avidya (was Re: message to my friends)
gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA
Mon Aug 17 08:33:11 CDT 1998
Namaste. This is in response to Charles Wikner's post of last week on
I admit that discussion and tracing of avidyA to its source are of intellectual
interest only and may not be very useful in our quest for enlightenment.
However, it seems to me, that even when engulfed with avidyA, we can still
see the path for enlightenment. Thus there may be some use after all of
trying to know what avidyA is and what its source is. First, some points
which came up in the last posting by Charles.
1. AvidyA is anirvachanIya, undefinable.
2. AvidyA is anAdi, without a beginning.
3. It is futile to trace the source of avidyA.
I like to add to this two other points and then some discussion.
4. AvidyA is only in vyavahArika, it just disappears (does not exist) in paramArtha.
Intellect is also in vyavahArika and it is the intellect that tries to trace the
source of avidyA. However, intellect itself is within the realm of avidyA and hence
the inability of the intellect to trace avidyA to its source and hence the
points 1 and 2 above.
5. The knowledge gained by the intellect through study of vedas is knowledge still
within the realm of avidyA and hence will not lead to moksha.
If this were accepted, it leads to the rather unacceptable conclusion that the role
of viveka is minimal. Vedanta students, fully equipped with shhaTsampatti and
diligently following sAdhana chatushhTayam, pursue vidyA (does not waste time with
avidyA) and out of those vedanta students, the SELF chooses a few to reveal
Itself and those few students realize the SELF. The vedanta students are put on
this path through their viveka and thus viveka plays a major role in the
Self-realization. It also follows that the SELF will not reveal itself to those
jeevas who pursue the pleasant rather than the good (Katha upanishhad reference).
Viveka and chitta shuddhi are in the realm of avidyA because these are the attributes
of a jeeva. However, Self-realization (the revealing of the SELF by Itself to itself,
Katha upanishhad, 1.2.23) can occur only to those jeevas with these attributes.
There is some link (that is not and cannot be understood by the intellect) between
the vyavahArika and paramArtha. Thus we can learn something from the study of source
of avidyA in our quest for realization of the SELF.
Now, the answer to the question: To whom does the avidyA belong ?
I was under the impression until I re-read Brahma-sutra bhAshhya by Shri Shankara
(discussed further down) that the answer to the question is: it belongs to the
individual soul. From the standpoint of paramArtha (if It has a viewpoint), all the
individual souls are identical with paramArtha, but the individual souls falsely
imagine themselves to be different and that is the source of avidyA.
But I like Shri Shankara's answer in Brahma-sutra-bhAshhya which is to the point
and beautifully put. Shri Shankara in commenting on sutra 4.1.3 says in answer to
the question "To whom does the avidyA belong ?" " avidyA belongs to you who asks
the question". If the question is persisted "But do not the vedas say I am the Lord ?",
Shri Shankara's reply is "If you are awake to that, you will see that there is no
avidyA for anybody".
It is quite revealing that Shri Shankara says that an embodiment of jnAnam does not
see avidyA *anywhere*, not only in that physical shape of jnAnam, but nowhere else
either. That must be an amazing state.
The post is already long, and I will continue some other points on this topic in my
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