The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary
Kārikā, verse 2.32
न निरोधो न चोत्पत्तिर्न बद्धो न च साधकः ।
न मुमुक्षुर्न वै मुक्त इत्येषा परमार्थता ॥ ३२ ॥
na nirodho na cotpattirna baddho na ca sādhakaḥ |
na mumukṣurna vai mukta ityeṣā paramārthatā || 32 ||
This verse sums up the meaning of the chapter. When duality is perceived to be illusory and Ātman alone is known as the sole Reality, then it is clearly established that all our experiences, ordinary or religious (Vedic), verily pertain to the domain of ignorance. Then one perceives that there is no dissolution, i.e., destruction (from the standpoint of Reality); no birth or creation, i.e., coming into existence; no one in bondage, i.e., no worldly being; no pupilage, i.e., no one adopting means for the attainment of liberation; no seeker after liberation, and no one free from bondage (as bondage does not exist). The Ultimate Truth is that the stage of bondage, etc., cannot exist in the absence of creation and destruction. How can it be said that there is neither creation nor destruction? It is thus replied:—There is no duality (at any time). The absence of duality is indicated by such Scriptural passages as, “When duality appears to exist....” “One who appears to see multiplicity....” “All this is verily Ātman.” “Ātman is one and without a second.” “All that exists is verily the Ātman,” etc. Birth1 or death can be predicated only of that which exists and never of what does not exist, such as the horns of a hare, etc. That2 which is non-dual (Advaita) can never be said to be born or destroyed. That it should be non-dual and at the same time subject to birth and death, is a contradiction in terms. It3 has already been said that our dual experience characterised by (the activities of) Prāṇa, etc., is a mere illusion having Ātman for its substratum, like the snake imagined in the rope which is its substratum. The imagination characterised by the appearance of the snake in the rope cannot be produced from nor dissolved in the rope4 (i.e., in any external object), nor is produced from the imaginary snake or dissolved in the mind,5 nor even in both6 (i.e., the rope and the mind). Thus7 duality being non-different from mental (subjective) imagination (cannot have a beginning or an end). For,8 duality is not perceived when one’s mental activities are controlled (as in Samādhi) or in deep sleep. Therefore9 it is established that duality is a mere illusion of the mind. Hence it is well said that the Ultimate Reality is the absence of destruction, etc., on account of the non-existence of duality (which exists only in the imagination of the mind).
(Objection)—If this be the case, the object of the teachings should be directed to prove the negation of duality and not to establish as a positive fact non-duality, inasmuch as there is a contradiction (in employing the same means for the refutation of one and the establishment of another). If this were admitted, then the conclusion will tend to become Nihilistic10 in the absence of evidence for the existence of non-duality as Reality; for, duality has already been said to be non-existent.
(Reply)—This contention is not consistent with reason. Why11 do you revive a point already established, viz., that it is unreasonable to conceive of such illusions as the snake in the rope, etc., without a substratum?
(Reply)—It is not so. For,12 upon the disappearance of the imagination, the unimagined substratum can be reasonably said to exist on account of its unimagined character.
(Objection)—It may be contended that like the imagination of the snake in the rope, it (the unimaginary substratum) is also unreal.
(Reply)—It cannot be so. For, it (Brahman) is ever unimagined, because it is like the rope that is never the object of our imagination and is real even before the knowledge of the unreality of the snake. Further,13 the existence of the subject (knower or witness) of imagination must be admitted to be antecedent to the imagination. Therefore it is unreasonable to say that such subject is non-existent.
(Objection)—How14 can the Scripture, if it cannot make us understand the true nature of the Self (which is non-duality), free our mind from the idea of duality?
(Reply)—There15 is no difficulty. Duality is superimposed upon Ātman through ignorance, like the snake, etc., upon the rope. How is it so? I am happy, I am miserable, ignorant, born, dead, worn out, endowed with body, I see, I am manifested and unmanifested, the agent, the enjoyer, related and unrelated, decayed and old, this is mine,—these and such other ideas are superimposed upon Ātman. The notion16 of Ātman (Self) persists in all these, because no such idea can ever be conceived of without the notion of Ātman. It is like the notion of the rope which persists in (all superimposed ideas, such as) the snake, the water-line, etc. Such being the case, the Scripture has no function with17 regard to the Ātman which, being of the nature of the substantive, is ever self-evident. The function of the Scripture is to accomplish that which is not accomplished yet. It does not serve the purpose of evidence if it is to establish what has been already established. The Ātman does not realise its own natural condition on account of such obstacles as the notion of happiness, etc., superimposed by ignorance; and the true nature is realised only when one knows it as such. It18 is therefore the Scripture, whose purpose is to remove the idea of happiness, etc. (associated with Ātman) that produces the consciousness of the not-happy (i.e., attributeless) nature of Ātman by such statements as “Not this” “Not this”, “(It is) not gross,” etc. Like the persistence of Ātman (in all states of consciousness) the not-happy (attributeless) characteristic of Ātman does not inhere in all ideas such as of being happy and the like. If it were so, then one would not have such specific experience as that of being happy, etc., superimposed upon Ātman, in the same manner as coldness cannot be associated with fire whose specific characteristic is that of heat. It is, therefore, that such specific characteristics as that of being happy, etc., are imagined in Ātman which is, undoubtedly, without any attributes. The Scriptural teachings which speak of Ātman as being not-happy, etc., are meant for the purpose of removing the notion that Ātman is associated with such specific attributes as happiness, etc. There is the following aphoristic statement by the knowers of the Āgama. “The validity of Scripture is established by its negating all positive characteristics of Ātman (which otherwise cannot be indicated by Scriptures).”
Ānandagiri’s Ṭīkā (glossary):
1 Birth, etc,—Birth or death can be imagined only in the realm of duality. But from the standpoint of the Ultimate Reality duality is as non-existent as the horns of a hare. Therefore, from the standpoint of Reality birth or death is inconceivable, as neither birth nor death can be imagined of the horns of a hare or the son of a barren woman.
2 That, etc.—Birth or death implying an antecedent or subsequent non-existence cannot be conceived of non-dual Ātman which is ever-existent. Further, birth or death implying a change cannot be brought about except by another factor which brings about the change. This position is also untenable from the non-dual standpoint. Non-duality being the only Reality, there is neither birth nor death from the standpoint of Truth.
3 It, etc.—The dealings in the plane of duality, which is illusory, are also illusory from the standpoint of Truth. Therefore all dealings in the dual realm are mere imaginations like our dealings with the false snake perceived in the rope.
4 The ropey etc.—This is the refutation of the realistic contention. The illusion of the mind which perceived the snake in the rope does not exist in the rope. For, such illusion, in that case, would have been experienced by all. When an explanation is sought, from the empirical standpoint, of the illusion of the snake in the rope, it is, no doubt, said that the rope produces the illusion. This explanation may be justified when such illusion is admitted to be a fact. But from the standpoint of the Ultimate Reality, illusion does not exist; hence no birth and disappearance can be predicated of anything non-existent or illusory.
5 Mind—This is the refutation of the contention of the idealists. The illusion of the snake in the rope cannot be produced by the mind. That is because our subjective idea does not correspond to the objects perceived outside. Therefore the illusion cannot be produced by the mind alone. Further, from the standpoint of Truth, mind, associated with its dual functionings (saṅkalpa and vikalpa) does not exist—as a reality. Being non-existent in itself it cannot produce anything new.
6 Both—This may be taken as the refutation of the Kantian view that our perceptions in the dual world are caused both by mind and external objects (things-in-themselves). The contention of Kant cannot also be correct, the thing-in-itself being unknown and unknowable and also being beyond the law of causation cannot produce anything. Again, from the non-dual standpoint both mind and the external object (the thing-in-itself) are known to be non-existent. Hence they cannot produce anything new.
7 Thus, etc.—Dual perception is totally non-different from subjective imagination which produces the illusion of the snake in the rope. All illusory objects being non-existent from the standpoint of Truth, the duality is also non-existent from the stand-point of the Ultimate Reality.
8 For, etc.—It is because in the state of trance or deep sleep, the mind, with its double aspects (of imagination and volition), does not exist. Therefore no duality can be perceived in the absence of the mind.
9 Therefore—It is because duality is perceived when mind functions and it is not perceived when mind does not function. Therefore the existence of duality depends entirely upon the imagination of the perceiving subject.,
10 Nihilistic—This is the contention of the Buddhistic Nihilists who, after the negation of duality, find void as the only Reality.
11 Why, etc.—An illusion cannot exist without a substratum. The imagination or idea of the snake cannot be perceived without the substratum of the rope. Therefore the illusion of duality must have the non-dual Ātman the Knower, as its substratum.
12 For, etc.—Unless one is aware of an unimagincd factor (Ātman), one cannot know that this or any object is unreal. We know of a thing as unreal only as distinguished from something which is real. The illustration of the snake and the rope is given only for the purpose of an analogy. No exact analogy can be given with regard to non-duality as it is one without a second. Analogy always belongs to the realm of duality.
13 Further—Without a perceiver, there cannot be any imagination. Even if our analysis of the dualistic world leads to the experience of the void or total negation, as the Buddhists contend, there must be an experiencer of this negation. If the mind always seeks the cause of the substratum, the discussion ends in a regressus. But even then there is a perceiver of that regressus without which the argument of “regressus ad infinitum” is not possible. Therefore no one can escape the “Perceiver” (Dṛk) which is the Ātman.
14 How, etc.—Scriptures can be applied only to the sphere of duality. In the absence of duality, Scriptures cannot function. In your opinion duality consisting of birth, death, etc., does not exist. Therefore the Scripture is also an illusion. Hence the Scripture cannot remove duality and lead to the realisation of non-duality or Ātman.
15 There, etc.— From the standpoint of ignorance, duality certainly exists as we sec it. Therefore the Scripture is a means to remove this illusion of duality.
16 Notion—The Ātman persists through all our experiences; for at no time is it possible to conceive that Ātman, in the form of the perceiver, (Dṛk) is absent or non-existent.
17 With regard, etc.—The Scripture cannot directly describe the real nature of Ātman. It serves no purpose for the knower of the Ultimate Reality.
18 It is, etc.—The Scripture serves a negative purpose, i.e., it helps us to remove all attributes, which are the ideations (vṛttis) of our mind, generally associated with Ātman. By associating Ātman with any attribute such as the condition of being happy, etc., we make it an object (viṣaya). But Ātman is the eternal subject—or witness of all ideas.