Translated by S. N. Sastri
Srimad Bhagavatpada, an incarnation of Lord Paramesvara, who has conferred blessings on the whole world, has composed works of different kinds. They can be divided into three categories, meant respectively for spiritual aspirants of inferior, medium and superior competence. These are, (1) devotional hymns, (2) independent works, known as Prakarana granthas, and (3) commentaries (Bhashyas) on the Prasthanatraya - the Upanishads, Brahmasutras, and Bhagavadgita. In all these works, a style that would facilitate their understanding by the category of persons for whom they are intended has been adopted by him and the true nature of the Atma and of Isvara has been expounded with great clarity.
The present work, Satasloki, is a pre-eminent one among the Prakarana granthas and is neither very short nor very long. In this work the essence of the Prasthanatraya is summarized in a very lucid manner. It seems to me that the saying 'one becomes learned through Satasloka' is perhaps with reference to this work itself. For, Self-knowledge is indeed what has been definitely described as learning by the Lord in the Gita - "The wise call him learned whose actions have been burnt off by the fire of knowledge" (4.19).
The style of the verses in this work is a little difficult, though very pleasing. All the topics expounded at various places in Vedanta are also found here. In particular, the means by which one can attain liberation easily, which has been stated in the Setu Sama of the Karmakanda of Samaveda, forms the subject-matter of verse 19.
The special feature of the present work in English by Sri S. N. Sastri is that, along with word-by-word meaning, relevant extracts from the Upanishads, the Bhashya, etc., are given, so as to bring out the true import of the verses clearly. To cite some examples; (1) in verse 26 dealing with the nature of Maya, the exposition, supported by reference to the relevant mantra of the Rigveda and extracts from the Mundakopanishad and Gita is very commendable, (2) in verse 42, many references have been given to explain the distinction between Jivanmukti and Videhamukti, (3) in verse 81 the 'Drishti-srishti-vada has been explained lucidly with extracts from Mandukya upanishad, etc., (4) in verse 82, in order to show that the world is similar to a creation by magic, extracts from various texts have been given and the unreality of the world has been conclusively established.
Sri S.N.Sastri has previously translated Narayaniyam, Hastamalakiyam and Anandasagarastava into English and these have been published. These translations are true to the original. Because of the experience so gained, his translation of the present work Satasloki has been very successful in bringing out the true spirit of the original. There is no doubt that seekers who are not particularly proficient in Sanskrit will be greatly benefited by the study of this book.
Dr. R. Krishnamurthi Sastri
Principal, Madras Sanskrit College
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada has blessed us with a large number of works. These can be grouped under three broad categories. The first category, meant for the intellectually most advanced, comprises his commentaries (Bhashya) on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgita. The second category consists of independent works, known as Prakarana granthas, which expound the gist of the Upanishads in simple language. These vary in length from half a verse to one thousand verses. In the third category fall devotional hymns. There is a wrong impression among some persons that Sri Sankara did not attach importance to devotion to a personal God. This is belied by his own statements in his commentaries, especially on the Gita. For example, in his commentary on the Gita, 2.39, he explains Krishna's words to Arjuna thus-"You will become free from bondage by the attainment of knowledge through God's grace". Again, in 18.65-"Knowing for certain that liberation is the definite result of devotion to God, one should be intent only on surrender to God".
The present work, Satasloki, is one of the Prakarana granthas, like Atmabodha, Vivekachudamani and others. This consists of a hundred and one verses. In the first verse the incomparable glory of the Sadguru who imparts Self-knowledge is described. The last verse ends with a prostration to Vasudeva, the supreme Being, who is the in-dweller of all bodies. While most of the verses are based on various mantras of the Upanishads, there are some based on mantras in the Karmakanda of the Vedas. Sri Sankara thus points out that the Karmakanda also contains valuable teachings for the spiritual aspirant who strives for realization of the Self. Unlike the Sankhyas who gave importance only to the Jnanakanda and the Purva Mimamsakas who dismissed the Upanishads as mere Arthavada or eulogy, Sankara established in his Bhashyas that both the kandas have validity, though at different stages of the aspirant's spiritual progress. In his Bhashya on Br. Up. 4.4.2 he says: "All the obligatory rites serve as means to liberation through the attainment of Self-knowledge. Hence we see that the ultimate purpose of the two parts of the Vedas, that dealing with rites and that dealing with Self-knowledge, is the same". In many places in the Karma kanda there are clear indications that the ultimate goal of life is liberation(see for example verse 19 in the present work).
The verses in Satasloki bring into sharp focus the main teachings of all the Upanishads. The particular statements in the Upanishads on which the verses are based are pointed out in the notes under the relevant verses. For the advanced students of Vedanta who have already studied the ten main Upanishads this work will serve as an aid to manana or reflection. For those less advanced, this work will be a good guide for understanding the subtleties and nuances of Advaita Vedanta. Some of the verses contain very useful instructions on what qualities one should cultivate in order to attain spiritual progress. Reference may be made here to verses 4,8,9,12 and 19.
It is said that H.H. Jagadguru Chandrasekhara Bharati Swami of Sringeri Mutt instructed His disciple, H.H. Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swami to study verse 12 of Satasloki and to practise what has been taught there. This verse explains how a spiritual aspirant should conduct his life.
A few words about the essential features of Advaita Vedanta will not be out of place here. Dr. T.M.P.Mahadevan says in his book 'Ramana Maharshi and His Philosophy of Existence' - "We believe that Advaita is not a sectarian doctrine. It is the culmination of all doctrines, the crown of all views. Though other views may imagine themselves to be opposed to Advaita, Advaita is opposed to none. As Gaudapada, a pre-Sankara teacher of Advaita, says, Advaita has no quarrel with any system of philosophy. While the pluralistic world-views may be in conflict with one another, Advaita is not opposed to any of them. It recognizes the measure of truth that there is in each of them; but only, that truth is not the whole. Hostility arises out of partial vision. When the whole truth is realized, there can be no hostility. (Mandukya Karika, III. 17 & 18; IV. 5)".
The core of Advaita is that Brahman is the only reality. 'Reality' is defined as that which does not undergo any change at any time. By this test, Brahman, which is absolutely changeless and eternal, is alone real. The world keeps on changing all the time and so it cannot be considered as real. At the same time, we cannot dismiss it as unreal, because it is actually experienced by us. The example of a rope being mistaken for a snake in dim light is used to explain this. The snake so seen produces the same reaction, such as fear and trembling of the limbs, as a real snake would. It cannot therefore be said to be totally unreal. At the same time, on examination with the help of a lamp it is found that the snake never existed and that the rope alone was there all the time. The snake cannot be described as both real and unreal, because these two contradictory qualities cannot exist in the same substance. It must therefore be said that the snake is neither real nor unreal. Such an object is described as 'mithya'. Just as the snake appears because of ignorance of the fact that there is only a rope, this world appears to exist because of our ignorance of Brahman. Thus the world is also neither real nor unreal; it is also 'mithya'. Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope, the world is superimposed on Brahman. Our ignorance of Brahman is what is called Avidya or Ajnana or Nescience. This ignorance not only covers Brahman, but it projects the world as a reality. The world has no reality apart from Brahman, just as the snake has no reality apart from the rope. When the knowledge of Brahman arises, the world is seen as a mere appearance of Brahman. Another example may be taken to explain this. Ornaments of different sizes and shapes are made out of one gold bar. Their appearance and the use for which they are meant vary, but the fact that they are all really only gold, in spite of the different appearances and uses, cannot be denied. The appearance may change, a bangle may be converted into rings, but the gold always remains as gold. Similarly, on the dawn of the knowledge of Brahman (which is the same as the Self), though the different forms continue to be seen by the Jnani, he sees them all only as appearances of the one Brahman. Thus the perception of difference and the consequences of such perception, such as looking upon some as favourable and others as the opposite, and the consequent efforts to retain or get what is favourable and to get rid of or avoid what is not favourable, come to an end. This is the state of liberation even while living, which is known as Jivanmukti.
The Jiva, or individual, is Brahman alone, but because of identification with the body, mind and senses he looks upon himself as different from Brahman and as a limited being, subject to joys and sorrows caused by external factors. This identification with the body, mind and senses is what is called bondage. In reality the Jiva is the pure Brahman and is different from the body-mind complex. When this truth is realized as an actual experience, the identification with the body-mind complex ceases. This is liberation. Thus liberation is not the attainment of a state which did not exist previously, but only the realization of what one has always been. The illusory snake never existed. What existed even when the snake was seen was only the rope. Similarly, bondage has no real existence at all. Even when we are ignorant of Brahman and think of ourselves as limited by the body, we are really none but the infinite Brahman. Liberation is thus only the removal of the wrong identification with the body, mind and senses. The attainment of the state of liberation-in-life or Jivanmukti is the goal of human life according to the Upanishads.
I have derived great help for the preparation of this commentary from the commentary 'Gurupriya' in Tamil by Brahmasri V.S.V. Guruswamy Sastrigal. I further wish to place on record here my indebtedness to my Gurus, late Brahmasri M.S.Ramaswami Iyer, late Brahmasri Anna Subramania Iyer, Brahmasri Goda Venkateswara Sastry and Brahmasri R. Krishnamurthi Sastry, Principal, Madras Sanskrit College, to all of whom I owe all my knowledge of Vedanta.
I am very grateful to Brahmasri R. Krishnamurthi Sastri for kindly writing a Foreword to this book.
S. N. Sastri
Feb 28, 2001
1. There is nothing in all the three worlds that can be compared to the Sadguru who imparts the knowledge of the Self. The legendary Philosopher's stone may perhaps be suggested as an apt comparison, because it has the capacity to convert a piece of iron into gold, just as the Sadguru converts an ordinary disciple into an enlightened person. But this comparison cannot stand because, while the Sadguru makes the disciple another Guru like himself, the Philosopher's stone does not have the power to convert a piece of iron into another Philosopher's stone like itself. Therefore the Sadguru is incomparable and even transcends the world in glory.
2. By the fragrance emanating from the sandalwood tree all the other trees around it also become endowed with fragrance, and those trees also completely remove the torment, caused by heat, of all human beings who take shelter under them. So also the disciples who have, by their good fortune, attained Self-knowledge from the Sadguru and who are full of compassion eradicate completely, by their advice and teachings, the three kinds of suffering and the three kinds of sin of those who approach them.
The three kinds of suffering are- aadhyaatmika, those arising from the body and mind, such as illness and worries, aadhibhautika, those caused by animals, etc and aadhidaivika, those caused by natural calamities such as floods, earthquake, etc. The three kinds of sin are those committed by mind, speech and body.
The scheme of the Vedas is described in the following verse. The first part of the Vedas, known as Karma Kanda, lays down various sacrificial acts to be performed for attaining specific ends such as wealth, progeny and heaven. While wealth and progeny are desired in the present life itself, heaven can be attained only after the end of the present life. A person who performs a sacrifice intended to take him to heaven knows that he cannot go there in his physical body. So who is it that will enjoy the fruit of his sacrifice? It is the self or Atma. But this is not the pure self spoken of in the Upanishads, but the self associated with the subtle body, which is known as the Jivatma. This subtle body does not perish along with the physical body, but goes to other worlds in accordance with the punya or papa accumulated by the person. When the sojourn in other worlds comes to an end this Jivatma or the self associated with the subtle body takes birth again in this world by taking another physical body. The subtle body which consists of the mind and the subtle organs of sense and action goes on from one body to another until it is also destroyed on the dawn of self-knowledge. This Jivatma is the performer of actions such as sacrifices and the enjoyer of the results thereof. It is only a person possessed of the knowledge that there is such a self or Jivatma different from the physical body, which does not perish with the physical body, but enjoys the fruits of sacrifices, who performs sacrifices. The Karma Kanda of the Vedas is based on the view that the Jivatma is the performer of actions and the enjoyer of the results thereof. Even the practice of sravana, manana and nididhyasana, hearing, reflection and meditation, which are the means to be adopted by one who seeks liberation is possible only if the person looks upon himself as the Jivatma who is a doer and enjoyer. The first point to be understood by every one, whether he seeks wealth, progeny or heaven through the performance of sacrifices or seeks liberation through the attainment of Self-knowledge, is that there is a Jivatma distinct from the physical body. This is what is spoken of in the first line of this verse. The subsequent three lines speak about the pure Self which is devoid of any association with the subtle and gross bodies, which is neither a doer of actions nor an enjoyer of the fruits thereof and which is to be realized as his own self, as also the self of all beings, by the person who seeks liberation. This pure Self forms the subject matter of the second part or Jnana Kanda of the Vedas.
3. Brahman is spoken of in two ways in the Vedas. In the first part of the Vedas, known as Karma kanda, which describes the rituals to be performed by persons seeking various ends such as wealth, progeny and heaven, Brahman is considered as associated with the limiting adjunct (upadhi) in the form of the subtle body. This is the transmigrating soul, known as Jivatma. In the second part of the Vedas, known as Jnana kanda, which consists of the Upanishads, the pure Brahman, devoid of all limiting adjuncts, is spoken of. From the Upanishads a seeker who has acquired the necessary fitness first attains the realization that he is not the body-mind complex, but the pure Brahman. Thereafter he realizes that the whole universe is in reality nothing but Brahman.
4. The Self (Atma), which is of the nature of sentiency, consciousness and bliss, is well known as it is experienced in all the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is what makes the body, mind and organs function. In spite of knowing this clearly, it is a wonder that man, because of delusion caused by Avidya (or ignorance of his real nature) looks upon his own body as well as that of others, which is composed externally of bones, muscles, bone marrow, flesh, blood, membrane, skin and lymph and which is filled inside with excreta, urine and phlegm as the Self and identifies his perishable body with himself.
Note: In reality every one is the Self or Atma which is totally different from the physical body, mind and organs and which is by nature pure consciousness and bliss. Because of ignorance of this truth, every one considers oneself to be what one is really not. When a person says 'I am stout', 'I am lean', etc, he is really referring to his body as identical with himself. When he says 'I see', 'I hear', 'I taste' and so on, he is identifying himself with his organs of seeing, hearing and tasting. When he says 'I am intelligent' or 'I am dull' he identifies himself with his intellect. This verse says that all these identifications are totally wrong. The Self is ever pure, untouched by the joys or sorrows of the body and mind.
In the waking state external objects are experienced by the organs of sense, namely, the eye, ear, etc. In dream the organs do not function, but various objects conjured up by the mind are experienced. In deep sleep the mind also becomes dormant, but there is the experience of not being aware of anything and of happiness, as is proved by the fact that on waking up one says "I slept happily, I did not know anything". It follows from this that the experiencer in all the three states is something other than the sense organs and the mind. The organs and the mind are insentient, being composed of the five elements. They can function only when they are enlivened by a sentient entity. This sentient entity is the Self or Atma.
Note: In this verse the need for discrimination between the Self, which is eternal and the not-Self, which is perishable, known as atma-anatma-viveka, or nitya-anitya-viveka, which is one of the four essential per-requisites for attaining fitness for Self-realization, is brought out.
The four per-requisites for a spiritual aspirant.
In order that hearing, reflection and meditation (explained in detail under verse 13) may be fruitful, the aspirant should have acquired the four preliminary qualifications mentioned below.
BrahmaSutra.1.1.1.Bhashya - - tasmaat kimapi vaktavyam yadanantaram brahmajijnaasaa upadis'yate. - - - - - mumukshutvam cha.
The four requisites are - (1) discrimination between the eternal and the non-eternal-?(nitya-anitya-vastu vivekah), (2) detachment towards all enjoyments in this world as well as in higher worlds like heaven-?(iha-amutra-phalabhoga-viraagah)??(3) possession of the six virtues commencing with control of the mind -??(shamadamaadi-saadhanasampat), and (4) yearning for liberation-?(mumukshutvam).
Each of these is explained in Vivekachudamani as below.
Vivekachudamani (V.C). Verse 20 - The firm conviction that Brahman alone is real and that the universe is illusory (mithyaa) is discrimination between the eternal and the non-eternal.
V.C. Verse21 - Detachment is revulsion towards all objects of enjoyment in this world as well as in higher worlds, including one's own body.
The six virtues starting with sama are -
V.C. Verse 22 - Withdrawing the mind from all sense- pleasures by realizing their harmful nature, and making it rest on one's objective (namely, the Self),is shama.
V.C. Verse 23 - Restraining the organs of sense and of action (jnaanendriya and karmendriya) is known as dama.
V.C. Verse 24 - When the mind ceases to function through the external organs, that state is uparati.
V.C. Verse 25 - Enduring all adversities without lament or anxiety and without seeking to counter them is titikshaa.
V.C. Verse 26 - Firm conviction about the truth of the scriptures and the teachings of the Guru is sraddhaa.
V.C. Verse 27 - The mind remaining firmly fixed in the attributeless Brahman is samaadhaana.
The fourth requisite, mumukshutvam is explained in V.C. verse 28 as the yearning to become free from nescience and its effect, bondage, by the realization of one's true nature. In the Bhashya on Gita,4.11 Sri Sankara says that it is impossible for a person to be a seeker of liberation and also a seeker of the fruits of action at the same time. From this it is clear that only a person who has attained total and intense detachment can be called a mumukshu. The definition of yogaaroodha in Gita 6.4 as one who is free from attachment to sense-objects and actions and does not even think of them indicates that both these terms have the same meaning.
5. In this world, people look upon their own bodies, their wives, sons, friends, servants and their possessions such as horses and oxen as the sole source of all their happiness. They spend all their allotted life-span only in thinking of the means of protecting and nourishing all these. They never think of that Self (Atma), the immortal Lord of all life, because of whom they are alive and are able to function as sentient beings and to whom they owe all their good fortune.
6. A certain silkworm, thinking itself to be very wise, builds a case around itself for protection with the thread that comes out of its mouth and remains in it throughout its life, ever active in trying to accomplish what it wants (little realizing that the case itself will ultimately be the cause of its destruction when it is taken away along with the worm by some one who wants to make silk out of it). In the same way man, having acquired a gross (physical) body as a result of the karma accumulated by him by his actions in past lives remains attached to that body, identifying himself with it and engages in further actions which will only result in perpetuating his bondage.
7. A man who, for earning his livelihood, entertains people by painting his body to make him look like a tiger and frightens gullible children by his appearance does not really think that he is a tiger and does not eat or attack men and animals. A man who dresses as a woman to play a female role in a dramatic performance does not begin to think of himself as a woman and does not look for a husband. Both of them are always aware of what they really are, though they may outwardly put on the garb of a tiger or a woman. So also, everyone must realize that the physical body is only a garb in which the Atma or individual self is cloaked. The Atma is known by experience to be different from the body and is a mere witness to all the activities of the body. Being a mere witness, the Atma does not participate in the actions performed by the body and is not in the least affected by the results of such actions.
Note: How the Atma is experienced to be different from the body is explained under verse 4 above.
8. In order to comfort her child who has been crying (because of some pain in the body) the mother puts into its mouth a raisin, a date, a piece of ripe mango or a piece of ripe banana. (The idea is to comfort the child temporarily so that it may willingly take the medicine to be administered to remove the cause of the pain. The intention of the mother is not to feed the child with raisin, date, etc, which will not cure the child of its affliction but may only aggravate it). In the same way, the Upanishads adopt various means to impart knowledge of the Self to the ignorant man whose mind is full of the vasanas or impressions left by actions performed in innumerable past lives under wrong identification with the body-mind complex.
Note: The ultimate goal of human life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death by the attainment of Self-knowledge. For this one has first to become fit for knowledge by attaining purity of mind. The mind of man is full of various desires due to identification with the body-mind complex caused by ignorance of his real nature. Initially, the Vedas and even the Upanishadic portion of the Vedas (such as the Sikshavalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad) prescribe various actions and meditations to enable a man to have his desires fulfilled. The real object of the Vedas is, however, not to fulfill such desires but to make man fit for knowledge. This can be achieved only by the performance of the actions and meditations prescribed without desire for the fruit thereof. The aim of the Vedas is to induce man to perform these actions and meditations, initially with desire for the fruits and ultimately without desire. This is comparable to the mother comforting the child with something that it likes to eat, so that it may then accept the medicine willingly. The Vedas are always described as being more compassionate than a thousand mothers.
9. One's own body, wife, son, possessions and the like become dear only because of love of one's own self. It follows therefore that the self is what is loved more than any thing else. Every thing other than the self, such as wife, son and others, is the cause of sorrow. Therefore how can these be really objects of desire? A person who wants to save his own life when it is in danger (or who wants things to go his own way in life) may even be prepared to give up his wife, son and others (when they act in a way not to his liking). One who wants the highest attainment for himself, namely liberation, should abandon even (his attachment to) the body. The wise man should meditate on the self alone and not be attached to anything else.
Note: It is said in the Brihadaranyaka upanishad (2.4.5) that the husband is dear to the wife not for the sake of the husband, but for her own sake. The wife is dear to the husband not for the sake of the wife, but for his own sake. Everything is dear only for one's own sake. The idea is that the wife, son, wealth, etc are dear to a person only because he derives happiness from them. The self (the person himself) is thus the real object of love and not others. When the wife, son and others dear to a person do not act in the way he wants them to, they cease to be dear to him. Even the greatest miser will not hesitate to spend his money when that becomes necessary to save his own life from disease or danger. Attachment to wife, son and others is given up by a person when they become obstacles to the fulfillment of his own wishes. Even attachment to wealth makes way when one's own life is at stake. Attachment to the body however continues because everyone looks upon the body as himself. In order to realize the truth that he is the self or Atma which is different from the body he has to give up attachment to the body also. Attachment is the cause of all sorrow. Thus it is taught here that one should first give up attachment to wife, son, wealth and the like which are known to be external to oneself. Ultimately attachment to the body, which is looked upon, due to ignorance, as identical with oneself should also be given up by one who seeks liberation.
10. An object (or a person) is liked only as long as it gives happiness. When the same object produces sorrow it is disliked. The same object cannot give happiness all the time, nor can it be always a cause of sorrow. What is liked earlier may become the object of dislike later and vice versa. Since (as stated in the previous verse) any object is liked only for the sake of the self, the self alone is always dear.
Note: We know from experience that an object which gives happiness at one time can cause unhappiness at another time. Warm clothing is comfortable in winter, but unbearable on a hot summer day. A son is ordinarily a source of joy for the parents, but if he neglects his studies or takes to bad ways he becomes a cause for worry. Such examples can be multiplied. It has been pointed out in the previous verse that any person or object is loved only for the sake of one's own happiness. It follows that what every one seeks is one's own happiness. One' own self is therefore always the object of one's love.
11. There are two paths open to man in this world, the path that leads to fulfillment of worldly desires and the path to liberation. The first, fulfillment of desires, is the sole source of all sorrow and becomes insipid in no time. Only people lacking in discrimination take to this path. The other path leads to the attainment of Brahman, the imperishable source of infinite bliss. Wise men of discrimination resort to this path. Thus is it stated in the Kathopanishad which consists of six sections.
This is the gist of Kathopanishad, I.ii.2. The first path results in the continuous chain of birth and death, with all its attendant sorrows. People who are intent only on enjoying worldly pleasures choose this path. Even pleasures in heaven after life on this earth fall under this category. By performing various rites prescribed in the Vedas a person may go to heaven, but sojourn there will also come to an end when the results of the actions or rites performed are exhausted. The person will then be born on this earth again. No permanent happiness can be attained by following this path. The second path leads to liberation from Samsara or the continuous cycle of birth and death and consequently to eternal, supreme bliss. Those who know the superiority of this path are not attracted by the pleasures of this earth or even of heaven. They strive only for liberation.
12. That aspirant for liberation who, when engaged in activities in the world looks upon himself as a wave in the ocean that is Brahman, when just sitting thinks of himself as a gem strung on the thread that is Brahman (like pearls on a string), when experiencing sense objects through the sense organs sees all objects as Brahman (or Atman) alone and when sleeping considers himself as immersed in the ocean of bliss that is Brahman and spends his days in this manner is the one who is established in the indwelling self that is none other than Brahman.
13. The person who, having first attained, from the Guru and the scriptures, the mediate (intellectual) knowledge that the Self is, like the sun, neither a performer of actions nor the enjoyer of the results thereof, realizes the same as an actual experience, sees this entire universe constituted of names and forms as the gross body of the Self or Brahman. He further realizes that it is only because of this Self which dwells in every living being and which is beyond the vital airs and the sense organs that all creatures are able to function as sentient beings and that all experiences through the sense organs are made possible only by this Self. Such a person has his mind always fixed on the supreme Self while transacting in the world.
The word jnana signifies mediate or intellectual knowledge acquired by sravana or hearing the scriptures from the Guru. Thereafter, by manana or reflection all doubts about the correctness of what is taught by the scriptures are cleared. Then, by nididhyaasana or constant contemplation, the realization that one is not the body-mind complex, but the Self alone, is attained. This realization is what is spoken of as vijnana.
Sravana, Manana and Nididhyaasana (Hearing, reflection and meditation):
These terms are explained below:
Vedantasara of Sadananda, ch.5, para 182 - Hearing (Sravana) is the determination, by the application of the six characteristic signs, that the purport of the entire Vedanta is the non-dual Brahman. The six signs are - (1)the beginning and the conclusion, (2)repetition, (3)originality, (4)result, (5)eulogy and (6)demonstration.
Each of these terms is explained below.
Vedantasara,ch.5. para 185 - The term ' the beginning and the conclusion' means the presentation of the subject matter of a section at the beginning and at the end of the section. For example, in the sixth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad, Brahman, which is the subject-matter of the chapter, is introduced at the beginning with the words, "One only without a second", etc. (6.2.1). At the end of the chapter Brahman is again spoken of in the words, "In It all that exists has its Self", etc. (6.8.7).
Para 186 - 'Repetition' is the repeated presentation of the subject-matter in the section. In the same chapter, Brahman, the One without a second, is mentioned nine times by the sentence "Thou art that".
Para 187 - 'Originality' means that the subject-matter of the section is not known through any other source of knowledge. For instance, the subject matter of the above section, namely, Brahman, cannot be known through any source of knowledge other than the sruti.
Para 188 - The 'result' is the utility of the subject-matter. For example, in the same section, the sentences" One who has a teacher realizes Brahman. He has to wait only as long as he is not freed from the body; then he is united with Brahman". (6.14.2). Here the utility of the knowledge is attainment of Brahman.
Para 189 - 'Eulogy' is the praise of the subject-matter. The words in this section, "Did you ask for that instruction by which one knows what has not been known, etc" (6.1.3) are spoken in praise of Brahman.
Para 190 - Demonstration is the reasoning in support of the subject-matter, adduced at different places in the same section. An example is - "My dear, as by one lump of clay all that is made of clay is known, every modification being only a name, and being real only as clay" - (6.4.1). This shows that the universe has no reality except as an apparent modification of Brahman, the only Reality.
Para 191 - 'Reflection' (manana) is churning in the mind what has been heard from the teacher, by making use of arguments in a constructive manner, to arrive at the conviction of its correctness.
Para 192 - 'Meditation' (Nididhyaasana) is keeping the mind fixed on the thought of Brahman, uninterrupted by any other thought.
The result achieved by 'hearing' etc.
'Hearing' removes the doubt whether the upanishadic text which is the pramaana (source of knowledge) expounds Brahman or some thing else. This doubt is known as pramaana-asambhaavanaa, or the doubt about the pramaana itself.
'Reflection' removes the doubt whether Brahman and the jiva are the same or not. This doubt is called prameya-asambhaavanaa.
'Meditation' is intended to keep off wrong notions such as "The universe is real; the difference between Brahman and jiva is real", which are contrary to the teachings of the upanishads, by developing concentration of the mind. Such wrong notions are known as vipareeta-bhaavanaa.
Thus the purpose of hearing, reflection and meditation is the removal of obstacles in the form of doubts and wrong notions that stand in the way of Self-realization.
The self is neither a doer nor an enjoyer. All actions are performed only by the body-mind complex and the self is a mere witness. The body, mind and sense organs are however insentient, being made up of the five elements (space, air, fire, water and earth). They acquire sentiency only because of the reflection of the Self, which is pure consciousness, in the mind. They function in the mere presence of the self, just as all beings on earth go about their activities with the help of the light afforded by the sun. The sun merely provides the light for people to perform actions, but does not make any one act in a particular manner, nor is it in any way benefited or affected by the actions of living beings. So also, the Self is not at all tainted by the actions of any one.
14. The essential pre-requisite for the dawn of Self-knowledge is dispassion. This is of two kinds according to Sage Patanjali's Yoga sutras, namely, inferior dispassion and superior dispassion. The former arises as a result of the realization that attachment to one's house, friends, son, possessions and the like culminates only in sorrow. The second type of dispassion arises from discrimination between what is eternal, namely the Atma and what is perishable, namely the body-mind complex. When this superior dispassion arises, all worldly objects and pleasures become as revolting as vomit. One who has attained control over the mind as a result of such dispassion is fit to renounce the world. This renunciation not only means leaving his home, but also giving up attachment to his body.
Renunciation or Sannyasa is of two kinds - Vividisha Sannyasa or the renunciation of the seeker and Vidvat Sannyasa or the renunciation of the knower of Brahman. The first type is spoken of in this verse. When a person has attained superior dispassion he may take Vividisha Sannyasa so that he can concentrate on the path of Jnana and ultimately attain Self-realization. The second type of Sannyasa is described in verse 16.
Inferior and superior dispassion are described in Yoga sutras I.15 and 16 respectively.
15. A person who has realized that the notions of 'I'-ness in the body (identification of oneself with the body) and 'mine'-ness in persons and things connected with him are the real cause of all sorrow does not seek to attain happiness from external objects which would only bring sorrow. One who looks upon the perishable body as himself suffers from diseases of the body and the adverse actions of others (which affect only the body and not the Self). Such a person considers the loss of his wife, son or wealth as a very great calamity, but remains unaffected when his enemy dies.
It follows that the only way to avoid sorrow is to give up identification with the body and attachment to relations and possessions.
16. A person who has come as a guest to another house and who intends to go back to his own house very soon is not unduly affected by what happens in the house to which he has come as a guest. So also, a person who, though living in his own home, is free from all attachment, does not participate in the joys and sorrows in that home, realizing that everything in this world is transient and subject to perpetual change, like the clouds and that what is destined to happen will happen. He therefore remains free from all striving for getting what is pleasant and avoiding what is unpleasant.
What is described here is the state of the Vidvat Sannyasi, one who has already attained Self-knowledge.
17. Just as a snake discards its slough and moves away, the aspirant should leave home, freeing himself from attachment to family and possessions. Just as a traveller resorts to the shade of the trees on his way for a short rest and proceeds on his journey, the aspirant may remain in the body (without attachment to it). He should seek as food only the fruits which have fallen of their own from trees and should take just enough to satisfy his hunger. In order to attain union with his Self which is bliss itself, he should completely give up identification with his body-mind complex.
Reference may be made here to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.7 - "Just as the lifeless slough of a snake lies, cast off in the ant-hill, even so lies the body (of the enlightened person)". That is to say, he gives up identification with it, though continuing to live in the body as long as his Prarabdha karma lasts.
18. At first desire for sense objects arises in the mind of human beings. Then the mind wishes to attain those objects. It tries to experience the desired object through the appropriate organ of sense or action. If it does not succeed in getting the desired object, anger arises. If the object is attained, then the intense desire to protect it from being lost, which is known as greed, springs up. These three, desire, anger and greed are the cause of man's spiritual downfall. The wise man should get rid of these three by concentrating his mind on the Self (and not allowing it to go in search of sense pleasures).
In Gita, 16.21, the Lord says - The door to hell is threefold, namely, desire, anger and greed. One should therefore discard these.
In Kathopanishad, II.ii.1, it is said that one who desires immortality should withdraw his senses from external objects and fix the mind on the Self alone.
19. In this context, what is given away to a deserving recipient, with the attitude that it is an offering to the Lord, is called a gift. Freedom from anger, even when affronted, is forbearance. The firm conviction that the teachings of the scriptures and one's Guru are true is what is called faith. The eternal changeless Brahman alone is real. The four obstacles in the way of a spiritual aspirant are the opposites of these, namely, greed, anger, lack of faith and looking upon the world as real. These four are the cause of man's bondage. Man can cross over these four obstacles by the practice of their opposites, namely, giving of gifts, forbearance, faith and looking upon Brahman alone as real in the absolute sense. Such a person can attain heaven or union with the effulgent gods or even eternal liberation from Samsara in this very birth itself.
This verse is based on a mantra in the Sama Veda known as Setu Sama. In this mantra the four causes of bondage are stated to be greed (or the tendency to cling on to one's possessions), anger, lack of faith in the scriptures and acceptance of the world as the absolute reality. These have to be countered by their opposites.
By this verse Sri Sankara points out that even the Karmakanda of the Vedas, in which this Setu Sama occurs, also has important teachings for the spiritual aspirant who seeks liberation and not only the Jnanakanda. It may be pointed out here that it was Sri Sankara who established that both the Karmakanda and the Jnanakanda are authoritative and are necessary for every one, unlike the Mimamsakas who hold that the Karmakanda alone is valid and the Sankhyas who hold that the Jnanakanda alone is valid.
Here it is said that 'Astikya' is faith. Astikya implies belief in (1) the existence of worlds or spheres of experience other than the present world, (2) rebirth according to one's Karma and (3) the Vedas as authority.
20. When one eats food only after having offered to gods and guests, that food becomes nectar for him. Otherwise the food eaten goes in vain (it does not conduce to his spiritual progress). To him who prepares food for his consumption alone, that food is death. In this world the man who eats without offering to gods and guests becomes the very embodiment of sin. The man who does not offer food as an oblation to the Pranas as prescribed in the scriptures also becomes the embodiment of sin.
See Bhagavadgita-3.12- He is verily a thief who enjoys what has been given by the gods without offering anything in return.
Bh.gita- 3.13- Those who prepare food for themselves alone incur sin.
Pranagnihotra- Section 69 of the Mahanarayana upanishad prescribes that the rite of offering food as an oblation to the Pranas should be performed when cooked rice is set before one for eating. A small quantity of the food is to be taken by the fingers and put into the mouth six times, uttering a certain mantra. This constitutes an offering unto the Divine Fire Vaisvanara in the stomach, which is the supreme Brahman itself. (The Lord says in Gita 15.14- Taking the form of Vaisvanara and dwelling in the bodies of all living beings, I, along with Prana and Apana, make the food fit for digestion). By this, the mundane act of eating food to satisfy one's hunger becomes raised to the level of a yajna (sacrifice). This also symbolizes the offering of the finite self into the Infinite Supreme Brahman.
Chandogya upanishad, 7.26.2 says- When the food consumed is pure, the mind becomes pure. When the mind becomes pure, memory is strengthened. When memory becomes strong, all the knots of the heart (the effects of Avidya) are cut asunder. Food becomes pure by being offered to the gods and guests.
21. He who gives food to a famished beggar who has come to his doorstep seeking food is alone fit to be called a truly generous person. There will always be abundance of food in his house on auspicious occasions such as yajnas, marriages and so on. He will have no enemies at all. But a person who refuses food to those who look up to him, serve him and are friendly to him is not a real friend at all. One would be inclined to turn away in disgust from such a reprehensible person.
Gift of food to a deserving person is the noblest of all gifts. A person who makes such gifts will always have abundant food in his house.
The Mahabharata, Anusasanaparva says: -
"The greatest of all gifts is the gift of food. Therefore one who desires to acquire Punya should gift food. Food is the life of all human beings. All beings are born out of food. The world is sustained by food. Therefore food is praised by the wise" (112.10 & 11).
"There has never been any gift equal to that of food, nor will there ever be. Therefore men wish particularly to gift food. The happiness derived from this gift by both the giver and the receiver is directly perceived, unlike other gifts, the result of which is not directly perceivable (63. 6 & 29).
22. The Vedas say that the manifestation of the universe as a reality is only due to ignorance of the Self (Brahman) and sublation of the universe results from the realization of Brahman as the one and only reality. This appearance and sublation of the universe are common to all Jivas, right up to Hiranyagarbha. When the nacre in front is not known as such and is wrongly thought to be silver, it is as if the nacre has merged in silver, just as an object offered into the fire as an oblation becomes one with the fire. But when the nacre is realized as such, the silver disappears into the nacre. This again is as if the silver had become an oblation into the nacre. Similarly, as long as one is in ignorance, only the universe is seen as existing and Brahman remains hidden. This is described here as Brahman being offered as an oblation into the universe. On the dawn of the knowledge that Brahman is the only reality, the universe is seen to have no existence apart from Brahman. It is as if the universe had become merged in Brahman by being offered as an oblation into it.
23. Before creation nescience was not absolutely non-existent like the skyflower. Nor did it exist as an entity different from Brahman. But it was different from both, i.e. it was neither non-existent nor existent. (It was indescribable as existent or non-existent). Before creation the world as we now experience did not exist. The Virat (total gross body) which is the cause of the elements beginning with space too did not exist, but appeared only subsequently, like silver appearing on nacre. Therefore, how can nescience (which is neither existent nor non-existent) really cover Brahman? It cannot, just as water conjured up by magic or the illusory water in a mirage cannot really cover the earth on which it appears.
The world is only a transformation of nescience (or Maya). This nescience had no real existence before creation, nor was it totally non-existent, like a 'skyflower'. A flower cannot appear in the open sky without a plant or a tree and so there can be no such thing as a 'skyflower'. Things which can never be experienced, like the horn of a hare, the son of a barren woman or a skyflower are given in Vedanta as examples of absolute non-existence. This is in contrast to nacre-silver or rope-snake, which is actually experienced until it is subsequently realized as illusory.
24. The cycle of repeated births and deaths, which is known as bondage, is not real, but is only attributed to the Jiva (individual soul) because of ignorance of the real nature of the Jiva. If bondage does not really exist, it follows that liberation is also not real, because there can be such a thing as liberation only if there is bondage in the first instance. There is no night or day in the sun. The concept of night and day is based only on the sun being seen or not seen. Brahman, which is pure and without a second, existed without the limiting adjuncts in the form of the vital air and sense organs before creation started (i.e. during Pralaya). At the commencement of creation Brahman, by association with Maya, appeared as Hiranyagarbha, the Creator. This Hiranyagarbha is not in essence different from Brahman. The same Brahman became all the Jivas by association with all the minds which are all modifications of Maya. Thus the Jiva too is not in reality different from Brahman. The apparent difference is only due to the limiting adjunct in the form of the mind, which is only a modification of Maya and is therefore not real in the absolute sense, but has only empirical reality.
25. Before creation (i.e. during pralaya) nescience existed as a positive entity (it was neither non-existent nor negative). The universe was then covered by Maya which had merged in Brahman. The universe being not manifest then, it could not be described, nor even conceived, just as water in milk cannot be separately seen. At the end of Pralaya, when fresh creation is to begin, the will of the Creator is prompted by the vasanas resulting from the continuous actions of all Jivas during the past cycles of creation. Maya then becomes transformed as this world of innumerable names and forms, in conformity with the past karmas of Jivas.
According to Advaita Vedanta nescience is not mere absence of knowledge, but is a positive entity. The Lord says in the Gita, ch.5.15, 'knowledge is covered by ignorance'. What covers something else has to be a positive entity. Moreover, nescience is the material cause of the universe. Only a positive entity can be a material cause and not mere Abhava or non-existence. Nescience is neither absolutely real like Brahman nor absolutely false like the horn of a rabbit. It is therefore described as 'anirvachaniya' or indescribable. It has phenomenal or vyaavahaarika reality, like the universe which is a transformation (parinaama) of nescience.
During Pralaya all the Jivas remain merged in Maya along with their vasanas. At the end of Pralaya these vasanas become ripe for manifestation. The Lord then wills "Let me create the worlds" (Aitareya Upanishad, I.i.1). Each Jiva then gets a body in accordance with his vasanas and the effects of his past karma. See Kathopanishad, II.2.7 which says that Jivas are born as human beings, animals, birds or even plants according to their karma and in conformity with the knowledge acquired in past lives.
26. This Maya has four great qualities. It is ever youthful and ever new. It has the capacity to make what is impossible happen. Every action undertaken as a result of this Maya is sweet in the beginning. Maya conceals the knowledge about Brahman contained in the Srutis. Isvara and Jiva both dwell in this Maya like two birds on a tree. The Jiva experiences external objects through the sense organs and feels happiness or misery, while Isvara is not affected by them.
This verse is based on the Rigveda, 18.104.22.168. There Maya is described as a girl having the above four qualities. Maya has two powers, the veiling power (Avarana sakti) and the projecting power (Vikshepa sakti). Maya veils Brahman and projects the universe. It thus makes the impossible happen. Brahman reflected in pure (Sattvic) Maya is Isvara (God). The Jiva or individual is Brahman reflected in Avidya, which is impure Maya because of the admixture of Rajoguna and Tamoguna. It is therefore stated in this verse that both Isvara and Jiva dwell in Maya. The comparison with two birds on the same tree is based on Mundakopanishad, III.i.1, which says: - "Two birds that are ever associated with each other reside on the same tree (standing for the body). One of them, (the Jiva), eats the fruits (i.e. experiences the results, good and bad, of its karma) because of identification with the body. The other, Isvara, looks on without eating. Isvara has no karma to be experienced and no identification with the body. Isvara controls Maya, while the Jiva is under the control of Maya.
All actions undertaken are sweet in the beginning - The Jiva undertakes various actions with the object of attaining happiness, prompted by Maya or ignorance of the truth that he is Brahman. He feels happy when he starts such action, only to realize ultimately that all such actions ultimately lead only to sorrow, because nothing obtained by action can give everlasting happiness. Only the realization that one is in reality Brahman will give eternal happiness unmixed with the slightest trace of misery. This knowledge, which is contained in the Upanishads, is concealed by ignorance and so the Jiva looks upon himself as a limited individual. See Gita, 5.16.
Maya makes the impossible happen - Sri Sankara gives, in Mayapanchakam, some instances of this. It imposes on Brahman, which is eternal and devoid of parts and which is pure Consciousness, the false distinctions as the world, individual souls and God. It makes even those who have mastered all the scriptures no different from animals by tempting them with wealth and the like. It makes Brahman which is infinite bliss, pure consciousness and non-dual, struggle in the ocean of samsaara by associating it with the body made up of the five elements. It imposes on Brahman which is devoid of qualities, the distinctions of colour, caste, etc, and attachment to wife, son, possessions and the like. It creates even in non-dual Brahman distinctions such as Brahmaa, Vishnu and Siva and deludes even the learned into thinking that they are different from one another.
27. Isvara is totally unattached. The Jiva, being immersed in the ocean of nescience, forgets his own real nature (as Brahman) and sees the world of multifarious names and forms as real, though they are only appearances and have no reality apart from the Self (or Brahman). But when, his intellect having become purified and free from desires and their consequences such as anger, greed, etc, he withdraws his sense organs from external objects and concentrates his mind on the Self within, he realizes his nature as Brahman. Then Maya gives up her control over him and he too frees himself from Maya. This one Self is described by the sages as having taken the form of various gods, but this is only for the purposes of the ritualistic portion of the Vedas. In reality the Self (Brahman) is only one, without a second.
"They speak of Indra, Mitra, Varuna. Agni and the Divine, winged Suparna,
The One Being the wise call by many names as Agni, Yama, Matarisvan".
See also Kathopanishad, 2.1.1 - A rare discriminating individual turns his eyes (i.e. all his sense organs) away from external objects and then sees the indwelling Self.
28. The indwelling self, being non-different from the Supreme Self (Brahman), is infinite and so all-pervading. It cannot therefore be said that the indwelling self enters the womb when a child is conceived. Nor can it be said that it leaves the body when a person dies. It is the subtle body, constituted of the mind and the sense organs, that enters the physical body when a child is conceived and leaves the physical body when a person dies. Birth is the entry of the subtle body into the physical or gross body and death is the departure of the subtle body from the gross body. On death the subtle body goes to the higher or lower worlds according to the karma of the person. The self does not take on the characteristics of the gross body such as leanness, stoutness, etc. The subtle body, along with the sense organs (which form part of it) and the samskaras, departs from the gross body on death. After sojourn in higher or lower worlds, it comes back to this world to take on another gross body.
The subtle body consists of the five organs of perception (jnanendriyas), the five organs of action (karmendriyas), the five vital airs (prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana), the mind (manas) and the intellect (buddhi). It is the subtle body which transmigrates from one physical body to another. The physical body perishes on death, but the subtle body continues until ignorance is destroyed by the realization of Brahman (Brahma-sakshatkara). When the subtle body leaves the physical body it carries with it the knowledge acquired by the person, the effects of his karma (punya and papa) and the impressions of past actions (samskaras) (See Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV.iv.2 ). The pure Atma, being eternal and all-pervading, has neither birth nor death, nor can there be any question of its going from one place to another. See also Bhagavad gita, 15.8.
How the jiva takes a new body
Br.Up.4.4.3, Sri Sankara's Bhashya says : -
Now the question is, when the self loaded with knowledge, etc, is about to take up another body, does it leave the old body and go to another, like a bird going to another tree? Or is it carried by another body serving as a vehicle to the place where, according to its past work, it is to be born? Or does it stay here, while its organs become all-pervading and function as such? Or do the organs remain contracted within the limits of the body as long as the jiva remains in that particular body, but when the jiva departs, do the organs become all-pervading, like the light of a lamp when its enclosure is removed and contract again when a new body is taken up? (These are the views, respectively, of the Jains, the Devataavaadins, the Saankhyas and Vedanta). The answer is: Though the organs are by nature all-pervading and infinite (in their form as the presiding deities), since the new body is made in accordance with the person's work, knowledge and past impressions, the functions of the organs also contract or expand accordingly. Therefore the impressions called past experience, under the control of the person's knowledge and work, stretch out, like a leach, from the body, retaining their seat in the heart, as in the dream state, and build another body in accordance with his past work; they leave their seat, the old body, when a new body is made ready. An illustration on this point is given in 4.4.3.
Br.up.4.4.3. Bhashya -
The following example illustrates how the jiva passes from one gross body to another. Just as a leach, which wants to go from one leaf to another, stretches the front part of its body and takes hold of the new leaf and then draws the hind portion of the body away from the old leaf and onto the new leaf, so also, the jiva takes hold of the new body and only thereafter leaves the old body. This is similar to what happens when going from the waking to the dream state. In the dream state the person identifies himself with his dream body and completely dissociates himself from his waking state body. The presiding deities of all the organs also take their places in the new body. The nature of the new body, whether it is that of a human being or of a god, or of an animal or other creature, depends on the past karma, knowledge and impressions (vasanas) of the particular individual. The Mundaka Up. says - "He who longs for objects of desire, thinking highly of them, is born along with those desires in a situation in which he will be able to realize those desires"(3.2.2). Desire is therefore the cause of repeated births and deaths. Total elimination of desire is the means to liberation.
Regarding how a new body is formed, the example of a goldsmith taking an old ornament and converting it into a new one is given in Br.up.4.4.4.
Br.up.3.2.13. Bhashya -
Karma is the cause of repeated births.
Katha up. 2.2.7 - The jiva is born according to his karma and knowledge as a human being, animal, bird, tree, etc.
Proof of existence of past births
Ch.up.6.11.3. Bhashya - - When separated from the jiva (soul), the (gross) body dies, but the soul does not die. From the fact that as soon as a creature is born, it hankers after breast-feeding and experiences fear, etc, it is clear that it has memory of similar experiences in past lives. Moreover, since rites like agnihotra have some purpose to serve, it follows that the soul does not die.
The next verse is based on a story in Rigveda (8.1.20 & 8.1.21).
29. Long ago a king named Sanathi had a learned and capable priest by name Subandhu. This priest died as a result of imprecatory rites performed against him by some Brahmanas. His subtle body went to Yama's abode. His brother chanted some Vedic mantras and brought the subtle body back to the earth. This story is narrated in a sukta in the Rigveda. From this it is clear that it is the subtle body that leaves the physical body on death and transmigrates and not the indwelling self. (This story from the karma kanda of the Veda further supports what has been said in verse28).
30. The one non-dual Self, which is in reality devoid of any movement or action of any kind, appears to move when the mind moves. Though the Self is within the mind and also all around it, being all-pervasive, the eye and other sense organs cannot know it. Just as the water in the ocean appears to be agitated because of the waves caused by the wind and attains its natural calm state when the wind ceases, the Self also attains its natural calm motionless state when the mind becomes calm.
The next verse is based on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I.iv.17. It is being interpreted below in accordance with Sri Sankara's Bhashya on this mantra.
31. The worldly man who identifies himself with his body and organs because of nescience feels lonely before he gets married and yearns for a wife. Having got a wife, he desires to have children and enough wealth to maintain himself and his family. He strains his every nerve to the utmost for the sake of his family. He does not consider anything else, however valuable, to be superior to these (wife, children and wealth), so deeply is he attached to them. If he does not get any one of these, he considers himself to be incomplete. If he loses even one of these he considers his life to be unfulfilled and wasted. Although alive, he is then as good as dead. He loses all enthusiasm and plunges into despondency.
32. The cloud which appears to conceal the sun which is much bigger than itself did not exist before the rainy season and is not seen after the end of that season. That cloud, which exists only in between these two periods, cannot really conceal the sun. It only obstructs the sight of the person who tries to see the sun. If the cloud really concealed the sun, the cloud itself would not be visible, because it becomes visible only because of the light of the sun. In the same way, the universe, which is illumined and enabled to function only because of the supreme Self, conceals the Self from the intellect of human beings.
The cloud owes its origin to the sun's heat. We are able to see the cloud only because of the light of the sun. It is this same cloud which obstructs our view of the sun. Similarly, the universe which has its origin in Brahman (Self) and which is illumined by Brahman, presents itself before us and prevents us from knowing Brahman. Brahman can be known only if the intellect and the sense organs are withdrawn from the external universe.
33. A person dreams that he is a king enjoying all regal splendour. But when he wakes up he realizes that what he saw in the dream was all false. He does not, on that account, grieve, thinking, "I, a king, have been deprived of my kingdom". Even if he had dreamt that he had committed improper acts such as an illicit relationship, he does not thereby become a sinner. So also, if a person awakens to the Reality, Brahman, even the actions performed during the waking state will not bind him and they will be forgotten, like actions performed in dream.
When the realization that he is not the body-mind complex dawns on a person, all his accumulated karma gets burnt off, as said in Bhagavadgita, 4.37. The actions performed after realization will not produce any bondage. Only the karma which gave rise to the present body, known as Prarabdhakarma, will have to run its course. On the exhaustion of the Prarabdhakarma the body falls and the Jivanmukta becomes a Videhamukta.
The waking state is similar to the dream state in that, in both the states, the Reality, Brahman, is not known and what is unreal is projected as real. During dream everything that is seen and experienced looks real. But when the dreamer wakes up he realizes that all that had no existence at all. Similarly, as long as identity with the body-mind complex continues because of beginningless nescience, everything experienced in the waking state is looked upon as real. But when nescience is removed by the realization that one is not the body-mind complex, but the pure Self, the world is seen to have no reality. Thereafter the joys and sorrows of the body cease to have any effect on the person. Such a person, who has realized that he is the pure Self, is a Jivanmukta.
34. All that is experienced in dream, whether good or bad, is found, on waking up, to be false. Whatever is done by the gross body in the waking state is not found to exist in dream. Thus, even though everything that happens in both these states is proved to be false, it is a pity that the deluded human being clings to these false things, being totally ignorant of that Self, the only Reality, which illumines both these states. We are unable to understand this strange phenomenon (which is caused by Maya).
The idea contained in this verse is similar to what is expressed in the following statement in Sri Sankara's Bhashya on Katha upanishad, I.iii.12: -
"Alas, how inscrutable and strange is this Maya, that every being, though in reality none other than the Supreme Being, does not grasp that fact even when repeatedly instructed, but identifies himself with his body and sense organs though never taught to do so".
35. On dreaming that a relation, who was seen in the waking state as alive, had died, a man becomes dejected, without reason (in the dream). Later, on waking up and finding that the same relation is alive, he becomes happy. Though remembering having seen him as dead in dream he converses with him in the waking state when he sees the same person as alive. Thus a person considers what he sees in the waking state as real because it lasts for a long period and what is seen in dream as false because it lasts only for a short period.
In this context Mandukya Karika, ch.2, verses 6 and 7 are relevant. Verse 6 says that what does not exist in the beginning and at the end is unreal. By this test things experienced in the waking state as well as those in dream are equally unreal. Verse 7 points out that the objects of the waking state are contradicted in the dream state. For example, a man goes to bed after a full meal, but soon dreams that he is extremely hungry. A man who dreams that he has eaten a hearty meal, wakes up feeling very hungry. Because of these reasons, things experienced in both the states are equally unreal. But though they are both unreal, it is admitted that there is a difference between the two. In his Bhashya on Brahma sutra 2.2.29 Sri Sankara points out that there is a difference between the dream state and the waking state. The difference consists in the perceptions in dream being sublated immediately afterwards and the other not. To a man who has woken up from sleep the objects perceived in dream never had any existence at all, for he says "I falsely imagined that I was in the company of great men. In fact, I never came in contact with great men; this delusion arose because my mind was overpowered by sleep". But an object seen in the waking state, such as a pillar, is not thus sublated under any condition. Moreover, dream vision is a kind of remembrance, whereas the visions of the waking state are forms of perception. The difference between remembrance and perception, consisting in the absence and presence of objects, is well known.
36. A man dreams that he is enjoying the pleasure of union with a woman. Though this union is unreal, it is seen that there is discharge of the generative fluid because of the dream. Similarly, this universe which arises from unreal nescience, is seen as real. In the dream the man is real, but the woman as well as the union of the two are both unreal, but this unreal cause produces the real effect of staining of the garment. Similarly the unreal nescience (or Maya which cannot be experienced by us) produces this universe which we actually experience and look upon as real. (The reality of the universe is, however, only empirical or vyaavahaarika and not absolute or paaramaarthika).
The use of such an illustration here may shock our sensibility, but the explanation seems to be that sages never shied away from looking at the facts of life in the face and they did not hesitate to use such telling examples if thereby they could bring home their teachings effectively to the ordinary man. This illustration appears also in verses 101 and 102 (ch.8) of Prabodhasudhaakara, another work of Sri Sankara. So it is not likely to be an interpolation.
The next verse is based on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.3.14.
37. Everyone sees the play of this Self everyday in dream (everything projected by the mind in dream is illumined by the Self). But no one sees the Self who plays by the power of Maya and without any organs whatever. So also, no one sees the Self who illumines all objects and all embodied beings and makes them capable of functioning in the waking state. Nor does any one see the Self in the state of deep sleep even though the supreme bliss of the Self is experienced then. This is most surprising.
In the waking state all living beings function only because of the Self which imparts consciousness to them. In dream the sense organs are dormant, but the mind creates objects by the power of the latent vasanas and these objects are experienced only because of the light of consciousness of the Self. In deep sleep the mind also becomes dormant. Then the bliss of the Self is experienced. Thus in all the three states the Self is present. Yet no one realizes the presence of the Self in any of these states.
38. If a man dreams that a mantra has been imparted to him by a Guru and that he has repeated it a number of times in the dream, then, on waking up he will find that the mantra has borne fruit. If a person dreams that God has appeared before him and conferred His grace on him, he will find the next morning that what he wished for has been achieved. Thus, even though the dream is not real, it gives rise to a real result in the waking state. Similarly, though the Upanishads have only empirical and not absolute reality, they give rise to the knowledge of Brahman which is absolutely real. It is by the light of consciousness of Brahman that human beings, animals, birds, and all other living beings which are capable of motion, as well as stationary beings such as plants and trees (which are also jivas) have consciousness. All objects in this universe, whether superior or inferior, owe their existence only to Brahman on whom they are superimposed.
The doubt answered in this verse is - since everything in this universe, including the Upanishads, is the creation of Maya and is therefore not real in the absolute sense, Brahman, who is known from the Upanishads, cannot have absolute reality. This doubt is answered by giving instances where a dream, which is not even empirically real, gives rise to results in the waking state which have empirical reality.
39. In dreamless sleep the organs such as speech, etc, merge in the vital air (Prana), which is the source of their manifestation in the waking state. Similarly, when fire is extinguished, it merges in air. When the sun sets, it also merges in air. The same is the case with the moon. (See Chandogya Upanishad, IV.3). In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I.5.21, it is said that the organs began to compete with one another, each one saying that it would go on working without any rest, but after a while all of them became tired. Only Prana, the vital air, did not feel any fatigue at all. Similarly, fire, the sun, the moon and other deities tried to work without respite, but they also became tired. Air alone did not become tired at all. Air or Vayu among the deities is the same as Prana or vital air among the organs. The knowledge obtained through the sense organs can be erroneous like the silver seen on nacre. Therefore the Upanishad says that for realization of the Self one should meditate on Prana and not on the organs.
Sri Sankara says in his Bhashya on Br. Upanishad, I.3.7 that by identification with Prana one becomes his true self as Prajapati. Thus meditation on Prana, which is the means to identification with Prana, is recommended in this verse. Pranayamavrata may also be taken as the practice of Pranayama by which the breath is controlled. Control of the breath results in control of the mind also, since both are aspects of the same entity, Prana being Kriyasakti and the mind Jnanasakti.
40. Fire does not burn wet firewood, but if the firewood has been dried by the heat in the atmosphere in summer, then fire will burn it. Similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge cannot enter the mind of a person who is deeply attached to his family, wealth and possessions, even if he has acquired considerable religious merit (punya) by the performance of Vedic rituals, by begetting a virtuous son and by using his wealth for noble purposes. Only if he has developed strong detachment can Self-knowledge dawn in his mind. Therefore the scriptures declare that the acquisition of pure detachment is essential for a person who seeks Self-realization.
41. Everything in this world, being only name and form, is unreal from the absolute point of view. All things appear to have reality and function in various ways only because of the substratum, Brahman, on which they are superimposed. This universe should be covered by that supreme Being, just as the illusory snake is covered by the rope on the recognition that what is in front is only a rope (and not a snake). By renunciation alone, can the unsurpassed bliss of Brahman be enjoyed and so one should not covet impermanent things like wealth and possessions.
A rope is mistaken for a snake in dim light. When, subsequently, it is realized that there was only a rope and no snake, it can be said that the illusory snake has been covered by the rope. In the same way, because of ignorance of the substratum, Brahman, which alone is real, the universe appears as real. But what appears as the universe is in reality nothing but Brahman. It is therefore said in this verse that the universe, consisting of names and forms, should be looked upon as the supreme Being alone. The attainment of this realization will lead to supreme bliss and this attainment is possible only when total detachment is acquired by giving up desires for all other objects. This verse is based on the first mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad - "All this, that moves in this universe, should be covered by God. Protect (your Self) through that detachment. Do not covet any one's wealth".
42. A person who yearns for liberation (Mumukshu), who has already acquired the preceding three pre-requisites, becomes first a Jivanmukta, one who is liberated even while alive. Thereafter he continues in the body till the Prarabdhakarma which gave rise to the present body is exhausted. When his body falls he becomes a Videhamukta. Both Jivanmukti and Videhamukti are attained only by the compassionate glance of the Guru, by repeated practice of Asana, Pranayama, etc and by constant meditation on the Self. Repeated practice is of two kinds, by the body and by the mind. That by the body consists of Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara. That by the mind consists of Sama, the control of the mind, Dama, control of the sense organs, etc (as stated in detail below). Hearing, reflection and meditation on the Self, which constitute Jnanayoga have already been hinted at earlier(in verse 3).
The pre-requisites for a spiritual aspirant -
Saadhanachatushtayam - See notes under verse 4 above.
Videhamukti- Karma, in the sense of results of actions performed, is divided into three categories . (1) sanchita karma - the accumulated results of actions performed in past births, (2) praarabdha karma - those results of past actions which have given rise to the present body and (3) aagaami karma - the results of actions performed in the present birth. On the dawn of Self-knowledge the first category is completely destroyed along with the third category acquired upto the time of attainment of knowledge. After the dawn of Self-knowledge any action performed does not produce any result in the form of merit or demerit. The second category is not destroyed on the attainment of Self-knowledge, but has to be exhausted only by being actually experienced. On the exhaustion of this category of karma the body of the enlightened person falls and the jivanmukta becomes a videhamukta.
See Sri Sankara's Bhashya on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,1.4.7: - .
The past actions that gave rise to the present body must necessarily produce their results and so the body, mind and organs will continue to function even after the attainment of Self-knowledge, just as an arrow that has already been discharged must continue to move forward until its force is exhausted.
Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara - These are three limbs of Patanjali's Yoga. They are, respectively, posture for meditation, regulation of vital force and control of the senses - See Yogasutra 2.29.
Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana- (Hearing, reflection and meditation) - ?
These terms are already explained in the notes under verse 13 above.
43. A person who has attained purity of mind by the performance of duties without desire for the fruit in past lives is able to get rid of all the desires which had taken strong root in his mind over innumerable lives. He becomes free from identification with his body and his mind is ever fixed in the Atma. His mind is free from all vacillation. He enjoys the Bliss of Brahman as a Jivanmukta. When his body falls on the exhaustion of his Prarabdhakarma he becomes a Videhamukta. Some seekers after liberation wrongly think that the path to liberation is through the 'Nadis' which are of different colours.
This verse is based on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV. iv. 7, 8 and 9. In the Bhashya on IV. iv. 9 Sri Sankara says that the Nadis or nerves are described by seekers after liberation as blue, red, green, etc. These white and other colours refer to some other path than that of the knowledge of Brahman. The Jivanmukta is liberated here itself. For him there is no going to any other place or world and so there is no question of path for him. Sri Sankara says - "The white and other paths that the Yogis speak of as the paths of liberation are not really so, for they fall within the range of relative existence. They lead only to the world of Hiranyagarbha and the like; for they apply to the exit through particular parts of the body. The path of liberation is actually the absorption of the body and organs such as the eye in this very life, like a lamp becoming extinguished, when transmigration (or further birth) is impossible because of the exhaustion of all desires" .
44. The person who has realized the entire universe to be his own Self goes beyond grief and delusion even while living in this world, because he has attained Brahman which is pure and the abode of all powers. He has given up identification with the body-mind complex, is free from all thought of external objects and is beyond punya and papa. He is a Jivanmukta, having attained the fourth state beyond waking, dream and deep sleep.
Grief results from the loss of something held dear or the failure to get some desired object. When a person has realized that everything in this universe is his Self alone, there is nothing different from him which he can desire to get, nor can there be any question of loss of anything. The causes of grief being thus removed, there can never be any grief for him. Delusion is mistaking one thing for another, such as looking upon the ephemeral and unreal world as eternal and real. This also cannot happen to a person who sees nothing different from the Self. This verse is based on Isavasyopanishad, 7 - To one for whom all beings have become his Self, what delusion or sorrow can there be?
45. The Jivatma (individual soul) is the reflection of Brahman in the mind which is made up of the Sattva parts of the five subtle elements. This Jivatma is in essence Sattvic and is associated with the Prana or vital force, which is the power of action (Kriyasakti). Though the Jivatma is enveloped by the body, mind and sense organs, it is not in reality tainted by the characteristics of the body such as youth, old age, etc. (These qualities are wrongly attributed to the Jiva because of ignorance of its real nature). The Jiva is an exalted being (since it is really Brahman itself) and has the capacity to become liberated from the apparent bondage which does not really exist, but is wrongly attributed to it. This liberation is achieved by the individual who has a subtle intellect, who concentrates his mind on Brahman, the only Reality (by withdrawing the mind and senses from all external objects) and who practises the disciplines such as Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara and Jnanayoga mentioned in verse 42. Liberation is the realization of the identity of the Jiva and Brahman by the removal of the identification with the body-mind complex. This is attained when the mind takes on the form of Brahman. The mind modified in the form of Brahman continues till the fall of the body on the exhaustion of the Prarabdhakarma. The individual in this state is a Jivanmukta. When the body falls he becomes a Videhamukta.
This verse is based on a Rigveda mantra. The word 'yuva' in that mantra has the meaning 'effulgent'. That meaning has been given here also.
Though the mind modified in the form of Brahman continues to exist, it does not cause any bondage, because it is free from Vasanas and their consequences such as attachment and aversion. It is like a roasted seed which, though resembling a seed in appearance, has lost the power of germination. Any Karma done by a Jivanmukta is really Akarma and so does not produce any bondage (See Gita, 4.18).
Reference may also be made here to Katha Upanishad, I. iii. 12 which says: - He is hidden in all beings and so is not manifest (to all). But by those who have a subtle intellect and have the capacity to see subtle things He can be seen.
46. He who has become almost totally free from desire for sense objects, whose desires have been extinguished, always yearns only for the Atma, the attainment of which would result in his experiencing the infinite bliss of Brahman. On attaining the Atma he becomes fulfilled. Thereafter he continues in the body as a Jivanmukta, one who is liberated even while living on this earth, till his Prarabdhakarma is exhausted, when his body falls. On the fall of the gross body his organs do not depart to any other world (as they do in the case of those who are still in ignorance). The organs become united in the subtle body and the subtle body merges in its cause, the Self (See Bhashya on Br. Up, III. ii. 11 and IV. iv. 7). After that, where is this Jiva? There is no entity as Jiva left. He remains merged in the Infinite Brahman, just as salt dissolved in water becomes one with the water.
47. When sea water is heated, the water evaporates and a solid mass is left, which is known by the name 'salt'. If this salt is thrown back into the water, it dissolves and merges with the water, losing its name and form. Similarly, a person who has realized that he is the Self (Brahman) becomes one with Brahman, giving up his name and form when his body falls and he becomes a Videhamukta. Then his mind merges in the moon, speech in fire, eyes in the sun, blood and seed in water and ears in the quarters.
This verse is based on Br. Up. II. iv. 12 and III. ii. 13. See also Mundakopanishad, 3.2.8 and Prasnopanishad, VI. 5. 'His mind merges in the moon', etc - The meaning of these statements is that the presiding deities of the organs, who gave the organs the power to function, withdraw their help when the person is about to die. The organs then become united in the subtle body. In the case of a Jivanmukta, on the fall of the gross body, the subtle body merges in the Self, as stated in verse 46 above. See Bhashya on Br. Up. 4.4.1 and 4.4.2.
48. The presence of ghee in milk is known by the sweetness of milk. That ghee is different from the milk though it is inside the milk. Similarly, the presence of Brahman or the Self in all creatures is known by the fact that the creatures are able to perform activities. That Brahman, who is different from the creatures, is the place of rest of all creatures who are fatigued by the activities in the waking and dream states. (In deep sleep all beings are united with the Self and are free from all the sorrows of the other two states, as stated in Chandogya Upanishad, 6.8.1 and 6.8.2).The man of realization, having attained Brahman, considers everything else as insignificant. There is no fear in Brahman. Brahman is pure concentrated bliss. Know that Brahman, who shines in the cavity of the intellect is immortal. Everything other than Brahman is perishable.
This verse is based on the following Upanishadic statements: - Ch.Up.6.8.1 and 6.8.2, already mentioned above, Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.1.1; 2.9.1, Br. Up. 3.7.23. See also Gita, 6.22.
49. A large piece of multicoloured cloth is woven out of threads of different colours. Though on a superficial view the cloth would appear to have a separate existence of its own, it will become clear to a person who ponders over its real nature that the cloth is nothing but the threads with which it was woven. Similarly, this gross universe, known as Virat, consisting of multifarious forms such as mountains, cities, human beings, villages, animals and many other beings and things is woven into, or pervaded by, the Sutratma or Hiranyagarbha, the macrocosm of all subtle bodies. This Sutratma is woven into the unmanifest ether, which, in turn, is woven into Brahman.
This verse is based on Br. Up. 3.8.3 to 8. The purport is that this whole gross universe is pervaded by Brahman.
50. Brahman reflected in the intellects of various bodies such as those of human beings, animals, birds, etc, takes those forms. The one person reflected in water appears as two, the original and the reflection. Similarly, the one Supreme Being (Brahman) takes on, by His power of Maya, innumerable forms because of being reflected in innumerable intellects. So says Br. Up. in 2.5.19. The all-pervading (and non-dual) Brahman appears, inscrutably, due to Maya, as the Jiva, by being reflected in the limiting adjunct (upadhi) in the form of the intellect which, being constituted of Sattva alone, is pure and so capable of reflecting Brahman.
The jiva being a reflection of Brahman, is in reality non-different from Brahman. The Jivas appear as many, different from one another and limited beings, only because of the limiting adjunct, the intellect, just as the space inside a pot, though not different from the total infinite space, appears to be limited by the size of the pot.
See also Katha Up. 5.9 and 5.10
51. The men of realization perceive that the Jiva, who is a reflection of Brahman in the subtle intellect, is in the grip of the Maya of the supremely powerful Lord. The nature of the reflection of Brahman, that is to say, the nature of a particular Jiva, depends on the nature of his intellect (or mind), just as the reflection of a face in a mirror varies according as the mirror is convex or concave, clean or covered with dirt, fixed or moving. But, just as the face itself is not in the least affected by the nature of the mirror, so also, Brahman is not at all affected by the nature of the reflecting medium, the mind, and ever remains the same and immutable.
This verse is based on a mantra of the Rigveda. The words 'samudra' and 'patanga' are interpreted as in that mantra.
52. The one sun in the sky, when reflected in different receptacles of water, appears as many and as still or moving according as the reflecting medium is still or moving. Similarly, the one supreme Being, Brahman, reflected in the intellects of different creatures, higher and lower, appears to have taken on the characteristics of those creatures, but, in reality, Brahman is not at all affected by them and is realized as only one and changeless by the enlightened.
This verse may be compared to Kathopanishad, 2.2.11: -
"Just as the sun, the eye of the whole world, is not tainted by the defects of the creatures on earth or by the defects in the external world, so also, the one Self, the indweller of all beings, is not affected by the sorrows of the world, because the Self is transcendental".
53. The moon, (which is opaque) is made luminous by the rays of the sun which fall on it and removes the dense darkness of the night. A bright bell metal vessel, on which the rays of the sun coming in through a chink in the roof fall, removes the darkness inside the house. Similarly, the intellect on which the rays of consciousness from the Self fall illumines all objects through the sense organs and enables the sense organs to experience them.
The moon and the bell metal vessel are non-luminous, but they are made to shine by the reflected light of the sun. Similarly, the intellect and the sense organs are insentient, but acquire sentiency because of the reflection of the Self on the intellect.
Sri Sankara says in his Bhashya on Br. Up. 4.3.7: - "The intellect, being pure and close to the Self, reflects the consciousness of the Self; the mind then catches the reflection from the intellect and, from the mind, the sense organs receive the reflection of consciousness. Thus the Self successively imparts sentiency to the entire aggregate of the body and organs". The same idea is contained in the present verse.
54. The sky, when reflected in a reservoir of water, appears as threefold, namely, as the sky limited by the water, as the sky reflected in the water, and as the all-pervading sky. Similarly, Brahman appears as threefold, as the all-pervading Brahman, as its reflection in the intellect and as limited by the intellect. When Brahman limited by the intellect, who is the Jiva, and the all-pervading Brahman are realized as one and the same, nescience, which made the Jiva and Brahman appear different from each other, is destroyed along with its effects, Samsara and the consequent sufferings.
55. A number of puppets are simultaneously manipulated by means of threads attached to them and made to perform various activities such as singing, dancing, walking, speaking, etc. The person who manipulates them remains behind the scene and cannot be seen by the people who watch the puppet show. Similarly, this universe consisting of the worlds named Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah and Mahah, which is known as Virat, is activated by Hiranyagarbha, also known as Sutratma, possessed of inscrutable glory, who pervades the Virat. This Sutratma makes all creatures in the universe experience the consequences of their past karma.
This verse is based on Br. Up. 3.6.1. In the Bhashya on this section of the upanishad Sri Sankara points out that whatever is an effect, limited and gross, is pervaded by its cause, which is subtler than the effect. Thus the element earth is pervaded by its cause, water, water is pervaded by its cause, fire and so on. The four worlds mentioned above, along with their inhabitants, form Virat, which is the totality of all gross bodies. The gross bodies are pervaded by their cause, the subtle bodies. The totality of subtle bodies is known as Hiranyagarbha or Sutratma, because it runs like a thread (sutra) through all the gross bodies. It is this subtle body that transmigrates and goes from one gross body to another, taking along with it the impressions of the past karma of the particular Jiva, as stated in Br. Up. 4.4.2. These impressions lead to the initiation of fresh actions and also bring actions to fruition in the next life. This is why it is stated in this verse that the Sutratma (total subtle body) makes all creatures experience the consequences of their past karma.
56. In Vedanta, reality is defined as that which remains absolutely unchanged in all the three periods of time. Brahman, in which the Prana (vital air), the quarters, space and everything else merge (at the time of Pralaya) is described as the reality of the reality in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (by recognizing two levels of reality, namely, empirical and absolute, as will be explained below). There is nothing else equal to, superior to or bigger than this Brahman. This is why it is known as the reality of the reality. Brahman viewed as apparently limited by the universe made up of the elements with form, namely, fire, water and earth and those without form, namely, air and space, is known as empirical reality. The unconditioned pure Brahman, which is the absolute reality, is the reality of this empirical reality.
This verse is the gist of Br. Up. 2.3.1 to 6.
Advaita Vedanta recognizes three levels of reality. A person, seeing a rope in dim light, mistakes it for a snake. He is as much frightened as he would have been if there had been a real snake there. For him, at that time, the snake is real. However, when it is examined with the help of a light it is found that there is no snake at all, but only a rope. The snake cannot be said to totally unreal, like the horn of a rabbit, because it was actually experienced; nor can it be said to be real, because it is subsequently found to have had no existence even when it was experienced. The snake is therefore said to have illusory or praatibhaasika reality. Similarly, this world is not absolutely unreal, because it is actually experienced by us. But on the dawn of Self-knowledge it is found to be nothing but Brahman. The world is therefore said to be superimposed on Brahman, just as the illusory snake is superimposed on the rope. The world is said to have empirical or vyaavahaarika reality, because it is real until the attainment of Self-realization. The absolute or paaramaarthika reality is Brahman alone, since it ever remains the same. In the present verse the world which has empirical reality is described as satyam and Brahman which is absolutely real is described as satyasya satyam.
The word 'sat' represents the three elements with form - fire, water and earth. The word 'tyat' stands for air and space, which are formless. These two words taken together form the word 'satyam' which here stands for Brahman considered as limited by the five elements and the whole universe made up of them. This is empirical reality. The word 'satyam' is given this special meaning here and also in the next verse. See also Taittiriya upanishad, 2.6.1.
57. We know from experience that things such as silver, snake and water which do not really exist sometimes appear as if real. It is also well known that such things appear only when there is a substratum such as nacre, rope or desert and that these appearances come to an end when the substratum is known. Just as these appear as real, this entire universe, which is also unreal, appears on the substratum, Brahman, which is described as the truth of the truth. Because the universe appears as if it is real, it is described as truth (satyam).
The three levels of reality have already been described. In this verse it is explained that the universe is described as satyam because it is looked upon by all as real until the dawn of Self-knowledge.
58. Space, which accommodates everything in this universe, is itself accommodated in its entirety in the infinite Brahman. All the quarters which extend indefinitely in all directions, are also within Brahman. Time, as reckoned by us, forms only a small fraction of Brahman, which existed before time came into existence and will exist even after time comes to an end. Brahman is therefore beyond the limitation of time. Thus Brahman is infinite both in space and in time. Before the creation of the universe Brahman alone existed. At the beginning of creation Brahman manifested itself as Hiranyagarbha, or all the subtle bodies and then as Virat or all the gross bodies. Hiranyagarbha, being more subtle than Virat, pervades Virat and is therefore described as bigger than Virat. Brahman, on which both Hiranyagarbha and Virat appear because of beginningless Avidya or nescience, pervades them, being infinite. Since Brahman pervades all the subtle and gross bodies (Hiranyagarbha and Virat), it follows that it is not limited by any objects, subtle or gross. Thus it is brought out in this verse by implication that Brahman is free from all the three limitations, namely, of space, time and objects. An illustration is given to explain this. The ocean is very big in size and full of water. But its size is nothing compared to the waters of the Pralaya which encompass the whole universe by the merger of all the seven seas.
It follows from this verse that it is Brahman alone that appears as all the subtle and gross bodies in the universe. Brahman does not undergo any change or limitation, even when appearing as the gross and subtle bodies. The universe is thus only a vivarta or apparent modification of Brahman, like a rope appearing as a snake without really undergoing any change and not an actual modification or parinama like milk becoming modified as curd.
It is said in this verse that Brahman alone existed before creation. This should not be understood as meaning that now there is something else also in addition to Brahman. Even now the only reality is Brahman. The universe is a mere appearance on Brahman and has therefore no separate existence apart from Brahman. This has been brought out by Sri Sankara in his Bhashya on Aitareya Upanishad,1.1.1 with the illustration of foam and water. What was denoted by the term 'water' alone before the manifestation of foam as such is denoted by the term 'foam' after its manifestation, though really foam is nothing but water.
Brahman is free from all limitations
Panchadasi-3.35, 36, 37 - Being all-pervasive, Brahman is not limited in space. Being eternal, it is not limited in time. Since all objects in the universe are merely superimposed on Brahman, Brahman is not limited by any object, just as a rope is not limited by the illusory snake superimposed on it .
This verse is based on Br. Up. 5.1.1: -
The meaning of this mantra is given thus in Sri Sankara's Bhashya:-
That unconditioned Brahman is infinite, all-pervading; this conditioned Brahman, manifesting as the universe of names and forms, is also infinite in its real nature as the supreme Self, not in its differentiated form circumscribed by the limiting adjuncts. This differentiated Brahman, the effect, emanates from the infinite, or Brahman as cause. Although it emanates as an effect, it does not give up its infinitude; it emanates as the infinite only. When Brahman as effect takes the infinitude of the infinite, i.e. attains identity with its own nature by the removal through knowledge of the notion of 'otherness' created by the limiting adjuncts, it remains as the unconditioned infinite Brahman alone, without interior or exterior, as homogeneous pure consciousness.
59. Just as the same rainwater nourishes all plants and produces in them many different tastes, fragrances and potencies, so also the same Self which dwells in all beings takes on the different characteristics of those beings. It is in the mere presence of that indwelling Self that the earth supports everything on it, the clouds pour down abundant rain and fire cooks food and burns.
The second part of this verse is based on Br. Up. 3.7.3 onwards - "He who dwells in the earth but is within it, whom the earth does not know, whose body is the earth and who controls the earth from within, is the inner controller - your own self and immortal". There are similar statements about water, fire, sky, air, etc, meaning that everything functions only because of the presence of the indwelling self.
60. The wise man should attain the conviction that it is his own Atma that dwells in all living beings and should further see the entire creation as superimposed on his own Atma. He should realize that everything in this universe is non-different from his Atma, just as waves in the ocean are not different from the water. Brahman is one, without any second of the same species or of any other species. Brahman is homogeneous, without any internal differences. He who looks upon this universe of multifarious names and forms as having real existence in Brahman goes from death to death, the Srutis say. That is to say, he is born and dies again and again.
This verse is based on the following mantras of the Upanishads: -
Isavasyopanishad, 6- He who sees all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings feels no revulsion towards any one.
Chandogya Upanishad, 6.2.1- In the beginning, dear boy, this was Existence alone, one only, without a second. (See explanation given below).
Kathopanishad, 2.1.11- This (Brahman) is to be attained by the (purified) mind alone; there is no diversity whatsoever in this. He who sees difference here goes from death to death.
Brahman is free from all the three types of differences
Panchadasi-2.20 and 21. - Differences are of three kinds. The difference of a tree from its leaves, flowers, fruits, etc, is the difference within an object. This is known as svagata bheda. The difference of one tree from another tree is the difference between objects of the same species. This is known as sajaatiya bheda. The difference of a tree from a rock is the difference between objects of different species. This is known as vijaatiya bheda.
None of these differences exists with regard to Brahman, because there is nothing else of the same species or of a different species and there is no internal difference because Brahman is homogeneous. This is what is affirmed in the Chandogya Upanishad (6.2.1) by the words "ekam eva advitiyam"-one, only, without a second. The word "one' negates sajaatiya bheda, the word 'only' negates svagata bheda and the words 'without a second' negate vijaatiya bheda.