Sankara’s Advaita Formula

Happy Guru Purnima !!!

Sankara presents the Advaita Philosophy in the famous three short lines:

  1. brahma satyam
  2. jagat mityaa
  3. jiivo brahmaiva na parah

Unfortunately, this has been the cause of a lot of confusion about Advaita and the cause of a lot of people rejecting Advaita and Sankara. Let us see what these three lines really mean.

Here “satyam” means “essence” or “substance” and “mityaa” means “temporary”.

Clay is the substance of which a pot is made of. Clay was there even before the pot was made. Even when the pot is broken and destroyed, the clay will remain. And, even when the pot is there, clay remains. The pot cannot be separated from the clay. The weight of the pot is the weight of the clay. The “pot” is only a temporary form and name which is super-imposed on the clay. Thus, “clay” is “satyam” and “pot” is “mityaa”.

However, examples are examples. They help us to understand a concept. The example should not be stretched beyond what it is meant for. Here, the clay actually takes the shape of the pot. In reality, it is not so. So, we go to a more subtle example.

In dim light, a rope appears to be a snake. During ignorance, the snake is seen. When it has been analyzed and rightly understood, the rope is seen. The snake is super-imposed on the rope. The color, form, size, pattern, etc. of the snake come from the rope. There would be no snake without the rope. The “snake” is only a temporary form and name which is super-imposed on the rope. Thus, “rope” is “satyam” and “snake” is “mityaa”.

Brahman is pure Consciousness, the Subject. World (including body and mind) is inert, the object. Advaita says that what really exists is only the Subject as pure Consciousness. Due to ignorance, the world is super-imposed on it.

As long as the super-imposition is there, the individual and the infinite are seen as different. When it is rightly understood, the essence is found to be one. Here again, another example comes to our help.

When we see the names and forms, the waves are different from the ocean. When we ignore the names and forms and see the substance, which is water, there is no difference between waves and ocean. For the waves, the ocean is the cause of creation, sustenance and dissolution. Similarly, for the individuals, the Lord is the cause of creation, sustenance and dissolution. But, the substance of the individual and the Lord is the same. The individual can identify himself with the substance instead of the limited individuality. By this shift in identification, the individual will realize that he is really free from creation and dissolution. The identity as an individual is only an imagination like the snake in the rope. In reality, there is no individuality.

This is the meaning of Sankara’s Advaita Formula.


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One Response to Sankara’s Advaita Formula

  1. P S Chandrashekar says:

    Very nice. In a nutshell, great philosophy has been zipped. Good. One can get started at ease.

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