[Advaita-l] adhyAsa - part I

Jay Nelamangala jay at r-c-i.com
Thu May 29 14:09:36 CDT 2003

This is a series on adhyAsa or adhyArOpa - superimposition.
If the moderators of this list have no issues, feel free to post it onto the other
advaita list,   as this series was originally meant for that group.

What is adhyAsa?

Sri VidyAraNya - a great scholar from the advaita school of thought,  has
concisely and beatifully defined it in a work called 
VivaraNa-pramEya-Samgraha (VPS)  as:

"adhyAsastu anyasmin anyatva drishtihi"  
(To superimpose is to mistake one thing for another)

There are several kinds of adhyAsa - jnanAdhyAsa, arthAdhyAsa, itarEtara-adhyAsa etc
We will look into each of them  as we go.

AdhyAsa is "given" in our real world experience just as  "Fire is hot"  is  "given"
in our real world experience.  

We talk to a person in a party thinking that he is our long-lost friend because he
resembles our  friend, but actually that person turns out  to be a stranger.  This happens
in real life to all of us.  This kind of mistaking one for another is called "adhyAsa"

Some of the well known examples of adhyAsa are shukti-rajata and rajju-sarpa.
Any one who has some exposure to vEdAnta will be aware of these examples.
So I will skip those details here.

Advaita-vEdAnta teaches that all activities pertaining to knowledge and its objects
are due to the superposition of Atman and anAtman each on the other.
Atman is denoted by "I" (asmat)   and anAtman by "non-I" or "you" (yushmat)
or what is called "yuShmadasmat pratyaya"

But this superimposition might seem to involve self-contradiction because "I"
and "non-I" are of opposite characters,  just as light and darkness are.  From the
point of view of a particular individual,  Atman is his own self and anAtman is all
that is different from it.  Thus,  there is a clear cut difference between Atman and
anAtman.  There seems to be no confusion between the two.  So,  to say that
they can be superposed,  each on the other,  is not in accordance with their very
nature.    If that is true, then what is this adhyAsa between Atman and anAtman?

We will take three different senses in which the terms Atman and anAtman is used:
1) In common parlance  2) Non-advaita thinkers 3)  advaita-thinkers
and look into each case seperately to see how it works in each case.

( to be continued)
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