By Adi Shankaracharya (788-820 CE)
Pure Consciousness Appears As The World Through Ignorance
44. As through the ignorance of the real nature of the rope the very rope appears in an instant as a snake, so also does pure Consciousness appear in the form of the phenomenal universe without undergoing any change.
* Without undergoing any change—When a rope appears as a snake nobody can say that any change has been wrought upon the rope. Similarly, pure Consciousness appears as the so-called material universe without undergoing any change whatsoever.
45. There exists no other material cause of this phenomenal universe except Brahman. Hence this whole universe is but Brahman and nothing else.
* This whole universe is but Brahman—because the effect is never different from the cause; a pot is never different from the earth of which it is made. The names and forms that differentiate the effect from the cause are but conventional and are found non-existent when their nature is enquired into.
46. From such declaration (of the Sruti) as “All this is Atman,” it follows that the idea of the pervaded and the pervading is illusory. This supreme truth being realized, where is the room for any distinction between the cause and the effect?
47. Certainly the Sruti has directly denied manifoldness in Brahman. The non-dual cause being an established fact, how could the phenomenal universe be different from It?
48. Moreover the Sruti has condemned (the belief in variety) in the words, “The person who," being deceived by Maya, “sees variety in this (Brahman), goes from death to death’.
* Goes from death to death—i.e. is born and dies again and again. The reference is to such Sruti texts as: "He who sees variety in this (i.e. Brahman), passes from death to death.” (Brih. Up. iv.4.19). In other words, unless a person realizes the non-dual Atman which is evidently without birth and death, there is no escape for him from the cycle of re-births.
All Beings Are Brahman
49. Inasmuch as all beings are born of Brahman, the supreme Atman, they must be understood to be verily Brahman.
50. The Sruti has clearly declared that Brahman alone is the substratum of all varieties of names, forms and actions.
* Brahman alone is the substratum—Just as a rope is the substratum of the illusion of a snake and the like, so Brahman is the substrartum of all names, forms and actions though these are but illusory; for even an illusion requires a substratum for its appearance.
51. Just as a thing made of gold ever has the nature of gold, so also a being born of Brahman has always the nature of Brahman.
52. Fear is attributed to the ignorant one who rests after making even the slightest distinction between the Jivatman and the Paramatman.
* Fear—Fear has its root in duality and imperfection and can be overcome by him alone who realizes non-duality and thus attains to perfection. For such a person there is none to be afraid of and nothing to be gained or lost.
53. When duality appears through ignorance, one sees another; but when everything becomes identified with the Atman, one does not perceive another even in the least.
54. In that state when one realizes all as identified with the Atman, there arises neither delusion nor sorrow, in consequence of the absence of duality.
55. The Sruti in the form of the Brihadaranyaka has declared that this Atman, which is the Self of all, is verily Brahman.
56. This world, though an object of our daily experience and serving all practical purposes, is, like the dream world, of the nature of non-existence, inasmuch as it is contradicted the next moment.
* This world, etc.—We cannot call a thing Sat (ever-existent) merely because it is experienced and has some pragmatic value. In dream we experience things which are valid so long as the dream lasts. But as soon as we awake, they disappear as though they never existed. So also the experiences of our waking state, which are so full of meaning to us, are negated as soon as we enter into dream or deep sleep. This world of waking experience, therefore, is also in the same category of existence as the dream world.
57. The dream (experience) is unreal in waking, whereas the waking" (experience) is absent in dream. Both, however, are nonexistent in deep sleep which, again, is not experienced in either.
58. Thus all the three states are unreal inasmuch as they are the creation of the three Gunas; but their witness (the , reality behind them) is, beyond all Gunas, eternal one, and is Consciousness itself.
* The three states are unreal, etc.—This world of our daily experience, comprising these three states, is produced by the permutation and combination of the three Gunas (components of Prakriti or the primeval substance, viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas). But whatever is a compound must disintegrate and be destroyed. This world being a compound is thus foredoomed to destruction; and so it is unreal, as reality implies indestructibility. Here what has been put forward as a mere proposition in Sloka 56 is conclusively proved, viz. that this world though experienced is unreal. Their witness—When everything in this world is in a state of flux and is changing every moment, what is it that sees these changes? The Vedanta declares that it is Atman, the conscious principle, that witnesses all these changes, itself ever remaining unchanged and unaffected by the Gunas that work these changes.
59. Just as (after the illusion has gone) one is no more deluded to see a jar in earth or silver in the nacre, so does one no more see Jiva in Brahman when the latter is realized (as one’s own Self).
* So does one no more see, etc.—So long as a person is in ignorance, he thinks himself as a Jiva which has an individuality of its own apart from Brahman. But when with the dawn of real knowledge he realizes himself as one with Brahman, this Jivahood appears to him as nothing but an illusion like the illusion of silver in the nacre.
60. Just as earth is described as a jar, gold as an earring and a nacre as silver, so is Brahman described as Jiva.
61. Just as blueness in the sky, water in the mirage and a human figure in a post (are but illusory), so is the universe in Atman.
* So is the universe in Atman—Not only Jiva, but the whole universe is an illusion in Atman. This is illustrated in various ways in Slokas 61—64.
62. Just as the appearance of a ghost in an empty place, of a castle in the air, and of a second moon in the sky (is illusory), so is the appearance of the universe in Brahman.
63. Just as it is water that appears as ripples and waves, or again it is copper that appears in the form of a vessel, so it is Atman that appears as the whole universe.
64. Just as it is earth that appears under the name of a jar, or it is threads that appear under the name of a cloth, so it is Atman that appears under the name of the universe. This Atman is to be known by negating the names.
* This Atman is to be known, etc.—The knowledge of Atman means only the removal of names and forms that are superimposed upon It through ignorance.
* Translated & Commentary by Swami Vimuktananda