Error in Cognition (Adhyasa)


Q4-1). What is Adhyasa and Adhyasa Bhashya of Shri Shankara ?

Adhyasa means error. Error which is responsible for appearance of non dual Brahman as individual jiva.

Absolute non-dual Brahman due to ignorance (avidya) appears as individual jiva. Deluded Jiva forgetting own nature as Brahman gets trapped in Samsara. Samsara means constant change.  Everything in the world is constantly changing.  Forgetting that he is Brahman, jiva assumes that he is limited body mind complex  subject to repeated birth and death cycle due to karma. This is called samsari jiva.

The error is due to ignorance. Adhyasa is due to ajnana. Once jiva gains atmajnana through teaching of Vedanta, jiva realizes his true nature as Brahman and gets released from samsaritva.

As introduction to Brahma Sutra Bhashya Shri Shankara writes Adhyasa Bhashya – or about the “error”.

Q4-2) How can the non-dual Brahman appear as Jiva ?

The individuality jivatva is appearance only.  Brahman appears as if (iva)  samsari jiva. The appearance is only relative and not absolute.  Once jiva gains atmajnana, jiva realizes true nature and appears as if (iva) woken up as Brahman. Sri Gaudapadacharya says in Gaudapada Karika

anadi-mayaya supto yada jivah prabudhyate | ajam anidram asvapnam advaitaM budhyate tadA ||
(When the jiva, sleeping (i.e. not knowing the Reality) under the influence of the beginning less maya is awakened, then does he realize (in himself) the Unborn, the Sleepless, the Dreamless, the One without the second.

One story from Puranas to illustrate the effect of Maya :

Sage Narada was closest to Shri Vishnu.  He was celibate (brahmachari) and always chanting name of Shri Narayana.  Being close to Vishnu, he thought he is immune from Shri Vishnu Maya. He developed ego.  Couple of times he told this to Shri Vishnu also. Shri Vishnu decided to teach a lesson for Narada.

One day, Shri Vishnu and Narada were taking a walk  on sea shore. Shri Vishnu asked Narada to fetch a glass of water from nearby village.  Narada went to nearby village.
Narada knocked on a door in the village seeking water.  One beautiful girl opened the door.  Narada forgot all about water ! He requested the girl to marry him. She agreed. They got married. Narada started working in the farmhouse to make a living and raise the family. They had six children and a happy married life.  One day, due to heavy rains the entire household of Narada got washed away in floods. Narada started crying for family.  Suddenly he woke up to see Shri Vishnu standing in front of him and smilingly asking for glass of water.  This is Maya – appearance of time, space, people where there was none !

Q4-3). Please provide Shri Shankaracharya’s view point on how Brahman appeared as samsari Jiva ?

From the absolute standpoint, Brahman has never become samsari jiva. Shri Shankara  in his Bhashaya says :

“This one, the jiva, the transmigrating individual soul; that is asleep, while seeing in both the waking and dream states such dreams as `This is my father, this is my son, this is my grandson, this is my field, these are my animals, I am their master, I am happy, miserable, I am despoiled by this one, and I have gained through this one’, and so on, under the influence of dream that is but maya whose activity has no beginning … having two facets of non-perception of the Reality and the false perception of Reality.

When by a most gracious teacher, who has realized the Truth that forms the purport of the Upanishads, he (the individual) is awakened through the teaching, `You are not a bundle of causes and effects, but `You are That”, then that individual understands thus. How? He knows the birth less, sleepless turiya, since in It there is no sleep or causal state, consisting in the darkness of ignorance that is the cause of birth and so on. Since it is sleepless, therefore It is asvapnam, dreamless, false perception being based on non-perception, nidra. Since It is sleepless and dreamless, therefore the individual then realizes the birthless, non-dual turiya as his Self.”

Being in delusion and becoming free due to knowledge both are not real but appearances only.

One example from our daily experience to illustrate above point :

A lady goes to sleep after hard work.  She has a dream. In the dream she takes the form of a princess Cinderella.  Cinderella goes on a world tour. Visits cities like Paris, London and enjoys life.  She marries a handsome man and has children also. One day she goes for mountaineering. She slips and falls and breaks leg. She starts crying out of pain. She wakes up from the dream.

There was no Paris, no Cinderella, no mountain either. It was all but a dream. The dreamer was sleeping comfortably in the bed. Dream character was not aware of the dreamer.  Dream character was thinking that Paris and London are real. Dreamer is not aware of the dream character and Paris and London either. This is the situation.  Dreamer is an analogy for Brahman. Paris and London is analogy for creation. Cinderella the dream character is analogy for individual – jiva.

Q4-4).  If jiva awakens to realize he is Brahman, the phenomenal world may persist. In that case where there is non duality ?

If Jiva experienced duality to due to ignorance and on awakening due to knowledge realized he is Brahman only, non duality is impossible if it is a fresh realization since phenomenal world continues to be there.  For this Shri Shankara gives answer in the Bhashya

“Such indeed would be the case (yadi prapanchah vidyeta), if the phenomenal world had existence. But being superimposed like a snake on a rope, it does not exist (at any point of time). There is no doubt about this. If it had existed, it would cease to be. (Here the Acharya is considering the question of an actual going-out-of-existence of the world) Certainly, it is not that the snake, fancied on the rope through an error of observation, exists there in reality and is then removed by correct observation. Verily, it is not that the magic conjured up by a magician exists in reality and is then removed on the removal of the optical illusion of its witness.
Similarly, mayamatram idam dvaitam, this duality that is nothing but maya, and is called the phenomenal world is, in Absolute terms, paramartha, non-dual, just like the rope and the magician. (The idea is: the snake in truth is the rope only and the magic-illusion is in reality the magician alone because the illusion was created by the magician by the powers that inhere in him. Even when the illusion was visible to the spectators, it is non-different from the creator-magician.) Therefore, the purport is that there is no such thing as the world that appears or disappears.

Q4-4).  Can you please give an example to illustrate world is an appearance ?

I exist. I am conscious is our experience all the time. There is no proof required for same. However, I cannot  say same about the world. I  have three states – waking, dreaming and deep sleep.  The world we experience in dream is different from waking world. In deep sleep the world disappears altogether. How can we say world is real ?  I also know that my existence in all the three states does not change. Hence “I am” unchanging and real while the world is unreal.

Q4-4). Shri Shankara has given the example of rope and snake for adhyasa. Please explain the analogy.

A traveler sees a snake in while going through the forest. He is scared by the appearance of the snake. On closer examination he finds that it is  a rope not a snake.

This analogy is applicable in the following way to the individual :

– Self – atma stands for the rope. Body-mind is superimposed on the atma to call the individual jiva  ( like superimposed snake).  I am aware that I exist.  My existence never changes over a period of time. I existed 10 years back, I exist now. I exist in waking dreaming and deep sleep state. However body made up of five elements is superimposed on me. I confuse myself with the changing body. Aging of body, death causes fear in me even though I am unchanging Atma.

–  Brahman stands for the rope.  Five elements (pancha bhutas) are superimposed on Brahman. Brahman now appears as world  ( like superimposed snake). World is constantly changing. Changing world is superimposed on unchanging “I” Brahman.

Q4-5) Can you please explain how the mechanism adhyasa happens using rope snake analogy ?

Taking rope snake analogy again we can observe following conditions:

  • The error (adhyasa) happens only when there is partial light.  – ajnana causes adhyasa.
  • There is no error in full day light. – In full knowledge there is no adhyasa.
  • When there is total darkness, rope is not visible and hence there is no adhyasa – ignorance is bliss.

Let us take rope-snake analogy.  There are two aspects for rope – generic and specific. These are called samanya amsha and vishesha amsha.

Example of generic aspect of rope (samanya amsha) –  Length of the rope say 2 meters.

Example of specific aspect of rope (vishesha amsha)   –  Coir rope.

Similarly snake has also generic and specific aspects.

Example of generic aspect of snake (samanya amsha) –  3 meter long

Example of specific aspect of snake (vishesha amsha) – King cobra.

During adhyasa, generic aspect of rope is not changed. It is only specific aspect of rope is superimposed with specific aspect of snake.

Similarly when there is jnana or knowledge of the rope, only specific aspect which was superimposed is removed. General aspect does not change.

Generic aspect of rope is called sathya or anavrutham.

Snake which is specific aspect superimposed – it is called mithya or avrutham.

Adhyasa = sathya+mithya.

During jnana, mithya part is uncovered. Sathya does not change any time. Knowledge involves removing the mithya portion (avrutham) to uncover the samanya and vishesha aspects of rope.


Coming back to individual jiva,  Jiva says  I am samsari.   In this case,  I  stands for consciousness (chit), and am stands for existence (sat).  Samsara is about suffering.  I am is the samanya (anavrutham) aspect of jiva. Samsari is the vishesha aspect which covers the Ananda aspect of jiva.  Samsaritva has come because of superimposition of body and mind on sat-chit aspect (vishesha).

With the knowledge of Tatwamasi, Aham Brahmasmi, Jiva realizes  I am Brahman.  Avrutham vishesha amsha – samsaritva is removed. Jiva realizes sat-chit-anandam as SELF.









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