[Advaita-l] Sringeri AchAryas on the VivaraNa - the cause of adhyAsa

Anand Hudli anandhudli at hotmail.com
Tue Mar 6 21:10:35 CST 2007

Shankara describes adhyAsa, super-imposition as anAdirananto naisargiko 
adhyAsaH, meaning the beginningless, endless adhyAsa is a natural 
phenomenon. It is for the destruction of this adhyAsa that the study of 
VedAnta is begun.

One may ask whether it is appropriate to look for the cause of this 
beginningless, seemingly endless, natural phenomenon called adhyAsa. Should 
we accept it as such and not analyze it further?

PadmapAda, in his PanchapAdikA, explains that Shankara himself has indicated 
that there is a cause of adhyAsa by employing the term mithyAjnAna-nimitta:

mithyAjnAnanimittaH iti | mithyA cha tat.h ajnAnaM cha mithyAjnAnam.h| 
mithyA iti anirvachanIyatA uchyate| ajnAnamiti cha jaDAtmikA avidyAshaktiH 
jnAnapuryudAsena uchyate | tannimittaH tadupAdAnaityarthaH |

(The shAnkara bhAShya says) "mithyAjnAnam.h." That which is mithyA and 
ajnAna is mithyAjnAna. mithyA is said to be anirvachanIyA, indescribable. 
And, the insentient power of ignorance, avidyAshakti, is called ajnAna due 
to its being opposed to jnAna, knowledge.  Having that as cause is having 
that as the material cause.

Therefore, mithyAjnAna is that which is indescribable (as sat or asat) and 
is opposed to jnAna. Both aspects of mithyAjnAna are at play in an illusion 
such as silver in nacre. There is a lack of knowledge of the nacre and an 
erroneous cognition (bhranti-jnAna) of something other than nacre, ie. 
silver. PadmapAda also says that this mithyAjnAna is of the same "stuff" or 
material as adhyAsa and causes adhyAsa.

PrakAshAtman, the author of the famous panchapAdikA-vivaraNa, from which the 
vivaraNa school derives its name, explains PadmapAda's position:

tatra-ajnAnamityukte jnAnAbhAvamAtramuktaM syAt.h mithyetyukte 
bhrAntijnAnimiti syAt.h tadubhayavyAvR^ittyarthaM niruchya padArthau 
darshayati mithyA cha tadajnAnaM chetyAdinA |

If (Shankara in his bhAShya) had said "ajnAna" (alone) then it would have 
meant only the absence of jnAna, knowledge. Had he said "mithyA" (alone) 
then it would have meant erroneous knowledge. In order to eliminate each of 
these two alternatives (taken alone), (PadmapAda) has analyzed (mithyAjnAna) 
as ajnAna which is mithyA (or mithyAbhUta ajnAna), and so on (see above).

If mithyAjnAna denoted only the absence of knowledge, it would have meant 
something completely false, like the horns of a hare. Since it is not 
completely false, it is something positive (bhAvarUpa). It is this 
bhAvarUpa-ajnAna that is the material cause (upAdAna) of adhyAsa.

But even before we reach this stage of looking for a cause of adhyAsa, an 
objection may be raised: "Why should adhyAsa have a cause at all?" After 
all, Shankara does not, in his adhyAsa bhAShya, explicitly describe a cause 
of adhyAsa. In reply, we may say that he has implied such a cause as shown 
by PadmapAda and later teachers of the vivaraNa school.

Two such great teachers from the school were AchAryas from  the Sringeri 
shAradA pITha itself - BhAratI tIrtha and VidyAraNya. One of the greatest 
works of the VivaraNa school, VivaraNa-prameya-saMgraha was written by 
BhAratI tIrtha or by VidyAraNya or by both, according to some manuscripts.

The Vivarana-prameya-saMgraha of BharatI tIrtha-VidyAraNya proclaims:

tasya chAdhyAsasya anAdyanirvachanIya-bhAvarUpa-ajnAnam-upAdAnam.h, tasmin.h 
sati adhyAsodayAt.h, asati cha anudayAt.h | (1.27)

The material cause of that adhyAsa, superimposition is the beginningless, 
indescribable, ajnAna (ignorance) that is a positive entity (and not merely 
absence of knowledge). This is because of the fact that when this 
(bhAva-rUpa-ajnAna) is present, adhyAsa arises, and when it is not present, 
the adhyAsa does not arise.

This topic of why a cause for adhyAsa is necessary is dealt with in the 
VivaraNa-prameya-saMgraha :

pradhvamsavad-upAdAnApekShaiva mA bhUditi chet.h, na, vimataM sopadAnam.h, 
bhAvatve sati kAryatvAt.h, ghaTavat.h, ityanumAnAt.h | (1.28)

(If you argue that) there may not be a material cause (of adhyAsa at all), 
as in the case of destruction (which does have not a material cause), (we 
say) no. The matter under dispute (adhyAsa) is an effect while being  
existent, like a pot, and therefore we can infer a material cause.

The objection is that there may not be a material cause of adhyAsa as in the 
case of destruction of an object. In reply, it is stated that adhyAsa is an 
existent entity and an effect. As such it must necessarily have a material 
cause, as in the case of a pot, for example. The inference here is applied 
to the rule "whatever is an existent entity and an effect has a material 

A further objection may be raised by saying that the above rule may not 
always apply.

nanu paTaguNe rUpe anaikAntiko hetuH | na hi tasyopAdAnaM saMbhavati| tasya 
kiM paTa evopAdAnam.h, dravyAntaraM vA ?

Now, for a quality of a cloth, such as its color, the probans (hetu or 
reason, ie. being existent and an effect) leads to no unique conclusion (and 
hence the rule is violated). There cannot possibly be a material cause of 
the color. Is the cloth itself the material cause of its color? Or, is 
another substance the material cause?

nAdyaH, savyetarayor-viShANayoriva yugapadutpannayoH 
kArya-kAraNa-bhAvAnupapatteH | dvitIye dravyAntara-gatatvena 
paTaguNatvahAniriti |

It cannot be the first (ie. the cloth itself is the material cause of its 
color) because it is not possible to assign a cause and effect relationship 
between two things that are produced simultaneously, such as two horns - 
left and right (of an animal). If it be the second (ie. another substance is 
the material of the color of the cloth), then it loses its character as a 
quality of the cloth by being present in a different substance.

The reply:

maivam | tArkikamate tAvadutpannaM dravyaM kShaNamaguNaM tiShThatIti nyAyena 
yaugapadyAbhAvAt.h, paTasyaivopAdAnatva saMbhavaH | vedAntimate tu 
tantUnAmupAdAnatve .api kAryakAraNayorabhedAt.h paTaguNatvaM na hIyate |

It cannot be so. In the nyAya (logicians') system, any substance produced 
exists without any quality for a moment. Using this logic, the cloth itself 
is the material cause (of its color), since there is no
simultaneous (production of the cloth and its color). In the system of 
VedAntins (ie. our system), however, even if the threads that form the cloth 
are (considered to be) the material cause (of the color of the cloth), there 
is no loss of being a quality of the cloth, since (we consider) the cause 
and effect to be non-different.

The objection can be answered by considering either the cloth itself to be 
the material cause of its color or the threads that make up the cloth to be 
the material cause of the color. If we consider the cloth to be material 
cause of its color, then as per the nyAya system, a thing that is produced 
initially exists for a moment without any quality. So the cloth during its 
first moment of existence is without any quality. There is no harm in 
admitting that the cloth in its first moment acts as the material cause of 
its qualities, including the color. Since there is no simultaneity here, the 
cause and effect relationship is not ruled out. Again, if we consider the 
threads to be the material cause of the color of the cloth, it is in 
accordance with the VedAnta system. The threads are the material cause of 
the cloth itself. Here, we find the acceptance of satkArya-vAda that holds 
that the cause and effect are non-different. Even though the material cause 
of the color is not the cloth but the threads that make the cloth, the color 
can be considered to belong to the cloth since the threads (cause) and the 
cloth (effect) are not different from each other.

Therefore, it is appropriate to identify a cause of adhyAsa even though it 
is beginningless and seems to flow eternally and naturally in the affairs of 
the world. We will see how the bhAva-rUpa-avidyA is further analyzed next.


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