Posted by: adbhutam | February 24, 2011

‘adhyAsa’ demonstrated in the BhAgavatam

श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः
Sri Shankaracharya has demonstrated in the adhyAsa bhAShya that / how ‘adhyAsa’ is the cause of samsara.  In the BhAgavatam, BhagavAn Veda VyAsa, through the medium of BhagavAn Krishna, demonstrates adhyAsa with a couple of examples:

The uddhavagItA Chapter 17 concluding portions contain the relevant verses:

प्रकृतेः एवम् आत्मानम् अविविच्य अबुधः पुमान्।
तत्त्वेन स्पर्शसंमूढः संसारं प्रतिपद्यते॥५०॥

The ignorant man, failing to rightly discriminate thus  the Atman from the prakRti, is deluded by the sense-objects and goes from birth to birth.

The adhyAsabhAShya words:  इतरेतराविवेकेन …नैसर्गिकोऽयं लोकव्यवहारः is what is meant in the above verse.

सत्त्वसङ्गात् ऋषीन् देवान् रजसा असुरमानुषान्।
तमसा भूततिर्यक्त्वं भ्रामितः याति कर्मभिः॥५१॥
Swayed by his past karma, a man through his attachment to sattva becomes a sage or a god, under the influence of rajas, an asura or a man, and under the influence of tamas a ghost or a beast.

नृत्यतो गायतः पश्यन् यथैव अनुकरोति तान्।
एवं बुद्धिगुणान् पश्यन् अनीहः अपि अनुकार्यते॥५२॥

Just as a man watching a band of dancers or singers imitates them (spontaneously at least in the mind) so the Atman, even though without activity, is moved to imitate the attributes of the buddhi (intellect).

Here the इतरेतर-अध्यासः is spoken of.  adhyAsa is अन्यत्र अन्यधर्मावभासः the manifesting / perceiving of the attributes of object ‘x’ in object ‘y’ (and vice versa too).  In this verse the attributes of the dancers/singers that constitute the ‘other’ / different / object/ viShaya (for the one who watches the performance who is really the viShayI / the subject) are taken upon himself and he identifies himself with the dancers/singers and he too engages in dancing/singing, at least in the mind. Even so, the Atman takes upon itself, as though they are its own, attributes belonging to the non-Atman, the anAtman, buddhi.  Atman is niShkriya, asanga.  Yet, the kriyaa of the buddhi is superimposed on the Atman and one comes to think ‘I act/deliberate/think etc.

यथा अम्भसा प्रचलता तरवः अपि चलाः इव।
चक्षुषा भ्राम्यमाणेन दृश्यते भ्रमति इव भूः॥५३॥

As trees reflected in moving water seem to be moving also, and as, when the eyes whirl, the land also seems to be whirling…so the movements of the prakRti are superimposed on the Atman.

Here, (the analogy of) the person in a moving boat gets the illusion of the trees on the bank of the river / or the reflection of the trees in the water moving.  Sometimes one gets the illusion that though moving, he is stationary and the trees, etc. though stationary, are moving.  One can experience this illusion while seated in a stationary train in a platform and suddenly the train starts moving.  The one seated in the moving train gets the illusion that the platform/the shops/pillars/people there are moving.  The movement, an attribute of oneself (the train) is transferred/superimposed on the non-moving trees/objects.  This is also a case of  इतरेतर-अध्यासः, अन्यत्र अन्यधर्मावभासः the manifesting / perceiving of the attributes of object ‘x’ in object ‘y’ and the attribute of (being stationary) the platform/shops, etc. on to oneself/train as one feels that one is stationary (and only the platform, etc. is/are moving) at least for a few seconds.

The above analogy is used by Shankaracharya in the Bhagavadgita bhashya 4.18:

ननु कर्म कर्मैव सर्वेषां न क्वचित् व्यभिचरति — तत् न, नौस्थस्य नावि गच्छन्त्यां तटस्थेषु अगतिषु नगेषु प्रतिकूलगतिदर्शनात्, दूरेषु चक्षुषा असंनिकृष्टेषु गच्छत्सु गत्यभावदर्शनात् , एवम् इहापि अकर्मणि कर्मदर्शनं कर्मणि च अकर्मदर्शनं विपरीतदर्शनं, येन तन्निराकरणार्थमुच्यते ‘कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येत्’ इत्यादि।

//Objection: Is it not that to everyone action is action itself? Never is there an exception to this.

Vedantin: That is not so, because when a boat is moving, motionless trees on the bank appear to move in the opposite direction to a man on the boat; an absence of motion is noticed in distant moving things which are not near one’s eyes. Similarly, here also occurs the contrary perceptions, viz seeing action in inaction under the idea, ‘I am doing’,and seeing, inaction in action,- because of which it is said, ‘He who finds inaction in action,’ etc. in order to eliminate them (such mistaken notions).//

अत्र च कर्म कर्मैव सत् कार्यकरणाश्रयं कर्मरहिते अविक्रिये आत्मनि सर्वैः अध्यस्तम्, यतः पण्डितोऽपि ‘अहं करोमि ‘ इति मन्यते। अतः आत्मसमवेततया सर्वलोकप्रसिद्धे कर्मणि नदीकूलस्थेष्विव वृक्षेषु गतिप्रातिलोम्येन अकर्म कर्माभावं यथाभूतं गत्यभावमिव वृक्षेषु यः पश्येत्, ..

//And here in this world, though action belonging to the body and organs continues to be action, still it is superimposed by everyone on the acitonless, unchanging Self, as a result of which even a learned person thinks, ‘I act.’Therefore, in action (karmaNi), which is universally considered, erroneously, by all people to be inherent in the Self, like the perception of motion in the (stationary) trees on the bank of a river- (in that action) he who contrariwise finds the fact of inaction, like perceiving absence of motion in those trees- (actually perceives / knows the true state of affairs) //

Even the other analogy: चक्षुषा भ्राम्यमाणेन दृश्यते भ्रमति इव भूः used by the Lord in the UddhavagItA has been used by Shankaracharya in some work (UpadeshasAhasrI ?).  What is to be noted is that in all the cases the common idea is that something that does not really happen is imagined to be happening.  That is the crux of a bhrama.

The Lord concludes this short discussion:

यथा मनोरथधियः विषयानुभवः मृषा।
स्वप्नदृष्टाः च दाशार्ह तथा संसारः आत्मनः॥५४॥

As imaginations and dream perceptions are unreal, so also, O Uddhava, is the relative existence of sense-experience of the Atman (unreal).

‘Imaginations’ = manoratha or reverie is one where a person, even in the waking, indulges in thinking of a future event which may or may not be possible to materialize.  In any case, the ‘event’ in his imagination is never a real one in the real world.  For example, the persons involved in the reverie will never, in the real world, attest to the happenings in the imaginer’s reverie.  And most importantly, the Lord is saying that the dream perceptions are also unreal.  This reminds one of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mantra 4.3.10:

न तत्र रथा न रथयोगा न पन्थानो भवन्त्यथ रथान्रथयोगान्पथ: सृजते, न तत्रानन्दा मुद: प्रमुदो भवन्त्यथानन्दान्मुद: प्रमुद: सृजते, न तत्र वेशान्ता: पुष्करिण्य:

//10. “There are no real chariots in that state, nor animals to be yoked  to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals  and roads. There are no pleasures in that state, no joys, no  rejoicings, but he creates the pleasures, joys and rejoicings.  There are no pools in that state, no reservoirs, no rivers, but he  creates the pools, reservoirs and rivers. He indeed is the agent.//

This is something that is in everyone’s everyday experience.  Nowhere it is stated that someone else, other than the dreamer, creates these.  The Uddhavagita verse also reminds one of the GaudapAda kArikA 2.3:

अभावश्च रथादीनां श्रूयते न्यायपूर्वकम् ।
वैतथ्यं तेन वै प्राप्तं स्वप्न आहुः प्रकाशितम् ॥ 3
// Scripture, on rational grounds, declares the non-existence of the chariots etc. perceived in dreams. Therefore the wise say that the unreality established by reason is proclaimed by scripture. //

Shankaracharya’s commentary on the above is:

इतश्च स्वप्नदृश्या भावा वितथाः, यतः अभावश्च रथादीनां स्वप्नदृश्यानां श्रूयते, न्यायपूर्वकं युक्तितः श्रुतौ ‘न तत्र रथाः‘ इत्यत्र। तेन अन्तस्थानसंवृतत्वादिहेतुना प्राप्तं वैतथ्यं तदनुवादिन्या श्रुत्या स्वप्ने…

//For this reason too, non-existence of chariots etc. is heard of in the Upanishad, in the text ‘There are no chariots….’ from the standpoint of logic.  They, the knowers of Brahman say that the unreality arrived at through such reasons as existence inside the body, smallness of the space, etc. is revealed by the Upanishad….//

One can see how the Lord’’s words in the Uddhavagita concurs with the Upanishad, GaudapAda and Shankaracharya on the matter of the unreality of the objects of dream / reveries. The word ‘मृषा’ is what conveys this.  In the following verse too this unreality of dream/reverie objects/experiences is alluded and what is important, extended and applied to the world of waking, (just as the GaudapAda kArika 2.5 says):

अर्थे हि अविद्यमाने अपि संसृतिः न निवर्तते।
ध्यायतः विषयान् अस्य स्वप्ने अनर्थ आगमः यथा॥५५॥

Even though the sense-world (of objects/subject and perceiving) is unreal, अविद्यमाने अपि, the relative existence of a man who dwells on sense-objects is never at an end, as troubles come in dreams. (Since dreams are admitted to be effects of the impressions of the waking state.)

The word अविद्यमाने अपि in this verse is to be studied along with the Acharya’s bhashyam for the Bh.Gita 2.16:

//नासतो=अविद्यमानस्य शीतोष्णादेः सकारणस्य न विद्यते नास्ति भावो भवनम् अस्तिता ।  (अत्र शीतोष्णादेः इति प्रकरणात् – २.१४ गृहीतम्, सकारणस्य इति शीतोष्णादेः कारणं यत्किञ्चिदपि वस्तु अग्निसूर्यादिहिमवातादिकं गृह्यते ।) न हि शीतोष्णादि सकारणं प्रमाणैर्निरूप्यमाणं वस्तु सद्भवति ।  विकारो हि सः, विकारश्च व्यभिचरति । यथा घटादिसंस्थानं चक्षुषा निरूप्यमाणं मृद्व्यतिरेकेण अनुपलब्धेरसत्, तथा सर्वो विकारः कारणव्यतिरेकेण अनुपलब्धेः असन् । जन्मप्रधवंसाभ्यां प्रागूर्ध्वं चानुपलब्धेः कार्यस्य घटादेः मृदादिकारणस्य च तत्कारणव्यतिरेकेण अनुपलब्धेः असत्त्वम् । तदसत्त्वे सर्वाभावप्रसङ्ग इति चेन्न, सर्वत्र बुद्धिद्वयोपलब्धेः सद्बुद्धिरसद्बुद्धिरिति ।//

//// Asatah, of the unreal, of cold, heat, etc. together with their causes; na vidyate, there is no; bhaavah, being, existence, reality; because heat, cold, etc. together with their causes are not substantially real as they are perceived/grasped by means of instruments. For they are changeful, and whatever is changeful is inconstant. As configurations like pot etc. are unreal since they are not perceived to be different from earth when perceived by the eyes, so also are all changeful things unreal because they are not perceived to be different from their (material) causes, and also because they are not perceived before (their) origination and after destruction.//
तस्मात् उद्धव मा भुङ्क्ष्व विषयान् असत् इन्द्रियैः।
आत्मा अग्रहणनिर्भातं पश्य वैकल्पिकं भ्रमम्॥५६॥

Therefore, O Uddhava, cease to experience the sense-objects through the outgoing organs.  Look upon the delusion of plurality as caused by the non-perception of the Atman.

Again, the exact correspondence of the above verse with the scheme of the Mandukya  kArikA is so very telling and obvious:

There, in the Mandukya upanishad and kArikA, the causal avidyA is ‘tattva-agrahaNam’, ignorance of the Truth.  This gives rise to the ‘anyathAgrahaNam’ also called adhyAsa/atasmin tadbuddhiH, etc. where the projection of plurality is the characteristic.  The ‘agrahaNam’ is characterized by no perceived plurality.  This is the suShupti state.  The jaagrat and swapna states, however, are marked by both tattva agrahaNam (the ignorance of the fundamental Truth) and anyathAgrahaNam,  perception of plurality which is nothing but taking the One Nondual Truth to be the manifold objects of duality.  The kArikA-s of the Agama prakaraNam 1.11 to 16 are to be studied to appreciate what the Lord is saying here.  The word in the Uddhavagita verse above denoting the projected duality is: वैकल्पिकं भ्रमम्.  The vi-kalpanam is not there in suShupti; it is no doubt in seed form.  Only in jAgrat/svapna when the mind and sense/motor organs are active, the world of plurality is available for being experienced.

For the unreality of the world, of course, we have already seen in an earlier post the following verse of the Bhagavatam:

आत्मानमेव आत्मतया अविजानतां
तेनैव जातं निखिलं प्रपञ्चितम् ।
ज्ञानेन भूयोऽपि च तत्प्रलीयते
रज्ज्वां अहेर्भोगभवाभवौ यथा ।। 10.14.25

ātmānam evātmatayāvijānatāḿ

tenaiva jātaḿ nikhilaḿ prapañcitam

jñānena bhūyo ‘pi ca tat pralīyate

rajjvām aher bhoga-bhavābhavau yathā


// A person who mistakes a rope for a snake becomes fearful, but he then gives up his fear upon realizing that the so-called snake does not exist.

Similarly, for those who fail to recognize You as the Supreme Soul of all souls, the expansive illusory material existence arises, but knowledge (realization) of You (Your True Nature) at once causes it  (the variegated world of plurality) to subside.//

The rope is the adhiShThAnam for the snake.  Ignorance of the rope is the cause of the snake-perception.  Similarly, Brahman is the substratum for the world-perception.  Ignorance of Brahman is the cause of the world-perception.  When knowledge of the rope arises, the snake ‘subsides’ in it.  When knowledge of Brahman arises, the world (jiva-jagat-Ishwara) subsides in It.  In other words, the rope alone was seen in ignorance as the snake.  Brahman alone is seen as the world (jiva-jagat-Ishwara)  due to ignorance.  When knowledge arises the world is known to be none other than Brahman.

In the above verse too, just as the Mandukya kArikA, the not-knowing of Him, the Supreme Truth (tattva-agrahaNam), is the cause of the perception of plurality (prapancham), anyathA-grahaNam, which is the real experience of samsara.  When tattva-agrahaNam is eradicated by aparokSha-tattvajnAnam, then there will be no more samsara.  The prapanchopashamam will be experienced – ज्ञानेन भूयोऽपि च तत्प्रलीयते. Here the word ‘tat’ denotes ‘prapancham’ used by this verse in the first line.  Thus, according to UddhavagIta/Bhagavatam/Veda VyAsa/Bhagavan Krishna too, just like GaudapAda and Shankara have held, the word ‘prpanchopashamam’ of the MAnDUkya Upanishad seventh mantra means only the subsiding/non-existence of prapancha in the TurIya Brahman and NOT as explained by non-Advaitic schools.

The line आत्मानमेव आत्मतया अविजानतां of the Bhagavatam verse also speaks so very well about the nature of ajnAna as delineated by Shankaracharya.  Not knowing oneself as oneself truly is what is called fundamental ignorance.  AtmAnam AtmatayA ajnAtam. देहेन्द्रियादिकं  अनात्मानमेव आत्मतया जानन् बाह्यमपि प्रपञ्चं कल्पयन् संसरति ।  There are enough words in the Bhagavatam ( and uddhavagItaa) verses to support this.  The line आत्मानमेव आत्मतया अविजानतां also has imbedded in it the ignorance about the nature of the ParamAtmA, the Supreme Soul.  The word ‘AtmatayA’ in the verse indicates the advaitic idea of knowing the Atman (Brahman) as non-different from oneself, AtmatayA.  The avijnAnam of this truth is the cause of samsara.   This verse also echos the Chandogya Up.6th chapter vAkyam: ऐतदात्मयं इदं सर्वम् तत् सत्यम् स आत्मा तत् त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो This Sat, Brahman, is the Atma, Self, of the whole universe (being the material cause).  That is Existence, the Truth. That are You, O Shvetaketu. It is this that gives the knowledge that Atman of the whole Universe, AtmAnam, is to be known as oneself, ‘AtmatayA’ for liberation.  The not knowing of this truth is ‘avijAnan’ and is the cause of samsara as per the Lord in the BhAgavatam.


We have in the foregoing made a study of adhyAsa, its cause and effect and the eradication of the cause and effect with the Bhagavatam as the main source and other texts such as the Upanishad and the kArikA-s and the Bhashya of Shankaracharya as supporting ones.  We had occasion to see the references from the BhagavadgItaa too.


My humble pranAms to Swami ParamArthaananda who has expounded the UddhavagIta in over 250 talks of one hour each in English so lucidly.  He particularly enjoyed the explanation of the above and similar portions of the work, often saying that ‘all these are mAnDUkya kArikA type verses, so profoundly Advaitic in nature.’

I wonder how anyone could caricature this work as ‘asat shAstram’ with so much of ‘mAyAvAda’ in it.


© subrahmanian v., all rights reserved.

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