Aparokshanubhuti (4)
By Adi Shankaracharya (788-820 CE)

Brahman As The Substratum Of All Actions

65. People perform all their actions in and through Brahman, (but on account of ignorance they are not aware of that), just as through ignorance persons do not know that jars and other earthenwares are nothing but earth.

66. Just as there ever exists the relation of cause and effect between earth and a jar, so does the same relation exist between Brahman and the phenomenal world; this has been established

67. Just as (the consciousness of) earth forces itself upon our mind while thinking of a jar, so also does (the idea of) ever-shining Brahman flash on us while contemplating on the phenomenal world.

68. Atman, though ever pure (to a wise man), always appears to be impure (to an ignorant one), just as a rope always appears in two different ways to a knowing person and an ignorant one.

69. Just as a jar is all earth, so also is the body all consciousness. The division, therefore, into the Self and non-Self is made by the ignorant to no purpose.

70. Just as a rope is imagined to be a snake and a nacre to be a piece of silver, so is the Atman determined to be the body by an ignorant person.

71. Just as earth is thought of as a jar (made of it) and threads as a cloth, so is Atman, etc.

72. Just as gold is thought of as an earring and water as waves, so is the Atman, etc.

73. Just as the stump of a tree is mistaken for a human figure and a mirage for water, so is the Atman; etc.

74. Just as a mass of wood work is thought of as a house and iron as a sword, so is the Atman, etc.

= [Stanzas 70 and 73 are illustrative of a set of false knowledge due to an error of judgment, whereas the other three stanzas deal only with imperfect knowledge in which forms are made much of in disregard of substance which is the reality behind them.]

75. Just as one sees the illusion of a tree on account of water, so does a person on account of ignorance see Atman as the body.

76. Just as to a person going in a boat everything appears to be in motion, so does one, etc.

77. Just as to a person suffering from a defect (jaundice) white things appear as yellow, so does one, etc.

78. Just as to a person with defective eyes everything appears to be defective, so does one, etc.

79. Just as a firebrand, through mere rotation, appears circular like the sun, so does one, etc.

80. Just as all things that are really large appear to be very small owing to great distance, so does one, etc.

81. Just as all objects that are very small appear to be large when viewed through lenses, so does one, etc.

82. Just as a surface of glass is mistaken for water, or vice versa, so does one, etc.

83. Just as a person imagines a jewel in fire or vice versa, so does one, etc.

84. Just as when clouds move, the moon appears to be in motion, so does one, etc.

85. Just as a person through confusion loses all distinction between the different points of the compass, so does one, etc.

86. Just as the moon (when reflected) in water appears to one as unsteady, so does one, etc.

87. Thus through ignorance arises in Atman the delusion of the body, which, again, through Self-realization, disappears in the supreme Atman. Which, again .... disappears in the supreme Atman —When one realizes that Atman alone is, and nothing else exists, ignorance with all its effects, such as the delusion of the body and the like, ceases to exist for ever.

88. When, the whole universe, movable and immovable, is known to be Atman, and thus the existence of everything else is negated, where is then any room to say that the body is Atman?


[karma which influences human life in the present incarnation]

89. O enlightened one, pass your time always contemplating on Atman while you are experiencing all the results of Prarabdha [karma which influences human life in the present incarnation]; for it ill becomes you to feel distressed.

= Prarabdha—According to the Karma-theory Prarabdha is that part of our past actions which, through their cumulative force, has given birth to this body.

90. The theory one hears of from the scripture, that Prarabdha [karma which influences human life in the present incarnation] does not lose its hold upon one even after the origination of the knowledge of Atman, is now being refuted.

91. After the origination of the knowledge of Reality Prarabdha verily ceases to exist, inasmuch as the body and the like become nonexistent; just as a dream does not exist on waking.

92. That Karma which is done in a previous life is known as Prarabdha (with respect to this life which.it has brought forth). But such a Prarabdha does not exist (for a man of knowledge), as he has no other birth.

93. Just as the body in a dream is superimposed (and therefore illusory), so is also this body. How could there be any birth of the superimposed (body), and in the absence of birth (of the body) where is the room for that (i.e. Prarabdha) at all?

94. The Vedanta texts declare ignorance to be verily the material (cause) of the phenomenal world, just as earth is of a jar. That (ignorance) being destroyed/ where can the universe subsist?

95. Just as a person out of confusion perceives only the snake leaving aside the rope, so does an ignorant person see only the phenomenal world without knowing the reality.

96. The real nature of the rope being known, the appearance of the snake no longer persists; so the substratum being known, the phenomenal world disappears completely.

= The substratum being known, etc.—This illusory world has Brahman as its substratum which is hidden from one's view on account of ignorance. But when one realizes this Brahman by removing ignorance, one is no more deluded into seeing the phenomenal world which, like all other illusory things, vanishes completely before the knowledge of the truth.

97. The body also being within the phenomenal world (and therefore unreal), how could Prarabdha exist? It is, therefore, for the understanding of the ignorant alone that the Sruti speaks of Prarabdha.

= For the understanding of the ignorant—Those who do not know the highest truth argue that if ignorance with all its effects is destroyed by Knowledge, how does the body of a Jnani live, and how is it possible for him to behave like ordinary mortals? They, however, fail to see that it is they who, being still in ignorance, see the body of a Jnani and speak of him as behaving this way or that, whereas the Jnani himself never sees the body at all, as he is ever established in Atman.

98. “And all the actions of a man perish when he realizes that (Atman) which is both the higher and the lower.” Here the clear use of the plural by the Sruti is to negate Prarabdha as well.

99. If the ignorant still arbitrarily maintains this, they will not only involve themselves into two absurdities but will also run the risk of forgoing the Vedantic conclusion. So one should accept those Srutis alone from which proceeds true knowledge.

= Involve themselves into two absurdities—The upholders of Prarabdha are driven to this absurd position: In the first place Moksha or liberation from the bonds of duality will be impossible for them, as there will always remain a second thing, Prarabdha, along with Brahman; and in the second place liberation, the sole aim of knowledge, being impossible, there will hardly remain any utility of knowledge, and in that case they have to give up the Sruti on which they build their theory, as useless, since the Sruti has no other function but to lead to knowledge. Such are the disastrous consequences one has to encounter if one is to maintain Prarabdha to the end.

Run the risk of forgoing the Veddntic conclusion—The final conclusion of the Vedanta is that there is only one nondual Brahman or Atman which is birthless, deathless and free from all modifications. The world of duality is the creation of ignorance and will cease to exist when the latter is destroyed by knowledge. So persons who maintain that Prarabdha will remain even after knowledge and thus uphold a sort of duality even in the last stage, surely sacrifice the ultimate Vedantic truth which is essentially non-dual in its character.

Those Srutis alone, etc.—The realization of the nondual Atman alone constitutes the real knowledge, and the Srutis are the only means to such knowledge. But all of them do not bring about this knowledge. So those Srutis alone which teach the non-dual Atman and thus directly lead us to the final realization, are to be accepted as the real, and all others that support duality are to be treated as secondary, as they have no direct bearing upon the knowledge of Truth.


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* Translated & Commentary by Swami Vimuktananda