jIva, brahman Itself deluded as it were
In traditional vedAnta teaching, this statement is considered to be of vital importance:
brahmaiva sva-avidyayA saMsarati iva, sva-vidyayA muchyata iva .
(brahman alone, due to ignorance pertaining to Its true nature appears as though in saMsAra. By virtue of gaining knowledge, becomes as though freed from saMsAra.)
A very important question for advaita is involved in the above statement. The question is: How is it that brahman is said to be deluded, being subject to avidyA? Where is it said in the scriptures that brahman can become deluded? Is it not unjustified on the part of advaita to say this while proclaiming to be a vedAntic doctrine?
To this it is replied: In advaita vedAnta, the basic premise is the Absolute Reality of the non-dual brahman. The jIva who is seen to be in saMsAra is in truth none other than that non-dual brahman. The veda, the source of teaching, is meant for the emancipation of the jIva. It teaches through the mahAvAkya-s that jIva is brahman alone. The teaching brings about this realization of the Non-dual Truth of brahman-hood. When the vedic teaching can bring about this knowledge that dispels the saMsAra and the saMsAritva of the jIva, one has to conclude that the saMsAra and saMsAritva were only avidyA-based appearances. For, the teaching of knowledge is directed to dispel ignorance. When ignorance is dispelled, its effects are also dispelled. Since the effects of ignorance are dispelled by knowledge, it has to be held that those effects did not in truth exist at any point of time.
Thus, advaita holds that saMsAra and saMsAritva of jIva never was, never is, and never will be. The seeming saMsAra and saMsAritva therefore, are ascribed only a relative reality, to accommodate the teaching and the realization of the same. In Absolute terms, Truth, brahman alone is real. In order to explain the relative saMsAra and saMsAritva, it is said that brahman alone appears bound as the deluded jIva and upon realization of the Truth, becomes released from saMsAra and saMsAritva. The `iva’ = `as though’ in that statement is of paramount importance. It is not that advaita holds that brahman is subject to delusion in absolute terms. What is conveyed by that statement is `brahman appears as though deluded and appears as though freed from the delusion’. It is purely with a view to accommodate the relative reality of saMsAra, this construct is employed. Once the Absolute Truth is realized, this construct loses its meaning and becomes sublated along with the ignorance-based saMsAra. Says the gauDapAda kArikA (I.16) :
anAdi-mAyayA supto yadA jIvaH prabudhyate |
ajam anidram asvapnam advaitaM budhyate tadA ||
(When the jIva, sleeping (i.e. not knowing the Reality) under the influence of the beginningless mAyA is awakened, then does he realize (in himself) the Unborn, the Sleepless, the Dreamless, the One without the second.)
The AchArya’s bhAShya is:
This one, the jIva, the transmigrating individual soul; that is asleep, while seeing in both the waking and dream states such dreams as `This is my father, this is my son, this is my grandson, this is my field, these are my animals, I am their master, I am happy, miserable, I am despoiled by this one, and I have gained through this one’, and so on, under the influence of dream that is but mAyA whose activity has no beginning … having two facets of non-perception of the Reality and the false perception of Reality. When by a most gracious teacher, who has realized the Truth that forms the purport of the upaniShad-s, he (the individual) is awakened through the teaching, `You are not a bundle of causes and effects, but `You are That’, then that individual understands thus. How? He knows the birthless, sleepless turIya, since in It there is no sleep or causal state, consisting in the darkness of ignorance that is the cause of birth and so on. Since it is sleepless, therefore It is asvapnam, dreamless, false perception being based on non-perception, nidrA. Since It is sleepless and dreamless, therefore the individual then realizes the birthless, non-dual turIya as his Self.
The next verse is:
prapa~ncho yadi vidyeta nivarteta na saMshayaH |
mAyAmAtram idaM dvaitam advaitaM paramArthataH
(It is beyond question that the phenomenal world would cease to be if it had any existence. All this duality that is nothing but mAyA, is but non-duality in reality.)
The bhAShya raises a very significant question and answers it: If one is to be awakened by negating the phenomenal world, how can there be non-duality so long as the phenomenal world persists?
(The purport of the question is this: The earlier verse spoke about `awakening’. The situation post-awakening is said to be the advaitam, turIya. It is possible to say that the situation pre-awakening is one of duality. The implication in the question is that non-duality is an impossibility as the Ultimate Absolute Truth if it is a condition that has come into being afresh, after awakening. This question is answered by the bhAShya in the sequel.)
Quotation from Shankara bhAShya:
Such indeed would be the case (yadi prapa~nchaH vidyeta), if the phenomenal world had existence. But being superimposed like a snake on a rope, it does not exist (at any point of time). There is no doubt about this. If it had existed, it would cease to be. (Here the AchArya is considering the question of an actual going-out-of-existence of the world) Certainly, it is not that the snake, fancied on the rope through an error of observation, exists there in reality and is then removed by correct observation. Verily, it is not that the magic conjured up by a magician exists in reality and is then removed on the removal of the optical illusion of its witness.
Similarly, mAyAmAtram idam dvaitam, this duality that is nothing but mAyA, and is called the phenomenal world is, in Absolute terms, paramArtha, non-dual, just like the rope and the magician. (The idea is: the snake in truth is the rope only and the magic-illusion is in reality the magician alone because the illusion was created by the magician by the powers that inhere in him. Even when the illusion was visible to the spectators, it is non-different from the creator-magician.) Therefore, the purport is that there is no such thing as the world that appears or disappears.
Now, while the above is enough evidence for us to see the development of the concept of the `deluded’ jIva (brahman) later `waking up’ to the Truth, there are other upaniShad-s were the jIva is asked to wake up to the Truth, like for example the kaThopaniShad: utthiShThatha, jAgrata..’. The gItA says: j~nAnam labdhvA parAm shAntim …adhigacchati. This means: Gaining knowledge, one attains to Supreme Peace. The idea is this:
The vedAnta teaches that there is only One non-dual Truth, the Consciousness principle called by different names as brahman, turIya, etc. The vedAnta also teaches that the jIva is a Conscious entity. This has to be so, for otherwise the vedAnta would be giving out its teaching to an insentient being. The gItA is very clear about the nature of the jIva: na jAyate, mRRiyate vA, nityaH, sarvagataH, achalaH, sanAtanaH etc. All these are the `properties’ of the Non- dual brahman. Thus, we have a situation where there cannot be two or more Conscious Principles sharing the same characteristics of nityatva, sarvagatatva, etc. It is illogical to have two different entities with these characteristics.
The vedAnta teaches through the mahAvAkya-s `tat tvam asi’, etc. that the jIva is none other than brahman. We thus have the vedAnta teaching that there is only one Entity and that the jIva is in truth that Entity. At the same time we see that the vedAnta addresses all its teachings to this entity called jIva. That ultimately amounts to this. The only Entity appears as the jIva in saMsAra and finally realizes its true nature to be the One Ever-Free Entity, brahman. When a teaching has brought about this change in perception on the part of the saMsAri–jIva, what else could this be other than that of brahman itself appearing as the saMsAri–jIva due to delusion pertaining to its own true nature and brahman itself becoming freed from the delusion by knowing its true nature? The gItA says: aj~nAnena AvRRitam j~nAnam tena muhyanti jantavaH. (Knowledge being obscured by ignorance, the jIva-s are deluded). Since there is only one Entity in absolute terms, this deluded entity has to be that one Entity alone.
From the above mANDUkya teaching we understand that `being in delusion’ and `freeing from delusion’ are just seeming events. They are not real. The appearance of a snake and its subsequent disappearance are not deemed to be real events. Thus there is nothing odd about saying that brahman Itself appears as though it is the jIva and becomes freed from the delusion. From the Absolute standpoint however, there was no delusion and no removal of delusion. The One Secondless Truth Ever was, is and will be.
The brahma-bindu upaniShad, the amRRitabindu upaniShad and the mANDUkya kArikA teach:
Na nirodho na cha utpattiH na baddho na cha sAdhakaH Na mumukshur na vai muktaH ityeshA paramaarthatA
(There is neither destruction nor origination, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after liberation nor a liberated one. This is the absolute Truth.)