Article: A vedanta toolkit part 2

Subhanu Saxena Subhanu.Saxena at INTL.PEPSI.COM
Fri Sep 11 10:46:26 CDT 1998

In the previous part I have covered off "sarvArtrika anubhava" and
"adhyAsa". We now continue with:

3) VyavahAra and paramArtha drshti

Having laid the groundwork of AdhyAsa, we can turn our attention to the
two standpoints adopted in the shAstra, and the writings of Shankara,
GaudapAda and Sureshwara: The arguments found in these sources of
literature can be dividied into a standpoint where the existence of a
distinct knower and something to be known by some means of knoweldge
exists, and where such a distinction does not exist.  Shankara uses the
terms "(loka)vyavahAra" and "paramArtha" respectively. These are
commonly translated as the empirical and transcendental standpoints
respectively. I often hesitate at using the word "transcendental" as it
has a certain flaky imagery in modern English. I tend to prefer
describing them as the empirical, where there is apparent reality of the
existence of cause and effect, and the "really real" where such
distinctions do not exist.

A number a discussions/commentaries on the Upanishads and Shankara fail
to recognise from which standpoint a discussion is being advanced, and
they will frequently try and justify a viewpoint expressed from an
empirical standpoint as pertaining to some ultimate truth.  As an
example, we have questions such as "is there conscioussness in deep
sleep?", or "is there any avidyA in deep sleep?" when the the avasthA
traya discussion is simply a concession to the empirical standpoint,
whose teaching is ultimately rescinded (see concept 4). An interesting
corollary of the above is that Shankara would have no problems with our
modern understanding of the laws of Physics.  For him the empirical
standpoint is a standpoint where the laws of cause and effect must
operate, so there must be a set of physical laws that govern there.
Equally, from the transcendental standpoint, if there really is a
unified field, then the effect can be no difference than the cause, as
there is no real duality of physical laws, only apparent duality.

I refer readers to an extremely helpful table in"Shankara's
clarification of Vedantic Concepts" by Holenarsipur Swami Sri Sri Swami
Satchidanandendra Saraswati that compares and contrasts the concepts of
Atman, avidyA, moskhA etc from both the empirical and transcendental

4) adhyAropa-apavAda prakriyA

The previous 3 concepts allow us to really understand the underlying
method in all the Upanishads, namely that of adhyAropa-apavAda, or the
method of deliberate superimpostion and recission.  It helps us get past
the questions of "how do objectify the unobjectifiable" and "how can you
describe the indescribable".

The method is directly quoted by Shankara in his Bhagavad Gita Bhashya
13-13/14 referring to the Slokas "sarvataha pANipAdam tat...." and
"sarvendriya guNAbhAsam....". Here Krishna  describes the absolute as
both having arms and feet everywhere, and also as having no
distiguishing features whatsoever.  Lest we scratch our heads
indefinitely over this, Shankara calms us down by stating that this is
nothing other than the application of the basic method adopted in the
shAstra, and he says, quoting a half verse from the ancient tradition:
"tathA hi sampradAyavidAm vachanam 'adhyAropa-apavAdAbhyAm,
nishprapancham prapanchyate' ", translated into English as "so say the
followers of the tradition 'that which is beyond all manifestations is
made manifest by the method of deliberate superimposition and recission'
".  The term adhyAropa apavAda is none-other than the technical term
given to the method "neti neti" or "not this not this" adopted in the
Upanishads.  GaudapAda refers to the method in his own words in the

Sa ya esha neti netIti vyakhyAtam nihnute yataha
sarvam agrAhyabhAvena hetunAjam prakshyate.

"Through this method of neti neti, where what has been said is
subsequently removed, the unborn beyond conception shines forth of its

In the BrihadArnyaka bhAshya vArtika, it is clear that sureshwAra was
also intimately familiar with the method.  Witness BBV 2-3-171, 199, and
many others.

Briefly, the method deliberately superimposes some characteristic (such
as "satyam, jnAnam anantam brahma" in Taittiriya Up), to remove some
misconception, only to deliberately rescind the teaching when it has
served its purpose (eg "ashabdam asparsham..").  For example the quote
from Taittiriya above is adyAropa to remove the misconception that Atman
is limited in scope.  The teaching is rescinded at the end of the pancha
kosha discussion in that Upanisad, when all that is left when
distinctions are removed is Ananda, or pure bliss. Similarly, the
concept of an individual self is superimposed  to remove the
misconception that the body is the real self.  This teaching is
ultimately rescinded, lest the seeker actually think he is an individual
soul undergoing rebirth, as in the kArikA "marane sambhave chaive,
gatyAgamanayor api. Sthhitau sarva shareereshu AkAshenAvilakshaNaha".

Those familiar with modern science will also be aware of the method.
When students learn about the structure of the atom, they start with a
description of a "planet(nucleus)" and a "moon(electron".  Later this
teaching is replaced by a teaching of a wave around the nucleus,
followed by a wave particle, in defined energy states etc etc. Each
stage of the teaching replaces a previous superimposition with a more
refined view.  This is not dissimilar to the method of adhyAropa-apAda,
which essentially vectors the seeker in the direction of the truth.
Once all misconceptions have been removed, there is no need for a final
"there it is", as the truth will manifest itself of its own accord.

Shankara gives an example in his Brihad BhAshya from ancient times,
whereby priests show to married couples the Arundhati star in the night
sky. The approach he describes is that first the priest points to the
sky in the region of Arundhati and designates a bright star as
Arundhati. He then will say "no, that's not it" and point to another
less bright star, and so on, until he finally reaches Arundhati.

Examples of the method are many in the Upanishads:
- The doctrine of panchakosha, or 5 sheaths.  The teaching is not that
there is literally layer upon layer shrouding the inner Atman but, as a
device to lead the seeker, koshas are superimposed and then rescinded
until what is left is Ananda, the anubhava or adviteeya Atman.
-Examination of the 3 states of conscioussness.  The teaching appears to
analyse each state of conscioussness as some manifestation of reality,
leading a seeker to the state of non-duality where no distinctions are
left.  The final teaching of "Turiya" is not an independent 4th state,
but a rescission of the previous 3 states as having only been
superimposed on the Atman temporarily for the teaching, and a device
that finally is discarded.  Failure to appreciate this in the method is
probably the key cause of misinterpretations by later commentators.
- Teaching on creation.  Again the superimposition is that Brahman is
the cause of the universe, which is done to remove the misconception of
the independent existence of the universe.  This teaching is then
rescinded by stating from the paramArtha standpoint the effect is non
different from the cause, and all there is is Brahman. So, we have the
kAraka "mrlloha visphulingAdyaihi, strshtir yA choditAnyathA. upAyaha
so'avatArAya nAsti bhedaha kathanchana" "By illustrations  like those of
clay, gold and sparks etc, creation is variously described by the Sruti.
This is just a device to take the mind to the truth. There is no
distinction (in Brahman) whatsoever."

- Distinction of teacher and taught. Again, this is a device for
instruction, for on the dawn of knowledge this distinction is seen to be
only apparent.  There is the famous kArakA: "vilkapo vinivarteta kalpito
yadi kena chit. upadeshAdyam vAdaha, gyate dwaitam na vidyate" "should
anyone fashion the construct (of teacher and taught) then it would have
to be removed. This is only for the purpose of teaching, when knowledge
dawns, there is no duality"

-Avidya itself.  Again, it should not be assumed that the Sruti actually
teaches there is some manifoldness that has to be removed.  For, from
the paramArtha standpoint, there is only Brahman.  Again, GauDApA says
"prapancho yadi vidyeta, nivarteta na samshayaha. mAyAmAtram idam
dwaitam adwaitam paramArthataha" "If there really was a manifoldness in
reality, then without a doubt it would have to be removed . But this
duality is a false appearance, non-duality is the supreme truth".

Again, many post-Shankara commentators have taken a discussion that is
really adhyAropa, and tried to fashion a more fundamental truth out of
it, when the ultimate instruction is to rescind the teaching in hand.  I
am sure that other members will have their own personal favorite
examples out there (eg the distinction of higher and lower Brahman etc
etc), but the examples above should give people a feel what to look for
as they read, and give them some perspective.


The above should give anybody wishing to delve deeper into Shankara's
bhAshyas, gauDApAda or Sureshwara's vARtikA's and his naishkarmya siddhi
a good  grounding in the basic concepts around which the teachings are
given.  When I read a passage in the Upanishads, Gita, Brahma Sutra or
the Bhashyas etc, I tend to automatically go through the following
mental checklist to try and understand the message:
- Is the empirical or transcendental viewpoint being adopted?
- Is this adhyAropa, or apavAda of a previous argument?
- If it is something written by a post Shankara commentator, have they
captured the essence of Shankara's teaching on avidyA?
- How does the line of reasoning accord with universal experience?

Well. that's all for now. Hopefully the above will prove useful to those
who have not come across the concepts before. For those who have, it
would be interesting to hear your insights/elaborations. A true
understanding of the 4 concepts should help guide you through such
questions as:
- What is the purpose of shAstra?
- Is punarjanma real, or only a device for instruction?
- What does Shankara really think of injunctions, meditation etc?
- Is moksha something to be attained by me? Is it now or after a die?

I leave you with the thought that I have written too much. As rshi
Badhwa (quoted by Shankara) explains to BAshkali when he asks the
question 2-3 times "what is Atman?" and Badhwa gives no response, he
finally says in accordance with principle 1 (sarvArtrika anubhava) "you
ask but you do not understand the instruction-this Atman is utter

Harihi Om


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