NYAYAS: Illustrations or Analogies

Veeraswamy Krishnaraj



Rajjusarpa Nyaya: Rope-Snake Analogy.

Raju was a nervous child always afraid of darkness. As a two-year old child, he did not understand why there is a shadow following him wherever he went. He asked no one the reason behind the shadow. Sometimes the shadow was behind him, sometimes in front of him, and sometimes to his right or left. It mystified him. He ran and it ran with him. The only time he did not see his shadow was in the dark of night. In the twilight, the shadow was faint, gradually disappearing in the creeping night. He discovered the morning and evening sun cast a long shadow of him. When he was five, he asked his father the cause for the shadow following him.

The father explained where the sun is shining on an object, the object blocked the sun and produced a shadow. The father illustrated this truth by placing a pot under the early morning sun. The pot appeared long and black in the shadow. The boy realized when the pot was removed the shadow was gone.

He was walking home from his uncle’s a few blocks away in the dusk. He saw what he thought was a snake on the road. He ran out of fear, reached home and told his father. He took his father where he saw the snake. The father looked at it and said that the snake was a rope that appeared like a snake. He let his son shine a flashlight on it. The boy saw it was a rope and the snake was an illusion.

A rope is mistaken for a snake: Illusion and Superimposition. A rope in the dim light appeared as a snake to the boy, causing fear in him. The snake is not real but a superimposition on the real rope. The boy experienced the snake was imagined and a threat was perceived. The threat and fear were misplaced but disappeared on knowing the false snake was really a rope.

The world is a superimposition on Brahman. When Brahman is known by realization, the world disappears and the Brahman comes into view. The Brahman and the world are one because The Brahman projects the world through Māyā-Sakti. In one instance, Brahman and Māyā are two sides of the coin. In the next instance, Māyā and Sakti are two sides of the coin.

The snake depends on the rope to project its falsity. Likewise, the world depends on Brahman to project its falsity. We live in falsity until we realize Brahman. If there is no rope, there is no snake.  If there is no Brahman, there is no world. The snake is rope-dependent. The phenomenal world is Brahman-dependent. The snake and the world are real and unreal simultaneously. Likewise, there is no individual soul, if there is no Brahman or Universal Soul.  There is no individuality other than Brahman. He is (Aham). Individuality is apparent because of the mind and Māyā.


Allegory. Brahman is the Supersoul (or the ocean). The ocean waves exist because of the ocean. In this allegory the world, the world phenomena and the beings are dependent on the Brahman. When there is no Brahman (ocean), there is no world…(waves). The obscuring principle between the Brahman and the world, beings… is Māyā.


Verse 1.

विश्वं दर्पणदृश्यमाननगरीतुल्यं निजान्तर्गतं

पश्यन्नात्मनि मायया बहिरिवोदभूतं यथा निद्रया।

यः साक्षात्कुरुते प्रबोधसमये सवात्मानमेवाद्वयं

तस्मै श्रीगुरुमूर्तये नम इदं श्रीदक्षिणामूर्तये।।


visvaṁ darpaṇa-dṛśyamāna-nagarī-tulyaṁ nijāntar-gataṁ

paśyann-ātmani māyayā bahirivodbhūtaṁ yathā nidrayā/

yaḥ sākṣāt-kurute prabhodha-samaye svātmānam-eva-advayaṁ

tasmai śrī guru-mūrtaye nama idaṁ śrī Dakṣiṇāmūrtaye//


The universe is like the city reflected in a mirror as an illusion, exits within oneself, but arises in a manner of a world in a dream, which disappears upon waking and realization that the universe is non-dual with his own Self. To Him the divine teacher Sri Dakshinamurthy, I offer my salutation. 

Sankaracharya is the propounder of the theory of Māyā. Advaita proponent Prakasatman explains, Brahman and Māyā constitute the whole universe, just like the stationary longitudinal warp (thread) and the transverse woof (thread) make the fabric. while Brahman is the substratum or the hypostasis (warp), while Māyā is the manifest world (woof). In Advaita Vedanta, there are two realities: Paramarthika and Vyavaharika (Absolute Reality and empirical reality = Brahman and Māyā). We roil in the world of happenings and Māyā keeps us bound to the empirical world. It is like a cloud (Māyā) hiding the sun (Brahman). The veil conceals Brahman. Faustian Māyā has the disposition and power to conceal Spiritual Reality (Brahman). The products of Māyā take birth, live, morph, mutate, evolve and die with time.

Brahman’s magic is Māyā. The magician only knows all parts of the equation. Man is mesmerized with the magic and thinks delusively Māyā is real (now for the moment and the present) though an illusion. The True Real is Brahman who is the purveyor of Māyā. Māyā exists in a state of flux and change and Faustian (= sacrificing spiritual values for power, knowledge, or material gain). One should strive for and attain spiritual knowledge and know the principles behind the magic to attain liberation and union with Brahman.

It is the rope and the snake. Rope is Brahman without a second; the snake is the illusion. With knowledge and illumination, the snake disappears and the Brahman remains as the eternal hypostasis.

While Brahman is Spiritual, Māyā is empirical and veiling. The goal of man is to rip the veil of Māyā, obtain liberation and realize Brahman.

The person looks at the face in the mirror. The image in the mirror is magical and illusory. Without the looker, there is no image. For the duration of looking, the image is real. The image is like a dream. When you wake up (attain realization), you know it was not real.  You and the image are non-dual. The Self and the reflected universe are non-dual.