Posted by: adbhutam | August 24, 2009



The following is an excerpt from a paper presented by a scientist:

//In modern science, the synthesis of “nature/mind” in observation, experiment, and explanation, especially in physics and biology increasingly reveal a “non-linear” totality in which subject, object, and situation have become inseparable. This raises the interesting ontological question of the true nature of reality. Western science as seen in its evolution from Socratic Greece has tried to understand the world by “objectifying” it, resulting in dualistic dilemmas. Indian “Science,” as seen in its evolution from the Vedic times (1500—500 BCE) has tried to understand the world by “subjectifying” our consciousness of reality. Within the Hindu tradition, the Advaita-Vedanta school of philosophy offers possibilities for resolving not only the Cartesian dilemma but also a solution to the nature of difference in a non-dualistic totality. We also present the Advaita-Vedanta principle of superimposition as a useful approach to modern physical and social science, which have been increasingly forced to reject the absolute reductionism and dualism of classical differences between subject and object.

Keywords: Advaita-Vedanta; Consciousness; Dualism; Hindu philosophy; Hindu theology; Indian science; Monism; Shankara; Super-imposition; Upanishads; Vedas//

The above observation of the scientist reminds one of the pioneering statement of the AdhyAsa Bhashya of Shankara:

युष्मदस्मत्प्रत्ययगोचरयो: विषयविषयिणो: तम:प्रकाशवद्विरुद्धस्वभावयो: इतरेतरभावानुपपत्तौ सिद्धायां..

yuShmadasmat pratyaya gocharayoH viShaya-viShayiNoH tamaHprakAshavat viruddhaH svabhaavayoH itaretara bhAva anupapattau siddhAyAm,…

He opens His Magnum Opus commentary with the bombshell observation that the subject and object of any cognition activity can never be thought of in alignment; their very nature being of opposite characteristics akin to darkness and light.  Such being the truth, our parlance goes on without taking into account this fact.  This has to be a case of superimposition, adhyAsa.

Shankara’s pointing to this error in human discourse is what the scientists refer to as a “non-linear” totality in which subject, object, and situation have become inseparable.

The ‘subject’ mentioned above is called the ‘pramAtru’, the one who perceives an object.  But this pramAtru who interacts with his object, prameya, by operating his instruments of knowledge, pramana, is himself an object for Consciousness, Atman, the sAkshi.  Shankara is referring to this Atman by the term ‘vishayi’.  The entire triad of pramatru, prameya and pramana, become grouped under the term ‘vishaya’. The   entire world, being the observed, consisting of sound, touch, form, taste and smell, is perceived by the pramatru, the conscious entity endowed with mind and a set of sense organs.  But am examination of the mind and sense organs reveals that they are also made of the material that goes into the making of the objective world.  In short, the five elements, pancha bhutas, are the material of the  entire world, inclusive of the mind-sense organ set of the observer. Thus we come to a situation where the observer-observed pair is only material, elemental. The Vishayi, sAkshi, Atman, Consciousness is the transcendental Truth of Vedanta.   While the vishaya keeps changing, the vishayi never changes; it is the Constant.  Thus, vishaya is anAtma, inert principle requiring the light of Consciousness, the Atma, to illumine it.  That which is changing has no existence of its own, paratantra, vyavaharika/pratibhasika and therefore mithya, unreal.  That which never changes enjoys an independent existence, Swatantra, Paramarthika, is the Satyam, Real.

The  human problem of bondage lies in this non-discrimination of the vishayi and vishaya and ignorantly taking the pramatru to be oneself.  All the joys and sorrows born of cognition of objects accrue to the pramatru alone but the non-discrimination results in the Atman becoming deluded in thinking that these are for itself.  The sole and sublime aim of Vedanta is to impart the knowledge and method of discriminating the Atma from the pramatru-group and crown the one in bondage with the incomparable state of liberation. Thus we have in the Kathopanishad, the famous mantra 2.1.1:

पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत्स्वयंभू: तस्मात् पराङ्पश्यति नान्तरात्मन् ।

कश्चित् धीरः प्रत्यगात्मानमैक्षत् आवृत्तचक्षुरमृतत्वमिच्छन् ॥

[The Self-existent Lord destroyed the outgoing senses.  Therefore, one sees the outer things and not the inner Self.  A rare discriminating man, desiring immortality, turns his eyes away and then sees the indwelling Self.]

There are innumerous teachings across the Upanishadic and other scriptural literature that exhort the seeker of Truth to turn away from the objective world.  Why does the Scripture do this repeatedly?  It is because, the outside world and the Truth, Atman, are of diametrically opposite nature.  While the former is false, the latter alone is true, Satyam.  The word Satyam in its supreme sense is never applied to the world by the scripture.  The Truth the Scripture holds out for liberation is ‘prapanchopashamam’, bereft of the objective world.  It is the Seer Consciousness and not the inert seen.  Scientists have arrived at the realization that the fundamental truth underlying the universe that they are examining is not the ever-evasive matter/material, but a conscious entity, the observer of matter.

The Bhagavadgita too brings out the above idea in the 13th chapter.  The clear distinction between the vishayi and vishaya is taught there by the terms kShetrajna and kShetram. The cause of bondage, namely superimposition or non-discrimination between the kshetrajna and the kshetram, the method of discriminating the two and  the resultant liberation are all clearly laid out in this chapter.  In a way, we can say that the adhyAsa bhashya of Shankara is a laconic commentary of this 13th chapter of the Gita.  It can also be appreciated that the Gita 13th chapter is an elaborate  commentary of the adhyasa bhashya of Shankara.

Here is an instance of the uncertainity/indeterminability pertaining to the world.  The Kathopanishat teaches this through the words of wisdom coming from Nachiketas, a small boy.  He has approached Yama, the Lord of Death, for imparting Self Knowledge.  Yama dissuades Nachiketas and diverts his attention to various attractions and allurements so as to test his determination to have Self Knowledge and nothing else.  So Yama offers Nachiketas heavenly pleasures of all kinds and this-worldly luxuries that a human can hardly even think of.  But the extremely discriminating Nachiketas does not even acknowledge their greatness; he rejects them with the back of his left hand.  Says he:

श्वोभावा मर्त्यस्य यदन्तकैतत् सर्वेन्द्रियाणां जरयन्ति तेजः ।

अपि सर्वं जीवितमल्पमेव तवैव वाहास्तव नृत्यगीते ॥ 1.1.26 ||

[O Death! Ephemeral are these, and they waste away the vigour of all the organs that a man has.  All life, without exception, is short indeed.  Let the vehicles be yours alone; let the dances and songs be yours.]

Shankaracharya comments:

श्वो भविष्यन्ति न भविष्यन्ति वा इति सन्दिह्यमान एव येषां भावो भवनं …

[The enjoyable things enumerated by you are ephemeral, whose existence invariably is subject to the doubt as to whether they will exist  or not tomorrow…]

Throughout His commentary literature Shankara repeatedly uses, as and when situation demands, an expression:  ‘dRShTa naShTa svaruupaH’.  This means: The objects of the world are of a nature of such fleeting type that ‘this moment it is seenh/experienced, and the very next moment it is not there.  It has disappeared or has metamorphosed into something else.

The scientists inform us that the body, for example, undergoes constant changes at all levels, especially at the cellular level.  Cells die and are generated afresh.  The ‘person’ who was a moment ago is no longer the same one the next moment.  Yet, one carries the feeling that the same person is continuing.  The only explanation for this is:  The strong superimposed identification with a body-mind complex as ‘This am I’ that has been deeply entrenched into the psyche of the individual, for ages, expresses itself in the form of a ‘person’.  The panacea for this samsaric state is not readily offered by science.  Vedanta teaches that the only way to come out of this rut is to gain the right knowledge ‘I am not this body-mind person; I am the Everlasting Unchanging Blissful Sat Brahman.’  Thus the Seer-seen divide plays the crucial role in determining whether one wants to continue in ignorance or come out of it.

Related Reading:

Read my article ‘The world is anitya, but is it mithya?’ here:

Om Tat Sat


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