[Advaita-l] 'samsAra' and 'jagat' - one and the same

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Apr 6 04:47:20 CDT 2014

In common parlance we translate the term 'samsara' to mean 'transmigratory
life' or the 'chain of birth and death', etc.  'Bondage' is another name
for it.

The word 'jagat', world, is generally understood as the observed physical
world made of the elements.

In the work 'Atmabodha' of Shankaracharya we have two verses as below,
consecutively placed:

samsAraH svapna-tulyo hi rAga-dveShAdi-sankulaH
svakAle satyavad-bhAti prabodhe satyasad-bhaavet  6

['samsAra' is akin to a dream, full of desire and hatred.  During the
pendency of the same (dream/samsAra), it appears to be real.  However, upon
waking, it is realized to be unreal/non-existent.]

The next verse is:

tAvat satyam jagad-bhAti shuktikA rajatam yathA
yAvan-na jnAyate brahma sarvAdhiShThAnam-avyayam 7

[The world continues to appear to be real, just as the shell appears to be
silver, so long as brahman, the substratum of everything is not

It is interesting to see that Shankara is making no difference between
'samsAra' and the 'jagat'.

We, however, have a parallel/basis for the above non-differentiation of
samsAra and jagat in the scriptural texts themselves.  For instance, in the
BG 13th chapter, we have the specification of the observed universe
'kShetram', which is also known as aparAprakRti, being only a manifestation
of it. While defining succinctly this kShetram, the Lord teaches in verses
6 and 7:

13.6 The great elements, egoism, intellect and the Unmanifest itself; the
ten organs and the one, and the five objects of the senses;

The bhashya:

13.6 Mahabhutani, the great elements: Those elements which are great owing
to their pervasion of all midifications, and which are subtle. As for the
gross elements, they will be spoken of by the word indriya-gocarah, objects
of the senses.Ahankarah, egoism, which is the source of the great elements
and consists of the idea of 'I'. Buddhih, intellect, the source of egoism
and consisting of the faculty of judgement; ca, and; its cause, the
avyaktam eva, Unmanifest itself, the Undifferentiated, the power of God
spoken of in, 'Maya of Mine...difficult to cross' (7.14). The word eva
(itself) is used for singling out Prakrti (Nature). The Prakrti divided
eightfold The undifferentiated (avyakta), mahat, egoism and the five
uncompunded subtle elements is this much alone. The word ca (and) is used
for joining the various categories.The dasa, ten; indriyani, organs : The
five, organs ear etc., which are called sense-organs since they produce
perception, and the (other) five organs-organ of speech, hands, etc.-which
are called motor-organs since they accomplish actions. They are ten. Ekam
ca, and the one-which is that?-the mind, the eleventh, possessed of the
power of thinking etc. (see fn. on p. 173). Ca, and; the panca, five;
indriya-gacarah, objects of the senses-such objects as sound etc. The
followers of the Sankhya call these which are such the twenty-four
categories.Thereafter, the Lord now says that even those qualities which
the Vaisesikas speak of as the attributes of the sould are certainly the
attributes of the field, but not of the Knower of the field:

Verse 7:
13.7 Desire, repulsion, happiness, sorrow, the aggregate (of body and
organs), sentience, fortitude- this field, together with its modifications,
has been spoken of briefly.


13.7 Iccha, desire: Having experienced again an object of that kind which
had given him the feeling of pleasure earlier, a man wants to have it under
the idea that it is a source of pleasure. That is this desire which is an
attribute of the internal organ, and is the 'field' since it is an object
of knowledge.So also dvesah, repulsion: Having experienced again an object
of that kind which he had earlier felt as a cause of sorrow, he hates it.
That is this repulsion, and it is surely the 'field' since it is an object
of knowledge. Similarly, sukham, happiness- which is favourable, tranquil,
having the quality of sattva-is the 'field' since it is an object of
knowledge. Duhkham, sorrow-which is by nature adverse-, that, too, is the
'field' since it is a knowable.Sanghatah is the aggregate, the combination,
of body and organs. Cetana, sentience, is a state of the internal organ,
manifest in that aggregate like fire in a heated lump of iron, and pervaded
by an essence in the form of a semblance of Consciousness of the Self. That
too is the 'field' because it is an object of knowledge. Dhrtih, fortitude,
by which are sustained the body and organs when they get exhausted-that too
is the 'field' becuase it is an object of knowledge. Desire etc. have been
selected as suggestive of all the qualities of the internal organ.The Lord
concludes what has been said: Etat, this; ksetram, field; savikaram,
together with its modifications beginning from mahat (buddhi); has been
samasena, briefly; udahrtam, spoken of. That 'field' which was referred to
as, 'This body is called the field' (1), and is constituted by the
aggregate of the constituents of the field has been explained in its
different forms beginning from the great elements etc. ending with
fortitude.The Knower of the field whose qualities are going to be
described, and by realizing which Knower of the field along with His
majesty Immortality follows-of Him, togehter with His attributes, the Lord
Himself will narrate in the verse, 'I shall speak of that which is to be
known' (12). But, for the present, the Lord enjoins the group of
disciplines characterized as humility etc. which lead one to the knowledge
of That (Knower of the field)-that group of humility etc. which are
referred to by the word Knowledge since they lead to Knowledge, and owing
to the existence of which one becomes appropriately competent for the
realization of that Knowable, and being endued with which a monk is said to
be steadfast in Knowledge:

One can see that what is generally understood as the physical world, is
also constituted of the jiva's reactions, emotions, etc. like sukha,
duHkha, icchA, dveSha, etc.  which is commonly recognized as samsAra,

So, even according to the Lord the two, samsAra and jagat, are
non-different from each other.  Also, in the scheme of the mandukya
upanishat too, we have the jAgrat, svapna and sushupti, the three states
where the jiva experiences various things.  Finally, the seventh mantra
while negating all this, uses the word 'prapanchopashamam' which means:
devoid of, free of, the prapancha, the world, in other words, the jagat.
 There cannot be any doubt that the experiences had in the three states
will be of the nature of joy/sorrow, pleasure/pain, etc.  This is what
samsAra is.  Yet, one can see how even the upanishad does not make any
distinction between the two: samsara and jagat.

When the Lord specifies the kshetram as the observed, by the kshetrajna,
the observer-consciousness, it includes both the world of objects and the
emotions / reactions like desire, hatred, sorrow, joy, etc.  Both these
categories come under the observed one.

Thus freedom from samsara is freedom from jagat.  Negation/sublation of
samsara is the same as negation of the jagat.  When we say jagat is mithyA
it only means samsAra is mithya, as specified in the verses of the
Atmabodha above.  The primary reasoning being that Shankara uses the
dream/adhyAsa analogy with respect to both samsAra and the jagat.  For the
cessation of 'both' the realization of the Self/svarUpa/Brahman is
essential.  There are no two things, but one alone called by two names.

Om Tat Sat

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list