[Advaita-l] nature of Avidya (fwd)

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Thu Apr 1 06:35:19 CDT 2010

On Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 8:38 AM Shri Subhanu ji wrote:

> VS
> First, it should be noted that this 'orthodox view' is that of Shankara.  I
> have quoted Shankara's Taittiriya Upanishad commentary where he
> specifically
> criticizes the view that 'an existent thing could come from a non-existent
> thing': अभावात् भावोत्पत्तिः..सर्वप्रमाणव्याकोपा .  If it is true that
> Sureshvara has refuted this view, clearly he is refuting Shankara.
> And worse, Sureshwara is contradicting himself.  For, he has said in the
> Taittiriya Upanishad Bhashya Vartika: न ह्यभावाद्बवेद्भावो मानं यस्मान्न
> विद्यते  (sIkShAvalli 19) [What is existent cannot, indeed, come out of
> what
> is non-existent, as there is no evidence for that.]
> Subhanu ji:

> I would like to make a few clarifications:
> -
> -    The passage you refer to relates to a discussion on performance of
> obligatory rites more than samsara. The point is made by both Shankara and
> Suresvara in many places however, regarding Brahman and not Samsara: In
> other words, saying that the not-real cannot emerge from the real is to
> show
> that Brahman is the only reality and nothing else, and is not trying to
> establish a material causality for something that is ultimately seen to not
> have any independent existence.

Response to the above view from VS:

Sir, it would look like Shankara is invoking a universal rule 'From
non-existence an existent entity cannot emerge' just in this case where
someone proposes 'from non-performance of nitya karma, an existent entity
called 'pratyavAya', sin, would emerge.'  The reality is that Shankara does
not miss a single opportunity to apply this rule. Nor does He violate this
rule or permits others violating it.  In the Chandogya Upanishad bhashya for
the mantra 6.2.2 (and 6.2.1) Shankara takes up an elaborate discussion to
establish that no existent entity can come from non-existence. Here the
context is creation of the world. In the larger picture, the 'creation'
(imagination) of samsara is no different from creation of the world by
Brahman/Ishwara.  The Bhashya, in translation, in parts, is reproduced here:

//  6.2.2  ..by what logic can existence verily come out of non-existence?
But surely, in the beginning, all this was Existence, One only, without a
The bhashya: After having shown the view of the absolute Nihilists
(महावैनाशिकाः) which consists of this misunderstanding, the text rebuts it.
By what logic, by what
 means of proof, can it verily be so?  How can it be that existence, sat,
comes out from asat, non-existence? [Here by the word 'sat' Shankara is not
saying that the created world is an absolutely existent entity like Brahman.
It is the world that is seen and experienced by all; and hence is a bhAva
vastu, though unreal.]

The meaning is that this cannot be possible by any means of proof. [one can
recall the Taittiriya Bhashyam where Shankara says the same thing:

As for the argument that a sprout is seen to come out of a seed that is
destroyed, that is, it comes out of non-existence itself, that also runs
counters to their accepted view.  How?  ......[a little further down..] Is
that thing (seed) existence or non-existence? If it is non-existence, no
illustration can be cited in support of this proposition.  If, on the
contrary, it is existence, even then the sprout does not come out of
non-existence.  For the sprout is born from the constituents of the seed.
[Here Shankara states that the cause is a material one and essentially a
...It is true that one existence does not come out of another existence. The
same existence continues in a different configuration.  As for instance, a
snake forms into a coil; and earth continues in different forms as dust,
lump, pot-shreds, etc. //

[This is the accepted view of Shankara/Vedanta of any cause-effect
relationship.  The cause is existence and the effect is also existence; the
effect is only another form of existence.  This is exactly what the Mandukya
Upanishad and Karika 1.11 teaches.  The PrAjna, the cause, appears,
transforms, as the vishva and taijasa.

Nowhere  do we get the impression that Shankara is denouncing that proposal
only with things that are other than samsara.  Nor do we find Him saying
that samsara can emerge without a cause. Shankara asserts in his karika
bhashya 1.2:

// Besides in the absence of any seed to be burnt by the knowledge of
Brahman, (such) knowledge itself becomes useless. ज्ञानदाह्यबीजाभावे च
ज्ञानानर्थक्यप्रसङ्गः । तस्मात् वीजत्वाभ्युपगमेनैव सतः प्राणत्वव्यपदेशः
सर्वश्रुतिषु  कारणत्वव्यपदेशः ।  Hence Existence is referred to as PrANa (in
the Chandogya Upanishad) and in all the Upanishads It is spoken of as the
Cause by assuming It to be the seed of others. //

>From this very lucid bhashya we can also conclude that according to the
Upanishad and Shankara, the locus of ignorance, the seed, is Consciousness,
Brahman.  For, only in association with the seed, ignorance, maya/avidya,
creation/imagination of the world/samsara takes place.  In the next stage of
development, Shankara shows how this 'mixed' entity, Brahman + ignorance, is
filtered to exclude the ignorance part and retain the Pure Consciousness.
He quotes a number of Shruti passages for showing the teaching of the Pure
Brahman.  This also confirms to us that the seed/ignorance that is excluded
is an existent vastu.  For, an abhAva vastu cannot be a candidate for
'niShedha'.  There is a defect called : अप्रसक्तस्य प्रतिषेध:.

Some other points that I feel require clarifications will be taken up in
separate articles.

Best regards,

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