Author Topic: Analogy of the Rope and the Snake  (Read 700 times)

Dr. Sadananda

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Analogy of the Rope and the Snake
« on: February 22, 2015, 10:02:34 AM »
Analogy of the Rope and the Snake

      This example originates from the commentaries of GauDapaada on the MaaNDuukya upanishhad. Seeing a rope in the dark, it is mistaken for a snake - an error or adhyaasa. We mistakenly superimpose the image of an illusory snake onto the real rope. In just such a way we superimpose the illusion of objects etc. upon the one aatman. If there is total dark, we would not see the rope so could not imagine it to be a snake. Hence 'ignorance is bliss', as in deep sleep - there can be no error.

      Similarly, if there is total light we see the rope clearly - in complete knowledge, we know everything to be Brahman. Knowledge is also bliss! The error occurs only in partial light or when the eyes are defective. Then there is partial knowledge; we know that some 'thing' exists. This part, that is not covered by darkness or hidden by ignorance is called the 'general part' and is 'uncovered' or 'real'. That the 'thing' is actually a rope is hidden because of the inadequate light or knowledge. This specific feature of the thing, that it is a rope, is called the 'particular part' and is covered. In place of the covered part, the mind substitutes or 'projects' something of its own, namely the snake.

      In the example then, when we say "there is a snake", there is a real part and an unreal part. The real part is "there is"; this is the 'general part'. The unreal part, the snake, only appears to be there because the 'particular part' - the rope - is covered. If light (i.e. knowledge) is made available, the rope is now seen. The 'general part', "there is" remains unchanged but the 'particular part', which was previously projected by the mind, is now uncovered and revealed to be a rope. The snake has not 'gone away' since it never existed, except in the mind of the observer, where it might have given rise to very real fears and physical effects (fast heartbeat, sweating etc.). From the point of view of actual reality (paaramaarthika), only the rope is real, the snake does not exist. For a perceiver who sees a snake, that snake is 'relatively' real (vyaavahaarika) and causes as much mental suffering as would a truly real snake. There only ever was a rope but the ignorance of this in the mind of the perceiver creates the illusion of a snake and the suffering follows.

      Once light (i.e. the light of knowledge) is introduced, the mistaken perception of the particular part is corrected; the unreal snake disappears and the real rope is revealed. The associated fear etc. also disappears. What has happened is that a valid means of enquiry has been undertaken into the nature of the particular part to reveal the truth of the matter. The valid means of enquiry in this example was the torchlight. It was appropriate because the mistake was brought about by the dim light. Prayer or meditation would not have been appropriate and would not have revealed the rope. The method has to be appropriate to the nature of the error. Since ignorance of our true nature is the reason for samsaara, the appropriate means of enquiry for removing the error is self-knowledge.