[Advaita-l] The Treatment of Avidya in Advaita - Part 2 (Concluded)

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Apr 20 02:13:02 CDT 2010

*(Continued from Part 1)*

*Is avidya an ‘existent’ entity, ‘bhAva rUpa’ ? ** **

A straightforward commonsense answer to the above question is: If it is not,
the Shastram would not be prescribing the means for its eradication.  No one
would be spending time, effort and money to treat a diseased hare’s horn.
The very fact that avidya is to be consciously addressed by sadhakas is
itself proof of the Shastram considering avidya as an existing entity.  It
is given an ‘asti, bhaava’ status, although not that which is equal to
Brahman the PAramArthika Sat.  To object that considering avidya as
‘bhAvarUpa’ is fraught with the above absurdity is something pitiable.  The
ones who so object do not understand what is meant by ‘bhAvarUpa’.  If
avidya is considered as ‘jnana abhava’, absence of knowledge of the vastu,
and therefore does not deserve to be called ‘bhaava rUpa’, it is a tragedy.
‘jnana abhava’, absence of knowledge, cannot bring out a bhAva vastu,
samsara, as its effect.  Avidya produces its effect, samsara.  It is true
samsara, avidya, are all ‘non existent’ for a Jnani who has realized that
there was never avidya/samsara.  But even he did address the problem as
though it ‘is’.  So why make a big fuss about ‘bhAvarUpa avidya’?  If avidya
and its effect are ‘abhava rupa’, how is it that we are experiencing them?
They are not absolutely existent and absolutely non-existent like a hare’s
horn.  They enjoy a special status of anirvachaniyatva.  When we are
experiencing the effects of avidya/samsara, how can we close our eyes to
this and say avidya is abhava rupa?

For the mantra ‘utthiShThata jAgrata prApya varAn nibodhata…’ of the
Kathopanishad (I.iii.14) the Acharya writes:

//….ataH taddarshanArtham anAdyavidyA-prasuptAH uttiShThata hey jantavaH
AtmajnAna-abhimukhA bhavata, jAgrata ajnAnanidrAyAH ghorarUpAyAH
sarvAnartha-bIjabhUtAyAH kShayam kuruta//

The Mundakopanishat says:

//…so’vidyAgranthim vikiratIha somya//

{the Jnani cuts asunder the knot of avidya here itself}

The above are just two of the numerous instances where the Shastra/Bhashyam
speak of avidya as an existent entity.

By seeing the consummation of sadhana also it is clear that avidya is not to
be seen as abhava rupa.  There is agrahana of the tattva.  The realization
of the Truth removes this agrahana dosha and THEN ONLY destroys samsara,
although there is no time gap in between. This has to be admitted.  Let us
consider an example.  I go to a doctor with a severe stomach ache.  The
doctor asks me some questions.  I am not interested in all that as I want
relief from the unbearable pain.  He gives some tablets to be taken thrice a
day for two days.  I get the cure.  Even though from my side there was no
concern about the cause of the pain, the doctor would not leave it like
that.  He has to probe into the cause.  Stomach ache can be caused by
several factors. It could be viral infection, bacterial infection, food
poisoning, over-eating, indigestion, or even a muscular catch while doing
some bending activity, or it could be due to gastric causes, etc.  He has to
ascertain the factor and give a suitable medicine. When the medicine gives
me relief from pain, it has addressed the cause and only after that the pain
has gone.  In the same way, even though the sadhaka might say: Why bother
about what is the cause of adhyasa or that there is a cause for adhyasa?
Will not the Shruti operate as an independent pramana even if I hold adhyasa
as the starting point?  The answer to such questions would be both yes and
no.  One may not know the cause of adhyasa and yet practice the remedial
measures prescribed by the Guru/Shastra and still attain liberation. The
Gita 13th chapter has a verse:

anye tu evam ajānantaḥ śrutvānyebhya upāsate
tepi cātitaranty eva mṛtyuṃ śrutiparāyaṇāḥ 13.25

Like the medicine giving me the cure even though I am not concerned about
the cause of the pain.  But as a Darshanakara the Acharya has to specify the
cause of adhyasa.  He is aware of the fact that the remedial measures will
give the fruit ONLY AFTER addressing the cause.  He recognizes this and
while laying out a system of philosophy He makes it logically tight, elegant
and practicable. So, whether we bother to know the cause of adhyasa or not,
the fact is that *there is a cause that precedes adhyasa* and it is this
cause that is first eliminated by samyagdarshanam.  Says the Acharya in the
Mundaka bhashyam (II.i.10):

// ….sa evam vijnAnAt avidyAgranthim = granthimiva  dRiDhIbhUtAm
avidyA-vAsanAm vikirati = vikshipati = nAshayati jIvanneva, na mRtaH

Translation: //…..he by virtue of such realization throws away = destroys
the knot of ignorance = the tendencies and impressions created by ignorance
that are hard to untie like knots here, even while living, and not after

The sequence is clear. Sadhana culminates in generating the realization of
the Truth, this destroys the ‘non-apprehension of the Truth’,
tattva-agrahanam, that was all along present in the seeker in the form of
AvaraNa, andhatva, tamas. (The Mandukya karika and Bhashya clarify that
‘tattva agrahanam’ is present in all the three states, and only the Turiya
is free from this.) This results in the destruction of the effects of such
non-apprehension which are the samsaric tendencies.

‘jnAtvA devam sarva pAshApahaaniH’, ‘jnAnam labdhvA parAm shAntim’, etc. are
all pointers to this sequence.  It may not be explicitly spoken of.  Yet, it
is unmistakable. Even in the common error of rope-snake, the error goes only
when the rope-knowledge is had.  When we look at the mechanism we find that
the error, adhyasa,  was caused due to non-apprehension, agrahanam, of the
rope (as rope) in the first place.  Now, the proper apprehension of the
vastu, rope, resulted in removing the non-apprehension dosha and only then
the wrong-apprehension goes.  Since the final remedy *comes not without
removing the cause* of the problem, we have to admit the presence of a cause
that precedes adhyasa.  And that it is of the nature of ‘bhAva rUpa’ since
it gave rise to the effect called viparIta grahana and the subsequent
problems.  A hare’s horn cannot be used for making combs or other
artifacts.  A vandhyA-putra does not propagate his lineage.

*What is the locus of avidya? **        *

The Shastra and the Bhashyakara are quite certain about this question.  We
have specific mention of this in the Shastra.  For example:

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (I.iv.10) we have the Mahavakya ‘Aham

//Brahma vA idamagra AsIt. tadAtmAnamEvAvEt . aham BrahmAsmi it tasmAt tat
sarvamabhavat.  …..//

//All this was Brahman before.  That Brahman knew Itself as ‘I am Brahman’.
Thereupon It became  all…//

In the Bhashya we find this discussion:

//Objection: But is not ignorance out of place in Brahman?

Reply: Not so, for knowledge regarding Brahman has been enjoined.    When
there has been no superimposition of silver on a mother-of-pearl, and it is
directly visible, no one takes the trouble to say it is a mother-of-pearl,
and not silver.  Similarly, were there no superimposition of ignorance on
Brahman, the knowledge of unity regarding Brahman would not be enjoined in
such terms as the following……

Objection:  We do not say that there is no superimposition on Brahman of
attributes not belonging to It, as in the case of a mother-of-pearl, but
that Brahman is not the cause of the superimposition of these attributes on
Itself, nor the author of ignorance.

Reply:  Let it be so. Brahman is not the author of ignorance nor subject to
error*.  But it is not admitted that there is any other conscious entity but
Brahman which is the author of ignorance or subject to error. * Witness such
Shruti texts as, …..//

The point is clear. (Brahman is the locus of avidya).

In the Kathopanishad/Mundakopanishat we have:

AvidyAyAm antare vartamAnAH…..

In the Gita too we have the Lord saying:

ajnAnena Avritam jnAnam tena muhyanti jantavaH…

These are all instances where the Shruti/Gita/Acharya say that there is a
locus for Avidya and that locus has to be a sentient being.  There is no
sentient Being other than Brahman.  So whether the Shastrakaras say ‘Brahman
is the locus of Avidya’ or ‘Jiva is the locus’, it all means that they are
correct in their assertion; there is no real difference between Brahman and
jiva.  Avidya cannot be for any insentient object.  If we say avidya is for
the manas, actually manas is a dravyam, a product of pancha bhutas.  It
cannot have avidya.  Only a sentient being can have ignorance.  Only he
suffers due to that ignorance.  That ignorance, agrahanam, only has brought
him to associate himself with manas, adhyasa.  And the knowledge of the
Truth has to come for him only.  That alone will free him from ignorance and
the association with the manas.  Then, is it absolutely true that Brahman
has/had avidya?  Let us consider an example:

In a dream, a couple of terrorists belonging to a banned outfit knock on my
door at midnight. When I open the door, one of them opens a suitcase full of
currency notes in bundles.  The other one points an AK47 at me.  The message
is clear.  I let them in and they hide themselves in an interior room.
Shortly after, I hear the siren of the police jeep.  As it nears my house, I
tremble in fear.  I wake up from the dream.
Now, once awake, do I entertain the fear of being questioned by the police
for ‘sheltering the terrorists’?  The case with the locus of avidya being
Brahman/jiva is similar to this.  Bondage/samsara/avidya is a fact to be
reckoned with and addressed in the appropriate manner.  But this is only as
long as bondage persists.  If there is no locus of avidya, who is it that is
called a sadhaka?  Why should he bother to do hard sadhana if he is not the
locus of avidya but something else, the mind is? If he has the viveka
to sayfrom unshakable conviction:
‘Avidya is only for the mind, I am not the mind’, then he is already
enlightened.  As long as he is a sadhaka, he identifies himself with the
mind and suffers the pain of samsara.  What is wrong in saying that he is
the locus of avidya?


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