adhyAsa Bhashyam

shankaram shankarAchAryam keshavam bAdarAyaNam
SUtrabASykrtau vande bhagavantau punah punaha

SrutismrtipurANAnAm Alayam karuNAlayam
NamAmi bhagavdpAdam shankaram lokashankaram

SUtrabhASyapraNetArau vedAntAbjaprabhAkaru
Vande parasparAtmAnau bAdarAyaNashankaru


In the canon of vedanta litarature, the Brahma Sutram occupies a unique position as the oldest systematic commentary on the Upanishads. Of commentaries on the Brahma Sutram, Shankara's commentary stands pre-eminent in elaborating advaita vedanta according to his tradition, or sampradaya. Whilst there is doubt regarding authorship of some of the works attributed to shankara, there is universal agreement in the tradition that the bhAsyam on brahma sUtram was compsed by Adi Shankaracharya. This is evidenced by the fact that the genesis of post shankara schools arises from sub-commentaries on primarily his brahma sutra bhASyam. In these sub- commentaries (of which the so-called bhAmati and vivaraNa schools are most recognised), the authors profess to be elaborating on shankara's system of advaita, and clearly identify shankara as the author of the bhASyam. 

His astonishing introduction to his Brahma Sutra Bhashyam (BSB), often called the adhyAsa bhASyam, is, in my view, one of the greatest texts written on vedanta, and holds the status for me of a Sruti. For in it, we find no quotation from other shastra in this introduction to support his statements. They are simply outpourings from anubhava, or experience, of an enlightened sage, and which appeal to that sArvatrika-anubhava, or universal experience, that belongs to each and every one of us.

Shankara's adhyAsa bhASyam fully serves the purpose of an introduction. He succintly manages to summarise all the key points that will unfold in his Brahma Sutra Bhashyam, and connects them to the central underlying theme. The them of is work is: " My commentary will explain how the brahma sutram identifies the fundamental obstacle to knowledge, and how the it explains the method used in the Sruti to remove this obstacle, so that ultimate knowledge (which will be defined), is acquired". At one stroke he covers the aim of the work, its purpose, and what the answer is to the basic question above. 

In summary, Shankara clarifies for us that the obstacle to enlightenment is a misconception on our part, which superimposes (mixes up) up the real and non-real, which drives an empirical view of the world as an apparent duality of subjects, objects, and means of knowing these objects. The misconception is innate to us, and tradition gives the technical name adhyAsa to this superimposition. Shankara further defines the avidyA in the Sruti as this adhyAsa. Once this avidyA is removed, what is left is vidyA or knowledge that is the experience of brahman, the Ultimate Reality. Therefore, shankara says, the purpose of the shastra is to reveal brahman by identifying and removing avidyA or misconceptions, so that brahman can shine of its own accord. 

In so doing, in his adhyAsa bhASyam, shankara sows the seed for all the important aspects of his tradition of advaita:

1) What knowledge gives us knowledge of Ultimate Reality?
2)What is the obstacle to knowledge?
3) What is the nature of this obstacle?
4) How is knowledge of brahman attained? What are the means of knowledge, and why is Sruti the ultimate means of knowledge?
5) What is the role and purpose of shastra in revealing this knowledge?
6) What is the method used by the shastra to reveal brahman?

If one had the time, one could take each statement in the adhyAsa bhASyam and unravel it to reveal all of shankara's tradition of advaita. In this article I will simply give a guided tour of the contents of the adhyAsa bhASyam line by line, and highlight the key messages. My rendering of the bhASyam will be as literal and transparent as possible, so the readers scan judge themselves the true meaning for them.

adhyAsa bhASyam is a short text, and one can read it in about 10 minutes or so. I have found it invaluable committing it to memory, so it constantly flows through all my thoughts. I hope by the end of the article the reader has the same feeling about this text as I.

I have referred in brief to the portions of the bhASya discussed at the start of each section. I have followed the bhASyam in the order it was written.

2) The nature of confusion

yuSmadasmat pratyaya….adhyAso mithyeti bhavitum yuktam

In a manner that is classic of shankara's style, the author of the bhASyam begins with an objection. The objection runs as follows: Atman is real, and is the eternal subject I . Everything else is not real, and is perceived as a separate object you (yuSmat). How is it possible to confuse or superimpose(adhyAsa) the distinct concepts (pratyaya) of subject and object (the "I" and the "you"), and related attributes (dharma's), as they are by nature as different as night and day (tamah prakAshavat)? Such confusion should be impossible (mithyeti bhavitum yuktam). Shankara's objection simply states that, in theory, it should be crystal clear to all what reality is, since it is so different from the unreal, so what is all the fuss about, and what is the need to write a whole book about reality and how to perceive it?

Shankara's reply runs as follows:

TathA'pi anyonyasmin,…naisargiko'yam loka vyavahAraha

It is, however, a matter of common experience (loka vyavahAraha), that, through lack of discrimination (avivekena), we superimpose concepts on each other (anyonyasmin, anyonyAtmakatAm) and their attributes (anyonyadharmAn cha adhyasa), even though they and their attributes are utterly distinct in nature (atyanta viviktayoh dharma-dharmiNoh), impelled by false knowledge (mithyAjnAna-nimittaha), it is an innate human error (naisargikah) to confuse the real and the non, real or the "I" and "mine" (satyAnrte mithunIkrtya, aham idam mamedam iti).

In other words, shankara tells us " but common experience shows us that we do it all the time! We see duality where in reality there is none, we mistake one thing for another every day". That we do this is not through any mystery but is innate. The mixing up is adhyAsa. Shankara will later go on to say that this adhyAsa has always been there, and is therefore beginingless. It is important to make an important clarification here. Shankara proceeds on the same basis as the Sruti, which takes it as axiomatic that brahman is the ultimate reality. We find very few instances where discussions occur to "prove" that the correct view of the world is that there is an Ultimate Reality called brahman. For shankara and the Sruti this was self evident that Atman is self -established (swayam prasiddhatwaat). Viewed from this transcendental viewpoint of reality it is clear why shankara views this mixing of the real and the non real as an error. This is fundamental to understanding shankara's tradition of advaita. All that is required for knowledge is to remove this error to reveal brahman, and the universe will naturally be seen in its true light

NB: A side note for the specialists. If you want to stick to the essence of the meaning, skip the next paragraph

In this passage we find the first divergence of opinion amongst post shankara commentators. In the panchapAdikA sub-commentary, attributed to padmapAda, the word mithyAjnAna is explained as "mithyA cha tat ajnAnam cha", meaning an unreal ignorance. The other way to decompose this word is as "mithyA cha tat jnAnam cha", meaning a misconception, or false knowledge. Using the former definition , the sub-commentator has explained that the cause of this adhyAsa or avidyA is some other material caus( upAdAna kAraNa) that he defines as a mysterious avidyA shakti, that is indescribable (anirvachaneeya), and inert (jaDAtmikA). The later writers have used the term mulAvidyA, or Root Ignorance, for this material cause, and equate it with the term mAyA. This gives a different flavour to the nature of avidyA than a literal reading of mithyAjnAna. The question as to whether shankara really meant just false knowledge or something more mysterious is the subject of great debate. This is not the place to go in to this in detail. I will be explaining the adyAsa bhASyam using the literal meaning of simply false knowledge.

3) How is adhyAsa defined?

"Aha ko'yam adhyAso nameti"……"ekah chandraha sat dwitIyavat iti"

Shankara now proceeds to give various definitions accepted by the tradition as follows, and tries to identify the underlying theme:

In response to the question, "so, what is adhyAsa (ko'yam adhyAso nAmeti), shankara replies that it is the nature of something remembered (smrti rUpah), or the impression of something seen in the past (paratra pUrvadrSTAvabhAsah). By this he wishes to confirm that it is a mental notion. He further goes on to give 3 definitions from tradition:

i) Some say it is simply the superimposing the qualities of one thing (anyadharmAdhyAsah) on another (anyatra)
ii) Others say it is a a confusion of our faculty to discriminate (tat vivekAgraha-nibandhano bhrama iti)
iii) Others further says it is the superimposing 2 things and their attributes that are of opposite nature (tasyaiva vipareeta dharmatwa-kalpanAm Achakshate iti)

Shankara then explains that the common thread running through all definitions is that of confusing one thing and its attributes with another (anyasya anydharmAvabhAsatAm na vyabhicharati). For, it is a matter of common experience (tathA cha loke anubhavah), where we all have confused one thing for another. Two examples are given: confusing silver for nacre (shuktikA hi rajatavat avabhAsate, and when, due to a trick of the light, one moon is seen as two (ekah chandra sad-dwiteeyavat iti)

Put simply, our ignorance is confusing one thing for another, which in the context of vedanta, is confusing the world of duality for the real world, whereas the real world is one where no duality exists. This confusion is an experience, and therefore its existence does not need to be proved or disproved. Sureswara says this in his vArtikA:

Atah pramANato'shakyA'vidyA'syeti vIxitum
KIdrshI vA kuto vAsAvanubhUtyekarUpatah
Sambandha Vartika 184

In fact, one can never know ignorance as belonging to any one, neither determine its nature nor conceive how it can possibly be at all, for it is essentially the nature of experience itself

(by the way, this affirms that, in shankara's tradition of advaita, it is futile trying to establish the cause of avidyA, as, once it is recognised and removed , it is seen to never have existed at all! This is why shankara never taxes himself with detailed discussions concerning where does this avidyA come from, and to whom does it belong, as these matters become totally irrelevant once atman is known. Later followers of shankara chose not to let the matter rest, hence the elaborate theories regarding the root cause of avidyA, and various discussions of the locus of avidyA. One imagines that, should these discussions have happened in front of shankara, he would have given them short shrift by saying something like "its about brahman, not avidyA! Don't get distracted!")

4) Further clarification that adhyAsa is possible

katham punah pratyagAtmanyaviSaye…evam aviruddhah pratyagAnmanyapi anAtmAdhyAsah

To further clarify Shankara's statement that adhyAsa is a matter of common experience, he next raises an objection, which is then answered. The objection runs as follows:

We can accept the superimposition of two objects in front of us (sarvo hi puro'vasthhite viSaye, viSayAntaram adhyasyati). But, how can the atman that you claim is ever the subject (aviSayatwam bravIshi) be confused with something that is the not Atman, expressed as "you"!

Shankara has essentially restated the original objection in a different way. His reply is as follows:

It is not unusual at all that such superimposition occurs regarding atman (na tAvat ayam ekAntena aviSayah), for in empirical life the atman is referred as the object of the "me" notion (asmatpratyayaviSayatwAt aparoxatwAt cha). Secondly, there is no rule that says only two perceived objects in front of one can be confused (na chAyam asti niyamah puro'vasthite eva viSaye viSayAntaram adhyasitavyam iti). For, the sky is imperceptible, yet children confuse dirt in the sky as having made the sky dirty (apratyakhse'api hyAkAshe bAlAh talamalinatAt adhyasysanti). Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that the imperceptible atman that is the eternal subject, can be confused with objective phenomena around us. (evam aviruddhah pratyagAtmanyapi anAtmAdhyAsah)

5) Adhyasa is avidyA

tamatem evam laxanam adyAsam paNDitA avidyeti manyante, tadvivekena cha vastuswarUpAvadhAraNam vidyAm Ahuh. Tatraivam sati yatra yadadhyAsah tatkrtena doSeNa guNena vA aNumAtreNApi sa na sambadhyate.

Now we come to an important part of the bhashya. Shankara here explicitly defines that confusing of the real and the non real, that is adhyAsa (tametam evam laxaNam adyAsam), that results in the apparently real world of duality of subjects, objects and means of knowledge , as being called avidyA in the shAstras by the learned (paNDItA aviyeti manyante). In contrast, ascertaining the true nature of things though discrimination is called vidyA (tadvivekena cha vastuswarUpAvadhAraNam vidyAm Ahuh). In addition, to clarify, where avidyA operates, it does not in any way affect the substrate at all as a result of the perceived acts, defects, qualities etc that avidyA may imply as being atman (Tatraivam sati yatra yadadhyAsah tatkrtena doSeNa guNena vA aNumAtreNApi sa na sambadhyate).

Atman is never tainted by the effects of Ignorance

We find in the vArtikAs and kArikAs numerous statements that describe avidyA as that which results in a confusion of the real and non real. There are also descriptions of subtle shades of this false knowledge (mithyAjnAna) that is avidyA (nature of samshaya, of "I do not know") etc, but the core definition of avidyA is that given by shankara here in the bhASyam. In upedasha sAhasrI he beautifully elaborates his definition, to directly link adhyAsa with the world of samsAra and duality:

"Twam paramAtmAnam santam asamsAriNam samsAryaham asmIti viparItam pratipadyase, akartAram santam karteti, abhoktAram santam bhokteti, vidyamAnam cha avidyamAnamiti, iyam avidyA" (US II 50)

"You are the non-transmigratory self, but you wrongly think that you are liable to transmigration. In the same way, not being a doer/agent, an experiencer, a knower, you mistake yourself to be these. This is avidyA"

Sureshwara also beautifully summarises shankara's bhASya so far, in an unrelated verse:

AntaryAmI tathA sAkshI sarvagyashchetyavidyayA
MiththyAdhyAsaishcha tat karyaihi aprameyam prameeyate
BBV 2.3.10

"That Innner Dweller, The Witness, all knowing and un objectifiable, appears to become a separate object through the false superimposition that is aviydA"

Anywhere the notion of "I am an agent, doer, thinker," arises, then avidyA is there, as it implies a distinct separate doer/agent/knower, and an object that is to be done/achieved/known. This leads perfectly to the next astonishing segment of the adhyAsa bhASyam:

6) All secular activities that presuppose a separate doer etc are in the field of avidyA, even the veda's!

tametam avidyAkhyam AtmAnAtmanoh iteretarAdhyAsam puraskrtya sarve pramANa-prameya vyavahArAH, laukikAh vaidikAh cha pravrttAh sarvANI cha shAstrANi vidhi-pratiSedha-moxaparANi

This statement can be a bombshell for those not acquainted with the subtler meaning of vedanta . And was certainly an epiphany for me in my early vedanta studies. For, shankara declares without hesitation that all empirical activities where separate subjects and objects are perceived, (sarve pramANa-prameya vyavahArAH), both day to day and vedic (laukikAh vaidikAh cha) operate in the field of avidyA (tametam avidyAkhyam AtmAnAtmanoh iteretaram adhyAsam puraskrtya). So do all shastras (sarvANI cha shAstrANi) that pertain to injunctions, prohibitions and discussions of liberation (vidhi-pratiSedha-moxaparANi). In other words, all discussions of injunctions , vedic ritual including pooja havan, meditation etc, even talk of liberation itself are in the field of ignorance. Why is this so? shankara anticipates that this would be a question, and raises it himself next as an objection, followed by the answer. The objection runs as follows:

Katham punaha avidyAvatviSayAni pratyakshAdini pramANAni shAstrAni cha iti?

How can all means of knowledge (pramANani) and the shAstra's have ignorance as their locus?

The response is as follows:

Uchyate dehendriyAdiSu….pramANAni shAstrANi cha

Since a man without self identification with the body, mind and senses etc cannot become a knower, and as such,the means of knowledge cannot function for him, (dehendriyAdiSu ahammamAbhimAnarahitasya pramAtrwAnupapattu pramANapravrttyanupapatteh). Since perception and other activities (of such a cogniser) are not possible without accepting the senses etc as belonging to him (na hIndriyANyanupAdAya pratyakshAdivyavahArah sambhavati). Since the senses cannot function without the body as a substrate (na cha adhiSTHAnamantareNa indriyANam vyavahArah sambhavati). And, since nobody engages in any activity with a body that has not the idea of the self superimposed on it (na cha anadhyasta AtmabhAvena dehena kashchit vyApriyate), even though the self it is unattached and cannot become a knower unless there are all of these above notions(na cha etasmin sarvasmin asati asangasyAtmanah pramAtrtwam upapadyate). And since the means of knowledge cannot function without a "knower" (na cha pramAtrtwam antareNa, pramANa-pravrittirasti), it therefore follows that all means of knowledge, such as direct perception as well as the shastras are in the field of avidyA, as they are based on the basic adhyAsa that one is a distinct knower (tasmAt avidyAvadviSayAnyeva pratyakshAdIni pramANAni shAstrANi cha)

Put simply, for the means of knowledge to operate, it requres the notion of a doer, and the notion of a doer is the result of superimposition on the unattached Atman. In other words, as soon as one falsely identifies the self as a pramAtr, ie an agent, or doer, then all fields that operate are in the field of avidyA. ShAstra, means of knowledge etc, since they require a distinct doer, are therefore bound in the field of avidyA.

Side note:

For those not familiar, the concepts of prAmtr prameya etc are defined in the nyAya shAstra as follows:

Yasya prepsAjihAsAprayuktasya pravrttih sa pramAtA
One who is urged to get or avoid something and therefore engages in enquiry (because he wants to know things correctly) is pramAtr

YenArtham pramiNoti tat pramANam
That by means of which he ascertains his object is prameya

Yo'rthah pratIyate tat prameyam
The object ascertainable is prameya

YadarthavijnAnam sA pramitih
The correct ascertainment of the object is pramiti

These concepts are fundamental to enquiry of reality in the Indian systems of philosophy. We are a sea of pramAtr's in a world full of objects to be known, known as pramANa-prameya vyavahAra. It is advaita, particularly as expressed in Shankara's school, where it is declared that such distinction of the world into a duality of distinct subjects and objects is an illusion, driven by the innate trait of superimposing on the atman the concept of pramAtr-hood. Gaudapada declares elsewhere , "mAyAmAtram idam dvaitam, advaitam paramArthatah", this world of duality is false, the supreme reality is advaita. This process of confusing the atman as distinct pramAtr is the subject of adhyAsa bhASyam.

7) In the matter of empirical life, human procedure is identical to all animals

pashwAdibhishcha avisheSAt….tat kAlah samAnah iti nischIyate

The world as perceived when the notions of pramAtr, prameya and pramANa are assumed to exist is called the empirical standpoint in the shankara's bhashyas (vyavahAra drSTI). When these notions have been abandoned, the world is in its true light from the standpoint of supreme reality (paramArtha drSTI). It is vital always to understand in shankara's bhashyas which standpoint is being adopted for an argument, otherwise it can lead to massive confusion. In the next section of adyAsa bhASyam, shankara amplifies the point that the empirical world conjured through this avidyA is a matter of common experience that we share with all living beings.

For animals, when they hear a sound they believe is dangerous, they turn away, and move towards that which seems safe (YathA hi pashwAdayah shabdAdibhih shrotrAdInAm sambandhe sati shabdAdivijnAne pratikUle jAte tato navartante, anukUle cha pravartante), and they turn towards someone holding green grass, and shie away from one holding a stick, thinking that they will be beaten (yathA daNdodyakaram puruSam abhimukham upalabhya, mAm hantum ayam icchhatIti palAyitum Arabhante, harita-trNa-pUrNa-pANim upalabhya tam pratyabhimukhI bhavanti). In the same way wise humans are repelled by strong, riotous people with menacing looks and swords drawn, but drawn to those opposite in nature (evam puruSa api vyutpannachittAh krUradrSTIn Akroshatah kaDgodyatakarAn balavata upalabhya tato nivartante, tatviparItAn prati pravartante). In this way, the behaviour of humans and animals in the empirical sphere of subjects and objects is identical (atah samAnah pashwAdibhih puruSANAm pramANa-prameya-vyavahArah)

To further clarify, shankara goes on to say that it is of course well known that animals use their means of perception without the benefit of discrimination etc (pashwAdInAm cha prasiddho'vivekapurassarah pratyakshAdivyavahArah). From this we can conclude that from the empirical standpoint, the means of perception employed by the wise and animals are identical (tat samAnyadarshanAt vyutpattimatAm api puruSANAm pratyakshAdivyavahArah tatkAlah samAnah iti nischIyate)

So, what is the point of the above? Simply to say that the instinctive behaviour of humans in the empirical field is due to a series of misconceptions due to a non-discrimination between the Atman and the non-Atman, and that humans share this behaviour with the rest of the animal kingdom. Now humans, apart from their faculty of discrimination, must be different somehow, and therefore not subject to avidyA? Shankara deals with this objection in the next section.

8) The shastra's are ever bound in the field of avidyA as they must presuppose a distinct agent

shAstriye tu …….Ashritya pravartante

Shankara says that it is indeed true, that one must have some notion of self as distinct from this life and the hereafter to perform karma's (shAtriye tu vyavahAre yadyapi buddhipUrvakArI nAviditwA Atmanah paralokasambandham adhikriyate). However, such a person has not cognized the true self which, according to vedanta, is beyond hunger and thirst, beyond the distinctions of caste, and beyond the notions of rebirth from one life to the next (tathApi na vedAntavedyam, ashanAyAdyatItam, apetabrahmakshatrAdibhedam, asamsAryAtmatattwam adhikAre apekshyate). In fact, the ultimate knowledge that Atman as a non-agent is not only a useless notion for one engaged in acts to be performed, but is in fact diammetrically opposite to it! (anupayogAt, adhikAravirodhAt cha).

So, all human behaviour, whether secular, vedic or employing means of valid knowledge are in the realm of avidyA. Now, it is clarified that even the shAstra laying out injunctions also operate in the field of ignorance. Shankara says that:

For, before the dawn of real knowledge, all shAstra's can never transcend the field of avidyA (prAk cha tathA bhUtAtmavijnAnAt pravartamAnam shAstram avidyAvadviSayatwam nAtivartate). For, in the example injunction "a brahmin should offer sacrifice", the notion of caste, being an agent, being at a certain stage in life, etc have first to be superimposed on the changeless, eternal Atman before such a sentence can make any sense! (tathA hi brAhmANo yajeta ityAdIni shAstrANi Atmani varNAshramayo'vasthhAdi-visheSAdhyAsam Ashritya pravartante)

This section can be distressing to those who have, all their life, depending on performing japa, pooja, homa, or following injunctions as a means to secure revelation. In contrast, such activities must presuppose a distinct notion "I am doing such and such", which puts them in the field of ignorance. Shankara elsewhere explains that, when such acts are performed without desire for fruit, by recognising the there is no "doer", then they inculcate the desire for brahmavidya, which takes the aspirant closer to realising the message of vedanta.

9) Various examples of adhyAsa elaborated

adhyAso nAma… adhyasyati.

Shankara now gives various examples of this adhyAsa, which he defines again as the cognition of one thing as something else (adhyAso nAma atasminstadbuddhih ityavochAma). The first example is one where, when family members are sick or well, we feel sick or well too, because of the attachment (tadyathA putrabhAryAdiSu vikaleSu sakaleSu vA, aham eva vikalah sakalo vA iti bahyadharmAn atmanyadhyasyati). The next example relates to attributes of the body (tathA dehadharmAn), where we say "I am fat", or "I am thin", or "I am fair"; "I stand, I go, I limp" etc (sthhUlo'ham, krsho'ham, gauro'ham; tiSThAmi, gachhAmi, langhayAmi cha iti). The next examples relate to the senses and organs (tathA indriyadharmAn), such as "I am dumb, I am one-eyed, I am a eunuch, I am deaf, or I am blind (mUkah, kANah, klIbah, badhirah, andho'ham iti). Finally, the attributes of the internal organ , when one superimposes the notions of will, doubt, perseverance etc (tathA antahkaraNadharmAn: kAma-sankalpa.vichikitsAdyavasAyAdIn).

In this way , one firstly superimposes the internal organ possesed of the ego notion, on the innermost Atman which is the eternal Witness (evam ahampratyayinam asheSaswaprachArasAkshiNI pratyagAtmanyadhyasa), and then in the opposite direction, one superimposes on the internal organ that Atman which opposed to non-Atman, and is the witness of everything (tam cha pratyagAtmAnam sarvasAkhiNam tadviparyayeNa antahkaraNAdishwadhyasyati). 

Here, shankara comes full circle, and reiterates the opening section of adhyAsa bhASyam, showing how the Atman, the Witness that is ever unattached, can be confused to be the notion "me", and be confused with the non-Atman expressed as objects, or the notion "you". The inner organ referred to by shankara is none other than the manas, or mind (see shankara's commentary on BSB 2-3-32). It is possible that shankara had in mind the famous verse in Swetaswatara Upanishad, which describes atman as sAkhI or witness:

Eko devah sarvabhUteSu gUDHah sarvavyApI sarvabhUtantarAtma
KarmAdhyakshah sarvabhUtAdhivAsah, sAkshI chetA kevalo nirguNashcha (Swe 1-6)

That one Shining One is hidden in all beings, is all pervasive and the innermost Atman of all
It is the overseer of all actions, the indweller in all beings, the Witness, Pure Consciousness, that which is all that is left (when avidyA removed), and is beyond all qualities.

These examples only are given to show it is a matter of common experience that we mistake one thing for another. Elsewhere, the example of the rope and snake is given. In particular, we confuse the Atman with that which is non-Atman. Until this basic confusion is removed, enlightenment is not possible. This is how shankara wraps up his adhyAsa bhASyam and sets up his commentary on the brahma sutram:

10) The purposed of the brahma sutram and shankara's commentary is to expose the fundamental flaw that is avidyA, and remove it

evam ayam….pradarshayiSyAmah

In wrapping up, shankara re-iterates all the main elements of adhyAsa, and the results, saying:

Thus occurs this superimposition , or adhyAsa, which is beginningless and endless (anAdiranantah), which is innate (naisargikah adhyAsah), which is of the nature of a false notion or knowledge (mithhyApratyayarUpah), is the basis for all notions of agentship and enjoyership (kartrtwa-bhoktrtwa-pravartakah), and is a matter of common knowledge to all of us (sarva-loka-pratyakshah). To eradicate this fundamental source of destruction of true knowledge (asyAnarthahetoh prahANAya), and establish the unity of Atman (atmaikatwavidyA pratipataye), all the vedanta's are begun (sarve vedAntA Arabhyante). That this is the purport of all the vedanta texts, we shall begin this work on the shArIrika mImAmsa, known as the brahma sUtram (yathA chAyam arthah sarveSAm vedAntAnAm, tathA vayam asyAm shArIrika-mImAmsAyAm pradarshayiSyAmah).

In summarising, shankara, restates the basic nature of adhyAsa, and, more importantly that this avidyA is the only obstacle to true knowledge. Therefore, hew declares, the purpose of all the vedanta texts is simply to remove this avidyA, and establish Atman or brahman as the only reality. As such the shAstra's are called the Ultimate Pramana (antyam pramANam), because they remove misconceptions that come from Ignorance. For, once these misconceptions are remeoved, Atman will shine of its accord, and there will be nothing more to be done


In his brief introduction, shankara tells us the reason we cannot attain enlightenment. It is because it is in our nature to mix up the real and not real, and therefore perceive a world of duality with multiple knowers/doers/subjects and things to be known/done/objects. In particular, we falsely confuse the eternal Atman, that is our innermost self and is The Witness with no role in empirical life, to be acting as an agent . This confusion is innate to us, and is a matter of common experience requiring no proof. It is is beginningless and endless in the sphere of the empirical universe. This confusion, or superimposition is the basic ignorance that results in this world of duality. The world of duality fashioned by avidyA is termed to be mAyA, or illusion, as it can only be perceived once this basic superimposition has occurred., and all activities including the secular and vedic fall into the field of ignorance as they must presuppose a distinct doer. The purpose of the vedanta texts is to point out this ignorance as essentially the nature of a false mental notion, and remove all misconceptions, to reveal the nature of Atman. A thorough understanding of adhyAsa bhASyam, therefore, is vital to understanding the texts of vedanta and shankara's bhASyas in particular. It is for this reason that this text is held in such high regard, and deserves to be studied by all serious students of vedanta

Harih Om
Sri krSNArpaNamastu