-gītā). This was the most important task in his mission
as these three genres together provide a holistic methodological approach of interpreting the
import of the Vedas. His commentaries established a benchmark in the annals of Vedānta, as
thinkers of all Vedānta traditions after him had to live up to his ideal. He is said to have written
his commentaries in or near Badarīkāśrama. He also composed a number of other
commentaries, independent works (prakaraṇas) and devotional hymns (stotras). As their number
is highly exaggerated, there is yet no consensus about which are authentic except his
prasthānatraya commentaries and the Upadeśa Sāhasri. All accounts are unanimous in that he
lived to the age of thirty-two, but there are two versions about his siddhi (end). One states that
he went into samādhi after ascending the sarvajñapīṭha (seat of omniscience) at Kāñchī; the other
states that he ascended the seat of omniscience in Kashmir, and disappeared into a cave at
Kedara in the Himalayas.14
Two other touching incidents recounted in tradition relate to his compassion, which moved
him to compose hymns. One was when, as a student, he sought alms from a poor woman who
offered the only gooseberry (amla) she had, with a heavy heart that she was unable to feed such
a brilliant boy sumptuously, and who blessed him that the light of Self-knowledge should shine
as clearly as the fruit she placed on his palm. It is believed that, touched by her plight, Śaṅkara
composed the Kanakadhāra stotra in praise of the Divine Mother, and a shower of golden
gooseberries filled the poor woman’s courtyard. The other relates to his composing his famous
hymn Bhaja Govindam at Kāśi when he was stirred by pity on seeing an elderly scholar
struggling with Sanskrit grammar. The futility of his effort at that age made him burst into song
about directing his effort instead to devotion, along with Self-inquiry, for attaining liberation.
Śaṅkara is believed to have toured the country three times during his short lifespan to
accomplish his mission of propounding Advaita.
On the religious front, Śaṅkara is hailed as the one who unified the different theistic sects
within the fold of Hinduism, Saṇmata, worship of the six deities—Viṣṇu, śiva, śakti, Gaṇapati,
Sūrya and Kumāra—as the forms of the non-dual Absolute, a practical application of his
philosophy based on the Ṛg Vedic pronouncement, ‘Truth is one; the wise call it by many
names’.15 This was indeed a stroke of genius because it not only brought together the splintered
sects within Hinduism, but also endowed a catholic spirit in the practitioners so that differing
philosophical views did not result in dissension in the practice of religion in society. This was to
earn him the honorific ‘Saṇmata sthāpanācārya’. His mission thus encompassed the twofold Vedic
ideal he spells out in his preface to the Bhagavad-gītā—pravṛtti-dharma or the religion of works
(karma), and nivṛtti-dharma, the religion of renunciation. Śaṅkara states, ‘It is the twofold Vedic
religion of works and renunciation that maintains order in the universe.’16 That Śaṅkara was an
exemplar of the ideal he spelt out is reason enough to appreciate why he has been accorded the
pre-eminent status among preceptors in the Advaita Vedānta tradition. Śaṅkara’s holistic vision
thus encompassed the philosophical, religious, spiritual, and socio-cultural aspects of human life
in the world, and to neglect his contributions in these spheres of human engagement to the
exclusion of philosophy would be doing a gross injustice to his multifaceted personality.

WORKS OF ŚAṄKARA
If an attempt to sift the authentic biographical information about Śaṅkara from the mass of
literature is beset with difficulties, an effort to list his genuine works from the hundreds of
works ascribed to him is an even more stupendous task. Determination of the authenticity of
Śaṅkara’s works is complicated on two counts: there are far too many to carry conviction that
an individual could have authored so much, and that, too, within such a short lifespan. So, the
rift between the traditionalists and the modern researchers becomes even wider with the latter
narrowing them down to just a handful. Besides, scepticism also abounds regarding the wide
spectrum of works that he is said to have composed.
G.C. Pande states that ‘the different catalogues ascribe nearly 400 works of different kinds to
Śaṅkara’. The twenty-volume edition of Śaṅkara’s writings published by Vani Vilas Press on the
basis of the Śṛiṇgeri tradition, which has been revised and published by Samata Books in ten
volumes, comprises 117 works.17 The list of works given in the Śaṅkara Grantha Ratnavali in
Bengali script totals 153 works.18 S. Sankaranarayanan’s compilation lists 167 works which, he
says, is not exhaustive.19 Pande has assessed this problem exhaustively, taking into account the
traditional view and the opinions of scholars, especially G.V. Kaviraj, Baldev Upadhyaya, S.K.
Belvalkar, Hacker and Mayeda.20 A.J. Alston largely subscribes to Hacker’s philological
approach to distinguish the authentic from the unauthentic ones.21
After considering these analyses, one can see that all are in agreement about the authenticity
of Śaṅkara’s prasthānatraya commentaries (bhāṣyas). They are the commentaries on the ten
classical Upaniṣads, namely the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Chāndogya, Īśa, Kena (has two commentaries),
Kaṭha, Taittirīya, Aitareya, Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍūkya and Gauḍapāda’s Kārikā on it, and the Praśna
Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad-gītā and the Brahma-sūtra. Among the independent works (prakaraṇa),
the Upadeśa Sāhasri, his commentary on the Adhyātmapaṭala of the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra and
the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya-vivaraṇa also meet with approval by the majority. Popular works like his
commentary on the Viṣṇu-sahasranāma-stotra; manuals like the Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, Ātmabodha,
Śataślokī, Aparokṣānubhūti, and the Pañcīkaraṇa; the hymns Dakṣiṇāmūrti-stotra (Mānasollāsa being
Sureśvara’s vārtika on it), Bhaja Govindam, Mānīsāpañcakam, DaśaŚloki, Govindāṣṭakam and the
Harimīḍe-stotra must be included, considering that they are held in very high esteem in tradition,
and are popular in practice. Their importance is primarily from the spiritual point of view, so it
will not be appropriate to apply to them the yardstick used to assess his philosophical works.
Another argument, adduced to counter Hacker’s and Mayeda’s method22 of repetition of
stylistic and doctrinal features to assess the authenticity, is that Śaṅkara need not necessarily
have used the same words and phrases in his prakaraṇas and stotras that he did in his
prasthānatraya commentaries because that would have imposed a restriction on his felicity of
expression and his versatility. Besides, it is acknowledged that his prakaraṇas were meant for
teaching his followers who needed systematic, simpler texts, while the style of his prasthānatraya
commentaries is annotative, and they were written with the objective of establishing the
philosophy of Advaita Vedānta on the basis of the scriptural canon. His hymns and
commentaries on popular texts were written for different purposes and audiences. Some might
have been spontaneously composed when a situation demanded it, considering the many
prevailing anecdotes in tradition, whereas his commentaries are in the nature of an
interpretation of the import of the scriptural texts to present a coherent viewpoint and also to
counter differing views. Moreover, Śaṅkara’s synthesis of the many theistic strands in worship
into one must have necessitated a wide spectrum of hymnal compositions to fulfil his religious
mission. As the arguments advanced by traditional and modern scholars are convincing from
their respective perspectives, each view can be accepted on its own terms. Prolificacy is
certainly not a criterion for evaluating a literary or an intellectual genius. Śaṅkara’s
prasthānatraya commentaries—acceptable to one and all—are enough to give an insight into the
range of his literary skill, intellectual acumen and mystical vision.

SECTION II (VEDĀNTA TRADITION)

THE ROOTS OF VEDĀNTA


As a Vedāntin, Śaṅkara’s primary undertaking was as a commentator on the scriptures that are
the foundation of Vedānta. He was the first to present a coherent framework for Advaita on the
basis of the prasthānatraya. This necessitates a basic understanding of the scriptural texts on
which he commented to substantiate his viewpoint. The Vedas are known as śruti because they
are revelations, and all the works of sages, like the dharma-śāstras, purāṇas and the epics, are
known as smṛti (meaning ‘remembered’), and they expound the Vedas only. Śaṅkara takes a
holistic perspective of the Vedas, that the karma-kāṇḍa and the jñāna-kāṇḍa complement each
other by dealing with the two aspects of human life: pravṛtti (secular welfare) and nivṛtti
(liberation from bondage), respectively. It is the latter section containing the Upaniṣads that is
the ultimate authority for the exposition of Vedānta.
The Upaniṣads are the fountainhead of Vedic vision and wisdom, and can thus be said to be
the grand finale of the Vedas. They are mystical, expressing the insights of the sages into
Reality and, therefore, also abstract in nature. Since language becomes inadequate in
articulating what is essentially experiential, the sages have resorted to myth and symbol and,
sometimes, purely negative terms, to convey their intuitions of the Absolute. The insights of the
Upaniṣadic sages embody monistic, pluralistic and theistic strands which have given rise to the
differing philosophical views of the Reality. Śaṅkara’s ingenuity lay in subsuming them all
within the framework of Advaita by adopting a philosophy of standpoints. So, plurality is real
from the empirical standpoint while, at the transcendental level, the Reality is non-dual. There
were several Vedāntins before him who professed the monistic view, especially his own Guru
Govinda, and his preceptor Gauḍapāda on whose work, the Māṇḍūkya Kārikā, Śaṅkara
commented. Śaṅkara thus belongs to a hoary lineage of preceptors traced to Vyāsa himself in
tradition, which can be interpreted in the Vedānta context to mean the Upaniṣads themselves
because Vyāsa was the one who codified the Vedas. There is reference to seven Vedāntic
teachers in the Brahma-sūtra—Jaimini, Āśmarathya, Bādari, Auḍulomi, Kāśakṛtsna, Kārṣṇājini
and Ātreya,23 who had attempted to systematize the teachings of the Upaniṣads. So, the
Upaniṣads are the primary scriptures (śruti prasthāna) to know the Absolute Reality. There are
over 100 Upaniṣads, and the ten on which Śaṅkara commented are considered the classical
ones.
Śaṅkara considers the Bhagavad-gītā next in order of priority. It is smṛti prasthāna because it
occurs in the Mahābhārata, the epic written by Sage Vyāsa. It is necessary to understand why
Śaṅkara ranks it next in importance, and not the Brahma-sūtra, which is by far the most rigorous
presentation of the import of the Upaniṣads. For one, the Gītā, hailed popularly as a spiritual
classic, is considered the quintessence of the Upaniṣads. Śaṅkara, in fact, describes it as the
epitome of the teaching of the entire Veda. Its purport is spiritual, and so it leads to experience
(anubhava) of Brahman. Right at the outset, Śaṅkara states that the Lord (Hiraṇyagarbha, Īśvara)
is the Absolute (Nirguṇa-Brahman), and identifies Him with Nārāyaṇa and Viṣṇu, who
incarnated as Kṛṣṇa, and taught this scripture. This is perhaps the most important reference in
Śaṅkara’s works equating the Lord (Saguṇa-Brahman) with the Absolute Reality. Unlike the
Upaniṣads—which emphasize renunciation and meditation on Brahman as the spiritual
discipline leading to liberation—the Gītā, by prescribing the path of action (karma-yoga) with a
spirit of detachment culminating in jñāna-yoga, and also the path of devotion (bhakti-yoga) to a
personal form of God, opens the doors of liberation even to those unable to renounce the world
(householders). Śaṅkara accommodates karma-yoga as a preliminary aid for purification of mind
(cittaśuddhi) to qualify for jñāna-yoga, which enables the seeker to identity himself with the
Absolute when his ignorance is removed. In the case of bhakti-yoga, release from bondage is
certain. Either the devotee will reach the world of Hiraṇyagarbha and attain liberation during
the cosmic dissolution or, by the grace of the Lord, belessed with knowledge that will lead to
liberation directly, here and now.
Coming to the third of the triple canon, the Brahma-sūtra, which is nyāya prasthāna (reason),
Śaṅkara’s commentary on this text is an exegesis expounding the philosophy of Advaita as the
import of the Upaniṣads. It is the earliest surviving attempt at systematization of the teachings
of the Upaniṣads though, as mentioned earlier, Bādarāyaṇa mentions others who attempted
going in this direction before him. The Brahma-sūtra comprises 555 aphorisms (sūtras), divided
into four chapters each, which are, in turn, divided into four sections each. The rationale of the
division of the sūtras into four can be seen from the titles of these chapters: reconciliation
through proper interpretation (samanvaya); non-contradiction (avirodha); spiritual practice
(sādhana); and result (phala).
The opening sūtra is a statement of the objective of this text, that is, inquiry into Brahman,
and the text ends with the result to which this inquiry leads, which is, liberation from bondage.
This is the express intent of the Upaniṣads but the method employed in the Brahma-sūtra to
expound it is different—through reasoning. Śaṅkara’s preamble to the Brahma-sūtra, the
Adhyāsabhāṣya, is a masterpiece in itself. He is at his scintillating best while delineating his
premise for the non-dual nature of the Reality (Advaita), by pinpointing superimposition
(adhyāsa) of the not-Self on the Self as the reason for the experience of duality (subject–object
distinction), and tracing the cause of superimposition to nescience (avidyā). The entire text is
thus an exposition of the Upaniṣad teachings to logically build a case to show that only
knowledge (jñāna) of the non-dual nature of the Self can remove this primordial ignorance, and
lead to liberation, which is primarily regaining one’s original nature.
Tradition identifies Bādarāyaṇa, the author of the Brahma-sūtra, as Vyāsa who compiled the
Vedas, on the basis of a verse in the Bhāmati of Vācaspati Miśra.24 According to Śaṅkara,
Bādarāyaṇa, on the basis of harmony, shows in the first chapter that the Upaniṣads have the
explicit purpose of teaching that Brahman is the Reality, the ground of the phenomena of
insentient and sentient beings. Brahman is the object of meditation, and the supreme goal to be
realized. The second chapter is essentially a defence of the objections that can be raised against
the metaphysics of Advaita which holds that Brahman is the source of the world. The points of
contention in other philosophical systems are refuted to establish the Advaita doctrines. In the
third chapter, Bādarāyaṇa discusses the means to liberation—spiritual discipline (sādhana).
Liberation is the realization of Brahman as the non-dual Self. The final chapter is an
elaboration of the state of release, and of the liberated soul. These are essentially the four broad
themes that the Upaniṣads purport to teach, but as they do not expound them methodically,
Bādarāyaṇa composed the Brahma-sūtra to present them in a systematic manner.

ADVAITA VEDĀNTA
It needs to be reiterated that Śaṅkara was only one of the preceptors of the Advaita Vedānta
school—although certainly its central figure—because it is very easy to lose sight of the other
Vedāntins of the school considering the status he enjoys in it. He never claimed originality as an
Advaitin and was an uncompromising traditionalist, quite vociferous in condemning those who
did not conform to tradition. His uniqueness when compared to his predecessors can be seen in
his commentaries on the principal texts of Vedānta for presenting a coherent system of
philosophy. He openly acknowledges his indebtedness to his teachers while quoting them in
support of his argument,25 and considers himself a representative of the Vedāntic tradition. That
Advaita Vedānta has become synonymous with Śaṅkara is a vindication of his contribution to
this school. So the division of pre- and post-Śaṅkara Advaita becomes necessary to understand
how classical Vedānta from the time of the Upaniṣads was systematized by Śaṅkara. The works
of Maṇḍana Miśra (Sureśvara?) are also important in the history of Advaita as he was a
contemporary. The commentaries on Śaṅkara’s Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya by his successors led to the
development of the Vārtika (Sureśvara’s Vārtikas on Śaṅkara’s commentaries on the
Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Taittirīya Upaniṣads); Bhāmati (with Vācaspati Miśra’s Bhāmati); and the
Vivaraṇa (with Padmapāda’s Pañcapadika) traditions in Advaita after him. This is mainly due to
the interpretation of Śaṅkara’s commentaries by his followers. Śaṅkara is a legend in the annals
of Vedānta because his versatility enabled him to command leadership in all spheres of the
Vedic tradition: philosophy, religion, spirituality.
The rationale of Śaṅkara’s commentaries on the prasthānatraya must be discerned before
attempting to understand the framework of Advaita Vedānta. Besides the fulfilment by these
three texts, of the threefold methodological approach of śruti, yukti, anubhava—which is
important from the perspective of realizing the objective of Vedānta (liberation)—they are also
complementary. The Upaniṣads, being the śruti, are the primary scriptural authority. They lend
themselves to different metaphysical views of the Absolute Reality classified as follows:
difference (bheda), non-difference (abheda), difference-cum-non-difference (bhedābheda) and a
variation of abheda which is qualified non-difference (viśiṣṭa) called Viśiṣṭādvaita.26 All Vedānta
systems, barring Advaita, therefore, take the pluralistic position in delineating the Reality. The
writing of the Brahma-sūtra was a logical development in the history of Vedānta and it is a
presentation of the teachings of the Upaniṣads according to Bādarāyaṇa. Though they differ in
their metaphysics, all the Vedānta schools are in agreement that the Brahma-sūtra best presents
the central teaching of the Upaniṣads systematically. The same unanimity extends to the
Bhagavad-gītā among smṛtis, which is a pointer to the evolution of the Vedānta tradition itself.
There were Vedāntins upholding the different philosophical views before Śaṅkara, too.
Śaṅkara’s interpretation of the prasthānatraya texts is from the Advaita standpoint.

PHILOSOPHY OF STANDPOINTS
A philosophy of non-difference or non-duality of the Absolute Reality (Brahman), naturally
necessitates an explanation for the duality that is the fact of the empirical level of human
experience. Śaṅkara explains the phenomenon of the one becoming the many with the concept
of māyā/avidyā (nescience, ignorance). Śaṅkara’s basic propositions are stated in the following
verse: ‘Brahman is the Reality; the phenomenal world is illusory; the embodied soul is indeed
Brahman Itself and is not different from It’.27 This hemistich is the recurring leitmotif in
Śaṅkara’s metaphysics. Reality is non-dual at the absolute level (pāramārthika), which is
transcendental or beyond sensory perception and intellectual understanding. The empirical
level of reality (vyāvahārika) is the world of human engagement with which we are familiar.
Thus, the philosophy of Advaita is one of standpoints, and these two are further enlarged to
include illusion (prātibhasika, which is apparent reality), seen only by the perceiver, as in the
case of mistaking a rope for a snake in darkness, or objects seen in a dream. Till the illusion is
dispelled by right understanding (that it is a piece of rope or that it was a dream), it is
perceived to be a snake, and its result can be observed in the fright to which the person is
subjected or the belief about what was seen in the dream. To Śaṅkara, the empirical world is
similarly a chimera from the transcendental level. When avidyā—which is responsible for the
non-dual Reality appearing as many—is dispelled by knowledge (jñāna) of the nature of the
Reality, only the non-dual Self remains, and the empirical world is negated. It must not be
misunderstood that Śaṅkara dismisses the empirical world of insentient and sentient beings as
an illusion. It is real as long as avidyā lasts (empirical level), and so, this is stated from the
absolute standpoint. Hence, the absolute and relative standpoints keep surfacing throughout the
discussion of Advaita.
Philosophical inquiry is conducted at the empirical level of human experience, and thus it is
essentially an intellectual exercise. At some point then the philosopher has to confront the
Ultimate Reality, which eludes reason and, therefore, logic. This involves a quantum leap in
consciousness from the intellectual to the intuitive level of experience. It is to enable the mind
to transcend the intellectual barrier that Vedānta turns to scripture as the authority in matters
trans-empirical—beyond the senses and the mind. It is essential, and customary, to begin with
epistemology in philosophy, and also consider the methods that Vedānta adopts to arrive at
Truth.

METHODS OF VEDĀNTA
The methods which teachers of Vedānta espouse to teach the nature of Brahman, are known as
adhyāropa and apavāda. Adhyāropa is the erroneous superimposition (adhyāsa) due to avidyā
(nescience), because of which, one thing is perceived as another, and the characteristics of one
are attributed to the other as in the case of mistaking a piece of rope for a snake. Similarly, the
characteristics of the not-Self (anātman) are superimposed on the Self (Ātman), which is eternal,
and of the nature of existence, consciousness and bliss, as a consequence of which, the infinite
Self appears as the embodied soul (jīva) subject to the limitations of the empirical world.
Brahman, which is non-dual, appears as the world of plurality of insentient and sentient beings
because of adhyāropa. It is due to adhyāropa that the Real appears as the unreal, and the unreal
appears as the Real. By adopting the method of negation (apav ā da), which involves
discrimination, the attributes of the not-Self are eliminated to reveal the Self. Superimposition is
only an appearance; therefore, the Self is unaffected by the attributes of the not-Self imposed
on it.

SECTION III (CONCEPTS)

SUPERIMPOSITION
The concept of superimposition (adhyāsa) is the basis of Śaṅkara’s philosophical deliberation, as
is evident in its elaboration in his preface to his commentary on the Brahmasūtra, the Adhyāsa-
bhāṣya. This has understandably become famous, and is considered a standalone piece of
writing as Śaṅkara erects his philosophical scaffold on the foundation of superimposition.
Śaṅkara defines adhyāsa as ‘the apparent presentation, in the form of remembrance, to
consciousness of something previously observed, in some other thing’. The classic example of
superimposition is mistaking mother-of-pearl for silver or mistaking a rope for a snake. The
shining quality is common to silver and to mother-of-pearl while a coiled rope, because of its
thickness, colour and length, appears like a serpent when there is insufficient light. Śaṅkara
explains here that philosophical investigation can proceed only from the natural level of human
engagement in the world involving all the faculties that contribute to the process of acquiring
knowledge. This involves subject–object distinction and, hence, it is the empirical level—the
world of duality—as pointed out earlier, that is the arena for human enterprise, both secular
and sacred. It is logical if one questions whether the example of superimposition of an attribute
of one object on another—as in the case of silver seen in mother-of-pearl—can be applicable to
the mutual superimposition of the not-Self and the Self because Ātman is not an object of
knowledge. It is true that Ātman is not an object of knowledge but adhyāsa is the basis of
empirical existence and hence, Vedānta has to proceed from avidyā, which is present, to vidyā.
So, such analogies are apt. Though Vedānta is spiritual knowledge, the process of inquiry has to
begin and proceed at the level of duality. Śaṅkara states that the perception of subject–object
distinction (duality) involved in the process of knowledge is due to superimposition of the not-
Self (object) on the Self (subject). This marks the transition from epistemology to metaphysics
in the philosophical quest. Metaphysics is the investigation into the nature of the Absolute
Reality and, to Śaṅkara, superimposition is the key not only to metaphysics but also to spiritual
discipline. It is as a result of superimposition that the non-dual Reality is perceived as the
phenomenal world of diversity and as the plurality of the individual souls (jīva), and their state
of bondage in worldly life.
According to Śaṅkara, only the Self is real and hence, everything else, including all the
human faculties, belongs to the realm of the not-Self. The Self and the not-Self are entwined due
to superimposition in all phenomena. That the Self—which is of the nature of pure
consciousness—becomes the subject with reference to the object of knowledge is also due to
superimposition. Superimposition is described by Śaṅkara as being due to ignorance (avidyā);
and as avidyā is without beginning, only knowledge of the nature of the Self as non-dual can
destroy it. Thus, all empirical knowledge is tainted by avidyā. Śaṅkara accepts the validity of all
knowledge including what is perceived as illusion—like a conch lying in the sand being
mistaken for silver because mother-of-pearl dazzles like silver, or a piece of rope mistaken for
snake in darkness—but they are stultified at the next level of reality. Just as the mistaken
perception of snake is negated with the knowledge that it is rope, so also the world of
phenomena will be experienced as non-dual with the dawn of Self-knowledge. Avidyā is
described as neither real (sat) nor unreal (asat) because its effect is seen in the phenomenal
world. Hence, it is said to be indeterminable (anirvacanīya) because it defies categorization. This
also extends to the nature of the error caused by superimposition.

WAYS OF KNOWING
Epistemology is the study of the mechanism of knowledge. The process of knowledge involves
the triad of the inquiring subject, the object to be known, and the means of knowledge
(pramāṇa). Knowledge in the context of Vedānta is of the Absolute Reality. The Upaniṣads,
therefore, make a distinction between transcendental knowledge (parā vidyā), which is
knowledge of Brahman, and relative knowledge (aparā vidyā), which subsumes all other
knowledge. It is interesting to note in this context that even the renowned sage Nārada, who
was adept in all the arts and sciences, approached Sanatkumāra to learn the knowledge of the
Self. Sanatkumāra asked him what he knew, to which he replied the following subjects: the Ṛg-
veda; the Yajur-veda; the Sāma-veda; and the Atharva-veda, the Itihāsas, the Purāṇas, grammar; the
rules of worship of the ancestors; mathematics, the science of portents, the science of treasures,
logic, ethics; ancillaries of the Vedas; physical sciences; the science of war; the fine arts; and so
on. But, he did not know Self-knowledge and so he had to approach a preceptor. So, all
knowledge, except Self-knowledge, is relative in nature, and mastery of any number of them
will not bestow Self-knowledge on the knower. Knowledge of the Self is called ‘Upaniṣad’,
because the root ‘sad’, prefixed by ‘upa’ and ‘ni’, means that the relative knowledge of the
world is removed by the absolute knowledge. The books teaching Self-knowledge are also called
Upaniṣad. So the classification of knowledge into p ā ra vidyā and aparā vidyā in Vedānta is done
to highlight that they are different, and to clarify that the Vedas deal with both even though
their objective is to teach knowledge of Brahman.
Every system of philosophy has to state the pramāṇas by which its epistemology is discussed.
Śaṅkara accepts three means of knowledge: perception (pratyakṣa); inference (anumāna); and
scriptural testimony (śruti). The first two are valid for worldly knowledge while śruti is the
means to know the Absolute Reality (Brahman), which is beyond the mind and the senses. This
does not rule out reason for it is useful in the study of scripture which involves intellectual
understanding. śruti, which is the Vedas, is revelatory in nature, and its source is Brahman.
Scriptural study proceeds through three stages: listening to the teaching from the Guru
(śravaṇa); reasoning by constant reflection (manana); and meditation on the truth
(nididhyāsana). The spiritual seeker must have faith in the scriptures, and the approach to Self-
knowledge is threefold: scriptural study (śruti); reasoning (yukti); and experience (anubhava).
The logic behind this approach is that, in the process of gaining knowledge of the Reality, the
subject–object distinction is transcended in the realization that Brahman is non-dual. This is
experiential in nature when the Self (Ātman) becomes identified with Brahman. This is not
Śaṅkara’s invention as he adopts this approach on the basis of the Upaniṣad: ‘The Self, my dear
Maitreyī, should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the
realization of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.’28
To sum up in Śaṅkara’s words, it is śruti that can reveal Brahman: ‘Thus true knowledge of all
existing things depends on the things themselves, and hence the knowledge of Brahman also
depends altogether on the thing, the Brahman Itself. Therefore, the sūtra under discussion is not
meant to propound inference (as the means of knowing Brahman), but rather to set forth a
Vedānta text,’29 but after studying the scripture, the seeker must apply the other two to realize
the truth of the scriptural teaching.
The pramāṇas are pertinent only till the Self is known when even śruti becomes superfluous
because Truth has been experienced, in which case there is no longer any duality. śruti,
therefore, only removes the wrong notion caused by superimposition, which results in
mistaking the not-Self for the Self. The method of gaining Self-knowledge, therefore, has two
phases: false attribution or superimposition (adhyāropa), which is the empirical level at which
inquiry into Brahman begins; and subsequently transcending it to the absolute level by
negation or denial (apavāda) of the not-Self to realize the non-dual Self. Superimposition thus
bridges epistemology, metaphysics, and also spiritual discipline because bondage is also
perceived due to avidyā.

CONCEPT OF MĀYĀ
Māyā (nescience, ignorance, illusion) is responsible for the one appearing as the many and so it
is the principle of objectivity. It is also known as avidyā, and Śaṅkara uses these terms
synonymously. The non-dual Brahman which is unmanifest becomes manifest in association
with māyā. In the process, Brahman, which is nirguṇa, becomes saguṇa. Māyā is defined as the
power (Śakti) of Īśvara as it brings about the manifestation of the universe. Māyā has two
aspects: the power of concealment (āvaraṇa) and the power of projection (vikṣepa) with which it
brings about the appearance of the universe. Śaṅkara uses the term prakṛti also for māyā when
it is described as being made up of the three qualities (guṇas)—sattva, rajas, and tamas. Prakṛti is
responsible for the materiality of the universe.
What then is the nature of māyā if the non-dual Brahman alone is real? Certainly it cannot be
real from the absolute standpoint. Nor can it be unreal because its effect is seen in the existence
of the world of plurality—both insentient matter and sentient beings. It is then different from
real and unreal. Thus, its nature cannot be determined because it eludes description by known
categories. Māyā, therefore, is said to be mithyā (false) because it is ultimately not real like
Brahman, yet not unreal since its effect is seen as the world. Therefore, the world that appears
due to māyā is also mithyā according to Śaṅkara, and in the context of causation it is explained
as vivarta (appearance) because both Brahman and māyā are involved in creation. Māyā does
not have an existence apart from Brahman. Māyā thus brings about superimposition of the not-
Self on the Self, thereby resulting in all the phenomena in the empirical world, including
bondage and liberation of the soul. As Brahman’s power, it becomes the material cause of the
universe at the objective level, while at the subjective level, it makes the one Self (Brahman,
Ātman) appear as the innumerable individual souls (jīva). Subject to avidyā, the jīva suffers
bondage and loses sight of the fact that it is the Ātman. That this avidyā pertains to the not-Self
and not the Self can be seen from the analogy Śaṅkara cites of a person suffering from an eye
disease called ‘timira’, which alters his vision. When the disease is cured, his vision is restored to
its original condition. Just as the disease pertains to the organ and not to the perceiver, so also,
when avidyā, which is responsible for bondage, is removed, the Self becomes known in its
original nature as non-dual consciousness. So, avidyā does not inhere in the Self. It is akin to the
water seen in a mirage because it does not make the ground wet. That avidyā is present can be
deduced only from its effects in phenomenal existence. This can be seen from the same example
cited earlier of a rope mistaken for a snake in semi-darkness to illustrate adhyāsa. That the rope
was perceived as a snake can be seen from the person’s fright and it is only after he realizes
that it was an illusion does he regain his former composure. Similarly, the effects of
māyā/avidyā are seen in the world and they have an empirical validity. Māyā’s operation can
be discerned only from its effects in the world. It is only from the absolute standpoint when
avidyā is destroyed that the world can be dismissed as an illusion.

BEING AND BECOMING


An inquiry into the nature of Reality brings us into the arena of metaphysics. Śaṅkara proceeds
with the inquiry into Brahman (Absolute Reality) after stating the concept of adhyāsa, and its
cause māyā/avidyā, as it is the principle with which he explains how the non-dual Absolute
becomes the plurality of empirical existence. The Absolute Reality (Nirguṇa-Brahman) becomes
manifest as Īśvara (Saguṇa-Brahman) due to the adjunct of māyā, and it is Īśvara who is the
material and efficient cause of the world (jagat). The other metaphysical category is the
individual soul (jīva). Essentially, the metaphysical categories of Śaṅkara’s Advaita are two: the
Self and the not-Self. But for purpose of explaining the phenomenon of plurality they are
expanded further. Besides the triad—Īśvara, jagat and jīva—māyā/avidyā, the relationship
between Brahman and māyā, and the difference between Īśvara and jīva are categories that
need to be explained. These six categories are eternal in nature and, therefore, can be
understood only by analysing their role in the empirical world of becoming. Brahman,
according to Śaṅkara, has two aspects: without attributes (nirguṇa), and with attributes (saguṇa)
or Īśvara. They are not to be mistaken for two as Brahman is non-dual. Nirguṇa-Brahman,
which is indeterminate, appears as the determinate Saguṇa-Brahman due to māyā. This can be
understood from the example of the light from the sun or moon assuming the shape of the
object on which it falls. Otherwise, as light, it is undifferentiated. Similarly, it is the non-dual
Brahman that appears as the diverse manifestation. This phenomenon is akin to the sun
appearing as many when reflected in different water bodies. So, it is the adjuncts that are
responsible for the diversity.
That śruti is the means to conduct this inquiry highlights the fact that the object to be known,
Brahman, is beyond the senses and the mind. How does the śruti then define the nature of
Brahman? It does this by the most logical way possible by beginning with the familiar level of
the world of plurality, and then leading the inquirer on to the absolute level. Following the
Upaniṣads, Śaṅkara attempts his definition by following a method of a synthesis of the
objective and the subjective approaches to the Reality. The objective approach is by tracing the
cause of the world (jagat) to Brahman, while the subjective approach is by leading to the
discovery of the individual Self (Ātman) within as Brahman.
A definition of Brahman is attempted first by describing Its incidental features (taṭastha
lakṣaṇa), which exist only temporarily. One example is, pointing to a house by showing a crow
sitting on its roof to distinguish it from others. The next is an attempt to pinpoint the essential
features of the Reality (svarūpa lakṣaṇa). The third method is by way of negation to enable the
mind to transcend duality. This is followed by affirmation showing the identity of the Self
(Ātman) and Brahman. These are the famous ‘neti neti’ method and the final teaching in the
mahāvākyas like ‘That Thou art’ (tat tvam asi) respectively to show the non-dual nature of the
Absolute. That Brahman is the source of this creation is adduced by Śaṅkara on the basis of the
Upaniṣads to describe It by Its incidental feature. Its essential nature is best described by the
paradigmatic statement of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad: ‘Brahman is existence, knowledge, and
infinite.’30 ‘In the beginning this was existence alone, one only without a second,’31 states the
Chāndogya Upaniṣad. Existence (Sat) is therefore the essence of Reality. It is consciousness or
supreme intelligence, and it is eternal and therefore infinite. Śaṅkara states that these are not
characteristics of Brahman but Its essential nature. This is similar to the light of the sun or the
heat of fire. They are inalienable to the sun and fire. Brahman is also described as bliss, and the
same Upaniṣad has an entire chapter devoted to explaining that Brahman is bliss per se, and
that all joys worldly and heavenly are but a particle of the bliss that is Brahman. The Upaniṣad
states: ‘That which indeed is the Infinite, that is joy. There is no joy in the finite. The Infinite
alone is joy.’32 As Brahman alone is infinite, it is apparent then that Brahman is eternal bliss. It
follows then that there can be no permanent joy in the finite—the relative world.
How then is Brahman to be known? By adopting a synthesis of the objective and the
subjective approaches, śruti tries to make it easier to transcend the subject–object distinction to
grasp the non-dual nature of Brahman. Almost at the end of the teaching, the Taittirīya Upaniṣad
declares, ‘This being that is in the human personality and the being that is there in the sun are
one.’33 Since Brahman is defined as ‘knowledge per se’, it is apparent that Brahman is not an
object to be known.
The Upaniṣad, therefore, takes the subjective approach to Reality, which is essentially
showing the identity of Brahman and Ātman by such a declaration as ‘tat tvam asi’. It does that
by positing the Ātman (Self) as the witness-consciousness in all the states of human
consciousness—waking, dream, sleep—and transcending them finally in the state of non-dual
awareness of the Self as Brahman. Another way is by a negation of the adjuncts—the sheaths of
the physical body, vital air, mind, intellect, and bliss (pañcakosas)—covering the Self till the Self
stands revealed.
By adopting the method of negation on the basis of śruti, Śaṅkara shows that through
negating (apavāda) the superimposition (adhyāropa), the Self will stand revealed. This is the
popular neti neti method, an example of which is as follows: ‘It is neither gross nor minute;
neither short nor long; neither red in colour or oilness; neither shadow nor darkness; neither air
nor ether; unattached; with neither savour nor odour; without eyes and ears; without the vocal
organ or mind; non-luminous; without the vital force or mouth; not a measure; and without
interior or exterior. It does not eat anything, nor is it eaten by anybody.’34 Negation is only the
preliminary step to enable the mind to see the limitations of reason, and then go beyond it to
the level of intuition when the final teaching of the identity of Brahman and Ātman is taken up.
The metaphysical category of jagat is taken up next for consideration to explain Brahman as
the cause of creation (taṭastha lakṣaṇa). To recapitulate, it is Brahman, along with the power of
māyā (Saguṇa-Brahman, Īśvara), that is responsible for creation. So, Brahman is the Lord of
māyā, its controller and cause, both material and efficient. It is māyā that is the stuff of the
material universe and by becoming tripartite—as it comprises the three guṇas, sattva, rajas and
tamas—names and forms become manifest.
Creation can then be defined as the process of the unmanifest name and form becoming
manifest. The non-dual nature of Brahman thus remains intact in creation as it is because of
māyā that plurality comes into being. This may give the impression that māyā alone can bring
about the phenomenon of plurality. It is to remove any such wrong notion that the Lord is
described as the wielder of māyā with which He creates. Īśvara is the efficient cause, the
intelligence behind the universe. Thus, māyā is not a second principle. It is not only māyā that
is under the Lord’s control but also the entire universe that comes into being. He is the inner
controller (antaryāmin) of all—the sentient beings and the insentient matter. Commenting on
the opening verse of the Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad, Śaṅkara says, ‘He who is the Supreme Ruler and
Supreme Self of all is the Lord (Īśa). For, as the indwelling soul of all, He is the Self of all beings
and, as such, rules all.’ Śaṅkara’s causation is, therefore, an appearance (vivarta) because
Brahman does not undergo transformation as in the case of clay which becomes a pot. This
change is only in name and form: it was unmanifest and then became manifest. This is
analogous to the case of foam and water. Foam is denoted by the single word and concept of
‘water’ before the manifestation of its name and form as distinct from water. When foam
manifests as an entity distinct from water because of the difference in name and form, the same
water is spoken of as foam. So also, the entire phenomenal existence is but the manifestation of
diverse names and forms of the non-dual Brahman.
The concept of vivarta, therefore, enables Brahman to be the substratum of the phenomenal
universe by preserving Its non-dual nature. How then does Śaṅkara explain the relationship
between Brahman and māyā since this has been posited as an eternal metaphysical category?
Māyā cannot be real (sat) as Brahman is the only Reality, and it cannot be unreal (asat) either,
as its effect is seen in the world of diversity, which is the realm of human experience. That is
why māyā is said to be mithyā (false) and anirvacanīya (indeterminable), as it is neither real nor
unreal. The relationship between Brahman and māyā too is indeterminable. Besides, the
proposition of vivarta to explain causation has its bearing on the status of the creation. Thus, the
world, too, is only an appearance. It is real at the empirical level but from the absolute
standpoint it is false, or mithyā. When creation and its cause, māyā, are negated, only the non-
dual Brahman remains. Thus, an inquiry into the origin of creation leads to Brahman, which is
the intent of the second aphorism of the Brahma-sūtra: ‘(Brahman is that) from which the origin,
and so on (origin, subsistence, dissolution) of this (world proceed).’
This brings us to the third of the triad in metaphysics—the individual soul (jīva). While the
objective approach to Brahman is through understanding it as the substratum of the jagat, the
subjective approach is by an analysis of the jīva. The Upaniṣad states that the jīva is a
conglomerate of the five sheaths (pañcakośas) that envelop and conceal the Self (Ātman) and,
by a process of negation of these sheaths, one by one, it unravels the Self (Ātman) within, and
identifies the Self as Brahman. The pañcakośas are a series of layers, each encasing the next one
and, together, form the not-Self, which superimposes on the Self to appear as the jīva. It is due
to mistaken identity with this not-Self that the jīva suffers bondage, and subsequently strives to
be liberated from this predicament. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad mentions the sheaths as selves, each
outer self covering the next inner one. From the outermost to the innermost, they are the food
sheath (annamaya-kośa); the vital sheath which is the life-force (prānamaya-kośa); the mental
sheath (manomaya-kośa); the knowledge sheath (vijñanamaya-kośa); and the blissful sheath
(ānandamaya-kośa). The gross physical body corresponds to the food and the vital sheaths; the
subtle body to the mental and the knowledge sheaths; and the causal body to the blissful sheath.
Death is only to the gross body, and it is the subtle body along with the causal body that is
subject to transmigration. Since Ātman is described as bliss, the blissful sheath must not be
mistaken to be the Ātman because the Upaniṣad states clearly that the Ātman transcends all the
five sheaths.35 The blissful sheath is the nearest to the Ātman and, being the subtlest, the nature
of the Ātman is best reflected in it. By negation of each sheath, the Self stands revealed. An
ignorant man, by identifying himself with the body, the senses, the mind, the intellect, and the
vital force, loses sight of the fact that he is the Self and thereby gets identified with his faculties
and their objects. This is akin to the case of a group of ten boys who, after swimming across a
river, counted themselves to find out whether they had all reached the other bank safely. One of
them, while counting, left himself out and found to his dismay that they were only nine. Only
when he was told that he was the tenth did he realize he had forgotten to count himself. So also
is man’s predicament in samsāra. His identification with the objective world and his body–
mind–intellect personality is so complete that he becomes lost to his own true identity and it
requires a conscious effort to discover his true identity (as the Self within).
The other method of the subjective approach is by an analysis of the three states
(avasthātrayā) of human consciousness: waking (jāgrat); dream (svapna); and sleep (suṣupti).
Avasthā literally means state of existence, and hence it refers to the state of the human
consciousness in these three states. The state of awareness when the sensory organs function is
the waking state (jāgrat), and the Self corresponding to this state is called Viśva. The experiences
of the waking state leave impressions in the mind, and the state of the mind when they are
active during sleep is called the dream state (svapna). The Self that identifies itself with the
subtle body in dream is called Taijasa. Sleep (suṣupti) is the state in which there is no awareness
of anything external or internal in the mind, because it is only on waking up that a person says
that he slept peacefully. The Self identifies with the causal body in this state, and is called
Prājña. Śaṅkara on the basis of the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad and Gauḍapāda’s commentary on it, the
Māṇḍūkya Kārikā— undertakes an analysis of these three states to show the nature of the Self
vis-à-vis the not-Self, and that the Self is the witness-consciousness in all these three states. The
Self is metaphorically stated as the ‘light within’, the eternal consciousness, because of which all
the faculties function. The word ‘within’ indicates that the Self is different from the
modifications of the mind, and it is because of this light that all the faculties function. Just as
an emerald or an other gem dropped for testing into milk imparts its lustre to it, so also does
the Self illumine the body, mind and intellect.
The Self is unaffected by them all, and transcends the three states of waking, dream and
sleep, and this state of consciousness is called turīya. Metaphorically, it is called the fourth state
to distinguish it from the other three. What is its nature then? The Upaniṣad points to it at the
end of this analysis by a process of negation: ‘They consider the fourth to be that which is not
conscious of the internal world, nor conscious of the external world, nor conscious of both the
worlds; nor a mass of consciousness, nor simple consciousness, nor unconsciousness; which is
unseen, beyond empirical dealings, beyond the grasp (of the organs of action); un-inferable,
unthinkable, indescribable; whose valid proof consists in the single belief in the Self; in which
all phenomena cease; and which is unchanging, auspicious, and non-dual. That is the Self, and
that is to be known.’36 Commenting on this, Śaṅkara says this is the Self which is presented in
the Upaniṣadic statements like ‘That Thou art’,37 and ‘He is never seen but is the witness’,38 ‘for
the vision of the witness can never be lost.’39 Knowledge of the Self can only be discussed from
the standpoint of ignorance, for, with the dawn of knowledge, no duality remains. It is this
paradox that Yajñavalkya expressed when he took leave of his wife Maitreyī after imparting
Self-knowledge: ‘When, to the knower of Brahman, everything has become the Self, through
what, O Maitreyī, should one know the knower?’
Īśvara, jagat and jīva are interlinked in the phenomenal world, and all are appearances of
Brahman due to māyā/avidyā. But it must be remembered that, though Brahman and Ātman are
shown to be one in the final teaching of the śruti (tat tvam asi), Īśvara and jīva are not the same.
Brahman appears as Īśvara (saguṇa) because of māyā, which is pure sattva, and He has total
control over it, whereas Ātman appears as the jīva because of avidyā. Since it is subjective, it
appears as many individual souls, and is subject to bondage and other miseries because of their
interactions with the world. The relationship between Īśvara, jagat and jīva is said to be
relatively eternal, and it can be transcended only in the case of the individual jīva by
liberation, which is regaining the state of non-duality of the Self. Thus, the inquiry which began
with the assertion that Brahman is real (satyam) and, by analysis, showed that the empirical
world which is experienced is only an appearance (mithyā), ends on the note that the individual
soul is essentially Brahman, thereby explaining the phenomenon of the one becoming the
many; and that ultimately, there is only the non-dual Brahman.

MEANS TO LIBERATION
Metaphysics logically leads the inquirer to consider next the means to liberation because
Vedānta is not armchair speculation. In fact, it is only with the objective of finding a way out of
samsāra that one engages in Vedānta and, therefore, it is the moral and spiritual disciplines that
are important from the practical standpoint, and the human being becomes the focus of this
deliberation. As avidyā is stated to be the cause of human bondage, only knowledge can remove
this primordial nescience. Avidyā is eternal, and it is difficult to explain how the individual soul
became caught up in this cycle of transmigration. Hence, one can only be practical, and
consider how the jīva’s empirical existence can come to an end, where the beginning has to be
made. Spiritual discipline, therefore, is intrinsically connected to metaphysics in Advaita, as the
seeker must first understand his predicament before he can adopt whatever means he must to
gain Self-knowledge to overcome his bondage. Besides, he must know the nature of the goal,
that is, the state of liberation also, if the means he has to pursue is to bear fruit.
Coming to the means to liberation which, according to Śaṅkara, is only jñāna, since it is
obvious that only knowledge can dispel ignorance, how then does he accommodate the paths of
action (karma-yoga) and devotion (bhakti-yoga), which are also the recommended means to
liberation according to śruti, which is the final authority on Brahman? How about those spiritual
aspirants who cannot qualify for pursuing jñāna-yoga even though the desire for liberation may
be strong in them? It must be borne in mind that Śaṅkara was uncompromising about the direct
means to liberation. Just as he is able to resolve the dilemma of the one and many by showing
that Nirguṇa-Brahman and Saguṇa-Brahman are one and the same in order to reconcile the fact
of the non-dual nature of Brahman with the plurality—which is the fact of empirical existence—
so also does Śaṅkara accommodate all spiritual paths as being intrinsically valid as long as they
are oriented properly. So, the spiritual path can be gradual to suit the capacity and inclination
of the seeker.
The rationale of the karma, jñāna, and bhakti-yogas elaborated in the Bhagavad-gītā is to enable
human beings to choose the one most suited to their disposition—karma-yoga for one who has
the proclivity to action; jñāna-yoga for one who has a penchant for knowledge; and bhakti-yoga
for one who is by nature emotional. How do the other two yogas lead to liberation then?
Karma-yoga is performance of action without the desire for result (niṣkāma) as dedication to
Īśvara. This leads to purification of the mind (cittaśuddhi) of its latent tendencies, and such a
mind then becomes eligible for undertaking scriptural study to follow jñāna-yoga leading to
liberation. The crux of the famous Gītā verse is niṣkāma karma: ‘Thy concern is with action
alone, never with results. Let not the fruit of action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be for
inaction.’40 Similarly, it is wrong to think that Śaṅkara was against the Pūrva-mīmāṁsā, which
emphasized the karma-kāṇḍa of the Vedas. He was only clear that karma which was performed
with the intention of enjoying worldly and heavenly joys would not result in spiritual progress.
There are differences between the karma-kāṇḍa and the jñāna-kāṇḍa, which are the same as
between the Pūrva-mīmāṁsā and the Uttara-mīmāṃsā (Vedānta) because their contents and their
objectives vary. Śaṅkara’s concern was with Vedānta, and hence his purpose in taking on the
Pūrva-mīmāṁsā was only to show that its objective is different.
While karma-yoga is preparatory to jñāna-yoga, bhakti-yoga leads to liberation in two ways.
The devotee who worships Īśvara reaches the world of Hiraṇyagarbha after death, and is finally
liberated during the cosmic dissolution; one who is devoted to Nirguṇa-Brahman is blessed with
knowledge by the grace of God, and thereby attains liberation here itself.
As for jñāna-yoga, this is the direct means to liberation, and Śaṅkara elaborates on the
fourfold requirement (sādhana catuṣṭaya) that a seeker of liberation (mumukṣu) should fulfil to
pursue scriptural study. The first step is developing discrimination between that which is
eternal and the impermanent (nityānitya vastu viveka). A spiritual seeker must, therefore, be
very clear that the goal he is pursuing is going to bestow on him everlasting (nitya) bliss of the
Self. He will not get carried away by anything in the world if he develops the discriminating
sense to see all worldly things—which are impermanent (anitya)—as the not-Self. The second
prerequisite is developing detachment from the world which, in essence, is giving up the desire
for both worldly and heavenly joys. This renunciation is essentially an inner attitude, which
will develop as a consequence of the conviction that it is in order to achieve a higher goal
(liberation) that one must renounce lower ideals (worldly pleasures). Developing the quality of
detachment is essentially switching from doing karma to karma-yoga, which is performing the
same action with detachment, without a motive for result. The third requisite is cultivation of
six virtues: control of the mind (sāma); control of the senses (dama); mental equipoise (uparati);
forbearance (titīkṣā); concentration on truth (samādhāna); and faith in the Guru and the
scriptures (Śraddhā). The last requirement is intense longing for liberation (mumukṣutva). One
can see that the moral and the spiritual disciplines go hand in hand. Renunciation and an
intense desire for liberation are the fundamental requisites for this effort to bear fruit, without
which, the virtues will only be a façade in a spiritual seeker. Śaṅkara emphasizes the emotive
aspect (bhakti) of sādhana as an unswerving passion to realize this ultimate goal as intrinsic to
jñāna-yoga so that Vedānta will not become an ivory-tower speculation. Devotion to Guru and
Īśvara, coupled with faith in the teaching of the scriptures, will lead to ātmānubhāva

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE
According to Śaṅkara, spiritual discipline is essentially the pursuit of the last of the threefold
approach (śruti, yukti, anubhava) to Brahman. The Reality that the scriptures delineate must be
followed by yukti, which is intellectual deliberation on the truth of the scriptural teachings. But
that will not lead to Self-realization, and it is with the objective of experiencing the veracity of
the teachings that the inquiry now proceeds to the final stage. Most people, however, arrive at
this step as a consequence of developing detachment (vairāgya) after experiencing the torments
of samsāra at firsthand, in which case, the threefold approach need not necessarily be a gradual
trajectory towards the goal of liberation.
Since mere assertion that the world is an illusion may not help the seeker develop
detachment, scriptural texts resort to analogies to depict that samsāra is unreal. The Kaṭha
Upaniṣad41 graphically portrays the ‘tree of the universe’ which has its roots above in Brahman.
Samsāra is called a tree because it can be felled, which is the objective of Vedānta. This tree
grows from the seed of ignorance (superimposition), desire, action, and the Unmanifested
(Brahman). Its sprout is Hiraṇyagarbha, the manifested Brahman, with powers of knowledge and
action. Its trunk comprises the diverse subtle bodies of creatures, its growth resulting from the
water of desire. The tender sprouts of this tree are the objects of the senses, the leaves are the
Vedas, the smṛtis, logic, learning, and instruction. Its lovely flowers are the many meritorious
deeds; its various tastes, the experiences of joy and sorrow; its fruits, the subsistence of living
beings. The nests in this tree are the seven worlds beginning from the one called Satya. The
birds who build these nests are the living beings from the creator Brahma down. There is a
tumultuous uproar induced both by mirth and grief from the enjoyment and the pain of living
beings. This tree can be felled by the weapon of detachment, leading to realization of Brahman
as explained in Vedānta. This tree is said to be an aśvattha because its nature is always unsteady
like the pipal tree shaken by the wind of desire and deeds. Its branches are downward and
consist of heaven and hell. It exists from time immemorial and has no beginning. The root of
this tree of the world is white, pure and resplendent that is Brahman which is called
indestructible by nature because it is true.
Whatever may be the reason that spurs an individual to turn away from the world and
develop an intense yearning for liberation, and whichever route he takes to arrive at the last
lap of this difficult path is relevant for him. This might have spread over countless lives, there
would have been ups and downs, yet, the jīva, in the last of its births, has to arrive at this
destination in order to go forward and take the direct path which, according to śruti, is one-way
for it promises that there is no return to samsāra after liberation. The arduous nature of the
spiritual path is not intended to dissuade the seeker. On the contrary, it is to invest him with a
sense of urgency to achieve the goal without further delay that it is said that human birth,
desire for liberation and association with realized souls are rare to obtain.
The mumukṣu who is qualified for pursuing jñāna-yoga has to seek a teacher who is not only
well-versed in the scriptures but who conducts himself accordingly. Scriptural study is also a
threefold discipline that comprises listening to the exposition of the scriptures by the teacher
(śravaṇa); then constantly reflecting on the teachings to get conviction (manana); and finally
contemplating (nididhyāsana) on Brahman as taught in the final teaching of the identity of the
Self and Brahman (mahāvākyas) of the Upaniṣads. This is to be pursued till the truth of the non-
dual nature of the Self is realized.
A doubt that is bound to arise is this: if only meditation on Brahman (parā vidyā) is the direct
means to liberation, why have several other upāsanas or vidyās (aparā vidyā) been elaborated on
in the Upaniṣads? And where exactly do they lead? Upāsanas are intertwined with karma
throughout the Vedas. The Vedic sages who performed elaborate sacrifices as householders
(described in the Brāhmaṇas in the karma-kāṇḍa), later retired to the forest, and hence, their
preoccupation shifted from karma to jñāna. So, the Āraṇyakā section of the jñāna-kāṇḍa
elaborates upāsanas, which are essentially meditations on these sacrifices. They also spill into
the Upaniṣads in which the practice becomes totally spiritual with the objective of realizing the
truth. Śaṅkara’s interpretation of these meditations, as also other spiritual aids like japa, is one
of accepting their utility for attaining cittaśuddhi leading to jñāna. Upāsana then must not be
done (as mental action) with the expectation of the result that it is capable of giving like
heaven, and thus must become naiṣkarmya. Among the meditations, the one on the praṇava (Om)
mantra, also called the udgītha, is vital because praṇava is the nearest symbol of Brahman, and
therefore, represents an intermediary between the manifest and the unmanifest, between
meditation on Īśvara (saguṇopāsanā) and Nirguṇa-Brahman (nirguṇopāsanā) respectively.
The final teaching, which enables the spiritual seeker to transcend duality and experience the
non-dual Self, is encapsulated in the statements about the identity of the Self (Ātman) and
Brahman (mahāvākyas). There are four such epigrams in the Upaniṣads: That Thou art (tat tvam
asi);42 I am Brahman (aham brahmāsmi);43 This Self is Brahman (ayamātmā brahmā);44 Brahman is
consciousness (prajñānam brahma).45 By meditating on their import, the mind attains samādhi.
Samādhi is of two kinds: meditation on Nirguṇa-Brahman results in nirvikalpaka samādhi, while
meditation on Saguṇa-Brahman leads to savikalpaka samādhi.

ENLIGHTENMENT
Self-realization is thus the state of non-dual awareness where there is no subject–object
distinction. So it is about regaining one’s original nature as Brahman. Negatively, it can be
described as freedom from ignorance, which was the cause of bondage and transmigration.
Bondage and liberation are only from the standpoint of ignorance because the Self is birthless.
It is of the nature of bliss for, according to the Upaniṣad, only the Infinite is bliss. As Self-
knowledge removes avidyā, which is the cause of bondage, there is no more return to samsāra.
Śaṅkara says that release is immediate (sadyomukti) on the rise of knowledge, because all the
karma that have not yet started giving result (āgami and sancita) are destroyed by knowledge.
Only the prārabdha karma, which was responsible for this birth, will run its course till the body
falls, as in the case of a spinning top that has to stop when it loses its momentum. This is
known as videhamukti. The enlightened one who continues to live after Self-realization is known
as a jīvanmukta—liberated while still embodied. Jīvanmukti is a unique concept in Śaṅkara’s
philosophy. Lest it be misunderstood that there are two types of liberation, it must be made
clear that liberation is called differently only with reference to whether the body continues to
exist or not after Self-realization.
The very presence of a jīvanmukta confers immense benefit on the world. The Bhagavad-gītā
elaborates the qualities of a man of wisdom (sthitaprajña). In a nutshell, it can be said that all
the qualities that a spiritual seeker is asked to cultivate dwell in him naturally. But it must be
borne in mind that a jīvanmukta has ‘gone beyond’ the norms of the world, and thus cannot be
measured by its standards. As for the debate on whether jīvanmukti is possible, Śaṅkara settles it
once and for all: ‘It is not a matter of dispute at all whether the body of him who knows
Brahman continues to exist for some time or not. For, how can one man contest the fact of
another’s possessing the knowledge of Brahman—vouched for by his heart’s conviction—and at
the same time continuing to enjoy bodily existence? This same point is explained in scripture
and smṛti, where they describe him who stands firm in the highest knowledge. The final
decision, therefore, is that knowledge effects the destruction of those works [actions] only—
whether good or evil—whose effects have not yet begun to operate.’46
The Upaniṣad47 sums up after describing the blissful state of the enlightened man: ‘Him,
indeed, this remorse does not afflict: “Why did I not perform good deeds and why did I perform
bad deeds?” He who is thus enlightened, strengthens the Self with which these two are identical;
for it is he, indeed, who knows thus, that can strengthen the Self which these two really are.
This is the secret teaching.’ In his commentary on this verse, Śaṅkara notes that, earlier, the
Upaniṣad, by way of eulogy of the state of Brahman, had described it as ‘freedom from fear’.48
Fear is always of another, and hence, when duality ceases, there is no room for fear. Śaṅkara
observes in this context that, earlier, fear alone was denied, whereas, here ‘the cause itself of
fear is negated’. How? When death approaches, remorse comes in the form of the good deeds
that one failed to do, and repentance in the form of having done prohibited things. These two
acts of omission and commission do not affect an enlightened one because virtue and vice are
seen by him as being identified with the Self, and therefore, will not cause rebirth. When
Śaṅkara says liberation is ‘here and now’, it is freedom from all fear even while living.
To sum up Śaṅkara’s philosophy, it is one of transcendence. His famous epigram, ‘brahma
satyam jagan mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ ’, no doubt shatters our familiar day-to-day world by
the fact of its being an appearance, false (mithyā), but one should take heart that it comes with
the certain assurance of the Infinite in our finite existence ‘here and now’. It is up to every
individual to redeem this promise with the transforming vision that this invocatory peace chant
succinctly portrays: ‘Om! That (Supreme Brahman) is full (infinite); this (conditioned Brahman)
is full. The full (conditioned Brahman) comes out of the full (Supreme Brahman). Taking the full
from the full, the full remains. Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!’49

SECTION IV (PROCESS OF SELECTION)

CHOICE OF TEXTS AND THEIR TRANSLATIONS


The primary consideration for selecting a work for elucidating the doctrines of Vedānta is its
importance in the Vedānta tradition. This makes Śaṅkara’s commentaries (bhāṣ yas) on the
prasthānatraya the first choice, as they are interpretations of the fundamental texts, which are
the roots of Vedānta. Bearing in mind that the compositions attributed to Śaṅkara are in
hundreds, and the absence of agreement regarding the authenticity of most of them, the choice
of his works for this anthology has become circumscribed to those texts accepted as his
authentic works by all. Besides, his prasthānatraya commentaries by themselves cover the entire
gamut of Vedānta, while his other works only present it as independent texts. The purpose for
which the different genres of texts were written by Śaṅkara must be also recalled in this
context, and it bears repetition that he was an uncompromising traditionalist whose works
conformed to the lineage to which he belonged. His commentaries on the prasthānatraya were
written to establish his philosophical standpoint—which is Advaita—among the different
strands of interpretation that were current during his time, and so, are considered the
benchmark in dialectics with other Vedānta schools; whereas his independent texts were
intended for different types of readers: his followers in tradition who needed a handy manual
which presented the system in a systematic and concise manner as they might not have been
able to study his prasthānatraya commentaries; or beginners or laymen who needed an easier
elucidation of the philosophical concepts. His hymnal works, by the same token, were meant
for the spiritual seeker for the purpose of devotional worship and reflection on the concepts
enshrined in them. If we consider his corpus of works, his manuals like the Śataślokī, the
Ātmabodha and the Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, his commentary on the Viṣṇu-sahasranāma-stotra, and hymns
with philosophical import like the Bhaja Govindam, Dakṣiṇāmūrti-stotra, Govindāṣtakam,
Manīsāpañcakam and the Daśaśloki, are very popular, but they have not been included for
selection here because there is no unanimity on their authenticity.
With these criteria in mind, the selection of passages in the following chapters has been made
from his prasthānatrya commentaries and a treatise (prakaraṇa grantha), the Upadeśa Sāhasri
(U.S.), as representative of his independent manuals. The commentaries are on the ten classical
Upaniṣads: the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣadbhāṣya (Br.U.B.), Chāndogya Upaniṣadbhāṣya (Ch.U.B.),
Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Is.U.B.), Kena Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Ke.U.B.), Kaṭha Upaniṣadbhāṣya
(Ka.U.B.), Taittirīya Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Ta.U.B.), Aitareya Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Ai.U.B.), Muṇḍaka
Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Mu.U.B.), Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Ma.U.B.) and Gauḍapāda’s Kārikā on this
Upaniṣad (Ma.Ka.B.), and the Praśna Upaniṣad-bhāṣya (Pr.U.B.), and the Bhagavad-gītā-bhāṣya
(Bh.G.B.) and the Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya (Br.S.B.). The abbreviations are given in the references in
the footnotes to the selected passages.
As for translations of these texts, there is no dearth of translations50 of Śaṅkara’s major
works, especially his prasthānatraya commentaries. Therefore, I have used the standard
translations handled by most scholars over generations now. The choice of translation is mine.
They are: Swami Gambhirananda’s translation of Śaṅkara’s commentary on the Upaniṣads51
mentioned above, except the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣadbhāṣya,52 which is by Swami
Madhavananda; the Bhagavad-gītā-bhāṣya53 by Alladi Mahadeva Sastry; and the Brahma-sūtra
(Vedānta-sūtra) bhāṣya54 by George Thibaut. The Upadeśa Sāhasri55 translation is by Swami
Jagadananda. The doctrines of Śaṅkara’s philosophy have been presented in seven chapters.
The overall selection of passages from these texts has been made with the objective of
presenting all the salient aspects of his Vedānta. An introduction to every chapter offers an
overview of the topics presented in it, and the passages under each topic have been annotated
briefly so that the reader will be able to appreciate the nuances of Śaṅkara’s arguments and
elucidation.
1

Epistemology

INTRODUCTION

Epistemology is the gateway to philosophy, especially Vedānta, in which Self-knowledge is the


objective of the inquiry into the nature of the Absolute Reality. So, the very first question that a
Vedāntin addresses in his pursuit of Self-knowledge is: ‘How do we know?’ The process of
knowing involves the triad: the knower (subject); the known (object); and the means of
knowledge (pramāṇa). The means of knowledge that Śaṅkara advocates to expound Vedānta are
three: perception (pratyakṣa); inference (anumāna); and scriptural testimony (Śabda or śruti).
Each is valid in its sphere of operation, hence there is no conflict among them in giving rise to
knowledge. He also distinguishes between perception and inference on the one hand, and
scriptural testimony on the other, as the former can give only knowledge pertaining to the
world, while the latter alone can give rise to knowledge of the Self. The origin of scripture is
Brahman and the scripture is revelatory in nature. As Brahman is beyond the senses and the
mind, scripture alone can reveal Brahman to the seeker.
This will certainly lead one to question the rationale of including perception and inference as
pramāṇas if śruti is the only authority in the domain of Self-knowledge. It is to be understood
right at the outset that scripture has to be accepted with faith as it expounds knowledge which
is beyond the ken of the senses and the mind, but that does not invalidate the necessity of
perception and inference while undertaking scriptural study because, until the dawn of spiritual
knowledge subject–object duality persists—metaphysical inquiry is possible only at the level of
duality. Besides, in the interpretation of the Vedas, perception and inference are necessary
because all Vedic statements are not revelatory. Further reasoning is essential to grasp the
teaching while studying the scriptures. As the subject matter is abstract and scriptural study is
undertaken with faith in the teaching of the scriptures, and inquiry involves logic, the
methodology adopted in the Upaniṣads is a dialogue between the preceptor and his disciple,
and is also couched in stories and examples of other seekers of truth.
Self-knowledge is a threefold process: it begins with faith in scriptural testimony (śruti); it
then proceeds through reasoning (yukti) during scriptural study and, through spiritual
discipline, it must culminate in the experience of the truth (anubhava). The categorical
distinction that Śaṅkara makes on the basis of the Upaniṣads between Self-knowledge (parā
vidyā) and all other relative, empirical knowledge (aparā vidyā), and the experiential nature of
the truth make it imperative that the scriptures be studied under a Guru who has experienced it
because he can guide his disciple from personal experience.
The most important concept that is central to Śaṅkara’s Vedānta is superimposition (adhyāsa).
The duality that is experienced in the phenomenal world is explained as the result of
superimposition of the not-Self and the Self. Superimposition arises due to ignorance (avidyā).
Adhyāsa is there in all that is experienced in the world. Since this phenomenon is explained as
being due to avidyā it must be understood that this primordial ignorance is not lack of
knowledge per se but that which is nullified when true knowledge arises. Adhyāsa, which is
responsible for the non-dual Reality appearing as this manifold creation, is eternal in nature,
and can be transcended only in the experience of the Self as non-dual consciousness. Thus,
superimposition is the starting point in Self-inquiry and spans the entire gamut of Śaṅkara’s
philosophical deliberation till it is transcended when Self-knowledge dawns. Adhyāsa is also the
first concept to be understood in spiritual pursuit because the seeker has to understand its
nature in order to strive consciously to overcome it. The topics in this chapter are explained in
eleven sections.

(1) PRAMĀṆA (MEANS OF KNOWLEDGE)

Śaṅkara accepts three means of obtaining valid knowledge: perception (pratyakṣa); inference
(anumāna); and scriptural testimony (Śabda or śruti). Consciousness (subject) is fundamental to
the process of gaining knowledge through any of the means, and each pramāṇa has its distinct
sphere of operation. Śaṅkara makes it clear that there is an unambiguous separation between
the scope of perception and inference on the one hand, and śruti on the other. There is no room
for conflict.

(Selected passages)
(1.1)‘… perception cannot be nullified by inference; and we see that this aggregate of body and
organs sees, hears, thinks and knows … Rather it is the aggregate of body and organs, which
directly does the functions of seeing etc., that is the Self, and none else, for inference is invalid
when it contradicts perception … You cannot challenge facts (of perception) on the ground of
improbability.’1
(1.2) ‘… the scriptures have to instruct about those things only that are not self-evident.’2
(1.3) ‘Scriptural statement is our (only) authority in the origination of the knowledge of
supersensuous things.’3
(1.4) ‘… for the śruti, being a trustworthy authority, can never take recourse to subterfuge
like a man.’4
(1.5) ‘… Brahman is beyond all empirical relationships. The intellect, that is prone to think of
existence with regard to everything, is possessed of human value and has speech alone as its
substance, may assume non-existence with regard to anything that is opposed to this and is
transcendental. For instance, it is well known that a pot comprehended as a thing that man can
deal with, is true, while anything of an opposite nature is false. Thus, by a parity of reasoning,
there may arise here an apprehension of the non-existence of Brahman.’5
(1.6) ‘The adherent of Brahman, moreover, defines the nature of the cause, and so on, on the
basis of scripture, and is, therefore, not obliged to render his tenets throughout conformable to
observation.’6
(1.7) ‘The test of the authority or otherwise of a passage is not whether it states a fact or an
action, but its capacity to generate certain and fruitful knowledge. A passage that has this is
authoritative, and one that lacks it, is not.’7
(1.8) ‘Any reasoning that contradicts the śrutis is a fallacy.’8
(1.9) ‘He, therefore, who admits the authoritativeness of the scriptural world has no right to
deny that the shape of Indra and the other gods, is such as we understand it to be from the
mantras and arthavādas. Moreover, itihāsas and purāṇas also—because they are based on mantra
and arthavāda which possess authoritative power in the manner described—are capable of
setting forth the personality, etc., of the devas. Itihāsa and purāṇa can, besides, be considered as
based on perception also. For what is not accessible to our perception may have been within
the sphere of perception of people in ancient times.’9
(1.10) ‘In matters to be known from scripture, mere reasoning is not to be relied on for the
following reason also. As the thoughts of man are altogether unfettered, reasoning which
disregards the holy texts and rests on individual opinion only, has no proper foundation. We
see how arguments, which some clever men had excogitated with great pains, are shown, by
people still more ingenious, to be fallacious, and how the arguments of the latter again are
refuted in their turn by other men; so that, on account of the diversity of men’s opinions, it is
impossible to accept mere reasoning as having a sure foundation.’10

(2) SCOPE OF PRAMĀṆAS

Śaṅkara upholds that each of the three means of knowledge is valid in its own sphere. While
perception and inference are the means to obtain knowledge pertaining to the empirical world,
the scriptures alone are the means to Self-knowledge, because the Self is beyond the ken of the
senses and the mind. But this does not mean that there is no room for reason in the pursuit of
Self-knowledge.

(Selected passages)
(2.1) ‘… the śruti is merely informative. The scriptures seek not to alter things but to supply
information about things unknown, as they are … Things in the world are known to possess
certain fixed characteristics such as grossness or fineness. By citing them as examples, the
scriptures seek to tell us about some other thing which does not contradict them. They would
not cite an example from life if they wanted to convey an idea of something contradictory to it.
Even if they did, it would be to no purpose, for the example would be different from the thing
to be explained. You cannot prove that fire is cold, or that the sun does not give heat, even by
citing a hundred examples, for the facts would already be known to be otherwise through
another means of knowledge. And one means of knowledge does not contradict another, for it
only tells us about those things that cannot be known by any other means. Nor can the
scriptures speak about an unknown thing without having recourse to conventional words and
their meanings.’11
(2.2) ‘… a scriptural text is only informative. A scriptural passage supplies information of a
thing existing as such; it cannot create a thing that does not exist. Anything that is eternal
cannot have a beginning despite a hundred texts (to the contrary); nor can anything be
indestructible if it has a beginning.’12
(2.3) ‘And as regards the appeal made to the authority of śruti, we say that no such appeal
should be made, inasmuch as śruti is an authority in transcendental matters, in matters lying
beyond the bounds of human knowledge. śruti is an authority only in matters not perceived by
means of ordinary instruments of knowledge, such as pratyakṣa or immediate perception—i.e., it
is an authority as to the mutual relation of things as means to ends, but not in matters lying
within the range of pratyakṣa; indeed, śruti is intended as an authority only for knowing what
lies beyond the range of human knowledge. Wherefore it is not possible to suppose that the
notion of “I” which arises in connection with the aggregate of the body, etc., and which is
evidently due to illusion, is only a figurative idea. A hundred śrutis may declare that fire is cold
or that it is dark; still, they possess no authority in the matter. If śruti should at all declare that
fire is cold or that it is dark, we would still suppose that it intends quite a different meaning
from the apparent one; for its authority cannot otherwise be maintained; we should in no way
attach to śruti a meaning which is opposed to other authorities or to its own declaration.’13
(2.4) ‘The authoritativeness of the Veda with regard to the matters stated by it is independent
and direct, just as the light of the sun is the direct means of knowledge of form and colour; the
authoritativeness of human dicta [smṛtis], on the other hand, is of an altogether different kind,
as it depends on an extraneous basis (viz. the Veda), and is (not immediate but) mediated by a
chain of teachers and tradition.’ 14

(3) INTERPRETATION OF ŚRUTI

The entire Veda is valid scriptural authority, and it has to be properly understood. Mīmāṁsā is
the science of interpretation of these texts. The primary principle advocated by the interpreters
was that all the Vedic sentences are not revelatory in nature, and that many of them fall within
the scope of perception and reason. The revelations are called vidhi vākyas (commands), and the
rest vidhi seṣas or arthavādas (supplements), because they are helpful in bringing out the import
of the revealed sentences. Śaṅkara accepts this division but explains that the Veda vākyas are
not commands to act or refrain from, but articulation of new truths whether pertaining to
karma (ritual) or jñāna. So, the Vedas are not obligatory, according to Śaṅkara. The karma-kāṇḍa
section of the Vedas and the jñāna-kāṇḍa, especially the Upaniṣads, deal with karma and jñāna
respectively, and hence, each is authoritative in its own sphere.

(Selected passages)
(3.1) ‘The Vedas delineate the nature of realities and have that ultimate aim.’15
(3.2) ‘The instruction about duties, in the text commencing with “Having taught the Vedas”, is
meant to indicate that, before the realisation of Brahman, the duties inculcated in the Vedas
and the smṛtis are to be performed regularly; for the Vedic reference to post-instruction (i.e.,
instruction after the study of the Vedas, implied in anuśāsti) is meant for creating proper
tendencies in a man; for, in accordance with the smṛti, “He eradicates sin through austerities,
and attains immortality through knowledge”, 16 the knowledge of the Self dawns easily on one
who has the proper mental disposition and whose mind is purified. And this Upaniṣad will say,
“Crave to know Brahman through concentration”. 17 Therefore, the duties are to be undertaken
so that knowledge may emerge … And this Upaniṣad will show the absence of rites etc., after
the rise of knowledge … Hence it is known that duties are calculated to lead to the dawn of
knowledge through the eradication of sins accumulated in the past. And this is borne out by the
Vedic text: “Crossing over death through rites, etc., one attains immortality through
meditation.” 18 The earlier inculcation of ṛta (righteousness), etc., 19 was for the sake of
avoiding the idea of their uselessness. And the present instruction is for making an obligatory
rule about their performance, they being ordained for leading to the rise of knowledge.’20
(3.3) ‘But the scriptures do this much that they point out what leads to good and what to evil,
thereby indicating the particular relations that subsist between ends and means; just as a lamp,
for instance, helps to reveal forms in the dark. But the scriptures neither hinder nor direct a
person by force, as if he were a slave. We see how people disobey even the scriptures because
of excess of attachment, etc. Therefore, according to the varying tendencies of people, the
scriptures variously teach the particular relations that subsist between ends and means. In this
matter, people themselves adopt particular means according to their tastes, and the scriptures
simply remain neutral, like the sun, for instance, or a lamp. Similarly, somebody may think the
highest goal to be not worth striving after. One chooses one’s goal according to one’s
knowledge, and wants to adopt corresponding means … Therefore, the Vedānta texts that teach
the unity of Brahman are not antagonistic to the ritualistic scriptures. Nor are the latter thereby
deprived of their scope. Neither do the ritualistic scriptures, which uphold differences such as
the factors of an action, take away the authority of the Upaniṣads as regards the unity of
Brahman. For the means of knowledge are powerful in their respective spheres, like the ear,
etc.’21

(4) SCRIPTURAL STUDY

While scriptural testimony is the final authority and provides information on transcendental
matters, reason does not become redundant. Ratiocination prepares the mind to experience the
truth of the śruti statements. This is the logic of the threefold process involved in scriptural
study—śravaṇa (study by listening); manana (reasoning); and nididhyāsana (contemplation). It is
by study of the scriptures (śravaṇa) under a teacher that one can gain knowledge of the Absolute
Reality, and through reflection (manana) and constant meditation (nididhyāsana), that Self-
knowledge will become immediate. Scriptural study cannot be pursued on one’s own, as Self-
knowledge is a quest of the unknown when embarked on, which is the reason why śruti is the
pramāṇa in this matter. One has to study under a preceptor, and then repeatedly reflect upon
the teachings, as it is a process of enquiry. Meditation on the teachings enables one to
experience the veracity of the scriptural statements.

(Selected passage)
(4.1) ‘Therefore, “the Self, my dear Maitreyī, should be realised, is worthy of realisation, or
should be made the object of realisation. It should first be heard of from a teacher and from the
scriptures, then reflected on through reasoning, and then steadfastly meditated upon.” Thus
only is it realised—when these means, viz., hearing, reflection and meditation, have been gone
through. When these three are combined, then only true realisation of the unity of Brahman is
accomplished, not otherwise—by hearing alone … By reflection of the Self, my dear, through
hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.’22

(5) INSTRUCTION THROUGH DIALOGUE, STORY

The Upaniṣads are generally in the form of a dialogue between the preceptor and the student
and, often, the whole teaching unfolds through a story as this method enables the spiritual
seeker to grasp the teaching.

(Selected passages)
(5.1) ‘This method is adopted because, if a subject is presented in the form of a story comprising
a prima facie view and a conclusion, it is easily understood by the listener. If, on the contrary,
it is presented only through sentences that convey the bare meaning, as in the case of logic, it is
very difficult to understand, because the truth is highly abstruse … Moreover, the story is meant
to teach rules of conduct. If the teacher and the student be such and such, then the import
underlying the story is understood. The story also forbids the use of mere argumentation, as
given out in the following śruti and smṛti passages: “This understanding is not to be attained
through argument” (The wisdom that you have, O dearest one, which leads to sound knowledge
when imparted only by someone else {other than the logician}, is not to be attained through
argumentation),23 and “To one who has been burnt by logic-chopping (this instruction is) not
(to be given)”. 24 That faith is a great factor in the realisation of Brahman is another
implication of the story, because in the story Gārgya and Ājātaśatru are seen to have great
faith. “One who has faith attains knowledge”, also says thesmṛti25”.’ 26
(5.2) ‘Through the story is being elaborated the fact as to how in the absence of the
knowledge of the Self, which is the subject matter of the third boon, there cannot be any
contentment even after getting the second boon. Since one who has desisted from the
impermanent ends and means that are comprised in the abovementioned rites becomes
qualified for the knowledge of the Self, (therefore) with a view to decrying those ends and
means, Naciketa is being tempted through the presentation of sons, etc.’27

(6) ŚRUTI, YUKTI, ANUBHAVA

Self-inquiry progresses through three distinct phases: scriptural study (śruti), intellectual
ratiocination (yukti), and understanding the truth of the teaching, which is experiential
(anubhava). As the pramāṇa for Self-knowledge is śruti, undertaking scriptural study is the first
step in this direction. While faith in the teachings of śruti is essential to begin with, after study,
reason takes over to make the teachings comprehensible to the intellect. It is intellectual
conviction that makes possible intense meditation leading to the immediate experience of the
Truth. These three progressive steps are necessary because the object of knowledge in the case
of Self-knowledge is the subject and hence, in the understanding of this knowledge, the subject–
object distinction ceases to be, and thus has to be directly experienced.

(Selected passage)
(6.1) ‘The disciple, having been told so by the teacher, sat in solitude with his mind
concentrated, discussed the traditional teaching, as imparted by the teacher, together with its
purport, ascertained it by a process of reasoning, made it a matter of personal experience …’28

(7) PARĀ VIDYĀ AND APARĀ VIDYĀ

Knowledge (vidyā), according to Śaṅkara, naturally falls into two categories: transcendental
knowledge (parā vidyā), which is Self-knowledge; and all others, pertaining to the world, and
hence, empirical or relative knowledge (aparā vidyā) as they are about the not-Self. The body,
the senses, and the mind are in the realm of the not-Self and so, empirical knowledge is gained
through these faculties by perception and inference, while Self-knowledge can be learnt only
from śruti. The Vedas, along with their six ancillaries, are empirical in nature, and it is in the
Upaniṣads that Self-knowledge is taught. The Muṇḍaka and the Chāndogya Upaniṣads state this
succinctly.
The term ‘Upaniṣad’ itself indicates that it leads the person to undertake its study near the
Self, which is the eternal Reality. Even if a spiritual seeker has mastered all the Vedas, and all
the arts and the sciences, he should approach a preceptor, who is a man of Self-realization with
humility, and learn Self-knowledge from him, because only such a man of wisdom can guide
him from his experience. Śaṅkara stresses that one cannot learn spiritual knowledge on one’s
own because the teaching is revelatory and experiential in nature.

(Selected passages)
(7.1) ‘To him he said, “There are two kinds of knowledge to be acquired—the higher and the
lower (relative), this is what, as tradition runs, the knowers of the import of the Vedas say. Of
these, the lower comprises the Ṛg-veda, Yajur-veda, Sāma-veda, Atharva-veda, the science of
pronunciation etc., the code of rituals, etymology, metre, and astrology. Then there is the
higher (knowledge) by which is realised that Immutable.”29
‘Om. “Revered sir, teach me”, thus saying Nārada approached Sanatkumāra. Sanatkumāra
said to him, “What you already know, declaring that to me, be my disciple. What is beyond that
I shall tell you.”
‘Nārada said: “Revered sir, I know the Ṛg-veda,, the Yajur-veda, the Sāma-veda, and the
Atharvaṇa as the fourth, the itihāsa-purāṇa as the fifth, grammar, the rules for the worship of the
ancestors, mathematics, the science of portents, the science of treasures, logic, the science of
ethics, etymology, the ancillary knowledge of the Vedas, the physical science, the science of
war, the science of the stars, the science relating to serpents, and the fine arts—all this I know,
revered sir.”
‘“Revered sir, however, I am only a knower of verbal texts, not a knower of Ātman. Indeed I
have heard from persons like your revered self that a knower of Ātman goes beyond grief. I am
in such a state of grief. May your revered self take me across it.” Sanatkumāra replied to him,
“Whatsoever you have studied here, really, it is only a name”.’30
‘This concise commentary is being written on it to explain to those who wish to turn away
from this relative world (samsāra), the knowledge of the identity of the individual self and
Brahman, which is the means of eradicating the cause of this world (ignorance). This
knowledge of Brahman is called “Upaniṣad” because it entirely removes this relative world
together with its cause from those who betake themselves to this study, for the root “sad”
prefixed by “upa” and “ni” means that. Books also are called Upaniṣads as they have the same
end in view.’
‘… In matters coming within the range of experience, a knowledge of the means of attaining
the good and avoiding the evil ends is easily available through perception and inference. Hence
the Vedas are not to be sought for that. Now, unless a person is aware of the existence of the
Self in a future life, he will not be induced to attain what is good and avoid what is evil in that
life. For we have the example of the materialists. Therefore the scriptures proceed to discuss the
existence of Self in a future life and the particular means of attaining the good and avoiding the
evil in that life.’
‘… In any case, a man who believes that there is a Self which gets into relation with a future
body, seeks to know the particular means of attaining the good and avoiding the evil in
connection with that body. Hence, the ceremonial portion of the Vedas is introduced to
acquaint him with these details. But the cause of that desire to attain the good and avoid the
evil, viz., ignorance regarding the Self, which expresses itself as the idea of one being the agent
and experiencer, has not been removed by its opposite, the knowledge of the nature of the Self
as being identical with Brahman. Until that is removed, a man prompted by such natural
defects of his as attachment or aversion to the fruits of his actions, proceeds to act even against
the injunctions and prohibitions of the scriptures, and under the powerful urge of his natural
defects, accumulates in thought, word and deed a good deal of work known as iniquity,
producing harm, visible and invisible. This leads to degradation down to the state of stationary
objects. Sometimes, the impressions made by the scriptures are very strong, in which case he
accumulates in thought, word and deed a great deal of what is known as good work which
contributes to his well-being. This work is twofold: that attended with meditation, and that
which is mechanical. Of these, the latter results in the attainment of the world of the manes and
so on; while work coupled with meditation leads to worlds beginning with that of the gods and
ending with the world of Hiraṇyagarbha (the being identified with the totality of all minds). The
śruti says on the point, “One who sacrifices to the Self is better than one who sacrifices to the
gods,” etc.31 And the smṛti: “Vedic work is twofold”, etc.32 When the good work balances the
evil, one becomes a man. Thus, the transmigration beginning with the state of Hiraṇyagarbha
and the rest and ending with that of stationary objects, which a man with his natural defects of
ignorance, etc., attains through his good and bad deeds, depends on name, form and action.
This manifested universe, consisting of means and ends, was in an undifferentiated state before
its manifestation. That relative universe, without beginning and end like the seed and the
sprout, etc., created by ignorance and consisting of a superimposition of action, its factors and
its results on the Self, is an evil. Hence, for the removal of the ignorance of a man who is
disgusted with this universe, this Upaniṣad is being commenced in order to inculcate the
knowledge of Brahman which is the very opposite of that ignorance …
‘The manifested result of all action is nothing but the relative universe. It is these three
(name, form and action) which were in an undifferentiated state before manifestation. That
again is manifested owing to the resultant of the actions of all beings, as a tree comes out of a
seed. This differentiated and undifferentiated universe, consisting of the gross and subtle worlds
and their essence, falls within the category of ignorance, and has been superimposed by it on
the Self as action, its factors and its results as if they were Its own form. Although the Self is
different from them, has nothing to do with name, form and action, is one without a second
and is eternal, pure, enlightened and free by nature, yet It appears as just the reverse of this, as
consisting of differences of action, its factors and its results, and so on. Therefore, for the
removal of ignorance, the seed of defects such as desire and of action—like the removal of the
idea of a snake from a rope—with regard to a man who is disgusted with this universe of means
and ends, consisting of actions, their factors and their results—having realised that they are just
so much, the knowledge of Brahman is being set forth.’33
(7.2) ‘The word “Upaniṣad” is derived by adding “upa” (near) and “ni” (with certainty) as
prefixes and “kvip” as a suffix to the root “sad”, meaning to split up (destroy), go (reach,
attain), or loosen. And by the word “Upaniṣad” is denoted the knowledge of the knowable
entity, presented in the book that is going to be explained. By virtue of what relation with (any
particular) significance (of the word Upaniṣad), again, is knowledge denoted by the word
Upaniṣad? This is being stated. Knowledge is called Upaniṣad by virtue of its association with
this significance; It (viz., knowledge) splits up, injures, or destroys the seeds of worldly
existence such as ignorance, etc., in the case of those seekers of emancipation who, after
becoming detached from the desire for the seen and unseen (revealed in the scriptures, Vedas,
such as enjoyment of heaven, etc.) objects, approach upa+sad) the knowledge that is called
Upaniṣad and that bears the characteristics to be presented hereafter, and who then deliberate
on it with steadiness and certainty (ni). Thus it will be said later on, “knowing that, one
becomes freed from the jaws of Death.”34 Or the knowledge of Brahman is called Upaniṣad
because of its conformity to the idea of leading to Brahman, inasmuch as it makes the seekers
after emancipation—who are possessed of the qualities already mentioned—attain the Supreme
Brahman. Thus it will be said later on, “Having become free from virtue and vice, desire and
ignorance, (he) attained Brahman.”35 And even the knowledge about Fire, who preceded all the
worlds, who was born of Brahman, and is possessed of enlightenment, and whose knowledge is
prayed for (by Naciketa) through the second boon 36 is also called Upaniṣad by virtue of its
bearing the meaning (to loosen) of the root (sad), inasmuch as by leading to the result,
achievement of heaven, it weakens or loosens such multitude of miseries as living in the womb,
birth, old age, etc., continually recurring in lives hereafter. Thus it will be spoken, “The
dwellers of heaven get immortality”, etc. (Ibid.).
‘Objection: Is it not a fact that, by the word Upaniṣad, the readers refer to the book in such
sentences as: “We read the Upaniṣad”, and “We teach the Upaniṣad”?
‘Answer: Though, from this point of view, the meanings of the root ‘sad’—such as loosening
the causes of the world, viz., ignorance, etc.—are inapplicable with regard to a mere book, and
applicable to knowledge, still this is no fault, since the book, too, being meant for that purpose,
can justifiably be denoted by that word, as for instance (in the sentence) “Clarified butter is
indeed life.” Thus, with regard to knowledge, the word Upaniṣad is used in its primary sense,
while with regard to the book it is used in its secondary sense.
‘Thus, from the very definition of the word “Upaniṣad”, it is suggested that one who is
possessed of special attributes is qualified for knowledge. And the subject matter of the
knowledge is also shown to be a unique thing, viz., the Supreme Brahman that is the indwelling
Self. And the purpose of this Upaniṣad is the absolute cessation of the transmigratory state,
which consists in the attainment of Brahman. And the connection (between knowledge and its
purpose) has been mentioned ipso facto through the enunciation of such a purpose. Thus, these
cantos themselves are (meant) for special persons (competent for their study), and have a
special subject matter, a special purpose, and a special connection, inasmuch as they reveal,
like an apple (lit. emblic myrobalam) placed in the hand, the knowledge that is (meant) for a
man of special competence and has a special subject matter, a special purpose, and a special
connection as already explained.’37
(7.3) ‘What is primarily meant in this context by the term, “higher knowledge,” is that
knowledge of the Immutable that is imparted only by the Upaniṣads (considered as revealed
knowledge), and not merely the assemblage of words, found in the (books called) Upaniṣads.
But by the word Veda, the meaning implied everywhere is the assemblage of words. The
knowledge of Brahman is distinctively mentioned and it is called the higher knowledge since,
even after the mastery of the assemblage of words, the realisation of the Immutable is not
possible without some other effort consisting in approaching the teacher and so on, as well as
detachment.
‘In connection with the subject matter of injunctions are to be found certain acts which are
like the agnihotra (sacrifice) to be performed subsequent to the understanding of the text,
through a combination of numerous accessories, to wit, the agent, etc. Unlike this, nothing
remains to be performed here within the domain of the higher knowledge; but all actions cease
simultaneously with the comprehension of the meaning of the sentences, inasmuch as nothing
remains to be done apart from continuance in the mere knowledge revealed by the words.
Therefore, the higher knowledge is being specified here by referring to the Immutable,
possessed of attributes stated in “(The wise realize …) that which cannot be perceived) etc.”’38
(7.4) ‘[Śaṅkara states in his commentary] The purport of the whole verse, “By the higher
knowledge) the wise realise everywhere that which cannot be perceived and grasped; which is
without source, features, eyes, and ears; which has neither hands nor feet; which is eternal,
multiformed, all-pervasive, extremely subtle, and undiminishing, and which is the source of
all,”39 is:
‘“That is the higher knowledge by which the Immutable of this kind is realised.”’40
(7.5) ‘[Śaṅkara comments] “For knowing that Reality, he should go, with sacrificial faggots in
hand, to a teacher, versed in the Vedas and absorbed in Brahman.41
‘“I am desirous of the eternal, immortal, fearless, unchanging, unmoving, absolute Entity,
and not the opposite. Therefore, what is the need of (accomplishing) any task that involves
great trouble and leads to evil? Having become detached in this way, he, the dispassionate
Brāhmaṇa, should go to a teacher alone, who is blessed with mental and physical self-control,
mercy, etc.; for the sake of understanding that fully. The emphasis on ‘the teacher alone’
implies that he should not seek for the knowledge of Brahman independently, even though he is
versed in the scriptures.”’42

(8) PRAMĀṆAS RELEVANT ONLY TILL THE SELF IS KNOWN

As the entire empirical world of experience is the construct of superimposition (adhyāsa), it


follows that all the means of knowledge—perception, inference, scriptural testimony—are
essential for gaining knowledge. One will certainly wonder how ignorance (avidyā), which is
the cause of superimposition, can lead to knowledge. As perception and inference are valid
pramāṇas for all knowledge pertaining to the world, empirical knowledge will lead to
transcendental knowledge because of its empirical validity. Sacute;ruti informs about
transcendental knowledge, and hence in the strict sense, is the only pramāṇa as far as Self-
knowledge is concerned. After the Self is known, all these pramāṇas, including śruti, become
redundant because the subject–object distinction ceases to exist in the awareness of the non-
dual Self, and thus it becomes evident that it is not an object of knowledge. According to
Śaṅkara, all empirical knowledge is in the realm of the not-Self, and hence, is stultified in the
discovery of the non-dual Self. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad43 graphically portrays this paradox:
‘Because, when there is duality, as it were, then one smells something, one sees something, one
hears something, one speaks something, one thinks something, one knows something. (But)
when, to the knower of Brahman, everything has become the Self, then, what should one smell
and through what; what should one see and through what; what should one hear and through
what; what should one speak and through what; what should one think and through what
should one know and through what? Through what should one know That—owing to which all
this is known—through what, O Maitreyī, should one know the Knower?’
śruti thus conveys Self-knowledge only in a negative sense by removing the wrong notions
superimposed on the Self due to nescience. From being the only means of Self-knowledge, śruti
finally has no work after the Self is known. Superimposition thus is the underlying thread that
connects epistemology, metaphysics and spiritual discipline—from bondage to liberation—
spanning the entire gamut of philosophical inquiry in Śaṅkara’s Vedānta.

(Selected passages)
(8.1) ‘Even in the state of ignorance, when one sees something, through what instrument should
one know That owing to which all this is known? For that instrument of knowledge itself falls
under the category of objects. The knower may desire to know, not about itself, but about
objects. As fire does not burn itself, so the Self does not know itself, and the knower can have
no knowledge of a thing that is not its object. Therefore through what instrument should one
know the knower owing to which this universe is known, and who else should know it? And
when to the knower of Brahman who has discriminated the Real from the unreal there remains
only the subject, absolute and one without a second, through what instrument, O Maitreyī,
should one know that Knower”?’44
(8.2) ‘“For we admit that before true knowledge springs up, the soul is implicated in the
transmigratory state, and that this state constitutes the sphere of the operation of perception
and so on. On the other hand, texts such as, “But when the Self only has become all this, how
should he see another?”, etc., are no longer valid.—Nor do we mind your objecting that if
perception, etc., ceases to be valid, scripture itself ceases to be so; for this conclusion is just
what we assume. For, on the ground of the text, “Then a father is not a father” up to “Then the
Vedas are not Vedas”,45 we ourselves assume that when knowledge springs up, scriptures cease
to be valid.—And should you ask who, then, is characterised by the absence of true knowledge,
we reply: You yourself who ask this question!—And if you retort, “But I am the Lord as declared
by scripture,” we reply, “Very well, if you have arrived at that knowledge, then there is nobody
who does not possess such knowledge.”—This also disposes of the objection, urged by some,
that a system of non-duality cannot be established because the Self is affected with duality of
Nescience.’ 46
(8.3) ‘… All organs of knowledge (pramāṇas) are so called because they ultimately lead to
knowledge of the Self. When the knowledge of the true nature of the Self has been attained,
neither organs of knowledge nor objects of knowledge present themselves to consciousness any
longer. For, the final authority, (viz., the Veda), teaches that the Self is in reality no percipient
of objects, and while so denying, (i.e., as a result of that teaching), the Veda itself ceases to be
an authority, just as the dream-perception (ceases to be an authority) in the waking state. In
ordinary experience, too, we do not find any organ of knowledge necessitating further
operation (on the part of the knower) when once the thing to be perceived by that organ has
been perceived.’ 47

(9) SOURCE OF ŚRUTI

Brahman is the source of scripture, and scripture is the authority for knowing Brahman. These
two statements need to be emphasized while summing up this section, as śruti is the pramāṇa for
Self-knowledge, and it derives its authority because it owes its origin to Brahman Itself.

(Selected passage)
(9.1) ‘Brahman is the source, i.e., the cause of the great body of scripture, consisting of the Ṛg-
veda, and other branches, which is supported by various disciplines (such as grammar, nyāya,
purāṇa, etc.); which, lamp-like, illuminates all things; which is itself all-knowing as it were. For,
the origin of a body of scripture possessing the quality of omniscience cannot be sought
elsewhere but in omniscience itself …
‘Or else, we may interpret the sūtra (śāstrayonitvāt) to mean that scripture consisting of the
Ṛg-veda,, etc., as described above, is the source or cause, i.e. the means of right knowledge
through which we understand the nature of Brahman. So that the sense would be: through
scripture only as a means of knowledge Brahman is known to be the cause of the origin, etc., of
the world. The special scriptural passage meant has been quoted under the preceding sūtra
“from which these beings are born”, etc.—But as the preceding sūtra has already pointed out a
text showing that scripture is the source of Brahman, of what use then is the present sūtra?
—The words of the preceding sūtra, we reply, did not clearly indicate the scriptural passage,
and room was thus left for the suspicion that the origin, &c., of the world were adduced merely
as determining an inference (independent of scripture). To obviate this suspicion, the sūtra
under discussion has been propounded.’ 48

(10) ADHYĀSA (SUPERIMPOSITION)

Śaṅkara, in his prelude (Adhyāsa-bhāṣya) to his commentary on the Brahma-sūtra, elaborately


discusses the concept of adhyāsa (superimposition), which is the cornerstone of his philosophy of
Advaita (non-duality). Adhyāsa, he states, is not a hypothesis, and he establishes that it is a fact
that is experienced. Philosophical inquiry presupposes the process of thinking with the objective
of discovering the underlying principle of existence, the Ultimate Reality which, in Vedānta, is
termed the Self (Brahman), which is consciousness. The Self is not just the subject matter of
metaphysics, but the fulcrum on which epistemology also rests, as without the conscious subject
there is no scope at all for the process of knowledge. Philosophical inquiry begins at the level of
the individual, whose self-identification is with the body–mind–intellect, and who proceeds to
unravel the nature of the Absolute Self from this level. According to Śaṅkara, adhyāsa is in
everything that an individual perceives and does in day-to-day life. To put it simply, it is due to
adhyāsa that all worldly activities, knowledge and life are possible in the world. The polarities
of the subject and the other—the object—are the basis of the diversity that is evident to
experience and hence, the formulation of the non-duality of the Absolute has to first explain
how the duality of the subject and the object comes into existence. Hence, Śaṅkara begins his
philosophical exercise with a brilliant premise that it is due to superimposition that the subject–
object duality is perceived. He then proceeds through logical reasoning to show with concrete
examples—like mother-of-pearl being mistaken for silver—to substantiate that superimposition
is a fact of experience. The subject and the object can never be the same, and thus the logical
conclusion is that it is a result of superimposition. Superimposition is due to nescience (avidyā),
and hence it is not necessary that the knowledge of the object superimposed be real knowledge.
It is enough that one has knowledge; and that the Self exists in this process is evident
intuitively, as no knowledge is possible otherwise, and nothing would be known in this world.
Śaṅkara defines superimposition as ‘the “apparent presentation” to consciousness by way of
remembrance of something previously perceived in some other thing.’ It is ‘apparent
perception’ that is knowledge, which is subsequently falsified. Superimposition is called
ignorance (avidyā) figuratively. Ignorance is not lack of knowledge but the type of knowledge,
which is stultified later by knowledge of things as they are. This superimposition—which
appears as the manifested universe, and is perceived by all, and affords a sense of agency and
enjoyment to them—is eternal without a beginning or an end.

(Selected passage)
(10.1) ‘It is a matter not requiring any proof that the object and the subject (the subject is the
universal Self whose nature is intelligence (cit); the object comprises whatever is of a non-
intelligent nature, viz., bodies with their sense-organs, internal organs, and the objects of the
senses, i.e., the external material world) whose respective spheres are the notion of the “Thou”
(the non-ego) and the “ego”, and which are opposed to each other as much as darkness and
light are, cannot be identified. All the less can their respective attributes be identified. Hence it
follows that it is wrong to superimpose (adhyāsa) upon the subject—whose Self is intelligence,
and which has for its sphere the notion of the ego—the object whose sphere is the notion of the
non-ego, and the attributes of the object; and vice versa, to superimpose the subject and the
attributes of the subject on the object. In spite of this it is on the part of man a natural
procedure—which has its cause in wrong knowledge—not to distinguish the two entities (object
and subject) and their respective attributes, although they are absolutely distinct, but to
superimpose upon each the characteristic nature and the attributes of the other, and thus,
coupling the Real and the Unreal, to make use of expression such as “That am I”, “That is
mine.”—But what have we to understand by the term “superimposition”?—The apparent
presentation, in the form of remembrance, to consciousness of something previously observed,
in some other thing.
‘Some, indeed, define the term “superimposition” as the superimposition of the attributes of
one thing on another thing. Others, again, define superimposition as the error founded on the
non-apprehension of the difference of that which is superimposed and that on which it is
superimposed. Others, again, define it as the fictitious assumption of attributes contrary to the
nature of that thing on which something else is superimposed. But all these definitions agree in
so far as they represent superimposition as the apparent presentation of the attributes of one
thing in another thing. And therewith agrees also the popular view which is exemplified by
expressions such as the following: “Mother-of-pearl appears like silver”; “The moon, although
one only, appears as if she were double.” But how is it possible that on the interior Self, which
itself is not an object, there should be superimposed objects and their attributes? For every one
superimposes an object only on such other objects as are placed before him (i.e., in contact with
his sense-organs), and you have said before that the interior Self which is entirely disconnected
from the idea of the Thou (the non-ego) is never an object. It is not, we reply, non-object in the
absolute sense. For it is the object of the notion of the ego, and the interior Self is well known
to exist on account of its immediate (intuitive) presentation. Nor is it an exceptionless rule that
objects can be superimposed only on such other objects as are before us, i.e. in contact with our
sense-organs; for non-discerning men superimpose on the ether—which is not the object of
sensuous perception—a dark-blue colour.
‘Hence it follows that the assumption of the non-Self being superimposed on the interior Self
is not unreasonable.
‘This superimposition thus defined, learned men consider to be nescience (avidyā), and the
ascertainment of the true nature of that which is (the Self) by means of the discrimination of
that (which is superimposed on the Self), they call knowledge (vidyā). There being such
knowledge (neither the Self nor the non-Self) are affected in the least by any blemish or (good)
quality produced by their mutual superimposition. The mutual superimposition of the Self and
the non-Self, which is termed nescience, is the presupposition on which there base all the
practical distinctions—those made in ordinary life as well as those laid down by the Veda—
between means of knowledge, objects of knowledge (and knowing persons), and all scriptural
texts, whether they are concerned with injunctions and prohibitions (of meritorious and non-
meritorious actions), or with final release.—But how can the means of right knowledge such as
perception, inference, etc., and scriptural texts have for their object that which is dependent on
nescience?—Because, we reply, the means of right knowledge cannot operate unless there be a
knowing personality, and because the existence of the latter depends on the erroneous notion
that the body, the senses, and so on, are identical with, or belong to, the Self of the knowing
person. For, without the employment of the senses, perception and the other means of right
knowledge cannot operate. And without a basis (i.e., the body), the senses cannot act. Nor does
anybody act by means of a body on which the nature of the Self is not superimposed. Nor can—
in the absence of all that—the Self which, in its own nature is free from all contact, become a
knowing agent. And if there is no knowing agent, the means of right knowledge cannot operate
(as said above). Hence perception and the other means of right knowledge, and the Vedic texts
have for their object that which is dependent on nescience. (That human cognitional activity
has for its presupposition the superimposition described above) follows also from the non-
difference in that respect of men and animals. Animals, when sounds or other sensible qualities
affect their sense of hearing or other senses, recede or advance according as the idea derived
from the sensation is a comforting or disquieting one. A cow, for instance, when she sees a man
approaching with a raised stick in his hand, thinks that he wants to beat her, and therefore
moves away; while she walks up to a man who advances with some fresh grass in his hand.
Thus men also—who possess a higher intelligence—run away when they see strong fierce-
looking fellows drawing near with shouts and brandishing swords; while they confidently
approach persons of contrary appearance and behaviour. We thus see that men and animals
follow the same course of procedure with reference to the means and objects of knowledge.
Now it is well known that the procedure of animals bases on the non-distinction (of Self and
non-Self); we therefore conclude that, as they present the same appearances, men also—
although distinguished by superior intelligence—proceed with regard to perception and so on,
in the same way as animals do; as long, that is to say, as the mutual superimposition of Self
and non-Self lasts. With reference again to that kind of activity which is founded on the Veda
(sacrifices, and the like), it is true indeed that the reflecting man who is qualified to enter on it,
does so not without knowing that the Self has a relation to another world; yet that qualification
does not depend on the knowledge, derivable from the Vedānta texts, of the true nature of the
Self as free from all wants, raised above the distinctions of the Brāhmaṇa and Kṣatriya classes
and so on, transcending transmigratory existence. For such knowledge is useless and even
contradictory to the claim (on the part of sacrificers, etc. to perform certain actions and enjoy
their fruits). And before such knowledge of the Self has arisen, the Vedic texts continue their
operation, to have for their object that which is dependent on Nescience. For such texts as the
following, “A Brāhmaṇa is to sacrifice,” are operative only on the supposition that on the Self
are superimposed particular conditions such as caste, stage of life, age, outward circumstances,
and so on. That by superimposition we have to understand the notion of something in some
other thing we have already explained. (The superimposition of the non-Self will be understood
more definitely from the following examples.) Extra-personal attributes are superimposed on
the Self, if a man considers himself sound and entire, or the contrary, as long as his wife,
children, and so on are sound and entire, or not. Attributes of the body are superimposed on the
Self, if a man thinks of himself (his Self) as stout, lean, fair, as standing, walking, or jumping.
Attributes of the sense-organs, if he thinks, “I am mute, or deaf, or one-eyed, or blind”.
Attributes of the internal organ when he considers himself subject to desire, intention, doubt,
determination, and so on. Thus, the producer of the notion of the ego (i.e. the internal organ) is
superimposed on the interior Self, which in reality, is the witness of all the modifications of the
internal organ, and vice versa the interior Self, which is the witness of everything, is
superimposed on the internal organ, the senses, and so on. In this way there goes on this
natural beginning—and endless superimposition, which appears in the form of wrong
conception, is the cause of individual souls appearing as agents and enjoyers (of the results of
their actions), and is observed by everyone.
‘With a view to freeing one’s self from that wrong notion which is the cause of all evil and
attaining thereby the knowledge of the absolute unity of the Self, the study of the Vedānta texts
is begun. That all the Vedānta texts have the mentioned purport we shall show in this so-called
Sārīraka Mīmāṁsā. (The Mīmāṁsā, i.e., the inquiry whose aim is to show that the embodied Self,
i.e., the individual or personal soul, is one with Brahman. This Mīmāṁsā being an enquiry into
the meaning of the Vedānta portions of the Veda, it is called Vedānta Mīmāṁsā).’49

(11) ADHYĀSA, THE KEY TO METAPHYSICS AND SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE

Adhyāsa is the basis of not only epistemology to which the subject–object division is intrinsic. It
extends to metaphysics and spiritual discipline as well, because the inquiry into the nature of
the Self (Ātman) brings into focus the distinction between the Self and the not-Self (the body–
mind–intellect conglomerate) which Śaṅkara, by analysis, shows to be the result of
superimposition. Identification with the body and the mind is the root of all worldly
transactions, which are experienced as joy and sorrow. Superimposition thus is all-pervasive—it
lays claim to both the worldly and the spiritual levels.
Bondage is due to superimposition of the not-Self on the Self, and hence liberation can
happen only when this superimposition is overcome, which is possible only with knowledge.
This is at the individual level, and superimposition operates at the cosmic level also, as
Brahman is stated by the scriptures to be the cause of the world which, in turn, is the object of
experience for the individual. At the cosmic level, it is by a process of negation (neti neti) that
the world of names and forms must be transcended to intuit the non-dual Absolute (Brahman).
Adhyāsa, thus, is the key with which Śaṅkara opens the door to the process of knowledge
(epistemology) and then, with its aid, builds the edifice of metaphysical inquiry into the nature
of the Self, and finally shows logically why only knowledge can remove the ignorance which is
the cause of the superimposition of the not-Self on the Self.
The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad50 describes how the self-identity of the individual flits between
the Self and the non-Self: ‘“Which is the Self?” “This infinite entity (puruṣa) that is identified
with the intellect and is in the midst of the organs, the (self-effulgent) light within the heart
(intellect). Assuming the likeness (of the intellect), it moves between the two worlds; it thinks,
as it were, and shakes, as it were. Being identified with dream, it transcends this world the
forms of death (ignorance, etc.)”.’ Commenting on this, Śaṅkara shows how superimposition
brings about this phenomenon.

(Selected passage)
(11.1) ‘The word “within” indicates that the Self is different from the modifications of the
intellect. The Self is called light, because it is self-effulgent, for through this light, the self-
effulgent Ātman, this aggregate of body and organs sits, goes out and works, as it were
sentient, as a jar placed in the sun (shines). Or, as an emerald or any other gem, dropped for
testing into milk, etc., imparts its lustre to it, so does this luminous Self, being finer than even
the heart or intellect, unify and impart its lustre to the body and organs, including the intellect,
etc., although it is within the intellect; for these have varying degrees of fineness or grossness in
a certain order, and the Self is the innermost of them all …
‘The intellect, being transparent and next to the Self, easily catches the reflection of the
intelligence of the Self. Therefore, even wise men happen to identify themselves with it first;
next comes the manas, which catches the reflection of the Self through the intellect; then the
organs, through contact with the manas; and lastly, the body, through the organs. Thus the Self
successively illumines with its own intelligence the entire aggregate of body and organs. It is
therefore that all people identify themselves with the body and organs and their modifications
indefinitely according to their discrimination. The Lord also has said in the Gītā, “As the one
sun, O Arjuna, illumines the world, so the Self, the owner of the field of this body, illumines the
whole body.”51—Its self-effulgence is infinite, because it is the illuminer of everything, but is
itself not illumined by anything else. This infinite entity of which you ask, “Which is the Self?”
is self-effulgent …
‘Though it is so, yet during the waking state that light, called the Self, being beyond the
organs and being particularly mixed up in the diversity of functions of the body and the organs,
internal and external, such as the intellect, cannot be shown extricated from them, like a stalk
of grass from its sheath …
‘The intellect is that which is illumined, and the light of the Self is that which illumines, like
light; and it is well known that we cannot distinguish the two. It is because light is pure that it
assumes the likeness of that which it illumines. When it illumines something coloured, it
assumes the likeness of that colour. When, for instance, it illumines something green, blue or
red, it is coloured like them. Similarly, the Self, illumining the intellect, illumines through it the
entire body and, organs, as we have already stated through the illustration of the emerald.
Therefore, through the similarity of the intellect, the Self assumes the likeness of everything …
Therefore, it cannot be taken apart from anything else, like a stalk of grass from its sheath, and
shown in its self-effulgent form. It is for this reason that the whole world, to its utter delusion,
superimposes all activities peculiar to name and form on the Self, and all attributes of this self-
effulgent light on name and form, and also superimposes name and form on the light of the
Self, and thinks, “This is, or is not, the Self; it has or has not such-and- such attributes; it is, or is
not, the agent; it is pure or impure; it is bound or free; it is fixed or gone or come; it exists or
does not exist”, and so on. Therefore, “assuming the likeness (of the intellect) it moves”
alternately “between the two worlds”—this one and the next, the one that has been attained
and the one to be attained—by successively discarding the body and the organs already
possessed, and taking new ones, hundreds of them, in an unbroken series. This movement
between the two worlds is merely due to its resembling the intellect, not natural to it. That it is
attributable to its resembling the limiting adjuncts of name and form created by a confusion,
and is not natural to it, is being stated: Because, assuming the likeness (of the intellect), it
moves alternately between the two worlds.’52
2

Māyā/Avidyā (Nescience)

INTRODUCTION

The concept of māyā/avidyā (nescience, ignorance, illusion) is central to Śaṅkara’s philosophy.


Metaphysically, it is the objective principle, due to which the non-dual Reality appears as the
many. This innate manifesting power (śakti) of Brahman has two aspects: āvaraṇa, the power of
concealment, and vikṣepa, that of projection. These two powers are correlated and
interdependent. They are responsible for the mutual superimposition (adhyāsa) of the Self and
the not-Self, that is, in the projection of the non-dual Absolute as the objective universe and in
the Self appearing as different individuals (jīva), and also in the jīvas imagining themselves to
be bound and limited.
Though māyā and avidyā are used synonymously, there is distinction between them when
seen in their correspondence to Īsvara and jīva. While Brahman and Ātman are one and the
same, Īśvara (Brahman+māyā) and jīva (Ātman+avidyā) are different because of the adjuncts
of māyā and avidyā, respectively. Māyā is universal; it is the adjunct of Brahman responsible for
the appearance of the manifold creation within the framework of space–time causation, and
Brahman is not in any way affected by it. Avidyā has an epistemological implication and, at the
subjective level, afflicts the mind of the jīva, imposing several limitations on its self-identity,
and in its interactions with the world projected by māyā. Bereft of the adjuncts of māyā and
avidyā, they are both the same Absolute Self, which is the basis of such identity statements
(mahāvākya), such as, tat tvam asi (That Thou art), proclaiming the non-dual nature of the
Reality.
It is not possible to determine when māyā started, and hence it is said to be without a
beginning (anādi). Brahman’s association with māyā cannot be determined either, and so this
relationship is also beginning-less. The association of the Absolute (Nirguṇa-Brahman) with
māyā makes it determinate when It is known as Īśvara (Saguṇa-Brahman). In its creative
aspect, māyā is known as prakṛti (nature) and Īśvara is the wielder of this power. In his
commentary on the Brahma-sutra, Śaṅkara uses māyā, śakti and prakṛti synonymously in this
context: ‘Belonging to the Self, as it were, of the omniscient Lord, there are name and form, the
figments of nescience, not to be defined either as being (Brahman) nor as different from it, the
germs of the entire expanse of the phenomenal world, called in sacute;ruti and smṛti the illusion
(māyā), power (śakti), or nature (prakṛti) of the omniscient Lord …’1
Śaṅkara’s conception of māyā is elaborated under the three following topics: the nature of
māyā, its effect, and māyā from the standpoint of Absolute knowledge. Māyā is described as
indeterminate (anirvacanīya), different from both real and unreal as its nature defies description
in known categories. How then can it be said to exist? From its effects seen in the phenomenal
world, it is possible to discern its working. Not only is its nature difficult to describe but its
relationship with Brahman is also indeterminate, because Brahman is real while māyā is unreal.
But the effect of this relationship is evident as the phenomenal world of experience, which is
unreal like māyā. The notion of individuality of the Self and the plurality of jīvas are also a
consequence of avidyā. The result of this is the experience of limitation, bondage and liberation
even though the Self is eternal.
What is the locus of avidyā then? Śaṅkara explains that it is due to mutual superimposition of
the Self and the not-Self that man suffers limitations because bondage and liberation are not
states of the Self, and the Self, being untainted, cannot be the locus of avidyā. Yet, māyā/avidyā
does not have an existence apart from the Reality and hence it is described as indeterminate.
Māyā is the principle of relativity that is responsible for the phenomenal world but it does not
have any standing from the absolute standpoint because the Reality is non-dual. It is from the
empirical level that the effect of māyā is discernible as the world of plurality, but from the
absolute standpoint, it does not have any locus standi. Duality being the fact of human
experience, it is from this level that philosophical deliberation and scriptural teaching take
place, and hence, māyā operates as ignorance underlying all human engagement.

(1) NATURE OF MĀYĀ

The nature of māyā defies description in terms of known categories, and hence it is described as
anirvacanīya (indeterminable). Its working can be understood only through its effects. Its
relationship with Brahman cannot be explained either because māyā is unreal, Brahman, real.
The consequence is evident in the status of the world, which is also unreal, tainted as it is by the
same characteristics as māyā. Avidyā (ajñāna, ignorance) is responsible for creating the illusion
of individuality of the Self, thereby resulting in the limitations of suffering, bondage (samsāra),
and liberation (mokṣa), though the Self is eternally free. The locus of avidyā is not the Self, so
the limitations suffered by man are due to the mutual superimposition of the Self and the not-
Self. Bondage and liberation are thus not real states of the Self but those created by ignorance.
Scriptural injunctions are meant for those wallowing in the notion of samsāra to remove this
primordial nescience.

(Selected passages)
(1.1) ‘Thus, the results of knowledge and ignorance are identity with all and identity with finite
things, respectively. Through pure knowledge, a man is identified with all, and through
ignorance, he is identified with finite things, or separated from something else. He is in conflict
with that from which he is separated, and because of this conflict he is killed, overpowered or
pursued. All this takes place because the results of ignorance, being finite things, are separated
from him. But if he is all, what is there from which he may be separated, so as to be in conflict;
and in the absence of conflict, by whom would he be killed, overpowered or pursued? Hence,
the nature of ignorance proves to be this: it represents that which is infinite as finite; presents
things other than the Self that are non-existent; and makes the Self appear as limited. Thence
arises the desire for that from which he is separated; desire prompts him to action, which
produces results … Thus the nature of ignorance with its effects has been set forth; and as
opposed to these, the effect of knowledge also, viz. the attainment of identity with all, has been
shown. That ignorance is not the natural characteristic of the Self, since it automatically
decreases as knowledge increases; and when the latter is at the highest, with the result that the
Self realises its identity with all, ignorance vanishes altogether, like the notion of a snake in a
rope when the truth about it is known. This has been stated in the passage, “But when, to the
knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one see and through
what?” and so on.2 Therefore ignorance is not a natural characteristic of the Self, for that which
is natural to a thing can never be eliminated, as the heat and light of the sun. Therefore
liberation from ignorance is possible.’ .3
(1.2) ‘Avidyā is the perception of variety involving actions, factors of action, and the ends of
actions. It is always present in the Self. “Mine is action; I am the agent; I do this act for such
and such a result”; in this form, avidyā has been active in time without a beginning. The
remover of the avidyā is the knowledge of the Self arising in the following form: “Here I am,
free, a non-agent, actionless, devoid of results”; for such a knowledge removes the notion of
variety which causes one to engage in action.’4
(1.3) ‘Objection: If only one Being, namely, Īśvara, exists in all kṣetras (field, body, matter), if
there exists no being, no other enjoyer, distinct from Him, it would follow that, either Īśvara is
a samsārin; or that there is no samsāra because there is no samsārin—none else apart from the
Īśvara. Neither conclusion is acceptable; for, then, it would follow that the scriptures—which
treat of bondage and liberation and their respective causes—would have no purpose to serve.
Moreover, the conclusion is opposed to all evidence, including sensuous perception (pratyakṣa).
In the first place, pleasure and pain and their causes which, together, constitute samsāra, are
known to us by immediate perception. And from our perception of variety in the world may
also be inferred the existence of samsāra arising from dharma and adharma. All this would be
inexplicable if the Ātman and Īśvara, the Self and the Lord, were identical.
‘Answer: No; for, that can be explained as due to a distinction between jñāna and ajñāna,
between knowledge and ignorance. It has been said: “These— what is known as wisdom and
what is known as unwisdom—are quite distinct and lead to different goals.”5 And so also a
distinction through effect between vidyā and avidyā, wisdom and unwisdom, as producing quite
opposite results—the right and the sweet—is pointed out (in the same Upaniṣad and in the
same context), wisdom leading to the right, while the sweet is the effect of unwisdom … By
reasoning (nyāya) too, we come to the same conclusion. It is said: “Men avoid by knowledge,
serpents, thorns and wells; by ignorance, some fall into them; see how estimable is the effect of
knowledge.”6 So also do we see that an ignorant man regards the physical body, etc., as the
Self; is impelled by attachment and hatred and the like; performs righteous and unrighteous
deeds (dharma and adharma); and is born and dies; while those are liberated who, knowing the
Self to be distinct from the body and the like, give up attachment and hatred, and no longer
engage in righteous and unrighteous deeds to which those passions may lead. This, nobody can
deny by argument. Such being the case, the kṣetrajña, who is Īśvara Himself, appears to be a
samsārin owing to a distinction in the upādhis set up by avidyā, in the same way that the Atman
or the individual Self appears (by avidyā) to be identical with the physical body, etc. It is a well-
ascertained truth that that notion of identity of the individual Self with the not-Self—with the
physical body and the like—which is common to all mortal creatures is caused by avidyā, just as
a pillar (in darkness) is mistaken (through avidyā) for a human being. But, thereby, no essential
quality of the man is actually transferred to the pillar, nor is any essential quality of the pillar
actually transferred to the man. Similarly, consciousness never actually pertains to the body;
nor can it be that any attributes of the body—such as pleasure, pain and dullness—actually
pertain to consciousness, to the Self; for, like decay and death, such attributes are ascribed to
the Self through avidyā.

KṢETRA IS REALLY UNAFFECTED BY SAMSĀRA


‘Objection: No, the two cases are dissimilar. The pillar and the man are both objects of cognition
(i.e., external to the Self) and as such are mistaken one for the other by the cogniser through
avidyā, whereas you say that the body and the Self—which are, respectively, the cognised and
the cogniser, are mistaken one for the other. Thus the illustration differs from what has to be
illustrated. Wherefore the attribute of the body, though an object of cognition, actually pertains
to the Self, the cogniser.
‘Answer: No; for then the Self would also become unconscious, etc. If the attributes—such as
pleasure, pain, delusion, desire, hatred—of the body, etc., i.e., of kṣetra (matter), which is an
object of cognition, could ever pertain to the Self, the cogniser, then it would be necessary to
state a reason for the difference—i.e., to explain why a few attributes only of kṣetra (an object
of cognition) which are ascribed to the Self by avidyā actually pertain to the Self, while others,
such as decay and death do not. On the other hand, we are led to infer that those qualities of
kṣetra do not actually pertain to the Self, because, like decay and death, they too are attributed
to the Self, by avidyā; also because they are objects shunned or sought, and so on. Such being
the case, inasmuch as samsāra which consists of doing and enjoying, and which has its root in
the cognised, is only attributed to the cogniser by avidyā—the cogniser is not thereby affected,
just as the ākāsa or ether is not affected by the attributes of dirtiness and concavity which are
ascribed to it by children through ignorance.
‘Thus, it cannot be imagined that the kṣetrajña (the knower of the body, field), the Lord,
though existing in all kṣetras, can never so much as smell of the nature of a samsārin. Nowhere
in our experience have we found anything improved or spoiled by a quality being falsely
attributed to it through avidyā.
‘As to the contention that the illustration is not quite analogous, we reply that it is wrong to
say so.—Why?—For the intended point of agreement between the illustration and the
illustrated consists of something being falsely attributed through ignorance. In this respect, both
agree. But, as to the contention that no false attribution of the qualities of the object to the
subject is ever experienced, it has been shown that even the contention fails in the case of
decay and death.

AVIDYĀ INHERES IN THE ORGAN, NOT IN THE SELF


‘Objection: As possessed of avidyā, kṣetrajña is a samsārin.
‘Answer: No; for avidyā is born of tamas. As partaking of the nature of a veil, avidyā—whether
causing perception of what is quite the contrary of truth, or causing doubt, or causing nescience
or non-perception of truth—is a tamasic notion, i.e., a notion born of tamas; for, on the dawn of
the light of discrimination, it disappears; and (for instance) we find the same three modes of
avidyā—such as non-perception, etc.—arising also from timira (an eye disease causing dimness
of sight), which is tamasic, as partaking of the nature of a veil.
‘Objection: The avidyā is an inherent property (dharma) of the cogniser.
‘Answer: No; for we see that it is the organ of sight that is affected with the disease of timira.
‘(To explain): You (the opponent) say: avidyā is an inherent property of the cogniser. As
possessed of this avidyā, kṣetrajña is a samsārin. It is therefore unjust to say that kṣetrajña is
Īśvara Himself and not a samsārin.
‘We reply: It is not right to say so; for we see that such diseases as lead to the perception of
what is contrary to truth, and so on, pertain to the eye, to the organ. Neither the perception of
what is contrary to truth, nor the cause thereof (viz., the disease of timira), pertains to the
percipient; for, when timira is removed by the treatment of the eye, the percipient is no longer
subject to such perception, which is, therefore, not a property of the percipient. Similarly, non-
perception, false perception, and doubt, as well as their cause, properly pertain to the
instrument, to one or another sense organ, but not to the kṣetrajña, the cogniser. Moreover, they
are all objects of cognition and cannot therefore form the properties of the cogniser, any more
than the light of a lamp. And because they are cognisable, it also follows that they can be
cognised only through some organ which is distinct from the cogniser; and no philosopher
admits that, in the state of liberation wherein all the sense-organs are absent, there is any such
evil as avidyā. If they (false perception, etc.) were essential properties of the Self, the kṣetrajña,
as the heat is an essential property of fire, there could be no getting rid of them at any time;
and it is impossible for the immutable and formless Self, all-pervading like the ākāsa—to unite
or part with anything whatsoever. Wherefore we conclude that the kṣetrajña is ever identical
with Īśvara. The Lord says, “Being beginningless and without qualities.”7

SCRIPTURAL INJUNCTIONS APPLY ONLY TO THE STATE OF BONDAGE


‘Objection: Then, in the absence of samsāra and samsārins, the conclusion is inevitable that the
śāstra or scripture serves no purpose, and so on.
‘Answer: No; for, it is admitted by all. The burden of explaining an objectionable point
admitted into their systems by all those philosophers who argue the existence of Ātman does not
lie on only one of them.—In what way do all classes of philosophers admit into their systems
this objectionable point?—All philosophers who admit the existence of a Self agree that
liberated Selves are not conscious of samsāra or of the state of being bound to samsāra; still, it is
not believed that their systems are open to the objection that the śāstra serves no purpose. So,
according to our view, when the kṣetrajñas become one with the Lord, then let the śāstra serve
no purpose. It has, however, a purpose to serve where there is avidyā. Just as with the dualists
(Dvaitins) of all classes, the śāstra has a purpose to serve only in the state of bondage but not in
the state of liberation, so with us also.

BONDAGE AND LIBERATION ARE NOT REAL STATES OF THE SELF


‘Objection: All dualistic philosophers (Dvaitins) hold that the states of bondage and liberation
are real conditions of the Self, real in the literal sense of the term. Since there really exists
something to be avoided and something to be attained, as also the means thereto, the śāstra has
some purpose to serve. But in the case of the non-dualists (Advaitins), the dual world is unreal;
and as the bondage of the Self is caused by avidyā, it too is unreal. Thus the śāstra would have
no subject to treat of and would therefore serve no purpose.
‘Answer: No; for, the Self cannot (really) exist in different states. If bondage and liberation be
states of the Self, they must be either simultaneous or successive. They cannot be simultaneous
states of the Self as they are mutually opposed, just as motion and rest cannot be simultaneous
states of one and the same thing. If successive, they are either caused or uncaused by another. If
uncaused by another, there can be no liberation. If caused by another, they cannot be inherent
in the Self and cannot therefore be real. And this is opposed to the hypothesis (that the states of
bondage and liberation are real conditions of the Self). Moreover, if we would determine the
order of their occurrence, the state of bondage should come first, without a beginning, but
having an end; and this is opposed to all evidence. Similarly, it has to be admitted that the state
of liberation has a beginning and has no end; which is alike opposed to all evidence. Nor is it
possible to maintain the eternality of that which passes from one state to another.
‘Now, if, in order to avoid the objection of non-eternality, it be held that the states of
bondage and liberation do not pertain to the Self, then even the dualists cannot avoid the
objection that the śāstra has no purpose to serve. The dualists and the non-dualists being thus
similarly situated, the burden of answering the objection does not lie on the non-dualists alone.

SCRIPTURAL INJUNCTIONS CONCERN THE UNENLIGHTENED


‘In point of fact, the objection that the śāstra would have no purpose to serve cannot be brought
against non-dualism; for, the śāstra is concerned with the ignorant who view things as they
present themselves to their consciousness. It is, indeed, the ignorant who identify themselves
with the cause and the effect, with the not-Self. But not the wise; for, these do not identify
themselves with the cause and the effect, since they know that the Self is distinct from the cause
and the effect. Not even the dullest or the most insane person regards water and fire, or light or
darkness, as identical; how much less a wise man. Wherefore, the injunctions and the
prohibitions of the śāstra do not apply to him who knows the Self to be distinct from the cause
and the effect. Of course, when a certain person has been commanded to do an action in the
words “Do this, O Devadatta,” no other person, such as Vishnumitra, though standing near and
hearing the word of command, thinks that he (Vishnumitra) has been so ordered; he might,
however, think so if he did not understand to whom the injunction has been addressed. So, too,
in the case of the cause and the effect here …
‘Objection: Neither those who know that the Self is independent of the body, etc., nor those
who regard the mere body as the Self are, (according to non-dualists), concerned with
injunctions such as, “He who desires svarga must sacrifice”; “Let none eat kalanja”; thus, there
being no person who would observe scriptural injunctions, the śāstra would have no purpose to
serve.
‘Answer: Performance of enjoined acts and abstention from prohibited acts are possible in the
case of those who know of the Self only through scriptures. He who knows Brahman and has
realised the identity of the kṣetrajña with the Lord does not certainly engage in the Vedic rites.
Neither does the person who denies the existence of the Self and of the other world engage in
such rites. But, he who derives his idea of the Self only from the scriptural injunctions—i.e., who
believes in the existence of the Self because the teaching of the śāstra enjoining certain actions
and prohibiting (certain others) would otherwise be inexplicable, but who does not directly
know the Self in His essential nature—cherishes a longing for the results of the Vedic rites and
devoutly performs them: a fact which is evident to us all. Wherefore, it cannot be said that the
śāstra would have no purpose to serve.
‘Objection: On seeing the wise not performing Vedic rites, their followers also may not
perform them; and thus the śāstra would serve no purpose at all.
‘Answer: No; for very rare is the person who attains wisdom. It is, indeed, only one among
many that attains wisdom, as we now see. Nor do the ignorant follow the wise men; for,
attachment and other evil passions necessarily lead to action. We do see people engaging in the
practice of black magic. Lastly, action is natural to man, as has been said already, “It is nature
that acts.” 8
‘Therefore, samsāra is only based on avidyā and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the
world as it appears to him. Neither avidyā nor its effect pertains to kṣetrajña pure and simple.
Nor is illusory knowledge able to affect the real thing. The water of the mirage, for instance,
can by no means render the saline soil miry with moisture. So, too, avidyā can do nothing to
kṣetrajña.

LEARNED BUT DELUDED


‘Objection: How is it that the learned (panḍits) also feel—“I am so and so”, “this is mine”,—like
the samsārins?
‘Answer: Listen. Their learning consists in regarding the body itself as their Self.
‘If, on the other hand, they really see the immutable kṣetrajña, they would desire neither
pleasure nor action with the attachment, “Let it be mine”; for, pleasure and action are but
changes of state.
‘Thus, then, it is the ignorant man who, longing for results, engages in action. The wise man,
on the contrary, who sees the immutable Self, cherishes no longing for results and does not
therefore engage in action; and when, as a consequence, the activity of the aggregate—of the
body and the senses—ceases, we say, only figuratively, that he abstains from action.
‘There is, again, another sort of learning professed by some other (class of panḍits), which
may be stated as follows—The Lord Himself is kṣetrajña, and kṣetra is quite distinct from
kṣetrajña who perceives it; but I am a samsārin subject to pleasure and pain. To bring about the
cessation of samsāra I should first acquire a discriminative knowledge of kṣetra and kṣetrajña,
then attain a direct perception of the kṣetrajña, the Lord, by means of dhyāna or meditation on
the Lord, and then dwell in the true nature of the Lord. He who is given to know thus and he
who teaches thus—neither of them is the kṣetrajña.
‘He who holds this view and hopes to make out that the śāstra concerning bondage and
liberation has a meaning is the meanest of the learned. He is the slayer of the Self. Ignorant in
himself, he confounds others, devoid as he is of the traditional key (sampradāya) to the teaching
of the śāstras. Ignoring what is directly taught, he suggests what is not taught. Therefore, not
being acquainted with the traditional interpretation, he is to be neglected as an ignorant man,
though learned in the śāstras.

THE RELATION OF THE SELF TO SAMSĀRA IS A MERE ILLUSION


‘… Objection: The very fact that kṣetrajña is possessed of avidyā makes him a samsārin; and the
effect thereof—happiness and misery and so on—is directly perceived.
‘Answer: No, for, what is perceived is an attribute of kṣetra (matter); and kṣetrajña, the
cogniser, cannot be vitiated by the blemish due to it. To explain: whatever, blemish—not
inhering in kṣetrajña—you ascribe to Him, it comes under the cognised, and therefore forms a
property of kṣetra, and not a property of kṣetrajña. Nor is kSetrajña affected by it, since such
intimate association of the cogniser and the cognised is impossible. If there should be such an
association, then that blemish could not be cognised. That is to say, if misery and nescience
were properties of the Self, how could they be objects of immediate perception? Or, how could
they ever be regarded as the properties of the Self? Since it has been determined that all that is
knowable is kṣetra, 9 and that kṣetrajña is the knower and none else, 10 it is nothing but sheer
ignorance which may lead one to contradict it by saying that nescience and misery, and the
like, are the attributes and specific properties of kṣetrajña and that they are immediately
perceived as such.

THE PERCEPTION OF THE RELATION OF AVIDYĀ, ETC., TO THE SELF IS DUE TO ILLUSION
‘Now asks the opponent: Whose is this avidyā?
‘Reply: By whomsoever it is seen.
‘Opponent: By whom is it seen?
‘Reply: As regards this, we say: There is no use asking the question, “By whom is avidyā
seen?” For, if avidyā is perceived, you perceive also the one who has that avidya. When its
possessor is perceived, it is not proper to ask, “Whose is it?” When the possessor of cows is
seen, there is no occasion for the question, “Whose are the cows?”
‘Opponent: The illustration is analogous to the case in point. Since the cows and their
possessor are objects of immediate perception, their relation is also an object of immediate
perception; and so the question has no meaning. But not so are avidyā and its possessor both
objects of immediate perception. If they were, the question would have been meaningless.
‘Reply: If you know to what particular entity, not immediately perceived, avidyā is related, of
what avail is it to you?
‘Opponent: Since avidyā is the cause of evil, it is a thing that should be got rid of.
‘Reply: He who has avidyā will get rid of it.
‘Opponent: Why, it is I who have avidyā, and I should try and get rid of it.
‘Reply: Then you know avidyā and the Self, its possessor.
‘Opponent: I know, but not by immediate perception.
‘Reply: Then you, the Self, by inference. How can you perceive the relation between the Self
and avidyā? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidyā, at the
same moment (that your Self cognises avidyā); for, the cogniser (Self) acts at the moment as the
percipient of avidyā. Nor can there be a (separate) cogniser of the relation between the cogniser
(the Self) and avidyā, nor a separate cognition of that (relation); for then you would commit the
fallacy of infinite regress (anāvastha).—If the relation between the cogniser (the Self) and the
cognised could be cognised, another cogniser should be supposed to exist; then, another
cogniser of that cogniser; then, another of that again; and so on; and thus the series would
necessarily be endless. If, on the other hand, avidyā—or, for that matter, anything else is the
cognised, then it is for ever the cognised only. So also is the cogniser ever the cogniser; he can
never become the cognised. Such being the case, kṣetrajña, the cogniser, is not at all tainted by
nescience, misery and the like.
‘Objection: There is in the Self this blemish, viz., that He is the cogniser of kṣetra or matter
which is full of blemishes.
‘Answer: No; for, it is only by a figure of speech that the Self, the immutable consciousness, is
spoken of as the cogniser, just as, in virtue of its heat, fire is said by a figure to do the act of
heating.’ 11
(1.4) ‘(Ātman by itself is not the cause of ignorance.) Another reason is that ignorance is an
object witnessed by the Self. He who visualises the error of ignorance as something distinct
from his own self like a jar, etc., is not himself under that error.
‘Objection: Surely he is under that error, for one feels that one sometimes has the notion, “I
do not know; I am confused.”
‘Reply: No, for that, too, is distinctly perceived. He who distinctly perceives a thing cannot
surely be said to be mistaken about it; it is self-contradictory to say that he perceives it
distinctly, and at the same time, that he is mistaken about it.
‘You say that a person feels, “I do not know, I am confused”; thereby, you admit that he
visualises his ignorance and confusion; in other words, that these become the objects of his
experience. So how can the ignorance and confusion, which are objects, be at the same time a
description of the subject, the perceiver? If, on the other hand, they are a description of the
subject, how can they be objects and be perceived by the subject? An object is perceived by an
act of the subject. The object is one thing, and the subject another; it cannot be perceived by
itself. Tell me how, under such circumstances, the ignorance and confusion can be a description
of the subject. Moreover, a person who sees ignorance as something distinct—perceives it as an
object of his own cognition—does not regard it as an attribute of the perceiver, as is the case
with thinness, colour, and so forth in the body. (Similarly, the effects of ignorance also are not
attributes of the Self).’ 12

(2) EFFECT OF MĀYĀ

As māyā is indeterminable, it is possible to understand it only from its effects, i.e., in its
operation from the phenomenal point of view, the fact of empirical experience. Though māyā is
experienced from its effect, i.e., the variegated universe, it does not have an existence apart
from Brahman. Non-comprehension, wrong comprehension and doubt are the result of
ignorance, and as they obscure the true nature of the Self, they are responsible for all the ills of
transmigratory existence. Bondage and liberation also become possible only when avidyā comes
into play. Bondage is the result of superimposition of the not-Self on the Self due to avidyā, and
liberation is the removal of this ignorance when the true nature of the Self is revealed.

(Selected passages)
(2.1) ‘As it happens in common experience that a rope that is not well ascertained in its true
reality as, “This is so indeed”, is imagined variously in hazy darkness as a snake, a line of
water, or a stick, just because its real nature has not been determined; for, if the rope had been
ascertained earlier in its own essence, there would not have been such imaginations as of a
snake, etc., as for instance, there is no such imagination with regard to the fingers of one’s
hands. This is the illustration. Similarly, the Self is imagined to be an individual creature or the
vital force, etc., just because It has not been ascertained in Its true nature as pure intelligence,
existence, and non-duality, and as different from such evils as cause and effect that are the
characteristics of the world. This is the conclusion of the Upaniṣads.’13
(2.2) ‘Having no cause of birth, Brahman coexists with all that is inside and outside; and It is
unborn; for we said that birth is caused by ignorance as in the case of a snake on a rope; and
that ignorance is stopped on the realisation of the truth of the Self according to instruction. As
It is birthless, It is sleepless. Sleep is the beginningless māyā characterised by ignorance. Since
he (man) has awakened into his own real, non-dual nature that is the Self, therefore he is
dreamless. And since his name and form are a creation of the state of non-waking, and they are
destroyed on waking up—like the illusion of a snake on a rope—therefore, Brahman cannot be
named by any word, nor can It be described as having any form in any way; thus, It is also
without name and form, as is stated in the Vedic text, “From which speech turns back14”.’ 15
(2.3) ‘Discarding ignorance—the root of all superimposition and the controller of
transmigratory existence—one should know the Self to be the Supreme Brahman which is
always free and devoid of fear.
‘Transmigratory existence consists of waking and dream. Their root is deep sleep consisting
of ignorance. No one of these three states has a real existence because each goes out of
existence when another remains in it. One should, therefore, give up all these three states.’16
(2.4) ‘We, in the second place, have apavāda [sublation] when an idea previously attached to
some object is recognised as false and is driven out by the true idea springing up after the false
one. So, e.g., when the false idea of the body, the senses, and so on, being the Self, is driven out
by the true idea springing up later—and expressed by judgements such as “Thou art that”—that
the idea of the Self is to be attached to the Self only. Or, to quote another example: when a
previous mistaken notion as to the direction of the points of the compass is replaced by the true
notion.’17
(2.5) See Adhyāsa-bhāṣya for the perception of “the Self and the not-Self” which is an effect of
Māyā. 18
(2.6) ‘A certain Brahmacharin, tired of the transmigratory existence consisting of birth and
death, and aspiring for liberation, approached in the prescribed manner a knower of Brahman
established in It and sitting at ease, and said, “How can I, Sir, be liberated from this
transmigratory existence? Conscious of the body, the senses and their objects, I feel pain in the
state of waking and also in the state of dream, again and again, after intervals of rest in deep
sleep experienced by me. Is this my own nature or is it causal, I being of a different nature? If it
be my own nature, I can have no hope of liberation as one’s own nature cannot be got rid of.
But if it be causal, liberation from it may be possible by removing the cause.”
‘The teacher said to him, “Listen, my child, it is not your nature but causal.”
‘Told thus, the disciple said, “What is the cause; what will bring it to an end and what is my
nature? That cause being brought to an end, there will be the absence of effect, and I shall
come by my own nature, just like a patient who gets back the normal condition (of his health)
when the cause of his disease is removed.”
‘The teacher said, “The cause is ignorance. Knowledge brings it to an end. When ignorance,
the cause, will be removed, you will be liberated from the transmigratory existence consisting
of birth and death. You will never again feel pain in the states of waking and dream.”
‘The disciple said, “What is that ignorance? What is its seat? (What is its object?) What is
knowledge by means of which I may come by my own nature?”
‘The teacher said, “You are the non-transmigratory Supreme Self, but you wrongly think that
you are liable to transmigration. (Similarly), not being an agent or an experiencer you wrongly
consider yourself to be so. Again, you are eternal but mistake yourself to be non-eternal. This is
ignorance.”
‘The disciple said, “Though eternal, I am not the Supreme Self. My nature is one of
transmigratory existence consisting of agency and experiencing of its results, as it is known by
evidence such as sense perception, etc. It is not due to ignorance. For it cannot have the
innermost Self for its object. Ignorance consists of the superimposition of the qualities of one
thing on another, e.g., well-known silver on well-known mother-of-pearl, or a well-known
human being on a (well-known) trunk of tree, and vice versa. An unknown thing cannot be
superimposed on a known one, and vice versa. The non-Self cannot be superimposed on the
Self, for it is not known. Similarly, the Self cannot be superimposed on the non-Self, for the
very same reason.”
‘The teacher said to him, “It is not so. There are exceptions. For, my child, there cannot be a
rule that it is only well-known things that are superimposed on other well-known things, for we
meet with the superimposition of certain things on the Self. Fairness and blackness, the
properties of the body, are superimposed on the Self which is the object of consciousness ‘I’, and
the same Self is superimposed on the body.”
‘The disciple said, “In that case, the Self must be well known owing to its being the object of
the consciousness ‘I’. The body also must be well known, for it is spoken of as ‘this’ (body).
When this is so, it is a case of mutual superimposition of the well-known body and the well-
known Self, like that of silver and mother-of-pearl. (There is, therefore, no exception here.) So,
what is the peculiarity with reference to which you said that there could be a rule that mutual
superimposition was possible of two well-known things only?”
‘The teacher said, “Listen. It is true that the Self and the body are well known, but they are
not well known to all people to be objects of different knowledge, like a human being and a
trunk of a tree. (Question) How are they known then? (Reply) (They are always known) to be
the objects of an undifferentiated knowledge. For, no one knows them to be the objects of
different knowledge saying, ‘This is the body’ and ‘This is the Self.’ It is for this reason that
people are deluded about the nature of the Self and of the non-Self, and say, ‘The Self is of this
nature’, and ‘It is not of this nature’. It was this peculiarity with reference to which I said that
there was no such rule (viz., only well-known things could be superimposed on each other).”
‘Disciple: “Whatever is superimposed through ignorance on anything else is found to be non-
existent in that thing, e.g., silver in mother-of-pearl; a human being in the trunk of a tree; a
snake in a rope; and the form of a frying pan and blueness in the sky. Similarly, both the body
and the Self—always the objects of an undifferentiated knowledge—would be non-existent in
each other if they were mutually superimposed. Just as silver, etc., superimposed on mother-of-
pearl, and other things and vice versa, are always absolutely non-existent. Likewise, the Self
and the non-Self would both be non-existent if they were similarly superimposed on each other
through ignorance. But that is not desirable as it is the position of the nihilists. If, instead of a
mutual superimposition the body (alone) is superimposed through ignorance on the Self, the
body will be non-existent in the existing Self. That is also not desirable. For it contradicts
senseperception, etc. Therefore, the body and the Self are not mutually superimposed due to
ignorance. (If they are not superimposed) what then? They are always in the relation of
conjunction with each other, like pillars and bamboos.”
‘Teacher: “It is not so. For, in that case, there arises the possibility of the Self existing for the
benefit of another and being non-eternal. The Self, if in contact with the body, would be
existing for the benefit of another and be non-eternal like the combination of pillars and
bamboos. Moreover, the Self, supposed by other philosophers to be conjoined with the body
must have been in existence for the sake of another. It is, therefore, concluded that, devoid of
contact with the body, the Self is eternal and characteristically different from it.”
‘Disciple: “The objections that the Self, as the body only, is non-existent, non-eternal and so
on, hold good if the Self which is not conjoined with the body were superimposed on it. The
body would be without a Self and so the nihilist position comes in.”
‘Teacher: “No. (You are not right). For we admit that, like the ether, the Self is by nature free
from contact with anything. Just as things are not bereft of the ether though it is not in contact
with them, so, the body, etc., are not devoid of the Self though It is not in contact with them.
Therefore, the objection of the nihilist position coming in does not arise.
‘It is not a fact that the absolute non-existence of the body contradicts sense–perception etc.,
inasmuch as the existence of the body in the Self is not known by these evidences. The body is
not known to exist in the Self by perception, etc., like a plum in a hole, ghee in milk, oil in
sesame, or a picture painted on a wall. There is, therefore, no contradiction to sense–
perception, etc.”
‘Disciple: “How can then there be the superimposition of the body etc. on the Self which is not
known by sense–perception etc. and that of the Self on the body?”
‘Teacher: “It is not a (valid) objection. For the Self is naturally well known, As we see the
form of a frying pan and blueness superimposed on the sky, there cannot be a rule that it is
things known occasionally only on which superimposition is possible and not on things always
known.”’19
(2.7) ‘Objection: Of what sort is this union of kṣetra and kṣetrajña meant to be? The union of
kṣetrajña with kṣetra cannot certainly be a relation through contact (saṃyoga) of each other’s
parts, as between a rope and a vessel, inasmuch as kṣetrajña is, like the ākāsa, without parts.
Nor can it be of the nature of samavaya or inseparable inherence, inasmuch as it cannot be
admitted that kṣetra and kṣetrajña are related to each other as cause and effect.
‘Answer: The union between kṣetra and kṣetrajña, between the object and the subject, which
are opposed to each other in nature, is of the nature of mutual adhyāsa, i.e., it consists of
confounding them as well as their attributes with each other owing to the absence of a
discrimination between the nature of kṣetra and that of kṣetrajña, like the union of a rope and
mother-of-pearl respectively with a snake and silver when they are mistaken, the one for the
other, owing to the absence of discrimination. The union of kṣetra and kṣetrajña which is of the
nature of adhyāsa—which consists of confounding the one with the other—is a sort of illusion
(mithyājñāna); and this illusion vanishes—because of its opposition to the right knowledge—
when a man attains to a knowledge of the distinction between kṣetra and kṣetrajña as defined in
the śāstra; when he is able to separate kṣetrajña from kṣetra like the iṣika reed from the munja
grass, and to realise that Brahman, the knowable, which is devoid of all upādhis as described in
the words, “It is not said to be existent or non-existent” 20 is his own Self; when he is convinced
that, like the elephants and palaces projected by a juggler’s art, or like a thing seen in a dream,
or like a gandharva nagara (an imaginary city in the sky), kṣetra is non-existent and only
appears to be existent. As the cause of birth has vanished in the case of a man, it stands to
reason that “the wise man is not born again”.21’22
(3) MĀYĀ AND ABSOLUTE KNOWLEDGE

Māyā, the principle of relativity, is a fact from the empirical point of view; but māyā does not
have any standing from the transcendental point of view. Duality is a fact of experience, and it
is from this standpoint that scriptures teach the nature of the Self as the non-dual Absolute. So,
the entire edifice of scriptural knowledge rests on māyā as the causative principle of ignorance.

(Selected passages)
(3.1) ‘This unreal, phenomenal existence created by differentiation is indeed a fact for those
who do not believe in things as different from Brahman as well as for those who do believe. But
the believers of the highest truth, while discussing in accordance with the śrutis, the actual
existence or non-existence of things apart from Brahman, conclude that Brahman alone is the
one without a second, beyond all finite relations. So, there is no contradiction between the two
views. We do not maintain the existence of things different from Brahman in the state when the
highest truth has been definitively known, as the śrutis say, “One only without a second,” and
“Without interior or exterior”;23 Nor do we deny the validity, for the ignorant, of actions with
their factors and results while the relative world of name and form exists. Therefore scriptural
or conventional outlook depends entirely on knowledge or ignorance. Hence there is no
apprehension of a contradiction between them. In fact, all schools must admit the existence or
non-existence of the phenomenal world according as it is viewed from the relative or the
absolute standpoints.’24
(3.2) ‘Objection: But the fact of not being Brahman and not being all exists apart from the
creation of ignorance.
‘Reply: No, for then it cannot be removed by the knowledge of Brahman. This knowledge has
never been observed either directly to remove some characteristic of a thing or to create one.
But everywhere it is seen to remove ignorance. Similarly here also, let the idea of not being
Brahman and not being all that is due to ignorance, be removed by the knowledge of Brahman,
but it can neither create nor put a stop to a real entity. Hence, it is entirely futile to give up the
plain meaning of a word used in the śruti and put a new meaning in its place.
‘Objection: But is not ignorance out of place in Brahman?
‘Reply: Not so, for knowledge regarding Brahman has been enjoined. When there has been no
superimposition of silver on mother-of-pearl, and it is directly visible, no one takes the trouble
to say it is mother-of-pearl, and not silver. Similarly, were there no superimposition of
ignorance on Brahman, the knowledge of unity regarding Brahman would not be enjoined in
such terms as the following: “All this is Existence, All this is Brahman”,25 “All this is the Self”26
and, “This duality has no existence apart from Brahman.”27
‘Objection: We do not say that there is no superimposition on Brahman of attributes not
belonging to It, as in the case of mother-of-pearl, but that Brahman is not the cause of the
superimposition of these attributes on Itself, nor the author of ignorance.
‘Reply: Let it be so. Brahman is not the author of ignorance nor subject to error. But it is not
admitted that there is any other conscious entity but Brahman which is the author of ignorance
or subject to error …
‘Objection: In that case, scriptural instruction is useless.
‘Reply: Quite so, let it be, when the truth has been known.
‘Objection: But it is also useless to know the truth.
‘Reply: No, for we see that it removes ignorance.
‘Objection: If there is unity, this removal of ignorance is also impossible.
‘Reply: Not so, for it contradicts experience. We actually see that the knowledge of unity
alone dispels ignorance. If you deny an observed fact, saying it is impossible, you would be
contradicting experience, a thing nobody will allow. Nor is there any question of impossibility
with regard to an observed fact, because it has actually been observed.
‘Objection: But this observation also is impossible.
‘Reply: There also the same logic will apply.’28
(3.3) ‘If we acquiesce in the doctrine of absolute unity, the ordinary means of right
knowledge, perception, etc., become invalid because the absence of manifoldness deprives them
of their objects; just as the idea of a man becomes invalid after the right idea of the post (which,
at first, had been mistaken for a man) has presented itself. Moreover, all the texts embodying
injunctions and prohibitions will lose their purport if the distinction on which their validity
depends does not really exist. And further, the entire body of doctrine which refers to final
release will collapse, if the distinction of teacher and pupil on which it depends is not real. And
if the doctrine of release is untrue, how can we maintain the truth of the absolute unity of the
Self, which forms an item of that doctrine?
‘These objections, we reply, do not damage our position because the entire complex of
phenomenal existence is considered true as long as the knowledge of Brahman being the Self of
all has not arisen; just as the phantoms of a dream are considered to be true until the sleeper
wakes. For, as long as a person has not reached the true knowledge of the unity of the Self, so
long it does not enter his mind that the world of effects with its means and objects of right
knowledge and its results of actions is untrue; he rather, in consequence of his ignorance, looks
on mere effects (such as body, offspring, wealth, etc.) as forming part of and belonging to his
Self, forgetful of Brahman, in reality the Self of all. Hence, as long as true knowledge does not
present itself, there is no reason why the ordinary course of secular and religious activity should
not hold on undisturbed. The case is analogous to that of a dreaming man who, in his dream,
sees manifold things, and, up to the moment of waking, is convinced that his ideas are
produced by real perception without suspecting the perception to be a merely apparent one.’29
(3.4) ‘Thus, the Lord depends (as Lord) upon the limiting adjuncts of name and form, the
products of nescience; just as the universal ether depends (as limited ether, such as the ether of
a jar, etc.) upon the limiting adjuncts in the shape of jars, pots, etc. He (the Lord) stands in the
realm of the phenomenal in the relation of a ruler to the so-called jīvas (individual souls) or
cognitional selves (vijñānātman), which indeed are one with his own Self—just as the portions of
ether enclosed in jars and the like are one with the universal ether—but are limited by
aggregates of instruments of action (i.e., bodies) produced from name and form, the
presentations of nescience. Hence, the Lord’s being a Lord, his omnipresence, his omnipotence,
etc., all depend on the limitation due to the adjuncts whose Self is nescience; while in reality
none of these qualities belongs to the Self whose true nature is cleared, by right knowledge,
from all adjuncts whatever … In this manner, the Vedānta texts declare that for him who has
reached the state of truth and reality, the whole apparent world does not exist.—The sūtrakāra
also asserts the non-difference of cause and effect only with regard to the state of Reality; while
he had—in the preceding sūtra—where he looked to the phenomenal world compared Brahman
to the ocean, etc. that comparison resting on the assumption of the world of effects not yet
having been refuted (i.e., seen to be unreal).—The view of Brahman as undergoing
modifications will, moreover, be of use in the devout meditations on the qualified (Saguṇa)
Brahman.’30
(3.5) ‘The scriptures seek to instruct merely according to existing circumstances. They do not
teach a man, as soon as he is born, either the duality or the unity of existence, and then instruct
him about rites of the knowledge of Brahman. Nor does duality require to be taught; it is
understood by everyone as soon as he is born; and nobody thinks from the very outset that
duality is false, in which case, the scriptures would first have to teach the reality of the dual
world and then establish their own validity. (The unreality of the universe is no bar to the
validity of the scriptures, for) even the disciples of those who deny the Vedas (and do not
believe in an objective universe) would not hesitate to accept the authority of their scriptures
when they are directed (to do something helpful in accordance with them) by their teachers.
Therefore the scriptures, taking the dualistic world as it is—created by ignorance and natural to
everybody—first advise the performance of rites calculated to achieve the desired ends to those
who are possessed of that mental ignorance and defects such as attachment and aversion;
afterwards, when they see the well-known evils of action, their factors, and their results, and
wish to attain their real state of aloofness, which is the opposite of duality, the scriptures teach
them, as a means to it, the knowledge of Brahman, consisting in the realisation of the unity of
the Self. So, when they have attained that result—their real state of aloofness—their interest in
the validity of the scriptures ceases. And in the absence of that, the scriptures, too, just cease to
be scriptures to them. Hence, the scriptures having similarly fulfilled their mission with regard
to every person, there is not the least chance of a conflict with them; for such dualistic
differences as scripture, disciple and discipline terminate with the knowledge of unity.’31
3

Reality (Brahman)

INTRODUCTION

Śruti being the ultimate source of knowledge of the Absolute Reality (Brahman), it will be
instructive to see how it teaches Brahman. Brahman is non-dual (Advaita) according to
Śaṅkara, and the process of inquiry into Brahman essentially brings in the subject–object
distinction, which is a transition from the transcendental level (pāramārthika) of non-duality to
the empirical level (vyāvahārika) of plurality, in which any inquiry is possible. To put it simply,
Advaita is a philosophy of standpoints, and any definition that is attempted can be understood
only from a particular standpoint. In teaching, the progression is reversed: from the known,
phenomenal level of diversity to the unknown, non-dual, transcendental level.
The Upaniṣads describe the Absolute Reality, Brahman, as non-dual, without form or
attributes (nirguṇa) but there are statements about Brahman with form and attributes too
(saguṇa). This is necessary because it is possible to relate to Brahman only from the empirical
level. The Absolute is thus spoken of as two according to whether it is from the transcendental
level (nirguṇa) or the relative, worldly level (saguṇa). They are also referred to as Para Brahman
and Apara Brahman, respectively, and correspond to the acosmic and cosmic aspects of the
Reality. Saguṇa Brahman, also known as Iśvara, is for all practical purposes important as the
cause and controller of the universe, and as God of religion. Form and attributes are essential in
worship and meditation.
Brahman is defined in the Upaniṣads as the Reality, Existence or Truth (sat, satya);
consciousness or knowledge (cit, jñāna); and infinite (ananta). These three defining features are
not attributes but the very nature of Brahman. From the metaphysical standpoint, they reiterate
that, as the first cause and self-existent principle, Brahman is free from the defects of the world
—falsehood (asatya), material nature (jaḍatva), finiteness (parichinna). That which is infinite
alone is bliss as finiteness is the reason for misery. Hence, Brahman alone is bliss.
Since the essential nature of Brahman is described as non-dual consciousness, it is evident
that Brahman cannot be an object to be known as in the case of worldly knowledge. But the
whole objective of scriptural study and philosophical inquiry is to know Brahman; so, this
inquiry into Brahman proceeds from the level of duality of the world of experience to the
transcendental level of non-dual consciousness. Scriptures cannot give direct knowledge and
they only help strip the adjuncts concealing the Self (Ātman). Brahman is self-evident as the
Ātman within but this is obstructed by avidyā due to which the Self is mistaken for the not-Self.
Scriptural study, guidance of a Guru and Self-inquiry are therefore necessary to know Brahman.
Śaṅkara adopts the path of negation, the famous ‘neti neti’ (not this, not this) method in
Upaniṣadic lore which, by denying everything that the mind can conceptualize, helps it to
transcend duality and relationships, which are the basis of objective knowledge. The methods
adopted by Śaṅkara on the basis of the Upaniṣads to describe Brahman are techniques to enable
the mind to transcend subject–object duality so that the final teaching of the mahāvākya ‘tat tvam
asi’ (That Thou art) by the Guru can lead the inquiring mind to become aware of the non-dual
Self within. The Brahma-sūtra begins this inquiry from the empirical level by describing
Brahman as the cause of creation, because it is easy to progress from the level of the known to
the level of the unknown—Brahman: ‘(Brahman is that) from which the origin (origin,
subsistence, dissolution) of this (world proceed).’1 It hastens to add that the cause is
consciousness per se, not material, because Reality is non-dual, and there is intelligence in
creation. The Upaniṣad declares that Brahman being non-dual, and the origin of everything, It
is the subject, and not an object to be known, and so, words and thought cannot define It as
they can describe only objects: ‘… Brahman, failing to reach which, words turn back along with
the mind.’2 The reason why Brahman is beyond the ken of speech and mind is because it is
devoid of form and attributes (nirguṇa), and unrelated to anything as it is the ‘One only without
a second.’3 But, as no metaphysical exercise is possible without positing the categories that have
to be discussed, Śaṅkara’s metaphysics takes into account the three aspects of the Reality—
Brahman, jagat (world), jīva (individual soul)—though essentially, the two categories of the
Self and the not-Self are enough to explain it. These are further extended to include three more:
māyā/avidyā; the relationship between Brahman and māyā; and the difference between Īśvara
and jīva. All these six categories are beginningless (anādi) in nature.
The corollary of stating that Brahman defies description can be seen in the other way to
which the Upaniṣads resort to describe it by negating what It is not—the famous ‘neti neti’ (not
this, not this) method—so that the mind is able to transcend relativity, and make the transition
to the intuitive level. Any knowledge is possible only because of the Self, the knower, and as
Brahman is not an object to be known, It reveals Itself to the seeker as the innermost Self
(Ātman), the I-witness within, directly and intuitively. Thus, philosophizing about the Absolute
Reality becomes possible, which would not be the case if It were purely transcendental.
Brahman as Ātman is, therefore, self-evident, and the mind has to make the leap from the
empirical to the transcendental level to grasp Self-knowledge. As the distinction between the
one making the inquiry (subject) and the object of inquiry (Brahman) dissolves in the process of
gaining this knowledge, Brahman, as the cognizing Self within all (Ātman) takes centre stage in
the Upaniṣads following which it becomes the central concept in Śaṅkara’s metaphysics, and
not the transcendental Brahman, which can be experienced only by a few. The transition from
the objective to the subjective level is the basis of the paradigmatic identity statements
(mahāvākya) tat tvam asi (That Thou art) and aham brahmāsmi (I am Brahman). The negative
statements are a prelude to the affirmations to drive home the limitations of language and
reasoning.
This finally begs the question: ‘Is it not possible then to define Brahman?’ Despite the
restrictions imposed by language, the Upaniṣads do define Brahman in empirical terms as ‘satya
(existence), jñāna (consciousness), ananta (infinite)’.4 Being infinite, it is of the nature of
absolute bliss (ananda) itself, the source of all joy in the universe5 and pūrṇa (full, plenum),
beyond all dualities. As Brahman is nirguṇa, and the transcendental aspect is difficult to grasp,
for all practical purposes including the creation of the universe, Brahman is saguṇa, that is
(Brahman+māyā), Īśvara, God of religion. Thus, the negotiation between the one and the
many becomes feasible, which is essential in the arena of spiritual discipline for paving the way
for experiencing the veracity of the truth of this teaching.
The above method of delineation of Brahman has been approached from four different
angles: (1) by Brahman as the cause of the universe, which is an incidental or accidental
feature; (2) by the process of negation to point out how Brahman transcends all opposites and
categorization; (3) by affirmation which is identifying Brahman with the Self of the inquirer to
enable him to transcend duality; and (4) by defining the essential nature of Brahman to show
that the Reality is different from all other objects of the empirical world. All these are adopted
appropriately by Śaṅkara in his commentaries and, in post-Śaṅkara Advaita tradition, this
methodology became more nuanced and structured. One can discern that there is a constant
shift from the objective level to the subjective level in the passages selected here, which is a
pointer to the fact of the non-duality of the Reality. Any discussion of the Reality is therefore
meaningful only from a particular standpoint. The selected texts have been grouped in the
following topics to bring out all these salient features.

(1) ASPECTS OF THE ABSOLUTE REALITY

The Absolute Reality (Brahman) in itself is non-dual, devoid of form and attributes (nirguṇa)
according to the Upaniṣads, but there are also passages ascribing form and attributes to
Brahman (saguṇa). Just as Śaṅkara’s epistemology starts at the empirical level to substantiate
plurality, which is evident to human experience, and concludes with the non-dual Absolute by
employing the method of adhyāropa (false attribution, superimposition) and apavāda (denial), so
also his metaphysics resorts to the same technique to explain the relation between the one and
the many; the indeterminate and the determinate; the being and the becoming. All
philosophical categories and relationships can thus be explained through the concept of
superimposition (adhyāsa), since Brahman—bereft of māyā/avidyā, which is the causative
principle of plurality—is the non-dual, pure consciousness, and hence trans-empirical.
The non-dual Absolute is thus spoken of as two: nirguṇa, which is Brahman in itself; and
saguṇa (Īśvara), which is Brahman in relation to the world. These two aspects are also known
as Para-Brahman and Apara-Brahman, respectively, which are essentially the higher and the
lower levels of Reality. These two forms are the acosmic and cosmic aspects of the Reality. This
higher Brahman is the Ultimate Reality, realization of which constitutes liberation. Saguṇa-
Brahman is important from the empirical standpoint, because it is possible to relate only to this
aspect of Reality as the cause of creation, as the controller of the universe, and as God who can
be worshipped. The attributes of Brahman aid in meditation (upāsana).

(Selected passages)

(1.1) NIRGUṆA-BRAHMAN
‘“For (Brahman) is merely devoid of form, on account of this being the main part of scripture.”6
Brahman, we must definitively assert, is devoid of all form, colour, and so on, and does not in
any way possess form, and so on. Why? On account of this being the main purport (of
scripture). “It is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long”;7 “That which is without sound,
without touch, without form, without decay”;8 “He who is called ether is the revealer of all
forms and names. That within which forms and names are, that is Brahman”;9 “That heavenly
person is without body, he is both without and within, not produced”;10 “That Brahman is
without cause and without effect, without anything inside or outside, this Self is Brahman,
omnipresent and omniscient.”11 These and similar passages have for their purport the true
nature of Brahman as non-connected with any world, and have not any other purport, as we
have proved earlier.12 On the ground of such passages, we therefore must definitively conclude
that Brahman is devoid of form. Those other passages, on the other hand, which refer to a
Brahman qualified by form, do not aim at setting forth the nature of Brahman, but rather at
enjoining the worship of Brahman. As long as those latter texts do not contradict those of the
former class, they are to be accepted as they stand; where, however, contradictions occur, the
passages whose main subject is Brahman must be viewed as having greater force than those of
the other kind.—This is the reason for our deciding that although there are two different classes
of scriptural texts, Brahman must be held to be altogether without form, not at the same time of
an opposite nature.—But what then is the position of those passages, which refer to Brahman as
possessing form?—To this question the next sūtra replies.’13

(1.2) SAGUṆA-BRAHMAN
‘“And as light (assumes forms, as it were, by its contact with things possessing form, so does
Brahman); since (the texts ascribing form to Brahman) are not devoid of meaning.”14 Just as the
light of the sun or the moon, after having passed through space, enters into contact with a
finger or some other limiting adjunct and, according to whether the latter is straight or bent,
itself becomes straight or bent, as it were; so Brahman also assumes, as it were, the form of the
earth and the other limiting adjuncts with which it enters into connection. Hence, there is no
reason why certain texts should not teach—with a view to meditative worship—that Brahman
has that and that form. We thus escape the conclusion that those Vedic passages, which ascribe
form to Brahman, are devoid of sense; a conclusion altogether unacceptable since all parts of
the Veda are equally authoritative, and hence must all be assumed to have a meaning.—But
does this not imply a contradiction of the tenet maintained above, viz.; that Brahman does not
possess double characteristics although it is connected with limiting adjuncts?—By no means,
we reply. What is merely due to a limiting adjunct cannot constitute an attribute of a
substance, and the limiting adjuncts are, moreover, presented by nescience only. That primeval
natural nescience leaves room for all practical life and activity—whether ordinary or based on
the Veda—we have explained more than once.’15

(1.3) ONE APPEARING AS MANY


‘Because that Self is of the nature of intelligence, devoid of all difference, transcending speech
and mind, to be described only by denying it all other characteristics, therefore, the mokṣa
śāstras compare it to the images of the sun reflected in water and the like, meaning thereby,
that all difference in Brahman is unreal, only due to its limiting conditions. Compare, e.g. out
of many, the two following passages: “As the one luminous sun, when entering into relation to
many different waters, is himself rendered multiform by his limiting adjuncts, so also the one
divine unborn Self”; and “The one Self of all beings separately abides in all the individual
beings; hence, it appears one and many at the same time, just as the one moon is multiplied by
its reflections in the water”.’16
(2) BRAHMAN IS SATYAM, JÑĀNAM, ANANTAM

The Upaniṣad statement ‘satyam jñānam anantam brahma’17 is an oft-quoted definition of the
essential nature of Brahman. This means that Brahman is the Reality or Existence or Truth (sat,
satya); consciousness or knowledge (cit, jñāna); and infinite (ananta). That which is infinite is
indeed blissful. If such a description is possible, why is this not given in the beginning, without
first resorting to a circuitous way of describing its accidental attributes? Śaṅkara, in his
commentary on this text, explains that this definition is of one which is itself the thing defined,
which, in post-Śaṅkara Advaita, has come to be termed svarūpa lakṣaṇa. Hence, these three
distinguishing features, i.e., existence, knowledge, infinite, are not attributes, but the very
nature of Brahman. This can be rephrased thus: Brahman is existence, and not an entity
possessing the quality of existence; Brahman is consciousness per se; Brahman is infinite.
Further, the definition using these three terms reiterate that Brahman is free of the three defects
of the empirical world: falsehood (asatya); material nature, inertness (jaḍatva); and finiteness
(parichinna); the consequence of which is misery. Since metaphysical inquiry is of the Reality—
which is a self-existent principle—and the first cause, which is knowledge (consciousness)
present as the eternal witness within and illuminating the mind, and is infinite in which there is
no limitation and thus, is the principle of bliss—this statement seeks to highlight that the
Absolute is free of all the characteristics that are typical of the phenomenal world.

(Selected passage)
(2.1) ‘The statement satyam jñānam anantam brahma—Brahman is truth, knowledge, infinite—is
meant as a definition of Brahman. For the three words, beginning with satya, are meant to
distinguish Brahman which is the substantive. And from the fact that Brahman is the thing
intended to be known, it follows that Brahman is the substantive. Since Brahman is sought to be
presented as the chief object of knowledge, the knowable must be the substantive. And just
because (Brahman and satya, etc.) are related as the substantive and its attributes, the words
beginning with satya, have the same case-ending, and they stand in apposition. Brahman, being
qualified by the three adjectives, satya, etc., is marked out from other nouns. Thus, indeed, does
a thing become known when it is differentiated from others; as for instance, in common
parlance, a particular lotus is known when it is described as blue, big and sweet-smelling.
‘Objection: A noun can be distinguished only when there is the possibility of its ruling out
some other adjective (that does not belong to it), as for instance a (white) lotus can be
distinguished by ruling out either red or blue. An adjective is meaningful when there are many
nouns which belong to the same class and which are capable of having many adjectives; but it
can have no meaning with regard to a single noun, where there is no possibility of any
alternative adjective. There is a single Brahman, just as there is a single sun; there do not exist
other Brahmans from which It can be distinguished, unlike a blue lotus that can be (marked out
from a red one).
‘Answer: No, there is nothing wrong, since the adjectives are used by way of definition (also).
‘Objection: How?
‘Answer: Since the adjectives (here) bear a predominantly defining sense and not a qualifying
sense.
‘Objection: What, again, is the difference between the two relations: (1) that existing
between the definition and the thing defined; and (2) that between the quality and the thing
qualified?
‘The answer is: An adjective distinguishes a noun from things of its own class, whereas a
definition marks it out from everything else, as for instance, (the definition of) ākāsa is that
which provides space. And we have said that the sentence (under discussion) stands for a
definition.
‘The words, satya, etc., are unrelated among themselves, since they subserve something else;
they are meant to be applied to the substantive. Accordingly, each of the attributive words is
thus related to the word Brahman, independently of the others: satyam brahma, jñānam brahma,
anantam brahma. As for satya, a thing is said to be satya, true, when it does not change the
nature that is ascertained to be its own; and a thing is said to be unreal when it changes the
nature that is ascertained to be its own. Hence, a mutable thing is unreal for, in the text, “A
mutable thing (like a vessel of earth) exists only in name, depending on speech; the earth alone
is true”,18 it has been emphasised that, that alone is true that exists.19 So, the phrase satyam
brahma (Brahman is truth) distinguishes Brahman from unreal things.
‘From this it may follow that (the unchanging) Brahman is the (material) cause (of all
subsequent changes); and since a material cause is a substance, it can be an accessory as well,
thereby becoming insentient like earth. Hence it is said that Brahman is jñānam. Jñāna means
knowledge, consciousness. The word jñāna conveys the abstract notion of the verb (jñā, to
know); and being an attribute of Brahman along with truth and infinitude, it does not indicate
the agent of knowing. If Brahman be the agent of knowing, truth and infinitude cannot justly
be attributed to It. For, as the agent of knowing, It becomes changeful; and, as such, how can It
be true and infinite? That, indeed, is infinite which is not separated from anything. If it be the
agent of knowing, It becomes delimited by the knowable and the knowledge, and hence there
cannot be infinitude, in accordance with another Vedic text: “That is the Infinite in which one
does not know anything else. And that in which one knows anything else is limited.”20
‘Objection: From the denial of particulars in the (above) statement, “One does not know
anything else”, it follows that one knows the Self.
‘Answer: No, for the sentence is intended to enunciate a definition of the Infinite. The
sentence, “in which one does not see anything else”, etc. is devoted wholly to the presentation
of the distinguishing characteristics of Brahman. Recognising the well-known principle that one
sees something that is different from oneself, the nature of the Infinite is expressed in that text
by declaring that the Infinite is that in which that kind of action does not exist. Thus, since the
expression, “anything else”, is used (in the above sentence) for obviating the recognised fact of
duality, the sentence in not intended to prove the existence of action (the act of knowing) in
one’s Self. And since there is no split in one’s Self, cognition is impossible (in It). Moreover, if
the Self be a knowable, there will remain no one else (as a knower) to know It, since the Self is
already postulated as the knowable.
‘Objection: The same Self can exist both as the knower and the known.
‘Answer: No, this cannot be simultaneous, since the Self is without parts. A featureless
(indivisible) thing cannot simultaneously be both the knower and the known. Moreover, if the
Self can be cognised in the sense that a pot is, (scriptural) instruction about Its knowledge
becomes useless. For, if an object is already familiar—as, for instance, a pot is,—the (Vedic)
instruction about knowing it can have no meaning. Hence, if the Self be a knower, It cannot
reasonably be infinite. Besides, if It has such distinctive attributes as becoming the agent of
knowing, It cannot logically be pure existence. And pure existence is truth, according to
another Vedic text, “It is truth.”21 Therefore, the word jñāna (knowledge)—having been used
adjectivally along with truth and infinitude—is derived in the cognate sense of the verb, and it
is used to form the phrase, jñānam brahma (Brahman is knowledge), in order to rule out (from
Brahman) all instrumentality as that of an agent, as also for denying non-consciousness as that
of earth, etc.
‘From the phrase, jñānam brahma, it may follow that Brahman is limited, for human
knowledge is seen to be finite. Hence, in order to obviate this, the text says, anantam, infinite.
‘Objection: Since the words, satya (truth), etc., are meant only for negating such qualities as
untruth, and since the substantive Brahman is not a well-known entity like a lotus, the sentence
beginning with satya has nothing but a non-entity as its content, just as is the case with the
sentence, “Having bathed in the water of the mirage, and having put a crown of sky-flowers on
his head, there goes the son of a barren woman, armed with a bow made of a hare’s horn.”
‘Answer: No, for the sentence is meant as a definition. And we have said that even though
satya, etc., are attributive words, their chief aim is to define. Since a sentence, stating the
differentia of a non-existing substantive, is useless, and since the present sentence is meant to
define, it does not, in our opinion, relate to a non-entity. Should even satya, etc., have an
adjectival sense, they certainly do not give up their meaning. (“Etymologically, the word satya
indicates an existing entity that is not sublated; the word jñāna means the self-revealing
cognition of things; and the word ananta is used with regard to something pervasive, as in [the
expression] ‘the sky is infinite’, etc. Hence, they negate opposite ideas by the very fact of their
imparting their own meanings to the substantive. Therefore, they cannot be reduced to mere
negation.”—Ananda Giri’s commentary) If the words, satya, etc., are meaningless, they cannot
logically distinguish their substantive. But if they are meaningful—as having the sense of truth,
etc.,—they can justifiably differentiate their substantive Brahman from other substantives that
are possessed of opposite qualities. And the word Brahman, too, has its own individual
meaning. (Derived from the root bṛh having the sense of growth, vastness, Brahman is that
which is not limited by time, space or causation. Thus the word has its own positive import and
cannot refer to a void.) Among these words, the word, ananta, becomes an adjective by way of
negating finitude; whereas the words, satya and jñāna, become adjectives even while imparting
their own (positive) senses to the substantive.
‘Since, in the text, “From that Brahman which is the Self, (was produced this space)”,22 the
word Self (Ātman) is used with regard to Brahman Itself, it follows that Brahman is the Self of
the cognising individual; and this is supported by the text, “He attains this Self made of bliss”,23
where Brahman is shown to be the Self. Moreover, it is Brahman which has entered (into men);
for the text, “having created that, (He) entered into that very thing”24 it is shown that very
Brahman has entered into the body as the individual soul. Hence, the cogniser, in his essential
nature, is Brahman.
‘Objection: If thus Brahman be the Self, It becomes the agent of cognition, since it is a well-
known fact that the Self is a knower. And from the text, “He desired”,25 it is well established
that the one who desires is also an agent of cognition. Thus, Brahman being the cogniser, it is
improper to hold that Brahman is consciousness. Besides, that (latter conclusion) leads to Its
impermanence. For, even if it be conceded that jñāna (cognition) is nothing but consciousness,
and thus Brahman has only the cognate sense (knowledge) of the verb (“to know”, and not the
verbal sense of knowing), It (Brahman) will still be open to the charge of impermanence and
dependence. For the meanings of verbs are dependent on the cases (of the nouns). And
knowledge is a sense conveyed by a root (dependent on a noun). Accordingly, Brahman
becomes impermanent as well as dependent.
‘Answer: No, since, without implying that knowledge is separable from Brahman, it is
referred to as an activity by way of courtesy. (To explain): Knowledge, which is the true nature
of the Self, is inseparable from the Self, and so it is everlasting. Still, the intellect, which is the
limiting adjunct of the Self, becomes transformed into the shape of objects while issuing out
through the eyes, etc., (for cognising a thing). These configurations of the intellect in the shape
of sound, etc., remain objectively illumined by the consciousness. (In the incipient stage, they
have the fitness to be illumined; and after emergence, they remain soaked in consciousness.)
Hence, these semblances of consciousness—a consciousness that is really the Self—that are
referable by the word knowledge and bear the root meaning (of the verb “to know”), are
imagined by the non-discriminating people to be attributes of the soul Itself and to be subject to
mutation. But the consciousness of Brahman is inherent in Brahman and is inalienable from It,
just as the light of the sun is from the sun, or the heat of fire is from fire. Consciousness is not
dependent on any other cause for its (revelation), for it is, by nature, eternal (light). And since
all that exists is inalienable from Brahman in time or space—Brahman being the cause of time,
space, etc., and since Brahman is surpassingly subtle—there is nothing else whether subtle or
screened or remote or past, present or future, which can be unknowable to it. Therefore,
Brahman is omniscient. Besides, this follows from the text of the mantra: “Though He is without
hands and feet, still He runs and grasps; though He is without eyes, still He sees; though He is
without ears, still He hears. He knows the knowable, and of Him, there is no knower. Him, they
called the first, great Person.”26 There are also such Vedic texts as: “For the knower’s function of
knowing can never be lost, because It is immortal; but (It does not know, as) there is not that
second thing, (separated from It, which It can know).”27 Just because Brahman’s nature of
being the knower is inseparable and because there is no dependence on other accessories like
the sense organs, Brahman, though intrinsically identical with knowledge, is well known to be
eternal. Thus, since this knowledge is not a form of action, it does not also bear the root
meaning of the verb. Hence, too, Brahman is notthe agent of cognition. And because of this,
again, It cannot even be denoted by the word jñāna (knowledge). Still, Brahman is indicated,
but not denoted, by the word knowledge which really stands for a verisimilitude of
consciousness as referring to an attribute of the intellect, for Brahman is free from such things
as class, etc., which make the use of the word (knowledge) possible. Similarly, Brahman is not
denoted even by the word satya (truth), since Brahman is by nature devoid of all distinctions. In
this way, the word satya, which means external reality in general, can indirectly refer to
Brahman (in such expressions) as “Brahman is truth”, but it cannot denote It. Thus the words,
truth, etc., occurring in mutual proximity, and restricting and being restricted in turns by each
other, distinguish Brahman from other objects denoted by the words, truth, etc., and thus
become fit for defining It as well. So, in accordance with the Vedic texts, “Failing to reach
which (Brahman), words, along with the mind turn back”;28 and “(Whenever an aspirant gets
fearlessly established in this changeless, bodiless,) inexpressible, and unsupporting Brahman”,29
it is proved that Brahman is indescribable and that, unlike the construction of the expression, “a
blue lotus”, Brahman is not to be construed as the import of any sentence. (Brahman cannot be
comprehended through the common relationship of words and things denoted by them. Nor can
It be denoted through the relationship of substance and quality).’30

(3) BRAHMAN AS EXISTENCE (SAT)

If the Absolute is non-dual, and all phenomena illusory from the transcendental standpoint,
then it is not right to speak of Brahman as the cause of creation; but, from the human
standpoint, the world exists and is experienced as real. Until the mind is able to overcome
avidyā, it is necessary to understand Brahman as the eternal existence behind all the changes
that are seen in the objective world—the Existence from which everything emerges; by which
everything is sustained; and into which everything finally merges. Brahman is thus the ground
of all phenomena. This is the reason that any preliminary attempt to define Brahman has to
relate to the world of experience (taṭastha lakṣaṇa), and then proceed to indicate the essential
nature (svarūpa lakṣaṇa) of the Absolute. This methodological difference is post-Śaṅkara, but
present in a germinal form in Śaṅkara’s commentaries as the scriptural texts themselves resort
to such an approach.

(Selected passages)
(3.1) ‘… understand Existence, which is one only, without a second, and is the Supreme Reality
as the root. That Existence on which are superimposed, due to ignorance, all these
transformations that have speech only as the basis, and indeed, are unreal like the appearance
of snake, etc. on a rope,—That is the root of this universe. Therefore, O good-looking one; all
these beings characterised as moving and nonmoving, have Existence as their root, have got
Existence as their cause. Not only have they Existence as their root, but even now during their
continuance, they have Existence as their abode. For, without having earth as their basis, a pot,
etc., can have no existence or continuance. Therefore, since beings have Existence as their
abode, beings that have Existence as their abode are. And in the end they have Existence as
their place of merger. Those are called satpratiṣṭhaḥ which have Existence only as their place of
dissolution, end, termination, and culmination.’31
(3.2) ‘For the following reason also it is proper that thou shouldst abandon grief and
distressful delusion and calmly endure heat and cold. For, there is no bhava—no being, no
existence—of the unreal (asat) such as heat and cold as well as their causes. Heat, cold etc., and
the causes thereof, which are (no doubt) perceived through the organs of perception, are not
absolutely real (vastu-sat); for they are effects or changes (vikāra), and every change is
temporary. For instance, no objective form, such as the earthern pot, presented to
consciousness by the eye, proves to be real, because it is not perceived apart from clay. Thus
every effect is unreal, because it is not perceived as distinct from its cause. Every effect, such as
a pot, is unreal, also because it is not perceived before its production and after its destruction.
And likewise the cause, such as clay, is unreal because it is not perceived apart from its cause.
‘Objection: Then it comes to this: nothing at all exists.
‘Answer: No (such objection applies here). For, every fact of experience involves, twofold
consciousness (buddhi): the consciousness of the real (sat), and the consciousness of the unreal
(asat). Now that is (said to be) real, of which our consciousness never fails; and that unreal, of
which our consciousness fails. Thus the distinction of reality and unreality depends on our
consciousness. Now, in all our experience, a twofold consciousness arises with reference to one
and the same substratum (sāmanādhikarana), as “a cloth existent”, “a pot existent”, “an elephant
existent”—not as in the expression “a blue lotus”—and so on everywhere. Of the two, the
consciousness of pot, etc., is temporary, as was already pointed out, but not the consciousness
of existence. Thus, the object corresponding to our consciousness of pot, etc., is unreal, because
the consciousness is temporary; but what corresponds to our consciousness of existence is not
unreal, because the consciousness is unfailing.
‘Objection: When the pot is absent and the consciousness of it fails, the consciousness of
existence also fails.
‘Answer: No (such objection applies here). For the consciousness of existence still arises with
reference to other objects such as cloth. The consciousness of existence corresponds indeed only
to the attributive (viśeṣaṇa).
‘Objection: Like the consciousness of existence, the consciousness of the pot arises with
reference to another pot (present).
‘Answer: You cannot say so, for the consciousness of the pot does not arise with reference to
a cloth.
‘Objection: Neither does the consciousness of existence arise in the case of the pot that has
disappeared.
‘Answer: You cannot say so, for there is no substantive (viśeṣya) present. The consciousness of
existence corresponds to the attributive; and as there can be no consciousness of the attributive
without that of the corresponding substantive, how can the consciousness of the attributive
arise in the absence of the substantive?—Not that there is no objective reality present,
corresponding to the consciousness of existence.
‘Objection: If the substantive such as the pot be unreal, the twofold consciousness arising with
reference to one and the same substratum is inexplicable.
‘Answer: No; for we find the twofold consciousness arising with reference to one and the
same substratum, even though one of the two objects corresponding to the twofold
consciousness is unreal, as for instance in the case of a mirage, where our consciousness takes
the form “this is water.” Therefore, there is no existence of the unreal, the fictitious—such as the
body and the pairs of opposites—or of their causes. Neither does the real—the Self (Ātman)—
ever cease to exist; for, as already pointed out, our consciousness of the Self never fails.
‘This conclusion—that the real is ever existent and the unreal is never existent—regarding the
two, the Self and the non-Self, the real and the unreal—is always present before the minds of
those who attend only to truth, to the real nature of the Brahman, the Absolute, the All, “That”.
Thou hadst therefore better follow the view of truth-seekers, shake off grief and delusion, and,
being assured that all phenomena (vikāras) are really non-existent and are, like the mirage,
mere false appearances, do thou calmly bear heat and cold and other pairs of opposites, of
which some are constant and others inconstant in their nature as productive of pleasure or
pain.
‘What, then, is that which is ever real? Listen:
‘Unlike the unreal, That—you must understand—does not vanish; That the Brahman, the
“sat”, the Real, by which all this world, including the ākāsa is pervaded just as pots and other
objects are pervaded by the ākāsa or space. Brahman does not undergo increase or diminution
and is therefore inexhaustible. This Brahman, the “sat”, is not exhausted in Itself; for, unlike the
body It has no parts. Nor does It diminish by (loss of) anything belonging to It; for, nothing
belongs to the Self. Devadatta, for instance, is ruined by loss of wealth; but Brahman does not
suffer loss in that way. Wherefore, nobody can bring about the disappearance or destruction of
the inexhaustible Brahman. Nobody—not even the Īśvara, the Supreme Lord—can destroy the
Self. For, the Self is Brahman Itself and one cannot act upon oneself.’32
(3.3) ‘(Varuṇa) explained when Bhṛgu asked him the definition of Brahman: That from which,
indeed, all these beings—starting with Brahma and ending with a clump of grass—take birth,
being born that by which they live—grow; that Brahman towards which they proceed, into
which they enter, with which they become fully identified, at the time of their dissolution—that
with which the beings do not lose their identity during the times of creation, existence, and
dissolution. This, then, is the definition of Brahman.’33
(3.4) ‘That which has no (beginning) cause is beginningless. That which has a cause is
impermanent, because it is an effect and it merges into its cause, as for instance, earth, etc. But
this one being the cause of all, is not the effect, and hence It is eternal; it has no cause into
which It can merge. Similarly, infinite—that which has no end. As the plantain, etc., are seen to
be impermanent after yielding their products in the form of fruits, etc., not even that way has
Brahman any finitude; hence too, It is eternal. From the principle mahat, called intelligence, It
is distinct by nature—for It is the witness of all, being eternal consciousness; and It is Brahman,
being the Self of all beings. For it has been already said, “He is hidden in all beings.”34 And is
that which is changelessly constant, whose eternality is not relative, unlike that of the earth,
etc. Realising that Self—the Self that is the Brahman of this kind, one gets freed from—detached
from the jaws of Death—which consists of ignorance, desire, and action.’35
(3.5) ‘Just as a drum, a conch and a vīna have distinct general and particular notes of their
own, which are included in sound in general, so during the continuance of the universe we may
know all things to be unified in Brahman, because the varieties of genus and particulars are not
different from It.’36
(3.6) ‘How can it be that existence comes out from non-existence? The meaning is that this
cannot be possible by any means of proof.’37
(3.7) ‘Apropos of this, existence is being first spoken of. It remains to be explained as to what
kind of truth is meant in the assertion that was made thus: “Brahman is truth, knowledge,
infinite.” Hence it is being said: Brahman’s truth is affirmed by speaking of Its existence; for it
is asserted that the existing is the true (an echo of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad38). Therefore, the
very affirmation of existence amounts to an avowal of reality. How is it known that this text
bears such an import? From the trend of the words in the text. For the succeeding sentences,
such as, “They call that Brahman truth”, 39 “(Who, indeed, will inhale and who exhale) if this
Bliss (Brahman) be not there in the supreme space (within the heart)?”
‘Objection: While on this topic, the suspicion arises that Brahman is non-existent. Why?
Because, whatever exists is perceived as possessed of distinctive attributes, as for instance a pot,
etc. Whatever is non-existent is not perceived, as for instance, the horn of a hare, etc. Brahman
is not perceived in that way. So Brahman does not exist, since It is not perceived as possessed of
distinguishing attributes.
‘Answer: This is not tenable, since Brahman is the cause of space, etc. It is not a fact that
Brahman does not exist. Why? Since all the products of Brahman, such as space, etc., are
perceived. It is a matter of common experience in this world that any thing from which
something is produced does exist, as for instance, earth, seed, etc., which are the causes of a
pot, a sprout, etc. So Brahman does exist, since It is the cause of the space, etc. Nor is any effect
perceived in this world as having been produced from nonentity. If such effects as name and
form had originated from nonentity, they should not have been perceived since they have no
reality. But, as a matter of fact, they are perceived. Hence, Brahman exists. Should any effect
originate from nonentity, it should remain soaked in unreality even while being perceived. But
facts points otherwise. Therefore, Brahman exists. Pertaining to this, another Vedic text—“How
can a thing that exists come out of a thing that does not exist?”40—points out the logical
impossibility of the creation of something out of nothing. Therefore, it stands to reason that
Brahman is a reality.
‘Objection: As to that, should Brahman be the cause like earth, seed, etc., It will be insentient.
‘Answer: No, since It is capable of desiring. It is certainly not a matter of experience that one
who can desire can be insentient. And we have said that Brahman is, indeed, omniscient; and so
it is but reasonable that It should be capable of desiring.
‘Objection: Since Brahman has desires, It has wants like ourselves.
‘Answer: Not so, for It is independent. Such defects as desire cannot impel Brahman to action,
as they do others, by subjecting them to their influence. What, then, are these (desires of
Brahman)? They are by nature truth and knowledge, and they are pure by virtue of their
identity with Brahman. Brahman is not impelled to action by them. But Brahman ordains them
in accordance with the results of actions of creatures. Therefore, Brahman has independence
with regard to desires. So, Brahman has no wants. And this also follows from the fact of
Brahman’s non-dependence on any other means. To explain, Brahman has no dependence on
accessories, etc., as others have whose desires are not identified with themselves but are
dependent on such causes as righteousness, and require the extraneous body and senses as their
instruments. How do they exist then (in Brahman)? They are non-different from Itself.’41
(3.8) ‘Somebody, who has learned from scripture that ether and air, although not in
themselves likely to have originated, yet actually are things with a beginning, might feel
inclined to suspect that Brahman itself has sprung from something else.—And further
somebody, who has learned from scripture that from ether and the other elements which are
themselves mere effects further effects are produced, might think that also Brahman, from
which ether has sprung, is a mere effect.—In order to remove this doubt the sūtra “But there is
no origin of that which is (i.e., of Brahman), on account of the impossibility of (of such an
origin)” declares that Brahman, whose Self is Being, must not be suspected to have sprung from
anything else “on account of the impossibility.” Brahman, which is mere Being, cannot spring
from mere being, since the relation of cause and effect cannot exist without a certain
superiority (on the part of the cause). Nor again can Brahman spring from that which is
something particular, since this would be contrary to experience. For we observe that particular
forms of existence are produced from what is general, as, for instance, jars and pots from clay,
but not that what is general is produced from particulars. Nor again can Brahman spring from
that which is not (asat), for that which is not is without a Self (and cannot therefore constitute a
cause; for a cause is the Self of its effects), and moreover scripture expressly rejects that view,
in the passage “How could that which is spring from that which is not?”42 Another passage,
moreover, expressly denies that Brahman has any progenitor, “He is the cause, the lord of the
lords of the organs, and there is of him neither progenitor nor lord.”43—With regard to ether
and air the possibility of an origin has been shown; but in Brahman’s case there is no such
possibility; hence the cases are not parallel. Nor does the fact of other effects springing from
effect imply that Brahman also must be an effect; for the non-admission of a fundamental
causal substance would drive us to a retrogressus in infinitum. And that fundamental causal
substance which as a matter of fact is generally acknowledged to exist, just that is our
Brahman.—Thus there is not any contradiction.’44
(3.9) ‘With regard to the Reality that is the Self, the apprehension may arise that, if It be
incomprehensible forever, It may as well be non-existent. But that is not correct, for Its effect is
perceptible. As the effect consisting in birth (of things) through magic follows from (the
magician) who exists, so the effect in the form of the birth of the world, that is comprehended,
leads one to assume a Self existing in the highest sense, that like the magician is the basis for
the māyā consisting in the origination of the world, for it is but reasonable to think that like
such effects as elephants, etc., produced with the help of magic, the creation of the universe
proceeds from some cause that has existence, and not from an unreal one. But it is not
reasonable to say that from the birthless Self there can be any birth in reality. Or the meaning
is this: As the birth as a snake etc. of an existing thing, a rope for instance, can reasonably be
through māyā, but not in reality; similarly, though the Self that exists is incomprehensible, It
can reasonably have birth in the form of the universe through māyā like the illusion of a snake
on a rope; but the birthless Self cannot have any birth in the real sense. As for the disputant,
who holds that the unborn Self, the supreme Reality undergoes birth, as the universe, he cannot
make such an absurd assertion that the birthless passes into birth since this involves a
contradiction. Hence he has to admit perforce that what is already born takes birth again; and
from this predication of birth from what is born will follow an infinite regress. Therefore it is
established that the Reality that is the Self, is birthless and one.’45
(3.10) ‘Because It is devoid of the senses therefore It is unattached, devoid of all attachments.
Though It is so, yet It supports all. Indeed, everything is based on the “sat”, the existent; for
everywhere the idea of “sat” is present. Not even the mirage and the like exist without a basis.
Hence it is said that it supports all.’46
(3.11) ‘That Existence, saw, undertook the act of visualisation. From this it follows that the
cause of the world is not the pradhāna imagined by the Samkhyas, for they accept pradhāna to
be insentient. But this Existence is conscious because of being the agent of visualisation.
‘How did That visualise? This is being answered: “I shall become many. I shall be born
excellently.” Like earth taking the shapes of pots etc. or ropes etc. taking the shapes of snake
etc. imagined by the intellect.
‘Objection: In that case whatever is perceived is unreal, like a rope perceived in the shape of
a snake etc.
‘Reply: No. Since it is Existence itself that is perceived otherwise through the duality of
different forms, therefore, there is no non-existence of anything anywhere. That is what we say.
‘As the nyāya school, after assuming that a thing is different from existence, says again that it
has no existence before its birth and after its destruction—it is not assumed by us in that way,
at anytime or anywhere, that any word or any thing denoted by the word can be there
differently from Existence. But all words and all things that are spoken of with the idea of their
being different from Existence, are Existence only, just as in the world a rope itself is spoken of
as a snake, under the idea that it is a snake; or as a lump and a pot, etc., are referred to with
the words lump, pot, etc., under the idea that they are different from earth. But just as the word
and idea of a snake, etc., cease for one who has the discriminating knowledge about the rope,
and as the words and ideas of pot, etc., cease for one who has the discriminating knowledge
about earth, similarly words and ideas with regard to all other transformation cease for those
people who have the discriminating knowledge about Existence.’47

(4) BRAHMAN AS CONSCIOUSNESS

While Brahman as sat explains the Absolute as Being, such a principle has to be a conscious one
as it is the supreme intelligence behind all phenomena. Hence, another popular definition of
Brahman when cit is used instead of jñāna is saccidānanda (sat+cit+ananda). Brahman is stated
to be cit (consciousness) to rule out that It is insentient. Empirical experience is but a reflection
of this Absolute consciousness, and at the subjective level the Self is self-evident, persisting
through all the states (waking, dream, sleep) of human consciousness. It is the light within
illumining the senses, the mind and the intellect, thus making any knowledge of the objective
world possible. Unlike empirical knowledge which is impermanent, the Absolute consciousness
is real and infinite.

(Selected passages)
(4.1) ‘Having thus made the existence of the congress of senses and their deities dependent on
food, like the existence of a city, its citizens, and its rulers, he thought—like the ruler of the city,
while cogitating thus: How indeed without Me, the master of the city, can there be this thing—
this activity belonging to the body and senses that will be spoken of—since it is meant for
somebody else if speaking is encompassed by the organ of speech? The mere use of speech, etc.,
will become useless, will not take place in any way, just as offerings and praise that are made
and sung by citizens and bards in honour of their lord become useless when their lord is not
there. Therefore, just as the king is with regard to the city, so I should be there as the supreme
lord, the ruler, the witness of virtue and vice, and the enjoyer. It is a logical necessity that the
combination of the effects (i.e., the body and the organs) should be meant for somebody else. If
this necessity can be fulfilled even without Myself, who am a conscious being and by whom
enjoyment through them is sought to be explained without their lord, then, who or what, and
whose lord am I? If, after entering into the combination of body and senses, I do not witness
the fruits of utterances, etc., made by speech, etc., just as a king, after entering a city, observes
the omissions and commissions of the officers, then nobody will understand or think of Me as,
“This one is a reality and is of this kind.” Contrariwise, I shall become cognisable as the
conscious reality who knows as His objects such activities as utterance, etc., of the organs of
speech, etc., and for whose sake exist these utterances, etc., of such composite things as speech
and so on, just as the pillars, walls, etc., that enter into the construction of a palace, etc., exist
for the sake of somebody else who is sentient and does not form a part of that structure.’48
(4.2) ‘Disciple: “Sir, why are there the states of dream and waking (in me) if I am absolutely
changeless like one in deep sleep?”
‘The teacher said to him, “But you always experience them (whenever they arise).”
‘Disciple: “Yes, I experience them at intervals but not continuously.”
‘The teacher said, “They are then adventitious only and are not your own nature. They will
surely be continuous if they were self-existent like pure consciousness, which is your own
nature. Moreover, they are not your own nature inasmuch as they are non-persistent like
clothes and other things. For what is one’s own nature is never seen to cease to persist while
one is persisting. But waking and dream cease to persist while pure consciousness continues to
do so. Pure consciousness, the Self, persisting in deep sleep, whatever is non-persistent (at that
time) is either destroyed or negated inasmuch as adventitious things—never the properties of
one’s own nature, are found to possess these characteristics; for example, the destruction of
money, clothes, etc., and the negation of things acquired in dream or delusion are seen.”
‘Disciple: “But, Sir, when this is so, pure consciousness Itself has to be admitted to be
adventitious like waking and dream. For it is not known in deep sleep. Or, (it may be that I
have adventitious consciousness or) am non-conscious by nature.”
‘Teacher: “No. (What you say is not right.) Think over it. It is not reasonable (to say so). You
may look upon pure consciousness as adventitious (if you are wise enough); but we cannot
prove It to be so by reasoning even in a hundred years, nor (can It be proved to be so) even by
a dull man. As consciousness (that has for its adjuncts mental modifications) is a combination,
no one can prevent its existence for the sake of another, its manyness and destructibility by any
reasoning whatever; for we have already said that whatsoever does not exist by itself is not
self-existent. As pure consciousness, the Self is self-existent. No one can prevent Its
independence of other things inasmuch as It never ceases to exist.”
‘Disciple: “But I have shown an exception, namely, I have no consciousness in deep sleep.”
‘Teacher: “No, you contradict yourself.”
‘Disciple: “How is it a contradiction?”
‘Teacher: “You contradict yourself by saying that you are not conscious when, as a matter of
fact, you are so.”
‘Disciple: “But, Sir, I was never conscious of consciousness or anything else in deep sleep.”
‘Teacher: “You are then conscious in deep sleep. For you deny the existence of the objects of
knowledge (in that state), but not that of knowledge. I have told you that what is your
consciousness is nothing but absolute knowledge. The consciousness, owing to whose presence
you deny (the existence of things in deep sleep) by saying, ‘I was conscious of nothing’, is the
knowledge, the consciousness which is your Self. As It never ceases to exist, Its eternal
immutability is self-evident and does not depend on any evidence; for an object of knowledge
different from the self-evident knower depends on evidence in order to be known. Other than
the object of eternal knowledge that is indispensable in proving non-conscious things other
than Itself, is immutable; for It is always of a self-evident nature. Just as iron, water, etc.,
which are not of the nature of light and heat, depend for them on the sun, fire and other things
than themselves, but the sun and fire themselves—always of the nature of light and heat—do
not depend for them on anything else; so, being of the nature of pure knowledge, It does not
depend on evidence to prove that It exists or that It is the knower.”
‘Disciple: “But it is transitory knowledge only that is the result of a proof, and not eternal
knowledge.”
‘Teacher: “No. There cannot reasonably be a distinction of perpetuity or otherwise in
knowledge. For, it is not known that transitory knowledge is the result of a proof and not
eternal knowledge, as knowledge itself is such a result.”
‘Disciple: “But eternal knowledge does not depend on a knower while transitory knowledge
does so, as it is produced by an intervening effort. This is the difference (between knowledge
eternal and transitory).”
‘Teacher: “The knower (eternal knowledge) which is the Self is then self-evident as It does not
depend on any evidence (in order to be proved).”
‘Disciple: “(If the knowledge of the Self be independent of an evidence on the ground that It
is eternal), why should the absence of the result of an evidence with regard to the Self be not so
on the same ground?”
‘Teacher: “No, it has been refuted on the ground that it is pure knowledge that is in the Self.
(i.e., the Self is of the nature of pure knowledge and so It exists independent of every
evidence.”
‘“Whom will the desire (to know a thing) belong to, if the knower depends on an evidence in
order to be known? It is admitted that one who is desirous of knowing a thing is the knower.
His desire of knowing a thing has for its object the thing to be known and not the knower. For,
in the latter case, there arises a regressus ad infinitum with regard to the knower and also with
regard to the desire to know the knower, inasmuch as the knower of the knower and so on (are
to be known). Moreover, there being nothing intervening, the knower, the Self, cannot fall into
the category of the known. For, a thing to be known becomes known, when it is distanced from
the knower by the birth of an intervening desire, memory, effort or an evidence on the part of
the knower. There cannot be the knowledge of an object in any other way. Again, it cannot be
imagined that the knower himself is distanced by anyone of his own desire, etc. For, memory
has for its object, the thing to be remembered and not one who remembers it; so has desire for
its object, the thing to be desired and not one who desires it. There arises, as before, an
inevitable regressus ad infinitum if memory and desire have their own agents for their objects.”
‘Disciple: “But the knower remains unknown if there is no knowledge which has for its object
the knower.”
‘Teacher: “No. The knowledge of the knower has for its object the thing to be known. If it has
for its object the knower, there arises a regressus ad infinitum as before. It has already been
shown that like the heat and light of the sun, fire and other things, the knowledge which is
changeless, eternal and self-effulgent49 has an existence in the Self entirely independent of
everything else. I have already said that if the self-effulgent knowledge—which is there in the
Self—were transitory, it would become unreasonable that the Self existed for Itself and that,
being a combination, It would get impurities and have an existence for the sake of another, like
the combination of the body and the senses. How? (Reply) If the self-effulgent knowledge in the
Self were transitory, It would have a distance by the intervention of memory, etc. It would then
be non-existent in the Self before being produced and after being destroyed, and the Self, then a
combination, would have an existence for the sake of another like that of the eye etc. produced
by the combination of certain things. The Self would have no independent existence if this
knowledge were produced before was in It. For it is only on account of the absence or presence
of the state of being combined, that the Self is known to exist for Itself and the non-Self for
another. It is, therefore, established that the Self is of the nature of eternal and self-effulgent
knowledge.”
‘Disciple: “How can the knower be a knower if he is not the seat of the knowledge produced
by evidences?”
‘The teacher said, “The knowledge produced by an evidence does not differ in its essential
nature whether one calls it eternal or transitory. Knowledge (though) produced by an evidence
is nothing but knowledge. The knowledge preceded by memory, desire, etc., and supposed to be
transitory, and that which is eternal and immutable, do not differ in their essential nature. Just
as the result of the transitory actions of standing, etc., the meanings of roots, preceded by
motion, etc., and that of the permanent ones not so preceded, do not differ in their essential
nature and there are, therefore, the identical statements, ‘People stand’, ‘Mountains stand’, etc.;
so, the knower, though of the nature of eternal knowledge, is called a knower without
contradiction inasmuch as eternal knowledge is the same as one produced by an evidence (as
regards their essential nature).”
‘Here, the disciple starts an objection: “It is not reasonable that the Self which is changeless
and of the nature of eternal Knowledge and not in contact with the body and the senses should
be the agent50 of an action, like a carpenter in contact with an adze and other instruments. A
regressus ad infinitum arises if the Self—unconnected with the body, the senses, etc.,—were to
use them as Its instruments. As carpenters and others are always connected with bodies and
senses, there is no regressus ad infinitum when they use adzes and other instruments.”
‘Teacher: (Reply) “Agency is not possible without the use of instruments. Instruments,
therefore, have to be assumed. The assumption of instruments is, of course, an action. In order
to be the agent of this action, other instruments have to be assumed. In assuming these
instruments, still others have to be assumed. A regressus ad infinitum is, therefore, inevitable if
the Self—which is not joined with anything—were to be the agent.”51
‘Nor can it be said that it is an action (The Self is not really an agent but only apparently so.)
that makes the Self act. For an action, not performed, has no existence. It is also not possible
that something (previously existing) makes the Self act as nothing (except the Self), can have
an independent existence and be a non-object. For, things other than the Self must be non-
conscious and, therefore, are not seen to, be Self-existent. Everything, including sound, etc.,
come to exist when they are proved by mental functions resulting in the reflection of the Self in
them.
‘One (apparently) different from the Self, and possessed of consciousness, must be no other
than the Self that is free from combination with other things and existing for Itself only.
‘Nor can we admit that the body, the senses and their objects exist for themselves inasmuch as
they are seen to depend for their existence on mental modifications resulting in the reflection of
the Self (in them).”
‘Disciple: “But no one depends on any other evidence such as sense-perception, etc., in
knowing the body.”
‘Teacher: “Yes, it is so in the waking state. But in death and in deep sleep, the body also
depends on evidences such as sense perception, etc., in order to be known. Similar is the case
with the senses. It is the external sound and other objects that are transformed into the body
and the senses; the latter, therefore, also depend on evidences like sense-perception, etc., in
order to be known. I have said that knowledge, the result produced by evidences, is the same as
the self-evident, self-effulgent and changeless Self.”
‘The objector (the disciple) says, “It is contradictory to state that knowledge is the result of
evidences and (at the same time) it is the self-effulgent Self which is changeless and eternal.”
‘The reply given to him is this: “It is not a contradiction.”
‘“How then is knowledge a result?”
‘“It is a result in a secondary sense: though changeless and eternal, It is noticed in the
presence of mental modifications called sense-perception, etc., as they are instrumental in
making It manifest. It appears to be transitory, as mental modifications called sense-
perception, etc., are so. It is for this reason that It is called the result of proofs in a secondary
sense.”
‘Disciple: “Sir, if this is so, independent of evidences regarding Itself, eternal and changeless
knowledge, which is the consciousness of the Self, is surely self-evident, and all things different
from It, and therefore non-conscious, have an existence only for the sake of the Self as they
combine to act for one another (in order that the events of the universe may continue
uninterruptedly). It is only as the knowledge of the mental modifications giving rise to
pleasure, pain, and mental modifications giving rise to pleasure, pain and delusion that the
non-Self serves the purpose of another (consciousness, the Self). And it is as the same
knowledge and as nothing else that it has an existence. Just as a rope-snake, the water in a
mirage and such other things are found to be non-existent except only the knowledge by which
they are known; so, the duality experienced during waking and dream has reasonably no
existence except the knowledge by which it is known. So, having a continuous existence, pure
consciousness, the Self, is eternal and immutable, and never ceasing to exist in any mental
modification. It is one without a second. The modifications themselves cease to exist, the Self
continuing to do so. Just as in dream, the mental modifications appearing to be blue, yellow,
etc., are said to be really non-existent as they cease to exist, while the knowledge by which they
are known has an uninterrupted continuous existence; so, in the waking state also they are
reasonably really non-existent, as they cease to exist while the very same knowledge continues
to do so. As that knowledge (the Self) has no (because it is self-evident) other knower, it cannot
be accepted or rejected by Itself. As there is nothing else (except Myself, the aim of my life is
fulfilled by your grace).”
‘Teacher: “It is exactly so. It is Ignorance, due to which the transmigratory existence
consisting of waking and dream, is experienced. It is knowledge (Brahman)52 that brings this
ignorance to an end. You have thus attained fearlessness. You will never feel pain in waking or
in dream. You are liberated from the misery of this transmigratory existence.”
‘Disciple: “Yes, Sir”.’53
(4.3) ‘To the worthy disciple who had asked thus, the teacher said, “Hear what you have
asked for in the question, ‘Who is that effulgent being who is the director of the mind and other
organs toward their own objects, and how does he direct’?”
‘The Ear of the ear: is that by which one hears, the instrument for the hearing of sound, the
organ of hearing which reveals the words. He, about whom you put the question, “Who is the
effulgent being who directs the eyes and the ears?”—is the Ear of the ear.
‘Objection: Is it not incongruous to answer, “He is the Ear of the ear”, when the reply should
have been “So-and-so, with such and such attributes, directs the ears, etc.?”
‘Answer: This is no fault, because His distinction cannot be ascertained otherwise. If the
director of the ears, etc., can be known as possessed of His own activity, independently of the
activities of the ears, etc., just as it is in the case of the wielder of sickle, etc., then this answer
will be incongruous. But as a matter of fact, no director of ears, etc., possessed of his own
activity, is apprehended here like a mower possessed of a sickle, etc. But He can be known, (as
existing unmixed with the ear, etc.), from the logical necessity that such activities as
deliberation, volition, determination, of those very composite things, viz. the ear, etc., must be
meant for someone’s benefit. Just as in the case of a house, so also (in this case) there does exist
someone, standing outside the conglomeration of ears, etc., by whose necessity is impelled the
group of ears, etc. Thus, from the fact that composite things exist for the need of someone else,
a director of the ears, etc., can be known (i.e., inferred). Hence, the reply, “He is the Ear of the
ear”, is quite appropriate.
‘Objection: What, again, can be the significance here of the expression, “The Ear of the ear”,
etc.? For just as a light has no need for another light, so in the context the ear can have no need
for another ear.
‘Answer: There is no such fault. The significance here is this: The ear, to wit, is seen to be able
to reveal its own object. This ability of the ear to reveal its own object is possible only when the
eternal non-composite, all-pervading light of the Self is there, but not otherwise. Hence the
expression, “Ear of the ear”, etc., is justifiable. To the same effect, there are other Vedic texts:
“It is through the light of the Self that he sits,”;54 “Through His light, all this shines,”;55 and “As
the one sun illumines the whole universe, so does He who resides, in the body, O descendant of
Bharata, illumine the whole body.”56
‘Similarly, of the mind, of the internal organ; (He is) the Mind, because the internal organ is
not able to perform its own functions—thinking, determination, etc.—unless the radiance of the
light of consciousness is there. Therefore, He is the Mind of the mind, too. Here, the mind and
the intellect are jointly mentioned by the word manaḥ (mind)”.’57
(4.4) ‘(Yājñvalkya replied) You asked me to present the Self as one would a jar, etc. I do not
do so, because it is impossible. Why is it impossible? Owing to the very nature of the thing.
What is that? Its being the witness of vision, etc., for the Self is the witness of vision. Vision is
of two kinds, ordinary and real. Ordinary vision is a function of the mind as connected with the
eye; it is an act, and as such it has a beginning and an end. But the vision that belongs to the
Self is like the heat and light of fire; being the very essence of the witness, it has neither
beginning nor end. Because it appears to be connected with the ordinary vision, which is
produced and is but a limiting adjunct of it, it is spoken of as the witness, and also as
differentiated into witness and vision. The ordinary vision, however, is coloured by the objects
seen through the eye, and of course has a beginning; it appears to be connected with the
eternal vision of the Self, and is but its reflection; it originates and ends, pervaded by the other.
It is therefore that the eternal vision of the Self is metaphorically spoken of as the witness, and
although eternally seeing, is spoken of as sometimes seeing and sometimes not seeing. But as a
matter of fact the vision of the seer never changes. So it will be said in the fourth chapter, “It
thinks, as it were, and shakes, as it were”,58 and “The vision of the witness can never be lost.”59
‘This is the meaning of the following passage: You cannot see that which is the witness of
vision, i.e. which pervades by its eternal vision the act of our ordinary vision. This latter, which
is an act, is affected by the objects seen, and reveals only colour (form), but not the inner Self
that pervades it. Therefore you cannot see that inner Self which is the witness of vision.
Similarly you cannot hear that which is the hearer of hearing; you cannot think that which
pervades thought, the mere function of the mind; you cannot know that which pervades
knowledge, the mere function of the intellect. This is the very nature of the thing; therefore it
cannot be shown like a cow, etc …
‘Objection: But such terms as, “witness”, “hearer”, “thinker” and “knower”, would also be
inconsistent if the Self is immutable.
‘Reply: Not so, for they only repeat conventional expressions as people think them. They do
not seek to define the truth of the Self. Since the expressions “the witness of vision” etc. cannot
otherwise be explained, we conclude that they mean what we have indicated.’60
(4.5) ‘How can it be known that the Self is one, without a second, and transcendental?
‘Vedāntist: As to that, how is the individual soul even known?
‘Opponent: Is he not known as the hearer, thinker, seer, teacher, maker of (inarticulate)
sound, perceiver and knower?
‘Vedāntist: Is it not contradictory to say of him, who is known through the act of hearing,
etc., that, “He thinks without being thought of, he knows without being known”;61 and that
“You cannot think that which is the thinker of thought; you cannot know that which is the
knower of knowledge”,62 etc.?
‘Opponent: True, it will involve a contradiction if the individual soul is known directly, like
happiness, etc. But as a fact, direct perception is denied by “You cannot think that which is the
thinker of thought”, etc. But he is known through such inferential ground as hearing. Hence,
how can there be a contradiction?
‘Vedāntist: How is he known even through such ground of inference as hearing? For, when
the Self is engaged in hearing an audible sound, it cannot have the actions of thinking and
knowing with regard to Itself or anything else, since it is engrossed in the mere act of hearing.
So also with regard to other acts like thinking. And the acts of hearing, etc., pertain, to their
own objects only (and not to their subjects); not that the act of thinking by the thinker can
occur with regard to anything outside the thinkable. (The Self is not a thinkable object.)
‘Opponent: Is not the mind able to think of everything?
‘Vedāntist: Truly, this is so; still, no thinkable can be thought of without the thinker. (Mind
being an instrument for the Self, an agent has to be posited to make the act of thinking
possible.)
‘Opponent: Granted this is so, what follows?
‘Answer: This will be an accruing result here. He who is the thinker of all will simply be the
thinker, and he will not be an object of thought. And there is not a second thinker who can
think of that thinker. Should he be thinkable by the Self, then there will be two Selves—the one
being the Self by which the (thinking) Self is thought of and the other Self, which is thought of.
Or the same Self will be split into two halves, like a bamboo, to become the thinker and the
thinkable. But it is illogical either way. This is analogous to the case of two lamps, which,
because of their similarity, cannot be (mutually) the illuminator and the illuminated. Besides,
the thinker, while engaged in thinking the thinkable object, has no time left out from the
process of thinking during which to think of himself. (The mind engages not in the Self but in
things external to It.) Even on the supposition that the thinker thinks of the Self through the
grounds of inference, there will spring up two Selves—the one that is inferred through logical
grounds, and the other that infers. Or, the same Self will be split up. And so there will be the
defect already mentioned.
‘Objection: If the Self be not known either through perception or inference, why is it said,
“One should realise thus: ‘He is my Self’?”63 Or why is the Self called the thinker and the hearer?
‘Answer: Is it not a fact that the Self is possessed of such qualities as the capacity of hearing;
(The Self is the eternal hearer, seer, etc.) and is it not well known (in the Upaniṣads) that It is
free from such qualities as the capacity of hearing? What inconsistency do you find here?
‘Opponent: Though it may not strike you as incongruous, to me, it is so.
‘Vedāntist: How?
‘Opponent: When the Self is a hearer, It is not a thinker; and when it is a thinker, It is not a
hearer. That being so, It becomes a hearer and a thinker from one point of view while, from
another, It is neither a hearer nor a thinker. So with regard to other situations. That being so,
how can you avoid the feeling of an irreconcilability in the face of the doubt that crops up as to
whether the Self is possessed of the capacity to hear, etc., or possessed of the opposite quality of
not being able to hear, etc.? At the time when Devadatta moves he is not stationary, but is
moving to be sure; and when he is motionless, he is not moving, but staying on. During such a
period, he can be either moving or staying as an only exclusive alternative; but he cannot be
both moving and staying continuously. The same is the case here. Similar (also) is the view, in
this matter, of the followers of Kānada and others, according to whom the Self is called a
hearer, a thinker, and so on, because of Its being occasionally possessed of hearing, etc. For
they say that the knowledge is a product of contact (between the mind and the senses), and
that this contact (between the mind and the senses) is not simultaneous. And (as a proof) they
adduce such an argument as: “My mind was occupied with some other object, so I did not see
this.” And they argue that it is proper to accept the non-simultaneity of knowledge as a logical
ground for inferring the existence of mind. Let this be so. What do you lose if it be so?
‘Vedāntist: Let it be so if it be logical and if it pleases you. But it cannot be the meaning of
the Upaniṣads.
‘Opponent: Is it not implied by the Upaniṣsads that the Self is the hearer, thinker, etc.?
‘Vedāntist: No, since there is the statement that It is not the hearer, thinker, etc.?64
‘Opponent: Was not that position denied by you by saying that It is occasionally so?
‘Vedāntist: No, for by me the Self is accepted as the eternal hearer, etc., according to the
Vedic text, “For the listener’s function of hearing can never be lost”, etc.65
‘Objection: If, on that view, eternal hearing is admitted, there will be a simultaneous origin
of (all kinds of) knowledge that will contradict experience; besides, this will lead to the
assumption of absence of ignorance in the Self. And that is unacceptable.
‘Answer: Neither of the defects arises, since according to the Upaniṣads, the Self can become
the hearer, etc., through Its (inherent) power of hearing, etc. (By virtue of Its being the witness
of all mental changes involved in the acts of hearing, etc.66) The seeing, etc., by the
impermanent and gross eyes, etc., that are subject to conjunction and disjunction (with their
objects) are impermanent indeed, just as is the burning of fire because of its production from
contact with hay, etc. Not that the eternal and formless Self, which is free from the attributes of
conjunction and disjunction, can have transitory qualities like seeing, etc., that are caused by
contact. In support of this, is the Vedic text: “The vision of the witness can never be lost”, etc.67
From this, it follows that there are two kinds of vision—the transitory vision of the eye and the
eternal vision of the Self. Similarly, there are two kinds of hearing—the transitory hearing of
the ear and the eternal hearing of the Self. So also are there two kinds of thinking and two sorts
of knowing—the external and the internal. For on this view alone, and in the way it has been
shown, does the Vedic text, “The seer of seeing and the hearer of hearing”,68 become justifiable.
It is a matter of experience, too, that the vision of the eye is non-eternal, inasmuch as it is lost
or regained in accordance as the disease, called timira, sets in or is cured. Similar is the case
with hearing and thinking. And the eternality of the vision of the Self is well known in the
world, for a man whose eyes have been plucked out, says, “My brother has been seen by me, in
dream today.” Similarly, a man who is known to be deaf may say, “A mantra has been heard by
me today in dream”, etc. Should the eternal vision of the Self be produced merely through the
contact of the eye, it should be destroyed on the destruction of the latter; and then a man whose
eyes are plucked out should not perceive blue, yellow, etc. in dream. Moreover, such Vedic texts
as, “The vision of the witness can never be lost”, etc.,69 would be illogical; and the same will be
the fate of such Vedic texts as, “That is the eye in a man through which one sees in a dream.”
The logical position is this: The eternal vision of the Self witnesses the ephemeral external
vision; but since the external vision has such changing attributes as growth and decay, the
vision of the Self that witnesses it, appears accordingly and seems to be ephemeral owing to the
error of men. The case is similar to that of the vision fixed in a whirling firebrand, or such other
things, where the vision seems to be revolving (as the latter does). And in confirmation of this,
is the Vedic text, “It thinks as it were, and shakes as it were.”70 Hence, the vision of the Self
being eternal, it can have neither simultaneity, nor the opposite of it. But for ordinary people—
owing to their preoccupation with the external limiting adjuncts—and for the logicians—owing
to their remaining outside scriptural tradition—it is quite possible to have the erroneous idea
that the vision of the Self is impermanent.’71
(4.6) ‘Well then, the Self is the seer, hearer, thinker and knower.
‘Objection: Here also you do not directly point out the nature of that which does the function
of seeing etc. Going is surely not the nature of one who goes, nor cutting that of a cutter.
‘Reply: In that case, the Self is the seer of sight, the hearer of hearing, the thinker of thought,
and the knower of knowledge.
‘Objection: But what difference does it make in the seer? Whether it be the seer of sight or of
a jar, it is but the seer under all circumstances. By saying, “The seer of sight”, you are simply
stating a difference as regards the object seen. But the seer, whether it be the seer of sight or of
a jar, is just the same.
‘Reply: No, for there is a difference, and it is this: If that which is the seer of sight is identical
with that sight, it always visualises the latter, and there is never a time when sight is not
visualised by the seer. So, the vision of the seer must be eternal. If it were transitory, then sight,
which is the object visualised, may sometimes not be seen, as a jar, for instance, may not
always be perceived by the transitory vision. But the seer of sight never ceases to visualise sight
like that.
‘Objection: Has the seer then two kinds of vision, one eternal and invisible, and the other,
transitory and visible?
‘Reply: Yes. The transitory vision is familiar to us, for we see some people are blind, and
others are not. If the eternal vision were the only one in existence, all people would be
possessed of vision. But the vision of the seer is an eternal one, for the śruti says, “The vision of
the witness can never be lost.”72 From inference also we know this. For we find even a blind
man has vision consisting of the impressions of a jar, etc., in dreams. This shows that the vision
of the seer is not lost with the loss of the other kind of vision. Through that unfailing eternal
vision—which is identical with It and is called the self-effulgent light—the Self always sees the
other, transitory, vision in the dream and waking states, as idea and perception, respectively,
and becomes the seer of sight. Such being the case, the vision itself is Its nature, like the heat of
fire, and there is no other conscious (or unconscious) seer over and above the vision, as the
Vaiseshikas maintain.
‘It, Brahman, knew only Itself, the eternal vision, devoid of the transitory vision, etc.,
superimposed on It.’73
(4.7) ‘“In the supreme, bright sheath”: it is called a sheath because of its being the place for
the realisation of the nature of the Self, just as a scabbard is in the case of a sword; it is
supreme, being the innermost of all; and shining, being illumined by intellectual perceptions.
There exists Brahman, so called because of being the greatest as well as the Self of all;
(Brahman that is) free from taints, from all the taints of defects, such as ignorance; (that is)
without any connection with parts, that is to say, partless. Since It is taintless and partless,
therefore It is pure; that is the illuminator of all lights, of even fire, etc., that are inherently
bright. The purport is this: The brightness of even fire, etc., is caused by the internal light of
their Self that is identical with Brahman. That light of the Self is the highest light that is not
ignited by anything else. It is that which they know who are knowers of the Self—the
discriminating people who know their own Self as the witness of all intellectual modifications
with regard to such objects of sound, etc. People, engaged in the pursuit of the experiences of
the Self, know It. Since It is the highest light, therefore they alone know It, and not the others
who are steeped in the pursuit of external experiences.
‘It is being shown how It is the Light of lights:
‘There, in Brahman, that is the Self of the sun itself, the sun that illuminates everything does
not shine. The purport is that the sun does not illuminate that Brahman, for it is by the light of
Brahman that the sun lights up all that is not the Self. Not that the sun is intrinsically possessed
of the power of illuminating. Similarly, neither the moon nor the stars nor these lightning
flashes shine; how can this fire that is known to us? To cut short, this universe shines in
accordance as He the supreme Lord, shines; because of the fact that He is naturally effulgent.
Just as water, firebrand, etc., burn according as the fire does, owing to their contact with fire,
but not by themselves, similarly, only by His light, all this—the universe constituted by the sun,
etc., shines diversely. Since, in this way, it is that very Brahman that illuminates and shines
through the different manifested lights, therefore, it is inferred that Brahman has Its light by Its
own right; for anything that is not possessed of natural luminosity cannot enkindle others, for
pots, etc., are not seen to illumine others, whereas luminous things, like the sun, etc., are seen
to do so.
‘It has been established elaborately with the help of reasoning that Brahman, which is the
Light of lights, is alone true, and that everything else is Its modification—a modification that
exists only in name, having speech alone as its support.’74
(4.8) ‘The objection that to Brahman also all-knowingness in its primary sense cannot be
ascribed because, if the activity of cognition were permanent, Brahman could not be considered
as independent with regard to it, we refute as follows. In what way, we ask the Sāṇkhya, is
Brahman’s all-knowingness interfered with by a permanent cognitional activity? To maintain
that he, who possesses eternal knowledge capable to throw light on all objects, is not all-
knowing, is contradictory. If his knowledge were considered non-permanent, he would know
sometimes, and sometimes he would not know; from which it would follow indeed that he is not
all-knowing. This fault is however avoided if we admit Brahman’s knowledge to be permanent.
—But, it may be objected, on this latter alternative the knower cannot be designated as
independent with reference to the act of knowing.—Why not? We reply; the sun also, although
his heat and light are permanent, is nevertheless designated as independent when we say, “he
burns, he gives light.”—But, it will again be objected, we say that the sun burns or gives light
when he stands in relation to some object to be heated or illuminated; Brahman, on the other
hand, stands, before the creation of the world, in no relation to any object of knowledge. The
cases are therefore not parallel.—This objection too, we reply, is not valid; for as a matter of
fact we speak of the sun as an agent, saying “the sun shines”, even without references to any
object illuminated by him, and hence Brahman also may be spoken of as an agent, in such
passages as “it thought”, etc. even without reference to any object of knowledge. If, however,
an object is supposed to be required (“knowing” be a transitive verb while “shining” is
intransitive), the texts ascribing thought to Brahman will fit all the better.—What then is that
object to which the knowledge of the Lord can refer previously to the origin of the world?—
Name and form, we reply, which can be defined neither as being identical with Brahman nor as
different from it, unevolved, but about to be evolved. For, if—as the adherents of the Yoga śāstra
assume—the yogins have a perceptive knowledge of the past and the future through the favour
of the Lord, in what terns shall we have to speak of the eternal cognition of the ever pure Lord
Himself, whose objects are the creation, subsistence, and dissolution of the world? The objection
that Brahman, previous to the origin of the world, is not able to think because it is not
connected with a body, etc., does not apply; for Brahman, whose nature is eternal cognition—
as the sun’s nature is eternal luminousness—can impossibly stand in need of any instruments of
knowledge. The transmigrating soul (samsārin) indeed, which is under the sway of nescience,
etc., may require a body in order that knowledge may arise in it; but not so the Lord, who is
free from all impediments of knowledge.’75

(5) BRAHMAN AS BLISS

‘That which is infinite is bliss,’76 states the Upaniṣad categorically. This makes it obvious that all
phenomena, which are relative, are tinged with finiteness, and hence cannot be blissful. This is
the reason why worldly joys are limited in nature, and only the Absolute can be eternally
blissful. Besides, worldly joy is a part of the Absolute bliss. It has to be noted that mention of
Brahman (Ātman) as bliss by Śaṅkara is limited to texts which deal with bliss, and essentially
his definition of the Absolute is to It as existence and consciousness. The rather limited
reference is also due to the selection of passages here being restricted to his prasthānatraya
commentaries and his independent treatise, Upadeśa Sāhasri. Bliss is not something cognized,
but Brahman/ Ātman is bliss itself, and hence not dependent on an object as in the case of
worldly joys. The bliss of Ātman, therefore, is permanent as it is non-dual.

(Selected passages)
(5.1) ‘When, however, that ignorance which presents things other than the Self is at rest, in that
state of deep sleep, there being nothing separated from the Self by ignorance, what should one
see, smell, or know, and through what? Therefore, being fully embraced by his own self-
luminous Supreme Self, the jīva (individual self) becomes infinite, perfectly serene, with all his
desire attained, and the Self the only object of his desire, transparent like water, one, because
there is no second: It is ignorance that separates a second entity, and that is at rest in the state
of profound sleep; hence, “one”. The witness, because the vision that is identical with the light
of the Self is never lost. And without a second for there is no second entity different from the
Self to be seen. This is immortal and fearless. This is the sphere of Brahman, the world that is
Brahman: In profound sleep the Self—bereft of its limiting adjuncts, the body and organs—
remains in its own supreme light of the Ātman, free from all relations, O Emperor. Thus did
Yājñavalkya instruct Janaka. This is spoken of by the śruti.
‘How did he instruct him? This is its supreme attainment, the attainment of the individual
Self. The other attainments, characterised by the taking of a body, from the state of
Hiraṇyagarbha down to that of a clump of grass, are created by ignorance and therefore inferior
to this, being within the sphere of ignorance. But this identification with all—in which one sees
nothing else, hears nothing else, knows nothing else—is the highest of attainments, such as
identity with the gods that is achieved through meditation and rites. This, too, is its supreme
glory; the highest of all its splendours, being natural to it; other glories are artificial. Likewise,
this is its highest world; the other worlds, which are the result of its past work, are inferior to it;
this, however, is not attainable by any action, being natural; hence “this is its highest world.”
Similarly, this is its supreme bliss, in comparison with the other joys that are produced by the
contact of the organs with their objects, since it is eternal; for another śruti says, “That which is
infinite is bliss.”77 “That in which one sees something, knows something, is puny,” mortal,
secondary joy. But this is the opposite of that; hence, “this is its supreme bliss.” On a particle of
this very bliss, projected by ignorance, and perceived only during the contact of the organs with
their objects, other beings live. Who are they? Those that have been separated from that bliss
by ignorance, and are considered different from Brahman. Being thus different, they subsist on
a fraction of that bliss which is perceived through the contact of the organs with their objects.’78
(5.2) ‘This is an evaluation of the bliss that is the aforesaid Brahman. What is there to be
assessed about the bliss? The answer is: The bliss can be studied thus from this point of view;
whether It arises from the contact of subject and object, as in the case with worldly bliss, or
whether It is natural. As to that, the worldly bliss attains excellence owing to a concurrence of
external and internal means. The bliss, thus attained, is being instanced here as an approach to
the bliss that is Brahman; for, through this familiar bliss, can be approached the bliss that is
comprehended by an intellect, free from objective thought. Even worldly bliss is a particle of
the bliss that is Brahman, which becomes transmuted into impermanent worldly bliss,
consequent on knowledge becoming covered by ignorance, and ignorance becoming
successively thicker according as individuals, starting with Hiraṇyagarbha, think diversely of this
bliss under the impulsion of the result of their past actions and in conformity with their past
contemplations. Again, according as ignorance and desire becomes attenuated, that very bliss
appears to the vision of one, who is learned, versed in the Vedas, and free from passion, as
rising higher and higher a hundredfold each time, in the planes starting with that of the man—
Gandharvas, till the bliss of Hiraṇyagarbha is reached. But when the division of the subject and
object is eliminated by enlightenment, there is only the all-pervading and intrinsic bliss that is
one without a second …’79
(5.3) ‘This then is the knowledge realised by Bhṛgu (and) imparted by Varuṇa; (which)
commencing from the self, constituted by food, culminates in the supreme, non-dual bliss that is
lodged in the cavity that is the supreme space within the heart. Anybody else, who realises the
bliss that is Brahman by entering through this very process and through concentration alone as
his aid—that man, too, in consequence of his knowledge becoming firmly rooted, gets similarly
fixed in the bliss that is the supreme Brahman; that is to say, he becomes Brahman Itself.’80
(5.4) ‘Brahman exists because of this further reason. Of which reason? Since it is the source of
joy. How is Brahman well known as the source of joy? The answer is: that which is known as
the self-creator is verily the source of joy (rasaḥ). Rasaḥ stands for anything that is a means for
satisfaction, i.e., a source of joy, such as sweet and sour things which are well known to be so
in the world. Since begetting a thing of joy one becomes happy. A nonentity is not seen in this
world to be a cause of happiness. Inasmuch as those Brāhmaṇas (who have realised Brahman)
are seen to be as happy as one is from obtaining an external source of joy—though, in fact,
they do not take help of any external means of happiness, make no effort, and cherish no desire
—it follows, as a matter of course, that Brahman is the source of their joy. Hence, there does
exist that Brahman which is full of joy and is the spring of their happiness.’81
(5.5) ‘Here is another reason why the Self should be known to the exclusion of everything
else. “This Self is dearer than a son”: A son is universally held dear in the world; but the Self is
dearer than he, which shows that It is extremely dear. Similarly dearer than wealth such as gold
and jewels, and everything else, whatever is admittedly held dear in the world. Why is the Self
dearer than those things, and not the organs, etc.? This is being explained, “And is innermost”:
The body and the organs are inner and nearer to oneself than a son or wealth, for instance,
which are external things. But this Self is nearer than those even. A thing, which is extremely
dear, deserves to be attained by the utmost effort. So is this Self, which is dearer than
everything else held dear in the world. Therefore, one should make the utmost effort to attain
It, even abandoning that which is imposed as a duty on one, for the attainment of other dear
objects. But one may ask, when both Self and non-Self are dear, and the choice of one means
the rejection of the other, why should the Self alone be chosen to the exclusion of the other, and
not inversely? This is being answered: Should a person holding the Self as dear, say to one
calling anything else but the Self—such as a son—dearer than the Self, “What you hold dear, for
instance, the son, will die (literally, will meet with the extinction of life)”—Why does he say
like this? Because he is certainly competent to say so. Therefore, giving up all other dear things,
one should meditate upon the Self alone as dear …’ 82
(5.6) ‘The above-mentioned bliss—which is the highest Reality, and which consists in the
realisation of the Truth that is the Self—is located in one’s own Self; quiescent, characterised by
the absence of all evil, coexistent with cessation, i.e., liberation; and it is indescribable, as it
relates to an absolutely unique entity; it is the highest happiness, being unsurpassable and open
to the vision of the yogis alone. It is unborn, unlike objective happiness. And since this
happiness, in its true nature of omniscience, is identical with the unborn, with the thing to be
known; therefore, the knowers of Brahman call it the omniscient one, Brahman Itself.’83
(5.7) ‘Here is something to discuss. The word “bliss” is generally known to denote pleasure;
and here we find the word “bliss” used as an epithet of Brahman in the expression “Bliss,
Brahman.” Elsewhere in the śrutis too we have: “He knew bliss to be Brahman,”84 “Knowing the
bliss of Brahman,”85 “If this Supreme Self were not bliss,”86 “That which is infinite is bliss,”87
“This is its supreme bliss,” etc.88 The word “bliss” is also commonly known to refer to pleasure
that is cognised. The use of the word “bliss” in the above quotations would be justified if the
bliss of Brahman be an object of cognition. It may be urged: On the authority of the śrutis,
Brahman is bliss that is cognised; so what is there to discuss? The reply is: Not so, for we notice
śruti texts that are contradictory. It is true that, in the śrutis, the word “bliss” refers to Brahman;
but there is also the negation of knowledge when there is oneness. For example: “But when, to
the knower of Brahman, everything has become the Self, then, what should one see and through
what? What should one know and through what?”89 “Where one sees nothing else, hears
nothing else, knows nothing else, that is the infinite.”90 “Being fully embraced by the Supreme
Self, he does not know anything outside of himself”,91 etc. Therefore, on account of the
contradictory śruti texts, a discussion is necessary. Hence we should discuss in order to ascertain
the true meaning of the Vedic passages. Moreover, there is a divergence of opinion among the
advocates of liberation. The Sāṇkhya and Vaiśeṣika schools, for instance, while believing in
liberation, hold that there is no joy to be cognized in it, thus differing from others who maintain
that there is surpassing joy in it, known only to the person concerned. What is the correct
position?
‘Prima facie view: There is joy to be cognised in liberation, for the śrutis mention bliss, etc.,
with regard to it, as in the following passages: “Laughing (or eating), playing, and enjoying,”92
“If he desires to attain the world of the manes, (by his mere wish they appear),”93 “That which
knows things in a general and a particular way,”94 “Enjoys all desires,”95 etc.
‘Objection: But is not knowledge impossible when there is oneness, since the different factors
of an action are then absent? Every action depends on a number of factors, and cognition, too,
is an action.
‘Tentative answer: The objection does not hold. On the authority of the śrutis, we must admit
that there is knowledge of the bliss of Brahman. We have already said that such śruti texts as,
“Knowledge, bliss”, etc., would be meaningless if the bliss itself were incapable of being
cognised.
‘Objection: But even a scriptural text cannot make fire cold or water hot, for these texts are
merely informative. They cannot tell us that in some other country fire is cold, or that in some
inaccessible country water is hot.
‘Tentative answer: Not so, for we observe bliss and knowledge in the individual self. Such
texts as, “Knowledge, bliss”, etc., do not convey a meaning that clashes with perception and
other means of knowledge, as, for instance, the sentence, “Fire is cold”, does. On the contrary,
we feel their agreement with them. One directly knows the self to be blissful, as when one feels,
“I am happy”. So the agreement in question with perception, etc., is quite clear. Therefore
Brahman, which is bliss, being knowledge as well, knows Itself. Thus would the śruti texts cited
above, viz., “Laughing (or eating), playing, enjoying,” etc., which prove the existence of bliss in
the Self, be found to be consistent.
‘Advaitin’s reply: You are wrong, for there can be no knowledge in the absence of the body
and organs. Absolute separation from the body is liberation, and when there is no body, there
can be no organs, for they will have no support. Hence, too, there will be no knowledge, there
being no body organs. If knowledge could arise even in the absence of the body and the organs,
there would be no necessity for anyone to possess them. Moreover (if Brahman, as Knowledge
Absolute, cognises the bliss in liberation), it will contradict the oneness of Brahman (by making
It both subject and object).
‘Objection: Suppose we say that the Supreme Brahman, being eternal Knowledge, ever knows
Itself as Bliss Absolute?
‘Reply: No, (this has just been answered). Even a man under bondage, when freed from
relative existence, would regain his real nature (Brahman). (So the same argument would apply
to him too.) Like a handful of water thrown into a tank, he does not retain a separate existence
so as to know the blissful Brahman. Hence, to say that the liberated man knows the blissful Self
is meaningless. If, on the other hand, the liberated man, being different from Brahman, knows
the bliss of Brahman and the individual self as, “I am bliss Absolute,” then the oneness of
Brahman is contradicted, which would be against all śrutis; and there is no possibility of a third
hypothesis. Moreover, if Brahman ever knows Its own bliss, it is superfluous to distinguish
between awareness and unawareness. If It is constantly aware of this bliss, then that is Its
nature; hence, there is no sense in maintaining that It cognises Its own bliss. Such a view would
be tenable if ever there were the possibility of Its not knowing that bliss, as, for instance, a
man knows himself and another (by an act of will). There is certainly no sense in distinguishing
between a state of awareness and its opposite in the case of a man whose mind is
uninterruptedly absorbed in making an arrow, for instance. If, on the other hand, Brahman or
the Self is supposed to know Its bliss uninterruptedly, then, in the intervals when It does not
cognise Itself, It must know something else (and thereby become finite and mortal96 or else
unconscious); and the Self would become changeful, which would make It non-permanent.
Hence the text, “Knowledge, Bliss,” etc., must be interpreted as setting forth the nature of
Brahman, and not signifying that the bliss of the Self is cognised.
‘Objection: If this bliss is not cognised, such śruti texts as “Laughing (or eating), playing,” etc.,
will be contradicted.
‘Reply: No, for such texts only describe actions happening normally, because of the identity
of the liberated man with all (infinite existence). That is to say, because the liberated man is
identified with all, therefore, wherever we observe the laughing, etc.—in the yogins or in the
gods—the śrutis merely describe them as they are with regard to the liberated man, simply on
account of his identity with all. It is but a eulogy on liberation, which is synonymous with such
identity.
‘Objection: If those passages merely describe what happens normally, then there is the chance
of the liberated man being affected by misery also. If, in other words, he partakes of the
laughing, etc., happening normally to the yogins and others, he may also suffer the misery that
(plants and other) stationary existences experience.
‘Reply: No, all these objections have already been 97 refuted on the ground that the
distinctions of happiness, misery, etc., are but superimposed by the delusions created by contact
with the limiting adjuncts, the body and organs, which are the products of name and form. We
have also stated the respective spheres of the apparently contradictory śruti texts.98 Hence, all
passages containing the word “bliss” should be interpreted like the sentence, “This is its
supreme bliss”.99’100

(6) BRAHMAN, NOT AN OBJECT TO BE KNOWN

As Brahman is non-dual, and is described as knowledge and consciousness, the possibility of


subject–object distinction as in the case of empirical knowledge is ruled out. It is apparent then
that Brahman is not an object to be known. But, as philosophical inquiry is to know the nature
of the Reality, and the means of knowledge for this exercise are the scriptures and reasoning,
there has to be a gradual transition from the relative level—in which inquiry begins—to the
transcendental level. This can be grasped better if it is clear that Brahmajñāna is not ‘knowledge
of’ Brahman but ‘knowledge per se’ that is Brahman. This is an experience (anubhūti), i.e.,
Brahmānubhava of the non-dual consciousness, as a result of the knowledge that Brahman is the
Self within (the subject). Scriptural statements do not give direct knowledge, but serve to strip
the adjuncts of the Self, so that the Ātman stands revealed within as non-dual, infinite
consciousness.

(Selected passages)
(6.1) ‘The Self, of which the object portion is the qualification, is different from it. Bereft of all
qualifications, It has an independent existence like that of a man possessing a variegated
cow.’101
(6.2) ‘It may be objected: Surely this is contradictory—to say that It is unknowable, and also
that It is known: “It is known” means that It is cognised by the means of knowledge, and
“unknowable” is the denial of that. To this, we reply: It is all right, for only this much is denied
that It, like other things, is known by any other means independent of scriptural evidence; but
the truth of the Self cannot thus be known by any other means of knowledge but that. The
scriptures, too, describe It merely by the negation of the activities of the subject, the evidences
of knowledge, and so on in such terms as these: “When everything is the Self, what should one
see … know, and through what?”102 and not by resorting to the usual function of a sentence in
which something is described by means of names. Therefore, even in the scriptures, the Self is
not presented like heaven or Mount Meru, for instance, for it is the very Self of those that
present it. A presentation by someone has for its object something to be presented, and this is
possible only when there is a difference.
‘The knowledge of Brahman too means only the cessation of the identification with
extraneous things (such as the body). The relation of identity with It has not to be directly
established, for it is already there. Everybody always has that identity with It, but it appears to
be related to something else. Therefore, the scriptures do not enjoin that identity with Brahman
should be established, but that the false identification with things other than That should stop.
When the identification with other things is gone, that identity with one’s own Self which is
natural, becomes isolated; this is expressed by the statement that the Self is known. In Itself, It
is unknowable—not comprehended through any means. Hence, both statements are
consistent.’103
(6.3) ‘Objection:… then the scriptures have for their objective only the proving of the non-
existence of duality, not the proving of the existence of non-duality, the two objectives being
contradictory. And, as a result, one will be landed in nihilism, inasmuch as non-duality has no
evidence in its support, and duality is non-existent.
‘Answer: Not so, for why should you revive a point already dismissed with the statement that
illusions, like that of a snake on a rope, cannot occur without a substratum?
‘To this, an objection: The rope that is supposed to be the substratum of the illusion of the
snake is itself non-existent, hence, the analogy is irrelevant.
‘Answer: Not so, for even when the illusion disappears, the non-illusory substratum can
continue to exist by the very fact of being non-illusory.
‘Objection: The non-dual (substratum), too, is unreal like the snake fancied on a rope.
‘Answer: It cannot be so, for just as the rope constituting a factor in the illusion (of snake)
exists as an unimagined entity, even before the knowledge of the non-existence of the snake, so
also the non-dual (Self) exists, since as a last resort It has to be assumed to be non-illusory.
Besides, the being who is the agent of the imagination cannot be non-existent, since his
existence has to be admitted antecedent to the rise of the illusion.
‘Objection: But if the scriptures do not deal with the Self as such, how can they lead to a
cessation of the awareness of duality?
‘Answer: That is no defect, for duality is superimposed on the Self through ignorance, just as
a snake is on a rope.
‘Objection: How?
‘Answer: All such conceptions, as, “I am happy, miserable, ignorant, born, dead, worn out,
embodied; I see; I am manifest and unmanifest; agent and enjoyer of fruits; related and
unrelated; emaciated and old; and I am this and these are mine,”—are superimposed on the
Self. The Self permeates all these ideas, for It is invariably present in all of them, just as a rope
is present in all its different (illusory) appearances as a snake, a line of water, etc. Such being
the case, the knowledge of the nature of the substantive (Self) has not to be generated by the
scriptures, since It is self-established. The scriptures are meant for proving something that is not
already known, for, should they restate something that is already known, they will lose their
validity. Since the Self is not established in Its own nature owing to the obstacle of such
attributes as happiness that are superimposed by ignorance, and since the establishment of Its
own reality is the highest goal, therefore, the scriptures aim at removing from the Self the ideas
of happiness and the rest, by generating with regard to It the ideas of not being happy, etc.,
through such texts as, “Not this, not this,”104 “Not gross,”105 etc. Unlike the real nature of the
Self, the attributes of unhappiness, etc., are not invariably present in consciousness
simultaneously with such attributes as happiness, etc.; for if they were persistently present, no
alteration could be created by the superimposition of attributes like happiness, etc., just as
there can be no coldness in fire possessed of the specific characteristic of heat. Therefore, it is in
the attributeless Self that the distinct characteristics of happiness, etc., are imagined. And as for
the scriptural texts speaking of the absence of happiness, etc., in the Self, it is proved that they
are meant to remove the specific ideas of happiness, etc., from It. And in support of this, is the
aphorism of those who are versed in the meaning of scriptures: “The validity of the scriptures is
derived from their negation of positive qualities from the Self.” (This is a quotation from
Drāvidācārya. The idea is this: “Though words may not have any positive meaning with regard
to Brahman, the validity of the scripture is well established; for the words that are associated
with negation and are well known as denoting the absence of those qualities, eliminate all
duality from the Self.”)’106
(6.4) ‘The śāstra’s purport is not to represent Brahman definitely as this or that object, its
purpose is rather to show that Brahman as the eternal subject (pratyagātman, the inward Self) is
never an object, and thereby to remove the distinction of objects known, knowers, acts of
knowledge, etc., which is fictitiously created by nescience. Accordingly, the śāstra says, “By
whom it is not thought by him it is thought, by whom it is thought he does not know it;
unknown by those who know it, it is known by those who do not know it”;107 and “Thou couldst
not see the seer of sight, thou couldst not hear the hearer of hearing, nor perceive the perceiver
of perception, nor know the knower of knowledge.”108’109
(6.5) ‘If Brahman be an object of the activities of the intellect, etc., then It should be
specifically apprehended as, “This is such and such”; and since It cannot be perceived on the
cessation of the intellect, etc., there being then no instrument for cognition, Brahman should
surely have no existence (then). It is a well-known fact in the world that a thing exists so long
as it is within the range of an instrument of cognition, and the contrary is non-existent. Hence,
yoga is useless; or Brahman is to be perceived as non-existing inasmuch as It cannot be
cognised. This contingency having arisen, this is the reply: It is true that neither through speech
nor through the mind, nor through the eye, nor through the other senses, It is to be attained,
i.e., It cannot be attained; still, though It is devoid of all attributes, It does exist, since It is
known as the root of the universe; for the denial of effects presupposes some existence as their
ultimate limit. Similarly, this effect (in the form of the universe), when traced back in ascending
order of subtleness, makes one apprised of the idea of existence as its ultimate resort. Even
when the intellect is being attenuated through the sublation of objects, the intellect dissolves
only as pregnant with a concept of existence. And reason, indeed, is the proof for us in
ascertaining the real nature of the existent and the non-existent. If the world had no root, this
creation would be filled with non-existence and would be perceived as non-existent. But in fact,
this is not so; it is perceived as “existing”, just as a pot, etc., produced from earth, etc., are
perceived as permeated with earth. Therefore the Self, the root of the universe, is to be realised
as existing. Why? Apart from the faithful one who, following the scriptures, speaks of existence,
anywhere else—in the one who holds the theory of non-existence; in the one who thinks
perversely in this way, “The root of the world, the Self, does not exist; this effect is causeless,
and it gets dissolved into non-existence as its end”—how can that Brahman be known? The idea
is that It is not perceived in any way.
‘Therefore, eschewing the devilish company of those who advance the theory of non-
existence, the Self should be realised as existing (i.e., immanent in all)—as productive of effects
in which existence inheres; and as having the intellect, etc., as Its limiting adjuncts. But when
the Self is devoid of all that and is not subject to changes—and effects do not exist apart from
their cause, because of the Vedic text, “All modification is mere name, being supported by
speech—earth alone is real”110—then, of that unconditioned, attributeless Self that is free from
becoming an object of such concepts as existence and non-existence, the true (transcendental)
nature is revealed. In that (truly revealed) form, too—“is the Self to be realised”, this much is to
be supplied … Of the two (aspects), again—of the conditioned and the unconditioned, of the
aspects of immanence and transcendence—the real (transcendental) aspect of that very Self
which was earlier realised as existing (as immanent), i.e., which was known through the idea of
existence called up by the limiting adjuncts that are themselves the effects of an existing entity;
that real aspect of that very Self becomes favourably disposed for revealing Itself—i.e., to the
man who had realised It earlier as existence; the real aspect being that from which all limiting
adjuncts have vanished, which is different from the known and the unknown, is non-dual by
nature, and is ascertained by such Vedic texts as, “not this, not this”;111 “not gross, not subtle,
not short”;112 “in the changeless, bodiless, inexpressible, unsupporting”113.’114
(6.6) ‘Opponent: By such sentences as, “One does not see anything else”, etc., is it stated here
that the well-known fact of seeing distinctive things does not exist in the Infinite, or is it stated
that one does not see anything else, but sees the Self?
‘Counter-objection: What follows from this?
‘Opponent: If this statement only means that there is absence of seeing anything else, etc.,
then it comes to saying that the characteristic of the Infinite is different from dealings within
duality. On the other hand, if it be that by negating any particular form of seeing, it is stated
that one sees the Self, in that case it will be tantamount to admitting that in the same entity,
there are differences of action, agent and result.
‘Counter-objection: Even if it be so, what would be the defect?
‘Opponent: Well, the defect will be that there will be no cessation of the phenomenal world,
because the phenomenal world is constituted by the differences of action, agent and result.
‘Counter-objection: If it is maintained that even when the oneness of the Self is admitted,
then the differences of action, agent and result in It are different from those of the phenomenal
world.
‘Opponent: No. Since when the absolute oneness of the Self is admitted, then the admission of
the differences of action, agent and result, involved in acts of seeing, etc., amount to mere
(meaningless) words.
‘Counter-objection: Even from the point of view of the statement of non-visualisation, etc., of
other things, the specifying words, “where” and “one does not see anything else”, become
meaningless. It is seen in the world that, when a statement is made with regard to an empty
house that, “One does not see anything else,” then it is not understood that one does not see the
pillars, etc., as also oneself. Is it not similar here as well?
‘Vedāntin: No. Since the instruction of oneness is given by saying, “Thou art That”, there is
scope for the difference between the basis and the thing supported, and similarly, there can be
no scope of any vision with regard to oneself, since it has been ascertained in the sixth chapter
that Truth is one Existence, without a second; and also in Upaniṣadic texts like: “… established
in this unperceivable, bodiless … Brahman”;115 “His form does not exist within the range of
vision”;116 “Through what, O Maitreyī, should one know the knower?”117
‘Objection: Will not the specification “where” become useless?
‘Vedāntin: No, since this is stated in the context of differences caused by ignorance. Just as
ideas of truth, unity, and non-duality which crop up during a discussion are asserted (about
Existence) by saying, “Existence is one indeed, without a second”, although It is beyond
enumeration, etc., similar is the use of the specifying word “where” with regard to the infinite
which indeed is one. And since the intention is to speak of non-existence of differences in the
infinite, it has been said, “One does not see anything else”, by a re-assumption of seeing
differences during the state of ignorance.
‘Therefore, the meaning of the whole text is that phenomenal dealing does not exist in the
infinite.
‘Hence, where, in the context of ignorance a person who is different sees something different
with the help of something, which is different, that is finite. The idea is that this (finitude) exists
during the period of ignorance. It is like a thing seen in a dream, which exists only during that
period, before waking. For that very reason it is mortal, destructible, verily like a thing seen in
a dream. The infinite, which is opposed to that, that is immortal. The word “that” refers to
immortality (because both are in the neuter gender).
‘“O venerable sir, then on what is that—the infinite—which is of such characteristics
established?” To Nārada, who had spoken thus, Sanatkumāra replied: If you want to know of Its
establishment somewhere, the Infinite is established in Its own glory, in Its own greatness,
magnificence. Or, if you ask for the supreme Truth, then, we say, It is not established even in
Its own glory. The meaning is that the Infinite has nothing else as Its support, nothing else as
Its accommodation.’118
(6.7) ‘It is being shown why this supreme Reality, though spoken of thus, is not grasped by
ordinary people: Since, that Lord, the non-dual Self, that is to say, the deity, is easily covered
by the eagerness to grasp, because of the false belief in the reality of an object, whatever it be,
that lies within duality—for the covering follows from the perception of duality, and it does not
require any additional effort—and since It is uncovered, revealed with difficulty, the knowledge
of the supreme Reality being a rarity, therefore, It is not easy to be understood, though spoken
of by the Upaniṣads and the teachers in various ways, as is pointed out by the Vedic text, “The
teacher is wonderful, and its receiver is wonderful”.119
‘When the passionate attachment of the learned to even such subtle ideas as the existence of
the Self or Its non-existence becomes a covering of the Lord—the supreme Self—what wonder is
there that passion in the shape of the intellectual preoccupation of the dull should be much
more so?…
‘He, the reflective sage by whom has been realised that Lord who, though remaining covered
to the sophists, is really untouched by these—these four alternative theories of existence, non-
existence, etc.—he who has realised the all-pervasive Being found and presented in the
Upaniṣads alone, that sage is omniscient or, to put it otherwise, he is the truly enlightened
man.’120

(7) BRAHMAN, SELF-EVIDENT

The most familiar and constant feeling that every individual has is, ‘I am’. Therefore, Brahman,
as the witness-Self within (Ātman) can never be the object of inquiry. There is no need for any
scripture, or other means of knowledge, to instruct that which is self-evident. But, the true
nature of the Self is not evident to all. Under the influence of avidyā, the Self is mistaken for the
not-Self, due to which, all kinds of misconceptions and contradictory ideas arise. It is the
removal of these false notions, which are superimposed on the Self that the Upaniṣads seek to
do by their teachings. Though the Self is self-evident, scriptures, teaching by a Guru and
rational inquiry into the teachings are necessary to become aware of one’s essential nature.

(Selected passages)
(7.1) ‘… It is therefore unnecessary to impart directly knowledge of the Self.—What then is
necessary?—What is necessary is the mere elimination of the not-Self associated with the Self—
names, forms, and the like; but it is unnecessary to try and teach what the consciousness of the
Self is like, inasmuch as it is invariably comprehended in association with all objects of
perception which are set up by avidyā. Accordingly, the Vijñānavādins, the Buddhists Idealists,
hold that there is nothing real except ideas, and that these ideas require no internal evidence
(to prove their existence), inasmuch as it is admitted that they are self-cognised. Therefore, we
have only to eliminate what is falsely ascribed to Brahman by avidyā; we have to make no more
effort to acquire knowledge of Brahman as He is quite self-evident. Though thus quite self-
evident, easily knowable, quite near, and forming the very Self, Brahman appears—to the
unenlightened; to those whose reason (buddhi) is carried away by the differential phenomena of
names and forms created by avidyā—as unknown, difficult to know, very remote, as though He
were a separate thing. But to those whose reason (buddhi) has turned away from external
phenomena, who have secured the grace of the Guru and attained the serenity of the self
(manas), there is nothing else so blissful, so well known, so easily knowable, and quite so near
as Brahman. Accordingly, the knowledge of Brahman is said to be immediately comprehended
and unopposed to dharma.121
‘Some conceited philosophers hold that reason (buddhi) cannot grasp the Self, as He is
formless, and that, therefore, the devotion of right knowledge is impossible of attainment.
‘True, it is unattainable to those who have not been properly initiated into the traditional
knowledge of the Gurus (the great ones); who have not learned and studied the (teachings of
the) Vedānta; whose intellect is quite engrossed in the external objects of senses; and who have
not been trained in the right sources of knowledge. But, for those who are differently situated,
(i.e., who have been duly initiated etc.) it is quite impossible to believe in the reality of the dual
—the perceiver and the perceived—of our external perception, because they perceive no reality
other than the consciousness of the Self … Wherefore it is only a cessation of the perception of
the differentiated forms of the external world that can lead to a firm grasp of the real nature of
the Self. For, the Self is not a thing unknown to anybody at any time; is not a thing to be
reached or got rid of or acquired. If the Self be quite unknown, all undertakings intended for
the benefit of oneself would have no meaning. It is not, indeed, possible to imagine that they
are for the benefit of the physical body or the like which has no consciousness; nor is it possible
to imagine that pleasure is for pleasure’s sake and pain is for pain’s sake. It is, moreover, the
Self-knowledge, which is the aim of all endeavour. (All action enjoined in the śruti is intended
only as a means to Self-knowledge.)122
‘Wherefore, just as there is no need for external evidence to know one’s own body, so there is
no need for an external evidence by which to know the Self who is even nearer than the body.
Thus it is clear that, to those who can discriminate, the atmajñāna-niṣtha (devotion to Self-
knowledge) is easy of attainment.

COGNITION AND THE COGNISER ARE SELF-REVEALED


‘Those also who had that cognition (jñāna), which is formless and is not known by immediate
perception, must admit that since an object of knowledge is apprehended through cognition,
cognition is quite as immediately known as pleasure or the like.
‘Moreover, it cannot be maintained that cognition is a thing which one seeks to know.—If
cognition were unknown, it would be a thing which has to be sought after, just as an object of
cognition is sought after. Just as, for example, a man seeks to reach by cognition the cognisable
object such as a pot, so also would he have to seek to reach cognition by means of another
cognition. But the fact is otherwise. Wherefore, cognition is self-revealed, and therefore, also, is
the cogniser self-revealed.
‘Therefore, it is not for the knowledge (of Brahman or the Self) that any effort is needed; it is
needed only to prevent us from regarding the not-Self as the Self. Therefore, devotion to
knowledge (jñāna-niṣtha) is easily attainable.’123
(7.2) ‘But it may be asked, is Brahman known or not known (previously to the enquiry into
its nature)? If it is known, we need not enter on an enquiry concerning it; if is not known, we
cannot enter on such an enquiry.
‘We reply that Brahman is known. Brahman, which is all-knowing and endowed with all
powers, whose essential nature is eternal purity, intelligence, and freedom, exists. For, if we
consider the derivation of the word “Brahman” from the root “bṛḥ”, “to be great”, we at once
understand that eternal purity, and so on, belong to Brahman. Moreover, the existence of
Brahman is known on the ground of its being the Self of every one. For every one is conscious
of the existence of (his) Self, and never thinks, “I am not.” If the existence of the Self were not
known, every one would think, “I am not.” And this Self (of whose existence all are conscious)
is Brahman. But if Brahman is generally known as the Self, there is no room for an enquiry into
it! Not so, we reply; for there is a conflict of opinions as to its special nature. Unlearned people
and the Lokāyatikas are of the opinion that the mere body endowed with the quality of
intelligence is the Self; others maintain that the internal organ is the Self; others, again, that
the Self is a mere momentary idea; others again, that it is the Void. Others, again (to proceed to
the opinion of such as acknowledge the authority of the Veda), maintain that there is a
transmigrating being different from the body, and so on, which is both agent and enjoyer (of
the fruits of action); others teach that that being is enjoying only, not acting; others believe
that, in addition to the individual souls, there is an all-knowing, all-powerful Lord. Others,
finally, (i.e., the Vedāntins) maintain that the Lord is the Self of the enjoyer (i.e., of the
individual soul whose individual existence is apparent only, the product of nescience).
‘Thus, there are many various opinions, basing part of them, on sound arguments and
scriptural texts, part of them on fallacious arguments and scriptural texts misunderstood. If,
therefore, a man would embrace some of these opinions without previous considerations, he
would bar himself from the highest beatitude and incur grievous loss.’124
(7.3) ‘(If it is argued) The Self is unknowable—not determinable by the senses (pratyakṣa) or
any other means of knowledge.
‘(Objection): The Self is determined by the āgama or revelation, and by perception, etc., prior
to revelation.
‘(Answer): The objection is untenable, for the Self is self-determined (svatasiddha). When the
Self, the knower (pramātṛi), has been determined, then only is it possible a search for proper
authorities on the part of the knower with a view to obtaining right knowledge. In fact, without
determining the Self—“I am I”—none seeks to determine the knowable objects. Indeed the Self
is unknown (aprasiddha) to nobody. And the scripture (śāstra) which is the final authority
obtains its authoritativeness regarding the Self, as serving only to eliminate the adhyāropana or
superimposition (on the Self) of the attributes (such as humanity and agency) alien to Him, but
not as revealing what has been altogether unknown. The śruti also describes the Self thus: “That
which is the immediate, the unremote, the Brahman which is the Self, which is within all”.125’126
(7.4) ‘But—an objection may be raised—the Self also is divided from ether, and so on, and
hence it follows that it is an effect like jars, and the like.—This objection we refute by pointing
to the scriptural statement that “ether sprang from the Self.”127 For if the Self also were a mere
modification (of something else), it would follow that all effects such as the ether and so on are
without a Self; for scripture mentions nothing beyond the Self, and that Self itself would (on the
supposition stated) be a mere effect. And thus we should be driven to the hypothesis of a
general void (sūnyavāda). Just because it is the Self, it is impossible for us to entertain the idea
even of its being capable of refutation. For the (knowledge of the) Self is not, in any person’s
case, adventitious, not established through the so-called means of right knowledge; it rather is
self-established. The Self does indeed employ perception and the other means of right
knowledge for the purpose of establishing previously non-established objects of knowledge; for
nobody assumes such things as ether, and so on, to be self-established independently of the
means of right knowledge. But the Self, as being the abode of the energy that acts through the
means of right knowledge, is itself established previously to that energy. And to refute such a
self-established entity is impossible. An adventitious thing, indeed, may be refuted, but not that
which is the essential nature (of him who attempts the refutation); for it is the essential nature
of him who refutes. The heat of a fire is not refuted (i.e., sublated) by the fire itself.—Let us
further consider the relation expressed in the following clauses: “I know at the present moment
whatever is present; I knew (at former moments) the nearer and the remoter past; I shall know
(in the future) the nearer and the remoter future.” Here, the object of knowledge changes
according as it is something past or something future or something present; but the knowing
agent does not change, since his nature is eternal presence. And as the nature of the Self is
eternal presence, it cannot undergo destruction even when the body is reduced to ashes; nay,
we cannot even conceive that it ever should become something different from what it is.—It
thus follows from the essential irrefutability of its nature that the Self is not an effect.’128

(8) PATH OF NEGATION TO KNOW BRAHMAN

Śaṅkara applies the method of adhyāropa (superimposition) and apavāda (denial), i.e., false
attribution followed by subsequent denial, which in the larger perspective, is denying duality to
reinforce non-duality, i.e., to explain the relation between the phenomenal world of diversity
and the non-dual Absolute Reality. This technique, adopted by him to describe Brahman on the
basis of the Upaniṣad129 and earlier preceptors, tries to point to the Reality by negating what is
familiar to human experience. This is popularly known as the ‘neti neti’ (not this, not this)
method, a strategy to show the limitations of language and mental conceptualization. The
positive descriptions of Brahman are given at first to help the seeker understand by means of
what is familiar to him, and then the negative method is resorted to, to enable the mind to
make the next transition—transcending duality and relationships that are the basis of empirical
knowledge. To say, ‘knowledge of Brahman’ is an anomaly, because the Absolute is not an
object to be known. But, for the ignorant, a beginning has to be made only at the level with
which he is comfortable and familiar. So Śaṅkara, following the Upaniṣads, takes up one
method after the other to explain the nature of Brahman. Another problem that will arise if
Brahman is stated to be beyond speech and thought is to deny Its existence altogether. It is to
avoid that pitfall that śruti proclaims that Brahman is everywhere and exists in different forms.
In short, the Absolute does not have any empirical characteristics, and so, whatever is stated is
said only to help the seeker along; and the subsequent denial is resorted to when his mind has
been prepared to grasp this truth.

(Selected passages)
(8.1) ‘How, through these two terms, “Not this, not this”, is it sought to describe the Truth of
truth? By elimination of all differences due to limiting adjuncts, the words refer to something
that has no distinguishing mark such as name, or form, or action, or heterogeneity, or species,
or qualities. Words denote things through one or other of these. But Brahman has none of these
distinguishing marks. Hence, It cannot be described as, “It is such-and-such,” as we can describe
a cow by saying, “There moves a white cow with horns.” Brahman is described by means of
name, form and action superimposed on It, in such terms as, “Knowledge, Bliss, Brahman,”130
and “Pure, Intelligence,”131 “Brahman” and “Ātman”. When, however, we wish to describe Its
true nature, free from all differences due to limiting adjuncts, then it is an utter impossibility.
Then, there is only one way left, viz., to describe It as “Not this, not this,” by eliminating all
possible specifications of It that have been known.’132
(8.2) ‘It stands to reason to say that Brahman cannot be expressed in words such as “sat”; for,
every word employed to denote a thing denotes that thing—when heard by another—as
associated with a certain genus, or a certain act, or a certain quality, or a certain mode of
relation. Thus, cow and horse imply genera; cook and teacher imply acts; white and black
imply qualities; wealthy and cattle-owner imply possessions. But, Brahman belongs to no genus
(Brahman is described in the śruti as belonging to no class, as possessing no colour, and so on.),
wherefore It cannot be denoted by such words as “sat (existent)”. Being devoid of attributes, It
possesses no qualities. If It were possessed of qualities, then It could be denoted by a word
implying a quality. Being actionless, It cannot be indicated by a word implying an act.
‘The śruti says: “It is without parts, actionless and tranquil”.133
‘It is not related to anything else; for It is one, It is without a second, It is no object (of any
sense). It is the very Self. Wherefore, it is but right to say that It can be denoted by no word at
all; and the passages of the śruti, like the following, point to the same thing:
“Whence (i.e., away from Brahman, unable to approach Brahman) all words return”134.’135
(8.3) ‘… It is equally erroneous to fancy such ideas as “it is”, “it is not”, with regard to the
eternal and unconditioned vision of that Entity in which all the variations of speech and mind
(i.e. name and form) get unified. He who entertains, with regard to that Reality beyond all
speech and mind, any idea of fancying that It exists, or It does not exist; that It is one, or that It
is many; that It has attributes, or that It has not; that It knows, or that It does not; that It is
active, or that It is not; that It is fruitful, or that It is fruitless; that It has a seed, or that It is
seedless; that It is happiness, or that It is misery; that It is inside, or that It is outside; that It is
void, or that It is not; or that It is different from me, or that It is I; (that man) may as well wish
to roll up the sky like leather, to ascend there with his feet, or to trace the footprints of the fish
and birds in water and sky; for the Vedic texts declare: “Not this, not this”;136 “From which
words come back”,137 and so on. And there is the mantra text, “Who indeed knows?”138 etc.
‘Objection: How does he, then, get the realisation, “He is my Self”? Tell me, how can I realise
Him as, “He is my Self.”
‘Answer: Apropos of this, they relate a story: An idiot, who committed some guilt was told,
“Fie on you! You are no man!” Because of his stupidity, he approached somebody to get the
conviction that he was a man and told him, “Tell me who I am.” The latter understood his
silliness and said, “I shall make you understand by degrees.” And then, after proving that he
was not a motionless thing, and so on, he (the teacher) concluded with, “You are none other
than a man.” That dullard then told him, “You, who started to enlighten me, have become
silent. Why do you not instruct me?” That sentence of yours is just like this. How can he, who
does not understand himself to be man when told, “You are none other than a man,”
understand himself to be a man even when told, “You are a man”? Therefore, the process to be
followed in enlightening about the Self is as it is set forth in the scriptures and nothing else; for
hay, etc., that can be consumed by fire, are not burnt by anything else. It is because of this that
the scripture, which started to impart knowledge about the nature of the Self, stopped after
declaring, “Not this, not this,”139 just as it was done in the story after denying all that was other
than the man.’140
(8.4) ‘Objection: Is it not that even the Self is certainly revealed by the mantras? So, how can
a knower of the mantras not be a knower of the Self?
‘Reply: No, because the difference between words and their meanings is also within the range
of changes. And a (phenomenal) change is not considered to be the Self.
‘Objection: Is not even the Self denoted by the word “Self”?
‘Reply: No, since there are such Upaniṣadic texts: “That from which speech returns”;141
“Where one does not see anything else”,142 etc.
‘Objection: How then do words like “Self”, as contained in “It is the Self that is below”,143 and
“That is the Self”144 denote the Self?
‘Reply: This fault does not arise because, even though It cannot be expressed in speech, the
word “Self” that is used for the innermost Self as possessed of a body, and which is subject to
(notions of) differentiations, gives rise to the conviction regarding Existence which remains as
the residual entity when the body, etc. are denied of being the Self. As for instance, even when
an army along with its king is seen, but the king is hidden behind the umbrella, banner, flag,
etc., such words are seen to be used as, “The king is being seen here.” Thereafter, when, for
locating the king specifically, the question arises, “Who is the king?” then, after the other
objects (which are not the king) are negated, there arises the conviction of the identity of the
king with regard to the other person, viz., the king, even though he is not seen.’145
(8.5) ‘The Upaniṣad thinks that the Self, presented through a negation of all attributes in the
text, “Now, therefore, the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this’146 is very difficult to
understand; and from the point of view whatever was explained, as a means adopted again and
for the sake of establishing that very Self—all that it again and again negates. By showing in
the text, ‘This Self is that which has been described as not this, not this’,147 that the Self is
imperceptible, the Upaniṣad negates, by implication, all that is perceptible, has origination,
and is comprehended by the intellect. Being afraid lest people, not cognisant of the fact that
anything presented as a means for establishing something else has only that other thing as its
goal, may jump to the conclusion that one must cling firmly to the means as to the end itself,
the Upaniṣad refutes (the idea of the reality of the means) by taking the help of the
incomprehensibility (of the Self) as a reason. This is the purport. As a result of this, the reality
of the Self that is co-extensive with all that is within and without, and is birthless, gets revealed,
by Itself, to one who knows that the means only serves the purpose of the end, and that the end
has ever the same changeless nature.
‘Thus, the definite conclusion arrived at by hundreds of Vedic texts is that the reality of the
Self that is co-existensive with all that exists within and without, and is birthless, is one without
a second, and there is nothing besides.’148
(8.6) ‘… After having called the reader’s attention by creating a desire for the knowledge, the
Lord says, “It is not said to be ‘sat (existent)’ or ‘asat (non-existent)’.”
‘Objection: After proclaiming very loudly that He is going to speak of the Knowable, it does
not become the Lord to describe It as neither “sat” nor “asat”.
‘Answer: No, it is the right thing that has been said.—How?—Thus: being inaccessible to
speech, Brahman, the Knowable, is defined in all Upaniṣads only by a denial of all specialties
—“Not thus”149 and “not gross, not subtle”150—in the terms, “It is not this.”
‘Objection: That thing (alone) exists which can be spoken of as existing. If the Knowable
cannot be spoken of as existing, It cannot exist. And it is a contradiction in terms to say that. It
is knowable and It cannot be spoken of as existing.
‘Answer: Neither is It non-existent, since It is not an object of the consciousness of non-
existence.
‘Objection: Every state of consciousness involves either the consciousness of existence or of
non-existence. Such being the case, the Knowable should be comprehended either by a state of
consciousness accompanied with the consciousness of existence, or by a state of consciousness
accompanied with the consciousness of non-existence. (If not, you cannot escape the conclusion
that Brahman is undefinable.)
‘Answer: No, for, being beyond the reach of the senses, It is not an object of consciousness
accompanied with the idea of either (existence or non-existence). That thing, indeed, which can
be perceived by the senses—such as a pot—can be an object of consciousness accompanied with
the idea of existence, or an object of consciousness accompanied with the idea of non-existence.
Since, on the other hand, the Knowable is beyond the reach of the senses and, as such, can be
known solely through the instrument of knowledge which is called “śabda” (the Word, i.e.,
revelation), It cannot be, like pot, etc., an object of consciousness accompanied with the idea of
either (existence or non-existence) and is, therefore not said to be “sat” or “asat”.
‘Now, as regards the allegation that it is a self-contradiction to say that the Knowable is not
said to be “sat” or “asat”, (we say that) there is no contradiction; for, the śruti says, “It is other
than the known and above the unknown”.151’152
(8.7) ‘When it is said that Brahman the knowable is not accessible to the word or thought of
“sat” (existent), one may perhaps suppose It to be “asat” or non-existent. To prevent this
supposition, the Lord proceeds to declare Its existence as manifested through the upādhis,
through the senses of all living beings.
‘The knowable has hands and feet everywhere. The existence of kṣetrajña is indicated by the
upādhis of the sense-organs (because there must be self-consciousness at the back of their
activity) of all living beings. Kṣetrajña (the self-conscious principle living behind the sense
organs) is so called because of the upādhi of kṣetra; and this kṣetra is of various forms, such as
hands, feet, etc. All the variety caused in kṣetrajña by the variety in the upādhis of kṣetra is but
illusory, and it has therefore been said—in the words, “It is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’” —that It
should be known as devoid of all variety. Though, what is caused (in kṣetrajña) by upādhis is
illusory, still it is spoken of—in the words that ‘It has hands and feet everywhere’—as though it
were an attribute of the Knowable, only with a view to indicate Its existence. Accordingly, there
is the saying of the sampradāyavids—of those who know the right traditional method of teaching
—which runs as follows: “That which is devoid of all duality is described by adhyāropa and
apavāda”, i.e., by superimposition and negation, by attribution and denial. Hands, feet, and the
like, constituting the limbs of all bodies in all places, derive their activity from the Energy
inherent in the knowable and, as such, they are mere marks of Its existence and are spoken of
as belonging to It only by a figure of speech—All the rest should be similarly interpreted. It
(Brahman) exists in the world, in the whole animal creation, pervading all.’153
(8.8) ‘At the end of the first section,154 it has been said that the vital force is the truth. Its
secret names also have been explained in connection with those of Brahman, implying thereby
that this is the same vital force. Of what does it consist, and how is it called truth?—These
questions have to be answered. Hence, this section is commenced in order to define the nature
of the five elements, called truth, which consist of the body and the organs. It is by the
elimination of these limiting adjuncts that the śruti wishes to define the nature of Brahman
negatively, saying, “Not this, not this”. Now, Brahman has two forms: The Brahman that is
(respectively) connected with the body and organs that are the product of the five elements; is
designated as gross and subtle; and is mortal and immortal (that is relatively); it comprises the
impressions created by those elements; and is the omniscient, omnipotent, conditioned
Brahman, consisting of actions, their factors and results, and admitting of all kinds of
association. That same Brahman, again, is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the object of
intuition, birthless, undecaying, immortal, fearless, and beyond the reach of even speech and
mind, being above duality, and is described as, “Not this, not this.” Now, those are the two
forms by the elimination of which Brahman is so described.’155
(8.9) ‘We read, “Two forms of Brahman there are, indeed, the material and the immaterial,
the mortal and the immortal, the solid and the fluid, sat and tya.”156 The text thereupon divides
the five elements into two classes, predicates of the essence of that which is immaterial—which
it calls puruṣa—saffron-colour, and so on, and then goes on to say, “Now then, the teaching by
Not so, not so! For there is nothing else higher than this (if one says): It is not so.” Here we
have to enquire what the object of the negative statement is. We do not observe any definite
thing indicated by words such as, “this” or “that”; we merely have the word “so” in “Not so, not
so!”, to which the word “not” refers, and which on that account, indicates something meant to
be denied. Now, we know that the word “so” (iti) is used with reference to approximate things,
in the same way as the particle, “evam”, is used; compare, e.g., the sentence, “so (iti) indeed the
teacher said” (where the “so” refers to his immediately preceding speech). And, in our passage,
the context points out what has to be considered as proximate, viz., the two cosmic forms of
Brahman, and that Brahman itself to which the two forms belong. Hence, there arises a doubt
whether the phrase, “Not so, not so!” negatives both Brahman and its two forms, or only either;
and if the latter, whether it negatives Brahman and leaves its two forms, or if it negatives the
two forms, and leaves Brahman.—We suppose, the pūrvapakṣin says, that the negative
statement negatives Brahman as well as its two forms; both being suggested by the context. As
the word “not” is repeated twice, there are really two negative statements, of which the one
negatives the cosmic form of Brahman, the other that which has form, i.e., Brahman itself. Or
else, we may suppose that Brahman alone is negatived. For, as Brahman transcends all speech
and thought, its existence is doubtful, and admits of being negatived; the plurality of cosmic
forms, on the other hand, falls within the sphere of perception and the other means of right
knowledge, and can, therefore, not be negatived.—On this latter interpretation, the repetition
of “not” must be considered as due to emphasis only.
‘To this we make the following reply. It is impossible that the phrase, “Not so, not so!” should
negative both, since that would imply the doctrine of a general Void. Whenever we deny
something unreal, we do so with reference to something real; the unreal snake, e.g., is
negatived with reference to the real rope. But this (denial of something unreal with reference to
something real) is possible only if some entity is left. If everything is denied, no entity is left,
and if no entity is left, the denial of some other entity which we may wish to undertake,
becomes impossible, i.e., that latter entity becomes real and as such cannot be negative …
‘This appears from the circumstance of Brahman being exhibited in the genitive case only
(“These are two forms of Brahman”). Now, after the two forms have been set forth, there arises
the desire of knowing that to which the two forms belong, and hence the text continues, “Now
then the teaching by means of ‘Not so, not so’.” This passage, we conclude, conveys information
regarding the nature of Brahman by denying the reality of the forms fictitiously attributed to it;
for the phrase, “Not so, not so!” negatives the whole aggregate of effects superimposed on
Brahman. Effects we know to have no real existence, and they can therefore be negatived; not
so, however, Brahman, which constitutes the necessary basis for all fictitious superimposition …
‘For the text does not set forth the two forms of Brahman as something the truth of which is to
be established, but merely mentions those two forms which, in the sphere of ordinary thought,
are fictitiously attributed to Brahman, in order finally to negative them and establish thereby
the true nature of the formless Brahman.
‘The double repetition of the negation may either serve the purpose of furnishing a special
denial of the material as well as the immaterial form of Brahman; or the first “Not so” may
negative the aggregate of material elements, while the second denies the aggregate of mental
impressions. Or else the repetition may be an emphatic one, intimating that whatever can be
thought is not Brahman. This is, perhaps, the better explanation. For, if a limited number of
things is denied each individually, there still remains the desire to know whether something else
may not be Brahman; an emphatic repetition of the denial on the other hand shows that the
entire aggregate of objects is denied and that Brahman is the inward Self; whereby all further
enquiry is checked.—The final conclusion, therefore, is that the text negatives only the cosmic
plurality fictitiously superimposed on Brahman, but leaves Brahman itself untouched.
‘The sūtra gives another argument establishing the same conclusion, “and the text enounces
something more than that,” i.e., more than the preceding negation. The words of the text meant
are “(not) is there anything beyond.”—If the negation, “Not so, not so!” were meant to
negative all things whatever, and this terminated in absolute non-existence, the text could not
even allude to “anything beyond”.’157
(8.10) ‘The aspirant cannot know that he is Brahman if It be different from the Self. (It then
contradicts the śruti.) But if he has the conviction that he, the Self, is Brahman (there is no
contradiction to the śruti.) This is (right) knowledge, which destroys ignorance (which falsely
shows that there are other things than the Self).
‘What would be the use (of the description by the śruti) of the qualities, “not large”,158 etc., if
they were the qualities of one (personal God) other than the Self, it being not (for it is other
than the Self, see Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad159) an object of search? But if Brahman (with these
qualities) is the Self, the ideas (superimposed on the Self) such as largeness, smallness, etc., are
negated (and thus liberation is achieved) from the latter.
‘Know, therefore, that the śruti, “not large”, etc., is meant to negate the false superimposition
(of largeness, smallness, etc., on the Self) as it would be a description of a void if it were meant
to negate those qualities from one other than the Self.
‘Moreover, the saying,160 “devoid of the vital force, devoid of the mind and pure”, would be
unmeaning if these qualities are meant to be negated from one other than the individual Self,
the aspirant.’ 161
(8.11) ‘Impossible (for the Self is the witness of the process of negation itself) to be negated,
the Self is left over on the authority of the śruti, “Not this, not this?” So, the Self becomes clearly
known on the reflection, “I am not this, I am not this”. (i.e., I am not the body, the senses, the
mind, the intellect and the vital force. But I am the witness of all of them.)
‘The consciousness of egoism (i.e., the mistaken identity of the Self with the body, etc.) has its
origin in the intellect (the object portion in the consciousness “I”). While using the word “I”,
people mix up pure consciousness and the intellect. The intellect is the object portion of the
consciousness “I”, pure consciousness is the non-object portion) and has for its object what
(name and form) is based on words162 only. As its very nature and origin are both negated by
the śruti, “Not this, not this”, egoism (though as old as time itself and experienced by beings
birth after birth) can never again (after the nature of the Self has been known) be regarded as
founded on any evidence.
‘A following (the right knowledge of the substratum) knowledge does not arise without
negating (so, the knowledge of the Self does not arise without destroying the previous
knowledge of egoism, etc.) the previous (the superimposed knowledge) one (e.g., the
knowledge of the rope does not come without destroying that of the snake in a rope-snake).
Pure consciousness, the Self, only has an independent existence and is never negated as It is the
result of evidence.’163
(8.12) ‘(They realise that which is) not visible (or not perceptible) that is beyond the range of
all the organs of knowledge, for the power of perception, as directed outward, has the five
senses as its gates, beyond one’s grasp, beyond the range of the organs of action. Unconnected,
for It has no root with which It can get connected. (Features) are those that can be described;
they are qualities of a thing, such as grossness, etc. or whiteness, etc. That Immutable which is
devoid of features is the featureless. The eye and ear are the organs in all beings for perceiving
forms and names; that in which these two do not exist is without eye and ear. From the
ascription of sentience in the text: “He who is omniscient in general and all-knowing in
detail,”164 it may follow that, just like ordinary beings, the Immutable, too, achieves Its purpose
with the help of such organs as eyes, ears, etc. That supposition is refuted here by “without ear
and eyes”; for this accords with what is found (elsewhere): “He sees without eyes, and He hears
without ears.”165 ‘Moreover, that Immutable is without hands and feet, that is to say, devoid of
the organs of the action. Since It cannot thus be seized, nor does It seize, therefore, It is
indestructible. It is multiformed because of assuming diverse forms in all the different creatures
from Brahma to a motionless thing; all-pervasive, like space; extremely subtle, being devoid of
such causes of grossness as sound, etc. Sound, etc. are verily the causes of the progressive
grossness of space, air, etc. Being free from these, It is extremely subtle. Furthermore, that is
undiminishing one that does not decrease, because of those very virtues. For a partless thing
cannot have any diminution by way of loss of Its parts as in the case of a body; nor can It
sustain any loss by way of decrease of treasure as in the case of a king; nor can there be any
shrinkage through loss of qualities, since It is attributeless and all-pervasive. That which is
possessed of such characteristics, the source of all creation, just as the earth is, of all moving
and unmoving things,—that Immutable, the intelligent, the discriminating ones see everywhere,
as the Self of all. The purport of the verse is this: “That is the higher knowledge by which the
Immutable of this kind is realised”.’166

(9) TRANSCENDING THE MIND

How is Brahman known then? After exhausting the methods of describing Brahman’s accidental
attributes, essential nature and negation to show that the Absolute is beyond the mind, what
remains is the positive affirmation as in the mahāvākya, ‘tat tvam asi’ (That Thou art), by the
teacher pointing out the identity of Ātman and Brahman by a denial of all the adjuncts. This, in
a nutshell, enables the mind to transcend subject–object duality, to become aware of the non-
dual consciousness. This transcendence is an experience in which the knowledge and experience
coalesce through intuitive grasp, and the enlightened one is able to assert ‘aham brahmāsmi’ (I
am Brahman). Brahman thus reveals Itself to the inquirer intuitively, and this is a direct,
immediate experience of the witness-Self: ‘… This is your Self within all.’167

(Selected passages)
(9.1) ‘There is no doubt that just as the snake is true in its aspect of the rope, so the mind that is
but non-dual in its aspect of the Self from the highest standpoint, appears to have two aspects
in dream. For, apart from consciousness, there do not exist two things in dream—elephants and
so on that are perceived, and eyes and the rest that perceive them. The idea is that the case is
similar in the waking state also; for, in either state, there exists only the supremely real
consciousness.
‘It has been said that it is the mind alone which, like a snake on a rope, appears as an
illusion, in dual roles. What proof is there as to that? The text advances (inferential) proof on
the basis of agreement and difference. How?
‘“This duality, as a whole, that is perceived by the mind is nothing but the mind, which is
itself imagined (on the Self)”—this is the proposition. For, duality endures so long as the mind
does, and duality disappears with the disappearance of the mind. For, when the mind ceases to
be the mind, when, like the illusory snake disappearing in the rope, the mind’s activity stops
through the practice of discriminating insight and renunciation, or when the mind gets
absorbed in the state of sleep, duality is not perceived. From this non-existence, is proved the
unreality of duality. This is the purport.
‘How does the mind cease to be the mind? This is being answered:
‘The Truth that is the Self, that is comparable to the reality of earth as stated in the Vedic
text, “All modification (of earth) exists in name only, having speech for its support. Earth alone
is true”168 is the realisation of that Truth of the Self that follows from the instruction of
scriptures and the teacher. When, as a consequence of that, there remains nothing to be thought
of, and the mind does not think, as fire does not burn in the absence of combustible things,
then, at that time, it attains the state of ceasing to be the mind, in the absence of things to be
perceived; that mind becomes free from all illusion of perceptions. This is the idea.
‘If this duality be false, how is the truth of one’s own Self realised? The answer is: The
knowers of Brahman say that absolute knowledge that is devoid of all imagination (non-
conceptual), and is, therefore, birthless, is non-different from the knowable, identified with
Brahman, the Absolute Reality. And this is supported by such Vedic texts as, “For the knower’s
function of knowing can never be lost like the heat of the fire”;169 “Knowledge, Bliss, Brahman”;
170
“Brahman is truth, knowledge, infinite”.171 The phrase “Brahma-jñeyam” is an attribute of
that very knowledge and means, that very knowledge of which Brahman Itself is the content,
and which is non-different from Brahman, as heat is from fire. By that unborn, knowledge,
which is the very nature of the Self, is known—It knows by Itself, the birthless Reality, that is
the Self. The idea conveyed is that the Self, being ever a homogeneous mass of consciousness,
like the sun that is by nature a constant light, does not depend on any other knowledge (for Its
revelation).
‘It has been said that, when the mind is divested of ideation by virtue of the realisation of the
Truth that is Brahman, and when there is an absence of external objects (of perception), it
becomes tranquil, controlled, and withdrawn like fire that has no fuel. And it has further been
said that, when the mind thus ceases to be the mind, duality also disappears.’172
(9.2) ‘I am the Supreme Brahman, all-knowing and all-pervading as pervaded by the
intellect, all things in all conditions are always illumined by me.
‘Just as I am the witness of all the objects of my intellect, so am I that of the objects of other
intellects. I am not capable of being rejected or accepted. Therefore, I am the Supreme
Brahman.
‘As It is the witness of all intellects and their modifications, the Self, unlike the intellects, is
not of limited knowledge and has no change, impurity or material nature.
‘Just as in the presence of sunlight, colours such as red, etc., (of flowers and other things) are
manifested in a jewel, so, all objects are seen in the intellect in My presence. All things are,
therefore, illumined by Me like sunlight.
‘Objects of knowledge exist in the intellect as long as it is there in waking and dream; but
none exists in the opposite case (i.e., when it is merged during deep sleep.) The knower is
always the knower. Duality has, therefore, no existence.
‘The intellect knew the non-existence of the supreme Brahman before the discrimination
between the Self and the non-Self. But after the discrimination, there is no individual Self
different from Brahman nor the intellect itself.’173
(9.3) ‘Just as a man (erroneously) looks upon his body placed in the sun as having the
property of light in it, so he looks upon the intellect pervaded by the reflection of pure
consciousness as the Self.
‘The Self gets identified with (the body, the senses, the mind, the intellect and the vital force)
whatever is seen in the world. It is for this reason that an ignorant man does not know himself
(to be Brahman).
‘An ignorant man gets identified with objects of knowledge and does not know the Self which
is different from them like the tenth boy who got identified as it were with the other nine.
(After swimming across a river, one of ten boys counted their number and found that they were
only nine. The reason was that he did not count himself. He got, as it were, identified with the
other nine, and could not find he was the tenth. But he came to know that he was the tenth
when he was told so.)
‘An ignorant person mistakes the intellect with the reflection of pure consciousness in it for
the Self, when there is the reflection of the Self in the intellect like that of a face in a mirror.
‘He looks upon the ego, the indiscrimination that produces delusion and other mental
modifications (or the reflection of the Self in them) as having no connection with the Self, is,
without doubt, the dearest to the knowers of Brahman. No one else is so.
‘It is the knower174 of knowledge that is referred to by the word “Thou” in the śruti.175 The
understanding of “Thou” in this sense is correct. The other (i.e., the Self with the intellect, etc.,
superimposed on It) sense different from it is due to superimposition. How can there be
knowledge or ignorance in Me, I who am eternal and always of the nature of pure
consciousness? No knowledge (a mental modification with the reflection of consciousness in it),
therefore, other than the Self (pure knowledge) can be accepted.
‘Just as the heat of the sun (in a part of the body) together with that part of the body is the
object of the knower, so, pain and pleasure together with the intellect in which they lie are the
objects of the Self.
‘I am Brahman without attributes, ever pure, ever free, non-dual, homogenous like the ether,
and of the nature of consciousness from which the object portion has been negated (on the
authority of the śruti, “Not this, not this”).
‘I am always the free supreme knower in all beings inasmuch as there cannot be a more
comprehensive knower different from Me.
‘He who knows that the consciousness of the Self never ceases to exist, and that It is never an
agent, and also gives up the egoism that he is a knower of Brahman, is a (real) knower of the
Self. Others are not so.
‘Capable by no means of being known, I am the knower, and am always free and pure as the
discriminating knowledge which is in the intellect and is liable to be destroyed on account of its
being an object of knowledge (the modification of the mind, “I am Brahman”).
‘The consciousness of the Self, on the other hand, never goes out of existence and is not
capable of being produced by the action of agents, etc. inasmuch as producibility is
superimposed on It by another consciousness (phenomenal consciousness) which is Its object
and is different from It …
‘Just as the ether is in the interior of all, so am I in the interior of even the ether. Therefore, I
am without any change, without any motion, pure, devoid of old age, ever free and without a
second.’176
(9.4) ‘The individual soul, though intrinsically none other than Brahman, still identifies itself
with, and becomes attached to, the sheaths made of food, etc. which are external, limited, and
composed of the subtle elements; and, as (in the story) a man, whose mind is engrossed in
counting of others, misses counting himself, though that personality is the nearest to him and
supplies the missing number, just so, the individual soul, under a spell of ignorance, that is
characterised by the non-perception of one’s own nature as Brahman, accepts the non-Selves,
such as the body composed of food, as the Self, and as a consequence, begins to think, “I am
none other than those non-Selves composed of food, etc.” In this very way, Brahman, that is the
Self, can become the non-Self through ignorance. Just as through ignorance, there is a non-
discovery (in the story) of the individual himself who makes up the requisite number, and just
as there is the discovery of the self same person through knowledge when he is reminded of that
personage by someone, similarly is the case of one, to whom Brahman remains unattained
owing to his ignorance, there may be a discovery of that very Brahman by realising that
omnipresent Brahman to be none other than one’s own Self—a realisation that comes through
enlightenment consequent on the instruction of the scriptures.’177
(9.5) ‘Not so, for the śruti uses the words, “knowledge” and “attainment”, as synonymous. The
non-attainment of the Self is but the ignorance of It. Hence, the knowledge of the Self is Its
attainment. The attainment of the Self cannot be, as in the case of things other than It, the
obtaining of something not obtained before, for here, there is no difference between the person
attaining and the object attained. Where the Self has to attain something other than Itself, the
Self is the attainer and the non-Self is the object attained. This, not being already attained, is
separated by acts such as producing, and is to be attained by the initiation of a particular
action with the help of particular auxiliaries. And that attainment of something new is
transitory, being due to desire and action that are themselves the product of a false notion, like
the birth of a son, etc., in a dream. But this Self is the very opposite of that. By the very fact of
Its being the Self, It is not separated by acts such as producing. But, although It is always
attained, It is separated by ignorance only. Just as when mother-of-pearl appears through
mistake as a piece of silver, the non-apprehension of the former, although it is being perceived
all the while, is merely due to the obstruction of the false impression, and its (subsequent)
apprehension is but knowledge, for this is what removes the obstruction of false impression,
similarly, here also, the non-attainment of the Self is merely due to the obstruction of
ignorance. Therefore, the attainment of It is simply the removal of that obstruction by
knowledge; in no other sense it is consistent.’178
(9.6) ‘Since Brahman, as the Ear, etc., of the ear, etc., is the Self of those organs, therefore,
there to that Brahman the eye does not go; for it is not possible to go to oneself. Similarly,
speech does not go. When a word, as expressed by the organ of speech, reveals its own idea,
speech is said to go to its object. But Brahman is the Self of that word, as also of the organ that
utters it; therefore, speech does not go. Just as fire, which burns and illumines, does not burn or
illumine itself, similarly is this so; nor the mind. Though the mind thinks and determines other
things, it does not think or determine itself; for, of it, too, Brahman is the Self. A thing is
cognised only by the mind and the senses. As Brahman is not an object of perception to these,
therefore, we do not know, “That Brahman is of this kind”. Hence, we are not aware of the
process by which this Brahman should be taught, instructed to a disciple—this is the
significance. For, a thing that is perceived by the senses can be taught to another through
categories denoting class, quality, and action. Brahman is not possessed of these categories,
viz., class, etc.; hence, it is very difficult to convince the disciples about It through instruction.
In this way, the Upaniṣad shows the necessity of putting forth great effort in the matter of
imparting instruction and comprehending its meaning.
‘The contingency of the total denial of any process of instruction having arisen from the text,
“We do not know Brahman, and hence we are not aware of any process of instructing about It,”
and exception to this is being stated in the next verse. True it is that one cannot impart
knowledge about the highest with the help of such means of valid knowledge as the evidence of
the senses; but the knowledge can be produced with the help of traditional authority. Therefore,
traditional authority (āgama) is being quoted for the sake of imparting instruction about It:
‘“That (Brahman) is surely different from the known; and again, It is above the unknown”
such was (the utterance) we heard of the ancient (teachers) who explained It to us.179 Different
indeed is that which is the topic under discussion and which has been spoken of as the Ear, etc.,
of the ear, etc., and as beyond their reach. It is, indeed, different from the known. The known is
that which is very much within the grasp of the act of knowing, that which is the object of the
verb, “to know”. Inasmuch as everything is known somewhere by somebody, all that is
manifested is certainly known. The idea is that, It (Brahman) is different from that. Lest, in that
case, It should be unknown, the text says again, from the unknown, from what is opposed to
the known, from that which consists of the unmanifested ignorance, which is the seed of the
manifested. The word used in the sense of “above”, means “different” by a figure of speech; for
it is well known that anything that exists above another is different from that other. Whatever
is known is limited, mortal, and full of misery; and hence it is to be rejected. So, when it is said
that Brahman is different from the known it amounts to asserting that It is not to be rejected.
Similarly, when it is affirmed that It is different from the unknown, it amounts to saying that It
is not a thing to be obtained. It is for the sake of getting an effect that somebody acquires
something different from himself to serve as a cause. For this reason, too, nothing different
from the Self need be acquired to serve any purpose distinct from the knower (Self)…
‘In this way, the text, “Thus we heard”, etc., states how, through a succession of preceptors
and disciples, was derived the purport of the sentence which establishes as Brahman that Self of
all which is devoid of distinguishing features, and is the light of pure consciousness. Moreover,
Brahman can be known only through such a traditional instruction of preceptors and not
through argumentation, nor by study (or exposition), intelligence, great learning, austerity,
sacrifices, etc.—such (was what) we heard of the ancient teachers who explained that Brahman
to us.’180
(9.7) ‘The reason is being adduced for establishing namelessness, etc., in the previous verse.
The word, derived in the sense of that by which utterance is made, means the organ of speech
expressing all kinds of words. That which is devoid of that is devoid of the organ of speech.
Speech is here used suggestively. So, the meaning implied is that It is free of all organs.
Similarly, the word derived in the sense of that by which things are thought of, means the
intellect; from that risen above; that is to say, devoid of the internal organ; for the Vedic text
declares, “Since It is without prāṇa, without mind, pure, and superior to the high immutable.”181
Being devoid of all objects, It is absolutely tranquil, everlasting light, by virtue of being by
nature the consciousness that is the Self; divine absorption, being realisable through the insight
arising out of the deepest concentration. Or, It is called samādhi because It is the object of
concentration; immutable and fearless, since there is no mutation. Since Brahman Itself has
been described as divine absorption, immutable, and fearless, therefore, there, in that Brahman,
there exists no acceptance, no rejection; for acceptance or rejection is possible where mutability
of the possibility of it exists. These two are incompatible here with Brahman, for nothing else
exists in It to cause a change, and Brahman Itself is without parts. Therefore, there is no
acceptance or rejection. This is the idea. Where thought does not exist … how can there be
acceptance and rejection where no mentation is possible in the absence of the mind? This is the
idea. As soon as there comes the realisation of the Truth that is the Self, then, in the absence of
any object (to be known) knowledge becomes established in the Self, like the heat of fire in fire.
It is then birthless, poised in equality.’182
4

Jagat (World)
Jagat Mithyā

INTRODUCTION

The Absolute Reality is described as the cause of creation in the scriptures1 when an attempt is
made to understand the nature of the Reality. Causality is the objective approach to reveal the
nature of Brahman through Its accidental attributes (taṭastha lakṣaṇa). Besides fulfilling this
purpose, such an approach also shows that the universe is only an appearance and, therefore,
illusory (mithyā), thereby reiterating the fundamental doctrine of the philosophy of Advaita,
that the Absolute is non-dual. When the Reality is non-dual, the plurality that is experienced as
a fact of the phenomenal world has to be transcended ultimately in the process of knowing the
nature of Brahman, but it is also necessary to present a coherent framework for explaining the
existence of the universe—its creation, its sustenance, its dissolution—within the larger
perspective of Advaita as the whole exercise of philosophical investigation functions at the
empirical level.
Śaṅkara’s description of the world (jagat) is incidental to his delineation of Brahman as the
cause of creation because the Reality, being non-dual, serves to explain the phenomena of the
empirical world of human experience. It is on the authority of the scriptures that he shows that
Brahman is both the material and the efficient cause of the world. As Nirguṇa-Brahman is non-
dual, it is Saguṇa-Brahman (Īśvara) who, with His power of māyā, brings forth this creation, and
controls and rules it as the Lord of all. Just as māyā is said to be beginningless, so also is this
creation eternal. In the context of creation, māyā is known as prakṛti (avyākṛta), which is
composed of the three guṇas (sattva, rajas, tamas), and they become the material basis for the
world. In this manner, the nature of Brahman remains intact and, through His power of māyā,
brings forth this phenomenal world and rules it as the Lord within.
The theory of causation that he advocates is known as satkāryavāda, which states that the
effect exists in the cause even prior to creation. So, creation is not anything new but just a
manifestation of that which exists in the cause in latent form. Śaṅkara extends this theory to
state that creation is but a manifestation of name and form only—Being transforming into
Becoming; the One becoming the many; the indeterminate Brahman becoming the determinate
in association with māyā. The objective of describing causation from the standpoint of Advaita
according to Śaṅkara is to thus reinforce the unreality of the world ultimately so that the
inquiring mind is able to transcend the duality of the world. This is the acosmic approach
wherein the whole creation is shown to be a superimposition on Brahman. The other technique
that Śaṅkara adopts on the lines of the Upaniṣad is the subjective approach wherein the three
states of human consciousness—waking, dream, sleep—are analysed to show the unreality of
the empirical world from the absolute standpoint by comparing it to the dream and the waking
states, respectively. Just as the dream state is unreal on waking up, so also the phenomenal
world of diversity is unreal from the absolute standpoint.
Philosophical categorization becomes problematic when relating the transcendental Absolute
with the empirical world. It is to overcome the inadequacy, and also the limitations of the
pramāṇas of perception and inference in explaining the causal relationship between Brahman
and the universe, that Śaṅkara discusses Brahman as the cause of the universe on the authority
of śruti.2 When scriptures teach the existence of Brahman as the cause of the universe, do they
imply that Brahman is actively involved in the process of creation, or that It is just the
substratum on which all these phenomena take place through the agency of māyā? Śaṅkara
holds that, from the standpoint of the Absolute, there is no plurality, and hence, a creator and a
universe become redundant. But from the empirical standpoint, duality is an experienced fact,
and so all this can be explained only as the work of māyā. In that case, is it not preposterous to
state that māyā alone is responsible for the world process without the control of the conscious
principle, Brahman? It is to set this doubt at rest that the Upaniṣad also speaks of the conscious
Absolute as the omnipotent and omniscient Lord (Īśa) who is the controller and the inner ruler.3
The Absolute brings about the illusion of the phenomenal world through His wonderful power
of māyā. So, it is not possible to establish Brahman as the cause of the world through reasoning,
and Śaṅkara upholds śruti on this matter.
Brahman is both the material and the efficient cause of the universe. The conscious Absolute
as the efficient cause is understandable, but how can Brahman be the source of materiality of
the world for, in our experience, the cause should have the same nature as the effect, as in the
case of the clay (cause) and pot (effect)? The Upaniṣad declaration that the Absolute is non-
dual—‘One only without a second’—rules out a second principle that can function as the
material cause. Here again, it is śruti that provides the answer, according to Śaṅkara. It is
Saguṇa-Brahman (Īśvara), who is responsible for creation, and thus the materiality of the
universe is derived from the Lord’s power of māyā, which comprises three guṇas: sattva, rajas,
tamas. So, māyā is the material cause of the world, and Brahman’s non-duality is not
compromised in any manner. Like a magician, Īśvara brings forth the world like an illusion
with His power of māyā, and keeps the world process under His control.
The multiplicity of name and form that makes up the world of individuals (sentient) and
objects (insentient) is the work of māyā. The reality of the empirical order is acknowledged at
the level of diversity and hence, the seeming gap between the nature of cause and effect—
between Brahman and the world—is resolved. All phenomena are thus only appearances due to
name and form. The world of name and form, which is created by the power of māyā, which is
an adjunct of Īśvara, does not in any way affect the non-dual nature of Saguṇa-Brahman, just
as a magician is unaffected by the illusion he creates.4 The twofold causality of Brahman, along
with māyā, becoming the material cause of the universe, is known as vivarta, as the change is
only apparent, as in the example of mistaking a rope for a snake, an appearance, and not
intrinsically real as in the case of clay becoming a pot. As the world is a creation of māyā, it
derives its nature from it and hence it is only an appearance (mithyā); it does not have the same
ontological status as Brahman, which alone is real. The world exists in name and form only,
and its reality is empirical (vyāvahārika) from the standpoint of Brahman, which is
transcendental (pāramārthika). An inquiry into causation, therefore, is the preliminary method
for discovering the non-dual nature of the Absolute Reality according to Śaṅkara, because it is
easy to begin at the empirical level with which everyone is familiar, and in the process, the
nature of the empirical world is proved to be unreal. To paraphrase Śaṅkara: ‘By that element
of plurality which is the fiction of nescience, which is characterized by name and form; which is
evolved as well as non-evolved; which is not to be defined either as the existing or the non-
existing, Brahman becomes the basis of this entire apparent world with its changes, and so on,
while in its true and real nature, It, at the same time, remains unchanged, lifted above the
phenomenal universe.’5
The selected passages in this section are arranged under the following topics.

(5.1) BRAHMAN, THE CAUSE OF THE WORLD

Śaṅkara describes Brahman as the creator, controller and the Lord of the universe on the
authority of the scriptural texts. His commentary on these texts shows that Brahman is both the
efficient and the material cause of the plurality of insentient and sentient beings. The Absolute
being non-dual, it is Īśvara (Saguṇa-Brahman) who, as the Lord (Hiraṇyagarbha), controls the
universe and is the inner ruler of all. It is through His power of māyā that the world process
proceeds, and hence, even though Brahman is the basis of this apparent world of diversity and
changes, Its true nature remains unchanged always. The ruler within, who is responsible for all
these diverse functions, and for maintaining the rhythm and the moral order in creation, is
identified as Īśvara by Śaṅkara. This creation is said to be eternal (anādi), just as māyā—the
power of the Lord which brings about these phenomena—is said to be beginningless. Māyā,
known as prakṛti (avyākṛta) in the context of creation, is composed of the three guṇas—sattva,
rajas and tamas—and the Lord, with His power of māyā, brings forth this phenomenal world.
Śaṅkara shows that all the aspects of creation relating to Brahman as the cause is from the
standpoint of avidyā, since ultimately, the empirical world is only a superimposition due to
māyā, and Brahman alone is the underlying Reality unaffected by all these phenomena.

(Selected passages)
(1.1) ‘Thus the Lord depends (as Lord) upon the limiting adjuncts of name and form, the
products of nescience; just as the universal ether depends (as limited ether, such as the ether of
a jar, &c.) upon the limiting adjuncts in the shape of jars, pots, &c. He (the Lord) stands in the
realm of the phenomenal in the relation of a ruler to the so-called jīvas (individual souls) or
cognitional selves (vijñānātman) which, indeed, are one with his own Self just as the portions of
ether enclosed in jars and the like are one with the universal ether—but are limited by
aggregates of instruments of action (bodies) produced from name and form, the presentation of
nescience. Hence, the Lord being a Lord, His omniscience, His omnipotence, &c. all depend on
the limitation due to the adjuncts whose self is nescience; while in reality, none of these
qualities belong to the Self whose true nature is cleared by right knowledge, from all adjuncts
whatever … In this manner the Vedānta texts declare that, for him who has reached the state of
truth and reality, the whole apparent world does not exist … That, on the other hand, all these
distinctions are valid, as far as the phenomenal world is concerned, scripture, as well as the
Bhagavad-gītā, states.6
‘The sūtrakāra also asserts the non-difference of cause and effect only with regard to the state
of Reality; while he had, in the preceding sūtra7, where he looked to the phenomenal world,
compared Brahman to the ocean, &c., that comparison resting on the assumption of the world
of effects not yet having been refuted (seen to be unreal). The view of Brahman as undergoing
modifications will, moreover, be of use in the devout meditation on the qualified (saguṇa)
Brahman.’ 8
(1.2) ‘In the chapter treating of the Being (sat), subsequently to the account of the creation of
fire, water, and food (earth), the following statement is made, “The divinity thought, let me
now enter those three beings with this living Self (jīva), and let me then evolve names and
forms; let me make each of these three tripartite.”9 Here, the doubt arises whether the agent in
that evolution of names and forms is the jīva (the living, the individual Self, the soul) or the
highest Lord. The pūrvapakṣin maintains the former alternative, on account of the qualification
contained in the words, “with this living Self.” The use of ordinary language does, in such
phrases as, “Having entered the army of the enemy by means of a spy, I count it,” attribute the
counting of the army in which the spy is the real agent to the self of the king who is the causal
agent; which attribution is effected by means of the use of the first person, “I count.” So here,
the sacred text attributes the evolving names and form—in which the jīva is the real agent—to
the Self of the divinity which is the causal agent; the attribution being effected by means of the
use of the first person, “let me evolve”. Moreover, we see in the case of names such as Dittha,
Davittha, &c., and in the case of forms such as jars, dishes and the like, that the individual soul
only is the evolving agent. Hence, the evolution of names and forms is the work of the jīva.
‘To this, the sūtra replies: “But the fashioning of names and forms belongs to Him who
renders tripartite.” The particle “but” discards the pūrvapaksa. Fashioning means evolving. The
term, “He who renders tripartite”, denotes the highest Lord, His agency being designated as
beyond contradiction in the case of the rendering tripartite (of fire, &c.). The entire evolution
of names and forms, which is seen, e.g., in fire, sun, moon, lightning, or in different plants such
as kuśa grass, kasa grass, palasa trees, or in various living beings such as cattle, deer, men, all
this manifold evolution according to species and individuals can surely be the work of the
highest Lord only, who fashioned fire, water, and earth. Why? On account of the teaching of
the sacred text. For, the text says at first “that divinity”, &c., and then goes on in the first
person, “let me evolve”; which implies the statement that the highest Brahman only is the
evolving agent. But we ascertain from the qualification contained in the words, “with this living
Self”, that the agent in the evolution is the living Self!—No, we reply. The words, “with this
living Self”, are connected with the words, “having entered”, in the proximity to which they
stand; not with the clause, “let me evolve”. If they were connected with the former words, we
should have to assume that the first person, which refers to the divinity, “let me evolve”, is used
in a metaphorical sense. And with regard to all the manifold names and forms such as
mountains, rivers, oceans, &c., no soul, apart from the Lord, possesses the power of evolution;
and if any have such power, it is dependent on the highest Lord. Nor is the so-called “living
Self” absolutely different from the highest Lord, as the spy is from the king; as we see from its
being qualified as the living Self, and as its being the jīva (an individual soul apparently
differing from the universal Self) is due to the limiting adjuncts only. Hence, the evolution of
names and forms which is effected by it is in reality effected by the highest Lord. And that the
highest Lord is He who evolves the names and forms is a principle acknowledged by all the
Upaniṣads …’10
(1.3) ‘Brahman has been defined as that from which there proceed the origination,
sustentation, and retraction of this world. Now, as this definition comprises alike the relation of
substantial causality in which clay and gold, for instance, stand to golden ornaments and
earthern pots, and the relation of operative causality in which the potter and the goldsmith
stand to the things mentioned, a doubt arises as to which of these two kinds the causality of
Brahman belongs.
‘The pūrvapakṣin maintains that Brahman evidently is the operative cause of the world only
because scripture declares His creative energy to be preceded by reflection. Compare, for
instance11: “He reflected, He created prāṇa”. For, observation shows that the action of operative
causes only, such as potters and the like, is preceded by reflection, and moreover, that the result
of some activity is brought about by the concurrence of several factors. It is therefore
appropriate that we should view the prime creator in the same light. The circumstance of His
being known as the “the Lord” furnishes another argument. For lords such as kings and the son
of Vivasvāt are known only as operative causes, and the highest Lord also must on that account
be viewed as an operative cause only.— Further, the effect of the creator’s activity, namely this
world, is seen to consist of parts, to be non-intelligent and impure; we, therefore, must assume
that its cause also is of the same nature; for it is a matter of general observation that cause and
effect are alike in kind. But that Brahman does not resemble the world in nature, we know from
many scriptural passages, such as, “It is without parts, without actions, tranquil, without fault,
without taint.”12 Hence, there remains no other alternative but to admit that, in addition to
Brahman, there exists a material cause of the world of impure nature, such as is known from
smṛti (Sāṇkhya smṛti), and to limit the causality of Brahman, as declared by scripture, to
operative causality.
‘To this, we make the following reply.—Brahman is to be acknowledged as the material cause
as well as the operative cause, because this latter view does not conflict with the promissory
statement and the illustrative instances. The promissory statement chiefly meant is the
following one: “Have you ever asked for that instruction by which that which is not heard
becomes heard; that which is not perceived, perceived; that which is not known, known?”13 This
passage intimates that, through the cognition of one thing, everything else, even if (previously)
unknown, becomes known. Now, the knowledge of everything is possible through the cognition
of the material cause since the effect is non-different from the material cause. On the other
hand, effects are not non-different from their operative causes; for we know from ordinary
experience that the carpenter, for instance, is different from the house he has built. This
illustrative example referred to is the one mentioned: “My dear, as, by one clod of clay, all that
is made of clay is known, the modification (the effect) being a name merely which has its origin
in speech, while the truth is that it is clay merely”;14 which passage again has reference to the
material cause … That Brahman is at the same time the operative cause of the world, we have
to conclude from the circumstance that there is no other guiding being. Ordinarily, material
causes, indeed, such as lumps of clay and pieces of gold, are dependent, in order to shape
themselves into vessels and ornaments, on extraneous operative causes such as potters and
goldsmiths; but outside Brahman as material cause, there is no other operative cause to which
the material cause could look; for scripture says that, previously to creation, “Brahman was one
without a second”… The Self is thus the operative cause, because there is no other ruling
principle; and the material cause because there is no other substance from which the world
could originate.
‘The fact of the sacred texts declaring that the Self reflected likewise shows that it is the
operative as well as the material cause. Passages like, “He wished, may I be many, may I grow
forth,” and “He thought, may I be many, may I grow forth,” show, in the first place, that the
Self is the agent in the independent activity which is preceded by the Self’s reflection; and, in
the second place, that it is the material cause also, since the words, “May I be many”, intimate
that the reflective desire of multiplying itself has the inward Self for its object.
‘This sūtra15 supplies a further argument for Brahman being the general material cause.—
Brahman is the material cause of the world for that reason also that the origination as well as
the dissolution of the world is directly spoken of in the sacred texts as having Brahman for their
material cause, “All these beings take their rise from the ether and return into the ether.”16 That
from which some other thing springs and into which it returns is the material cause of that
other thing is well known. Thus the earth, for instance, is the material cause of rice, barley, and
the like. The word “directly” (in the sūtra) notifies that there is no other material cause, but that
all this sprang from the ether only.—Observation further teaches that effects are not re-
absorbed into anything else but their material causes.
‘Brahman is the material cause for that reason also that the scripture—in the passage, “That
made itself its Self”17—represents the Self as the object of action as well as the agent. But how
can the Self which, as agent, was in full existence previously to the action, be made out to be,
at the same time, that which is effected by the action? Owing to modification, we reply. The
Self, although in full existence previously to the action, modifies itself into something special—
the Self of the effect. Thus we see that causal substances, such as clay and the like, are, by
undergoing the process of modification, changed into their products. The word “itself” in the
passage quoted intimates the absence of any other operative cause but the Self.
‘The word “pariṇāmat” (in the sūtra) may also be taken as constituting a separate sūtra by
itself, the sense of which would be: Brahman is the material cause of the world for that reason
also, that the sacred text speaks of Brahman and its modifications into the Self of its effect as
coordinated, as in the passage, “It became sat and tyāt, defined and undefined”.18 Brahman is
the material cause for that reason also that it is spoken of in the sacred texts as the source
(yoni); compare, for instance, “The maker, the Lord, the person who has His source in the
Brahman”19.’20
(1.4) ‘That the entire Brahman undergoes change, by no means follows from our doctrine,
“on account of sacred texts.” For, in the same way as scripture speaks of the origin of the world
from Brahman, it also speaks of Brahman subsisting apart from its effects. This appears from
the passages indicating the difference of cause and effect: “(That divinity thought) let me enter
into these three divinities with this living Self and evolve names and forms”; and, “Such is the
greatness of it, greater than it is the Person; one foot of Him are all things, three feet are what
is immortal in heaven”;21 further, from the passages declaring the unmodified Brahman to have
its abode in the heart, and from those teaching that (in dreamless sleep) the individual soul is
united with the True. For, if the entire Brahman had passed into its effects, the limitation (of
the soul’s union with Brahman) to the state of dreamless sleep which is declared in the passage,
“then it is united with the True, my dear,” would be out of place; since the individual soul is
always united with the effects of Brahman, and since an unmodified Brahman does not exist (on
that hypothesis). Moreover, the possibility of Brahman becoming the object of perception by
means of the senses is denied while its effects may thus be perceived. For these reasons, the
existence of an unmodified Brahman has to be admitted. Nor do we violate those texts which
declare Brahman to be without parts; we rather admit Brahman, to be without parts just
because scripture reveals it. For Brahman, which rests exclusively on the holy texts and
regarding which the holy texts alone are authoritative—not the senses, and so on—must be
accepted such as the texts proclaim it to be. Now these texts declare, on the one hand, that not
the entire Brahman passes over into effects, and on the other hand, that Brahman is without
parts. Even certain ordinary things such as gems, spells, herbs, and the like, possess powers
which, owing to difference of time, place, occasion, and so on, produce various opposite effects,
and nobody unaided by instruction is able to find out by mere reflection the number of these
powers, their favouring conditions, their objects, their purposes, &c.; how much more
impossible is it to conceive, without the aid of scripture, the true nature of Brahman with its
powers unfathomable by thought! As the purāṇa says: “Do not apply reasoning to what is
unthinkable! The mark of the unthinkable is that it is above all material causes.” Therefore, the
cognition of what is super-sensuous is based on the holy texts only.
‘But—our opponent will say—even the holy texts cannot make us understand what is
contradictory. Brahman, you say, which is without parts, undergoes a change, but not the entire
Brahman. If Brahman is without parts, It does either not change at all or It changes in Its
entirety. If, on the other hand, it be said that It changes partly and persists partly, a break is
effected in Its nature, and from that It follows that It consists of parts. It is true that, in matters
connected with action (as, for instance, in the case of the two Vedic injunctions, “at the atirātra
he is to take the shodasin cup”, and “at the atirātra he is not to take the shodasin cup”, any
contradiction which may present itself to the understanding is removed by the optional
adoption of one of the two alternatives presented as action is dependent on man; but in the
case under discussion, the adoption of one of the alternatives does not remove the
contradiction, because an existent thing (like Brahman) does not (like an action which is to be
accomplished) depend on man. We are therefore met here by a real difficulty.
‘No, we reply, the difficulty is merely an apparent one; as we maintain that the (alleged)
break in Brahman’s nature is a mere figment of nescience. By a break of that nature, a thing is
not really broken up into parts, not any more than the moon is really multiplied by appearing
double to a person of defective vision. By that element of plurality which is the fiction of
nescience; which is characterised by name and form; which is evolved as well as non-evolved;
which is not to be defined either as the existing or the non-existing, Brahman becomes the basis
of this apparent world with its changes, and so on, while, in Its true and real nature, It, at the
same time, remains unchanged, lifted above the phenomenal universe. And as the distinction of
names and forms—the fiction of nescience—originates entirely from speech only, it does not
militate against the fact of Brahman being without parts. Nor have the scriptural passages,
which speak of Brahman as undergoing change, the purpose of teaching the fact of change; for
such instruction would have no fruit. They rather aim at imparting instruction about Brahman’s
Self as raised above this apparent world; that being an instruction, which we know to have a
result of its own. For, in the scriptural passage beginning, “He can only be described by ‘No,
no’” (which passage conveys instruction about the Absolute Brahman) a result is stated at the
end, in the words, “O Janaka, you have indeed reached fearlessness.”22 Hence, our view does
not involve any difficulties.’23
(1.5) ‘As a mere viewer on every side and the immutable witness, My māyā, the avidyā
composed of the three guṇas, produces th1e universe comprising the moving and unmoving
objects … Because I am the witness, because I preside, this universe comprising the moving and
the unmoving objects, the manifested and the unmanifested, moves on through all stages.
Indeed, all activity in the world—such as “I shall enjoy this,” “I see this,” “I hear this,” “I feel
pleasure,” “I feel pain,” “To gain this I shall do it,” “I shall learn this” arises by way of forming
an object of consciousness; it has its being in consciousness and has its end in consciousness.
Such chants as, “Who in the supreme heaven (of the heart) is the witness of this,”24 point only
to this view. Accordingly as there is no conscious entity other than the One Divine Being, there
cannot be a separate enjoyer; and it is therefore irrelevant to ask or to answer the question, “Of
what purpose is this creation by the One, the Divine, the pure all-witnessing Spirit or
Consciousness, having really no concerns with any enjoyment whatever?” So says the śruti:
“Who could perceive (It) directly, and who could declare whence born and why this variegated
creation?”25.’26
(1.6) ‘In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 27 we read, “He who within rules this world and the
other world and all beings,” and later on, “He who dwells in the earth and within the earth,
whom the earth does not know, whose body the earth is, who rules the earth within, he is thy
Self, the ruler within, the immortal,” &c. The entire chapter (to sum up its contents) speaks of a
being, called the antaryāmin (the internal ruler), who, dwelling within, rules with reference to
the gods, the world, the Veda, the sacrifice, the beings, the Self. Here now, owing to the
unusualness of the term (antaryāmin), there arises a doubt whether it denotes the Self of some
deity which presides over the gods and so on, or some yogin who has acquired extraordinary
powers, such as, for instance, the capability of making his body subtle, or the highest Self, or
some other being. What alternative then does recommend itself?
‘As the term is an unknown one, the pūrvapakṣin says, we must assume that the being denoted
by it is also an unknown one, different from all those mentioned above. Or else, it may be said
that, on the one hand, we have no right to assume something of an altogether indefinite
character, and that, on the other hand, the term antaryāmin which is derived from antaryāmaṇa
(ruling within)cannot be altogether unknown; that, therefore, antaryāmin may be assumed to
denote some god presiding over the earth, and so on. Similarly, we read, “He whose dwelling is
the earth, whose sight is fire, whose mind is light,”28 &c. A god of that kind is capable of ruling
the earth, and so on, dwelling within them, because he is endowed with the organs of action;
rulership is, therefore, rightly ascribed to him. Or else, the rulership spoken of may belong to
some yogin whom his extraordinary powers enable to enter within all things. The highest Self,
on the other hand, cannot be meant, as it does not possess the organs of action (which are
required for ruling).
‘To this, we make the following reply: the internal ruler, of whom scripture speaks with
reference to the gods, must be the highest Self, cannot be anything else. Why so? Because its
qualities are designated in the passage under discussion. The universal rulership implied in the
statement that, dwelling within, it rules the entire aggregate of created beings, inclusive of the
gods, and so on, is an appropriate attribute of the highest Self, since omnipotence depends on
(the omnipotent ruler) being the cause of all created things. The qualities of Selfhood and
immortality also, which are mentioned in the passage, “He is thy Self, the ruler within, the
immortal”, belong in their primary sense to the highest Self. Further, the passage, “He whom
the earth does not know”, which declares that the internal ruler is not known by the earth-
deity, shows Him to be different from that deity; for the deity of the earth knows itself to be the
earth. The attributes, “unseen”, “unheard”, also point to the highest Self, which is devoid of
shape and other sensible qualities. The objection that the highest Self is destitute of the organs
of action and hence, cannot be a ruler, is without force, because organs of action may be
ascribed to Him owing to the organs of action of those whom He rules.— If it should be objected
that [if we once admit an internal ruler in addition to the individual soul] we are driven to
assume again, another and another ruler ad infinitum, we reply that this is not the case, as
actually there is no other ruler (but the highest Self). The objection would be valid only in the
case of a difference of rulers actually existing. For all these reasons, the internal ruler is no
other but the highest Self.’29
(1.7) ‘The śruti, by attempting to negate various attributes of the Immutable, has indicated Its
existence. Yet, anticipating the popular misconceptions about It, it adduces an inferential
evidence in favour of Its existence: “Under the mighty rule of this Immutable”, the Brahman
that has been known to be within all, immediate and direct—the Self that is devoid of all
attributes such as hunger, “O Gārgi, the sun and moon”, which are like two lamps giving light
to all beings by day and night respectively, are held in their positions, as a kingdom remains
unbroken and orderly under the mighty rule of a king. They must have been created for the
purpose of giving light by a universal ruler who knows of what use they will be to all, for they
serve the common good of all beings by giving light, as we see in the case of an ordinary lamp.
Therefore, That exists which has made the sun and moon and compels them, though they are
powerful and independent, to rise and set, increase and decrease, according to fixed place, time
and causes. Thus, there exists their mighty Ruler, the Immutable, as the lamp has its maker and
regulator. “Under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gārgi, heaven and earth maintain their
positions,” although they are by nature subject to disruption because of having parts; inclined
to fall owing to their weight; liable to separate, being a compound; and are independent, each
being presided over by a conscious deity identifying itself with it. It is this Immutable which is
like a boundary wall that preserves the distinctions among things—keeps all things within their
limits; hence the sun and moon do not transgress the mighty rule of this Immutable. Therefore,
Its existence is proved. The unfailing sign of this is the fact that heaven and earth obey a fixed
order; this would be impossible were there not a conscious, transcendent Ruler. Witness the
mantra, “Who has made heaven powerful and the earth firm”.30
‘“Under the mighty rule of this Immutable, O Gārgi, moments, muhurtas”, all these divisions
of time, which count all things past, present and future that are subject to birth “are held in
their respective places”. As in life, an accountant appointed by his master carefully calculates
all items of income and expenditure, so are these divisions of time controlled by their master,
the Immutable …
‘Moreover, even learned “men praise those that give gold” even at a personal sacrifice. Now,
the conjunction and disjunction of gifts, their donors and their recipients are seen to take place
before our eyes in this very life. But the subsequent recombination (of the donor and the fruit of
his gift) is a matter we do not directly see. Still, people praise the charitable, for they observe
on other evidence that those that give are rewarded. This would be impossible were there no
ruler who, knowing the various results of action, brought about this union of the giver and the
reward, for the act of giving obviously perishes then and there. Therefore, there must be
someone who connects the givers with the results of their charity.
‘Objection: Cannot the extraordinary result of an action (apūrva) serve this purpose?
‘Reply: No, for there is nothing to prove its existence.
‘Objection: Does not the same objection apply to the ruler too?
‘Reply: No, for it is an established fact that the śrutis seek to posit His existence. We have
already31 said that the śrutis aim at delineating the Reality. Besides, the implication on which
the theory of the extraordinary result depends is out of place, for the fruition can be otherwise
accounted for. We observe that the reward of service is obtained from the person served; and as
service is an act, and sacrifices, gifts, offering oblations in the fire, and so on, are just as much
acts, it is fitting that the reward for their performance should come from those in whose honour
they are performed, namely God, and so forth. Since we can explain the obtaining of rewards
without sacrificing the directly observed inherent power of acts, it is improper to sacrifice that
power. Moreover, it involves a superfluity of assumptions. We must assume either God or the
extraordinary result. Now we observe that it is the very nature of an act of service that it is
rewarded by the person served, not by the extraordinary result; and no one has ever actually
experienced this result. So (in your view), we have to assume that the extraordinary result,
which nobody has ever observed, exists; that it has the power to confer rewards; and that,
having this power, it does in addition confer them. On our side, however, we have to assume
only the existence of the person served, God that is, but neither His power to confer rewards
nor His exercise of it, for we actually observe that the person served rewards the service. The
grounds for inferring His existence have already been shown in the text: “Heaven and earth
maintain their positions,” etc. (this text)…’32
(1.8) ‘In order to strengthen the tenet which we are at present defending, we follow the
procedure of him who shakes a pole planted in the ground (in order to test whether it is firmly
planted), and raise another objection against the doctrine of the Lord being the cause of the
world. The Lord, it is said, cannot be the cause of the world, because, on that hypothesis, the
reproach of inequality of dispensation and cruelty would attach to Him. Some beings, gods and
others, He renders eminently happy; others, as for instance, the animals, eminently unhappy;
to some again, as for instance, men, He allots an intermediate position. To a Lord bringing
about such an unequal condition of things, passion and malice would have to be ascribed, just
as to any common person acting similarly; which attributes would be contrary to the essential
goodness of the Lord affirmed by śruti and smṛti. Moreover, as the infliction of pain and the
final destruction of all creatures would form part of His dispensation, He would have to be
taxed with great cruelty, a quality abhorred by low people even. For these two reasons,
Brahman cannot be the cause of the world.
‘The Lord, we reply, cannot be reproached with inequality of dispensation and cruelty,
“because he is bound by regards.” If the Lord on his own account, without any extraneous
regards, produced this unequal creation, He would expose Himself to blame; but the fact is, that
in creating, He is bound by certain regards, He has to look to merit and demerit. Hence, the
circumstance of the creation being unequal is due to the merit and demerit of the living
creatures created, and it is not a fault for which the Lord is to blame. The position of the Lord is
to be looked on as analogous to that of Pārjanya, the giver of rain. For, as Pārjanya is the
common cause of the production of rice, barley, and other plants, while the difference between
the various species is due to the various potentialities lying hidden in the respective seeds, so
the Lord is the common cause of the creation of gods, men, etc., while the differences between
the classes of beings are due to the different merit belonging to the individual souls. Hence the
Lord, being bound by regards, cannot be reproached with inequality of dispensation and cruelty

‘But—an objection is raised—the passage, “Being only this was in the beginning, one, without
a second,” affirms that, before creation, there was no distinction and consequently no merit on
account of which creation might have become unequal. And if we assume the Lord to have been
guided in His dispensations by the actions of living beings subsequent to creation, we involve
ourselves in the circular reasoning that work depends on diversity of condition of life, and
diversity of condition again on work. The Lord may be considered as acting with regard to
religious merit after distinction had once arisen; but as, before that, the cause of inequality, that
is, merit, did not exist, it follows that the first creation must have been free from inequalities.
‘This objection we meet with the remark that the transmigratory world is without beginning.
The objection would be valid if the world had a beginning; but as it is without beginning, merit
and inequality are, like seed and sprout, caused as well as causes, and there is, therefore, no
logical objection to their operation. To the question, how we know that the world is without a
beginning, the next sūtra replies.
‘The beginninglessness of the world recommends itself to reason. For, if it had a beginning, it
would follow that, the world springing into existence without a cause, the released souls also
would again enter into the cycle of transmigratory existence; and further, as then, there would
exist no determining cause of the unequal dispensation of pleasure and pain, we should have to
acquiesce in the doctrine of rewards and punishments being allotted, without reference to
previous good or bad actions. That the Lord is not the cause of the inequality has already been
remarked. Nor can nescience by itself be the cause, as it is of a uniform nature. On the other
hand, nescience may be the cause of inequality, if it be considered as having regard to merit
accruing from action produced by the mental impressions of wrath, hatred, and other afflicting
passions. Without merit and demerit, nobody can enter into existence, and again, without a
body, merit and demerit cannot be formed; so that—on the doctrine of the world having a
beginning—we are led into a logical see-saw. The opposite doctrine, on the other hand,
explains all matters in a manner analogous to the case of the seed and sprout, so that no
difficulty remains … Moreover, the fact of the world being without a beginning is seen in śruti
and smṛti. In the first place, we have the scriptural passage, “Let me enter with this living Self
(jīva),” &c.33 Here, the circumstance of the embodied self (the individual soul) being called,
previously to creation, “the living Self”—a name applying to it in so far as it is the sustaining
principle of the prāṇas—shows that this phenomenal world is without a beginning… smṛti also
declares the world to be without a beginning, “Neither its form is known here, nor its end, nor
its beginning, nor its support.”34 And the purāṇa also declares that there is no measure of the
past and the future kalpas.’35
(1.9) ‘Prakṛti and puruṣa, matter and spirit, are the two prakṛtis of the Īśvara, the Lord. These
two, prakṛti and puruṣa—you should know—have no beginning. As the Īśvara is the eternal
Lord, it is but right that His prakṛtis also should be eternal. The lordship of the Īśvara consists,
indeed, in His possession of the two prakṛtis by which He causes the origin, preservation, and
dissolution of the universe. The two prakṛtis are beginningless, and they are, therefore, the cause
of samsāra.
‘Some construe the passage so as to mean that the two prakṛtis are not primeval. It is by such
an interpretation, they hold, that the causality of the Īśvara can be established. If, on the other
hand, prakṛti and puruṣa were eternal, it would follow that they are the cause of the universe,
and that the Īśvara is not the creator of the universe.
‘It is wrong to say so; for the Īśvara would then be no Īśvara, inasmuch as there would be
nothing for Him to rule over prior to the birth of prakṛti and puruṣa. Moreover, if samsāra had no
cause (other than Īśvara), there could be no cessation thereof: and thus the śāstra (the scripture)
would have no purpose to serve. Likewise, there could be neither bondage nor salvation.
‘If, on the other hand, the prakṛtis of the Īśvara be eternal, all this can be explained. How?
Know thou that all forms, all emanations (vikāras) from buddhi down to the physical body, and
all qualities (guṇas) such as those which manifest themselves as pleasure, pain, delusion and
other mental states to be described hereafter, spring from prakṛti, māyā, composed of the three
guṇas, that energy of the Īśvara which constitutes the cause of (all) emanations. Know thou that
they are all modifications of prakṛti.’36
‘My own prakṛti, the prakṛti which belongs to Me, the māyā made up of the three guṇas, the
material cause of all beings. This prakṛti is spoken of as great because it is greater than all
effects; and as the source and nourishing energy of all its modifications. It is termed Brahman.
In that Great Brahman, I place the germ, the seed of the birth of the Hiraṇyagarbha, the seed
which gives birth to all beings. I, who am possessed of the two potencies (śaktis), the two
prakṛtis of kṣetra and the kṣetrajña, unite the kṣetrajña with kṣetra, the kṣetrajña conforming
Himself to the upādhis of avidyā (nescience), kāma (desire), and karma (action). This act of
impregnation gives rise to the birth of all beings through the birth of the Hiraṇyagarbha.’37
(1.10) ‘Nature (prakṛti, pradhāna) is the equipoised state of the three guṇas or energies—sattva
(goodness), rajas (activity), tamas (darkness). It is by the guṇas or the modifications of nature,
manifesting themselves as the body and the senses, that all our actions, conducive to temporal
and spiritual ends, are done. The man whose mind (antaḥkaraṇa) is variously deluded by
ahamkāra, by egoism identifying the aggregate of the body and the senses with the Self, who
ascribes to himself all the attributes of the body and the senses and thus thoroughly identifies
himself with them—he, by nescience, sees actions in himself: as regards every actions, he
thinks, “I am the doer.”
‘But as regards the wise man:
‘He who is versed in the classification of the energies (guṇas) and their respective functions,
holds that the energies as sense organs move amid the energies as sense objects, but not the
Self. Thus holding, he forms no attachment (for actions).’38
‘The entities, souls and other things, which are born, are imagined to be born; the word “of
this kind” indicates the empirical outlook mentioned earlier;39 so the meaning is, “The entities,
that are of this kind, are born thus owing to (concealment through) the empirical outlook”; they
are not born in reality. And as for creation, through the covering of the empirical outlook of
those entities mentioned above, the birth is to be understood as occurring through māyā
(magic). So it is understood as similar to magic.
‘Objection: Then there is an entity called māyā.
‘Answer: Not so, and that māyā does not exist; the idea being that the term relates to
something non-existing.’40
(1.11) ‘People steeped in the thought (or theories) of creation consider that creation is an
exuberance (a demonstration of the superhuman power) of God. The idea implied is that, for
people who think of the supreme Reality, there is no interest in questions regarding creation
(which is illusory), as is declared in the Vedic text, “Indra (the Lord), on account of māyā, is
perceived as manifold”.41 For those who observe a magician throw up a rope into the sky,
ascend it with arms and vanish out of sight, and engage in a fight in which he is cut to pieces
and falls to rise up again, do not evince any interest in deliberating on the reality of the magic
and its effect conjured up by him. Similarly, analogous to the spreading out of the rope by the
magician, is this manifestation of deep sleep, dream and so on; comparable to the magician
throwing up the rope are the Prājña, Taijasa, and the rest in those states; and different from the
rope and the man who has climbed it up is the real magician. Just as that very magician stands
on the ground, invisible because of his magical cover, similar is the supreme Reality called
turīya. Therefore, the noble people, aspiring to liberation, evince interest in the contemplation
of that turīya alone, but not so in that of creation that serves no purpose. Hence, these theories
are advanced only by those who cogitate about creation. This fact is stated of the same nature
as dream and magic.’42
(1.12) ‘If creation had taken place in reality, the diverse things should have been reals and
there should not have been any text showing their unreality. But, as a matter of fact, there is
the text, “There is no diversity here whatsoever,”43 which purports to deny the existence of
duality. Therefore creation, that has been imagined as a help to the comprehension of non-
duality, is as unreal as the interlogue of prāṇa;44 for this creation is referred to by the word
māyā, indicative of unreal things, in the passage, “The Lord, on account of māyā (is perceived
as manifold).”45
‘Objection: The word māyā implies knowledge.
‘Answer: True. But even so, it is nothing damaging, since sense knowledge is accepted as a
kind of māyā, it being a product of ignorance. So this verse46 means “through different kinds of
sense knowledge,” which are but forms of ignorance, as is proved by the Vedic text, “Though
unborn, It appears to be born in diverse ways”.47 Therefore He, the Self, takes birth through
māyā alone, the word “alone” being used to add emphasis, and to imply “through māyā to be
sure”; for (otherwise) birthlessness and birth in various ways cannot be reconciled in the same
thing like heat and cold in fire. Besides, from the fact that the realisation of unity is a fruitful
thing as mentioned in the Vedic text, “What sorrow and what delusion can there be in one who
realises unity”, etc.,48 it follows that the unitive outlook is the definite conclusion of the
Upaniṣads, and this view is supported by the fact that in such texts as, “He goes from death to
death who sees multiplicity, as it were, in It”,49 the idea of heterogeneity, implied by creation,
etc., is condemned”.’ 50
(1.13) ‘This puruṣa in all creatures, from Brahma to a clump of grass, is hidden though He has
such activities as hearing, seeing, etc., yet He is covered by avidyā or māyā. Thus, since He is the
Self (of all), (He) does not appear as the Self of anyone. Alas, how unfathomable, inscrutable,
and variegated is this māyā, that every creature, though in reality identical with the supreme
Entity, and is instructed as such, does not grasp the fact, “I am the supreme Self”, while even
without being told, he accepts as his Self the non-selves, viz., the aggregate of body and senses
—under the idea, “I am the son of such a one”, though these (latter) are objects of perception
(and are hence not his selves) like pots! Verily, it is through the māyā of the Supreme Being that
every man moves, again and again (through birth and death). There is this smṛti on this point:
“I am not revealed to all, being veiled by my yoga-māyā” (the illusion born of the congress of
the guṇas).51’52
(1.14) ‘“Nārāyana is beyond the avyākṛta;
From the avyākṛta the mundane egg is born;
Within the mundane egg, verily, are these worlds
And the earth made up of the seven dvipas.” (purāṇa verse)

THE TWOFOLD VEDIC RELIGION


‘The Lord created the universe and, wishing to secure order therein, He first created the
prajāpatis (Lords of creatures) such as Marichi, and caused them to adopt the pravṛtti-dharma, the
religion of works. He then created others such as Sanaka and Sanandana, and caused them to
adopt the nivṛtti-dharma, the religion of renunciation, characterised by knowledge and
indifference to worldly objects. It is the twofold Vedic religion of works and renunciation that
maintains order in the universe. This religion which directly leads to liberation and worldly
prosperity has long been practised by all castes and religious orders (varṇāśrama)from the
Brāhmaṇas downwards, who sought welfare.

THE PURPOSE OF THE DIVINE INCARNATION


‘When, owing to the ascendancy of lust in its votaries, religion was overpowered by irreligion
caused by the vanishing faculty of discrimination, and irreligion was advancing—it was then
that the original Creator (Ādikarta), Viṣṇu, known as Nārāyaṇa, wishing to maintain order in
the universe, incarnated Himself as Krishna, begotten by Devaki by Vāsudeva, for the
preservation of the “earthly Brahman”53 (explained by Nilakantha to mean the Vedas, the
Brāhmaṇas, and yagñas or sacrifices), of spiritual life (Brāhmaṇatva) on the earth. For, it was by
the preservation of spiritual life that the Vedic religion could be preserved, since thereon
depend all distinctions of caste and religious order. The Lord, always possessed as He is of
(infinite) knowledge, supremacy, power, strength, might and vigour, controls the māyā—
belonging to Him as Viṣṇu—the mulaprakṛti, the first cause, composed of three guṇas or energies,
and He appears to the world at large; whereas, really, He is unborn and indestructible, is the
Lord of creatures, and is by nature eternal, pure, intelligent and free.
‘Without any interest of His own, but with the sole intention of helping His creatures, He
taught to Arjuna, who was deeply plunged in the ocean of grief and delusion, the twofold Vedic
religion, evidently thinking that the religion would spread widely when accepted and practised
by men of high character.
‘It is this religion, which was taught by the Lord, that the omniscient and adorable Veda
Vyāsa (the arranger of the Vedas) embodied in the seven hundred verses called Gītās.’54
‘Though I am unborn, though by nature my power of vision (jñāna śakti) is undecaying,
though I am by nature the Lord of all creatures from Brahma down to grass, yet ruling over My
nature prakṛti, the māyā of Viṣṇu, which is made up of the three energies of sattva, rajas and
tamas, to which this whole universe is subject, and by which, deluded, the whole world knows
not Vāsudeva, its own Self, I appear to be born and embodied, through my own māyā, but not
in reality, unlike others.’55

(2) CAUSATION

Śaṅkara advocates a theory of causation, which is known as satkāryavāda on the basis of the
Brahma-sūtra. This theory is originally traced to the Sāṇkhya system. As seen earlier, Śaṅkara is
clear that causation, which involves duality (the creator and the created), does not hold water
in the light of Advaita ultimately, but as in the case of his other philosophical concepts,
causation has to be logically explained at the empirical level. Śaṅkara thus explains the cause-
effect relationship on the basis of satkāryavāda, according to which, the effect already exists in
the cause in reality, and creation is not anything new, but manifesting what exists in latent
form in the cause. Śaṅkara goes beyond this to show that the mind has to transcend the level of
duality implicit in causality to the level of non-duality of the transempirical realm. So,
causation logically leads the inquiring mind back to Brahman.

(Selected passages)
(2.1) ‘For the following reason also, the effect is to be considered as non-different (from the
cause). That which is posterior in time, the effect, is declared by scripture to have, previous to
its actual beginning, its Being in the cause, by the Self of the cause merely. For, in passages
like, “In the beginning, my dear, this was that only which is”,56 and “Verily, in the beginning
this was Self, one only”,57 the effect denoted by the word “this” appears in grammatical
coordination with (the word denoting) the cause (from which it appears that both inhere in the
same substratum). A thing, on the other hand, which does not exist in another thing by the Self
of the latter, is not produced from that other; for instance, oil is not produced from sand.
Hence, as there is non-difference before the production, we understand that the effect, even
after having been produced, continues to be non-different from the cause. As the cause,
Brahman is in all time neither more nor less than that which is, so the effect also, the world, is
in all time only that which is. But, that which is one only; therefore, the effect is non-different
from the cause.’58
(2.2) ‘Objection: Even in the case of those who hold the view of existence, no example can be
cited to prove the birth of existence from existence, since it is not seen that some other pot
comes out of a pot.
‘Reply: It is true that one existence does not come out of another existence in this way. What
then? The same existence continues in a different configuration. As for instance, a snake forms
into a coil; and earth continues in different forms as dust, lump, pot-shreds, etc.
‘Objection: If it is existence itself that continues in all kinds of forms, then why is it said that
“this” was there before creation?
‘Reply: Has it not been heard by you that what is indicated by the word idam, this, has been
specified to mean Existence?
‘Objection: Then it stands established that, before creation, there was only non-existence, but
not the entity denoted by the word idam, this. “This” has been born now (after being created).
‘Reply: No, since it is existence itself that was there as the object denoted by the word and
idea, “This”. It is just like the continuance of earth itself as the object denoted by the words and
ideas, “lump”, “pot”, etc.
‘Objection: Are not a lump (of earth), a pot, etc., different things just as much as earth is?
Similarly, since the product (of existence) is an object of some idea other than the idea of
existence, therefore, the created product must be something different from existence, just as a
cow is different from a horse.
‘Reply: No, since although a lump, a pot, etc., are different from one another, they are not
different from earth. Even though a pot is different from a lump, and a lump is different from a
pot, still, the lump and the pot are not different from earth. Therefore, the lump and the pot are
nothing but earth. However, a cow is different from a horse, or a horse from a cow. Therefore,
pot, etc., are merely different configurations of earth, etc. Similarly, all these are but different
shapes of existence, and therefore, it is reasonable that before creation, existence alone was
there because, without exception, all shapes are dependent on speech alone.
‘Objection: Is it not that existence is partless according to the Upaniṣadic texts: “Partless,
actionless, tranquil, faultless, taintless”; 59 “The puruṣa is resplendent since He is formless,
coextensive with all that is external and internal, and birthless”,60 and others? How can it be
logical that existence which is partless has a changeful configuration?
‘Reply: There is no such fault because, as from the constituents of rope, etc., there can appear
shapes like snake, etc. Similarly, it is logical that, from the constituents of “sat”, existence,
imagined by the intellect, there can appear a changeful configuration. This is supported by the
Upaniṣadic text, “All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Earth as such
is the reality”;61 “Existence indeed is the reality”. Even when one has the idea of “this”, there is
in reality the One without a second.’62
(2.3) ‘For the following reason also, the effect is non-different from the cause, because, only
when the cause exists, the effect is observed to exist, not when it does not exist. For instance,
only when the clay exists, the jar is observed to exist, and the cloth, only when the threads
exist. That it is not a general rule that when one thing exists another is also observed to exist,
appears, for instance, from the fact that a horse, which is other (different) from a cow, is not
observed to exist only when a cow exists. Nor is the jar observed to exist only when the potter
exists; for in that case non-difference does not exist, although the relation between the two is
that of an operative cause and its effect.—But it may be objected—even in the case of things
other (non-identical), we find that the observation of one thing regularly depends on the
existence of another; smoke, for instance, is observed only when fire exists. We reply that this is
untrue, because sometimes smoke is observed even after the fire has been extinguished; as, for
instance, in the case of smoke being kept by herdsmen in jars.— Well, then—the objector will
say—let us add to smoke a certain qualification enabling us to say that smoke of such and such
a kind does not exist unless fire exists.— Even thus, we reply, your objection is not valid,
because we declare that the reason for assuming the non-difference of cause and effect is the
fact of the internal organ (buddhi) being affected (impressed) by cause and effect jointly. And
that does not take place in the case of fire and smoke.—Or else we have to read (in the sūtra)
“bhavat” and to translate, “and on account of the existence or observation.” The non-difference
of cause and effect results not only from scripture but also from the existence of perception. For
the non-difference of the two is perceived, for instance, in an aggregate of threads, where we
do not perceive a thing called “cloth”, in addition to the threads, but merely threads running
lengthways and crossways. So again, in the threads we perceive finer threads (the aggregate of
which is identical with the grosser threads); in them again, finer threads, and so on. On the
ground of this, our perception, we conclude that the finest parts which we can perceive are
ultimately identical with their causes—red, white, and black (the colours of fire, water, and
earth, according to63); those, again, with air; the latter with ether; and ether with Brahman,
which is one and without a second. That all means of proof lead back to Brahman (as the
ultimate cause of the world, not to pradhāna, &c.), we have already explained.’64
(3) MANIFESTATION OF NAME AND FORM

The next point that comes up in explaining causation is how creation comes into being. Śaṅkara
extends the satkāryavāda principle that the effect must exist in the cause, to state that creation
of the universe of plurality is but manifestation of name and form, which exist potentially in
the unmanifest state. So the plurality that is experienced in the world is nothing but
manifestation of name and form only. Figuratively, this can be said to be the Being coming into
Becoming, the One transforming into the many. Brahman, which is indeterminate, becomes
determinate in association with māyā (Īśvara). But māyā is not another real, and it cannot be
identical with Brahman also, because Brahman is pure consciousness. It cannot be both
identical and different from Brahman in order to associate with the Absolute because that would
be contradictory. So it is difficult to categorize māyā as real (sat) or unreal (asat), and its effect
is seen in the plurality and working of the universe. It comes to an end when knowledge of the
non-dual nature of the Reality becomes known. So, the relationship between Brahman and
māyā is metaphysically said to be indeterminable (anirvacanīya), and this is seen in the creation
that it brings forth; the world has empirical reality, but it is only an appearance from the
absolute standpoint. Names and forms that make up the world of diversity are unmanifest65 in
Iśvara’s power of māyā, and they manifest in the universe during creation. Śaṅkara in his
commentary on the Brahma-sūtra states: ‘… this developed world with its distinction of names
and forms, is capable of being termed undeveloped in so far as, in a former condition, it was in
a merely seminal or potential state, devoid of the later evolved distinctions of name and form
… For māyā is properly called undeveloped or non-manifested since it cannot be defined either
as that which is or that which is not’. 66 Metaphorically, creation can be described as the
manifestation of name and form (plurality) from the non-dual Reality, indeterminate name and
form becoming determinate.

(Selected passages)
(3.1) ‘The fundamental tenet which we maintain (in accordance with such scriptural passages
as, “From that Self sprang ether, &c.”,67 is that the creation, sustentation, and re-absorption of
the world proceed from an omniscient, omnipotent Lord, not from a non-intelligent pradhāna or
any other principle … Belonging to the Self, as it were, of the omniscient Lord, there are name
and form, the figments of nescience, not to be defined either as being (Brahman), nor as
different from it, the germs of the entire expanse of the phenomenal world, called in śruti and
smṛti, the illusion (māyā); power (śakti); or nature (prakṛti) of the omniscient Lord. Different
from them is the omniscient Lord himself …’68
(3.2) ‘The differentiation of forms invariably depends on the manifestation of their names.
Name and form are the limiting adjuncts of the Supreme Self, of which, when they are
differentiated, it is impossible to tell whether they are identical with or different from It, as is
the case with the foam of water. It is name and form in all their stages that constitute relative
existence. Hence, name has been compared to breath. By this statement, it is implied that form,
too, is like breath.’69
(3.3) ‘In the beginning, this was but the Absolute Self alone. There was nothing else
whatsoever that winked. He thought, “Let Me create the worlds.” The Absolute Self—the word
Self is derived in the sense of comprehending, engulfing or pervading, and by it, is signified one
that is the highest, omniscient, omnipotent, and transcendental to all such worldly attributes as
hunger; and is by nature eternal, pure, conscious, and free; and is birthless, undecaying,
immortal, fearless, and without a second. This—all that has been referred to as this world,
diversified through difference of name, form, and action; this world in the beginning, before the
creation of this world, was but one Self.
‘Objection: Has It ceased to be the same one entity?
‘Answer: No.
‘Objection: Why is it then said, “It was”?
‘Answer: Though even now that very same single entity endures, still there is some
distinction. The distinction is this: The universe, in which the differences of name and form
were not manifest before creation, which was then one with the Self, and which was denotable
by the word and idea “Self”, has now become denotable by many words and concepts as well as
by the word “Self”, because of its diversification through the multiplicity of names and forms.
The case is analogous with that of foam and water. Foam is denoted by the single word and
concept, water, before the manifestation of names and forms distinct from water; but when that
foam becomes manifested as (an entity) distinct from water, owing to the difference of name
and form, then the very same foam becomes denotable by many words and concepts, such as
foam and water, as well as by only one word and one concept, that of water. The same is the
case here.
‘There was nothing else whatsoever that was active. (Nor was there) anything else (that was
inactive). Unlike the pradhāna of the Sāṇkhyas which is an independent entity classed with the
non-selves, and unlike the atoms of the followers of Kānada, there remained here nothing
whatsoever apart from the Self. This is the idea. That Self being naturally omniscient, thought,
even though It was but one.’70
(3.4) ‘I shall become many.
‘Objection: How can the One become many, unless It enters into something else?
‘The answer is in, “I shall be born.” The multiplication here does not refer to becoming
something extraneous, as one does by begetting a son. How then? Through the manifestation of
name and form that are latent in Itself. When name and form, existing latently in the Self, get
manifested, they evolve into all the states by retaining their intrinsic nature as the self and
remaining indistinguishable from Brahman in time and space. Then, that evolution of name
and form is (what is called) the appearance of Brahman as many. In no other way can one
justify either the evolution of Brahman as a plurality, or Its finitude. Its finitude and plurality
are just as in the case of (the delimitation and diversification of) space, where there are the
creations of extraneous factors. Hence, the Self becomes multiple through these alone. For no
such subtle, disconnected and remote thing exists as a non-Self, in the past, present, or future,
which is different from the Self and separated from It by time or space. Therefore, it is because
of the Self (Brahman) that name and form have their being under all circumstances, but
Brahman does not consist of them. They are said to be essentially Brahman, since they cease to
exist when Brahman is eliminated. And, conditioned by these two limiting adjuncts, Brahman
enters as a factor into all empirical dealings involving such words as knowledge, knower, and
knowable, as also their implications, etc.’71
(3.5) ‘In the beginning, during the condition before creation, this world as a whole, consisting
of name and form, was unmanifest, without the manifestation of name and form; not that it
was really non-existent, for an origin from non-existence is denied in the text, “How can
existence come out of non-existence?”72
‘Objection: Well, from the use of the words, “non-existent indeed”, may it not be that this is
an alternative position?
‘Reply: No, because, unlike as in the case of action, option is not admissible with regard to
the nature of a thing.
‘Objection: How then, was this “non-existent indeed”?
‘Reply: Have we not already said that, because of the non-manifestation of name and form, It
seemed as though not existent?
‘Objection: Is not the word “eva” used for the purpose of emphasis?
‘Reply: Truly so. But it does not emphasise non-existence of substance.
‘Objection: What then?
‘Reply: It emphasises the non-existence of manifest names and forms. It is seen that the word
“sat, existent” is used with regard to things which have their names and forms manifest …
‘That which was called unmanifest, steady and unruffled before creation, as though non-
existent, which was about to become an existing product, became existent, in which activity has
started slightly. From that, being set in motion, it slightly differentiated through the
manifestation of a little name and form, like the sprouting of a seed. Then, gradually becoming
more solidified even than that, it took the shape of an egg from (the state) of water …’73
(3.6) ‘How again does the ascertainment of the meaning of Om become an aid to the
realisation of the reality of the Self? The answer is: From such Vedic texts as, (That goal which
all the Vedas with one voice propound, which all the austerities speak of, and wishing for which
people practise brahmacharya) “it is this, namely, Om”74… it follows that, just as the non-dual
Self, notwithstanding the fact that It is the supreme Reality, can still be the substratum of all
such illusions as the vital force, like the rope, etc. becoming the substrata of the snake, etc.,
similarly it is but Om that appears as all the ramifications of speech that have for their contents
such illusory manifestations of the Self as the vital force, etc. And Om is essentially the same as
the Self, since it denotes the latter. And all the illusory manifestations of the Self, such as the
vital force, etc., that are denoted by the modifications of Om, do not exist apart from their
names, in accordance with the Vedic texts: “All that is modification exists only in name, having
speech as its support,”75 “All this phenomenal creation of that Brahman is strung together by
the thread of speech and by the strands of names,” “All these are but dependent on names”, and
so on. Hence the Upaniṣad says, “The letter Om is all this.”
‘As all these objects that are indicated by names are non-different from the names, and as
names are non-different from Om, so Om is verily all this. And as the supreme Brahman is
known through the relationship subsisting between name and its object, It, too, is but Om. Of
this letter, Om, that is the same as the supreme as well as the inferior Brahman; a clear
exposition, as showing its proximity to Brahman by virtue of its being a means for the
attainment of Brahman; the expression, “is to be understood as started with”, has to be supplied
after “clear exposition” to complete the sentence. The past, the present, the future, these, that is
to say, whatever is circumscribed by the three conceptions of time; all this is but Om, in
accordance with the reasons already advanced. And whatever else there is that is beyond the
three periods of time, that is inferable from its effects but is not circumscribed by time, e.g., the
Unmanifested and the rest, that too is verily Om.
‘Though a word and the thing signified are the same, still, the presentation in the text, “The
letter Om is all this”, etc., was made by giving greater prominence to the word. The very same
thing that was presented through an emphasis on the word is being indicated over again with a
stress on the thing signified, so that the unity of the name and the nameable may be
comprehended. For otherwise, the nameable having been grasped as dependent on the name,
the doubt may crop up that the identity of the nameable with the name is to be taken in a
secondary sense. And the necessity of understanding their identity arises from the fact that once
this identity is established, one can, by a single effort, eliminate both the name and the
nameable to realise Brahman that is different from both.’76

(4) UNREALITY OF THE WORLD

This brings us to the question: What is the purpose of scriptural passages which talk variously
and elaborately about creation in the context of Śaṅkara’s philosophy of Advaita? It is the same
principles of adhyāropa and apavāda, which underlie his metaphysics that are applicable here
also. Causation is described only with the purpose of explaining the plurality that is
experienced at the empirical level, and it is only to help transcend this that Śaṅkara provides a
logical argument to explain the phenomenal world, so that the reasoning mind can be
convinced to make the transition from plurality to non-duality.
Finally, the stated objective of the whole exercise of the discussion on causation is achieved in
the texts proclaiming the unreality of the world, thereby asserting the existence of only non-
dual consciousness. This has been approached in two ways by Śaṅkara: the acosmic method
wherein the whole of creation is shown as a superimposition on Brahman, and then negating
the phenomena to show the underlying non-dual existence. The other technique adopted in
these passages is the subjective approach, which is an analysis of the states of human
consciousness—waking, dream, and sleep—to show the unreality of the world by comparing it
to the dream state from the standpoint of the waking state. Similarly, it is shown that the
waking state experiences (empirical level) are unreal from the Absolute standpoint just as the
dream state experience is on waking up.

(Selected passages)
(4.1) ‘The Vedānta-passages which are concerned with setting forth the cause of the world are
thus in harmony throughout.—On the other hand, there are found conflicting statements
concerning the world, the creation being in some places said to begin with ether, in other
places with fire, and so on. But, in the first place, it cannot be said that the conflict of
statements concerning the world affects the statements concerning the cause, Brahman, in
which all the Vedānta-texts are seen to agree—for that would be an altogether unfounded
generalisation; and, in the second place, the teacher will reconcile later on 77 those conflicting
passages also which refer to the world. And, to consider the matter more thoroughly, a conflict
of statements regarding the world would not even matter greatly, since the creation of the
world and similar topics are not at all what scripture wishes to teach. For we neither observe
nor are told by scripture that the welfare of man depends on those matters in any way; nor
have we the right to assume such a thing, because we conclude from the introductory and
concluding clauses that the passages about the creation and the like form only subordinate
members of passages treating of Brahman. That all the passages setting forth the creation and
so on subserve the purpose of teaching Brahman, scripture itself declares: “As food too is an
offshoot, seek after its root, which is water. And as water too is an offshoot, seek after its root
or fire. And as fire too is an offshoot, seek after its root, the True”.78 We, moreover, understand
that by means of comparisons, such as that of the clay,79 the creation is described merely for the
purpose of teaching us that the effect is not really different from the cause. Analogously it is
said by those who know the sacred tradition, “If creation is represented by means of (the
similes of) clay, iron sparks, and other things, that is only a means for making it understood
that (in reality) there is no difference whatever”.80 On the other hand, scripture expressly states
the fruits connected with the knowledge of Brahman, “He who knows Brahman obtains the
highest”;81 “He who knows the Self overcomes grief”;82 “A man who knows him passes over
death”.83 That fruit is, moreover, apprehended by intuition (pratyakṣa) for, as soon as, by means
of the doctrine, “That art thou”, a man has arrived at the knowledge that the Self is non-
transmigrating, its transmigrating nature vanishes for him.’84
(4.2) ‘For those who, because of perception and adequate behaviour, e.g., proper observance
of duties pertaining to castes and stages of life—for those who, because of these two reasons,
resort to the declaration of existence of substantiality—for the sake of those who are earnest in
their effort, who are faithful, but who are possessed of an inferior kind of discrimination, that
birth (creation) has been inculcated by the wise, by the non-dualists.
‘That creation has been preached as a means to an end (for generating firm discrimination)
under the idea: “Let them accept it for the time being. But in the course of practising Vedānta,
the discriminating knowledge about the birthless and non-dual Self will arise in them
spontaneously.” But they have not done so from the standpoint of ultimate truth. And this is so
because those non-discriminating people (for whom such instruction is meant) are devoted to
Vedic conduct, while, owing to their dull intellect, they are ever afraid of the birthless entity,
apprehending that this will lead to their annihilation. This is the idea. It was said earlier, “that
is merely by way of generating the idea (of oneness)”.85’86
(4.3) ‘If one is to be awakened by negating the phenomenal world, how can there be non-
duality so long as the phenomenal world persists? The answer is: Such indeed will be the case if
the world had existence. But being superimposed like a snake on a rope, it does not exist. There
is no doubt that if it had existed, it would cease to be. Not that the snake, fancied on the rope
through an error of observation, exists there in reality and is then removed by correct
observation. Not that the magic conjured up by a magician exists there in reality and is then
removed on the removal of the optical illusion of its witness. Similarly, this duality that is
nothing but māyā, and is called the phenomenal world, is in supreme truth, non-dual, just like
the rope and the magician. Therefore, the purport is that there is no such thing as the world,
which appears or disappears.’87
(4.4) ‘The unborn Self can never be regarded as non-existent because there cannot be the
superimposition of existence or non-existence on it. What exists prior to you and on which you
yourself are superimposed cannot Itself be superimposed.
‘The duality seen to be pervaded by you is unreal. That It is not seen is no reason that the Self
does not exist. That, from which the wrong notions of existence and non-existence proceed,
must exist. And just as a deliberation ends in a conclusion, so, all things superimposed have a
final substratum in the really existing and non-dual Self.
‘If the duality, created by you and assumed by us to be real so that an investigation of the
Truth might be possible, were non-existent, Truth would remain unascertained, owing to the
investigation becoming impossible. The existence of a reality must be accepted as a matter of
course if an unascertained nature of Truth is not desirable.
‘Objection: What is called real is, as a matter of fact, unreal like a human horn, as it does not
serve any purpose. (Reply) That a thing serves no purpose is no reason why it should be unreal,
and that a thing serves some purpose is no reason (on the other hand) why it should be real.
‘Your inference is wrong because reality serves some purpose as It is the subject-matter of
deliberation, and as It is also the source of all duality proceeding from It under the influence of
māyā, according to the śrutis,88 and smṛtis 89 and reason. 90 Thus, it is reasonable (that the Self,
though changeless, serves some purpose). Otherwise (as a matter of reality), it is not reasonable
that a thing, either permanent or momentary, serves any purpose.
‘According to the śruti,91 It is of a nature contrary to that of superimposition. This One is
without a second as It is also known to have an eternal existence even prior to all
superimposition. Unlike everything superimposed on It, which is negated on the evidence of the
śruti, “Not this, not this”, 92 It is not negated and therefore It is left over.
‘Those who, owing to false notion in their own minds, superimpose the ideas of existence,
non-existence, etc. on the Self, which is not Itself superimposed and is birthless, imperishable
and without a second, always meet with birth, old age and death as different kinds of beings.
‘Duality can have no reality if both its birth and absence of birth are denied (due to the
possibility of contradictions). Again, it cannot owe its origin 93 to another thing, real or unreal.
For, being the origin of duality, reality would become unreal and unreality, real. Hence, the
nature of actions and their instruments also cannot be ascertained. It is for these reasons that
the Self is ascertained to be unborn.
‘If the instruments in connection with the birth of duality be considered to be devoid of any
action whatever, there will be nothing which will not be an instrument. And if they are
considered to have the power of action, they will not be instruments. (For they can be acting
neither) in the state of reality nor of unreality, as both these states are without any particulars
(and will always produce effects or never any). Neither can they become instruments at the
time of their deviation from their original states (of reality or unreality). For the distinction
between the nature of the cause and that of the effect cannot be ascertained like the relation of
cause and effect between the two ends (moving up and down) of the beam of a balance.
‘If the reversal of reality and unreality is not desirable, how can anything owe its origin to
them, which are of a fixed nature? For, both of them stand without having any connection with
each other. Nothing94 therefore, Oh my mind, is born.
‘Even by assuming the birth of things, if you like so, I say, your efforts serve me no purpose.
For, not existing in the Self, gain or loss cannot be, therefore, either uncaused or due to any
cause. Even assuming that they exist in the Self, it is a fact that your efforts are of no use to me.
‘Things either immutable or transitory cannot have any relation with other things or with
themselves. Therefore, it is not reasonable that they should have any effects. So, nothing
belongs to anything else. The Self Itself is also not (directly) within the scope of words.’95
(4.5) ‘As in common experience it is seen that the movement of a firebrand appears to be
straight, curved, and so on, similar is the appearance as the perception and the perceiver, that
is to say, as the object and the subject. What is it that appears? The vibration of Consciousness,
as it were, it being set in motion by ignorance, for the unmoving Consciousness can have no
vibration, as it was said earlier, “birthless, motionless.”96
‘As that very firebrand when not in motion, when it does not undergo birth to become
straight etc. in shape, it remains free from appearances and birth; so Consciousness that
vibrates through ignorance will on the cessation of ignorance, become free from appearances,
birth and vibration. This is the meaning.
‘Moreover, when that very firebrand is in motion, the appearance of straightness,
crookedness, etc. do not come to be in it from anywhere outside the firebrand; this is what is
meant by non-adventitious. Nor do they go out anywhere else from that firebrand when it is at
rest. Nor do they enter into the firebrand that is motionless. Furthermore:
‘The appearances do not issue out of the firebrand like something out of a house because of
their being devoid of substantiality, that is to say, because of unsubstantiality, the phrase being
construed thus: The quality of a substance is the absence of that is and by means by reason of.
Entry is possible for things and not for those that are not so. The appearances of birth, etc., in
consciousness also must be thus alone, for appearance is equally present.
‘It is being shown how they are similar:
‘Everything with regard to consciousness is similar to that of the firebrand; consciousness has
this one distinction that It is ever unmoving. It is being pointed out as to what causes the
appearances of creation, etc., in the motionless consciousness; for these are ever beyond
comprehension; in consequence of the absence of any logical connection of cause and effect
(between the appearances and consciousness), they being of the nature of non-existence. Just
as the ideas of straightness, etc., are perceived in the firebrand, although the appearances of
straightness, etc., are unreal, similarly the ideas of creation in the Self that appear even though
there are no creation, etc., must be false. This is the purport as a whole (of the two verses).
‘It is established that the Reality, that is the Self, is one and unborn.’97
(4.6) ‘It is therefore, reasonable that this universe is unreal. Existence-knowledge only is real.
Existing prior to everything, It is both the knower and the known. It is the forms only that are
unreal.
‘Existence-knowledge, through which all things in dream are known, is the knower. It is the
same entity that is known in dream by māyā. It is the same consciousness through which one
sees, hears, speaks, smells, tastes, touches and thinks in that state, and is respectively called the
eye, the ear, the larynx, the auditive organ, the tongue, the organ of touch and the mind.
Similarly, It is the same consciousness that becomes in dream the other organs also functioning
variously.
‘Just as the same jewel assumes different colours owing to its proximity to different
(coloured) things, so, pure consciousness assumes different forms on account of various
adjuncts, which are superimposed on It (in dream).
‘As in dream, so in the waking state, different forms are superimposed on this consciousness.
It manifests98 the objects of the intellect when It performs actions produced by desires due to
delusion. The events in the waking state are similar to those in dream. The ideas of the interior
and exterior in the former state are as unreal99 as in the latter like reading and writing
depending on each other.
‘When the Self manifests different objects, It desires to have them; and accordingly there
arises in It a determination (to acquire those objects). It then meets with those particular results
of actions done according to particular desires followed by particular determinations.
Unperceived in deep sleep but perceived (in waking and dream) by those only who are
ignorant, the whole of this universe is an outcome of ignorance and, therefore, unreal. It is said
in the śruti that the consciousness of the oneness (of the individual Self and Brahman) is
knowledge, and that of a difference (between them) is ignorance. Knowledge is, therefore,
demonstrated in the scriptures with great care.’100
(4.7) ‘Objection: The scenes in dream are the forms of the impressions of the waking state.
But it is not that women and others exist there in dream.
‘Reply: What you say amounts to very little. Objects perceived in the waking state also are
accomplished by mental ideas only, because they are made of fire, water, and earth,
accomplished by the vision of Existence (Brahman), and (also) because in the text, “Heaven and
earth willed”,101 it has been said that the worlds have will as their basis. And in all the
Upaniṣads, in such texts as, “As spokes are inserted in the hub,” etc.,102 it is said that origin and
dissolution (of everything) are due to the innermost Self, and (their) continuance is also in that
itself. Therefore, it is surely admitted that things, mental and external, are related to each other
as cause and effect, like a seed and its sprout. Although the mental (images) originate from
external things, and the external things originate from the mind, still, in one’s own Self they are
never false.
‘Objection: But things seen in dream become false to the awakened man.
‘Reply: Truly so. But their falsehood is in relation to the perception of the waking state, but
not so far as they themselves are concerned. Similarly, the perception of things in the waking
state is unreal in relation to dream-perception, but not in itself. But the special forms of all
things are only due to unreal ideas, as stated in the texts, “All transformation has speech as its
basis and it is name only”, and it is unreal; and “Those which are true are the three colours
alone.”103 Considered in terms of their special forms, even they are unreal, but considered in
themselves, they are true in their nature as pure existence. Before realising them as identical
with existence, they do exist in themselves, like the things seen in a dream. Thus, there is no
contradiction.’104
(4.8) ‘The proposition (major premise) to be established is the unreality of objects seen in the
waking state. “Being perceived” is the ground of inference (middle term). And the illustration
(in confirmation) is “like an object seen in a dream.” And the assertion of the presence of the
middle term in the minor term is made thus: as (objects “perceived”) there in a dream, are false,
so also are they false in the waking state, the fact of “being perceived” being equally present.
And the concluding reiteration is: therefore, falsity is admitted of objects in the waking state as
well. The dream object differs from the object of the waking state because the former is
confined within and because of being contracted. And the common features in both the states
are the facts of being perceived and being false.
‘Inasmuch as there is similarity of the diverse things on the strength of the familiar ground of
inference, that things (in dream and waking states) are equally either the perceiver or the
perceived, therefore, the discriminating people speak of the sameness of the states of waking
and dream. This is only a corollary of what was arrived at on earlier valid grounds.
‘The different things noticed in the waking state are unreal, for this additional reason that
they do not exist in the beginning and at the end. A thing, for instance, a mirage, which does
not exist in the beginning and at the end, does not exist even in the middle. This is the
ascertained truth in the world. So also these different things seen in the waking state are indeed
unreal, they being similar to (on the same footing with) unreal things, like the mirage, etc., on
account of their non-existence in the beginning and at the end. And yet, they are perceived as
though real by the ignorant who do not know the Self.
‘Objection: The assertion that the things seen in the waking state are unreal like those seen in
the dream is wrong, since objects of the waking state, for instance, food, drink, vehicles, etc.,
are seen to fulfil some purpose by assuaging hunger and thirst and moving to and fro, whereas
dream objects have no such utility. Therefore, it is a mere figment of the brain to say that the
objects of the waking state are illusory like those of dream.
‘Answer: That is not so.
‘Objection: Why?
‘Answer: Because:
‘The utility that is noticed (in the waking state) of food, drink, etc., is contradicted in dream.
For a man who has got his hunger appeased and thirst quenched by eating and drinking in the
waking state, as soon as he goes to sleep, feels as though as he afflicted by hunger and thirst
and is fasting for a whole day and night. This is similar to his case when, after getting full
satisfaction in dream from eating and drinking, he wakes up to feel hunger and thirst.
Therefore, the objects of the waking state are seen to be contradicted in dream. Accordingly, we
are of opinion that their unreality, like that of dream objects, is beyond doubt. Hence, from the
fact that they possess the common feature of having a beginning and an end, they are rightly
held to be unreal.
‘Objection: From the fact of the similarity of the diverse things in the dream and the waking
states, it is wrong to assert that the diversities seen in the waking state are illusory.
‘Counter-objection: Why?
‘Opponent: Because the illustration is inapplicable.
‘Counter-objection: How?
‘Opponent: For the very same objects seen in the waking state are not experienced in dream.
‘Counter-objection: What are they then?
‘Opponent: One sees something novel in a dream. One thinks oneself to be possessed of eight
arms and sitting astride an elephant with four tusks. Similarly, too, one sees other grotesque
things in a dream. That, being dissimilar to any other unreal thing, must be true. So the
analogy is inapt. Hence, it is illogical to say that the waking state is false like dream.
‘Vedāntist: That is not so. The uniqueness that is supposed by you to be seen in a dream is not
so by its own right.
‘Opponent: How is it then?
‘The novel attribute is a mere quality of the man in a certain state, the experiencer in the
state of dream, as it is with the dwellers of heaven, Indra and others. As they have such
attributes as the possession of a thousand eyes, and so on, similarly is this a novel attribute of
the dreamer; but it is not there by its own right like the real nature of the seer. The unique
things of this kind that are creations of his mind, this one, the man in that state, the dreamer,
sees by going to the dream state. As in this world, a man well informed about the way leading
to another region, goes along that way to that other region and sees those objects, so is the case
here. Hence, just as the appearances of things in certain states, such as a snake on a rope or a
mirage in a desert, are unreal, similarly, the novelties experienced in a dream are merely
appearances of the dreamer in that state; and, therefore, they are unreal. Accordingly, the
analogy of the dream is not inapplicable.
‘The assumption that, in the illustration of dream, we are in the presence of some unique
entities has been demolished. Now, the Kārikā again proceeds by way of dilating on the
similarity of objects of the waking and dream states:
‘Even in the dream state, anything experienced by the internal consciousness, anything called
up by our fancy, is unreal since it ceases to be perceived the moment after being imagined. In
that very dream again, whatever, for instance, a pot, is perceived by external consciousness
through the eye, etc., is real. Thus, though it is definitely known that dream experiences are
false, still, a division of true and false is seen there. Nevertheless, unreality is perceived for both
kinds of things, be they imagined by inner or outer consciousness.
‘It is reasonable to say that both the (so-called) true and false are unreal, for they are equally
imagined either by the internal or external consciousness.’105
5

Soul (Jīva)
Jīvo Brahmaiva Nāpara?

INTRODUCTION

The above epigram, which best encapsulates Śaṅkara’s description of jīva (individual soul), is
the last part of the verse brahma satyam, jagat mithyā, jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ. It ends stating the
essential identity of the individual Self and the Absolute Self, thereby reiterating that the
Absolute Reality is one and non-dual. Advaita metaphysics, therefore, begins with the one and
progresses to the many to explain the phenomena, and ends showing that the underlying
substratum of the plurality of the world of insentient and sentient beings is the non-dual
existence, which is consciousness and infinite. Brahman, according to Advaita, appears as
Īśvara (God), jagat (world), and jīva (soul)—the three constituents of empirical existence
through His power of māyā/avidyā. They are interlinked giving rise to the plurality of the
phenomenal world. While the discussion about the status of the world is the objective approach
to the Reality, that on jīva offers the subjective perspective. All living beings, from the most
evolved—the human being—to the lowliest—grass—are jīvas, but, in the context of Vedānta,
only the human being is meant because of his eligibility for spiritual evolution, which is the
objective of Vedānta.
It is Brahman (the Absolute Self) which appears as the plurality of individual souls, due to
avidyā superimposed on the immutable consciousness. So, essentially, the individual Self
(Ātman) and the Absolute Self are one and the same. This identity is revealed when the
ignorance that causes this superimposition is dispelled by knowledge of one’s essential nature
as the Self within. The Absolute Self appears as the multiplicity of souls due to name and form,
which are latent in avidyā, and so, in truth, birth and death relate only to the body. It is only
the adjuncts that create a distinct individuality, and are also responsible for transmigration, till
the nescience—which is responsible for the mistaken identity—is dispelled through knowledge.
Plurality of the individual souls is only an appearance that arises due to avidyā, according to
Śaṅkara. It is the non-dual Absolute Self that appears like innumerable jīvas, like the one sun
which, when reflected in several water bodies, is seen as countless suns. Each reflection of the
sun is distinct in a particular lake or pond, and this is due to that particular water body
(adjunct). So also, is each jīva different due to the adjuncts of the body and mind, which differ
in each individual soul. Another example cited in scriptural texts to explain the phenomenon of
the non-dual Self appearing as several jīvas is that of the restriction of space in jars. Space
being all-pervasive, it seems confined inside each jar, thereby appearing different. So, it is the
adjuncts that give rise to the sense of individuality and plurality of the souls.
Five adjuncts envelop the Self in a jīva and are termed as pañca-kośa in the Upaniṣad. They
are the food sheath (annamaya-kośa); the vital sheath (prāṇamaya-kośa); the mental sheath
(manomaya-kośa); the knowledge sheath (vijñānamaya-kośa); and the blissful sheath
(ānandamaya-kośa). These sheaths are increasingly subtler from the annamaya-kośa to the
ānandamaya-kośa, the innermost and subtlest of all, which is closest to the Ātman. Being very
subtle, the nature of the Self as bliss is best reflected in it. Besides, each subtler sheath envelops
the next grosser sheath, which is why the jīva is said to be the Ātman shrouded by the
conglomerate of these five kośas. Śaṅkara holds that even the ānandamaya-kośa is conditioned
by nescience. The food sheath, the grossest of all, is the jīva’s physical body (sthūla-śarīra) to
which birth and death relate. The three kośas of prāṇamaya, manomaya and vijñānamaya
constitute the subtle body (sūkṣma-śārīra), which transmigrates from birth to birth. The subtlest
sheath of ānandamaya is the causal body (kāraṇa-śarīra) which comes into existence due to the
Self’s limitation by māyā.
The Ātman is within these bodies as their substratum and it is described figuratively as the
‘light within’ because it is eternal and illumines the jīva. The jīva breathes, knows, acts and
enjoys only because of the Self. The jīva is, in essence, the Ātman, identical with Brahman, but
jīva and Īśvara are different empirically. So it must be constantly borne in mind that Advaita is
a philosophy of standpoints. The triad of Īśvara–jagat–jīva is interlinked; as long as ignorance
lasts, they are distinct for the jīva. This is the basis for Saguṇa-Brahman, devotion and
meditation on Īśvara, and performance of rites important in worldly life for beginners on the
spiritual path.
The subjective approach to Brahman is, therefore, an exercise in understanding the nature of
the external adjuncts that constitute the not-Self of the jīva, which are responsible for creating a
sense of individuality and identification with the body as a result of ignorance. By a process of
negating them, the underlying Self becomes revealed. This is done in two ways in the
Upaniṣads. The first is an inquiry into the five sheaths (pañca-kośa) that envelop the Self, which
can be subsumed under the three bodies—causal body (kāraṇa-śarīra); subtle body (sūkṣma-
śārīra); gross body (sthūla-śarīra)—that make up the human personality to distinguish the not-
Self from the Self within. The second is through an analysis of the three states of human
experience (avasthātrayā)—waking, dream, sleep—to show that the underlying witness-
consciousness (I) remains the same in all and also transcends them, which is the state of non-
dual consciousness known as turīya. This witness within is the Ātman, figuratively referred to as
the light that illumines the mind in all the states. There is correspondence between the three
bodies and the three states of consciousness.
Śaṅkara shows that the objective of the Upaniṣad is to show the identity of the individual Self
(Ātman) and the Absolute Self (Brahman). To one who begins this inquiry, such a blanket
assertion of identity will naturally be difficult to swallow as the subjectobject distinction in the
process of knowledge will become obliterated. Doubts will beset the inquirer: Can the one who
perceives be the perceived? Why, then, do the scriptural texts speak of the Self as that ‘to be
sought’ (like an object of the process of knowledge), and state that this is the highest end to be
attained? How is it possible to explain bondage and liberation, and also the worldly travails of
the bonded souls caught in the web of transmigration, which are all so real at the empirical
level? All these queries are very legitimate from the standpoint of empirical existence, which is
why it is imperative to understand correctly the concept of māyā. When Śaṅkara states that the
jagat and the jīva are illusions—the effect of māyā/avidyā—it is to be understood from the
absolute perspective (pāramārthika). The three grades of reality are real at their respective levels
of operation. For that matter, even at the prātibhasika level—when a rope is mistaken for a
serpent—it is real as long as that vision lasts. It is only when the knowledge that it is a piece of
rope dawns does that ignorance gets dispelled, and the mistaken identity understood as
delusion. The prātibhasika vision then becomes an illusion at the vyāvahārika level. So also, all
worldly phenomena are real at the vyāvahārika level, and it is when the knowledge of the
identity of the individual Self and the Absolute Self becomes known through the teaching of tat
tvam asi that the primordial avidyā, which created the illusion of plurality, gets obliterated, and
the non-dual nature of the Reality becomes a fact of experience. So, from the absolute
standpoint, the world and the souls are illusions.
At the subjective level, the three levels of reality can be experienced through an analysis of
the three states of waking, dream and sleep, with which all are familiar, and the transcendence
of them is the state of non-dual awareness (turīya). The witness-consciousness that pervades all
the three states is to be realized as the Ātman transcending them, and it is figuratively referred
to as the fourth state.
The selected texts from Śaṅkara’s works in this section follow the following themes.

(6.1) ADJUNCTS OF THE SOUL

On the basis of the Upaniṣad, Śaṅkara explains how the non-dual Absolute Self appears as
several individual souls. To underscore that plurality is just an appearance due to avidyā, he
uses the analogy of the one sun reflected in many water bodies and seen as many suns. The sun
and its reflections are not the same when seen individually, and the difference is due to the
several water bodies (adjuncts). So also are the countless bonded souls, each distinct, due to
their adjuncts of body and mind. Another example Śaṅkara often uses is that of space being
confined in jars. Though space is all-pervasive, it seems to become restricted within the confines
of the jars, when each could be viewed separately, and when the jars are broken, the spaces
within these jars become one with the undivided whole. So also, the adjuncts create the illusion
(birth) of many individual souls, and with their disintegration (death), only the non-dual Self
remains.
The soul’s adjuncts are classified as the five sheaths that cover the Self (pañca-kośa); from the
grossest to the subtlest: food sheath (annamaya-kośa); vital sheath (prāṇamaya-kośa); mental
sheath (manomaya-kośa); knowledge sheath (vijñānamaya-kośa); blissful sheath (ānandamaya-
kośa). The food sheath is the physical body, and it corresponds to the gross body (sthūla-śarīra).
Birth and death relate only to the gross body. Subtler than this is the sheath of vital air (prāṇa),
which gives life to the body; the next inner sheath is that of the mind (manas), within which is
the intellect sheath (vijñāna). These three sheaths together constitute the subtle body (sūkṣma-
śārīra) of the jīva, the body that transmigrates. The subtlest of all is the sheath of bliss
(ānandamaya-kośa), which envelops the Self (Ātman), and is the jīva’s causal body (kāraṇa-
śarīra). This comes into existence due to the association of the Self with nescience. As it is the
closest to the Ātman, it reflects the bliss of the Self. The blissful sheath, in turn, is reflected in
the intellect, which is closest to it, and hence all the joys are said to be particle of the infinite
bliss that is Brahman. Each subtler sheath is said to pervade the next grosser one and also
viewed as its ‘self’, and this gradual shift from the grossest (annamaya-kośa) to the subtlest
(ānandamaya-kośa) is for the purpose of negating them all to reveal the Self within. Even the
ānandamaya-kośa is only the conditioned Self (Brahman+māyā), according to Śaṅkara, as the
imagery of a bird used in this text refers to Brahman as the tail that supports them all.
Besides the gross body consisting of its organs, the subtle body is a conglomerate of mind,
intellect and vital air, comprising the five organs of action; five organs of knowledge and the
five vital airs; and the four modes of the mind–intellect: mind (manas); intelligence (buddhi);
ego (ahamkāra); thought (citta). There are some variations in describing the constituents of the
subtle body in different texts, but essentially they must be understood as the different functions
of the mind.

(Selected passages)
(1.1) ‘… The soul is of eternal intelligence, for that very reason that it is not a product, but
nothing else but the unmodified highest Brahman, which owing to the contact with its limiting
adjuncts, appears as individual soul. That intelligence constitutes the essential nature of the
highest Brahman, we know from scriptural passages such as, “Brahman is knowledge and
bliss”;1 “Brahman is true, knowledge, infinite”2… Now, if the individual soul is nothing but that
highest Brahman, then eternal intelligence constitutes the soul’s essential nature also, just as
light and heat constitute the nature of fire …
‘That the soul’s nature is intelligence, follows, moreover, from the passage3 where it is
represented as connected with knowledge through all sense-organs, “He who knows let me
smell this, he is the Self,” and so on—From the soul’s essential nature being intelligence, it does
not follow that the senses are useless; for they serve the purpose of determining the special
object of each sense, such as smell, and so on. This is expressly declared by scripture, “Smell is
for the purpose of perceiving odour.”4—The objection that sleeping persons are not conscious of
anything is refuted by scripture, where we read concerning a man lying in deep sleep, “And
when there, he does not see, yet he is seeing, though he does not see. For there is no
intermission of the seeing of the seer, because it cannot perish. But there is then no second,
nothing else different from him that he could see.”5 That means: The absence of actual
intelligising [knowing] is due to the absence of objects, not to the absence of intelligence; just
as the light pervading space is not apparent owing to the absence of things to be illuminated,
not to the absence of its own nature.’6
(1.2) ‘Moreover, the connection of the Self with the buddhi, its limiting adjunct, depends on
wrong knowledge, and wrong knowledge cannot cease except through perfect knowledge;
hence, as long as there does not rise the cognition of Brahman being the universal Self, so long
the connection of the soul with the buddhi and its other limiting adjuncts does not come to an
end. Thus scripture also says, “I know that great person of sun-like lustre beyond the darkness.
A man who knows him passes over death; there is no other path to go.”7
‘But, an objection is raised, in the state of deep sleep and retractation (pralaya), no
connection of the Self with the buddhi can be acknowledged, since scripture declares that “then
he becomes united with the True, he is gone to his own,”8 and as then, all modifications have
avowedly passed away. How then can it be said that the connection with the buddhi exists as
long as the Self?—To this objection the following sūtra replies: “On account of the
appropriateness of the manifestation of that (connection) which exists (potentially); like virile
power.”
‘As in ordinary life, virile power and so on, existing potentially only in young children, and
being then looked upon as non-existing, become manifest at the time of puberty—and do not
originate at that time from previous non-existence, because, in that case, they might originate
in eunuchs also—; so, the connection of the soul with the buddhi exists potentially merely
during deep sleep and the period of general retractation, and again becomes manifest at the
time of waking and the time of creation.—This explanation is appropriate because nothing can
be assumed to spring up unless from something else; otherwise, we should have to suppose that
effects spring up without causes. That the rising from deep sleep is due to the existence of
potential avidyā, scripture also declares, “Having become merged in the True they know not
that they are merged in the True. Whatever these creatures are here, whether a lion or a wolf,”
and so on. 9—It is therefore a proved matter that the connection of the soul with the buddhi and
the other adjuncts lasts as long as the soul (is in its samsāra state).’10
(1.3) ‘Of Him, who, after having created thus, entered (the body) as an individual soul, like a
king entering a city, there are three abodes—the right eye—the eye-ball, the seat of the sense
(of vision)—during the waking state; the mind inside, during the dream state; and the space
within the heart, during the state of deep sleep …
‘The right eye is the first abode, the second is the mind inside, and the space within the heart
is the third … Residing alternately as identified with those abodes, this individual sleeps deeply
for long through natural ignorance; and does not wake up, though experiencing the blows of
sorrow that arise from the concurrence of many hundreds of thousands of calamities and fall
like the thumps of a heavy club.’11
(1.4) ‘The same one, who is the cause of the unfoldment of name and form, whose nature is
different from that of name and form, and who is devoid of all connection with sanctifying
ceremonies, evolved name and form, created this body and entered into it (which is but name
and form)—who is Himself the unseen seer, the unheard listener, the unthought thinker, the
unknown knower, as stated in the śruti text, “I know”, 12 who creates names and forms and
remains speaking. There are thousands of śruti texts conveying the same meaning …’13
(1.5) ‘On account of certain popular modes of expression such as “Devadatta is born,”
“Devadatta has died,” and the like, and on account of certain ceremonies such as the
gatakakarman, some people might fall into the error of thinking that the individual soul has a
beginning and, in the end, undergoes destruction. This error we are going to dispel.—The
individual soul has no beginning and is not subject to dissolution, since thus only can it be
connected with the results of actions, as the śāstra teaches. If the individual soul perished after
the body, there would be no sense in the religious injunctions and prohibitions referring to the
enjoyment and avoidance of pleasant and unpleasant things in another body (another birth).
And scripture says, “This body indeed dies when the living soul has left it, the living soul does
not die”.14—But it has been pointed out above that ordinary language speaks of the birth and
the death of the individual soul!—True; but the terms, “birth” and “death”, if applied to the
soul, have to be taken in a secondary sense.—What then is that thing to which those words
apply in their primary sense, and with reference to which we can speak of a secondary sense?
—They apply, we answer, to whatever moves and whatever does not move. The words, “birth”
and “death”, have reference to the bodies of moving and non-moving beings; for such beings
are born (produced) and die. To them, the terms “birth” and “death” apply in their primary
sense; while they are used metaphorically only with reference to the soul dwelling in them. For
their existence (their being used) depends on the existence of the body; the words “birth” and
“death” are used where there take place the manifestation and disappearance of bodies, not
where they are absent. For nobody ever observes a soul being born or dying, apart from its
connection with a body. That the words “birth” and “death” have reference to the conjunction
with—and separation from—a body merely, is also shown by the following passage: “On being
born that person assuming his body, and so on; when he passes out (of the body) and dies,” and
so on.15 The gata ceremony also is to be viewed as having reference to the manifestation of the
body only; for the soul is not manifested.’16
(1.6) ‘But it has been argued above that the soul must be a modification because it is divided,
and must have an origin because it is a modification!—It is not, we reply, in itself, divided; for
scripture declares that “there is one God hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the Self within all
beings”17; it only appears divided owing to its limiting adjuncts, such as the mind and so on,
just as the ether appears divided by its connection with jars and the like. Scripture, “that Self is
indeed Brahman being made up of knowledge, mind, life, sight, hearing,” 18 and so on, also
declares that the one unmodified Brahman is made up of a plurality of intellects (buddhi), and
so on. By Brahman being made up of mind and so on, is meant that its nature is coloured
thereby, while the fact of its being entirely separate from it, is non-apparent. Analogously we
say that a mean, cowardly fellow is made up of womanishness.—The casual passages which
speak of the soul’s production and dissolution must, therefore, be interpreted on the ground of
the soul’s connection with its limiting adjuncts; when the adjunct is produced or dissolved, the
soul also is said to be produced or dissolved … The text itself explains this, in reply to Maitreyī’s
question: (“Here, Sir, thou hast landed me in utter bewilderment. Indeed I do not understand
him, that when he has departed there is no more knowledge.”) in the words, “I say nothing that
is bewildering. Verily, beloved, that Self is imperishable and of an indestructible nature. But it
enters into contact with the sense organs.”—Non-contradiction, moreover, of the general
assertion (about everything being known through one) results only from the acknowledgement
that Brahman is the individual soul. The difference of the attributes of both is also owing to the
limiting adjuncts only. Moreover, the words, “Speak on for the sake of final deliverance”
(uttered by Ganaka [Janaka] with reference to the instruction he receives from Yājñavalkya
about the vijñanamāyā Ātman, implicitly deny that the Self consisting of knowledge (the
individual soul possesses any of the attributes of transitory existence, and thus show it to be one
with the highest Self) From all this, it follows that the individual soul does not either originate
or undergo destruction.’19
(1.7) ‘Objection: While being free, is it not unreasonable for the non-transmigrating,
omniscient Deity to consciously desire and enter thus: “I shall experience sorrow by entering
into the body which is the repository of hundreds of thousands of sorrows”?
‘Reply: It is true that it would not have been reasonable if the Deity had desired, “I shall enter
in my own unsullied nature, and I shall experience sorrow.” But this is not so.
‘In what way then?
‘(In the way as is evident) from the statement, “In the form of the soul of each individual
being.” ‘An individual soul is merely a reflection of the Deity. It arises from (Its) contact with
the subtle elements in the form of intellect, and so on. It is like a reflection of a person,
seeming to have entered into a mirror, and like (the reflection of) the sun in water, the contact
of the Deity possessed of inscrutable and infinite power, with the intellect is (in the form of) a
reflection of consciousness. This becomes the cause of multifarious and conflicting ideas such as,
“I am happy”, “I am sorrowful”, and “I am ignorant”, owing to the non-realisation of the true
nature of the Deity. Since the Deity has entered merely as a reflection in the form of an
individual soul, therefore, It does not Itself become connected with physical happiness, sorrow,
and so on. As a person, the sun, and others entering into a mirror or water, merely through
their reflections, are not touched by the defects of the mirror or water, so also the Deity is not

‘Objection: If the individual soul be a mere reflection, then, it becomes reduced to unreality,
and so also are its attainment of the other world, this world, and so on.
‘Reply: There is no such defect, since it is admitted to be true in its real nature as Existence.
And all modifications, such as names and forms, are true only in their nature as Existence. But,
by themselves, they are surely unreal because it has been said: “All transformation has speech
as its basis.”20 So also is the individual soul.’21
(1.8) ‘As it imitates the mirror, the reflection of a face is different from the face. The face
which does not depend on the mirror (for its existence) is also different from its reflection.
Similarly, the reflection of the Self in the ego is also regarded (as different from the pure Self)
like that of the face which is different from the face. The pure Self is considered to be different
from Its reflection like the face (which is different from its own). In fact, however, the Self and
Its reflection are free from real distinction between each other like the face and its reflection.
‘Objection: Some say that the reflection in the ego (as distinct from the Self) is the individual
soul. (But if one asks how the reflection, which is not a reality, can experience anything at all,
the objector answers that) the reflection is a reality as the shadows of things are known to be
realities according to the smṛti. Not only so, there is another reason also (why a shadow should
be regarded as a reality). For a man in a shadow feels refreshingly cool.
‘Other objections: Some say that the individual soul is a part of pure consciousness. Others
hold that it is a modification of the same. Still others are of the opinion that the ego together
with the reflection of pure consciousness in it is the individual soul. Others again think that it is
the independent ego (neither a part nor a modification), which is the experiencer of this
mundane existence.
‘The Buddhists say that the individual soul is the momentary consciousness, “I”. There is no
witness (distinct from the series to see the beginning and the end of these momentary
phenomena). Now examine which of these doctrines is reasonable.
‘Let us now stop discussing the different doctrines about the transmigratory soul. Let us go on
with the present subject. The reflection of the face in the mirror is a property, neither of the
face nor of the mirror. For, if it were the property of either of the two, it would continue even if
the other were removed.
‘If it is argued that it is a property of the face because it is called after, it cannot be so. For it
imitates the mirror and is not seen even when the face is there (but the mirror is removed).
‘If you say that it is the property of both, we say, “No”, because it is not seen even when both
are present (but improperly placed).
‘Objection: It may be said that Rahu, a real thing, though invisible, is sometimes seen in the
sun and moon; (so the reflection of the face, a reality, though invisible, is sometimes seen in the
mirror).
‘Reply: That Rahu is a real thing is known from the scriptures before one sees it in the sun or
moon. But, according to those who hold that it is the shadow of the earth, it cannot be a real
thing and the unreality of the reflection has been proved by arguments before.
‘There is a prohibition regarding the crossing of the shadows (of one’s teachers and other
superiors); but it does not prove the reality of a shadow, as a sentence expressing one meaning
cannot express another at the same time.
‘That one feels cool while sitting in the shadow is not the effect of the shadow on one. It is
due to one’s refraining from using warm things. Coolness is found to belong to water but not to
a shadow.
‘The Self, Its reflection and the intellect are comparable to the face, its reflection and the
mirror. The unreality of the reflection is known from the scriptures and reasoning.
‘Objection: Who is the experiencer of transmigratory existence, as it cannot belong to the Self
which is changeless, neither to the reflection which is not real, nor to the ego which is not a
conscious entity.
‘Reply: Let the transmigratory condition then be only a delusion due to the indiscrimination
(between the Self and the non-Self). It always has an (apparent) existence due to the real
existence of the changeless Self and, therefore, appears to be pertaining to It.
‘Just as a ropesnake (a rope mistaken for a snake), though unreal, has an existence due to
that of the rope before the discrimination between the rope and the snake takes place, so the
transmigratory condition, though unreal, is possessed of an existence due to that of the
changeless Self.
‘Some say that the Self to which the reflection belongs, though changeful on account of the
modifications of the mind pertaining to Itself such as, “I am happy”, “I am miserable”, and
though an experiencer of the transmigratory condition, is eternal.
‘Having no knowledge of the Vedas, and deluded on account of the lack of the real
knowledge of the Self and Its reflection, they consider the ego to be the Self.
‘The transmigratory existence consisting of agency and the experiencing of pain and pleasure
is, according to them, a reality. They, therefore, continue to be born again and again on
account of the ignorance of the nature of the Self, its reflection and the intellect between which
they cannot discriminate.
‘That the Vedas imply the Self by means of words such as “knowledge” becomes reasonable if
it is true that the Self is of the nature of pure consciousness and the intellect reflects It.’22
(1.9) ‘And that individual soul is to be considered a mere appearance of the highest Self, like
the reflection of the sun in the water; it is neither directly that (the highest Self), nor a different
thing. Hence, just as, when one reflected image of the sun trembles, another reflected image
does not on that account tremble also; so, when one soul is connected with actions and results
of actions, another soul is not on that account connected likewise. There is, therefore, no
confusion of actions and results. And as that “appearance” is the effect of nescience, it follows
that the samsāra which is based on it (the appearance) is also the effect of nescience, so that,
from the removal of the latter, there results the cognition of the soul being in reality nothing
but Brahman.’23
(1.10) ‘An integral portion of Myself—of the Supreme Self, of Nārāyaṇa,—is the eternal jīva
(individual soul) in samsāra, manifesting himself in every one as the doer and enjoyer. He is
like the sun reflected in water; the reflected sun is but a portion of the real sun; and on the
removal of water, the reflected sun returns to the original sun and remains as that very sun.—
Or, it is like the ākāsa and becomes one with the latter on the destruction of the jar which is the
cause of limitation; then it returns no more. Thus the statement “to which having gone, none
return” is quite explicable.
‘Objection: How can there be a portion of the Supreme Self who has no parts? If He has parts,
He would be liable to destruction on the separation of parts.
‘Answer: Our theory is not open to this objection; for, it is only a portion limited by the
upādhi set up by avidyā; it is a portion as it were, an imaginary portion.’24
(1.11) ‘Since the (supreme) Self is subtle, partless, and all-pervasive like space; since that
very supreme Self that is comparable to space is referred to as existing in the form of individual
souls, the individual knowers of the bodies, in the same way as space is referred to as existing
in the form of spaces circumscribed by jars. Or the explanation is: As space is evolved in the
form of spaces within the jars, so also has the supreme Self evolved as the individual souls. The
idea implied is that the emergence of individual souls from the supreme Self that is heard of in
the Upaniṣads is comparable to the emergence of the spaces in the jars from the supreme space;
but this is not so in any real sense of the term. Just as from that space evolve composite things
like jars, so also from the supreme Self, that is comparable to space, emerge the composite
things like the earth, as well as the bodies and senses that constitute the individual, all of them
taking birth through imagination like a snake on a rope … When, with a view to make the fact
understood by people of poor intellect, the birth of creatures from the Self is referred to by the
Vedas, then, with regard to birth, when that is taken for granted—this is the illustration, as it
has been cited in the analogy of space, and so on.
‘Just as the spaces within a jar emerge into being with the creation of the jar, or just as the
spaces within the jar disappear with the disintegration of the jar, similarly, the individual souls
emerge into being along with the creation of the aggregates of bodies, and they merge here in
the Self on the disintegration of those aggregates. But this is not so from their own standpoint.25
‘There are five distinctions of buddhi, having for their respective objects, sound, touch, colour,
taste, and smell, and on their account, there are the five intellectual organs; again, there are
five classes of action—speaking, taking, going, evacuation, and begetting—and on their
account, there are the five organs of action; finally, there is the manas which has all things for
its objects, and extends to the past, the present, and the future; it is one only but has various
functions. On account of the plurality of its functions, we find it designated by different terms
in different places, as manas, or buddhi, or ahamkāra, or citta. Thus, scripture also, after having
enumerated the various functions such as desire, says at the end, “All this is manas only”.’26
(1.12) ‘The internal organ, which constitutes the limiting adjunct of the soul, is called in
different places by different names, such as manas (mind), buddhi (intelligence), vijñāna
(knowledge), citta (thought). This difference of nomenclature is sometimes made dependent on
the difference of the modifications of the internal organ which is called manas when it is in the
state of doubt; buddhi when it is in the state of determination, and the like.—Now we must
necessarily acknowledge the existence of such an internal organ; because, otherwise, there
would result either perpetual perception or perpetual non-perception. There would result
perpetual perception whenever there is a conjunction of the soul, the senses and the objects of
sense—the three together constituting the instruments of perception; or else, if, on the
conjunction of the three causes, the effect did not follow, there would take place perpetual non-
perception. But neither of these two alternatives is actually observed.’27
(1.13) ‘Brahman is the inmost of all the selves beginning from the physical sheath and ending
with the blissful one. The scripture starts with the text: “As compared with this self, made of the
essence of food …” with a view to revealing, through knowledge, that Brahman is the
indwelling Self by following a process of eliminating the five sheaths, just as rice is extracted
from the grain that has many husks. As compared with the body made of the essence of food, as
described above, there is a different self which is inside (which is) imagined through ignorance
to be a self, just as the physical body is; (which latter self is) is air (vital force) and means
constituted by air, possessed predominantly of air. By that airy self, is filled this one—the self
constituted by the essence of food, just as bellows are filled with air. This vital self that has
been spoken of is also of a human form—possessing a head, sides, and so on. Is it so, naturally?
The text says, no. The self constituted by the essence of food is well known to have a human
shape in accordance with the human shape of that self, constituted by the essence of food; this,
the self constituted by air is humanly shaped—like an image cast in a crucible, but not
naturally. Similarly, the succeeding selves become human in shape in accordance with the
human shapes of the preceding ones; and the earlier ones are filled up by the succeeding ones

‘The gods—Fire and so on—perform the act of breathing—become active through the
functioning of the vital force; that is to say, the gods perform the vital functions by becoming
identified with that which possesses the power of sustaining life. Or, because this is the context
of the physical body, devah means the sense organs; (they) become active by following the
function of breathing. Hence, also, it is not simply by possessing the limited self in the form of
the body, built up by food, that creatures become dowered with selves. What then? Human
beings and others are endowed with selves by virtue of possessing a vital body within each
physical body, which form is common to, and pervades, each physical body as a whole.
Similarly, all creatures are possessed of selves by virtue of being provided with the bodies
beginning with the mental and ending with the blissful which successively pervade the
preceding ones and which are made up of the elements, beginning with ākāsa, that are the
creations of ignorance. So also are they blessed with a self by the Self that is common to all,
self-existent, the source of ether, everlasting, unchanging, all-pervading, defined as “truth,
knowledge, and infinite”, and beyond the five sheaths. And by implication it is also said that
this is the real Self of all …
‘There is another inner self constituted by mind. Mind means the internal organ comprising
volition. That which consists of mind is the self made up of mind just as in the case of the body
formed of food …
‘There is another self that is internal—the intelligence-self being within the mental-self. It has
been mentioned that the mental self consists of the Vedas. The wisdom about the contents of the
Vedas, amounting to certitude, is knowledge of self (vijñāna); and that again, in the form of
determination, is a characteristic of the internal organ. Knowledge-self is the self consisting of
knowledge that is authoritative in nature. For, sacrifices, and so on, are undertaken where
there exists knowledge arising from a valid source. And the (next) verse will declare that it is
the source of sacrifices …
‘From the context and from the use of the suffix “made of”, it is to be understood that a
conditioned self is implied by the word ānandamāyā—made of bliss. For the conditioned selves
—made of food and so on—which are material, are dealt with here. And the self made of bliss
also is included in that context. Besides, the suffix “made of” is used here in the sense of
transmutation (and not abundance), as in the case of “made of bliss”. Hence, the bliss-self is to
be understood as a conditioned self …
‘Bliss is an effect of meditation and rites, and bliss-self is constituted by this bliss. And this self
is more internal than the cognitive self, since it has been shown by the Upaniṣad to be
indwelling the cognitive self which is the cause of sacrifices. Inasmuch as the fruit of meditation
and rites is meant for the enjoyer, it must be the inmost of all; and the blissful self is the inmost
as compared with the others. Further, this follows from the fact that meditation and rites are
meant for the acquisition of joy, for meditation and rites are undertaken for joy. Thus, since
joy, and so on, which are the fruits (of rites and meditation), are nearer to the Self, it is logical
that they should be within the cognitive self; for the blissful self, revived by the impression of
joy is perceived in dream as sustained by the cognitive self.
‘Of the self made of bliss, the joy arising from seeing such beloved objects as a son is the
head, because of its pre-eminence. The word modah (enjoyment) means the joy that follows the
acquisition of an object of desire. When that enjoyment reaches its acme, it is exhilaration. Bliss
—pleasure in general, which is the soul (trunk) of the different limbs, (expressions) of
happiness in the form of joy, for this ānanda (common bliss) permeates them all.
‘Bliss is supreme Brahman for it is Brahman which manifests Itself in various mental
modifications, evoked by past good deeds, with regard to such limiting adjuncts as a son or a
friend, in the presence of which the mind, freed from gloom, darkness, and so on, becomes
placid. And this is known in the world as objective happiness. This happiness is momentary,
since the result of past deeds that brings about those particular modifications of the mind is
unstable. That being so, as much as that mind becomes purified through austerities that dispel
tamas (indolence), and also through meditation, continence, and faith, so much do particular
joys attain excellence and gain in volume in that calm and free mind. And this Upaniṣad will
say, “That is verily the source of joy; for one becomes happy by coming in contact with that
source of joy. This one, indeed, enlivens people.”28 There is also this other Vedic text to the
point, “On a particle of this very Bliss other beings live”.29 Thus, too, it will be said that bliss
increases a hundredfold in every successive stage, in proportion to the perfection of detachment
from desires.30 Thus, speaking from the standpoint of the knowledge of supreme Brahman,
Brahman is certainly the highest as compared with the blissful self that evolves gradually. The
Brahman under discussion—which is defined as “truth, knowledge, infinite”,31 for whose
realisation have been introduced the five sheaths, commencing with the one made of food,
which is the inmost of them all, and by which they become endowed with their selves (entity)—
that Brahman is the tail that stabilises. That non-dual Brahman, again, which is the farthest
limit of all negation of duality, superimposed by ignorance, is the support of the blissful self,
for this self culminates in unity.’32

(2) THE SELF IS THE LIGHT WITHIN

Within all these bodies is the Self (Ātman), which is existence, consciousness, infinite. The
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad describes the Self metaphorically as the ‘light within’ because it is
eternal, and illumines the soul always. Because of this light, the jīva breathes, knows, acts,
enjoys. The Self is the substratum of the organs of the soul, illumining and pervading them all,
but it is not possible to show it separately.

(Selected passages)
(2.1) ‘He who knows the Self to be the same everywhere like Vāsudeva (Sri Krishna),33 who
speaks of the same Self residing in a pipal tree34 and in his own body, is the best of the knowers
of Brahman.
‘Just as the ideas of “me” and “mine” are not thought to exist in other bodies, so also they do
not exist in one’s own. For the Self is the common witness of all intellects.
‘Desire, aversion and fear have a seat (the intellect and not the Self) common with that of the
impressions of colours. As they have for their seat the intellect, the knower, the Self, is always
pure and devoid of fear.
‘The meditator assumes the form of the object meditated upon; for the latter is different from
the former; there can be no such actions in the Self in order that It may be established in Itself,
as It is independent of actions (owing to the fact that It is the Self). For It would not be the Self
if It depended on actions.
‘Pure consciousness is of one homogenous nature like the ether, undivided, without old age
and impurity. It is conceived to be of a contrary nature on account of adjuncts such as the eye.
‘What is called the ego is not the property of the Self, as it is an object of perception like jars
and other things. So are to be known the other functions and the impurities of the mind. The
Self, therefore, is without any impurity.
‘The Self is changeless and all-pervading on account of It being the witness of all the
functions of the mind. It would be of limited knowledge like the intellect if It were subject to
change.
‘Unlike the knowledge gained through the eye, the knowledge (pure consciousness) of the
knower does not cease to exist. It is said in the śruti, “Knowledge of knower does not go out of
existence.”35 The knower, therefore, is always of the homogenous nature of knowledge.
‘One should discriminate thus: Who am I? Am I a combination of the elements or the senses,
or am I anyone of them separately?
‘I am not anyone of the elements separately nor their aggregate; similarly, I am not anyone
of the senses nor their aggregate; for they are objects (like jars) and instruments (like axes) of
knowledge, respectively. The knower is different from all these. Placed like fuel in the fire of
the Self, burning brightly by ignorance, desire and action, the intellect always shines forth
through the door-like apertures called ears. The fire of the Self is the experiencer of gross
objects (in the waking state) when the intellect, ignited by the objects which in the place of
oblations, functions among the senses of which the right eye is the chief.
‘One does not get attached to the impurities of the waking state if, at the time of perceiving
colours, and so on, one remembers that oblations are being offered to the fire of the Self, and
remains free from desire and aversion.
‘Manifested in the abode of the modifications of the mind (in dream), and witnessing the
impressions produced by actions due to ignorance, the Self is called Taijasā. It is then the self-
effulgent witness.
‘(In deep sleep) when neither objects nor their impressions are produced in the intellect by
actions, the Self, cognisant neither of objects nor of their impressions, is known to be Prājña.
‘The conditions of the mind, the intellect and the senses, produced by actions, are illumined
by pure consciousness like jars and other things by the sun.
‘As it is so, illumining by Its light, the functions of the mind which exist for It, that is pure
consciousness, the Self is regarded by the ignorant only as an agent of those functions.
‘Therefore also, illumining everything by Its own light, the Self is considered to be all-
knowing. Similarly, It is regarded as the accomplisher of everything as It is the cause of all
actions.
‘The Self with its adjuncts is thus described. (But) It is without adjuncts, indescribable, without
parts, without qualities and pure, which the mind and speech do not reach. For philosophers
differ in their conceptions about the Self. Different conceptions are: the Self is (1) conscious; (2)
non-conscious; (3) an agent; (4) a non-agent; (5) all-pervading; (6) not all-pervading; (7)
bound; (8) free; (9) one; (10) many; (11) pure; (12) not pure; and so on.
‘Words with the mind turn back reaching It as It is without qualities, without actions and
without attributes.
‘One should know the Self, comparable to the ether which is all-pervading and free from all
objects having forms, to be the pure and the supreme goal (Brahman) in the Vedānta.
‘One should give up [one’s identification with] the waking state, its impressions (dream), and
deep sleep which causes everything to merge in itself. The Self, the witness of them all, is then
in the nature of pure Consciousness (Brahman), like the sun which has dispelled the darkness of
the night.
‘Illumining the modifications, which have for their objects waking, dream and deep sleep, the
all-pervading Self is the same in all beings, and is the witness of them all.’36
(2.2) ‘The word “this” has been used with reference to the Self, since it is directly known to
us. “Vijñānamāyā” means identified with the intellect; the Self is so called because of our failure
to discriminate its association with its limiting adjunct, the intellect, for it is perceived as
associated with the intellect, as the planet Rahu is with the sun and the moon. The intellect is
the instrument that helps us in everything, like a lamp set in front amidst darkness. It has been
said, “It is through the mind that one sees and hears.”37 Every object is perceived only as
associated with the light of the intellect, as objects in the dark are lighted up by a lamp placed
in front; the other organs are but the channels for the intellect. Therefore, the self is described
in terms of that, as “identified with the intellect”…
‘The locative case in the term, “in the midst of the organs”, indicates that the Self is different
from the organs, as “a rock in the midst of the trees” indicates only nearness; for there is a
doubt about the identity or difference of the Self from the organs. “In the midst of the organs”
means “different from the organs,” for, that which is in the midst of certain other things is, of
course, different from them, as “a tree in the midst of the rocks”…
‘The word “within” indicates that the Self is different from the modifications of the intellect.
The Self is called light, because it is self-effulgent for, through this light, the self-effulgent
Ātman, this aggregate of body and organs sits, goes out and works, as if it were sentient, as a
jar placed in the sun (shines). Or as an emerald or any other gem, dropped for testing into
milk, imparts its lustre to them, so does this luminous self, being finer than even the heart or
intellect, unify and impart its lustre to the body and organs, including the intellect, although it
is within the intellect; for these have varying degrees of fineness or grossness in a certain order,
and the Self is the innermost of them all …
‘Therefore, the Self is the “light within the intellect”, “puruṣa”, infinite entity, being all-
pervading like the ether. Its self-effulgence is infinite, because it is the illuminer of everything,
but is itself not illumined by anything else. This infinite entity of which you ask, “Which is the
self?” is self-effulgent.
‘It has been said that, when the external lights that help the different organs have ceased to
work, the Self, the infinite entity that is the light within the intellect, helps the organs through
the mind. Even when the external aids of the organs—the sun and other lights—exist, since
these latter (being compounds) subserve the purpose of some other agency, and the body and
organs, being insentient, cannot exist for themselves, this aggregate of body and organs cannot
function without the help of the Self, the light that lives for itself. It is always through the help
of the light of the Self that all our activities take place. “This intellect and manas are
consciousness …(all these are but names for intelligence or the Atman),”38 says another śruti,
for every act of people is attended with the ego, and the reason for this ego we have already
stated through the illustration of the emerald …
‘In the phrase, “within the heart”, there occurs the word, “heart”, meaning the intellect, and
it is quite close; therefore, that is meant. And what is meant by “likeness”? The failure to
distinguish (between the intellect and the Self) as between a horse and a buffalo. The intellect is
that which is illumined, and the light of the Self is that which illumines, like light; and it is well
known that we cannot distinguish between the two. It is because light is pure that it assumes
the likeness of that which it illumines. When it illumines something coloured, it assumes the
likeness of that colour. When, for instance, it illumines something green, blue or red, it is
coloured like them. Similarly the Self, illumining the intellect, illumines through it the entire
body and organs, as we have already stated through the illustration of the emerald. Therefore,
through the similarity of the intellect, the Self assumes the likeness of everything. Hence it will
be described later on as “identified with everything”.39
‘Therefore, it cannot be taken apart from anything else, like a stalk of grass from its sheath,
and shown in its self-effulgent form …’40

(3) THE SOUL AND THE LORD

The relationship between the individual souls and the Lord—known variously as Saguna-
Brahman, Īśvara, Hiraṇyagarbha (Brahman+māyā)—must be understood rightly in the context
of the identity statements of the Upaniṣad, which finally teach the identity of the individual Self
(Ātman) and the Absolute Self (Brahman). The jīva is essentially, as the Ātman, identical with
Brahman, but jīva and Īśvara are different as they belong to the realm of empirical existence.
This is the basis of texts teaching devotion to the Lord to obtain His grace: attaining the world
of Hiraṇyagarbha; meditation on Saguṇa-Brahman; performance of rites, and so on. According to
Śaṅkara, they are all relevant to worldly life, wherein the triad of Īśvara, jagat and jīva is
distinct and interlinked. From the standpoint of māyā—which is responsible for this empirical
phenomenon—Īśvara and jīva are different, but not so in their essential nature as the non-dual
consciousness, which is the standpoint of knowledge. That Advaita is a philosophy of
standpoints must be kept in mind to understand the nature of jīva.

(Selected passages)
(3.1) ‘But, to raise a new objection, there exists no transmigrating soul different from the Lord
and obstructed by impediments of knowledge; for śruti expressly declares that “there is no other
seer but he; there is no other knower but he”.41 How then can it be said that the origination of
knowledge in the transmigrating soul depends on a body, while it does not do so in the case of
the Lord?—True, we reply. There is, in reality, no transmigrating soul different from the Lord.
Still, the connection (of the Lord) with limiting adjuncts, consisting of bodies and so on, is
assumed, just as we assume the ether to enter into connection with diverse limiting adjuncts
such as jars, pots, caves, and the like. And just as in consequence of connection of the latter
kind, such conceptions and terms as “the hollow (space) of a jar”, and so on, are generally
current, although the space inside a jar is not really different from universal space, and just as
in consequence thereof there generally prevails the false notion that there are different spaces
such as the space of a jar, and so on; so there prevails likewise the false notion that the Lord
and the transmigrating soul are different; a notion due to the non-discrimination of the (unreal)
connection of the soul with the limiting conditions, consisting of the body, and so on. That the
Self—although in reality the only existence—imparts the quality of Selfhood to bodies and the
like, which are not-Self, is a matter of observation, and is due to mere wrong conception, which
depends, in its turn, on antecedent wrong conception. And the consequence of the soul thus
involving itself in the transmigratory state is that its thought depends on a body and the like.’42
(3.2) ‘… For he who perceives cannot be that which is perceived.—But, it may be asked, if he
who perceives or attains cannot be that which is perceived or attained, how about the following
śruti and smṛti passages, “The Self is to be sought”; “Nothing higher is known than the
attainment of the Self?”—This objection, we reply, is legitimate (from the point of view of
absolute truth). Yet we see that in ordinary life, the Self, which in reality, is never anything but
the Self is, owing to non-comprehension of the truth, identified with the non-Self, the body, and
so on; whereby it becomes possible to speak of the Self in so far as it is identified with the body,
and so on, as something not searched for but to be searched for; not heard but to be heard; not
seized but to be seized; not perceived but to be perceived; not known but to be known; and the
like. Scripture, on the other hand, denies, in such passages as, “there is no other seer but he”,43
that there is, in reality, any seer or hearer different from the all-knowing highest Lord. (Nor can
it be said that the Lord is unreal because he is identical with the unreal individual soul; for) the
Lord differs from the soul (vijñanātman) which is embodied, acts and enjoys, and is the product
of nescience, in the same way as the illusive juggler who, holding in his hand a shield and a
sword, climbs up to the sky by means of a rope; or as the free unlimited ether differs from the
ether of a jar, which is determined by its limiting adjunct (the jar).’44
(3.3) ‘Moreover, on the hypothesis of going, that which goes, the individual soul, must be
either a part of Brahman to which it goes, or an effect of Brahman, or different from Brahman;
for if the two were absolutely identical, no going could take place.—Well, what then?—We
reply as follows. If, in the first place, the soul is a part of Brahman, it cannot go to it, since the
whole is permanently reached by the part. Besides, the hypothesis of whole and parts cannot be
applied to Brahman, which is acknowledged to be without parts.—The same objection lies
against the hypothesis of the soul being an effect of Brahman; for, also that which passes over
into an effect is permanently reached by the effect. A jar made of clay does not exist apart from
the clay which constituted its Self; were it so apart, it would cease to be. And on both
hypotheses, as that to which the parts or the effects would belong, that is Brahman is altogether
unchanging; its entering into the samsāra state could not be accounted for.—Let then, in the
third place, the soul be different from Brahman. In that case, it must be either of atomic size, or
infinite, or of some intervening extent. If it is omnipresent, it cannot go anywhere. If it is of
some middling extent, it cannot be permanent. If it is of atomic size, the fact of sensation
extending over the whole body cannot be accounted for. The two hypotheses of atomic and
middling extent have moreover been refuted at length in a former part of this work.45 And from
the soul’s being different from the highest Brahman, it also would follow that such texts as,
“That art thou”, are futile. This latter objection also lies against the theories of the soul being a
part or an effect of Brahman. Nor can the difficulty be got over by it being pleaded that a part
and an effect are not different from the whole and the causal substance; for that kind of
oneness is not oneness in the true literal sense—From all those three theories it, moreover,
equally follows that the soul cannot obtain final release, because its samsāra condition could
never come to an end. Or else, if that condition should come to an end, it would follow that the
very essence of the soul perishes; for those theories do not admit that the (imperishable)
Brahman constitutes the Self of the soul.’46
(3.4) ‘Do you then mean to say that the individual soul has no common attributes with the
Lord?—We do not maintain that; but we say that the equality of attributes, although existing, is
hidden by the veil of nescience. In the case of some persons indeed who strenuously meditate
on the Lord and who, their ignorance being dispelled at last, obtain through the favour of the
Lord, extraordinary powers and insight, that hidden equality becomes manifest—just as through
the action of strong medicines, the power of sight of a blind man becomes manifest; but it does
not on its own account reveal itself to all men.—Why not? Because “from Him”, from the Lord,
there are bondage and release of it, the individual soul. That means: bondage is due to the
absence of knowledge of the Lord’s true nature; release is due to the presence of such
knowledge.’47
(3.5) ‘The pūrvapakṣin maintains that the term “Self” is not be taken as meaning “I”. For that
which possesses the qualities of being free from all evil, and so on, cannot be understood as
possessing qualities of a contrary nature; nor can that which possesses those contrary qualities
be understood as being free from all evil and so on …
‘To all this, we make the following reply: The highest Lord must be understood as the Self.
For, in a chapter treating of the highest Lord, the Gabalas (Jābāla) acknowledge Him to be the
Self. “Thou indeed I am, O holy divinity; I indeed thou art, O divinity!”—In the same light,
other texts have to be viewed, which also acknowledge the Lord as the Self, such as, “I am
Brahman …”48
‘Nor can we admit the truth of the assertion, made by the pūrvapakṣin, that all these passages
teach merely a contemplation (of the Lord) in certain symbols, analogous to the contemplation
of Viṣṇu in an image. For that would firstly involve that the texts have not to be understood in
their primary sense; and in the second place, there is a difference of syntactical form. For,
where scripture intends the contemplation of something in a symbol, it conveys its meaning
through a single enunciation, such as, “Brahman is mind”49 or “Brahman is Aditya.”50 But in the
passage quoted above, scripture says, “I am Thou and Thou art I.” As, here, the form of
expression differs from that of texts teaching the contemplation of symbols, the passage must be
understood as teaching non-difference. This, moreover, follows from the express prohibition of
the view of difference which a number of scriptural texts convey. Compare, “Now if a man
worships another Deity, thinking the Deity is one and he another, he does not know”;51 “From
death to death goes he who here perceives any diversity”;52 “Whosoever looks for anything
elsewhere than in the Self is abandoned by everything.”53—Nor is there any force in the
objection that things with contrary qualities cannot be identical; for this opposition of qualities
can be shown to be false.—Nor is it true that from our doctrine it would follow that the Lord is
not a Lord. For, in these matters, scripture alone is authoritative, and we, moreover, do not at
all admit that scripture teaches the Lord to be the Self of the transmigratory soul, but maintains
that, by denying the transmigrating character of the soul, it aims at teaching that the soul, is
the Self of the Lord. From this, it follows that the non-dual Lord is free from all evil qualities,
and that to ascribe to Him contrary qualities is an error.—Nor is it true that the doctrine of
identity would imply that nobody is entitled to works, and so on, and is contrary to perception,
and so on. For we admit that before true knowledge springs up, the soul is implicated in the
transmigratory state, and that this state constitutes the sphere of the operation of perception,
and so on. On the other hand, texts such as, “But when the Self only has become all this, how
should he see another?” teach that, as soon as true knowledge springs up, perception, and so
on, are no longer valid.—Nor do we mind your objecting that if perception, and so on cease to
be valid, scripture itself ceases to be so; for this conclusion is just what we assume. For, on the
grounds of the text, “Then a father is not a father” up to “Then the Vedas are not Vedas,”54 we
ourselves assume that when knowledge springs up, scripture ceases to be valid.—And should
you ask who then is characterised by the absence of true knowledge, we reply, “Very well, if
you have arrived at that knowledge, then there is nobody who does not possess such
knowledge.”—This also disposes of the objection, urged by some, that a system of non-duality
cannot be established because the Self is affected with duality by nescience.
‘Hence we must fix our minds on the Lord as the Self.’55

(4) STATES OF THE SOUL

Śaṅkara interprets scriptural texts analysing the three states of human experience—waking
(jāgrat), dream (svapna), sleep (suṣupti)—to show how the mind functions in these states. The
jīva in these states is known as Vaiśvānara (Viśva), Taijasa and Prājña, respectively. In the
waking state, the mind perceives the objects of the empirical world, and the objects perceived
in the dream state (internal world) become illusory on waking up. The dream state thus has a
different reality, and in the state of deep sleep, the mind does not function, and so, only
nescience remains. The witness-consciousness (I) in all these states is the Self, and it is veiled by
ignorance. Thus, the experiences of the soul in these states depend on the adjuncts operating in
each state. Beyond these three states, and transcending them, is the state of non-dual
consciousness known as turīya, which is the natural state of Self-consciousness, revealed when
duality is transcended. This is the goal to be achieved. The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad and Gauḍapāda
Kārika on this Upaniṣad elaborately describe this method of subjective analysis to realize the
identity of the Self with the Absolute. By a process of negation of all the adjuncts, the Self
stands revealed, and Śaṅkara concludes in his commentary on them: ‘… that Self is to be known
(as different from superimposed states)—the Self that is presented in the sentence, “That Thou
art”56… This (knowledge of the Self) is spoken of from the standpoint of the previous state of
ignorance for, on the dawn of knowledge, no duality is left.’57

(Selected passages)
(4.1) ‘He, again, who imagines that the passages intervening (between the two quoted58) aim at
setting forth the nature of the transmigrating Self by representing it in the waking state, and so
on, is like a man, who setting out towards the east, wants to set out at the same time towards
the west. For, in representing the states of waking, and so on, the passage does not aim at
describing the soul as subject to different states or transmigration, but rather as free from all
particular conditions and transmigration.’59
(4.2) ‘Now, liberation in the form of identity with all, which is the result, devoid of action
with its factors and results, of knowledge, and in which there is no ignorance, desire, or work,
is being directly pointed out. This has already been introduced in the passage, “Where falling
asleep, it craves no desire and sees no dream”60… It has elsewhere been said, “Is connected
with evils,” and “Discards those evils,” “Free from evils” means “devoid of merits and
demerits”… This identity with all which is the result of knowledge, is this form—beyond desire,
free from evils and fearless. It is fearless because it is devoid of all relative attributes. This has
already been introduced at the conclusion of the preceding section, by the competent personal
statement, “You have attained That which is free from fear, O Janaka”.61 But here, it is
elaborated by argument to impress the meaning conveyed by the competent personal statement
in question.
‘This Ātman is itself the light that is pure intelligence, and reveals everything by its own
intelligence. It has been said62 that (he is untouched by) the roaming or by whatever he sees, or
enjoys, or knows in that (dream) state. And it is also proved by reasoning that the eternal
nature of the Self is that it is the light of pure intelligence. (Now, an objection is being raised):
If the Self remains intact in its own form in the state of profound sleep, why does it know itself
as “I am this”, or know all those things that are outside, as it does in the waking and the dream
states? The answer is being given: Listen to why it does not know. Unity is the reason. How is
that? This is explained by the text. As the intended meaning is vividly realised through an
illustration, it goes on to say: As in the world, a man, fully embraced by his beloved wife, both
desiring each other’s company, does not know anything at all, either external to himself, as,
“This is something other than myself,” or internal, as “I am this, or I am happy or miserable”—
but he knows everything outside and inside when he is not embraced by her and is separated,
and fails to know only during the embrace owing to the attainment of unity—so, like the
example cited, does this infinite being, the individual Self, who is separated (from the Supreme
Self) like a lump of salt, through contact with a little of the elements (the body and organs) and
enters this body and organs, like the reflection of the moon in water, and so forth, being fully
embraced by, or unified with, the Supreme Self, His own real, natural, supremely effulgent Self,
and being identified with all, without the least break, not know anything at all, either external,
something outside, or internal, within himself, such as, “I am this, or I am happy or miserable.”
‘You asked me why, in spite of its being the light that is pure intelligence, the Self fails to
know in the state of profound sleep. I have told you the reason—it is unity, as of a couple fully
embracing each other. Incidentally, it is implied that variety is the cause of particular
consciousness; and the cause of that variety is, as we have said, ignorance, which brings
forward something other than the Self. Such being the case, when the jīva is freed from
ignorance, he attains but unity with all. Therefore, there being no such division among the
factors of an action as knowledge and known, whence should particular consciousness arise, or
desire manifest itself, in the natural, immutable light of the Self?
‘Because this identity with all is His form, therefore, that is His form, the form of this self-
effulgent Ātman, in which all objects of desire have been attained, because it comprises all.
That, from which objects of desire are different, has hankering after them, as the form called
Devadatta, for instance, in the waking state. But this other form is not so divided from
anything; hence, in it, all objects of desire have been attained. It may be asked, can that form
not be divided from other things that exist, or is the Self the only entity that exists? The answer
is: there is nothing else but the Self. How? Because all objects of desire are but the Self in this
form. In states other than that of profound sleep, in the waking and dream states, things are
separated, as it were, from the Self and are desired as such. But to one who is fast asleep, they
become the Self, since there is no ignorance to project the idea of difference. Hence also, is this
form free from desire, because there is nothing to be desired, and devoid of grief (sokāntara).
“Antara” means a break or gap; or it may mean the inside or core. In either case, the meaning is
that this form of the Self is free from grief.’63
(4.3) See under Brahman as Ānanda.64
(4.4) ‘After Ajātasatru has taught Bālaki, by waking the sleeping man, that the soul is
different from the vital air, he asks the following question, “Bālaki, where did this person here
sleep? Where was he? Whence came he thus back?” This question clearly refers to something
different from the individual soul. And so likewise does the reply, “When sleeping, he sees no
dream, then he becomes one with that prāṇa alone,” and “From that Self all prāṇas proceed,
each towards its place, from the prāṇas the gods, from the gods the worlds.”—Now it is the
general Vedānta doctrine that, at the time of deep sleep, the soul becomes one with the highest
Brahman, and that from the highest Brahman, the whole world proceeds, inclusive of prāṇa, and
so on. When scripture, therefore, represents, as the object of knowledge, that in which there
takes place the deep sleep of the soul, characterised by absence of consciousness and utter
tranquillity, a state devoid of all those specific cognitions which are produced by the limiting
adjuncts of the soul, and from which the soul returns when the sleep is broken; we understand
that the highest Self is meant.’65
(4.5) ‘With regard to the second objection that, if we assume all distinctions to pass (at the
time of re-absorption) into the state of non-distinction, there would be no special reason for the
origin of a new world affected with distinctions, we likewise refer to the “existence of parallel
instances.” For the case is parallel to that of deep sleep and trance. In those states also, the soul
enters into an essential condition of non-distinction; nevertheless, wrong knowledge being not
yet finally overcome, the old state of distinction re-establishes itself as soon as the soul awakes
from its sleep or trance.’66
(4.6) ‘Sensuous perceptions are to be regarded as the waking state. Those very perceptions
revealed in sleep as impressions constitute the dream state. The absence of perceptions and
their impressions is known to be deep sleep. (The witness of the three states) one’s own Self
should be regarded as the supreme goal (Brahman) to be realised.
‘What is called deep sleep, darkness or ignorance, is the seed of the waking and dream states.
It gets perfectly burnt by the fire of Self-knowledge, and it no more produces effects, like a
burnt seed that does not germinate.’67
(4.7) ‘That very Self, that was equated with Om in “This Self is possessed of four quarters,”68
by giving predominance to the object denoted (by Om)—that very Self from the standpoint of
the syllable (is Om) when explained with emphasis on the syllable. Which again is that syllable?
“That is being stated: it is the syllable Om. That syllable Om, while being divided into quarters,
exists on letters as its basis. How? Those which constitute the quarters of the Self are the letters
of Om. Which are they? They are the letters “a”, “u”, and “m”.
‘With regard to these, specific relations are being established. He who is Vaiśvānāra (Virāt)
with His sphere (of activity) as the waking state (The Self in the gross individual context, Viśva,
is identical with the Self in the gross cosmic context, Vaiśvānara or Virāt. Similarly, it is to be
understood that Taijasa is identical with Hiraṇyagarbha, and Prājña with the Unmanifested, the
difference lying only in the sphere of manifestation. This identity is suggested by the
indiscriminate use of these terms in the present and following texts.) “A” is the first letter of
Om. Because of what similarity? That is being said: because of pervasiveness. By the sound “a”
is pervaded all speech, according to the Vedic text, “The sound ‘a’ is indeed all speech.”69
Similarly, by Vaiśvānara is pervaded the whole universe, according to the Vedic text, “The head
indeed of this Self, that is Vaiśvānara, is heaven”, and so on.70 And we said that the word and
the thing denoted by the word are the same. That which has precedence is said to be first. As
the letter called “a” is the first, so also is Vaiśvānara. Because of this similarity, Vaiśvānara is
identified with “a”. The fruit attained by a knower of this identity is stated: he surely attains all
desirable things and he becomes the foremost, among the great, who knows thus, knows the
identity as stated.
‘He who is Taijasa with the state of dream as his sphere is the second letter, “u” of Om.
Because of what similarity? That is being said: because of excellence. The letter “u” is, as it
were, better than the letter “a”; so also is Taijasa better than Viśva, or (this is so) because of
intermediate position. The letter “u” occurs between the letters “a” and “m” and so also is
Taijasa intermediate between Viśva and Prājña. (Taijasa is “u”) because of this similarity of being
related to both. The result attained by the knower is being stated: he heightens, that is to say,
increases, the current of his knowledge, and he becomes equal—he does not become an object
of envy to his enemies, as he is not to his friends. In his line, who knows thus, none is born who
is not a knower of Brahman.
‘He that is Prājña with the state of sleep as his sphere is the letter “m”, which is the third letter
of the syllable Om. By what analogy? That is being said: this is the analogy here—because of
measuring. As barley is measured by the vessel called Prastha, so are Viśva and Taijasa measured,
as it were, because of their entry into and coming out of Prājña during dissolution and
origination. Similarly, too, at the end of the pronunciation of the syllable Om and at the time of
its fresh pronunciation, the letters “a” and “u” seem to enter into the last letter “m” to come out
again from it. Or because of absorption, means getting merged or united in it. At the time of
the pronunciation of Om, “a” and “u” seem to get merged into the last letter “m”. Similarly,
Viśva and Taijasa merge into Prājña at the time of sleep. Because of this analogy also, there is
the identity of Prājña and the letter “m”.
‘The result attained by the man of knowledge is stated: he measures all this universe; that is
to say, he knows its reality and he becomes the place of absorption of the universe, that is to
say, the Self in Its causal state. The mention of subsidiary results here is by way of praising the
primary means.
‘That which has no part—the partless Om—becomes but the fourth, turīya, merely the
Absolute Self, which is beyond empirical relations, because of the disappearance of names and
nameables, that are but forms of speech and mind; the culmination of phenomenal existence
(the ultimate limit of the negation of the world); the auspicious non-dual. Thus Om, as
possessed of the three letters, and as applied by a man with the above knowledge, is verily
identical with the Self, possessed of three quarters. He who knows thus enters into (his own
supreme) Self, through (his own) Self. The knower of Brahman, who has realised the highest
truth, has entered into the Self by burning away the third state of latency and hence is not born
again, since turīya has no latency of (creation). For, when a snake superimposed on a rope has
merged in the rope on the discrimination of the rope and the snake, it does not appear again to
those discriminating people, just as before, from the impressions of the past sticking to the
intellect. To those men of renunciation who are possessed of dull or average intellect, who still
consider themselves aspirants, who tread the virtuous path, and who know the common
features of the letters and the quarters (of Om and the Self) as presented before, (to them) the
syllable Om, when meditated on in the proper way, becomes helpful for the realisation of
Brahman. In support of this it will be said, “The three stages of life—inferior, intermediate, and
superior”71.’72
(4.8) ‘Empirical existence is that which coexists with a real (empirical) thing; similarly is that
which coexists with experience. This is duality that is the source of all behaviour, scriptural and
other, and that is characterised by the subject–object relationship. It is the ordinary state, or in
other words, the state of waking. The waking state is admitted to be such in the Upaniṣads.
That which is unsubstantial—there being an absence of empirical existence as well, which is
associated with experience of things, as it were, though in fact there is no object—that is
admitted in the dream state to be pure, objectless, subtler than the gross objects of the waking
state, and it is ordinary, being common to all beings.
‘That which is unsubstantial and without experience, or in other words, that which is devoid
of the subject and the object, is traditionally held to be beyond the ordinary, and therefore
super-normal for, while the ordinary consists of the subject and the objects, in it there is an
absence of these. It is the seed of all activity, that is to say, it is the state of deep sleep. That
(mental state) is called knowledge, by which is known in succession, the Supreme Reality
together with Its means (of realisation); the ordinary, the objectless ordinary; and the
extraordinary. The object of knowledge comprises all these three states, for logically there is no
object (of knowledge) over and above these, the objects fancied by all the sophists being verily
included in them. The object of realisation is the Supreme Reality that is called the fourth, that
is to say, the non-dual and birthless Reality that is the Self. All this, ranging from the ordinary
to the realisable thing, is declared forever by the wise, by the seers of the summum bonum, by
the knowers of Brahman. When (after) knowledge—knowledge of the ordinary—is acquired
and when (after) the knowable things of three kinds are known in succession—namely, first,
the gross ordinary, then when these are not present, the objectless ordinary, and in the absence
of that again, the extraordinary and then, when the three states are eliminated and the
Supreme Reality, the fourth, non-dual, birthless, fearless, has become known of Its own accord,
then for the man of great intellect there emerges here in this world the state of being all and
the knower for ever, since his realisation relates to what transcends all the universe; that is to
say, if It is known once, It never leaves him. For, unlike the knowledge of the sophists, there is
no appearance or disappearance for the knowledge of the man who has realised the highest
Truth.
‘From the fact that the ordinary state has been presented as objects to be known successively,
some one may conclude that they have real existence. Hence it is said: The rejectable, are the
three states counting from the ordinary. That is to say, just like the denial of an illusory snake
on the rope, waking, dream, and sound sleep are to be denied as having any existence in the
Self. The thing to be known (realised) in this context, is the Supreme Reality, free from the four
alternatives.73 The acceptable are the disciplines, called scholarship, the strength arising from
knowledge and meditativeness,74 that are to be accepted by the monk after discarding the three
kinds of desire (for progeny, property, and worlds), that are fit to be rendered ineffective—the
blemishes—attraction, repulsion, delusion—called passions. All these—those that are to be
rejected, known, accepted, and rendered ineffective—are to be known well by the monk in the
beginning as (his) means. Among those, among the things to be rejected, it is held traditionally
by the knowers of Brahman that—apart from Brahman alone that is to be realised, that is the
Ultimate Reality—there is a mere imagination of perception, owing to ignorance, with regard
to all the three that are rejectable, acceptable, and fit to be made ineffective. They are not,
however, admitted to be true from the highest standpoint.
‘But from the ultimate standpoint:
‘All the souls are to be known by those who hanker after liberation to be by nature analogous
to space in point of subtleness, freedom from taints, and all-pervasiveness and (to be) eternal.
Lest any misconception of diversity be created by the use of the plural number, the text says by
way of removing it, plurality does not exist among them anywhere even by a jot or little.
‘And as for the souls being objects of cognition, that too, is merely in accord with empirical
experience but not with Reality. This is being stated:
‘Since, just like the ever-effulgent sun, all the souls are by their very nature illumined from
the very beginning, that is to say, as the sun is ever shining, so are they ever of the nature of
consciousness, (therefore) there is no need for ascertaining their character; or in other words,
their nature is ever well established, and it is not subject to such doubts as to “whether it is so or
not so.” As the sun is ever independent of any other light, for its own sake or for any other, so
he, for whom, for which seeker after liberation there occurs in his own soul a freedom from any
need of further acquisition of knowledge—either for himself or for others; thus, in the way
described above, that man becomes fit for immortality; that is to say, he becomes able to attain
liberation. Similarly, there is no need for bringing about tranquillity in the Self. This is being
pointed out: Since all the souls are tranquil from the beginning, always peaceful and birthless,
completely detached by their very nature, equal and non-different, and since the reality of the
Self is birthless, equipoised (uniform), holy, therefore, there is no such thing as peace or
liberation that has to be brought about. That is the idea. For anything done can have no
meaning for one that is ever of the same nature. Those who have grasped the Ultimate Truth,
as described, are the only people in the world who are not pitiable; but the others are to be
pitied. This is being stated: Since they have a proclivity for duality, follow duality—that is to
say, confine themselves to the world. Who are they? Those who talk of a multiplicity of things,
or in other words, the dualists. Therefore, they are traditionally held to be pitiable since there is
no perfection for those who are ever roaming about in duality, that is to say, for those who ever
persist in the path of duality conjured up by ignorance. Consequently, it is proper that they
should be objects of pity. The next verse says that the nature of the Supreme Truth is beyond the
ken of those who have not the requisite expansion of heart; who are not learned; who are
outside the pale of Vedānta; who are narrow-minded; and who are dull of intellect.
‘Those who, perchance, even though they be women, will become firm in conviction with
regard to the nature of the Ultimate Reality that is birthless and uniform, they alone are
possessed of great wisdom, or in other words, endowed with unsurpassing knowledge about
Reality, in this world. And nobody, no other man of ordinary intellect, can dip into, that is to
say, that thing, namely their path and their content of knowledge—the nature of the Ultimate
Reality. For it is stated in the smṛti, “As it is not possible to sketch the flight of birds in the sky,
so even the gods get puzzled in trying to trace the course of one who has become identified with
the Self of all beings, who is a source of bliss to all, and who has no goal to reach.”75
‘Since it is traditionally held that the knowledge inhering in the birthless steady souls is
birthless, steady like light and heat in the sun, therefore, that knowledge which is unassociated
with any other object is said to be unborn. Since the knowledge does not relate to any other
object because of that reason, it is proclaimed to be non-relational, like space.
‘If, in accordance with the other schools of disputants, it be admitted that there is origination
for any object, inside or outside, however insignificant that origination be, then, there can be
no non-attachment for ever for that non-discriminating man. Should one say that there is no
destruction of covering?
‘Objection: By asserting that there is no removal of covering, you lay yourself open to the
charge of accepting a covering for the souls as your own conclusion.
‘To this it is answered, “No.”
‘All the souls never had any veil, any bondage of ignorance; that is to say, they are free from
bondage; and they are intrinsically pure, illumined and also free from the beginning since they
are by nature ever pure, illumined, and also free. If they are so, why is it said that they know?
The answer is: They are masters, have the power of learning; that is to say, they are by nature
endowed with the power of knowledge. This is just like saying, “The sun shines”, though the
very nature of the sun is constant effulgence, or like saying, “The hills stand”, though it is the
very nature of the hills to be perpetually motionless.’76
6

Path to Perfection

INTRODUCTION

Metaphysical inquiry, culminating in the teaching of the essential nature of the jīva and the
Absolute, logically leads to the discussion on how to attain this state of non-duality. There is a
close connection between metaphysics and spiritual discipline in the philosophy of Śaṅkara.
Philosophical inquiry is not just an intellectual exercise to satisfy the mind, but also one that
must enable man to realize the goal taught in the scriptures. There is a rationale in Śaṅkara’s
threefold approach to understand the nature of the Absolute Reality through śruti, yukti and
anubhava. śruti is the pramāṇa for knowledge of Brahman because the Absolute is beyond the ken
of the senses and the mind. What is learnt from śruti must then be understood through reasoning
(yukti) to get conviction about the truth of the teachings. Finally, one has to experience the
truth for oneself (anubhava), as Brahman is not an object to be known, and the non-dual nature
of the Self can be experienced only by transcending the subject–object distinction. In the
process of this shift, the individual takes centre stage, because the two approaches, till now,
were at the empirical level of duality, and this has to be transcended if the state of non-duality
has to be experienced. Besides, the objective of the scriptures is to help man suffering in
bondage realize his true spiritual nature, so that he can attain liberation from the cycle of
transmigration. So, the theoretical knowledge of the Absolute Reality must be complemented by
practical realization, and śruti and yukti are, therefore, only the preparatory ground to progress
on the spiritual path. It may sound clichéd but the proof of the pudding is in the eating!
Transmigration is an endless cycle of birth and death for the jīva, caught in samsāra and the
scriptures, portray the phenomenal existence of samsāra (worldly life) graphically, as a tree
with its roots above in Brahman and its branches, leaves, flowers and fruits below, in the world
of empirical existence. The detail in which these passages describe the predicament of the jīva is
to enable a spiritual seeker to see the reality that worldly life is an illusion in which he has to
constantly guard himself from the alluring attraction of the world if he wants to extricate
himself from this quagmire. Developing detachment from the world is a slow process, and
conscious effort is necessary for spiritual evolution.
Scriptural study has to be undertaken by a spiritual a spirant when he develops a strong
desire for liberation from samsāra. Faith in the scriptural teachings is paramount because the
goal to be pursued is beyond intellectual deliberation. Śaṅkara also spells out four requisites
that a spiritual aspirant should fulfil to embark on scriptural study. They are: the sense of
discrimination between the transient (worldly life) and the permanent (the Self); renunciation
of the result of action so that Karma does not accrue as this is the cause of rebirths, cultivation
of six virtues for achieving self-control; and intense desire for liberation from bondage.
In this context, it is necessary to understand the difference between religious and spiritual
pursuits. The Vedas, being the authority for both, teach two kinds of knowledge according to
Śaṅkara. That which leads to realization of Brahman is termed as higher (parā vidyā); and the
rest lower (aparā vidyā), because the ultimate objective of śruti is to teach the knowledge of
Brahman, which alone can lead to liberation from bondage and rebirth. Religious pursuits,
which include performance of rites and devotional activities, are said to be lower from the
standpoint of liberation. They are necessary till a strong desire for liberation develops and also
during spiritual pursuit for achieving control of the mind. Religious pursuits result in merit
(puṇya), which promotes worldly well-being during the several births of the jīva, but will not
lead to liberation by itself. On the other hand, the result of spiritual pursuit will be immediate,
that is, liberation from bondage, if pursued till the goal is realized.
Only knowledge, which can remove the primordial ignorance, will reveal the true nature of
the Self (Ātman), as the reason for the human predicament in samsāra (worldly existence) is due
to avidyā. To put it in a nutshell, Śaṅkara’s prescription for liberation from bondage is
knowledge. All the elaborate discussion in the Upaniṣad about spiritual discipline will
ultimately point to jñāna as the direct means to liberation. Before a discussion on the spiritual
path, there must be clarity about what Śaṅkara states about the nature of the goal to be
realized.
Brahman is the common ground for both the phenomenal world and the jīva at the empirical
level, and as bondage is due to mistaking the not-Self for the Self, liberation overcomes this
mistaken identity. Depending on the context, Śaṅkara, following the scriptural texts, mentions
either Brahman or Ātman as the end to be attained. Brahman/Ātman is eternally present and so
it is possible to speak of bondage and liberation only from the standpoint of the jīva. Liberation
is only reverting to the original state of being, and to speak of it as ‘attainment’ is only with
reference to bondage. Liberation—negatively as removal of avidyā, and positively as regaining
the non-dual state of the Self—is the two sides of the same coin.
Bondage and transmigration are the predicament of the jīva caught in empirical existence.
The scriptures state that the association between jīva and avidyā is beginningless and so, one
can only take it forward and find the means to cut this Gordian knot. The worldly life of the
jīva, known as samsāra, is therefore, the opportunity given, as it were, to strive for liberation.
The question that arises at this point is why, among the innumerable living beings, human
beings alone are singled out as eligible for adopting the spiritual path. While other creatures
follow their instincts, and take birth to work out their karma, man alone has discrimination and
hence, awareness about his duties and ethical responsibilities as an individual in society.
Besides, he has the competence for doing karma (rites) as duty, and can acquire knowledge,
which is the means to overcome avidyā. By following the scriptural injunctions, he can evolve
on the spiritual path. Though the Self is within all beings, it is most manifest in man, and its
nature, reflected in his intelligence. Awareness of his plight further creates a desire for
liberation from bondage, which is the root cause of all suffering.
Knowledge is divided into two types by śruti: the higher (parā vidyā) and the lower (aparā
vidyā). Parā vidyā leads to knowledge of the Ātman and hence, all other branches of knowledge
—including the Vedas and their auxiliary branches, are said to be aparā vidyā, because they are
relative when compared to knowledge, which leads to Self-realization. The Upaniṣads are the
last portion of the Vedas (Veda+anta = Vedānta), and these are referred to as parā vidyā. This
is not to belittle the karma section of the Vedas, but to eulogize the Upaniṣads, as they bestow
the liberating knowledge.
As jñāna alone will remove avidyā, what then is the role of karma and bhakti as means to
liberation as they are also exhaustively described as means to liberation? Śaṅkara provides the
answer to this in his introduction to his commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā, which is as important
as his famous preface to the Brahma-sūtra, wherein he expounds adhyāsa as the cornerstone of
his philosophy. The path of action (karma-yoga), states Śaṅkara, is the ‘means to the supreme
bliss indirectly’ in that it prepares the mind of the spiritual aspirant for knowledge, and thereby
makes him competent for adopting the path of knowledge (jñana-yoga), which is the direct path
to liberation. Man cannot abstain from action, and as actions bind man by resulting in karma,
which is the cause of future births, it is essential to know how to act without accruing further
karma. This is the secret of right action, called naiṣkarmya in the Gītā. Act one must, but without
attachment, so that the action purifies the mind by ridding it of desires and hatred, and other
vices. True renunciation is thus a mental disposition, wherein the mind becomes serene without
the distractions of the world. This mental preparation is the preliminary training to embark on
scriptural study for gaining Self-knowledge. The virtues that must be cultivated; the obstacles
on the path that the seeker must be wary of; sustained effort to attain the goal; renunciation
and monastic life; steadfastness to knowledge; faith in the teachings of the scriptures and in the
Guru; and devotion to God, are all requisites to liberation.
As for bhakti-yoga, Śaṅkara spells out two outcomes of following this path. It must be
remembered here that these various paths are prescribed in the śruti to suit the inclination of
different individuals. While karma-yoga is preparatory to jñāna-yoga, bhakti-yoga becomes an end
in itself in that it leads to liberation by bestowing knowledge. In the case of those who worship
Īśvara (Saguṇa-Brahman), they reach the abode of Hiraṇyagarbha through the grace of God,
wherefrom they attain liberation at the time of cosmic dissolution; whereas, those who are
devoted to Nirguṇa-Brahman attain liberation here and now. So, either way, there is no return
to the world of bondage for those who follow the path of devotion. Knowledge arises either as a
result of his meditation on Nirguṇa-Brahman or through God’s (Saguṇa-Brahman) grace, and
this removes avidyā leading to release.
One may ask, ‘Of what use is spiritual knowledge?’ because liberation from rebirth, which it
brings about, may not seem to have immediate relevance. Liberation is possible ‘here and now’,
according to Śaṅkara, and its benefit can be seen in the way the realized one overcomes fear
and the opposites of empirical existence that had been afflicting him. In a positive way,
liberation enables him to stay always poised in the bliss of the Ātman. The selected extracts
from Śaṅkara’s writings on the spiritual path have been arranged under the following headings.

(1) SAMSĀRA AND TRANSMIGRATION

The reason an individual adopts the spiritual path and develops a strong desire for liberation,
can be traced to his disillusionment with worldly life because it is full of sorrows. śruti uses the
metaphor of a tree to describe the phenomenal universe with its roots in Brahman. The jīva is
part of this phenomenon. This analogy is apt because, just as it is possible to fell a tree and
discover its roots, it is possible to put an end to samsāra by taking recourse to the scriptures to
learn how the jīva is caught in the cycle of transmigration, and that, in this human life, it has
the advantage of undertaking scriptural study and practising its teachings to evolve spiritually.
The graphic portrayal of the ‘tree of samsāra’ also enables a person to develop detachment
(vairāgya), and to turn away from worldly engagement when he understands that samsāra is a
mirage fuelled by desires, and that until he develops the discrimination to see the futility of
becoming more and more entangled in it, it keeps him bound to it.

(Selected passages)
(1.1) ‘Therefore the whole universe consisting of a series of meditations and rites, means and
ends, actions and results—although, being held together by a stream of work and impressions
of innumerable beings in combination, it is transient, impure, flimsy, resembling a flowing
river or a burning lamp, flimsy like a banana stalk, and comparable to foam, illusion, a mirage,
a dream, and so on—appears nevertheless to those who have identified themselves with it to be
undecaying, eternal and full of substance. Hence, for stimulating our renunciation, the text
says, “He produces this food through his meditation for the time being and rites”.’1
(1.2) ‘As in the world, the root of a (silk-cotton) tree can be traced by coming to know its
cotton, similarly, the sixth canto is commenced in order to ascertain the real nature of Brahman
through the determination of the tree of the universe of which Brahman is the root: That which
has its roots above—the root that is the state of supreme Viṣṇu. This tree of the world,
comprising everything from the Unmanifested to the immovables, has its root above. It is called
vṛkḍa (tree) because (of the root meaning) of being felled. It consists of many evils, such as
birth, old age, death, and sorrow; it changes itself every moment, inasmuch as no sooner is it
seen than its nature is destroyed like magic, water in a mirage, a city in the sky, and it ceases
to exist ultimately like a tree; it is without a heart-wood like the stem of a plantain tree; it is
subject to hundreds of doubts in the minds of sceptics; its reality is determined in its true colour
by the seekers of truth; its essence lies in its root, the supreme Brahman, ascertained in
Vedānta; it grows from out of the seed of ignorance (superimposition), desire, action, and the
Unmanifested; it has, for its sprout, Hiraṇyagarbha, the inferior Brahman, comprising the two
powers of knowledge and action; it has, for its trunk, the diverse subtle bodies of all creatures;
its vigour of growth results from the sprinkling of the water of desire; it has, for its tender
sprouts, the objects of the senses of knowledge; its leaves are the Vedas, the smṛtis, logic,
learning, and instruction; its lovely flowers are the many deeds such as sacrifice, charity, and
austerity; its various tastes are the experiences of happiness and sorrow; its infinite fruits are
the subsistence of beings; it has its secondary roots well developed, entwined, and firmly fixed
through the sprinkling of the water of desire (for those fruits); it has, for its nests, the seven
worlds beginning from the one called Satya, built by the birds which are the living beings from
Brahma downwards; it has its uproar, rendered tumultuous through the various sounds arising
from dancing, singing, instrumental music, disport (play, jest), clapping on the arms, laughing,
pulling, crying, exclaiming, “Alas, alas!”, “Leave me, leave me!”, induced by mirth and grief
from the enjoyment and pain of living beings; and it is felled by the weapons of detachment
consisting of the realisation of Brahman and the Self as inculcated by Vedanta. This tree of the
world is an aśvattha—its nature is ever unsteady, like the peepul tree, shaken as it is by the wind
of desire and deeds; downwards are its branches, consisting of heaven, hell, and the states of
beasts and ghosts; (it is) existing from time immemorial, having no beginning. That very thing
—which is the root of the tree of the world—is white, pure, resplendent—being in reality the
light of the Self which is consciousness, that is Brahman, being the greatest of all; that indeed is
called indestructible by nature being true.’2
(1.3) ‘But, those who are fit for worldly existence, they are living in the midst of ignorance,
as though in the midst of thick darkness, being entangled in hundreds of fetters, forged by
craving for sons, cattle, etc.; considering—(thinking of themselves) “we ourselves are
intelligent and versed in the scriptures” those senseless, non-discriminating people go round
and round by following very much the various crooked courses, being afflicted by old age,
death, disease, etc.; just as many blind people, being led by the blind, indeed, on an uneven
road, come to great calamity.
‘Because of this alone, because of ignorance, the means for the attainment of the other world
does not become revealed (to them):
‘“Samparayah” is the other world attainable after the falling of the body; any particular
scriptural means leading to the attainment of that other world does not become revealed, does
not become serviceable to a boy, a non-discriminating man; (who is) blundering—whose mind
clings to such needs as children, cattle; and so also, who is confounded, being covered by
darkness (of ignorance) because of the non-discrimination caused by wealth. “There is only this
world—that which is visible and abounds with women, food, drink; there is no other world, that
is invisible”; constantly thinking thus, (he) getting born, again and again, becomes subject to
the control of me, who am Death; that is, he remains involved in a succession of grief in the
form of birth, death. Such is the world in general. But among thousands, it is only one like you
who hankers after the preferable, and who becomes a knower of the Self …’3
(1.4) ‘First he describes the nature of samsāra or mundane existence by a figurative
representation as a tree (samsāra is represented as a tree because it can be cut off like a tree),
in order to produce vairāgya or absence of all attachment. For, he alone who is free from all
attachment, and no other person, is fit for attaining the knowledge of the real nature of the
Lord.
‘As Brahman with māyā or the unmanifested potentiality is subtle in point of time; as He is
the cause; as He is eternal; as He is great; He is spoken of as the One above. The One above is
the root of this tree of samsāra, which is therefore said to have its root above. The śruti says:
“With roots above and branches below, this aśvattha is eternal.”4 In the purāṇa also it is said:
“The root from which the eternal tree of Brahman has sprung is the avyākṛta, the Unmanifested.
It has developed by the strength of the same (avyākṛta). Its trunk is buddhi; the sense apertures,
Its hollows; the great elements, Its boughs; the sense objects, Its leaves and branches; dharma
and adharma, Its fair blossoms, pleasure and pain; Its fruits affording livelihood to all creatures.
And this is the resort of Brahman (the Highest Self), and that Highest Self is (the essence) of
that tree of Brahman. Having cut asunder and split the tree with the mighty sword of
knowledge and then attained to the bliss of the Self, none comes back from there again.”
‘They speak of the illusory samsāra as a tree rooted above. The mahat, the ahamkāra (egoism),
the tanmātras (the elemental essences), are its branches, as it were, and these extend
downwards; whence the tree is said to have its branches below. They call this tree “aśvattha”
because it will not abide the same even till tomorrow, because it undergoes destruction every
moment. The illusion (māyā) of samsāra having existed in time without beginning, they say that
this tree of samsāra is eternal; for, it rests, as is well known, on a continuous series of births,
which is without beginning or end and is thus eternal. The tree of samsāra is further qualified
thus: The metres (chhandases) are its leaves, as it were; they are so called because, like leaves,
the metres (Vedas) such as Rik, Yajus and Sāman, protect (“chad”, to cover) the tree of samsāra.
Just as the leaves of a tree serve to protect the tree, so do the Vedas serve to protect the tree of
samsāra, as treating of dharma (merit) and adharma (demerit), with their causes and fruits. He
who knows the tree of samsāra and its root as described above is a knower of the teaching of
the Vedas. Indeed nothing else, not even an iota, remains to be known beyond this tree of
samsāra and its root. He who knows it is therefore omniscient.—This is to extol the knowledge
of the tree of samsāra and its root.
‘Now follows another figurative representation of the members of this tree of samsāra: From
man down to the unmoving objects below, and from him up to the abode of Brahman, the
creator of the universe, whatever regions are attained as the suitable reward of knowledge and
action, they are the spreading branches, as it were, of that tree; they are nourished and
fattened by the guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas, which form their material basis (upādana). The
sense objects, such as sound, are the buds, as it were, sprouting from the branches of the
physical and other bodies which are the result of actions. The highest root of the tree of samsāra
has been mentioned already, and now will be mentioned the secondary roots, as it were, (of the
universe), as leading to acts of dharma or adharma: namely, the latent impressions (vāsanas) of
the feelings of attachment and aversion, which were caused by the fruits of actions. These roots
are spread in this world of man below (in the liṇga-sarīrās of men, these feelings of attachment
and aversion are constantly present)—below the regions of Devas and the like—and give rise to
acts of dharma and adharma, these acts springing up on the up-springing of those vāsanas. Those
roots are spread especially in the world of man. It is while here, as is well known to all, that
men concern themselves with action.
‘And as to the tree of samsāra just described, its form as such is perceived by nobody here; for
it is very much like a dream, a mirage, a gandharva nagara (an imaginary city in the sky)
produced by a juggler’s art; indeed, it appears and disappears. It has, therefore, no finality, no
end. Neither has it a beginning; nobody knows “It has proceeded from this point.” Its existence
—its nature, between the origin and the end—is perceived by nobody. Freedom from
attachment to children, to wealth, and to the world, strengthened by a resolute bent of mind
towards the Supreme Self, and sharpened again and again on the whetstone of the practice of
true discrimination, uprooted the tree of samsāra with its seed.
‘Then, the aspirant should seek for and know the abode of ViSnu beyond that tree. Those who
have reached this goal never return to samsāra.—How is that goal to be sought after?—It is
sought after thus: “I seek refuge in Him, the primeval puruṣa,” who is spoken of as the goal; He
is to be sought for by way of seeking refuge in Him. Who is this puruṣa? It is that puruṣa from
whom the emanation of the tree of the illusory samsāra streamed forth, just as illusory sights
(māyā) issue from out of a juggler.’5
(1.5) ‘Objection: Since all living beings, without exception, are modifications of the essence of
food and since all are equally descendants of Brahman, why is man alone specified?
‘Answer: Because of his pre-eminence.
‘Objection: In what, again, does the pre-eminence consist?
‘Answer: In his competence for karma and knowledge. For man alone is qualified for rites
and duties, as also for knowledge, by virtue of his ability, craving (for results), and non-
difference (to results). That a person, desirous (of results) and possessed of learning and
capacity, is qualified for work and knowledge, is proved by the evidence of another Vedic text
which says: “In man alone is the Self most manifest, for he is the best endowed with
intelligence. He speaks what he knows, he sees what he knows; he knows what will happen
tomorrow; he knows the higher and lower worlds; he aspires to achieve immortality through
mortal things. He is thus endowed (with discrimination), while other beings have consciousness
of hunger and thirst only”.6’7
(1.6) ‘Now it has been admitted already that for those who do not offer sacrifices there is not
any enjoyment in the moon; hence, those only who perform sacrifices rise to the moon, not any
other persons. The latter descend to Samyamana, the abode of Yama; suffer there, the torments
of Yama corresponding to their evil deeds; and then again re-ascend to this world. Such is their
ascent and descent; as we maintain on the grounds of such a course being declared by scripture.
For, a scriptural passage embodying Yama’s own words, declares that those who die without
having offered sacrifices fall into Yama’s power. “The other world never rises before the eyes of
the careless child deluded by the delusion of wealth. This is the world, he thinks, there is no
other; thus he falls again and again under my sway.”8 Scripture contains many other passages
likewise leading us to infer that men fall into Yama’s power; for example “Yama, the gathering
place of men”.9
‘Moreover, authorities like Manu and Vyāsa declare that, in the city Samyamana evil works
are requited under Yama’s rule: such as the legend of Nachiketā and others. Moreover, the
purāṇa writers record that there are seven hells, Raurava, and so on by name, which serve as
abodes of enjoyment of the fruits of evil deeds. As those who do not sacrifice go there, how
should they reach the moon?’10

(2) SPIRITUAL PATH

Scriptural injunctions are meant for him who wants to pursue the path to liberation from
bondage. The Vedas, which are the scriptural authority, teach two kinds of knowledge: the
higher (parā vidyā) leading to Brahman, and the other, which comprises all other knowledge
(aparā vidyā), and which is said to be lower from the standpoint of the goal of liberation.
According to Śaṅkara, the entire Veda is important in that, till the seeker reaches the stage of
pursuing higher knowledge (jñāna-kāṇḍa) the duties enjoined in the other part (karma-kāṇḍa)
are necessary for him. Otherwise, the Vedas would not teach them. So, a spiritual seeker has to
undertake scriptural study.

(Selected passages)
(2.1) ‘The knowledge of active religious duty has for its fruit transitory felicity, and that again
depends on the performance of religious acts. The enquiry into Brahman, on the other hand,
has for its fruit eternal bliss, and does not depend on the performance of any acts. Acts of
religious duty do not yet exist at the time when they are enquired into, but are something to be
accomplished (in the future); for they depend on the activity of man. In the Brahma-Mīmāṁsā,
on the other hand, the object of enquiry, Brahman, is something already accomplished
(existent)—for it is eternal—and does not depend on human energy. The two enquiries differ
moreover in so far as the operation of their respective fundamental texts is concerned. For, the
fundamental texts on which active religious duty depends, convey information to man in so far
only as they enjoin on him their own particular subjects (sacrifices); while the fundamental
texts about Brahman merely instruct man, without laying on him the injunction of being
instructed, instruction being their immediate result. The case is analogous to that of the
information regarding objects of sense which ensues as soon as the objects are approximated to
the senses.’11
‘Objection: Is not the train of remembrance of the knowledge of the Self generated by the
passage relating to It something different from the knowledge itself arising from the hearing of
It (and hence that is to be prescribed)?
‘Reply: No, for the remembrance of the Self comes automatically. That is to say, as soon as
the knowledge of the Self arises in consequence of hearing a dictum delineating It, it necessarily
destroys the false notion about It. It could not arise otherwise. And when this false notion about
the Self is gone, memories due to that, which are natural to man and concern the multitude of
things other than the Self, cannot last. Moreover, everything else is then known to be an evil.
In other words, when the Self is known, things other than It are realised as evils, being full of
defects such as transitoriness, painfulness and impurity, while the Self is contrary to them.
Therefore, the memories of notions about the non-Self die out when the Self is known. As the
only alternative left, the train of remembrance of the knowledge that the Self is one, which
comes automatically, is not to be prescribed. Besides, the memory of the Self removes the
painful defects such as grief, delusion, fear and effort, for these defects spring from the opposite
kind of knowledge. Compare the śruti texts, “Then what delusion can there be?”,12 “Knowing
(the bliss of Brahman) he is not afraid of anything,”13 “You have attained That which is free
from fear, O Janaka,”14 “The knot of the heart is broken,”15 and so on.’16
(2.2) ‘Objection: How is that meditation already known as a possible alternative, since, as
you said, on the principle of the residuum, the train of remembrance of the knowledge of the
Self is an inevitable fact?
‘Reply: It is true, but nevertheless, since the resultant of past actions that led to the formation
of the present body must produce definite results, speech, mind and the body are bound to work
even after the highest realisation, for actions that have begun to bear fruit are stronger than
knowledge; as for instance an arrow that has been let fly continues its course for some time.
Hence, the operation of knowledge, being weaker than they, (is liable to be interrupted by
them and) becomes only a possible alternative. Therefore there is need to regulate the train of
remembrance of the knowledge of the Self by having recourse to means such as renunciation
and dispassion; but it is not something that is to be originally enjoined being, as we said,
already known as a possible alternative. Hence we conclude that passages such as, “(The
aspirant after Brahman) knowing about this alone, should attain intuitive knowledge,” are only
meant to lay down the rule that the train of remembrance already known (as a possible
alternative) of the knowledge of the Self must be kept up, for they can have no other import.’17
(2.3) ‘To Saunaka, Āngiras said: “Two kinds of knowledge are to be acquired”—this is as the
tradition goes. What the knowers of the import of the Vedas, those who have realised the
Supreme Truth, say. “Which are the two?” That is being said: “The higher, the knowledge of the
Supreme Self; and the lower, the knowledge of virtue and vice and their means and ends.”
‘Objection: The question put by Saunaka was, “Which is it which having been known one
becomes all-knowing?” The answer should have related to that, whereas Āngiras says in his
answer, “There are two kinds of knowledge” etc.—something besides the question.
‘Answer: That is nothing wrong, for the answer requires an order of procedure. For, the lower
knowledge is ignorance which has to be eradicated, inasmuch as nothing in reality is known by
knowing the objects of ignorance; and the rule is that the conclusion should be stated after
refuting the faulty standpoints.
‘Which of these two is the lower knowledge? The answer is: Ṛg-veda, Yajur-veda, Sāma-veda,
Atharva-veda; these are the four Vedas. The science of pronunciation; the code of rituals;
grammar; etymology; metre, astrology—these are the six auxiliary parts (of the Vedas). These
constitute the apāra (lower) knowledge. Now is being stated the higher knowledge by which
that, the Immutable, whose attributes will be stated hereafter, is attained, for (the root) “gam”
preceded by (the prefix) “ādhi”, generally means attainment. Besides, the sense of ation does
not differ from that of attainment in the case of the highest; for the attainment of the highest
consists merely in removing ignorance, and nothing more.
‘Objection: From this point of view, then, the knowledge (of Brahman) is outside the Ṛg-veda;
and so, how can it be the higher knowledge, and how can it be the means for emancipation?
The view accepted traditionally is this: “The smṛtis that are outside the Vedic pale, and those
that propound perverted views, are all useless in the next world; and they are counted as
occupied with dark things;”18 therefore, it will be unacceptable as its outlook is perverted and it
is useless. Moreover, the Upaniṣads will become excluded from the Ṛg-veda. Again, if they are
included in the Ṛg-veda, it is illogical to distinguish them, saying, “Then the higher”, and so on.
‘Answer: No, since (by the word vidyā) is implied the realisation of the thing to be known.
What is primarily meant in this context by the term, “higher knowledge”, is that knowledge of
the Immutable that is imparted only by the Upaniṣads (considered as revealed knowledge), and
not merely the assemblage of words found in the (books called) Upaniṣads. But, by the word,
“Veda”, the meaning implied everywhere is the assemblage of words. The knowledge of
Brahman is distinctively mentioned and it is called the higher knowledge since, even after the
mastery of the assemblage of words, the realisation of the Immutable is not possible without
some other effort consisting in approaching the teacher and so on, as well as detachment.
‘In connection with the subject matter of injunctions are to be found certain acts which are
like the agnihotra (sacrifice) to be performed subsequent to the understanding of the text,
through a combination of numerous accessories, to wit, the agent. Unlike this, nothing remains
to be performed here within the domain of the higher knowledge; but all actions cease
simultaneously with the comprehension of the meaning of the sentences, inasmuch as nothing
remains to be done apart from continuance in the mere knowledge revealed by the words.
Therefore, the higher knowledge is being specified by referring to the Immutable, possessed of
attributes stated in (“The wise realise … that which cannot be perceived”19), etc .’20

(3) MEANS TO LIBERATION

As the direct means to liberation is jñāna, according to Śaṅkara, it is important to understand


the role of the other paths prescribed by the scriptures. The classic example that can be
highlighted to appreciate this is how the Bhagavad-gītā came to be taught to Arjuna by Lord
Krishna. Arjuna refused to fight when the war was about to commence. He wanted to pursue
knowledge by renunciation, because his sense of discrimination was overcome by attachment
and delusion. He was neither ready for knowledge nor was his duty as a warrior one of
scriptural study. So, the Lord had to tell him to fight (karma-yoga). So also, all spiritual seekers
cannot pursue jñāna-yoga, and have to begin at whichever level they find themselves and, by
discharging their duties with detachment, attain purity of mind (cittaśuddhi), and then progress
to knowledge when their minds are ready to grasp Self-knowledge. Elaborate guidance is given
regarding duties, the qualities to be cultivated in order to purify the mind, and the way to
overcome desires. The qualities of the spiritually disposed, and the materially disposed, are
elaborately dealt with, so that a seeker can imbibe the former that are conducive to his
progress, and eschew the latter which impede his growth. Thus, discharge of duties (karma-yoga)
with a sense of detachment (naiṣkarmya) will lead to the path of knowledge eventually, which is
the direct means to liberation. Bhakti-yoga is elaborated on to show that irrespective of whether
devotion is to Nirguṇa-Brahman or Saguṇa-Brahman the goal of liberation is realized. The
difficulty of meditation on the unmanifest, formless Absolute is brought out in the discussion.
Devotion to Īśvara is easier, and the liberating knowledge results as the fruit of devotion
through God’s grace.

(Selected passages)
(3.1) ‘The aim of this famous Gītā śāstra is, briefly, the supreme bliss, a complete cessation of
samsāra or transmigratory life and of its cause. This accrues from that religion (dharma) which
consists in a steady devotion to the knowledge of the Self, preceded by the renunciation of all
works. So, with reference to this religion, the doctrine of the Gītā, the Lord says in the Anu Gītā
as follows: “That religion, indeed, is quite sufficient for the realisation of the state of Brahman,
the Absolute.”21 In the same place it is also said: “He is without merit and without sin, without
weal and woe—he who is absorbed in the one seat, silent and thinking nothing.” And He also
says: “Knowledge is characterised by renunciation.”22 Here also, at the end, Arjuna is thus
exhorted: “Abandoning all dharmas, come to Me alone for shelter.’23
(3.2) ‘Though the religion of works—which, as a means of attaining worldly prosperity, is
enjoined on the several castes and religious orders—leads the devotee to the region of the devas
and the like, still, when practised in a spirit of complete devotion to the Lord and without
regard to the (immediate) results, it conduces to the purity of the mind (sattva suddhi). The man
whose mind is pure is competent to tread the path of knowledge, and to him comes knowledge;
and thus (indirectly), the religion of works forms also a means to the supreme bliss.
Accordingly, with this very idea in mind, the Lord says: “He who does actions, placing them in
Brahman …”, “Yogins perform actions, without attachment, for the purification of the Self.”24
(3.3) ‘The Gītā Śastra expounds this twofold religion, whose aim is the supreme bliss. It
expounds specially the nature of the Supreme Being and Reality known as Vāsudeva, the Para-
Brahman, who forms the subject of the discourse. Thus, the Gītā Śastra treats of a specific
subject with a specific object and bears a specific relation (to the subject and object). A
knowledge of its teaching leads to the realisation of all human aspirations. Hence my attempt
to explain it.’25
(3.4) ‘In this world—with reference to the people of the three castes, for whom alone are
intended the teachings of the śāstra (scripture)—a twofold path of devotion was taught by Me,
the Omniscient Lord, when at first, at the beginning of creation, I created people and revived
the tradition of the Vedic doctrine for teaching them the means of attaining worldly prosperity
and bliss.—What was that twofold path of devotion?—One of them was jñāna-yoga, the
devotion of knowledge—knowledge itself being yoga—suited to the Sāṇkhyas, to those who
possessed a clear knowledge of the Self and the not-Self, who renounced the world from the
brahmacharya (the first holy order or āśrama), who determined the nature of things in the light
of the Vedāntic wisdom; who belonged to the highest class of sannyāsins known as the
paramahamsas; whose thoughts ever dwelt on Brahman only. The other was karma-yoga, the
devotion to action—action itself being yoga or devotion—suited to yogins, to karmins, to those
who were inclined to action …
‘Devotion to action is a means to the end, not directly, but only as leading to devotion to
knowledge; whereas the latter, which is attained by means of devotion to action, leads to the
goal directly, without extraneous help. To show this, the Lord says, “Not by abstaining from
action does man win actionlessness, nor by mere renunciation does he attain perfection.”26
‘“Action” refers to the acts of worship (yajña) which, performed in this or a previous birth,
conduce to the destruction of sins committed in the past, and cause purity of mind (sattva,
antaḥkaraṇa); and by thus purifying mind, they cause knowledge to spring up and lead to the
path of devotion to knowledge. It is said in the Mahābhārata: “Knowledge springs in men on the
destruction of sinful karma, when the Self is seen in self as in a clean mirror.”27
‘By abstaining from action, man cannot attain to actionlessness (naiṣkarmya), freedom from
activity, devotion in the path of knowledge, the condition of the actionless Self. From the
statement that man wins not freedom from activity by abstaining from action, it is understood
that, by the opposite course, by performing action, man attains freedom from activity. For what
reason, then, does he not attain freedom from activity by abstaining from action? The answer
follows: For, performance of action is a means of attaining freedom from activity. Certainly
there is no attaining of an end except by proper means. Devotion to action is the means of
attaining freedom from activity, devotion to knowledge,—as taught in the śruti, as well as here.
In the śruti, for instance, karma-yoga is declared to be a means to jñāna-yoga in the following
passage: “The Brāhmaṇas seek to know this (the Self) by the study of the Vedas, by yajña or
worship”.28 In this passage, karma-yoga is pointed out as a means of realising the Self that is
sought after. Here (in the Bhagavad-gītā), the following passages point to the same view:
‘“But without yoga, O mighty-armed, renunciation is hard to attain.”29 “Having abandoned
attachment, yogins perform action for the purification of the Self.”30 “Sacrifice, gift and also
austerity are the purifiers of the wise.”31
‘Now, the following objection may be raised: A passage in the smṛti, “Having promised
immunity from fear to all beings, one should resort to freedom from activity (naiṣkarmya),”
shows that actionlessness can be attained by renouncing the prescribed duties. Our experience
also favours the idea that freedom from activity can be attained by abstaining from action. Of
what use then is the performance of action to one who seeks for freedom from action? In reply
the Lord says: “Nobody can attain perfection—i.e., freedom from activity, or devotion in the
path of knowledge—by mere renunciation, by merely abandoning action, without possessing
knowledge”.’32
(3.5) ‘When the man who is qualified for (karma-yoga) performs obligatory works without
attachment and without a longing for results, his inner sense (antaḥkaraṇa), unsoiled by desire
for results and regenerated by (the performance of) obligatory works, becomes pure. When
pure and tranquil, the inner sense is fit for contemplation of the Self. Now, with a view to teach
how the man, whose inner sense has been purified by obligatory works and who is prepared to
acquire the Self-knowledge may gradually attain to jñāna niṣtha or devotion in knowledge, the
Lord proceeds as follows: Evil action, kāmya karma, interested action, which becomes the cause
of samsāra by producing a body. He does not hate evil action, thinking, “Of what avail is it?”
Good one, nitya karma, obligatory action. He cherishes no attachment for it by way of thinking
that it leads to mokṣa by purifying the heart and thereby conducing to knowledge and to
devotion in knowledge.—Of whom is this said?—Of him who has abandoned attachment and
desire, and who, having abandoned attachment to action and desire for its fruit, performs
obligatory works (nitya karma)—When does he hate no evil action? When is he not attached to
a good one? When he is permeated with sattva, which causes a discriminative knowledge of the
Self and the not-Self. As he is permeated with sattva, he becomes gifted with wisdom, with
knowledge of the Self. As he becomes possessed of wisdom, his doubt caused by avidyā, is cut
asunder by the conviction that, to abide in the true nature of the Self is alone the means of
attaining the highest bliss, and that there is no other means.
‘That is to say, when a man who is qualified (for karma-yoga) practises karma-yoga in the
manner described above and thereby becomes gradually refined in the self (antaḥkaraṇa), then
he knows himself to be that Self; who, as devoid of birth or any other change of condition, is
immutable; he renounces all action in thought; he remains without acting or causing others to
act; he attains devotion in wisdom, “he attains freedom from action”.33
‘If all these rites and meditations, as enjoined, are properly observed, they become the cause
for the purification of the mind of one who is free from desires and longs for emancipation. But,
in the case of one who cherishes desires and has no enlightenment (meditation on or knowledge
of gods), the rites by themselves, as enjoined in the Vedas and the smṛtis, become the cause for
the attainment of the Southern Path and for return to this world. But, through activity
prompted by natural impulses that are repugnant to the scriptures, there will be degradation
into lower beings ranging from beasts to the motionless ones (trees and so on), in accordance
with the Vedic text: “If one does not perform rites or meditation), then one does not proceed by
either of these Paths (Northern or Southern). They become these little creatures (mosquitoes)
that are constantly subject to birth and death following the (divine) order “Be born or die.”
“This is the third state”,34 and, in accordance with the words of the other Vedic text: “Three
kinds of beings (born from the womb, egg, or earth) follow a course that deviates (from these
Northern and Southern Paths)”.35 The longing for the knowledge of the indwelling Self arises
only in that desireless man of pure mind who has renounced all transitory, external means and
ends by virtue of the emergence of a special kind of tendency (in his mind) created by works
done in this life or in previous ones. This fact is being shown in the form of questions and
answers by the Vedic text beginning with “kenesitam”. In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, too, it is said, “The
self-existent Lord destroyed the outgoing senses; therefore, one sees the outer things and not the
Self within. A rare discriminating man, who desired immortality, turned his eyes away and then
saw the indwelling Self”.36 And in the (Muṇḍaka) Upaniṣad of the Atharva-veda it is said, “Having
examined the worlds attainable by work thus: ‘The unproduced (everlasting emancipation) is
not to be produced by work,’ the Brāhmaṇa should resort to renunciation. In order to know that
fully, he must approach, with sacrificial faggots in hand, a teacher who is versed in the Vedas
and is established in Brahman”.37 In this way alone, does a man of detachment acquire the
competence to hear, meditate on, and realise the knowledge of the indwelling Self, and not
otherwise.’38
(3.6) ‘From the statement that knowledge alone leads to the attainment of independent
sovereignty,39 it may follow that the duties enjoined by Vedas and smṛtis are useless. In order to
avoid such a contingency, the duties are being presented here, so that they may be shown as
contributory to the attainment of human goals.
‘The word “ṛta” has been explained. Svādhyāyah is study (of the scriptures). Pravacana is
teaching (of the scriptures), or self-recital of the Vedas (called brahma yajña). These, like ṛta, are
to be practised—this much is understood at the end of the sentence. And satyam means
truthfulness in speech or what has been explained earlier:40 righteousness reduced to practice;
tapah is austerity, etc; damah is the control of the outer organs; śāmaḥ is the control of the inner
organs (mind). The fires are to be piled up. And the agnihotra sacrifice is to be performed. And
the guests are to be adored. Social good conduct, too, should be practised as the occasion
demands. And progeny is to be begotten and procreation in due course. Prajātiḥ is the raising of
a grandson; in other words, the son is to be married. Learning and teaching are mentioned in
all the contexts in order to imply that these two are to be carefully practised even by one who is
engaged in all these duties. The comprehension of meaning is dependent on study; and the
supreme goal (emancipation) is dependent on the understanding of the meaning. And teaching
is for the preservation of that memory and for the increase of virtue. Therefore, one has to
entertain a love for learning and teaching.’41
(3.7) ‘Now the portion from42“Having spoke thus to Hrishikesa, Gudakesa, the tormentor of
foes, said to Govinda, ‘I will not fight,’ and remained silent,” should be interpreted as showing
whence arise those evils of grief and delusion, which in sentient creatures cause the misery of
samsāra.—To explain: In “O slayer of Madhu, how shall I assail in battle with arrows Bhishma
and Drona, who are worthy of worship, O slayer of enemies?”43 Arjuna displayed grief and
delusion caused by his attachment for, and the sense of separation from, dominion, the elders,
sons, friends, well-wishers, kinsmen, near and remote relations—all this arising from his notion
that “I am theirs and they are mine.” It was when discrimination was overpowered by grief and
delusion that Arjuna, who had of himself been engaged in battle as the duty of the warrior
caste, abstained from fighting and proposed to lead a mendicant’s life, which was the duty of a
different caste (Brāhmaṇa). Accordingly, all creatures whose intelligence is swayed by grief and
delusion and other evil influences naturally abandon their proper duties and resort to those
which are prohibited. Even if they are engaged in their duties, their conduct in speech, thought
and deed is egoistic and is prompted by a longing for a reward. In their case, then, owing to an
accumulation of merit and demerit, of dharma and adharma, the samsāra, which consists in
passing through good and bad births, happiness and misery, becomes incessant. Grief and
delusion are thus the cause of samsāra. And seeing that their cessation could not be brought
about except by Self-knowledge added to renunciation of all works, Lord Vāsudeva wished to
teach that knowledge for the benefit of the whole world through Arjuna, and began His
teaching with, “For those who deserve no grief, thou hast grieved, and words of wisdom thou
speakest. For the living and for the dead, the wise grieve not”.44’45
(3.8) ‘But there are some who hold that even a knower of Brahman has desires. They have
certainly never heard the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, nor of the distinction made by the śruti that
the desire for a son and so forth belongs to an ignorant man, and that with regard to the
domain of knowledge, the statement, “What shall we achieve through children, we who have
attained this Self, this world?”, and so on, is applicable. They do not also know the
contradiction, involving incongruity, between the attainment of knowledge, which obliterates
all action with its factors and results, and ignorance together with its effects. Nor have they
heard Vyāsa’s statement (on the subject). The contradiction rests on the opposite trends of the
nature of rites and that of knowledge, which partake, respectively, of ignorance and
illumination. On being asked, “There are two Vedic injunctions: Perform rites, and give up
rites. What is the goal of knowledge, and what of rites? I wish to be enlightened on this. So
please instruct me. These two (it seems) are mutually contradictory and run counter to each
other,”46 Vyāsa replied, thereby showing the contradiction: “Men are bound by rites and freed
by knowledge. Hence, sages who have known the truth never perform rites,” and so on.47
Therefore, the knowledge of Brahman leads to the highest goal for man not with, but without,
the help of any auxiliary means, for otherwise there would be contradiction all around. It is to
show this that renunciation of the world, which consists in giving up all means, is sought to be
enjoined as a subsidiary step. For, at the end of the fourth chapter, it has been asserted, “This
much indeed is (the means of) immortality, my dear”; and we have also a reason for inference
(about this) in the fact that Yājñavalkya, who was a ritualist, renounced the world.’48
(3.9) ‘I reward men by granting them the things they desire just in accordance with the way
in which they seek Me and the motive with which they seek Me; for they do not seek for mokṣa.
One cannot indeed pursue pleasure and, at the same time, seek for mokṣa. Wherefore, I reward
seekers of fruits by securing to them their selfish ends; I reward the unselfish, who do their
prescribed duties and seek for mokṣa, by granting them knowledge; I reward men of knowledge
who have renounced the world and seek for mokṣa, by granting them mokṣa; similarly, I reward
men in distress by relieving them from distress. Thus do I reward all, just in the way they seek
Me.’49
(3.10) ‘Under the circumstances, if we examine the comparative efficacy, for bringing forth
Self-knowledge, of the duties pertaining to the different orders of life, which concern only the
unenlightened, we find that virtues such as the absence of pride—which are mainly intended for
the control of the senses—and meditation, discrimination, non-attachment—which deal with the
mind—are the direct aids. The others, owing to the predominance of injury, attachment
aversion in them, are mixed up with a good deal of evil work. Hence, the monastic life is
recommended for seekers after liberation, as in the following passages, “The giving up of all
duties that have been described (as belonging to particular orders of life) is (best).
Renunciation, again, is the culmination of this giving up of the duties,” “O Brāhmaṇa, what will
you do with wealth, or friends, or a wife, for you shall have to die? Seek the Self that has
entered the cave of your intellect. Where are your grandfather and other ancestors gone, as
well as your father?”50 In the Sāṇkhya and Yoga systems also, renunciation is spoken of as a
direct means of knowledge. The absence of the impulsion of desire is another reason (why the
seeker after liberation renounces the world.) For, all the scriptures tell us that the impulsion of
desire is antagonistic to knowledge. Therefore, for a seeker after liberation who is disgusted
with the world, the statement, “He should renounce the world from the student life itself”, and
so on,51 is quite reasonable, even if he is without knowledge.’52
(3.11) ‘Nature (prakṛti) is the saṃskāra (the latent self-productive impression of the past acts
of dharma and adharma) manifesting itself at the commencement of the present birth. Even the
man of knowledge acts according to his own nature; it needs no saying that an ignorant man
acts according to his own nature. Thus, all living beings follow their own nature. What shall
coercion in the shape of prohibition avail? That is to say, to Me or to anybody else, nature is
irresistible.
‘Objection: If every being acts according to its own nature only—and there is none that has
no nature of its own—then, there being possibly no scope for personal exertion (puruṣakāra),
the teaching (śāstra) would be quite purposeless.
‘Answer: The Lord replies as follows:
‘As regards all sense-objects, such as sounds, there necessarily arises in each sense, love for an
agreeable object, and aversion for a disagreeable object. Now I shall tell you where lies the
scope for personal exertion and for the teaching (śāstra). He who would follow the teaching
should, at the very commencement, rise above the sway of affection and aversion. For, what we
speak of as the nature (prakṛti) of a person draws him to its course only through love and
aversion. He then neglects his own duties and sets about doing those of others. When, on the
other hand, a person restrains these feelings by means of their enemy (viveka jñāna or right
knowledge), then he will become mindful of the teaching only, no longer subject to his own
nature. Wherefore, let none come under the sway of these two; for, they are his adversaries,
obstacles to his progress in the right path, like thieves on the road.
‘Now, the man who is led by love and aversion may misunderstand the teaching; he may
think that one man may follow the duty (dharma) of another because the latter is also a duty.
But it is not right to think so.’53
(3.12) ‘Since he knows the best abode, the resort of all desires (that is) this Brahman, as
defined before, in which Brahman, as the abode, the whole universe is placed, and which shines
in Its own lustre; purely (holy) (therefore) those people who, having become free from desire,
free from the passion for prosperity, serve—with aspiration for liberation, even that person,
who is such a knower of the Self—just as they would worship the Supreme Reality; those wise
ones transcend this human seed—that is well known as the material source of the body; they
never again approach any womb (for rebirth), as declared in the Vedic text: “He has no liking
for any abode any more.” Therefore one should adore him. This is the purport.
‘It is being shown that the eschewing of desires is the chief discipline for an aspirant of
liberation.
‘He who covets desirable things—seen or unseen—while brooding on them, on their good
qualities, he is born along with those desires, the longing for objects that lead to involvement in
virtues and vices, amidst those surroundings into which the desires tempt the man for the sake
of acquiring the objects. He is born amidst those very objects, surrounded by those very desires.
But for him who has got his wishes fulfilled on the realisation of the Supreme Reality—for the
man of fully satisfied desires, for him who has achieved all covetable things from everywhere
by virtue of his craving for the Self, for the self-poised Self, for the man whose Self having been
weaned away from Its inferior aspect constituted by ignorance, has become established in Its
own superior aspect through knowledge; all longings that induce virtuous or vicious activity
vanish, that is to say, get dissipated even here, even while the body lasts. The purport is, that
desires do not crop up (in his mind) owing to the destruction of their causes.
‘Some may be led to think that, if the attainment of the Self be the highest of all
achievements, then for Its realisation one should practise extensively such processes as the
study of the Vedas. This notion being there, the text says: this Self that has been explained, and
whose attainment is the highest human goal, is not attained through study of Vedas and
scriptures extensively. Similarly, nor through intelligence, the power of retention of the purport
of texts; nor through many things heard, that is to say, through much hearing (of scriptures). By
what then can It be reached? That is being explained. That very entity, the Supreme Self, which
the man of knowledge seeks to reach by that fact of hankering (consisting in pursuing the idea,
“I am Brahman.”) (this, the Supreme Self) is attainable; but not through any other spiritual
effort, for It is by Its very nature ever attained. Now is being explained how this attainment of
the Self by the man of knowledge comes about. Of him, this Self reveals Its own supreme
stature, Its reality that was enveloped in ignorance. The idea is that, when knowledge dawns,
the Self becomes revealed just like pots on the coming of light. Hence, the purport is that the
means for the attainment of the Self consists in praying for this consummation to the exclusion
of everything else.
‘These spiritual disciplines too—namely strength, absence of delusion, and knowledge—as
associated with their signs, that is to say, coupled with monasticism, are helpful to the prayer
for the attainment of the Self. For: Since this Self is not attainable by one devoid of strength,
bereft of the vigour generated by constant adherence to the Self, nor again through the delusion
caused by attachment to mundane things—sons, cattle, and so on; similarly, nor even from
tapas unassociated with liṇga (the sign of a monk). Tapas here means knowledge, and liṇga
means monasticism. The purport is that It is not gained through knowledge unassociated with
monasticism. But the man of knowledge, the discerning man, the knower of the Self, who
strives with diligence through such means—strength, absence of delusion, monasticism, and
knowledge of that enlightened man this Self enters into the abode that is Brahman.
‘How one enters into Brahman is being stated:
‘Having fully realised the Self, the seers become satisfied with that very knowledge and not
with any external object that gratifies and leads to physical nourishment. Established in identity
with the Supreme Self, free from such drawbacks as attachment, composed, with the senses
withdrawn, those people having realised the all-pervasive (Brahman) compared to space,
everywhere—and not partially as circumscribed by the limiting adjuncts—what follows then?
Having realised as their own Self that very Brahman that is without a second, the absolutely
discriminating people, who are by nature ever merged in deep contemplation, enter into the
All, even at the time of the falling of the body. They give up the limitations of the adjuncts
created by ignorance, like space confined within a pot on the breaking of the pot. Thus, the
knowers of Brahman enter into the abode that is Brahman.’54
(3.13) ‘Absence of self-esteem; not proclaiming one’s own virtues; doing no injury to any
living being; not being affected when others have done any injury; doing acts of service to the
preceptor (āchārya) who teaches the means of attaining mokṣa; washing away the dirt from the
body by means of water and earth, the inner purity of mind consisting of the removal from it of
the dirt of attachment and other passions by cultivating the idea that is inimical to them;
concentration of all efforts exclusively in the path of salvation; control of the Self, of the
aggregate of the body and the senses. This aggregate is spoken of as the Self because it is of
some service to the true Self. Self-control consists in directing exclusively to the right path the
body and the mind which are by nature attracted in all directions.
‘Moreover: Absence of attachment for sense objects such as sound, for pleasures seen or
unseen. Thinking of what evil there is severally in birth. Thus, the evil of birth lies in having to
dwell in the womb and to issue out through the uterus. Similarly in death. The veil of old age
consists in the decay of intelligence, power and strength, and in being treated with contempt.
So also may be seen the evil caused by sickness such as head-disease or the evil caused by pain,
whether arising in one’s own person (ādhyātmika), or produced by external agents
(ādhibhautika), or produced by supernatural beings (ādhidaivika).
‘Or, the passage may be thus interpreted: Pain itself is evil. Birth, and so on, should be
regarded as painful, as shown above. Birth is a misery; death is a misery; old age is a misery;
and sickness is a misery. Birth, and so on, are all miseries, because they produce misery; they
are not miseries in themselves.
‘From this perception of the evil of pain in birth, there arises indifference to the pleasures of
the body and of the senses; and then, the senses turn towards the innermost Self to obtain a
glimpse of the Self. Because the perception of the evil of pain in birth conduces to knowledge, it
is itself spoken of as knowledge.
‘Affection is intense attachment and consists in complete identification with another, as in
the case of a man who feels happy or miserable when another is happy or miserable, and who
feels himself alive or dead when another is alive or dead—others who are very dear, other
dependents. Unattachment and absence of affection are termed knowledge because they lead to
knowledge. Constant equanimity consists in not being delighted on attaining the desirable, and
in not chafing on attaining the undesirable. This equanimity also is (conducive to) knowledge.
‘Yoga of non-separation: apṛthak-samādhi, a steady unflinching meditation on the One with
the idea that there is no Being higher than the Lord Vāsudeva, and that therefore He is our sole
refuge. And this devotion is (conducive to) knowledge. Solitary places which are naturally free,
or made free, from impurities, as also from fear of serpents, thieves, and tigers, such as jungle,
the sandbank of a river, the temple of a God, and so on. It is in solitude that the mind becomes
calm, so that meditation of the Self and the like is possible only in a solitary place. Wherefore,
resort to solitude is said to be conducive to knowledge. Society of men: of the enlightened and
undisciplined people, not of the enlightened and disciplined men, because the society of these
latter is an aid to knowledge. Distaste for the society of ordinary men is knowledge because it
leads to knowledge.
‘Self-knowledge: knowledge of the Self and the like. Perception, etc.: Knowledge of truth
results from the mature development of such attributes as (humility55), which are the means of
attaining knowledge. The end of this knowledge is mokṣa, the cessation of mortal existence, of
samsāra. The end should be kept in view; for, it is only when one perceives the end of the
knowledge of truth that one will endeavour to cultivate the attributes which are the means of
attaining that knowledge. These attributes—from “humility” to “perception of the end of the
knowledge of truth”—are to be declared to be knowledge, because they are conducive to
knowledge. What is opposed to this—viz., pride, hypocrisy, cruelty, impatience, insincerity and
the like—is ignorance, which should be known and avoided as tending to the perpetuation of
samsāra.’56

(3.14) SPIRITUAL DISPOSITION


‘Purity of heart: purity of antaḥkaraṇa (sattva), abandonment of deception, dissimulation,
falsehood, and the like, in all transactions, that is to say, transacting business in perfect
honesty. Knowledge consists in understanding the nature of things, such as the Self, as taught in
the scripture (śāstra) and by the teacher (āchārya). Yoga consists in making what has been thus
learnt an object of one’s own direct perception, by concentration (one-pointedness) through the
subjugation of the senses. This—viz., fearlessness, purity of heart, and steadfastness in
knowledge and yoga—forms the daivi or sattvic nature by pre-eminence. Whatever attributes
among these (mentioned in the Gītā57) can possibly pertain to the disciples treading a particular
path (karma-yoga or jñāna-yoga). The first three of the attributes mentioned here can be found in
jñāna yogins only, the rest being common to jñāna yogins and karma yogins. The latter, though
wanting in the first three attributes, are nevertheless classed among sattvic men. They constitute
the sattvic nature of the disciples in that particular path. Alms giving: distributing food, and the
like, as far as lies in one’s power. Self-control: the subjugation of external senses; that of the
antaḥkaraṇa (internal sense, manas) being mentioned in the next verse. Worship: including the
fire worship (agnihotra), and the like, enjoined in the śruti, as also the worship of the Gods (deva
yajña), and the like, enjoined in the smṛti. Study, etc.: study of the Ṛg-veda, and the like, having
in view some unseen results (adrṣta). Austerity: bodily mortification and other penances, which
will be mentioned in the sequel. Uprightness: this should be a constant attitude. Moreover:
‘Harmlessness: abstaining from injury to sentient beings. Truth: speaking of things as they
are, without giving utterance to what is unpleasant or what is false. Absence of anger:
suppression of anger arising when beaten or reviled. Renunciation: “tyāga” (lit. giving up) is
thus explained, since “alms giving” has already been mentioned. Serenity: tranquillity of mind
(antaḥkaraṇa). Compassion to creatures: to those in suffering. Uncovetousness: unaffectedness
of the senses when in contact with their object. Absence of fickleness: not to speak or move
hands and legs in vain.
‘Moreover, “tejas” means energy, not brightness of the skin. Forgiveness: unaffectedness
when beaten or reviled. We have explained “absence of anger” to mean suppression of anger
when it arises. Thus, “forgiveness” and “absence of anger” should be distinguished from each
other. Fortitude: that state of mind (antaḥkaraṇa) which removes the exhaustion of the body and
senses when they droop down, and upheld by which the body and senses no longer get dejected.
Purity: of the two sorts, the external and the internal; the one being accomplished by means of
earth and water, the other consisting in the taintlessness of mind and heart, in freedom from
impurities, such as, deception and passion, Absence of hatred: absence of a desire to injure
others. Pride: consists in supposing oneself worthy of a high honour. These—from “fearlessness”
to “absence of pride”—are found in one who is born for a divine lot, who is worthy of the
powers of the devas, for whom there is happiness in store.

MATERIALISTIC DISPOSITION
‘Here follows a description of the demoniac (āsuric) nature. Ostentation: pretending to be
righteous. Arrogance: pride of learning, wealth, high connection. Insolence: in speech; for
instance, to speak of the blind as having eyes, of the ugly as handsome, of a man of low birth
as one of high birth, and so on. Ignorance: misconception of duties, and the like … They do not
know what acts they should perform to achieve the end of man, nor from what acts they should
abstain to avert evil. Not only do they not know “action and inaction”, there is neither purity
nor good conduct nor truth in them. Indeed, the demons are persons who are wanting in purity
and good conduct, who are hypocrites and liars.

THE MATERIALISTIC VIEW OF THE WORLD


‘Moreover, these demons of men say, “As we are unreal, so this whole universe is unreal.
Neither are dharma and adharma its basis. There exists no Īśvara ruling the universe according
to dharma and adharma. Universe is, therefore, they say, without a Lord. The whole universe is,
moreover, caused by the mutual union of man and woman under the impulse of lust. It is
brought about only by lust. What else can be the cause of the universe? There is no other cause
whatever, no invisible cause, of the universe, no such thing as karma.” This is the view of the
materialists (Lokāyatikas) that sexual passion is the sole cause of all living creatures …

THE MATERIALIST’S NEGLECT OF DIVINE COMMANDMENTS


‘Egotism: they esteem themselves very high for qualities which they really possess, and for those
which they falsely attribute to themselves. This egotism is what is called avidyā; and it is the
hardest thing (to overcome), the source of all perversities (doṣas), of all evil acts. Power:
accompanied with lust and passion, and seeking to humiliate others. Haughtiness: when this
arises, one transgresses the path of virtue; it is a peculiar vice seated in the antaḥkaraṇa. Lust:
sexual passion, and the like. Anger: at something unpleasant. They are given over to these, and
other great vices. Moreover, they hate Me, the Īśvara, abiding in their own and other bodies as
the witness of their thoughts and actions. To hate Me, is to transgress My commands. They are
malicious, jealous of the virtue of those who tread the right path.’58

(3.15) THE PATH TO ABSOLUTE PERFECTION


‘How is this consummation of knowledge to be attained? Listen: Pure: Free from illusion
(māyā), from doubt and misconception. Reason (buddhi): the determining faculty. The Self: the
aggregate of the body and the senses. Abandoning (as we should understand from the context)
all superfluous luxuries, all objects except those only which are necessary for the bare
maintenance of the body, and laying aside love and hatred even for those objects, which
appear necessary for the maintenance of the body.
‘Ever accustomed to resort to such sequestered spots as a jungle, the sandbank of a river, the
mountain cave, as conducive to the serenity of thought by keeping off sleep, and such other
evils. This devotee of wisdom should also restrain his speech, body and mind. With all the
senses thus quieted, he should always and devoutly practise dhyāna or meditation upon the
nature of the Self and Yoga, or concentration of the mind on the Self. He has to do nothing else,
no mantrajapa (repetition of chants or mystic formulae), and so on. Absence of desire for visible
and invisible objects—this should be a constant attitude of the mind.
‘Moreover, he should abandon: identifying the Self with the body, that strength, which is
combined with passion and desire, but not the physical or any other strength, the latter being
natural, its abandonment is not possible. Arrogance which follows the state of exultation and
leads to the transgression of dharma, as said in the smṛti: “When a man exults, he becomes
arrogant, and when he becomes arrogant, he transgresses dharma.”59 Though a man is free from
all passions of the mind and the senses, he may own so much of external belongings as is
necessary for bodily sustenance and for the observance of his duties (dharma); but even this, the
aspirant abandons, he becomes a paramahamsa parivrajaka, a sannyāsin of the fourth or highest
order. He does not regard even the bodily life as his. Free from exultation and care. Such a
devotee of wisdom is fit to become Brahman.

THE CONSUMMATION OF KNOWLEDGE ATTAINED BY DEVOTION


‘He who has reached Brahman and attained self-serenity does not grieve regarding his failure to
accomplish an object or regarding his wants. It is not indeed possible to suppose that he who
knows Brahman can have a longing for any object unattained; therefore the words, “he neither
grieves nor desires”, is tantamount to saying that such is the nature of the man who has become
Brahman. Another reading makes the passage mean that “he neither grieves nor exults”; he
regards the pleasure and pain of all creatures equally with his own (that they would affect them
just as they affect himself). It is not meant here that he sees the identity of the Self in all, as this
will be mentioned in the next verse. Such a devotee to wisdom attains highest devotion to Me,
the Supreme Lord—the fourth or the highest of the four kinds of devotion—viz., the devotion of
knowledge spoken of in 60 “Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me, O Arjuna—the distressed,
the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth, and the wise man, O Lord of the Bharatas.”
‘By bhakti, by the devotion of knowledge, he knows Me as I am in the diverse manifestations
caused by upādhis. He knows who I am, he knows that I am devoid of all the differences caused
by the upādhis, that I am the supreme puruṣa, that I am like unto ākāsa; he knows Me to be non-
dual, the one consciousness (caitanya), pure and simple, unborn, undecaying, undying, fearless,
deathless. Thus knowing me in truth, he enters into Myself immediately after attaining
knowledge.
‘It is not meant here that the act of knowledge and the act of entering are two different acts.
—What then is the act of entering? It is the knowledge itself; for, there is nothing to be effected
(by knowledge) other than itself, as the Lord has taught. “Do thou also know Me as kṣetrajña.”61
‘Objection: The statement that “by the supreme devotion of knowledge he knows Me,”
involves a contradiction. How?—Thus: when the knowledge of a certain object arises in the
knower, then and then alone the knower knows that object; no devotion to that knowledge, no
repetition of the knowledge, is necessary. Therefore, the statement that “he knows Me, not by
knowledge, but by devotion to knowledge, by a repetition of knowledge,” involves a
contradiction.
‘Answer: This objection does not apply here; for, the word “devotion (niṣtha)” means that the
knowledge, aided by all the favourable conditions of its rise and development and freed from
obstacles, culminates in a firm conviction by one’s own experience. When the knowledge of the
unity of the individual Self (kṣetrajña) and the supreme Self (Paramātman), generated by the
teachings of the scriptures and the master under conditions favourable to the rise and ripening
of that knowledge—namely purity of mind, humility and other attributes62—and accompanied
with the renunciation of all works which are associated with the idea of distinctions such as the
agent and other factors of action, culminates in a firm conviction by one’s own experience,
then the knowledge is said to have attained supreme consummation. This jñāna-niṣtha (devotion
of knowledge) is referred to as the supreme or fourth kind of devotion, bhakti.63 “Of them, the
wise man, ever steadfast and devoted to the One, excels; for, excessively dear am I to the wise,
and he is dear to Me.”—Supreme as compared with the remaining three kinds of devotion, with
that of the distressed, and so on,64 “Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me, O Arjuna—the
distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth, and the wise man, O Lord of the
Bharatas.” By this supreme devotion the aspirant knows the Lord as He is, and immediately
afterwards all consciousness of difference between the Īśvara and the kṣetrajña disappears
altogether. Thus there is no contradiction involved in the statement that “by the devotion of
knowledge (the aspirant knows) Me”.’
RENUNCIATION OF ALL WORKS NECESSARY FOR ABSOLUTE PERFECTION
‘Then alone can the well-ascertained teaching of all scriptures—viz., Upaniṣads, itihāsas,
purāṇas and smṛtis—enjoining retirement have a meaning. The scriptural texts are such as the
following: “Knowing It, they renounce and lead a mendicant life.”65 “Wherefore they say that
renunciation is excellent among these austerities.”66 “Renunciation excels.”67 “Sannyāsa is the
renunciation of actions.” “Having abandoned Vedas, this world and the next”,68 viz., “renounce
dharma and adharma”. Here, in the Gītā also, passages of similar import, (such as), “The steady-
minded one abandons the fruit of action, attains the peace born of devotion. The unsteady one,
attached to the fruit through the actions of desire, is firmly bound”69 occur. It cannot be held
that these passages are meaningless. Nor can it be held that they are arthavādas, mere
explanatory or incidental remarks (not meant as obligatory injunctions); for they occur in the
sections, which specially treat of renunciation.
‘Moreover, (renunciation of works is necessary) because mokṣa consists in the realisation of
the immutability of one’s inner Self. He who wishes to reach the eastern sea should not travel in
the opposite direction, by the same road that the man who wishes to go to the western sea
chooses. And the devotion of knowledge (jñāna-niṣtha) consists in an intent effort to establish a
continuous current of the idea of the inner Self (pratyagātman); and there would be a conflict if
that devotion were to be conjoined with ritual (karma), which is like going towards the western
sea. It is a firm conviction of philosophers that the difference between the two is as wide as that
between a mountain and a mustard seed. Hence the conclusion that the devotion of knowledge
(jñāna-niṣtha) should be practised by renouncing all action.’70

(3.16) BRAHMA JÑĀNA IS THE BEST RELIGION


‘This: the Brahma jñāna, the knowledge of Brahman, which is going to be declared, and which
has been declared in the preceding discourses; now: this word points to the superiority of
knowledge (over dhyāna): this right knowledge alone forms the direct means of attaining
mokṣa, as declared in the śruti and the smṛti: “Vāsudeva is the All.”71 “All this is the Self.”72 “One
only without a second.”73 And nothing else is a direct means to mokṣa, as the passages of the
śruti like the following declare: “Now the other princes who understand otherwise than thus
(that all this is one Brahman) they shall attain to perishable regions.’74
‘On attaining this knowledge, you will be liberated from the bondage of samsāra.
‘Of sciences it is the king, because it is of great splendour. Indeed, the science of Brahman is
the most brilliant of all sciences. So also, it is the king of secrets. Of all the purifiers, this
knowledge of Brahman is the best purifier. That it is a purifier needs no saying, since it reduces
karma to ashes in an instant, root and all—all the karma, dharma and adharma, which has been
accumulated during many thousand births. Moreover, it can be comprehended by immediate
perception, like the feeling of pleasure, and so on. What is possessed of many a desirable
quality, may be opposed to dharma; but not so is the knowledge of Ātman opposed to dharma;
on the other hand, it is not separable from dharma, not opposed to it. Even then, it may be
supposed that it is very difficult to attain; but it is not so, says the Lord. It is very easy to
acquire, like the power of discriminating gems. Now, of the other acts, those which involve little
trouble and are easily accomplished, are seen to be productive of small results, and difficult acts
are found to be productive of great results. Accordingly, it may be imagined that this Brahma
jñāna, which is so easily attained, perishes when its effect is exhausted; to prevent this
supposition, the Lord says that it is imperishable. It does not perish like an act when the effect
is exhausted. Wherefore, knowledge of Ātman (Self) is worth acquiring.
‘But, those who have no faith in this dharma (law, religion), namely, knowledge of the Self,
those who do not believe in its existence or in its effects, the sinful who follow the doctrine of
the demons (asurās) regarding the physical body itself as the Self—these greedy and sinful
persons do not attain to Me the Supreme Lord. The attaining of Me is certainly out of question;
wherefore, the implication is that they do not attain even to devotion (bhakti) which is one of
the paths leading to Me; they are sure to remain in the path of the mortal world, in that path
only which leads to hell (naraka) and to the lower kingdoms of animals, and so on.’75

(3.17) BHAKTI
‘To them who are devout, worshipping Me, not for any purpose of their own, but out of love for
Me—to them I give that devotion of right knowledge (buddhi yoga) of My essential nature by
which they, those who worship Me “with their thought on Me”76 and so on—know Me, the
Supreme Lord, the Self, as their own Self.
‘Why dost Thou give the devotion of knowledge (buddhi yoga) to Thy devotees?—And what is
that obstacle in the path leading to Thee which the devotion of knowledge that Thou givest to
Thy devotees serves to remove?—In answer to this question, the Lord says:
‘Out of mercy, anxious as to how they may attain bliss, I dwell in their antaḥkaraṇa which is
engaged in thinking exclusively of the Self and destroy the darkness of ignorance—that illusory
knowledge which is caused by the absence of discrimination—by the lamp of wisdom, by the
lamp of discriminatory knowledge, fed by the oil of pure devotion (bhakti prasāda); fanned by
the wind of earnest meditation on Me; furnished with the wick of right intuition; purified by the
cultivation of piety, chastity and other virtues; held in the antaḥkaraṇa which is completely
detached from all worldly concerns, placed in the wind-sheltered enclosure of the mind which is
withdrawn from the sense-objects and untainted by attachment and aversion, and shining with
the light of right knowledge generated by incessant practice of concentration and meditation.’77
(3.18) ‘Referring to what has been said in the last preceding verse, “He who does works for
Me”78 and so on, engaged without intermission in doing works for the Lord’s sake and in doing
other things taught before, steadfast in mind, these devotees, seeking nobody else for their
refuge, meditate on Thee in the universal form just manifested. There are others who, having
abandoned all desires and renounced all actions, meditate on the Imperishable (akṣara)
Brāhmaṇ—also described above—who is Unmanifest (avyākṛta, incomprehensible to the senses),
as devoid of all upādhis and conditions. That, indeed, is said to be manifested (vyakta) which is
visible to the senses, as the root of the word “vyakta” implies; but this, the Imperishable
(akṣara), is not so. These others meditate on the Imperishable, the Unmanifested, as defined by
other attributes to be enumerated below. Of the two classes, who are better versed in yoga?

THE WORSHIPPERS OF ĪŚVARA


‘The Lord says: As to the worshippers of the Imperishable (akṣara) who see rightly and have
abandoned desires, let them remain; we shall say later on what has to be said regarding them.
But as regards the others:
‘Those devotees (bhaktas) who fix their mind on Me in the universal form, the Supreme Lord,
and worship Me as the governing Lord of all masters of yoga; who is omniscient; whose vision
is free from the timira (purblindness) of attachment and other evil passions—they who always
contemplate Me steadfastly (in the manner described in the closing verse of the preceding
discourse), endowed with supreme faith—these, I think, are the best yogins. Indeed, they pass
their days and nights in incessant thought of Me. Wherefore, it is but proper to speak of them
as the best yogins.

WORSHIPPERS OF AKṢARA
‘Are not the others, then, the best yogis?—Stop; hear thou what I have to say regarding them:
‘Because the Imperishable (akṣara) is unmanifest, He is not accessible to words and cannot,
therefore, be defined. He is unmanifest, not manifest to any of the organs of knowledge. They
contemplate the Imperishable everywhere all round. Contemplation (upāsana) consists of
approaching the object of worship by way of meditating on it according to the teaching (śāstra)
and dwelling for a long time steadily in the current of same thought (continuous), like a thread
of descending oil. The Imperishable who is the object of contemplation is thus qualified: He is
omnipresent, pervading all, like the ākāsa. He is unthinkable, because He is unmanifest.
Whatever is visible to the senses can be thought of by the mind also; but the akṣara is invisible
to the senses and is, therefore, unthinkable. He is unchangeable (kuṭastha)—“Kuṭa” means a
thing which is good to all appearance but evil within. Accordingly, it refers here to that seed of
samsāra—including avidyā (nescience) and other things—which is full of evil within, designated
by various terms such as māyā, avyākṛta (undifferentiated), as in the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad79 and in
the Gītā.80 “Kuṭastha” means He who is seated in māyā as Its witness, as Its Lord. Or, “kuṭastha”
may mean remaining like a heap. Hence, He is immutable and eternal. They who contemplate
the Imperishable, curbing all their senses, and always equanimous whether they come by the
desirable or the undesirable—they come to Myself.—It needs indeed no saying that they come
to Me; for, it has been said that “the wise man is deemed My very Self.”81 Neither is it necessary
to say that they are the best yogins seeing that they are with the Lord Himself. But, great indeed
is the trouble of those who are engaged in doing works for My sake, and so on; but greater still
is the trouble of those who identify themselves with the Imperishable and contemplate the
Supreme Reality—the trouble arising from the necessity of having to abandon their attachment
for the body. The goal, the Imperishable, is very hard for the embodied to reach—for those who
are attached to their bodies. Therefore their trouble is greater.’82
‘He who is devoted to Me, who regards Me—Vāsudeva, the supreme Lord, the omniscient, the
supreme Guru—as the Self (soul, essence) of everything, he who is possessed (as it were) with
the idea that all that he sees or hears or touches is nothing but the Lord Vāsudeva. Thus devoted
to Me, and having attained the right knowledge described above, he is fit to attain to My state,
he attains mokṣa.’83

(4) FAITH, AND PREREQUISITES FOR SCRIPTURAL STUDY

The importance of faith in the teachings of the scriptures and in the Guru who imparts the truth
needs repetition because knowledge of Brahman is very subtle. What is taught by the scriptures
and reasoned out by the intellect must be imbibed with implicit faith. Śaṅkara, in his
commentary on the Brahma-sūtra, spells out four prerequisites for a spiritual seeker embarking
on scriptural study, an inquiry into Brahman. They are: discrimination between the eternal and
the ephemeral; renunciation of fruit of action; cultivation of six virtues; and longing for
liberation.

(Selected passages)
(4.1) ‘“If you want to perceive it, then fetch a fruit from this great banyan tree.” Being told so,
he (Śvetaketu) acted accordingly. “Venerable sir, it is this one—this fruit has been brought.” To
him who had shown the fruit thus, the father said, “Break it, break the fruit.” The other one (the
son) said, “It is broken.” To him the father said, “What do you see here in it?” Being told so he
said, “Venerable sir, I see these grains, seeds more atomic.” “Dear son, break one of these from
among these grains.”
‘Being told so, he replied, “It is broken, O venerable sir.” “If the grain has been broken, then
what do you find in this broken one?” Being told so, he replied, “I do not see anything, O
venerable sir.”
‘To him, the son, he said, “O good-looking one, though you do not perceive this atomic
subtleness after the grain of the banyan seed has been broken, still O good-looking one, of this
very unperceivable subtleness in the seed, of the size of an atom, this huge banyan tree grows
as the product, and having been born, stands with mighty branches, trunk, fruit, and leaves …
‘Therefore, have faith that this gross universe, which is a product and is possessed of name
and form, is born from existence which is subtle indeed. Although the meaning arrived at
through logic and scriptures is understood to be so, still, in the absence of intense faith it is very
difficult for a mind, which is engrossed in external things and is impelled by natural tendencies,
to comprehend very subtle objects. Hence he said, “Have faith.” But when faith is present, the
mind becomes concentrated on a thing that is to be understood, and the comprehension of its
meaning follows from that. This is supported by such śruti texts as, “I was absent-minded, (I did
not hear it)”.84’85

(4.2) SĀDHANA CATUṢṬAYA (FOUR PREREQUISITES OF SPIRITUAL LIFE)


‘It therefore is requisite that something should be stated subsequent to which the enquiry into
Brahman is proposed. Well, then, we maintain that the antecedent conditions are the
discrimination of what is eternal and what is non-eternal; the renunciation of all desire to enjoy
the fruit (of one’s actions) both here and hereafter; the acquirement of tranquillity, self-
restraint, and the other means (the “means” in addition to sama and dama are: discontinuance
of religious ceremonies [uparati]; patience in suffering [titīkṣā]; attention and concentration of
the mind [samādhāna]; and faith [śraddhā]; and the desire for final release). If these conditions
exist, a man may, either before entering on an enquiry into active religious duty or after that,
engage in the enquiry into Brahman and come to know it; but not otherwise. The word “then”
(in “Then therefore the enquiry into Brahman”86), therefore, intimates that the enquiry into
Brahman is subsequent to the acquisition of the above-mentioned (spiritual) means.’87

(5) RESULT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE

The consummation of scriptural study is knowledge of the Ātman, which liberates the seeker
from bondage. There is no return to samsāra for him. Bliss, fearlessness, freedom from remorse
about the acts of omissions and commission are experienced as a result.

(Selected passage)
(5.1) ‘That from which—from the Self, which is unconditioned, has the aforesaid definition, and
is non-dual and Bliss, words that stand for conditioned objects. Though words are applied by
their users even with regard to the unconditioned and non-dual Brahman, expecting to express
it because of Its similarity with other substances, still, those words without reaching, without
expressing (that Brahman), turn back, become despoiled of their power. The word “manaḥ”
stands for a notion, cognition. And as a word proceeds to anything, super-sensuous though it
be, conceptual knowledge also strives to encompass that thing as well as its significance; and
where there is knowledge, there words, too, go. Hence, words and ideas, speech and mind,
move together everywhere. Therefore, that Brahman which is beyond all concepts and all
words, and which has such attributes as invisibility, from which, words, though used by their
utterers in all possible ways for expressing Brahman, return together with the mind—with
conceptual knowledge that is able to encompass everything else; the one who has known,
through the aforesaid process, that bliss of Brahman—the supreme bliss of Brahman that is the
Self of the follower of the Vedas, who is sinless, unaffected by desire, and wholly free from all
craving—the bliss that is free from the relation of subject and object, is natural, eternal, and
indivisible; (the man of knowledge) having known that bliss, is not afraid of anything, for there
remains no cause for fear. There does not certainly exist anything, distinct from the man of
knowledge, of which he can be afraid; for it has been said that, when anyone creates the
slightest difference in this Brahman, through ignorance, then one is subject to fear.88 But since,
for the enlightened man, the effects of ignorance have been removed like the second moon seen
by a man with diseased eyes, it is proper that he has not fear of anything. This verse was
quoted in the context of the mental self as well, because the mind is an aid to the knowledge of
Brahman. But there the idea of Brahman was superimposed on the mental self, and then by
saying by way of eulogy of that imaginary Brahman that “one is not subject to fear at any
time,”89 fear alone was denied; but by saying, “he is not afraid of anything,” in the (present)
context of the non-dual (Brahman), the cause itself of fear is negated.
‘Objection: But causes of fear, namely omission of good deeds and commission of bad deeds,
do persist (even in his case).
‘Answer: Not so.
‘Objection: How?
‘The answer is: (Such omission and commission) do not worry or afflict such a man, who is a
knower as aforesaid. “Ha” and “vava” are particles implying emphasis.
‘Objection: How, again, omission of virtue and commission of sin do not afflict (him)?
‘The answer is: When death approaches, the remorse comes in the form “Why I did not
perform good deeds? Similarly, the repentance in the form—Why I did prohibited things?—
comes to him who is thrown into hell. These two—omission of the good and commission of the
bad—do not torment this one, as they do the ignorant man.
‘Objection: Why, again, do they not afflict the enlightened man?
‘The answer is: He who knows (Brahman) thus delights or strengthens these two, virtue and
vice, the causes of grief which are (really) the Self. The idea is that he considers both as
identified with the Supreme Self. Since, he who having divested both virtue and vice of their
individual distinctions, has known these two as verily the Self, he strengthens the Self. Who? He
that knows Brahman thus—as non-dual and bliss, as described earlier. Virtue and vice, seen by
him as identified with the Self, become powerless and harmless, and they do not bring about
rebirth. This is the secret instruction—thus has been stated, in this part, the knowledge of
Brahman called Upaniṣad. The idea is that the most secret of all knowledge has been revealed,
for in it is ingrained the highest consummation.’90
7

Liberation

INTRODUCTION

The goal of human birth is attainment of liberation from the cycle of transmigration.
Liberation, according to Śaṅkara, is ‘nothing but being Brahman’, that is, discovering one’s
essential nature as the Ātman. Hence, only knowledge (jñāna) can destroy one’s ignorance,
which is the root of the mistaken identity with the not-Self, and release does not entail any
action. Karma-yoga, as seen earlier, helps in preparing the mind for knowledge. As Śaṅkara
takes the categorical stand that only jñāna will lead to release, how then does he explain and
accommodate the various spiritual aids and disciplines, like prayer, recitation, japa and vidyās
(upāsana), elaborated on in such detail in the Upaniṣads? Though on the face of it, it may seem
that Śaṅkara is uncompromising, a deeper analysis will reveal that his philosophy is inclusive.
Just as the relation between the one (Absolute Reality) and the many (empirical world) is
resolved in metaphysics with the concept of māyā, so also, can all the Vedic prescriptions be
included within the spiritual path chalked out by him. They are like karma-yoga, preparatory to
jñāna-yoga, when practised without the expectation of the rewards that they are capable of
bestowing.
Upāsana, which is meditation, comes closest to jñāna, as the mental concentration that it
entails is common to it and to nididhyāsana, the last of the threefold practice of scriptural study.
Hence, upāsana can help the seeker if it is followed for the sake of knowledge. The reason for so
many vidyās being given must be appreciated from the standpoint of the scriptures, which teach
the truth for various levels of spiritual seekers with different inclinations. This is the logic of
saguṇa upāsana, too. Meditation on Nirguṇa-Brahman is only for a few and by meditation on
the various forms of Īśvara, most spiritual seekers eventually qualify for the goal of liberation.
Śaṅkara states that there is no return to samsāra for those who worship Saguṇa-Brahman in the
practice of bhakti-yoga, because they reach the abode of Hiraṇyagarbha, and are endowed with
the liberating knowledge by God’s grace. Similarly, all these upāsanas facilitate progress to
jñāna.
As Śaṅkara classifies knowledge into higher (parā vidyā) and lower (aparā vidyā), it is
apparent that parā vidyā alone can lead to liberation. Why should the Vedas teach aparā vidyā
then? It is not redundant because the practices that are enjoined under aparā vidyā can be made
integral to jñāna-yoga when they are undertaken with the intention of achieving purity of mind
(cittaśuddhi). Meditation (upāsana) is a case in point. Though the Vedas describe several
upāsanas, essentially they are all mental concentration on a particular object. So, when the
spiritual seeker meditates, he is not concerned with the enjoyment of the result of the upāsana
in the form of puṇya but only undertakes it to further his spiritual progress. Scriptures
figuratively portray two paths for the one who undertakes meditation, that is, the path of light
(uttara-mārga, Northern Path) that leads to enlightenment; and the other, the path of darkness
(dakṣiṇamārga, Southern Path), because the soul that takes this route after enjoying the fruit of
meditation in other worlds returns to this world of bondage. So, one desirous of liberation must
adopt meditation for the sake of achieving cittaśuddhi.
As liberation is abiding in the non-dual consciousness, this is said to be attainment only from
the state of worldly bondage relatively. Freedom being the natural state of the Self, in reality,
there is neither bondage nor liberation from the absolute point of view in Śaṅkara Vedānta,
which is the reason scripture describes the Self as birthless. Liberation, then, is only from the
relative standpoint of the soul in bondage. For the liberated, there is no return to the world of
bondage, and he continues to live till the fall of this body, which is the exhaustion of the karma
(prārabdha) that brought about this birth. As for the actions of the liberated one, they do not
bind him any more because he is poised in the Self, and Self-knowledge never leaves him.
This brings us to the state of enlightenment, described as blissful. It is difficult to describe the
bliss of the Self, which is non-dual, from the relative world of duality, because worldly joys are
always due to another. The enlightened one is of the nature of bliss because he is poised in the
Self which is bliss per se. His bliss is everlasting, unlike the joys of the world, which are not
lasting in nature. But the joys of the world are also said to be sustained by the infinite bliss of
the Self because Brahman is the source of all existence and, therefore, of joy also. What are the
marks and deportment of an enlightened one? The jñāni defies description. He can be aloof
from society or be in it but what sets him apart from the rest is his state of poise, unaffected by
the tribulations of the worldly people in bondage. There are many scriptural descriptions of
realized souls which serve to help spiritual seekers imbibe these qualities in their quest.
The reason why karma-yoga, bhakti-yoga and jñāna-yoga are taken up simulatenously is that
human personality is a conglomerate of the three faculties of willing, feeling, and knowing,
which make an individual act, enjoy, and know. They function in tandem, and each person has
a unique make-up according to the faculty that predominates in him. Therefore, while adopting
the spiritual path, it will be easy for him to progress along the path of yoga to which he is
predisposed. Whether he follows karma-yoga or bhakti-yoga, he will reach a stage when he is
ready for jñāna-yoga. Thus, one can discern a synthesis of these yogas in the seeker during his
evolution towards the goal of liberation.
This brings us finally to the direct path to liberation, that is jñāna, for which the seeker has to
embark on scriptural study. When he has the fourfold prerequisites (sādhana catuṣṭaya) which
form the moral discipline preparatory to undertaking spiritual discipline, he has to undertake
scriptural study in the prescribed manner under a Guru, who is a man of Self-realization. This is
a threefold discipline comprising listening to the exposition of the texts teaching Brahman
(śravaṇa); then, constant deliberation on the teaching so that it is grasped intellectually
(manana); and finally, meditation on it (nididhyāsana) so that the truth is experienced.
Experience of the Self within arises when avidyā is destroyed by jñāna. This is liberation,
because this mystical experience leaves a lasting impact in that there is no more identification
with the not-Self. As the crux of the teaching is identity of Brahman and Ātman, liberation is
spoken of as attainment of Brahman or Ātman, according to whether the perspective is
objective or subjective. It is also described as the discovery of one’s essential nature (svarūpa) as
Ātman. This state being non-dual, there is no fear any more, as fear is always due to ‘other’—
the duality. So it is absolute freedom from all kinds of restrictions. Positively, it is a blissful
state because Brahman is of the nature of eternal bliss.
Liberation, according to Śaṅkara, is immediate (sadyomukti) to gaining Self-knowledge.
Karma that is yet to fructify, and which will be the seed for future births (sancita, āgami), is
destroyed while that which brought about this birth (prārabdha) will run its course, and hence
the body will continue as long as it lasts. This is termed jīvanmukti—the body continues to exist
after liberation, while videhamukti is when the body ceases to be. This distinction must not be
understood as two types of liberation; they are only with reference to whether the body exists
or not after liberation. That there is no rebirth is certain and, acceding gradual liberation
(kramamukti) in the case of the souls that go to the world of Saguṇa-Brahman, Śaṅkara notes in
his commentary on the Brahma-sūtra that they, ‘togethe