[Advaita-l] avidya part 7

Shyam shyam_md at yahoo.com
Mon Apr 26 09:30:33 CDT 2010

The series on avidya and maya as seen in the Shankarabhashyas nnow pauses at one of the most important sections of the sutrabhashya where-in Shankara very systematically expunds on the doctrine of satkaryavada  and in so doing demolishes those doctrines that stand opposed using a breathtaking sequence of logical considerations. While a detailed examination of this section 2.18,19, etc is beyond the scope of the series it may be helpful to examine a small section that has implications for our understanding of Brahman/Maya.

But, an objection will be raised, in some places Scripture speaks of the
effect before its production as that which is not; so, for instance, 'In the beginning there was only Nonexistece' (Ch. Up. III, 19, 1); and 'Non-existent indeed this was in the beginning' (Taitt. Up. II, 7). Hence Being (sattvam) cannot be ascribed to the effect before its production.
The purvapakshin has a valid doubt. Let us take a pot. When can we say it exists? Obviously only after the potter fashions it. Would you pay 10 rupees for a existent pot that the potter has not yet made? So before the pot is made, all there is is its prior nonexistence. And not only sound logic, but the purvapakshin seems to have Shruti on his side too, and he quotes from two Shruti passages which clearly affirm his position.

Replies Shankara: 

This we deny. For by the Non-existence of the effect previous to its production is not meant absolute Non-existence, but only a different quality or state, viz. the state of name and form being unevolved, which state is different from the state of name and form being evolved. With reference to the latter state the effect is called, previous to its production, non-existent although then also it existed identical with its cause. We conclude this from the complementary passage, according to the rule that the sense of a passage whose earlier part is of doubtful meaning is determined by its complementary part. With reference to the passage. 'In the beginning this was non-existent only,' we remark that what is there denoted by the word 'Non-existing' is in the complementary passage, 'That became existent'- referred to by the word 'that,' and qualified as 'Existent.'

The word 'was' would, moreover, not apply to the (absolutely) Non-existing, which cannot be conceived as connected with prior or posterior time. Hence with reference to the other passage also, 'Non-existing indeed,', the complementary part, 'That made itself its Self,' shows, by the qualification which it contains, that absolute Non-existence is not meant.

It follows from all this that the designation of 'Non-existence' applied to the effect before its production has reference to a different state of being merely. And as those things which are distinguished by name and form are in ordinary language called 'existent,' the term 'non-existent' is figuratively applied to them to denote the state in which they were previously to their differentiation.

Thus the revered bhashyakara here establishes the eternal fact that from abhava absolute  Nonexistence cannot lead to any effect and hence these passages and this doubt of the opponent has no validity. Things can be in latent form - the tree in the seed is latent but the entire gigantic tree is very much present in seed or potential form alone. What is subsequently seen as tree was always existent, but from the standpoint of the particular features such as being so huge and having hundreds of branches and millions of leaves etc we can say that "tree-ness" was non-existent as it were when this tree existed in seed form. Thus we can look at the tree and say - "in the seed "this" was nonexistent and from the seed "this" came into being". The objections to this are of course stemming from a asatkaryavadin but may as well be stemming from anyone postulating that a effect not totally unreal can indeed originate from a cause that is completely nonexistent.
 Later in the same sutra Shankara further drives home this verisame analogy - vide..

And even in those cases where the continued existence of the cause is not perceived, as, for instance, in the case of seeds of the fig-tree from which there spring sprouts and trees, the term 'birth' (when applied to the sprout) only means that the causal substance, viz. the seed, becomes visible by becoming a sprout through the continual accretion of similar particles of matter; and the term 'death' only means that, through the secession of those particles, the cause again passes beyond the sphere of visibility. Nor can it be said that from such separation by birth and death as described just now it follows that the non-existing becomes existing, and the existing non-existing; for if that were so, it would also
follow that the unborn child in the mother's womb and the new-born babe stretched out on the bed are altogether different beings....

In the mother's womb is a embryo devoid of all differentiations - a homogenous mass of protoplam - and here in the crib is a full-grown infant, with arms, legs, a shrill cry, and a beautific smile. Would it not be absurd to say that this baby in the beginning was nonexistent in the embryo?

Shankara now turns the table and shows the asatkaryavadin the absurdity of his postulate.

Ordinary experience teaches us that those who wish to produce certain effects, such as curds, or earthen jars, or golden ornaments, employ for their purpose certain determined causal substances such as milk, clay, and gold; those who wish to produce sour milk do not employ clay, nor do those who intend to make jars employ milk and so on. But, according to that doctrine which teaches that the effect is non-existent (before its actual production), all this should be possible. For if before their actual origination all effects are equally non-existent in any causal substance, why then should curds be produced from milk only and not from clay also, and jars from clay only and not from milk as well?

If I have to make a gold ring, it would be impossible for me to use clay. If however one says from absolute nonexistence some entity can be produced then anything can be produced from anything - afterall a claypot is nonexistent before it is fashioned at the wheel - so instead of clay, a claypot may as well arise from milk.

But wait a minute - cautions this opponent - you are stretching things too far. Of course the pot is nonexistent before it is made. But it is only gold that has the capacity of being made into a ring. Milk does not have this property of being made into a ring. So while we do admit that certain things only can produce certain effects we still very much postulate that the ring prior to its origin at the hands of a jeweller does not exist.

Purvapakshin: There is indeed an equal non-existence of any effect in any cause, but that at the same time each causal substance has a certain capacity reaching beyond itself (atisaya) for some particular effect only and not for other effects; that, for instance, milk only, and not clay, has a certain capacity for curds; and clay only, and not milk, an analogous capacity for jars.

Shankara now shows why this is untenable.

What, we ask in return, do you understand by that potency 'atisaya?' If you understand by it the antecedent condition of the effect (before its actual origination), you abandon your doctrine that the effect does not exist in the cause (asatkaryavadahanih), and prove our doctrine according to which it does so exist(satkaryavadasiddhih). Again, when potency shakti is assumed in the cause to determine the effect, that potency cannot influence the effect by being different (from both the cause and effect) or nonexistent, since (either way) nonexistence and difference will pertain to that potency as much to the effect.Hence it follows that that power or potency is identical with, is the very essence of the cause, and that the effect is identical with, is involved in the very core of that potency.


Shankara asks the opponent to clarify what is meant by this potential - if clay has this unique potential to create a pot and gold the unique potential to create a ring....what is this potential? If you say it is the pot-ability of clay is what i mean then you abandon your own doctrine - becuase what is this "pot-ability" or "pot-ency" but a seed form of the pot? On the other hand, if you say it is a separate Power, then this power cannot be "nonexistent" - not only that if it is existent, it cannot be other than either the cause or the effect, otherwise how does it have the particular ability for the particularized effect from the specifi cause? Looking at this in a different way, if the "pot"-ency in clay be different from both the clay and the pot, or if such "pot"ency be non-existent, it may produce anything - perhaps a soccer-ball - rather than a "pot" alone - for these 2 features - of being different from both cause and effect and being
 noneixtstent are equally valid to the pot as to the soccer-ball.  He further reemphasizes this as he summarizes his lengthy commentary on this sutra.

.....And if (in order to preclude this erroneous conclusion) the opponent should say that the effect is (not something
different from the cause, but) a certain relative potency (atisaya) of the inherent cause; he thereby would simply concede our doctrine, according to which the effect exists in the cause already.

Furthermore -
Nonexistence - abhava has no name and form (is completely unreal) - and hence it is illogical to indicate any limit for it by saying "nonexistence before its creation"....About the son of a barren woman it is not asserted "The son of a barren woman became a king before the enthronement of Purnavarman"  whereby he can be allotted to a certain period of time in the sense that he became, is becoming , or will become a king.

With this background now we can understand the relationship of Brahman and the Creation. The Creation is in essence Brahman. It is nonseparate from Brahman. This Creation did not spring from nonexistence, or from a void, nor from any kind of "absence". The Creation is not totally unreal as its essence is Existence alone. The potency or Shakti, for the Creation, is none other than Maya or Avidya, and this Maya in essence is the very core, the power of Brahman alone. From this seed of Avidya springs forth the manifest Creation - this variegated Universe - which then resolves back unto the verisame Unmanifest seed form in a cycle of beginningless eternity.

Hari Om
Shri Gurubhyo namah


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