[Advaita-l] About 'adhiShThAnam' (substratum)

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Oct 18 06:35:59 CDT 2011

While talking about the common rope-snake illusion we specify the rope as
the substratum (adhiShThAnam) and the snake as the superimposed one
(adhyasta).  However, when it comes to the wrongly imagining oneself to be a
samsarri the question arises as to what the substratum is.  After study of
the shAstra one can easily say that it is the Atman, the Self, that is the
substratum.  In this context Shankaracharya in the 'adhyAsa bhAShyam' raises
a question: How can a superimposition be possible in something that is not
an object of the senses?  It is understandable that someone superimposes a
man in a distant pillar.  Here both the pillar and the man are objects
outside oneself.  But the case of superimposition with regard to the Self is
not of this type.

Shankara replies:  The Self is not absolutely beyond apprehension, because
It is apprehended as the content of the concept 'I'' and because the Self,
opposed to the non-Self, is well-known in the world as an immediately
perceived (i.e.self-revealing) entity.  *Nor is there any rule that *something
has to / can be superimposed on something else that is directly perceived
through the senses; for ignorant ones superimpose the ideas of surface (i.e.
concavity) and dirt on space (i.e. sky) that is not an object of
sense-perception.  Hence there is nothing impossible in superimposing the
non-Self on the Self that is opposed to it.

Now, this observation of Shankara through the words 'Nor is there....' is
worthy of examination.  There are a number of instances in our daily lives
where this kind of a superimposition takes place.  The most common one is
when we are reciting some hymns, say, the Vishnu sahasra nAma.  When the
line *अहः संवत्सरो*  व्यालः प्रत्ययः सर्वदर्शनः   is to be chanted the other
line *अजः सर्वेश्वरः* सिद्धः सिद्धिः सर्वादिरच्युतः  comes up.  In the
Purusha sUktam the words नान्यः पन्था अयनाय विद्यते and नान्यः पन्था
विद्यतेऽयनाय  often get mixed up. This can be seen when a group does the
parayaNam.  The odd man is instantly recognized, much to his discomfiture.
We might think a particular Gita verse is in chapter 4 but only realize that
it is in chapter 5.  One can multiply such instances in any field of
activity.  What is common in all these cases is that there is a bhrama, an
error, a superimposition.  'Taking one thing for another' otherwise called
'atasmin tad buddhiH'  is the feature common to all these errors.  What can
be specified in these cases as the substratum?  Surely one cannot point out
a 'rope' kind of external object as an adhiShThAnam.  Yet does this kind of
error fail to qualify the test when faced with the objection:  ' a
niradhiShThAna bhrama is impossible/illogical' ( an error/superimposition
without a substratum) ?  Surely not.  We only need to specify the
appropriate 'thing' that has been mistaken.

Taking the earth to be stationary is a case in point.  Prior to being taught
about the dynamics of planets one takes the earth to be static because that
is one's experience. In other words, one does not experience the rotation of
the earth. However, upon gaining this knowledge one 'corrects' one's
understanding and is no longer in the 'error' that the earth is stationary,
even though not really experiencing the rotation.  What would we call the
substratum of this error that prevailed prior to getting to know the truth?
It is only the ignorance about the nature of the very earth that we have
been perceiving all along that caused the wrong idea. Here we do not have
'two' objects, a rope and a 'snake' but one object (or subject?) alone, the
earth, whose inherent nature is not known and a nature not inherent in that
object is imagined to be there: 'anyadharmAvabhAsaH'. While the nature of
earth is to rotate, owing to the ignorance of this nature, one thinks that
it is stationary, something that is not its nature. This can be
extended/applied to all other common illusions like the sun rise, sun set,
moon rise, moon set, blue of the sky, blue of the ocean, etc. The common
feature in all these is 'ayathArtha jnAnam', 'erroneous knowledge', with
regard to all these objects/phenomena.

Right knowledge, 'pramA', is defined as 'tadvati tatprakAraka jnAnam' (the
knowledge of an object 'as it truly is')  or 'yathArthAnubhavaH jnAnam'.
Since this does not exist in the cases considered above, it is only the
'ayathArtha jnAnam' or 'anyathAjnAnam' that is experienced prior to knowing
the yAthAtmyam of the object in question.

It is the same case with the object that I had taken up a few months ago -
the 'gumma' or the 'ghost' the mother invokes to create a sense of fear in
the child and make it obey.  Here the true nature of the 'ghost', that it
does not really exist, is not known to the child.  It takes the *mother's
words about the ghost and believes in its existence.*  The gumma-satva
buddhi is generated by the mother's words. This creates fear and obedience
follows. However, as the child grows up, it realizes the true purport /
nature of the mother's words / ghost and no longer experiences fear on that
count. There is a bhrama as long as the true knowledge is not had.  In other
words, the bhrama continues as long as the erroneous knowledge persists.
The onset of the correct knowledge removes, corrects, the erroneous
thinking.  So here the ground of ignorance, error,  is the mother's words
themselves which forms the seed for the child imagining the presence of a
ghost. The true purport of the mother's words the child does not know.  Upon
growing up, once the true purport of her words is realized, there is no
longer the idea of reality attached to the ghost and the consequent fear. In
such cases it is not any outside object that causes fear, etc. but the
ignorance about the true nature of that object. Ignorance is not something
that is absolutely unreal, non-existent, asat, as it, its effect, is very
much experienced. It is not also absolutely real, sat, as it is annihilated
due to right knowledge.  Hence this avidyA is sad-asad-vilakShaNa.  That
such an entity is kAryajanaka, kAryasAdhaka is in everyone's experience.

We are able to distinguish thus the error pertaining to an object physically
existent outside, available to our senses, from the types of error
pertaining to a concept, an idea.  The samsara error is of this type.
Oneself is the substratum on which one superimposes the idea of body, mind,
senses, 'others', other objects, etc. 'anyathAjnAnam' is what this is.
Taking the Self which is of a certain nature to be something of a different
nature. The nature of this ignorance is sadasadvilakShaNa.  It has
kAryajanakatva, produces effect called samsara.  It is not absolutely real
since it is seen to disappear when true knowledge of the Self arises.

Om Tat Sat

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