[Advaita-l] A Vichara on the terms 'Avidya' and 'Maya' Part 1

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sat May 1 04:36:31 CDT 2010

The above article was posted by me a couple of days ago.  I found that
the Part 1 has not appeared on the archives.  Even as I posted it, I
got a 'bounced' message.  I presumed that it would have reached the
mail boxes of the members, however.  Upon checking with a member I now
understand that the part 1 has not reached the members.  Hence I am
posting that portion in two parts - 1 and 1A.

श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः
A 'vichAra' on the terms ‘avidyA’ and ‘mAyA’

A short study of three passages from the Brahmasutra Bhashya of Sri
Shankaracharya is taken up with a view to determine the Bhashyakara’s
intent with regard to the usage of the terms ‘avidyA’ and ‘mAyA’.  In
this study, the standard, authoritative, traditional sub-commentaries
‘bhAShya ratna prabhA’(by Govindananda Sarasvati) and ‘nyAya nirNaya’
(by Anandagiri) are consulted in deriving the purport of the passages
of the Bhashya.  The study assumes value in view of the fact that the
method adopted in the tradition, 'sampradAya', handed down to the
present day, in the teaching and practice of Shankara’s commentaries
and works is adhered to.
The First Sutra Bhashya passage:

To start with, the brahma sUtra bhAShya 1.3.19 passage as below is taken up:

एक एव परमेश्वरः कूटस्थनित्यो विज्ञानधातुः अविद्यया मायया मायाविवत्
अनेकधा विभाव्यते, नान्यो विज्ञानधातुरस्ति इति ।
//only one highest Lord ever unchanging, whose substance is cognition,
and who, by means of avidyA, manifests himself in various ways, just
as a Magician appears in different shapes by means of his magical power.//

The bhAShya-ratnaprabhA commentary says:

अविद्यामाययोर्भेदं निरसितुं सामानाधिकरण्यं,
आवरण-विक्षेपशक्तिरूप-शब्दप्रवृत्तिनिमित्तभेदात् सहप्रयोगः ।

Sri Govindananda, author of the above gloss, explains the purpose and
purport of the two terms ‘avidyA’ and ‘mAyA’ used by Shankara in
consecutive order:

1.  Shankara wants to negate the view that avidyA and mAyA are
distinct entities.  So He uses the two words together, as in the same
case-ending, sAmAnAdhikaraNyam.

2.  Shankara wants to indicate that ‘avidyA’ serves as
‘AvaraNa-shakti’ (concealing power) and ‘mAyA’ serves as
‘vikShepa-shakti’ (projecting/multiplicating power).  Hence the two
words are used together, in that order.

The nyAya-nirNaya of Anandaj~nAna (Anandagiri) says:

’माया ततोऽन्या’ इति वादं व्युदसितुं माययेत्युक्तम् । (With a view to
debunk the view that ‘mAyA is different from 'avidyA’, Shankara uses
the term ‘mAyayA’, ‘by/due to mAyA’ after saying:’avidyayA’ ’by/due to

साधारण-असाधारणप्रपञ्चभेदस्य अप्रामाणिकत्वात्, अविद्यादिभेदे च
मानाभावात्, एकस्मादेव अज्ञानात् विचित्रशक्तितो विश्वधीसम्भवे तद्भेदे
गौरवात् न सोऽस्तीत्यर्थः ।

According to the above gloss, the purpose of using the two terms
together by Shankara is:

1.  Since there is no basis (pramANa) for the differentiating between
(a) a world common to all and (b) a world exclusive to a pramAtA,
there is no reason to hold a distinction between avidyA and mAyA.  The
idea is: each of these, avidyA and mAyA, is held by those who posit a
distinction between them, to be the cause of the two types of
world-experience (a) and (b). Shankara is refuting this idea by using
the two terms together.

2.  There is no pramANa for holding a distinction between avidyA and
mAyA.  To show this Shankara is using both the terms together,
asserting their synonymity.

3.  Since it is possible for the idea of a ‘whole world’ to come about
in a person’s thinking by the agency of one aj~nAna, ignorance itself
owing to its inscrutable power, it is unnecessary to posit a forced
distinction between avidyA and mAyA.  To convey this Shankara uses the
two terms together establishing thereby their non-distinctness.

The second Sutra Bhashya 1.4.3 passage:

अविद्यात्मिका हि बीजशक्तिः अव्यक्तशब्दनिर्देश्या परमेश्वराश्रया
मायामयी महासुप्तिः, यस्यां स्वरूपप्रतिबोधरहिताः शेरते संसारिणो जीवाः ।
 तदेतदव्यक्तं क्वचिदाकाशशब्दनिर्दिष्टं, ..क्वचिदक्षरशब्दोदितम्..
क्वचिन्मायेति सूचितम् ...अव्यक्ता हि सा माया ..अविद्या हि अव्यक्तम् ।

// For that causal potentiality is of the nature of Nescience; it is
rightly denoted by the term 'undeveloped;' it has the highest Lord for
its substratum; it is of the nature of an illusion; it is a universal
sleep in which are lying the transmigrating souls destitute for the
time of the consciousness of their individual character.  1 This
undeveloped principle is sometimes denoted by the term AkAsha, ether;
so, for instance, in the passage, 'In that Imperishable then, O Gârgî,
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, illusion; so, for
instance (Sve. Up. IV, 10), 'Know then prakRRiti is mAyA, and the
great Lord he who is the wielder of mAyA.' For mAyA is properly called
undeveloped or non-manifested since it cannot be defined either as
that which is or that which is not.--The statement of the kAThaka that
'the Undeveloped is beyond the Great one' is based on the fact of the
Great one originating from the Undeveloped, if the Great one be the
intellect of hiraNyagarbha. If, on the other hand, we understand by
the Great one the individual soul, the statement is founded on the
fact of the existence of the individual soul depending on the
Undeveloped, i.e. Nescience. For the continued existence of the
individual soul as such is altogether owing to the relation in which
it stands to Nescience. //

Anandagiri, in the nyAya-nirNaya, alludes to a view held by someone:

मायाविद्ययोर्भेदात्, ईश्वरस्य मायाश्रयत्वम्, जीवानामविद्याश्रयता इति
वदन्तं प्रत्याह – मायामयीति । यथा मायाविनो माया परतन्त्रा तथैषापि
इत्यर्थ ।

// ‘Since mAyA and avidyA are different from each other, Ishwara is
the locus of mAyA and the jIva is the locus of avidyA’.  Replying to
such a view, Shankara says: This bIjashakti is mAyAmayI, it is of the
nature of mAyA.  Just as the magician’s magic, mAyA, is dependent on
the magician, so too this Shakti is dependent on the Conscious entity.

Continues Anandagiri:

अग्रहवत्त्वेन, विपर्यासवत्त्वेन च अनन्तजीवनिर्भासहेतुत्वेनापि सार्थवती
इत्याह – यस्यामिति ।

[This mAyAshakti is characterized by 1. Non-comprehension of the
Reality, 2. Mis-comprehension of the Reality and 3. Projection of
multitude of jIva-s.  Owing to this, this Shakti is admitted to be a
positive, existent, entity.  By this, the idea is that this shakti is
not some non-existent, abhAva, entity but bhAvarUpa, existent entity.
An abhAva entity cannot be said to have these or any ‘properties’; nor
can such an entity bring about / cause any effects of saMsAra.]

(To be continued in 1 A)

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