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Askeland, L. (2002). Origin and Nature of the Great Illusion: an Introduction to and Translation of Shankara's Analysis of Transference. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(1):127-146.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(1):127-146

Origin and Nature of the Great Illusion: an Introduction to and Translation of Shankara's Analysis of Transference

Luther Askeland, Ph.D.


Like an oak tree's precisely timed and minutely orchestrated “leaf-fall”—or like those arcane neuronal events that culminate, somehow, in the spider's web, or somehow are the delicate, strangely unconscious “listenings” of a carp—the operations of the human mind are astonishing, inexplicable, a biological wonder. By means of their complex, highly evolved optics, we perceive and understand—or we habitually assume that we perceive and understand—the world and ourselves. Yet the Vedanta, one of India's most sustained, expansive, and vigorous soundings of reality, of This, affirms that all the mind's customary operations—that is, all commonsensical, philosophical, religious, ethical, and scientific interrogations and specifications of where and who we are, of how things are, of what is happening and why, of how to be—have, as their genesis and starting point, error: a profound “beginningless” confusion, the effect of which is to demote even our most self-evident and seemingly obvious perceptions and conclusions, all that we “know,” to the status of illusion.

Shankara, the Vedanta's greatest thinker and writer, has identified what hind of mistake this is. It is adhyāsa, literally, a “throwing on,” that is, projection, transference, superimposition. If we see something, not as what it in fact is, but as some other thing with which we already are familiar, that is adhyāsa. Just beyond the bend, a stick has fallen across the path. Coming round that bend in the evening dusk, I momentarily see a snake.

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