Adhyaasa (superimposition) in Science and Advaita

We all perceive objects and beings with the senses, conceive ideas with the mind and we have an awareness of ourselves. Everything that we know and experience can be broadly brought under three – matter, mind and consciousness.

A goal of science and philosophy is to come up with a model that will explain all our experiences. The first question is, “Is there one fundamental entity of which the other two are made of?” If we assume, “No”, it is called pluralism. If we assume, “Yes”, then it is called monism. Based on what is considered as the fundamental entity, there are three monistic philosophies.
1. Matter as the fundamental entity – Chaaruvaaka (Realism)
2. Mind as the fundamental entity – Buddhism (Idealism)
3. Consciousness as the fundamental entity – Advaita Vedanta (no equivalent in Western philosophy)

Science follows realism, which is also called materialistic monism. Here matter is the fundamental entity. Mind emerges from matter. Consciousness emerges from mind. This concept is called “emergence” in Western philosophy. The concept of “emergence” is the equivalent of “superimposition” (adhyaasa) in Advaita Vedanta. So, in Realism, the mind is a superimposition on matter and consciousness is a superimposition on the mind. Similarly, in case of Idealism, matter and consciousness are superimpositions on the mind. In Advaita Vedanta, matter and mind are superimpositions on the consciousness. In all the three cases, finite individuality is only an imagination.

Now, the question as to which of these three is the reality is unprovable. So, any of them can be taken and a complete logical system can be built around it. However, if I choose realism, then “I” am reduced to a non-existent entity. If I choose idealism, then “I” am reduced to a temporary entity. If I choose Advaita Vedanta, then “I” become the Eternal Infinite Partless Conscious Existence.

Given these three choices, with no way to prove or disprove any of them, I would prefer Advaita Vedanta to science. I would prefer to exist eternally as Infinite Consciousness than not to exist at all.

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7 Responses to Adhyaasa (superimposition) in Science and Advaita

  1. Arnab Lahiri says:

    Dear Gomu Ji

    An excellent post again explaining the concepts of Realism, Idealism and Advaita Vedanta in simple terms.

    The reason why any species indulge in growing progeny is because they want to preserve their gene pool. It is a method to avert death and extinction. If not me, if not this body then my genes will! This shows that we are intrinsically programmed to produce offspring and thus indulge in the process also. To protect the gene pool we show behaviors such as altruism even. This is what the writer claims in Selfish Genes.

    It is said that the entire concept of Atman, the existence of life after death in (most of) religion is also because of that. The reason being same- No one wants to die. You wrote- I would prefer to exist eternally as Infinite Consciousness than not to exist at all. So, does Vedanta also subscribe to this theory either directly or in directly “the preserve of I–ness”

    Just shared a thought that was there in my mind. Will like to read your opinion on the same.

    Thanks and regards,


    • gokulmuthu says:

      Dear Arnabji,

      There is a beautiful quote:

      asthaadasheshu puraaneshu vyaasasya vacanam dvayam
      punyaaya paropakaaraaya paapaaya parapeetanam

      In all the eighteen puraanaas, Vyaasa’s message is only two:
      It is good to help others and bad to harm others.

      Here is another beautiful quote:

      aahaara nidraa bhayam maithunam ca saamaanyam etat pashubir naraanaam
      dharmo hi eko adhiko visheshaha dharmo viheenaam pashubir samaanaam

      Eating, sleeping, self-preservation and procreating – are common to animals and humans
      It is only the sense of right and wrong that is special in humans. Without following that, humans are equal to animals.

      Self-preservation is an instinct in even the lowest of animals too. You do not need a book or philosophy or religion to ask a person to preserve his body. So, the objective of religion or philosophy cannot be that. The objective is the opposite – to make people unselfish, to make people help others even at the cost of their own life. Swami Vivekananda said that he is ready to take a thousand births to help one person. Jesus said that the purpose of his life is to serve others. Swami Vivekananda said that to be pure and to serve others is the gist of all worship. The gene is selfish. The objective of all spiritual practices is to get out of the clutches of this biological and psychological conditioning. When a person is absolutely free from all desire to preserve his body, please his body, possess objects, possess people, be appreciated by people, etc. that is when he has attained spiritual perfection. It is exactly the opposite of the selfish gene concept.

      It is almost impossible to give up the sense of ‘I’. So Advaita Vedanta takes the alternate approach where it blows it up to infinity and thus there is no individuality left. Finally the sense of ‘I’ has to go. Advaita Vedanta is a more practical approach.

      Vedanta also provide the “gradual path to liberation” – “krama mukti”. First replace all desire for things of this world by desire for God in the form of Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, etc. Then in a different loka, like Vaikuntha, Kailasa, Goloka, etc respectively, where you will be free from bodily troubles like hunger, thirst, etc, focus on the next part where you can become free from all traces of individuality by attaining knowledge.

      Advaita Vedanta provides means to total liberation here and now while living (jivanmukti). Liberation means freedom from the sense of individuality. This is exactly the opposite of the selfish gene concept.

  2. Arnab Lahiri says:

    Dear Gomu Ji


    Thanks for such a wonderful explanation. I was carried with your last line of the blog- I would prefer to exist infinitely… And the other reason was what I mentioned- Theory of the eagerness (compulsion?) to preserve the gene pool.

    Your post answered my question. We always wait to read more of your post. Keep writing.

    Thanks and regards,

    God bless


  3. sankhdip says:

    Respected Gomu Ji

    Just ask for clarification regarding your sentence given below.
    “….However, if I choose realism, then “I” am reduced to a non-existent entity. If I choose idealism, then “I” am reduced to a temporary entity. …”
    Does it mean if i consider as body then sooner or later i shall perish, an if i consider myself as mind then how it could be a temporary. Mind is staying as long as body stays. Could you please explain little more.


  4. gokulmuthu says:

    Mind does not die with the body. It just gets into a dormant state, waiting for another suitable body.

  5. Arnab Lahiri says:

    Dear Gomuji,

    Today I was going through your posts once again. To be honest, its a kind of revision to me of some of the most important concepts.

    May I request your good self to please elaborate a little more on Adhyasa. Recently I was going through the lectures on Brahmasutra where they have discussed Adhyasa in detail. It was vast and some of the concepts went beyond my understanding. I had to literally read twice, thrice to get a feel of what it says. Will really appreciate if you can enlighten us further.

    Thanks once again.


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