[Advaita-l] vidya, avidya, brahman and holography

Murali Karamchedu murali_m_k at msn.com
Fri Sep 18 14:53:01 CDT 2009

Dear List Members,


I wish to draw your attention to an interesting paper by
Stephan Kaplan titled “Vidya and Avidya: Simoultaneous and Coterminous? – A Holographic
Model to Illuminate The Advaita Debate”. 


The author presents a modern analogy in understanding the
problem of how vidya and avidya can coexist in Brahman, and yet Brahman remain
unchanged. I found this a welcome analogy, it is placed in apposition to
existing analogies such as the snake-rope, dreamer-dream objects etc.  The author also does a helpful preliminary survey of
the central philosophical issues surrounding the vidya-avidya problem, and the
different ways that advaita outsiders and insiders have dealt with this issue. There
are polemical writings, such as those of N.S Anathakrishna Shastri and
Madhusudhana Saraswati, that have dealt with these issues. What the analogy
does is create a modern framework within which one can better appreciate traditional
and technical concepts of svarupa jnana and dharmabhuta jnana. While the author
does not explicitly cover it, the analogy also helps in understanding how the
sharira-shariri bhava in vishistadvaita might not be in contradiction to partlessness of Brahman.


The author argues that traditional analogies lay significant
emphasis on the epistemological problem of the presence of avidya, whereas the
analogue itself offers little in terms of the nature of Brahman as a
substratum; i.e the snake is *not* partless, the sand(in the mirage) is not
partless, the dreamer is *not* changeless. When trying to understanding advaita,
we rightly take these as limited analogies and work with them. The author
suggests that holography actually offers another analogy where there is a
substratum that has properties similar to partlessness and changelessness; the
author readily acknowledges the limitations of this analogy as well. 


Briefly, holography involves two special characteristics
that distinguish it from traditional image persistence. In traditional image persistence
(such as photography), there is a one to one correspondence between a point on
the substratum and the actual artifact. The image is made of parts. A mediated representation
of the artifact exists on the substratum. In holography, a beam of laser is
split into a reference beam and a tracer or object beam, the object beam is
reflected from the object. These two beams interfere and the interference pattern
that results is then translated to the substratum. When one needs to
reconstruct the image, the interference pattern is reinterpreted and an image
is produced. Now, the interference stored on the substratum is identical
everywhere on the substratum, so any part can construct the whole image, and
the whole can also only create the whole image. The interpreted/reflected
reality – pratibhasika/vyavaharica – is called the explicate domain; whereas
the underlying reality of the interference pattern where there are no
distinctions, no images, no objects, no object distinctions etc is called the
implicate domain. Clearly, physicists and other specialists will cringe at such
oversimplification and possible misrepresentation!


The author does a compelling job of drawing parallels
between the implicate domain and Brahman and extends the analogy as much as
possible to several aspects of vyavaharica and pratibhasika realities; as well
as takes on some of the vexing questions involved in the context of this analogy.


For those of you interested, here are the reference details:


Author: Stephan Kaplan

Title: Vidya and avidya: simultaneous and coterminous? – a holographic
model to illuminate the advaita debate

Philosophy of East and West 57.2(April 2007): p178



Murali Manohar




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