Adhyaropa or Superimposition
by Swami Sivananda
Adhyaropa is superimposition! This is one of the fundamental principles of Vedanta. You cannot proceed with the study of Vedanta without understanding Adhyaropa. In reality, this world was never created. This world is superimposed on Brahman. This world is imagined where there exists only Brahman. This is Adhyaropa. This superimposition is sublated through the Yukti called Apavada.
You want to meet your friend Sri Rampratap. When you go to his house, he is not there. Somebody tells you that he has gone to a particular shop in the bazaar. You wait at his door and in a short time you see someone coming, who looks like Rampratap. From a distance you determine in your mind that the person coming is none but Rampratap. But after some time when he actually comes near you, you find that he is not Rampratap but Krishnagopal. You have superimposed Rampratap on Krishnagopal. This is Adhyaropa.
Even in case the person coming is Rampratap himself really, you think, sometimes, that the person coming is somebody else, but when he comes nearer, he happens to be Rampratap himself. This is another kind of negative superimposition. The instance in the previous case was one of positive superimposition. In each of these cases, there has been a mistaken notion that one thing is another. This is called Adhyaropa or superimposition.
Adhyaropa is the result of ignorance of the real object. Generally people mistake a rope for a snake, a post for a man, the mother-of-pearl for silver, the mirage for water, etc. In hazy light of dusk you mistake a rope to be a snake. You are terribly afraid of it. But a friend of yours who comes with a light assures you that it is only a rope. Now you look at the supposed snake once again and find it to be unmoving and that it is really a rope and not snake. Now the Adhyaropa vanishes. In this instance there was no snake at all. It was only the rope that appeared as a snake. The snake was not there in the past, is not in the present and will not be there in the future (three periods of time), i.e., neither before you saw the snake, nor when you were actually seeing the snake, nor, again after your friend came with the light and assured you that it was only a rope, was there really a snake. Why was it that you saw the snake when there was only a rope? This is beyond your capacity to understand. You will simply say, it appeared to me to be a snake. So also everything that you see in this world in the form of diverse objects is only Brahman. It was Brahman only in the past and it will remain so even in the future. To a Jnani there is no world at all. This world appears to be so only to an Ajnani. Till the dawn of knowledge everyone is under the spell of ignorance only. One sees diverse objects. He feels pleasure and pain. He undergoes sufferings and tribulations. He is subject to likes and dislikes. The five organs of knowledge and the five organs of action, all work, and you cognise diverse objects, hills, mountains, rivers, men, animals, and everything else. But when, through the grace of the preceptor and through Sadhana performed untiringly until purification, through hearing, reflection and meditation, you cognise the reality, then, no more the world appears to be real. You see Brahman alone everywhere. Then you cannot hate anyone. You cannot dislike anyone, because you see your own Self or Brahman in all. Can you ever dislike yourself? You may dislike any thing second to yourself, but you cannot dislike yourself. When you see everything else also to be your Self, then whom can you hate? You will become an embodiment of pure cosmic love.
You are in search of a rope. You find one. But in the dark you mistake it to be a snake. You run away from it. You search all other places in the house and fail to find a rope. Your brother brings a light and shows you the rope which you mistook for a snake. You now see the rope. Just as you found the rope in the snake itself, even so, you will see Brahman in the objects of the world themselves. You cannot run away to the mountain-caves in search of Brahman. You have to practise seeing the Lord or Brahman in each and every object around you. When you are able to cognise the Reality underlying the objects, you will no more be deluded.
The highly exalted Brahmanishtha-Guru for whom there is no world comes down from his exalted state to teach the disciple. He is even then fully conscious of his identity with Brahman. He is fully aware that he is himself Brahman, and the disciple too. But out of compassion and love he sheds his grace on the fit disciple by imparting to him the knowledge of Brahman.
It is Adhyaropa that is to be well understood. If you can thoroughly grasp this principle, you can easily understand Vedanta. If you can dwell upon the simple truth that the whole world is merely superimposed on Brahman, if you can meditate on the idea, This body is a house made of five elements just as a house is made of brick, cement, wood and iron; the Self within me is the Self in every other being; the flickering mind is the cause for all misery and unhappiness, you will ever rest in joy, peace and eternal bliss.
May you ever dwell upon this truth and remain happy amidst all changing circumstances, joys and sorrows of the busy worldly life! May you root yourself in Brahman, the Substratum for this body, mind and soul, Jiva and Jagat, Maya and Isvara, cause and effect!