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This excerpt is from the book " Talks on Sankara's Vivekachoodamani " by Swami Chinmayananda
The fear and sorrow created by the delusory serpent on the rope can be ended only after fully ascertaining the truth of the rope which is available for recognition only through steady and balanced thinking.
Why the discovery of the Self is not possible through karma and how this is possible by means of right thinking is being explained here by the famous analogy of the serpent and the rope.In Vedanta, this example is often quoted to make the student understand how the names and forms created through the ignorance of Reality can end with the rediscovery of the Truth underlying them. It is never possible that one who has seen the rope as rope will ever have the fear and sorrow of a snake-bite. But in the gathering darkness of the dusk a traveller mistakes an innocent rope to be a snake. The serpent-delusion is created in the mind of the traveller because of his ignorance of the rope-reality.
Having thus been bitten by a delusory serpent, the individual, so long as he is under the delusion, suffers the agony of a snake-bite and,if left alone, will exhibit symptoms of blood-poisoning too. But the traveller is advised to make an enquiry into his delusion. Faithful friends or near and dear ones will approach the deluded one and exclaim, " Oh, it is only a length of rope". He will accept this statement as a possibility because of his faith in his friends.
But however much he may try, he will not enjoy complete peace of mind unless he himself sees the rope as a rope. The moment he is led to the place of the incident and in a clear light, he discovers the rope for himself, the fear and anxiety, and the delusory snake and its bite all end. No amount of beating the rope in the darkness can kill the snake or finally bring peace, happiness and cheer to the individual. Even if the rope is burnt, he cannot find his balance again and take his mind away from the thoughts of fear and pain caused by the snake-bite, for he may still believe that he was bitten by a snake and it was the snake which was burnt to ashes.
So through karmas performed even for thousands of years,one cannot come to that joy of Self-Discovery, the only method for which is to treat the path of discriminative analysis. This example, famous in Vedantic literature, is given by Sankara only to remind us how and in what way correct thinking can blot out the miseries of life, which are only the outcome of our misunderstanding and ignorance of reality.