[Advaita-l] On 'adhiShThAnam' and 'AdhAraH'

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Mar 31 12:13:47 CDT 2013

During the recent meet on nyAyAmRta - advaita siddhi at Bangalore the
eminent scholar Dr.Mani Dravid SastriNaH made known a distinction between
the two terms/concepts 'adhiShThAnam' and 'AdhAraH'.  The context was about
the locus of the superimposition of the entire universe, whether it was
Brahman, the Pure Consciousness, or the jIva or Ishwara.  The distinction
that he made explicit is as follows:

adhiShThAnam:   (generally translated as 'substratum):
भ्रमकारणीभूत-अज्ञानविषयत्वम् ['bhramakAraNIbhUta-ajnAnaviShayatvam'] 'the
object of ignorance that is the cause of the bhrama'.  This is the Pure
consciousness alone, nirguNa Brahman. The entire universe is superimposed
in Brahman, as a result of one's not knowing brahman.

AdhAraH: (could be translated as 'support/abode') अधिष्ठानतावच्छेदकम् आधारः
/ यदवच्चिन्नचैनत्यम् अधिष्ठानं तदाधारः ['AdhAraH or support is that
(object) which circumscribes/limits the adhiShThAnam (substratum) / 'the
limited/circumscribed Consciousness which is now the substratum, (that is
the support, AdhAraH).

To explain, the vyAvahArika world consisting of all vyAvahArika objects
like rope, shell and the like, is superimposed in Brahman-Consciousness
owing to the ignorance pertaining to Brahman-Consciousness. This
superimposition (verily samsAra) goes ONLY upon the realization of the
substratum, Brahman-Consciousness.

On the other hand, the prAtibhAsika things, in an error involving
rope-snake, take place on the support that is rope/shell, etc. which are
themselves superimposed on Brahman.  Thus, the rope/shell, etc. (that are
mistaken for snake/silver etc. in an error) are Brahman-Consciousness alone
limited / circumscribed as it were.  This error goes just upon knowing the
support/AdhAraH and does not call for the knowledge of

Thus, the rope-snake error is a superimposition *ultimately*, paramparayA,
in Brahman-Consciousness, but *immediately*, sAkShAt, in rope/shell, etc.

This explanation came about while replying the objection: if the
objects/world are a superimposition in Ishwara or jIva, they themselves
being mithyA, how can there be a superimposition in the locus that is
itself a superimposition, mithyA (since, in Advaita, ultimately the
entities Ishwara and jIva are not absolutely real).

In the build up to the reply, the learned scholar demonstrated how there
can indeed be a superimposition-chain, अध्यासपरंपरा - A person mistakes a
shell to be a silver object first and then he erroneously thinks that it is
his own and that it is of so much value, weight and so on.  In all this,
the basic object there is the shell alone and the subsequent
superimpositions are on the silver that was first superimposed and so on.

[One can see how the illustration captures the actual
samsAra-superimposition as vividly explained in the adhyAsa-bhAShya - the
preamble to the brahmasutrabhAShya of Shankaracharya]

This distinction is enshrined in ancient texts like the
'samkShepashArIraka', and, of course, the 'advaitasiddhi'.  This concept is
closely related to the other famous verse giving out the Advaitic tenet:

आश्रयत्वविषयत्वभागिनी  निर्विभागचितिरेव केवला ।
पूर्वसिद्धतमसो हि पश्चिमो नाश्रयो भवति नापि गोचरः ॥ (संक्षेपशारीरकम्)

[The locus and object of ignorance is indeed the impartite
Brahman-Consciousness.  The entities that appear later, as products of the
fundamental ignorance, cannot be the locus and object of ignorance.

Om tat sat

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