[Advaita-l] What causes samsara?

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sat Mar 27 00:29:39 CDT 2010

श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः

In His bhAShyam to the Mandukya Karika II.17 Shankaracharya makes a very
significant statement:
तत्र जीवकल्पना सर्वकल्पनामूलमित्युक्तं, सैव जीवकल्पना किंनिमित्तेति
दृष्टान्तेन प्रतिपादयति– In the earlier kArikA it was said that the
superimposing of the jiva is the basis for all further superimpositions.
What indeed is the cause of the very superimposition of the jiva? As an
answer to this, the next kArikA comes: (Here Shankara talks about the root
cause of even the jIva-kalpanA.)

अनिश्चिता यथा रज्जुरन्धकारे विकल्पिता ।

सर्पधारादिभावैः तद्वदात्मा विकल्पितः ॥ २.१७ ॥

यथा लोके स्वेन रूपेण अनिश्चिता अनवधारिता एवमेव इति रज्जुः मन्दान्धकारे किं सर्प
उदकधारा दण्ड इति वा अनेकधा विकल्पिता भवति पूर्वं स्वरूपानिश्चयनिमित्तम् ।
यदि हि पूर्वमेव रज्जुः स्वरूपेण निश्चिता स्यात्, न सर्पादिविकल्पोऽभविष्यत् ।
…तद्वत् हेतुफलादिसंसारधर्मानर्थविलक्षणतया स्वेन
विशुद्धविज्ञप्तिमात्रसत्ताद्वय-रूपेण अनिश्चितत्वात्
जीवप्राणाद्यनन्तभावभेदैरात्मा विकल्पितः इत्येष सर्वोपनिषदां सिद्धान्तः ।

These significant points are to be noted in the above bhashyam/kArikA:
· A rope is not determined to be what it is in the first place.
· This is due to the inadequacy of light.
· As a result of this basic ignorance of the rope, there arises a
superimposition in
the manner of a snake, a water-line, a stick and so on.
· If the rope had been determined to be what it is originally, the
would not have ensued.
· Similarly, the Self is not determined to be what it is in the first place.
What is the
nature of the Self that has been missed? It is of the nature of Pure
secondless homogenous Consciousness totally opposed to the nature of being a
· As a result of not determining the Self to be of the above nature there
arises a
superimposition of oneself being a jIva, endowed with prANa, etc. and a host
other attributes.
· The pattern is: First there is ignorance, aj~nAna, of the Self. This
results in
adhyAsa, of being a jIva, sa.msArI. This further results in the adhyAsa of
· Shankara brings to the fore the causal ignorance and the effectual
superimposition. This alone is called the kAraNarUpa-aj~nAna/avidyA and the
kArya-rUpa-avidyA / adhyAsa / aj~nAna.
It would be revealing to read what Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Swamiji has
said in the
commentary to the Vivekachudamani 254:
स्वस्य अज्ञानं स्वाज्ञानं निष्प्रपञ्चस्वरूपावरकं मूलाज्ञानं…[ Ignorance
pertaining to one’s Self is selfignorance.
It is of the nature of covering, enveloping (AvaraNa) of the Self that is
of the variegated world. This primary ignorance is called: mUlAj~nAnam.
We saw in Shankara’s words above this ‘definition’ of mUlAj~nAnam depicted
Shankara (and the kArikA) goes on to specify what remedies the above
situation of

निश्चितायां यथा रज्ज्वां विकल्पो विनिवर्तते ।

रज्जुरेवेति चाद्वैतं तद्वदात्मविनिश्चय: ॥ २.१८ ॥

रज्जुरेवेति निश्चये, सर्वविकल्पनिवृत्तौ, रज्जुरेवेति चाद्वैतं यथा, तथा ’नेति
नेति’ इति
’आत्मैवेदं सर्वं....एक एवाद्वय’ इति ।

What is to be noted in the above bhAShyam is:
· By the appropriate pramANa there arises the certitude regarding the rope.
· This results in the disappearing of the imagined objects and the man
perceives the rope alone there, and not any other imagined objects.
· Similarly, first the knowledge about the Self arises owing to the
of the right shruti pramANa.
· This results in the falsification of all the imagined attributes of
jivahood, etc.
resulting in the establishing of the advaita AtmA.
· The sequence of the sa.msAra is: the prior mUlAj~nAna results in
subsequent adhyAsa of the sa.msArI and then the sa.msAra.
· The sequence of sa.msAra-nivRRitti is: first mUlAj~nAna nAsha by
securing the right knowledge of the Self resulting in the adhyAsa-nAsha.

What is noteworthy here is that nowhere else Shankara appears to have given
so clear cut
and unambiguous a definition of mUlAvidyA. He explains this in an
sequential order. His explaining the nivRRitti-sequence is what makes the
case even
more unassailable: First the svarUpaj~nana arises and thereafter the adhyAsa
The use of two ‘saptami’ vibhakti (locative case) words in the bhAShyam for
the second
verse makes this unmistakably clear. By His conclusive words in the first
bhAShya ‘इत्येष सर्वोपनिषदां सिद्धान्तः’Shankara confirms that the
adhyAsa is in accordance with the Upanishadic teaching. This brings us to
the ultimate
· Gaudapada, in the inseparable pair of verses quoted above teaches the
cause of
sa.msAra as mUlAvidyA.
· Shankara, in tune with the kArikA, elucidates the above concept in
· The Upanishads are the basis for Gaudapada and Shankara to conclude as
· The sequence admitted by GaudapAda and Shankara based on the Upanishads
is: First the basic ignorance, mUlAvidyA, pertaining to the real nature of
Self. Next the imagining of the jivahood (that he is kartA, bhoktA, etc.).
Next is
the imagining of the entire world of variety (in order to cater to this
jiva’s needs).
· The sequence of sa.msAra-nivRRitti is already delineated above. To recall:
mUlAj~nAna goes, sa.msAritva goes and sa.msAra goes. It is this sequential
scheme that is approved of by the tradition established by Shankara.
It would be of great benefit to dwell on the word ‘advaitam’ of the second
verse above. This is reminiscent of the kArikA I.16:

अनादिमायया सुप्तो यदा जीवः प्रबुध्यते ।

अजमनिद्रमस्वप्नं अद्वैतं बुध्यते तदा ॥

[When the jIva wakes up from his beginningless mAyA-caused sleep, the
knowledge of the advaitam, the Non-dual Truth that is not born, nor dreamer
sleeper arises in him.]
This shows that the Knowledge of the Truth is had in the form of: ‘I am
neither the
jIva (of triad of states) nor the world is mine/for me.’ The Mandukya
seventh mantra teaches that the Turiya is neither the jIva of varied
experiences nor
the jagat he experiences. When the experiencer jIva and the experienced
jagat are
negated, what remains is the Non-dual advaitam, prapa.nchopashamam. It is
advaitam that is spoken of in the current verse: II.18. This shows that
Knowledge arises dispelling the ignorance pertaining to the AtmA, the
jIvahood and
the jagat itself. Thus mUlAj~nAna is removed by samyag-j~nAna dispelling the
jIvaadhyAsa and the jagat-adhyAsa.
Note: The mUlAvidyA spoken of above by Shankara and Gaudapada is what is
understood and presented as ‘jnAna abhAva’ by Sri SatchidAnandendra
Saraswati SwaminaH: //AdhyAsa, of course, presupposes ignorance or want of
true knowledge. But this is a logical presupposition, a necessary
implication of thought.//


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