Atma Bodha Verse 07

Hari AUM

tAvatsatyam jagadbhAti shuktikA rajatam yatha |
yAvannjnAyate brahma sarvAdhiShThAnam advayam ||

Translation :
The apparent reality of the phenomenal world is like the illusion of silver in nacre. This illusion persists until the realization of the non-dual brahman as the ground of all existence.

Explanation :
  As in Verse 06, the theme here is to explain the apparent reality of the phenomenal world(herein referred to as jagam). We have already been told that this phenomenal world is like a dream. In this verse, the world is likened to the illusion of silver in nacre. Of course, once we wake up from the dream ( i.e. spiritual awakening), this illusion is lost and we understand Reality ( Brahman ) as non-dual(advayam i.e. without a second ) and as the ground(adiShThAnam) of all( sarvam ) existence.

    Notably, this is the first time in this text that bhagavatpAda has equated jnAnam with the realizaiton of Brahman. So far, we have seen jnAnam equated with the intuition of our own true Self. Now, we see that jnAnam also leads to us "waking up" from the dream of this manifold world and to the realization of the Ultimate Reality. In fact, these three realizations, namely, Self-Realization, Realization of the un-reality of the phenomenal world and the Realization of the Supreme Reality are not different. We are being led slowly to the ultimate thesis of Advaita, Atman is Brahman.

    As mentioned in the notes to the previous verse, it is crucial that the "illusory" nature of the world is understood correctly. In advaita texts many examples, like the Snake-and-Rope or Silver-in-nacre are offered to explain it. Often, one is led to the conclusion(wrongly) that advaita is very illusionist (mAya-vAda) etc. In this verse, ShrI Shankara explains very clearly that the Brahman is the substratum and the ground of all existence. This is a very key concept in advaita and worth remembering throughout our study of other advaitic concepts like mAya etc.

Explanation of the silver-in-nacre analogy

    In this verse, ShrI Shankara offers an analogy to the illusionary nature of the world. He says it is like the illusion of silver-in-nacre. Let us say you are walking along the beach early in the morning. Ahead of you, you spot a shining object which you identify as a silver coin. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the shining object you had seen is in fact an oyster shell, whose smooth and reflective inner surface had shone brilliantly in the sun light.
    There are three immediate facts in this analogy :
1. The perception of the silver coin is an illusion  i.e. there was no silver coin there at all.
2. There has to be an actual reflective object ( like the shell ) for the illusion to have taken place. Otherwise, you would not have perceived it in the first place.
3. The "illusion" had taken place only in your mind. The shell was never affected by it i.e. the shell did not "change" in to the silver coin and then revert back to being a shell. It was a shell before you saw it, it was a shell when you mistook it for the silver coin and it still is a shell after you have realized your error.

    Now, let us relate the analogy to the world and brahman.
1. The perception of the **manifold** world is an illusion i.e. it is like the silver coin.
2. There is an actual existence which is True Reality i.e.brahman. Because the illusion of the world has to have a substratum to rest on just as a movie needs a screen to play on.
3. This "illusion" i.e. of the perception of the world is entirely in your mind. Brahman has been, Brahman is and Brahman shall forever be Brahman. It has never changed as it is beyond change. It is only up to us to correct our error.

To introduce some more vedantic terminology, this "illusion" or projection of a "false" manifold world on to the non-dual brahman is called adhyAsa or super-imposition. The sublation of this super-imposition by the dawn of correct knowledge(jnAna) is called apavAda. Hence, the method of advaita is sublation of super-imposition upon the non-dual brahman which is the ground of all existence ( adhyArOpa apavAda ).

PS : Apologies for the verbosity. Had to state some concepts up front. Havind covered this ground, I shall try to keep future posts limited.