[Advaita-l] BhAvarUpa ajnAna/avidya Part 4

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Thu Mar 18 20:15:11 CDT 2010

A discussion on the concept of ‘abhAva’ (contd.)

·        Also, quite significantly, we have to recall that Shankara
Bhagavatpada has, in the Taittiriya Upanishad Bhashya categorically
criticized the suggestion of an existent, bhAva vastu, entity originating
from non-existence, abhAva.  //अभावाद्भावोत्पत्तिः
...सर्वप्रमाणव्याकोपः..//There is no possibility of such an event as
it is against all evidence.
By ‘pramAna’ we understand shruti, yukti and anubhava.  By none of these
means can we admit a bhAva vastu originating from an abhAva entity.  Conversely
an abhAva entity like ‘jnAnaabhAva’ cannot give rise to bhAva entities like
adhyAsa, samshaya, etc.

·        We also referred to the fact that ‘ajnanam’ is a kArya of ‘tamas’
of PrakRti, on the basis of the Gita verses of the 14th chapter.  In the
Brihadaranyaka bhashya sentence where the word ‘jnAnabhAva’ occurs,
Bhagavatpada concludes with the word ‘ajnAnam’.  That means, according to
Him, ‘jnAnabhAva’ is only an offshoot of ‘ajnAnam’. Hence, we conclude that
‘jnAnAbhAva’ is an effect of tamas and therefore has to be a bhAva vastu,
since a kAryam cannot be abhAva rUpa.

·        What indeed, then, is meant by the portion ‘abhAva’ in the word
‘jnAnaabhAva’?  Let us consider an example to appreciate the purport of
Bhagavatpada’s bhaashya word.   ‘Darkness’, termed ‘tamah’ in Sanskrit can
be defined as ‘absence of light’ or तेजोऽभावः’.

Is this ‘absence of light’ of the nature of non-existence, abhAvarUpa? No.  We
have in the antaryAmi brAhmaNa of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad a mantra
3.7.13 that reads:

//यस्तमसि तिष्ठन् तमसोऽन्तरो यं तमो न वेद यस्य तमः शरीरं यस्तमोऽन्तरो
यमयत्येष त आत्मा अन्तर्याम्यमृतः //( He who inhabits darkness, yet is within
darkness, whom  darkness does not know, whose body darkness is and who
controls darkness from within  —He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the

Now, if tamaH, darkness, were to be merely an ‘abhAva’ of ‘tejas’, light,
how can the Upanishad talk about tamas as a devataa and say that the
antaryAmi Atma ‘resides’ in darkness, tamas, and the tamas itself is
ignorant of the antaryAmi?  This shows that even though we may say ‘tamas is
teja-abhAvaH’,  tamas is not declared to be an ‘abhAvarUpa’ entity.  Exactly
in the same way when Shankaracharya uses the word ‘jnAnaabhAva’ He does not
mean that it is ‘abhAvarUpa’.  He only means that ‘the jnAna pertaining to
Atman is lacking’, that is all.

In the Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.8,9  we have the famous mantras:

अविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः...

अविद्यायां बहुधा वर्तमानाः ..

//8. Fools, dwelling in darkness, but wise in their own conceit and puffed
up with vain scholarship, wander about, being afflicted by many ills, like
blind men led by the blind.

9. Children, immersed in ignorance in various ways, flatter themselves,
saying: We have accomplished life's purpose. Because these performers of
karma do not know the Truth owing to their attachment, they fall from
heaven, misery- stricken, when the fruit of their work is exhausted.  //

How can the Upanishad teach that ‘people are immersed in ignorance’ if
according to the Upanishad ‘avidyA’ is an abhAvarUpa?  How can anyone
immerse and bathe in mirage water?  Shankaracharya has quoted a verse in the
Taittiriya Upanishad (Anandavalli 1) bhashya:

मृगतृष्णाम्भसि स्नातः खपुष्पकृतशेखरः ।

एष वन्ध्यासुतो याति शशशृङ्गधनुर्धरः ॥

// Having bathed in mirage water, donning his hair with the sky-flowers,
there goes the barren-woman’s son holding the bow made of hare’s horn.//

Holding avidya/ajnAna to be abhAvarUpa will amount to the above caricature
that Shankara has quoted.

The view of Sri Sacchidanandendra Saraswati SwaminaH (SSS)

The following is what SSS says in the ‘Reply’ to a scholar’s article on

// *AdhyAsa*, of course, presupposes ignorance or want of true knowledge.
But this is a logical presupposition, a necessary implication of thought. No
positive entity like the unfortunate *MUlAvidyA* can claim precedence in
time over *adhyAsa; *for, as already said, time itself is its product.
Vedanta which predicates the unity of Brahman will be shattered to pieces,
if a second entity not subjected to or originating from *adhyAsa* be for a
moment conceded to exist. The reality of the not-self (*anAtman) *follows
necessarily from its not being *adhyAsa, *superimposed. I submit this vital
aspect of the system to the learned Professor for his deep consideration.//

>From the above it is clear that SSS admits of an ignorance presupposing
adhyAsa. It is also clear, from the concluding remarks above, that SSS has,
erroneously, equated the bhAvarUpa status of mUlAvidyA with the Reality of
Brahman. He says that accepting a condition of ignorance prior to
superimposition is *a logical presupposition, a necessary implication of
thought. *What prevents him from extending this privilege of logical
necessity to the Acharyas who have found it necessary to posit a condition
preceding adhyAsa and naming it ‘mUlAvidyA’? It would be pertinent to
examine how and in what ways is the *‘want of knowledge’ or ‘jnAna
abhAva’*as his followers term it, is different in kind from the
mUlAvidyA that SSS
opposes vehemently.

(To be continued in Part 5)

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