[Advaita-l] 'Creation' according to Advaita - Part 1

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Fri Dec 10 01:09:41 CST 2010


In the scheme of the Vedanta, the concept of creation, sRShTi, is brought in
as an adhyAropa, a deliberate superimposition, by the shAstra.  This is with
a view to turn the jiva's naturally outward-disposed nature from the
seductive <http://thesaurus.com/browse/seductive> world of objects to the
Creator who has created the perceptible universe.  Once the jiva has
sufficiently grown in vairAgyam and rooted enough in the devotion to the
Creator, Ishwara, Vedanta takes him forward by revealing the nature of
Brahman as free of the attribute of creatorhood or
Ishvaratva/jagat-kAraNatva.  These visheshas that the shAstra attributes to
Brahman, through the agency of mAyA, do not belong to Brahman in the
absolute sense.  Brahman can and does exist without the jagat-kAaNatva
upAdhi, as taught by the pithy term 'prapanchopashamam' in the Mandukya
Upanishad seventh mantra. The correct understanding of 'creation' in the
Vedantic scheme is of crucial importance to the appreciating and the final
realization of Brahman which is the sine qua non for liberation, mokSha.

In the Chandogya Bhashya 6.2.3, Shankara gives two examples, in one place
itself, one of the clay-transformation and the other of rope-snake

//How did that (Sat) visualize (prior to creating)? This is being answered
by the mantra: 'I shall become many, I shall be born excellently', (1) like
earth taking the shapes of pots, etc. or (2) ropes etc. taking the shapes of
snake etc. imagined by the intellect.
Objection: In that case whatever is perceived is unreal, like a rope
perceived in the shape of a snake etc.
Reply: No. Since it is Existence itself that is perceived otherwise through
the duality of different forms, therefore, there is no non-existence of
anything anywhere. That is what we say.
.....But all words and all things that are spoken of with the idea of their
being different from Existence, are Existence only, just as in the world a
rope itself is spoken of as a snake, under the idea that it is a snake, or
as a lump (of clay), pot etc. under the idea that they are different from
clay. //

Here, Shankara is raising the above question and answering it with the view
to preclude anyone from concluding that the Vedaantic Truth is nothing but
shUnya.  Shankara stresses the point that it is Sat, Existence, that is what
appears as the created world and this appearance cannot be without any
basis, substratum.  At the least, the observer who perceives the world
cannot be denied; he cannot deny his own existence.  If he realizes that in
the absence of his observing there cannot be the observed world, in other
words, the observed world depends on the observer consciousness, then there
will be neatly established the Sat, the undeniable existence of the observer
and the Chit, the observer Consciousness that is inevitable in such an

The universe, the effect, before creation, is in the Cause Brahman, 'as
Brahman itself'. It is this Brahman itself that comes to appear, owing to
mAyA, as the universe.  This is said in the mAnDUkya kArikA 3.27. Shankara
provides an introduction to this verse:

   Thus the definite conclusion arrived at by hundreds of Vedic
   texts is that the reality of the Self that is co-extensive
   with all that exists within and without, and is birthless,
   is one without a second, and there is nothing besides. It
   is now said that this very fact is established by reason
   as well:

   sato hi maayayaa janma yujyate na tu tattvataH |
   tattvato jaayate yasya jaataM tasya hi jaayate || 27||

   [Birth of a thing that (already) exists can reasonably be
  possible ONLY THROUGH MAYA and not in reality. For one
   who holds the things take birth in a real sense, ther
   can only be the birth of what is already born. ]

The entire discussion is not ONLY about birth but ALSO about the thing that
is said to be born. In the latter half of this very bhashya Shankara says:

//Or the meaning is this: As the birth, in the form of a snake, etc. of an
*existent thing*, a rope for instance, can reasonably be through mAyA, but
not in reality, similarly though the Self that exists is incomprehensible,
It can reasonably have birth in the form of the universe through mAyA like
the illusion of a snake on a rope, but the birthless Self cannot have any
birth in the real sense.//

Shankara sees that the word 'sataH' in the verse can be seen as the word
denoting 'panchami' and/or 'ShaShThI'. The first means: 'from' the Sat,
Brahman. The second means 'of' the Sat, Brahman. So, the verse serves to
teach both the possibilities: the birth of Brahman as the universe (through
the agency of MAyA) and the birth of the universe ('the thing') from Brahman
through the
agency of mAyA. In both the cases, it is the existent Brahman alone that is
'born', in other words, as the explanation goes, mistaken to be the

 Here we can see that the 'already' existent Brahman alone is seen as the
universe, by mistake, that is through mAyA. Hence, there is no 'thing' other
than Brahman that manifests as the world. Shankara is giving out the
Vedantic position of the world - origination: It is nothing but the
mistaking of the Brahman by the observer as the universe.

We can appreciate how consistent Shankara's explanation above is with the
Chandogya bhashya of the Sat 'creating' or 'originating' the universe
through the 'mistaking', in other words, through the agency of mAyA. It is
the imagining of the universe owing to ignorance/AvaraNa that is meant by
the word 'creation' in Advaita. The Upanishad itself uses the word 'sRShTi'
in its various grammatical forms. Shankara has explained in the
Chandogya.Bhashya I have quoted that when Sat, Brahman, 'creates' the
universe, it is akin to imagining a snake in a rope. This is where Shankara
brings in the agency of mAyA explicitly.

In the very next kArika 3.28, the contrast with the shUnyavAdin is brought
out by showing that creation is an impossibility in their case:

asato mAyayA janma tattvato naiva yujyate
vandhyAputro na tattvena maayayA vApi jAyate

//28 The non-existent (object/universe) cannot be born either really or
through maayaa. For it is not possible for the son of a barren woman to be
born either really or through maayaa. //

To the question: how can the existent, Sat, have any kind of birth
/manifestation through mAyA? the next kArikA replies:

yathaa svapne dvayAbhAsam spandate mAyayA manaH
tathaa jAgraddvyaabhAsam spandate mAyayA manaH

29 As in dreams the mind acts through maayaa, presenting the appearance of
duality, so also in the waking state the mind acts through maayaa,
presenting the appearance of duality.

30 There is no doubt that the mind, which is in reality non—dual, appears to
be dual in dreams; likewise, there is no doubt that what is non—dual, i.e.
Atman, appears to be dual in the waking state.
 31 All the multiple objects, comprising the movable and the immovable, are
perceived by the mind alone. For duality is never perceived when the mind
ceases to act.

(To be continued in Part 2)

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list