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Ramana Maharshi => The teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi => Topic started by: Subramanian.R on June 21, 2013, 11:56:47 AM

Title: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 21, 2013, 11:56:47 AM

In the Vision of Acharaya Sankara and Bhagavan Ramana:

(by Sadhu Tanymaya Chaitanya):

Preamble and Purpose:

ADHYASA is the immediate cause of all the afflictions of samsara, transmigratory existence.  The sorrows of phenomenal life
are experienced universally by all.  It is natural for any intelligent sadhaka (mumukshu) to seek absolute release from the
tyranny of samsara than settle for piece meal solutions.  One must therefore inquire into the cause, namely, adhyasa. 
This is the primary malady, and the understanding of its origin and dynamics helps one to pursue the valid means for its
remedy.  Adhyasa, in its fundamental sense, means 'superimposition' and etymologically derives from 'adhi aaste' where
'adhi' indicates 'above' or 'upon' and 'aaste' means 'rests', 'stays', or 'exists'.  The rope snake analogy is a classical illustration
of adhyasa where, out of ignorance, a non existent snake is seen o 'rest above' a real rope which then 'exists' for the perceiver
who has committed the mistake.  Projecting silver upon nacre ( a sea shell) and ghost upon a post are other typical examples.

The word 'adhyasa' is pregnant with suggestions of a unique philosophical paradigm in our world-view and encapsulates
some core concepts of the Advaitic vision of spiritual life. An attempt is made here to classify some of these ideas embedded
in 'adhyasa' such as Mutual Superimposition, Subjective Projection, Perpetual Error, Illegitimate Transference of Attributes,
Ill-founded Cognition, and Erroneous Identification, in order to arrive at a holistic perspective of sadhana.


Arunachala Siva.         
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 22, 2013, 09:21:33 AM


If we understand deeply the role of adhyasa which permeates our everyday life, we will know where and how we are stuck in
sadhana.  This will facilitate our extrication from the quagmire of adhyasa. If we recognize with objectivity our pitfalls without
justifying , or defending the, then half the battle in our sadhana is won. When we dispassionately acknowledge where we fail
to live up to our conviction or meet squarely the challenges thwarting our advance, we move on the right track towards the
blossoming of Jnana. The very recognition fuels an enthusiastic perseverance in sadhana and a flexibility to adapt and evolve
our course corrections.  The rest is accomplished by Divine Grace which is the backdrop sustaining all human endeavor.

Definitions and Imagery

Acharya Sankara in his celebrated introductory treatise ADHYASA BHASHYA defines adhyasa crisply as 'atasmin tat buddhihi',
which means 'cognition of one thing in some other thing.'  In the context of Advaita,  adhyasa refers to 'cognition of the Self
in the non-Self.  In our everyday life, the entire world is connected to ME through gross body housing life, sense organs and the
mind, whose operation alone illumines and defines the world for me.  Therefore, what precedes all the interactions between
MYSELF and the world is the first connection between 'I' and the 'gross body' (in the form of mutual identification) which
arises due to adhyasa.  Bhagavan Ramana therefore reduces adhyasa at its nascent, rudimentary level to dehatma buddhi
( I am the body alone experiential awareness), which underpins and sustains all the bondage and misery of samsara.


Arunachala Siva.           
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 23, 2013, 01:33:08 PM


Sri Bhagavan never countenanced the morbid idea of sinfulness in sadhakas, and proclaimed that the only sin of the unenlightened
is to wallow in 'dehatma buddhi,'  the fundamental superimposition.  He drew a delightful parallel for this adhyasa, blending in
perfect harmony with the Biblical concept of original sin embedded in the allegory of Adam's fall in Eden garden.(Talks No. 164).

'Adhyasa' is figurative 'forbidden apple', the biting of which begets the limited 'body consciousness' and the juggernaut of
samsara commences its inexorable journey.  One may live blissfully in primal ignorance (mula avidya), the causal seed, but once
the sprout of adhyasa has emerged, the wheel of samsara is unstoppable and there is no choice but to suffer all its consequent

Avidya fathers samsara, providing the seminal cause.  But it operates through adhyasa, which is the actual mechanism that
delivers the sorrows of samsara in manifold manifestations.  Adhyasa is, then, truly the mother of samsara.  Sri Sankara calls
it the source of all evil. (Adhyasa bhashya).   Sri Ramana concurs saying  'the rise and fall of samsara is coeval with that of
adhyasa. (Ulladu Narpadu, Verse 26; 5 & 7).

Denouement / Unfoldment:

To elucidate the nature of adhyasa, Sri Sankara opens his introduction to Brahma Sutra Bhashya witjh a novel pair of
opposites, the 'I' and 'Thou' conceptuals. These are so diametrically opposed to each other.  For example, none of the
characteristics of light can be used to describe the nature of darkness (except in negation) nor can the qualities of darkness
be applied to light, because they don't enjoy the 'same locus' (samanadhikaranya).  Similaraly the 'I' and 'Thou' conceptuals
are polar opposites like chalk and cheese and cannot, in principle, be mixed up at all.  As we all know, every word signifies an
idea which carries with it an image of the object behind it.  For example, the word  'cat' has a conceptual image, which brings
to mind the idea of a four legged domestic pet.  Similarly when one says 'I', the image behind the word 'I' that is triggered in our
conscious mind is the inner Self (pratyagatman).  The 'I' conceptual, therefore, is a clear pointer towards the Self, the 'Thou'
conceptual (yshmat prayaya gochara) stands for  EVERY THING ELSE in the creation which is non-Self. and whose attributes contradict
in toto the nature of the former.


Arunachala Siva.                         
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 24, 2013, 11:20:13 AM


The Self is ever the subject or seer (drk vastu)  -- a mass of Consciousness, limitless, changeless, and immortal.  The 'Thou'
conceptual represents all seen objects (drsya prapancha) -- inert, finite, ephemeral, and ever changing.  It also includes
all the possessions of the 'I' like body, mind and senses. 

Incidentally, Sankara, with brilliant originality and specific intent, resorts to the use of the pronoun 'Thou' (yushmat) for the
non Self rather than  the usual pronoun 'this' (idam) which is conveniently used to indicate the 'seen world of objects'.
When asked, 'Who are you?' the universal response starts with the premise 'I am this' (aham idam) body with all its attributes
and extensions like the senses and mind.  However, it is never possible in any context, to use the phrase 'I am you'. Thus
there is readily available 'discrimination' among common people that forbids them from mixing up terms 'I' and 'you' in a
synonymous sense in worldly parlance.  The inherent selfishness of people is responsible for separating the 'I' from 'you' in
all transactions of daily life (vyavahara).

Therefore, Sankara cleverly plugs in this 'native intelligence' of worldly discrimination into the Vedantic context and lumps all
the non Self under the category of 'Thou'  conceptual, in order to clearly sieve off from the Self and eliminate their inadvertent
mix up.  Thus right from the outset, Sankara utilizes the semantic orientation of the grammatical first and second persons viz.,
'I' and 'Thou' conceptuals which were NOT used in apposition to describe each other, as they never refer to the same locus.
This method of analysis can be understood with an example.  Suppose I met one Mr. Hari on a visit to Hong Kong and later
come across him in Tiruvannamalai, a vritti (thought) of recognition arises in my mind as 'This is the same Hari that I met in
Hong Kong.'  Hence the words, 'this' and 'that' indicate the same person and have a common locus of identity (samana


Arunachala Siva.                 
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 25, 2013, 10:30:35 AM


Unlike the pair of 'I' and 'Thou' conceptuals, the 'aham idam' pair of pronouns are often used in apposition because of
adhyasa.  For example, when we say, 'I am hungry or thirsty' we identify the Self with pranas (vital airs) which come under
the idam category.  Hunger and thirst belong to pranas and not to the Self.  Extending this to the domain of intellect, we hear
people say, 'If you kill my belief,  you will kill my soul!'  which shows the intensity of fanatical identification with any belief system.
Even when Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that 'A man is made of his faith.  He is what his faith is.' *, it is from the vyavahara standpoint
of this natural adhyasa of 'idam' upon 'aham',  that is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. For this reason, Sankara deliberately
avoids he pronoun 'idam' for referring to the non Self and instead use the 'Thou' conceptual, in order to snap out of the 'aham-idam'
connection prevalent in common usage. (Bhagavad Gita Ch. 17.3. shraddha mayoyam purushah, yo yat shraddah sa eva sah')

Having posited thus the two exclusive conceptuas which represent the mutually antagonistic and exclusive 'real' and 'unreal'
entities, the Self and non Self, Sankara propounds that while theoretically any admixture of the two disparate entities is inadmissible,
human beings run their careers and transactional life life entirely based upon the mixing up of this incompatible duo.  This is the glory
of Maya, which makes possible the impossible' wedlock between matter and spirit. (Maya Panchakam, v. 1-5. aghatita ghatana patiyasi   
maya,)  Maya deludes the human mind under the sway of ignorance to commit this legitimate transfer of attributes of the Self and
the non Self  upon each other.  Such a superimposition, born of avidya, is so natural and effortless to our mindset that we do not
even suspect its suzerainty in everyday life. (Adhayasa Bhashya, naisargikoyam loka vyavaharah.).  Although none of us ever goes
about saying 'I am the body' (except when specifically challenged, say in acute pain), this wrong vision percolates through our
countless statements describing our self image.


Arunachala Siva.   
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 26, 2013, 09:25:21 AM


For instance, statements such as 'I am brown or white', 'I caught a cold', 'I am flattered by your compliments', 'I had a bad
day in the office', are deemed sensible expressions in our daily life.   But in the vision of Vedanta, these are delusion-ridden
thoughts that betray our intimate identification with the adjuncts like body, mind etc.,  The crux of samsara is traceable to
the ego, the primary adjunct of the Self, and immediate offspring of adhyasa.  In fact, all our attachments and aversions
(raga dveshas) are but secondary and tertiary manifestations of shobhana-ashobana adhyasa (pleasant and unpleasant
subjective projections) and do not have even empirical validity !  That is why our opinions, judgments, and relationships
are fickle like weather;  yet such molehills assume huge proportions and ruin the natural happiness of the Self.  As the
malaise of adhyasa governs our life, it infects our sadhana insidiously. 

What then, is the nature of this ubiquitous adhyasa ? Sankara describes this superimposition as, 'The apparent presentation
to our awareness, through memory, of something observed elsewhere previously. (smrtirupah paratra purvadrshta avabhasah).
In the rope snake example, a real rope and memory-born snake image coupled with a concomitant fear psychology, have
combined  to create the illusion of snake under insufficient light conditions.  Suppose 'you' have never seen a snake in life,
this particular superimposition could have never arisen!  Without the operation of memory, therefore, no adhyasa is possible.
Also it cannot occur in the absence of a locus.  For example, in the absence of a rope, no one of sound mind can ever 'see' a
snake nor superimpose silver where there is no shell.  (On the other hand, when something is imagined without a substratum
say, a ghost in mid air, it is a case of hallucination but not illusion.  Vedanta is, therefore, meant for the majority of 'normal'
people projecting illusions upon an 'empirically real' locus like a rope and not for abnormal people who indulge in fantasies.)

Further,in any subjective illusion -- which is a ' perceptual error' (bhrama pratyaksha) -- mere memory will not do; a psychology
of fear (of snake) and desire ( or value for silver) deeply embedded in the psyche aloe provides a sufficient condition for
superimpositon of snake or silver in the respective examples.


Arunachala Siva.               
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 27, 2013, 09:30:07 AM


It is then legitimate to deduce that it is impossible for a Jnani, who is ever fearless, and desireless, to commit even a
perceptual error !  All subjective illusions are ruled out as the fire of Jnana has already burnt away the twin defects
of fear and desire, from his mind.  It is worthwhile to ponder over this insight in order to truly appreciate the glory of
Atma Jnana and see how it permeates his empirical life.  His 'yathartha jnana' ('seeing things as they are') is complete,
down to the last detail. Sri Bhagavan Ramana's life is replete with countless examples of such vision.  His legendary
perfection was revealed spontaneously in every trifle of daily life.  In contrast, an ajnani's vision is vitiated by adhyasa
at every turn.  Ironically, it is considered normal only because such ignorance is universal.

Self Knowledge therefore, is regarded as transformative, immediate and experiential (aparoksha anubhava).  It does not
remain merely as cerebral clarity as in the case of academically brilliant exponents of Vedanta.  Sri Bhagavan Ramana once
told His astonished boyhood playmate Vilachery Rangan that upon enlightenment every cell of His body had become
Jnana Mayam (charged with Jnana) and it is no more the 'old body' of the young Venkataraman who was gone, having been
burnt up in Jnanagni.  (The Power of The Presence, Part I, David Godman).

As per the Tamizh proverb, 'only a snake can tell the tracks of another snake.' (pAmbin kAl pAmbariyum), a Jnani alone
recognizes the glory of another Jnani who can also measure his stature.  (Ulladu Narpadu, Verse 31).


Arunachala Siva.     
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 28, 2013, 01:32:40 PM



Here a question can arise:  'Does not a jnani also perceive illusions like mirage water, rainbow, a blue sky, a rod that appears bent
under water, or a moon that 'seems to run' when clouds move.  Everyone knows these are mere optical illusions and do not
represent empirically real objects.  How can one say then that a jnani is free from such perceptual errors?'  To answer this query,
one has to distinguish between 'private' and public' / universal illusions.  The rope snake and nacre silver illusions come
under the former category because under the same empirical conditions, not everyone commits the same perceptual error.
But even a learned person can be duped by them on occasions because these are wholly 'subjective projections' (praatibhaasika)
that imply defects in the mind like fear or desire.  In the wake of 'right cognition'  (prama) they are sublated and once falsified,
they cease to exist.   But objective / public illusions (vyaavaharika), verifiable by others, like mirage water or the blueness of the
sky do NOT require any defect in the mind.   They are merely sensory perceptions that do not suddenly overwhelm the mind with
helpless reactions.   Once understood as illusions, they do not delude our minds in all subsequent encounters.  They continue
to be perceived, unlike 'private illusions'. 

Thus while'public' illusions are registered by his senses for a Jnani, 'private' illusions like snake on the rope do not even color
his sensory perception because of his uncluttered mind and blemish free knowledge.  Therefore, the term 'perceptual error'
is used ONLY when an illusion leads to wrong knowledge (bhrama) as in 'private illusions'.

Without caveat, the subtle distinction between the two categories of 'individual' and 'collective' illusions is likely to be blurred.
(For the sake of clarity and brevity, theories of erroneous cognition - kyati vada, of various schools have been omitted.

For a sage like Sri Bhagavan Ramana, anchored in Sahaja Samadhi, the world appearance (jagat drishti) itself resolves into
a single panoramic 'public illusion'  which cannot delude him any more than the 'particular public illusions' cited earlier.  In
His vision of the Self, the world of nama rupa is a trivial superimposition on the screen of consciousness, the all pervasive
substratum of of space time continuum. (Ulladu Narpadu, Verse 1 and 18).


Arunachala Siva.                           
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 29, 2013, 10:34:54 AM


Another objection can arise regarding Sri Sankara's definition of adhyasa which involves, as a necessary input, memory-
based psychology.  One can argue that the example of 'rope-snake' is fine but dismiss, as a sleigh of intellect, its application
in the Vedantic domain where the 'world' is explained as a superimposition upon Brahman.  Since Brahman is neither an
object of sense perception nor available for objectification to the mind, how can it serve as a locus for projecting the 'world
memory'?  And for a child, to whom memory is yet to develop, but still sees only the world all around it, how can the adhyasa
of 'world upon Brahman' occur?  Sri Sankara anticipates this twin objection and clarifies as follows:  Even the space is not an
object of the senses, children superimpose blueness, dirt and concavity upon the colorless, shapeless sky.  Thus there is NO
inviolate rule that superimposition of an object upon a substratum if possible only if the substratum is apprehended by the
senses like the rope.  Moreover, Brahman is not entirely unknown to us but 'known erroneously' to all beings.  In purusuing
Self Knowledge therefore, we do not so much seek to gain 'new' knowledge as only to cauterize the error that veils our vision.
(Verse two of the famous Guru Stotram says that the Guru's Grace removes the cataract of ignorance by the 'laser beam' stick
of Jnana opens the eyed of the disciple!  The verse is ajnana timirandhayas jnananjna shalakaya chakshur unmilitam yena
tasmai sri guruve namah.) 

Brahman is not intuitvely known as immediate experience,  (Adhyasa Bhashya: asamatpratyaya vishaytvat aparokasha cha
pratyagatma prasiddheh.)  in the name of the 'I' sense pulsating as the living awareness of one's existence but confounded
wrongly as the limited ego idea.  While the limitless Self is the purport and content of the ego sense, It is never recognized
truly as the locus of world appearance because adhyasa vitiates all knowledge at its source.  Nevertheless because of its
self evident effulgence, the Self is always available like a 'sitting duck' for being mistaken as a finite, miserable jiva!


Arunachala Siva.               
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on June 30, 2013, 10:55:50 AM


Brahman is the seeming cause of this apparent creation, upon which the world appearance is merely a superimposition of
Maya.  That is deludes all living beings right from birth as attested by Lord Krishna. (Bhagvad Gita Ch. 3, Verses 13,14, &27).
is tesitmony to the power of Maya. This can be appreciated only by invoking a 'universal snake memory' (world appearance)
which is common to all mankind, and carried over from birth to death until emancipation.  And this 'snake memory' (jagat
drishti) is itself Maya, foisted upon the 'rope' of Brahman.  Maya as a cosmic principle is the inseparable power of Brahman
and has no beginning or end.  But avidya , which is beginningless, nevertheless vanishes upon one's spiritual enlightenment
by eradication of adhaysa.

The shadow world play of Maya, however continues to plunge the rest of humanity groaning under avidya. 


Sankara paints elsewhere a vivid imagery of the samsara tree as having sprung up from the seed of avidya, whose sprout
is adhyasa in the form of dehatma buddhi, with desire being its tender leaves and the gross body forming its trunk,  The waters
of karma nourish this tree.


Arunachala Siva.                 
Title: Re: What is the Nature of Adhyasa? - Mountain Path, July-Sept. 2008
Post by: Subramanian.R on July 01, 2013, 11:32:47 AM


Pranas which perform all physiological functions are its branches and the sense organs is twigs.  Sense objects are its flowers
and all miseries born of karma are the fruits which the Jiva, as the bird perched on his sorrow laden tree, choicelessly
'enjoys.'  Sri Krishna galvanizes Arjuna by assuring him that this samsara tree is intrinsically impermanent and can be felled
by the "axe of conscious dissociation," (Bhagavad Gia Ch. 15, verses 1-3, asanga shastrena drdhena chitva) from identification
with the body, the only direct weapon to overcome adhyasa.

Sri Bhagavan Ramana lived, from His sixteenth year onwards, as the perfect embodiment of this supreme detachment.
He exemplified in every breath and movement of His life, Sri Sankara's passionate exhortations (Vivekachudamani, Verses
277-287) to vanquish adhyasa once for all!

The 'Who am I?' inquiry is championed by Sri Bhagavan is truly the proven brahmastra, like the spear of Lord Skanda to whom
He bears an uncanny resemblance.  It was fashioned out of His own aparokshanubhuti and bequeathed to all mankind, to win
this"mother of all battles" against adhyasa, the mother of samsara.  It is a challenge that will stalk us until we triumph.


Arunachala Siva.