Unintelligent persons who cannot understand this doctrine of byproducts cannot grasp how the cosmic manifestation and the living entity are simultaneously one and different from the Absolute Truth. Not understanding this, one concludes, out of fear, that this cosmic manifestation and the living entity are false. Śaṅkarācārya gives the example of a rope being mistaken for a snake, and sometimes the example of mistaking an oyster shell for gold is cited, but surely such arguments are ways of cheating. As mentioned in the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, the rope for a snake and the oyster for gold examples have their different applications and can be understood as follows. The living entity in his original constitutional position is pure spirit. When a human being identifies himself with the material body, he may be said to be mistaking a rope for a snake, or an oyster shell for gold. The doctrine of transformation is accepted when one thing is mistaken for another. Actually the body is not the living entity, but the doctrine of transformation accepts the body as the living entity. Every conditioned soul is undoubtedly contaminated by this doctrine of transformation.
Analogy of the rope and snake
- 1 Srimad-Bhagavatam
- 2 Sri Caitanya-caritamrta
- 3 Other Books by Srila Prabhupada
- 4 Lectures
- 5 Conversations and Morning Walks
SB Canto 2
Although illusory energy is also part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, illusory energy is differentiated from the Lord. The illusory energy is not, however, false, as claimed by the monist philosophers. The rope accepted as a snake may be an illusion to a particular person, but the rope is a fact, and the snake is also a fact. The illusion of water on the hot desert may be illusion for the ignorant animal searching for water in the desert, but the desert and water are actual facts. Therefore the material creation of the Lord may be an illusion to the nondevotee, but to a devotee even the material creation of the Lord is a fact, as the manifestation of His external energy. But this energy of the Lord is not all. The Lord has His internal energy also, which has another creation known to be the Vaikuṇṭhalokas, where there is no ignorance, no passion, no illusion and no past and present. With a poor fund of knowledge one may be unable to understand the existence of such things as the Vaikuṇṭha atmosphere, but that does not nullify its existence.
Misconceiving one thing for another thing is called illusion. For example, accepting a rope as a snake is illusion, but the rope is not false. The rope, as it exists in the front of the illusioned person, is not at all false, but the acceptance is illusory. Therefore the wrong conception of accepting this material manifestation as being divorced from the energy of the Lord is illusion, but it is not false. And this illusory conception is called the reflection of the reality in the darkness of ignorance.
SB Canto 4
The Supreme Personality of Godhead manifests Himself as one with the cause and effect within this body, but one who has transcended the illusory energy by deliberate consideration, which clears the misconception of a snake for a rope, can understand that the Paramātmā is eternally transcendental to the material creation and situated in pure internal energy. Thus the Lord is transcendental to all material contamination. Unto Him only must one surrender.
This verse is specifically stated to defy the Māyāvāda conclusion of oneness without differentiation between the individual soul and the Supersoul. The Māyāvāda conclusion is that the living entity and the Supersoul are one; there is no difference. The Māyāvādīs proclaim that there is no separate existence outside the impersonal Brahman and that the feeling of separation is māyā, or an illusion, by which one considers a rope to be a snake. The rope-and-the-snake argument is generally offered by the Māyāvādī philosophers. Therefore these words, which represent vivarta-vāda, are specifically mentioned herein. Actually Paramātmā, the Supersoul, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is eternally liberated. In other words, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is living within this body along with the individual soul, and this is confirmed in the Vedas. They are likened to two friends sitting on the same tree. Yet Paramātmā is above the illusory energy.
The Lord is always transcendental to the material manifestation, even though it appears that the Lord and the material manifestation are one and the same. According to the Vaiṣṇava philosophy, He is one and different simultaneously. The material energy is a manifestation of His external potency, and since the potency is identical with the potent, it appears that the Lord and individual soul are one; but actually the individual soul is under the influence of material energy, and the Lord is always transcendental to it. Unless the Lord is superior to the individual soul, there is no question of prapadye, or surrender unto Him. This word prapadye refers to the process of devotional service. Simply by nondevotional speculation on the rope and the snake, one cannot approach the Absolute Truth. Therefore devotional service is stressed as more important than deliberation or mental speculation to understand the Absolute Truth.
SB Canto 6
A rope causes fear for a bewildered person who considers it a snake, but not for a person with proper intelligence who knows it to be only a rope. Similarly, You, as the Supersoul in everyone's heart, inspire fear or fearlessness according to one's intelligence, but in You there is no duality.
In Bhagavad-gītā (4.11) the Lord says, ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham: "As one surrenders unto Me, I reward him accordingly." The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the reservoir of everything, including all knowledge, all truth and all contradictions. The example cited herein is very appropriate. A rope is one truth, but some mistake it for a snake, whereas others know it to be a rope. Similarly, devotees who know the Supreme Personality of Godhead do not see contradictions in Him, but nondevotees regard Him as the snakelike source of all fear. For example, when Nṛsiṁhadeva appeared, Prahlāda Mahārāja saw the Lord as the supreme solace, whereas his father, a demon, saw Him as the ultimate death.
SB Canto 7
The impersonalists try to prove that the varieties in the vision of the empiric philosopher are false. The impersonalist philosophy, vivarta-vāda, generally cites the acceptance of a rope to be a snake as an example of this fact. According to this example, the varieties within our vision are false, just as a rope seen to be a snake is false. The Vaiṣṇavas say, however, that although the idea that the rope is a snake is false, the snake is not false; one has experience of a snake in reality, and therefore he knows that although the representation of the rope as a snake is false or illusory, there is a snake in reality. Similarly, this world, which is full of varieties, is not false; it is a reflection of the reality in the Vaikuṇṭha world, the spiritual world.
SB Canto 10.1 to 10.13
Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the all-pervading Supersoul, lying on the bed, understood that Pūtanā, a witch who was expert in killing small children, had come to kill Him. Therefore, as if afraid of her, Kṛṣṇa closed His eyes. Thus Pūtanā took upon her lap Him who was to be her own annihilation, just as an unintelligent person places a sleeping snake on his lap, thinking the snake to be a rope.
In this verse there are two perplexities. When Kṛṣṇa saw that Pūtanā had come to kill Him, He thought that since this woman was present with motherly affection, although artificial, He had to offer her a benediction. Therefore He looked at her with a little perplexity and then closed His eyes again. Pūtanā Rākṣasī also was perplexed. She was not intelligent enough to understand that she was taking a sleeping snake on her lap; she thought the snake to be an ordinary rope. The two words antakam and anantam are contradictory. Because of not being intelligent, Pūtanā thought that she could kill her antakam, the source of her annihilation; but because He is ananta, unlimited, no one can kill Him.
SB Cantos 10.14 to 12 (Translations Only)
A person who mistakes a rope for a snake becomes fearful, but he then gives up his fear upon realizing that the so-called snake does not exist. Similarly, for those who fail to recognize You as the Supreme Soul of all souls, the expansive illusory material existence arises, but knowledge of You at once causes it to subside.
How can I blame her for my trouble when I myself am ignorant of my real, spiritual nature? I did not control my senses, and so I am like a person who mistakenly sees a harmless rope as a snake.
Bhrama refers to false knowledge or mistakes, such as accepting a rope as a snake or an oyster shell as gold. Pramāda refers to inattention or misunderstanding of reality, and vipralipsā is the cheating propensity. Karaṇāpāṭava refers to imperfectness of the material senses. There are many examples of such imperfection. The eyes cannot see that which is very distant or very small. One cannot even see his own eyelid, which is the closest thing to his eye, and if one is disturbed by a disease like jaundice, he sees everything to be yellow. Similarly, the ears cannot hear distant sounds. Since the Personality of Godhead and His plenary portions and self-realized devotees are all transcendentally situated, they cannot be misled by such deficiencies.
Ignorance and the jugglery of words are very common in human society, but they do not help one understand the inconceivable energies of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we accept such ignorance and word jugglery, we cannot accept the Supreme Lord's perfection in six opulences. For example, one of the opulences of the Supreme Lord is complete knowledge. Therefore, how could ignorance be conceivable in Him? Vedic instructions and sensible arguments establish that the Lord's maintaining the cosmic manifestation and simultaneously being indifferent to the activities of its maintenance cannot be contradictory, because of His inconceivable energies. To a person who is always absorbed in the thought of snakes, a rope always appears to be a snake, and similarly to a person bewildered by material qualities and devoid of knowledge of the Absolute, the Supreme Personality of Godhead appears according to diverse bewildered conclusions.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura comments that if one does not clearly understand the meaning of pariṇāma-vāda, or transformation of energy, one is sure to misunderstand the truth regarding this material cosmic manifestation and the living entities. In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (6.8.4) it is said, san-mūlāḥ saumyemāḥ prajāḥ sad-āyatanāḥ sat-pratiṣṭhāḥ. The material world and the living entities are separate beings, and they are eternally true, not false. Śaṅkarācārya, however, unnecessarily fearing that by pariṇāma-vāda (transformation of energy) Brahman would be transformed (vikārī), has imagined both the material world and the living entities to be false and to have no individuality. By word jugglery he has tried to prove that the individual identities of the living entities and the material world are illusory, and he has cited the examples of mistaking a rope for a snake or an oyster shell for gold. Thus he has most abominably cheated people in general.
The example of misunderstanding a rope to be a snake is mentioned in the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, but it is meant to explain the error of identifying the body with the soul. Since the soul is actually a spiritual particle, as confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke), it is due to illusion (vivarta-vāda) that a human being, like an animal, identifies the body with the self. This is a proper example of vivarta, or illusion. The verse atattvato ’nyathā-buddhir vivarta ity udāhṛtaḥ describes such an illusion. To not know actual facts and thus to mistake one thing for another (as, for example, to accept the body as oneself) is called vivarta-vāda. Every conditioned living entity who considers the body to be the soul is deluded by this vivarta-vāda. One can be attacked by this vivarta-vāda philosophy when he forgets the inconceivable power of the omnipotent Personality of Godhead.
Other Books by Srila Prabhupada
Teachings of Lord Caitanya
Actually the example of the rope and the snake is not completely irregular. When we accept a rope to be a snake, it is to be understood that we have experienced a snake previously. Otherwise, how can the rope be mistaken for a snake? Thus the conception of a snake is not untrue or unreal in itself. It is the false identity that is untrue or unreal. When, by mistake, we consider the rope to be a snake, that is our ignorance. But the very idea of a snake is not in itself ignorance. When we accept a mirage to be water in the desert, there is no question of water being a false concept. Water is a fact, but it is a mistake to think that there is water in the desert.
Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead
There are seven kinds of mothers, according to Vedic injunction: the real mother, the wife of a teacher or spiritual master, the wife of a king, the wife of a brāhmaṇa, the cow, the nurse and mother earth. Because Pūtanā came to take Kṛṣṇa on her lap and offer her breast milk to be sucked by Him, she was accepted by Kṛṣṇa as one of His mothers. That is considered to be another reason He closed His eyes: He had to kill a nurse or mother. But His killing of His mother or nurse was no different from His love for His real mother or His foster mother, Yaśodā. We further understand from Vedic information that Pūtanā was also treated as a mother and given the same facility as Yaśodā. As Yaśodā was given liberation from the material world, Pūtanā was also given liberation. When the baby Kṛṣṇa closed His eyes, Pūtanā took Him on her lap. She did not know that she was holding death personified. If a person mistakes a snake for a rope, he dies. Similarly, Pūtanā had killed so many babies before meeting Kṛṣṇa, and she mistook Him to be like them, but now she was accepting the snake that would kill her immediately.
"One who is always absorbed in meditation on Your original form of Kṛṣṇa easily crosses over the ocean of material nescience. But persons who do not know that You are the Supreme Soul remain within this material world in spite of their so-called meditation. If, by the association of Your devotees, a person comes to the knowledge that Lord Kṛṣṇa is the original Supersoul, then it is possible for him to cross over the ocean of material ignorance. For instance, when a person mistakes a rope for a snake he is filled with fear, but as soon as he understands that the rope is not a snake, he is liberated from fear. If one understands You, therefore, through Your personal teachings, as stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, or through Your pure devotees, as stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and all other Vedic scriptures—if one realizes that You are the ultimate goal of understanding—he need no longer fear this material existence."
"Instead of searching for the Supersoul anywhere else, a devotee only concentrates his mind on You within. Actually, one who is liberated from the material concept of life can search for You; others cannot. The analogy of thinking the rope to be a snake is applicable only to those who are still in ignorance of You. Actually, when one mistakes a rope for a snake, the existence of the snake is only within the mind. The existence of māyā, similarly, is only within the mind. Māyā is nothing but ignorance of Your personality. When one forgets Your personality, that is the conditioned state of māyā. Therefore one who is fixed upon You both internally and externally is not illusioned."
The Māyāvādī philosopher sometimes puts forward the argument of the snake and the rope. In the dark of evening, a curled-up rope is sometimes, due to ignorance, taken for a snake. But mistaking the rope for a snake does not mean that the rope or the snake is false, and therefore this example, used by the Māyāvādīs to illustrate the falsity of the material world, is not valid. When a thing is taken as fact but actually has no existence at all, it is called false. But if something is mistaken for something else that exists, that does not mean it is false.
The Vaiṣṇava philosopher acknowledges the full value of this material world and knows how to utilize it properly, whereas the Māyāvādī philosopher fails to do so, just as those who mistake a currency note for ordinary paper discard it and cannot utilize the money. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī therefore declares that if one rejects this material world as false, not considering the importance of this material world as a means to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead, such renunciation has very little value. A person who knows the intrinsic value of this material world for the service of the Lord, who is not attached to the material world, and who renounces the material world by not accepting it for sense gratification is situated in real renunciation. This material world is an expansion of the material energy of the Lord. Therefore it is real. It is not false, as sometimes concluded from the example of the snake and the rope.
Bhagavad-gita As It Is Lectures
And the next imperfection is to accept something in place of something. Just like we are accepting this body as myself, which I am not. Under this illusion... Everyone is under this illusion, nobody excepted. Yasyātma-buddhiḥ kuṇape tri-dhātuke (SB 10.84.13). When you ask me, "Swamiji, what you are?", oh, I'll say, "I am Indian." What sort of Indian I am? Because my this body is Indian, made in India or got in India. But I am not this body. I am not this body. So this, this is illusion. So second imperfection. First imperfection, that we must commit mistake. The second imperfection is accepting something which is not real. This is called illusion. The example of illusion is given generally: Just like in darkness, if you find some curling rope, you are afraid, "Oh, here is a snake!" Actually, that is not a snake. That means accepting the curling rope as a snake. This is the example of illusion.
Just like the example is given... I have several times..., that the impersonalists, they describe this world as false, as false. But simply describing this world as false is not sufficient. What is the reality we must know. The... Generally the example is cited that in the darkness when you see a curling rope, you misunderstand it that it is a snake. But actually it is not the snake. Now, this conception of a snake comes wherefrom? Unless there is a real snake, how you can see that it is a snake? That rope is false. That's all right. That rope is not snake, but there is real snake. Otherwise, how you get the conception of the snake? Just try to follow it. Without having the real snake, you cannot get this conception of snake.
Every one of us know how we commit mistake, blunder. Even great men, they also commit blunder, you see. Just like there are so many instances amongst the politicians, a little mistake or a blunder, great blunder... So mistake, "To err is human," mistake is there. Similarly, accepting something as fact which is not fact. How it is? Just like everyone in the conditioned life, they think that "This body is my self." But I'm not this. I'm not this body. So this is called illusion, pramāda. The best example is to accept a rope as a snake. Suppose in the darkness there is a rope like this, and you are..., "Oh, here is a snake." This is the best example of illusion. Accepting something which is not that.
We accept something for something. The example is given: there is a rope, and due to my ignorance or insufficient knowledge, I take it as a snake. This is my insufficient knowledge. The snake is fact, and the rope is fact. But when we take the rope as snake, that is ignorance, or the snake as rope, that is ignorance. The Māyāvādī philosopher says that "We are accepting snake..., er, rope as a snake. But there is no snake." But we, Vaiṣṇava philosopher, we say, "No, there is snake, and there is rope. But when we accept the rope as snake, that is māyā." Similarly, there is spiritual world and there is material world. But when we accept the material world as everything, that is māyā. That is illusion.
Everyone wants to be happy, peace and pleasure. But wherefrom this idea comes? The Vedānta-sūtra says janmādy asya yataḥ: (SB 1.1.1) it also comes from Parabrahman. So if Parabrahman has no such tendency how to enjoy, wherefrom this so-called love in this material world between young boy and young girl comes? There cannot be any existing. It is only perverted reflection of that pleasure potency of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. It is only perverted reflection. It is not false. It is temporary, perverted. Just like the example is sometimes given to mistake a rope as snake. The Māyāvādī philosophers, they give. They say it is māyā. But it is not māyā. When you mistake a snake as..., mistake a rope as a snake, that is not māyā. That is illusion. You can call it māyā. But the snake is there. You cannot say, because it is rope, therefore there is no snake. No. Snake is there. Otherwise, how it comes to the idea of snake? The snake is a fact, but you are mistaking the rope as snake. That is your mistake. But snake is not illusion; snake is a fact.
Śyāmasundara: He says that even illusions are genuinely real objects which are uncreated by the human mind. In other words, if I think I see a snake and it is actually a piece of rope, but if I think it is a snake, then it really is a snake.
Prabhupāda: That is reality of a snake; otherwise how this imagination comes to me? I have got an idea of snake. Now, in darkness there is a rope. So I may falsely take it as snake. That's doesn't matter. But snake is there. That is our argument.
Conversations and Morning Walks
1975 Conversations and Morning Walks
Prabhupāda: Yes, Kṛṣṇa is everything. Without Kṛṣṇa, there cannot be anything. Janmādyasya yataḥ. The example is given: Just like the rope. Somebody is taking it is snake. He is frightened. And one knows this is rope, he is not frightened. So actually the one thing—God is one—He is distributed in so many manifestations. So one realizes that it is God. By His energy He is manifested in so many forms. So why he should be frightened?
Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: That's a uttama-adhikārī.