[Advaita-l] Avidya

Shyam shyam_md at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 31 21:17:08 CDT 2010

Pranams Subbu-ji
My namaskarams to you for an enlightening exegesis related to avidyA, and its ontology.

I think it is a treaure for all seekers that will assist in their mananam.
I wanted to offer my perspectives to complement your exhaustive essays - in doing so, I am certain that most (if not all!) of the points I am about to make, and references, would have been previously covered by you at length, as you have written multiple essays related to this topic - my sincere apologies for the (perhaps numerous) repetitions.

There are many lacunae in logic when one entertains an erroneous idea with regards to avidya being jnana abhava or absence of knowledge - and I shall begin by elaborating on two.

First is that abhava is uniformly of the nature of an absence. This entire and extensive samsaric banyan tree has to have arisen from a seed - a cause has to be postulated on account of which this duality is readily apparent to everyone and is in fact everyone's natural experience. Now saying a absent seed caused this tree to sprout would be entirely absurd. Hence to get around this one may postulate that the tree is also illusory and hence there is no need to invoke a causal "root." This may be true if one's concept of the world is that it is entirely illusory or asat. But if one accepts that the world is "mithya" - neither real nor unreal - and not "asat" - totally unreal - then by that same token one has to equally admit to a seed that is neither real nor unreal - in other words anirvachaneeya - not categorizable. So samsara which is not unreal (as it is perceived) has to have a cause. And this cause cannot be absence. Besides absence is absence -
 whether it is absence of
 light, absence of time, absence of money or absence of intelligence. There is no special type/variety of absence called jnana abhava or absence of knowledge that can be a nimitta for anything, and much less, that needs to be destroyed by Vedanta shravana, in order that a human attain the Highest good. As Shankara asserts in his karika bhashya: Besides in the absence of any seed to be burnt by the knowledge of Brahman, (such) knowledge itself becomes useless.

The second problem with such an erroneous idea relates to deep sleep. If a jiva is pure consciousness with jnana abhava, then deep sleep per se has to admitted to be equivalent to Pure Consciousness itself. As per this conjecture, "i" a limited individual am Consciousness with a limiting adjunct of jnana abhava or absence of knowledge. What about in deep sleep? Can "absence" have a residual trace that "taints" the Self and persists in causing the individual "I" to awaken and resume the precise samsara it sought temporal respite from?

There are multiple more logical fallacies with regards to how a jivanmukta can  act, how teaching takes place, etc - too numerous to take seriously enough to spend time refuting - I would hence like to focus my thoughts on some of Acharya Shankara's writings about Avyakta Maya Avidya etc in an attempt to examine the Acharya's views - primarily because these relevant passages are of tremendous value to me, and perhaps to other seekers as aids in mananam. 

First let us examine some passages from the Mundaka bhashya.
In te very introduction the Acharya in explaining the term Upanishad says "..or so it is called so, since it completely weakens ot destroys avasaadayati the ignorance." One can see that the Acharya here is talking about weakening and gradually destroying a entity or seed ignorance - surely to "weaken" an absence would make little sense.

Furthermore while glossing on "tapasa cheeyate.." the Acharya while describing that there is a "fixed Order of creation i.e. that the Universe  does so in the this order of succession and not simultaneously like a handful of scattered jujubes"..asserts thus - " From that Unmanifest was born Hiranyagarbha who is common to all the beings in the Universe that are endued with a part of His power of knowledge and action, who sprouts from that seed of all beings which is constituted by ignorance, desire and action, and who identifies Himself with the Universe." 

Later on in the same Upanishad, Shankara talks very explicitly about this Unmanifest - 2.1.2

The text now proceed to speak of the Imperishable that is higher than the other imperishable which is called the Unmanifest....and the nature of this Maya is inferred from the fact of its being the limiting adjunct of Brahman that appears to be the seed of name and form. And that other imperishable called the Unmanifest that is inferred as the limiting adjunct of that Higher Impersihable is itself higher than all the modifications, because by implication it is the seed of all the effects and accessories. 

The Acharya describes vividly the condition of ignorance in 3.1.7 - Where is that Brahman perceived? In the cavity, called the intellect; for by the enlightened It is perceived as hidden there; and yet, even though existing there, It is not perceived by the ignorant because of Its being covered by ignorance. Again- from the vyavahara of bondage/ignorance/knowledge/ liberation - it is unmistakable that what is being alluded to is a root ignorance that is veiling as it were the Supreme Self and this is in turn responsible for the samsaric sorrow we experience. The verisame idea is reiterated for emphasis by the Acharya in 3.2.3 - esah atma - this Self reveals Its own Supreme nature, Its reality having been enveloped in ignorance.

We shall next examine some relevant verses from another of the Acharya's seminal works the Upadesha Sahasri.

Hari OM
Shri Gurubhyoh namah


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