[Advaita-l] Seven untebles of Advaita.

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Mon May 23 06:55:17 CDT 2011

PraNAms - Many years ago a seeker raised the question in adviatin list related to the seven untenables of Advaita as presented as mahaa puurva paksha in Sribhaashya of Ramanuja. Here was my response at that time - I AM reposting my response for whatever it is worth, without revising it. If I have to represent it I might do in a different way. 

I have to also mention that these objections are not necessorily originated by Bhagavan Ramanuja - Many of them are infact purvapaksha presented by previous advatin masters. I find the same in the Shatadhuushani of Shree Vedanta Deshika too. Many are dialectic arguments which are more for hair splitting than any substance in them. This is my assessment. There is a book by Shreeman S.M.S. Chari on Advaita-VishiShTaadvata where he presents the shatadhuushani arguments. Chari maama stayed with me and in fact taught me Shreebhaasya of Bhagavan Ramanuja; I am greatful to him. Chari maamaa is no more now. 

Hari Om!

On Ramanuja's seven untenables

Q: Namaste I received a mail from a friend regarding the arguments of  
SriRamanujacharya against the fundamental tenets of Advaita. I've quoted the summary from the mail below. I am very interested to know Advaita's position regarding the views stated. Could the learned members state their views to make this 7 impossible tenets possible, please? :-) 

Sadananda: Hari Om! I am going to respond to the degree I know. There is a beautiful 
book by Shree Grimes on “seven untenables” as part of his Ph.D. thesis to Madras University. He addresses these very methodically. I learned a lot from his book. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy here and I cannot quote from that. If he is in the mailing list he can contribute. I am addressing one at a time although if one examines carefully all are essentially based on the same arguments but each with different emphasis.

( marked as response is by Sadananda ) 
THE SEVEN IMPOSSIBLE TENETS Ramanuja picks out what he sees as seven fundamental flaws in the Advaita philosophy for special attack: he sees them as so fundamental to the Advaita position that if he is right in identifying them as involving doctrinal contradictions, then Shankara's entire system collapses. He argues:

1. The nature of Avidya. Avidya must be either real or unreal; there is no other
Possibility. But neither of these is possible. If Avidya is real, non-dualism collapses into dualism. If it is unreal, we are driven to self-contradiction or infinite regress.

(a) There are several problems in Ramanuja’s criticism. In Advaita Siddhi, Madusuudhana saraswati has addressed this more extensively. We had discussions in the past in advaitin list related to this. “Avidya must be either real or unreal and there is no other possibility” - is an axiomatic statement of Ramanuja. Real on the basis of absoluteness or paramaarthika level fulfills the definition of trikaala abhaadhitam – that which remains unchanged or non-negated is alone real – this follows from Krishna’s 
statement – naasato vidyate bhaavo na bhaavo vidyate sataH – that which exists can never cease to exist and that which is non-existent can never come to existence. This statement is valid for gross as well as subtle matter. Thus anything that changes cannot be real. But it cannot be unreal either since it appears to exist in the present. Unreal is that which never existed in the past and has no locus in the present. Like vandyaa putraH – 
son of a barren woman. The world, Jagat, does not fulfill either of the definitions of the real and unreal. Since it undergoes continuous change it cannot be real but it cannot be unreal since it exists right now in the waking state. Hence a third term is needed to define the world – which is neither real and unreal. It is mithya that appears to be real but upon 
analysis it is not there. But upon analysis every mithya has to resolve to its substratum, which is real. Scientifically if something is continuously changing, then there is some thing fundamental that forms a basis for the continuously changing things. Hence Ramanuja’s claim that we are driven to self-contradiction is untenable from ones own experience. – Just like sun raise and sun set – is it real or unreal – It appears to be real since one experiences it everyday and it is not real since shaastra (science) says that sun neither raises nor sets. Hence it is mithya. As long as I have AJNaana or Avidya – I take the sun raise and sun set as real – but that can be negated once I have a correct knowledge. Thus Ramanuja is clearly wrong in his criticism that there is a contradiction in saying the statement ‘avidya is neither real and unreal causes self contradiction and infinite regression.

(b) Now coming to avidya itself – it is not a positive quantity to be or not to be. Its presence is inferred by the absence of knowledge. If I have no knowledge of chemistry, my ignorance of chemistry is inferred. Knowledge is positive – either in terms of information or facts in my memory or logical application of the information in the memory. When I gained the knowledge of chemistry, I say I have lost my ignorance of chemistry. If ignorance is real then I can never loose it. Inquiry into ignorance is itself a useless inquiry, since it is not a positive quantity to inquire about. When did the ignorance began? – this question itself is invalid question and hence it is said that it is anivervachaniiyam – unexplainable . It is anaadi – beginningless. If it has beginning then before that I was knowledgeable. Ignorance can be replaced by knowledge but not vice versa. Hence it is anaadi yet can have an end when the knowledge dawns on me. For that
 reason only it is peculiar type does not belong to the nature of Brahman. For the Jagat, the world, there is locus, which is Brahman, which is the substratum, or real on which the changes takes place. For ignorance there is not absolute locus to say it is centered on this. Hence it is called anirvacahaniiyam. It appears to be centered on Jeeva who himself is the 
product of avidya. But Jeeva has his own locus and that is Brahman while the ignorance has only apparent locus that is Jeeva, who takes unreal as real. That is what is the term delusion implies. Whatever one imagines oneself in delusion is not real but for the one who is in delusion what he imagines is real. Hence reality is based on the Reference State – hence it is at the vyaavahaarika or transactions level, the relative realties are established. From absolute point only Brahman alone is real. Everything else is relatively real.

II. The incomprehensibility of Avidya. Advaitins claim that Avidya is neither real nor unreal but incomprehensible, {anirvacaniiyam.} All cognition is either of the real or the unreal: the Advaitin claim flies in the face of experience, and accepting it would call into question all cognition and render it unsafe.

It is the extension of the same arguments but attacking the anivarchaniiyam aspect. Ramanuja’s statement that all cognitions are either of the real or unreal is absolutely wrong. In fact it is the other way around. Only Brahman alone is real, and Brahman cannot be cognized in the true sense of the word. We have already established that there is something called mithya, which appears to be real, but upon inquiry what appears to be real is not real, but only the substratum that supports the appearance is real. Sun raise and sun set is one example. Bending of the pencil immersed half way in water appears to be real, but bending is not real. Scientific investigations aim at resolving these apparent experiences by appropriate inquiry. Right type of inquiry leads to discoveries that illumine the truths underlying each of the experiences. There are truly anirvachaniiyam 
that is accepted even by Ramanuja and others – For example- which is the beginning – chicken or egg. Or what is the cause and what is the effect. Since ignorance is anaadi which Ramanuja also agrees, who has the ignorance is the fundamental question that is left to be answered by both systems of philosophy. (in the case of Ramanuja ignorance that is anaadi belongs to Jeevaas not knowing their aadhaaratvam or dependence on the Lord – that is due to delusion which is also Maya. His explanation is not much different. 
How and when the Jeevaas possessed this ignorance – he has to resort to the same answer too – it is anirvachaniiyam. In Advaita, ignorance which is the cause for Jiiva to feel that he is Jiiva is locused on Jiiva. It is like chicken and egg situation – anyonya ashraya – Jiiva has avidya and avidya is the cause of Jiiva. This cannot be resolved by intellectual analysis since intellect itself is the product of avidya. Hence it is anirvachaniiyam. Only way to resolve this is to transcend the cause-effect relations ships or transcend the time where all these concepts take birth. The anirvachaniiyam aspect in Ramanuja is buried 
in the disguise of Paramaatma leela. Why Lord wants to play at Jive’s expense is anirvachaniiyam, since He is the Lord and He cannot be questioned. Unquestionable surrenderance is only the upaaya or the means for moksha or liberation.

In addition, there are two ways to answer the central objection of Ramanuja. First, avidya is not positive quantity to be classified as real or unreal. It can only be inferred by lack of knowledge, which is positive. Since it does not come under real or unreal it is anivervachaniiyam. Second, ignorance by definition is incomprehensible. If it is comprehensible then it is no more ignorance. In contrast to what Ramanuja claims the 
incomprehensibility of avidya “flies in the face of experience, and accepting it would call into question all cognition and render it unsafe”, itself is baseless. One can only cognize knowledge of the object or lack of object. I know chemistry or I do not know chemistry both are facts to be cognized and recognized. In the cognition of the first, the knowledge of chemistry is cognized and in the cognition of the second the absence of the knowledge of chemistry is cognized. Anirvachaniiyam comes only to answer the why's and how's and when's etc – or inquiry into the nature of ignorance itself. This part of the problem as discussed above is common in Advaita and vishishhTaadvaita.

III. The grounds of knowledge of Avidya. No pramaaNa can establish Avidya in the sense the Advaitin requires. Advaita philosophy presents Avidya not as a mere lack of knowledge, as something purely negative, but as an obscuring layer which covers Brahman and is removed by true Brahma-vidya. Avidya is positive nescience not mere ignorance. Ramanuja argues that positive nescience is established neither by perception, nor by inference, nor by scriptural testimony. On the contrary, Ramanuja argues, all cognition is of the real.

Response: PramaaNa is the means of knowledge. Knowledge is required to eliminate the ignorance. To establish that ones is ignorant of something one need not have a pramaaNa. That I don’t know chemistry or I do not know gaagaabuubu is self-evident – in fact what is self-evident is the lack of knowledge of chemistry or lack of knowledge of gagaabuubu. What pramaaNa is needed to established to myself that I am ignorant of chemistry or gaagaabuubu. For others to establish that I am ignorant of chemistry or 
gaagaabuubu then pramaaNa or means of testing is required. But to establish for myself that I am ignorant no pramaaNa is required. PramaaNa is required to establish the fact which may contradict my own day to day experience. No one has to teach me that I am the body, I am the mind or I am the intellect. But pramaaNa is required to establish that I am not the body, nor the mind and not the intellect. Avidya is established automatically when the shaastra contradicts my direct experience and reveals the truth. In the face of the truth, ignorance that I had, falls off in spite of my day to day experience. That sun neither raises nor sets is established through pramaaNa in spite of my day to day experience of sun raise and sun set. Essentially I don’t need shaastra as a pramaaNa to 
establish that I am ignorant. What shaastra can do is to illumine the knowledge which when it dawns on me, the ignorance that I had is eliminated. What establishes the fact that sun raises in the morning and sets in the evening – that is direct perception. Hence experiences are basis for the ignorance too. But I may not perceive that I am ignorant till the knowledge dawn on me. PramaaNa is required to establish true knowledge. Ignorance 
cannot cover Brahman or much less anything. It is not a positive thing to cover something. But Advaita provides a rational explanation of the cause of not-seeing the truth as truth. What covers my knowledge that there is really no sun raise and no sun set. First, direct experience of the sun raise and sun set, and second the lack of proper understanding of that experience. We say ignorance as though covers the knowledge but truth is that ignorance is not a positive to cover anything. Ramanuja’s criticism of 
Advaita is therefore baseless. In fact that there is avidya that is covering the truth itself is only an explanation for the apparent facts. The truth is, there is nothing other than Brahman. Everything that is seen or appears to be there is only mithya including the concepts to explain that which is not there. Explanation of Maya and avidya applies to Maya and avidya too.

IV. The locus of Avidya. Where is the Avidya that gives rise to the(false) impression of the reality of the perceived world? There are two possibilities; it could be Brahman's Avidya or the individual soul's {Jiiva.} Neither is possible. Brahman is knowledge; Avidya cannot co-exist as an attribute with a nature utterly incompatible with it. Nor can the individual soul be the locus of Avidya: the existence of the individual soul is due to Avidya; this would lead to a vicious circle.

Response: This aspect is already covered in the first. This is the chicken and egg situation. Locus of avidya is not Brahman but jiiva who is the product of avidya. Avidya is beginning less from Jiiva’s point since beginning and end are concepts within time and time itself is in the mind of jiiva. Hence from Jiiva’s point, avidya arises before time is 
conceptualized and time is conceptualized only after the first two thoughts. Hence to ask whether it is Jiiva first or avidya first, is untenable question since before and after and cause and effects are within the realm of time. Scripture can provide some answers to this. “Existence-consciousness alone was there in the beginning and it is one without a second. He saw – and decided to become many” – Here is the origin of Iswara from the primordial cause. Creation begins with Iswara who has no ignorance. Ignorance starts with the identification with the created as I am this and this. How does it happen is unexplainable since the explanations are within the realm of intellect. Who is the locus for avidya – When the creation began, the locus of Maya is Iswara and after the creation has taken place misunderstanding that the creation is real is due to delusion and how that happens is anirvacaniiyam. The locus of that ignorance is jiiva. Ignorance is
 eliminated form Jiiva when the knowledge dawns on him. Avidya is not attribute for existence or 
non-existence. Besides Brahman is not opposite to avidya. In fact that there is avidya or ignorance is known as knowledge only by the illumination of the avidya by consciousness which is Brahman. It is like seeing the darkness. I cannot see anything in pitch dark. But that it is pitch dark – that I can see. In what light I can see that it is pitch dark – that light is not opposite to darkness since it can illumine darkness without 
destroying it, as I say that I can see that it is dark. Can I say darkness is covering the objects and that is the reason I cannot see. Darkness is not some positive thing to cover and uncover. Lack of enough light to illumine the objects for human equipment to see is the problem. But even in pitch darkness, I know I am there. Since I am self-luminous or 
self-consciousness entity. I don’t need any pramaaNa to prove that I exist and I am consciousness. Nothing can cover me.

V. Avidya's obscuration of the nature of Brahman. Shankara would have us believe that the true nature of Brahman is somehow covered-over or obscured by Avidya. Ramanuja regards this as an absurdity: given that Advaita claims that Brahman is pure self-luminous consciousness, obscuration must mean either preventing the origination of this(impossible since Brahman is eternal) or the destruction of it -equally absurd.

Response – I think Ramanuja haphazardly criticizes the Advaita without correct understanding of the import of Advaita. Bhagavaan Shankara does not say that Brahman is covered by avidya. But for Jiiva the Brahman is appeared to be covered since he does not know the truth. Shankara gives a common experience to illustrate the point. Just like dark clouds covering the sun – In principle clouds cannot cover the sun since he is so large compared to the size of the earth and the size of the clouds. And clouds exists because of the sun and the clouds that are covering the sun is seen only because of the sun – without the Sun, one cannot even see the clouds that are covering the sun. In the light of consciousness only the ignorance is known. If it is able to illumine the ignorance, then how can it be covered. Brahman is ekameva advitiiyam – one without a second and there is nothing that can cover it. Luminosity or self-luminosity of Brahman is not 
compromised any way since it is only in the light of that consciousness only the ignorance also is known. Obstruction is also a mithya since it is not real since it can be destroyed. It is apparent but appears to be real to the one who is deluded by the appearance. Hence intrinsic nature of luminous Brahman is not compromised just as clouds cannot cover the intrinsic nature of the luminous Sun.

VI. The removal of Avidya by Brahma-vidya. Advaita claims that Avidya has no beginning, but it is terminated and removed by Brahma-vidya, the intuition of the reality of Brahman as pure, undifferentiated consciousness. But Ramanuja denies the existence of undifferentiated{nirguna} Brahman, arguing that whatever exists has attributes: Brahman has infinite auspicious attributes. Liberation is a matter of Divine Grace: no amount of learning or wisdom will deliver us.

First, Ramanuja’s statement is not a criticism of Advaita but proposition of his axiomatic statements of the nature of the reality. His proposition that Brahman is not nirguNa contradicts not only Advaita but also scriptural statements. He provides a narrower meaning of nirguNa that He is without any durguNa. –
“ nirguNo, nishkRio, nityo, nirvikalpo niranjanaH” says the shruthi. 
“Whatever exists should have attributes” is a declarative statement of Ramanuja. This is applicable to only objects – and is true since objects have naama, ruupa and guNa. But objects are jadam they are not swayam prakaashatvam – some thing else has to illumine the objects- but for self-luminous self, nirguNa is absolutely valid statement. The reasoning is simple. Knowledge of the objects occurs by pratyaksha or anumaana etc 
through the knowledge of the guNaas only. They are known through the mind and intellect since the mind and intellect can only grasp that which have guNaas. To that extent only Ramanuja is right. But that which is guNaatiita that which is beyond the intellect, it cannot be comprehended by any thing. It is known only because it is self-luminous and no pramaaNa is required to establish that.
‘Liberation is a matter of divine grace’ – that Advaita does not contradict. In fact liberation occurs through knowledge which is not purusha tantra – it is by divine grace only “Brahman can be known” – or “aham Brahmaasmi can be realized. It is not knowing an object – since when one knows the object, one does not become an object. But knowing Brahman is becoming Brahman – brahmavit brahaiva bhavati – is the shruti. Hence it is not objective knowledge but subjective recognition or realization. As long as I have a notion (ego) that I am different from Brahman, I can never know Brahman. 
Only complete surrenderance of ones ego leads to the true knowledge of oneself. But even in Ramanuja’s teaching, it is the knowledge alone that brings moksha. It is the knowledge of ones complete dependence on the Lord which happens when one completely surrenders ones ego. Other than the fact that the nature of the moksha is different in the two doctrines, but the means is the same. In both cases bhakti leads to Jnaana – but is that Jnaana is different in the two doctrines. In one it is aham Brahmaasmi is the knowledge in the other I am eternal servant of the Lord. Both are gained by complete surrenderance to the Lord which can happen only under bhakti. Hence Shankara defines bhakti in VivekachuuDaamani as ‘ moksha kaaraNa saamaagrayam bhaktireva gariiyasi| atmaanubhava sandhaanam bhaktirityabhidiiyate’. Of all paths for moksha bhati is the supreme and ones establishment of oneself in his own self is the said to be true bhakti.

VII. The removal of Avidya. For the Advaitin, the bondage in which we dwell before the attainment of Moksa is caused by Maya and Avidya; knowledge of reality (Brahma-vidya) releases us. Ramanuja, however, asserts that bondage is real. No kind of knowledge can remove what is real. On the contrary, knowledge discloses the real; it does not destroy it. And what exactly is the saving knowledge that delivers us from bondage to Maya? If it is real then non-duality collapses into duality; if it is unreal, then we face an utter absurdity.

The reality of avidya is already touched upon in the earlier objections and already shown that avidya does not come under either real and or unreal. The objection is based on Ramanuja propositions and based on these propositions he rules out Advaita. Even in Advaita, knowledge discloses the reality of oneself and the reality of the world - real is true and that reality is the dismissal of ones own notions about oneself as I am this and 
that which are objects and re-educating oneself that I am the sat-chit-aananda which is ekameva advitiiyam. All are in me and I am in all of them, yet I am different from all of them is the knowledge that Krishna emphasizes. Sarva bhuutastam aatmaanam sarva bhuutaanica atmani – All are in me and I am in all of them- is the teaching.

Sadananda: My above comments are in no disrespect to Shree Bhagavaan Ramanuja. Through his criticisms he bought out the essential aspects of Advaita too for those who are keen in understanding the true import of Advaita. I strongly recommend everyone to study thoroughly Bhagavaan Ramanuja’s criticism of Advaita in his Shree Bhaasya. One has to have an open mind to investigate thoroughly the objections and the responses. Ultimately the truth is beyond intellectual comprehension and that is agreed upon by both systems of philosophy. It does not matter what Ramanuja says or Shankara says – it is all objective knowledge of the nature of the reality. Conclusion before experimentation is unscientific. Given the intellectual convictions as a basis, one has to discover the truth by one self in oneself as oneself. – dhyanena atmani pasyanti kechid atmaanam atmanaa – says Krishna – by means of meditation on the reality one discovers oneself in oneself by

--- On Sun, 5/22/11, Subramanian Balachandran <suba42 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Given the Seven Untenables of Advaita by Shree Ramanuja in
> his Sri Bhashya.
> I shall be grateful if you could kindly help me in giving
> the counter
> arguments to the same or recommend me books from which I
> can find the
> required solutions.
> Please do the needful.
> PraNaam.
> B.Subramanian.
> -----Inline Attachment Follows-----
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