[Advaita-l] What causes samsara?

Anand Hudli anandhudli at hotmail.com
Sun Mar 28 11:01:56 CDT 2010

A couple of points could be added here to complement (and compliment!) the original

There was some discussion on this topic sometime ago. Please see, for example:
The nAsadIya sUkta of the Rg Veda (X.129) says तम आसीत् after it has been made clear
that नासदासीत्. What the Veda is saying is that before Creation, only darkness was, even 
non-existence (asat) was not.  ChitsukhAchArya says (tattvapradIpikA or chitsukhi) :
तम आसीत्, मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यादित्याद्यागमोपि तत्र प्रमाणम् । न च तमः शब्देन ज्ञानाभावः 
कथ्यते । नासदासीदित्यभावं व्यावर्त्य तम आसीदिति प्रतिपादनात् ।
The shruti statements, "Darkness was" (Rig Veda nAsadIya sUkta), and "mAyA 
is understood to be prakR^iti (nature)" (shvetAshvatara upaniShad), also 
affirm that ajnAna (as bhAvarUpa). By the word "darkness", an absence of 
knowledge is not stated because (the shruti) excludes (such an) absence by 
declaring "Non-existence (asat) was not there" and "Darkness was." 

The Darkness (tamas) referred to here is bhAva-rUpa-ajnAna. 
The same sUkta also indicates (verse 2) that Brahman, associated with mAyA is the 

source of this universe: 
न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेतः ।
आनीदवातं स्वधया तदेकं तस्माद्धान्यन्न परः किं चनास।।
This is interpreted as follows.
न मृत्युरासीत् - Death was not (did not exist)
न तर्हि अमृतं - Without Death was not (did not exist)
रात्र्या अह्न - Of Night and Day (Of Sun and Moon)
न आसीत् प्रकेतः-  Indication was not (did not exist)
तदेकं॒ - That Reality which is well known in VedAnta as Brahman, One without a second
स्वधया - by the capacity of Its mAyA
अवातम् - that without breath
आनीत् - made breathing
तस्मात् - apart from that Brahman with the capacity of mAyA
अन्यत् किंचन - anything else
न आस - did not exist
प॒रः - the world that was manifested later
न आस - did not exist

(Before Creation) neither Death nor being without Death existed; there was no 

indication of either Day or Night - the Sun and the Moon. The One Reality, Brahman, 

the Unbreathed (Unmanifest), breathed, associated with Its mAyA. There was nothing

else other than that. 

sAyaNAchArya's commentary on this Rik is extensive, so I will touch upon a few points

here. It is important to analyze the word "svadhA". sAyaNachArya says:

स्वस्मिन्धीयते ध्रियत आश्रित्य वर्तत इति स्वधा माया । तया तद्ब्रह्मैकमविभागापन्नमासीत् ।

svadhA means that which is contained within and has its shelter within oneself. This 

svadhA is mAyA, the power or capacity of Brahman. Was this mAyA distinctly existing

apart from Brahman? No. Brahman alone was with Its associated capacity, mAyA.   
If the Brahman is ever free and without any attachments, how is it possible for It to 

be associated with mAyA? This association is an apparent one, not real. This is made

clear as follows. 

यद्यप्यसंगस्य ब्रह्मणस्तया सह संबन्धो न संभवति तथापि तस्मिन् अविद्यया तत्स्वरूपमिव 

संबन्धो अपि अध्यस्यते यथा शुक्तिकायां रजतस्य ॥

Even though Brahman is without any attachments and cannot be related to mAyA, 

still, due to avidyA there is a superimposed relation of same-ness (svarUpa saMbandha), 

just as in the case of the (illusory) silver in nacre. 

Before Creation, the world as we perceive it did not exist. This is what the word paraH


परः परस्तात्सृष्टेरूर्ध्वं वर्तमानमिदं जगत्तदानीं न बभूव इत्यर्थः ॥

Now, a question arises. If Brahman, in association with mAyA, is thus the source of 

the world, can both Brahman and mAyA be held to the material cause of the world?

Brahman is the vivarta-kAraNa while mAyA is the pariNAmi-kAraNa. The

world has mAyA as the material cause but Brahman as the transfigurative material cause. 

The crucial difference between vivarta-kAraNa and pariNAmi-kAraNa is that the 

cause and the effect belong to the same level of reality in the case of pariNAmi-kAraNa

wheras the cause and the effect belong to different levels of reality in the case of the

vivarta-kAraNa. mAyA, the pariNAmi kAraNa of the world has the same level of reality, 

ie. vyAvahArika satya, as the world. The world and mAyA have empirical reality.

But, Brahman, the vivarta-kAraNa, and the effect, the world, are not of the same level of

reality. The world is vyAvahArika satya and Brahman pAramArthika satya. Just as the

illusory snake is superimposed on the rope, the world is superimposed on Brahman. Here,

the superimposed snake is illusory while the rope is empirical, again illustrating 

the principle of different orders of reality.






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