[Advaita-l] Avidya - Part 4

Shyam shyam_md at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 9 19:14:53 CDT 2010

We examined a few excerpts of the Shankara sutrabhashya pertaining to the subject matter of avidya/maya/avyakta/shakti from the first chapter of the Vedantasutra. We now continue to examine a couple of more very important ones.

This world when being dissolved (in a mahapralaya) is dissolved to that extent only that the Shakti (causal potentiality) of the world remains Shaktyavasheshameva - and (when it is produced again) it is produced from the root of that Shakti - shakti moolam eva cha prabhavati ; otherwise we should have to admit an effect without a cause itaratha aakasmikatva prasangatvat. 

Here we find Shankara defining for us Shakti as that Primordia Cause unto which this entire manifest Srshti dissolves unto and from which alone spurts forth another cycle of this manifold Nature. The term the Acharya uses in this context is mula Shakti. Compare this with another instance elsewhere in the sutrabhashya where-in is described our "everyday" pralaya - aka sushupti. Compare how similar this is with what the revered Bhashyakara writes while glossing over a different sutra
-- So the contact of the soul with the buddhi exists potentially merely during deep sleep and pralaya, and again becomes manifest at the time of waking and the time of creation, because nothing can be assumed to spring up unless from something else na hi aakasmiki kasyachid utpattih sambhavati atiprasangat; otherwise we should have to suppose that effects spring up without causes. That the rising from deep sleep is due to the existence of seed avidya - avidyatmakabeeja sadbhavakaaritam

We cannot help notice that the Acharya uses almost identical language in both these instances citing the absurdity of a cause ex nihilo. What is also relevant here is the terminology used to establish that Causal Potency from which both the individual or the Creation emerge are mula Shakti and beeja avidya. Thus again we find interchagngable use of the terms mula avidya/beeja Shakti to represent that Supreme Avyakta. A more thorough treatment for this Avyakta is going to be handed to us by the Acharya very soon - which we will examine now.

Purvapakshin "In order to prove the possibility of the body being called undeveloped - avyakta - you admit that this world - jagadidam - in its antecedent seminal condition - namaroopabeejatmakam - before either names or forms are evolved - abhivyaktam - can be called undeveloped avyakta, you virtually concede the doctrine that the pradhana is the cause -pradhanakarana -of the world. For we (Sankhyas) understand by the term pradhana nothing but that primordial condition of the world."

Here the Sankhya wants to show that his Pradhana and Advaita's Avyakta is one and the same thing. THey both talk about a antecedent seed potentiality to all of Creation. How then do you say anything different from what I say - asks the Sankhya. To this Shankara clarifies..

"Things lie differently, we rejoin. If we admitted some antecedent state - pragavastham - of the world - jagatah - as the independent - svatantra karanatve - cause of the world, we should indeed implicitly, admit the pradhana doctrine. What we admit is, however, only a primal state dependent - aadheena - on the Supreme Lord - Parameshwara, not an independent state - na svatantra." 

Here in we find Adi Shankara clearly delineating for us the two Orders of Reality. One is the independent Real - svantantra - paramarthika Satyam - Narayana as ParaBrahman. The other is the dependent Reality or mithya which is vyavaharika satyam, and the latter of course borrows its satta from or has its abode on the former. Furthermore

"Such a causal state must necessarily be admitted - aavashyaupagnatavya -, since it is according to sense and reason arthavati hi sa. For without it taya vina the Supreme Lord Parameshwarasya could not be conceived as creator - srshtratvam sidhyati, as he could not become active pravrttiyaanupapatte if he were destitute of the potentiality of action Shakti-rahitasya. The existence of such a causal potentiality beejashakti renders it moreover possible that the released souls muktanam should not enter on new courses of existence, as it is destroyed by perfect knowledge vidyaya."

Shankara clarifies here that nirguna Brahman cannot be conceived as a Creator - a intelligent Creation that we clearly perceive has to have a Supreme Power that renders this possible - and that is none other than Ma ParaShakti herself. And it is crucial here to see that the presence of such a Shakti alone would ensure that those souls who acquire the Supreme knowledge that allows them to trascend Her domain get Total Liberation by attaining to their True Nature Vishnor paramam padam. Shankara continues -

"For that causal potentiality is of the nature of Avidya - avidyatmika hi sa beejashakti; it is rightly denoted by the term 'undeveloped; avyakta shabda nirdeshya' it has the Supreme Lord for its substratum Parameshwara ashraya; it is of the nature of an illusion Maya - mayi; it is a universal sleep Mahasushupti in which are lying the transmigrating souls sansarino jeeva destitute for the time of the consciousness of their individual character svarupapratibodha rahita.  1 This undeveloped principle is sometimes denoted by the term Akasha - so, for instance, in the passage, 'In that Imperishable then, O Gargi, the ether is woven like warp and woof' (Bri. Up. III, 8, 11). Sometimes, again, it is denoted by the term Akshara, the Imperishable; so, for instance (Mu. Up. II, 1, 2), 'Higher, than the high Imperishable.' Sometimes it is spoken of as Maya - mayeti suchitam - so, for instance (Sve. Up. IV, 10),
 'Know then Prakriti is Maya, and the Supreme Lord is the Master of Maya' For Maya is properly called undeveloped - Avyakta hi sa Maya - since it cannot be defined either as that which is or that which is not tattvanyatvanirupanamya-ashakyatvat. The statement of the Katha Up that 'the Avyakta is beyond the Mahat' is based on the fact of the Mahat originating from the Avyakta, if the Mahat be the intellect of Hiranyagarbha. If, on the other hand, we understand by the Mahat the individual soul, the statement is founded on the fact of the existence of the individual soul depending on the Undeveloped avyaktaadheenatva jeevabhavasya, i.e. Avidya. Avidya hi avyaktam. And it is because of the possession of ignorance by the individual that all kinds of emprical behavior continue forever jivasya sarvah sanvyavahara. 

How painstakingly does the Acharya apply the same coat of hue in brush after brush! Here-in we find such a vivid all-encompassing presentation from the benevolence of our beloved Acharya. 

That Primordial Power is Beeja Shakti.
That beeja Shakti is Avidya.
This avidya, this Shakti is termed Avyakta.
This Avyakta is alone Maya.
This Maya is also called Akshara, the Imperishable.
Maya is also called Prakrti.
Avyakta is Avidya alone

And this Shakti/Maya/Avidya/Prakrti/Avyakta can neither be characterized as Real nor Unreal, and it has for its substratum the Supreme Lord Parabrahman. The same idea is reiterated in 1.4.9.

One is reminded of the sublime words of the Soundarya Lahiri in worship of this ParaShakti - 

Jagat suthe dhata harir avati rudrah kshapayate
Tiraskurvan etat svam api vapurisastirayati;
Sada-purvah sarvam tad idamanugrhnati cha Shiva-
Stavajnam aalambya kshana-chalitayor bhru-latikayoh.

Brahma creates the world, Vishnu sustains it, Shiva destroys it,
Ishwara makes them disappear, And also disappears Himself!
And Sadashiva blesses them all, By Your Order given to Him,
By a momentary move of your eyebrows!

In the next in thise series we shall examine some excerpts from the subsequent chapters of the Brahmasutra as well that will allow us to dwell on the subject some more.

Hari OM
Shri Gurubhyoh namah


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