06 Sep

Paradigm, as I understand, is a framework within which explanations as well as understanding of facts related to a subject could be neatly fitted. It not only outlines  an accepted and permissible inquiry, formulating the scope of inquiry; but, it also provides a model for organizing the information obtained during the inquiry.

The paradigm , as set out , needs to be accepted by all members of the scholastic  community. This would facilitate coordinating a joint exploration into a commonly  accepted and well outlined field of inquiry

A paradigm is, thus, a pattern or an exemplar. In a sense it serves as a road-map for  the enquirer.

The explanation I offered above is based on the concept  popularized  by Thomas S . Kuhn (1922–96), a philosopher and historian of science in his The  Structure of Scientific Revolutions . 


The Vedanta has developed its own paradigm or ground-rules. A Vedanta theory first  tries to define the parameters ; and, then it determines and defines the relations between  them . It , finally , constructs a workable model in order to understand and accomplish  its goals. 

The paradigm in Advaita Vedanta is a scheme , a method or a system of logic (nyaya) called Adyaropa-Apavada, which consists in initially adopting an assumption and subsequently  withdrawing or rejecting that assumption .

However , it is not clear who initiated this  popular method of inquiry. Sri Shankara, in his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita calls  this a traditional method. His Parama-Guru Gaudapada used this method rather  extensively.

The most famous example of this paradigm is of course the illustration  of the snake and the rope (rajju-sarpa) . It was Gaudapada who first came up with the  illustration of a piece of rope in darkness being mistaken for a snake . The mistaken  perception , according to Gaudapada , was an erroneous personal construction  Vikalpa negatived when light was thrown on the object.

The method had its origin in the Upanishads. Later the Buddhists and Vedanta  scholars employed it. The earliest traceable reference to this method is in  Saddharma Pundarika Sutra , popularly called the Lotus Sutra , a text of the  Vijnanavada Buddhism. The Text mentions the method by name (2,25,135);but , substitutes Samaroha for Adhyaropa. The import of the method, however, remained  unchanged. Sri Shankara inherited it from Gaudapada , who attempted a  synthesis of the Buddhist and Vedanta view points. Later on , the method came into  wide use.

The expression Adhyaropa , generally , stands for superimposition , wrong  assumption, attribution of a wrong nature or a feature . It is essentially a projection that is constructed by our sense-organs and mind ; but , it does not exist in reality.

The other term Apavada stands for negation or withdrawal or elimination of what was  imputed or assumed or attributed or superimposed. This comes about because of  superior knowledge or the knowledge of things as-they-are. Apavada means  elimination of wrong knowledge through right knowledge.

Adhyaropa consists in assuming or projecting a snake in a rope that , in reality , is not a snake . The snake-like appearance of the rope was merely a transformation (Vivarta) untrue and short lived;  but, it vanished when light (knowledge) was brought in. The  phenomenal world , similarly , is a transformation of the Brahman-substance into an  extended world of objects in space and time , with the experiencing ego as the  vortex.  Apavada is annulling or dissolving this appearance and letting the true substance reveal , as itself. It is in effect , the falsification of the false appearance.

The right knowledge cannot bring us any non-existent thing;  nor can it annihilate already an existing one. The right knowledge can only remove false attribution; and  , let the real shine forth.

When the false notion is eliminated, no special effort is required to realize the truth.

In order to educate the mind to interpret the reality as it is, the Vedanta employed  Adhyaropa-Apavada of deliberate provisional ascription and its later withdrawal. For  the convenience of teaching, you accept a thing or an attribute that is actually not there and later negate that once the student is mature enough to realize the  actual position.

For example , we teach the child about sun-rise , sun-set and  about East-West and other directions. But, as the child advances in age and in  learning the earlier teaching is negated ; and, the child realizes that the sun neither  rises nor sets ; and the what we call directions are , after all , notional.

This method is justified because, it can effectively illustrate the distinction between  appearance and reality. An excellent application of this method can be found in the Upanishad treatment of the three states of life , viz. waking , dreaming and sleeping. Gaudapada’s karika on the Mandukya-Upanishad takes this up as the main theme ;  and , shows how the method is employed to arrive at the fourth state , the Turiya by  sublimating the other three . By the residual reasoning , Turiya alone is proved real  while the others are mere assumptions or constructions (Vikalpa).

In Vedanta too, the same methodology is adopted to teach Brahma-tattva. Initially it  accepts origination/ creation of jagat world etc. and later it negates these false attributions by saying neti , neti.

The other illustrations are also based in the Upanishads and are elaborated by  Sri Shankara who also explains the methodological involvement .The examples are:

(I) The initial assumption is that the Absolute is the Lord ; and saying it is not  subordinate. The later formulation is that Absolute is everything and there is nothing  else. This dismisses the Lord and subordinate duality and the assumption.

(ii)The assumption is that the Absolute is the cause of the phenomenal world . The  later claim is that the effect is illusory ; thus denying the casual role of the Absolute.

(iii) The assumption is that Self is the only knowable (jneya) ; thus excluding all the  other knowable .The later formulation is that the Self is really the knower (jnatr).

(iv) The assumption is that Self is the knower. This is denied by saying that Self is  mere witness (Sakshi).

(v) Then sublimation of this position is by denying the validity of duality , which obtains  only at the phenomenal level.

(vi) The assumption is that the Absolute can be understood only with the aid of  scriptures ; thereby denying other normal methods like observation and reason. The formulation states that it is impossible to ascertain the Absolute by verbal or Mental procedures.

It is the tendency of all beings to project an assumptive world and get involved in  it. While in its fold, all the other related erroneous assumptions gain ground and  cause distress. This assumption is known in Advaita as Avidya, ignorance . Its synonym are : Adhyasa (superimposition); Adhyaropa (assumption); Branthi (delusion);  Anyatha (wrong);Tamas (darkness); Moha (infatuation); and,  mithya-prathyaya  (mistaken  conception)  etc.

The aim of Vedanta is to undo the distress by loosening the grip of assumptive world. Vedanta prescribes Adhyaropa-Apavada method to theoretically distinguish between  the that “tat”, the assumptive world and thou “tvam” the conscious substance after  elimination of all assumptions. This is a necessary prelude to practical Sadhana.

Please click here for the Companion post: Nyaya 

lotus 888

Indebted to Prof.SKR Rao


Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Nyaya



2 responses to “PARADIGM IN VEDANTA

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:55 am

    very scholarly aricle.
    your articles are invaluable.
    for heavens sake dont look at views .or comments
    your articles are maent for a very niche audience


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 6:55 am

      dear sampath ,

      you said – for heavens sake dont look at views .or comments.

      yes sir . i agree . there is none to look at.

      please keep talking


      ps : nyaya is a companion post to this . please take a look at that too.


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