[Advaita-l] On the nature of muula avidya

nishanth rope.snake+garland at googlemail.com
Thu Nov 3 15:46:20 CDT 2011

||  oM shree satgurubhyo namaH ||


On the subject of avidya - nescience - ignorance VS. shakti  / notional vs.
causal / etc...

this is not new information. it is sourced from a website URL:


*perhaps it provides a sound  way to map the various paradigms as seen in
this discussion.


Ramana Maharshi on God
Existence of Isvara (God) follows from our conception of Isvara. Let us
first know whose concept He is. The concept will be only according to the
one who conceives. Find out who you are and the other problem will solve
itself. (from Talk 308)

Just as the artificial light is projected through a lens on to the screen,
so also the Reflected Light passes through thought (the magnifier) before
expanding as the world beyond it; furthermore, thought, itself the world
in-seed form, seems to be the wide external world. Such is the
extraordinary Power! In this way Isvara, individual and the world are only
of the Reflected Light, having the Self-shining Single Being for the
(from Talk 323)

Why waste time in [...] polemics? Only turn your mind inward and spend the
time usefully.

In the union of the individual with the Supreme, the Supreme is hearsay and
the individual directly experienced. You can make use only of direct
experience; therefore look who you are.

Why is Isvara mentioned then?

Because you see the world and want to know how it came into being. They say
that it was created by God. If you know that He created you and all else,
your mind is a little satisfied and becomes less restless than otherwise.
But it is not realisation. It can be only if you realise yourself; this is
Perfection or Realisation, etc. (from Talk 332)
D.: What is the relation between Brahman and Isvara?
M.: Brahman is called Isvara in relation to the world.

D.: Is it possible to speak to Isvara as Sri Ramakrishna did?
M.: When we can speak to each other why should we not speak to Isvara in
the same way?

D.: Then why does it not happen with us?
M.: It requires purity and strength of mind and practice in meditation.

D.: Does God become evident if the above conditions exist?
M.: Such manifestations are as real as your own reality. In other words,
when you identify yourself with the body as in jagrat you see gross
objects; when in subtle body or in mental plane as in svapna, you see
objects equally subtle; in the absence of identification as in sushupti you
see nothing. The objects seen bear a relation to the state of the seer. The
same applies to visions of God. By long practice the figure of God, as
meditated upon, appears in dream and may later appear in jagrat also.

D.: Is that the state of God-realisation?
M.: Listen to what happened once, years ago.
There was a saint by name Namdev. He could see, talk and play with Vithoba
as we do with one another. He used to spend most of his time in the temple
playing with Vithoba.

On one occasion the saints had assembled together, among whom was one
Jnandev of well-established fame and eminence. Jnandev asked Gora Kumbhar
(a potter-saint) to use his proficiency in testing the soundness of baked
pots and find out which of the assembled saints was properly baked clay. So
Gora Kumbhar took his stick and gently struck each one’s head in joke as if
to test. When he came to Namdev the latter protested in a huff; all laughed
and hooted. Namdev was enraged and he sought Vithoba in the temple. Vithoba
said that the saints knew best; this unexpected reply upset Namdev all the

He said: You are God. I converse and play with you. Can there be anything
more to be gained by man?

Vithoba persisted: The saints know.

Namdev: Tell me if there is anything more real than you.

Vithoba: We have been so familiar with each other that my advice will not
have the desired effect on you. Seek the beggar-saint in the forest and
know the truth.

Accordingly Namdev sought out the particular saint mentioned by Vithoba.
Namdev was not impressed with the holiness of the man for he was nude,
dirty and was lying on the floor with his feet resting on a linga.

Namdev wondered how this could be a saint. The saint, on the other hand,
smiled on Namdev and asked, “Did Vithoba send you here?” This was a great
surprise to Namdev who was now more inclined to believe the man to be

So Namdev asked him: “You are said to be a saint, why do you desecrate the

The saint replied. “Indeed I am too old and weak to do the right thing.
Please lift my feet and place them where there is no linga.”

Namdev accordingly lifted the saint’s feet and placed them elsewhere. But
there was again a linga below them. Wherever the feet were placed then and
there appeared a linga underneath. Namdev finally placed the feet on
himself and he turned into a linga. Then Namdev understood that God was
immanent and learnt the truth and departed. He went home and did not go to
the temple for several days. Vithoba now sought him out in his home and
asked why Namdev would not go to the temple to see God. Namdev said: “Is
there a place where He is not?”

The moral of the story is clear. Visions of God have their place below the
plane of Self-Realisation. (from Talk 389)

...the purpose of the whole philosophy is to indicate the underlying
Reality whether of the jagrat, svapna and sushupti states, or the
individual souls, the world and God.
There are three outlooks possible:

(1) The Vyavaharika: The man sees the world in all its variety, surmises
the creator and believes in himself as the subject. All these are thus
reduced to the three fundamentals, jagat, jiva and Isvara. He learns the
existence of the creator and tries to reach him in order to gain
immortality. If one is thus released from bondage, there are all other
individuals existing as before who should work out their own salvation. He
more or less admits the One Reality underlying all these phenomena. The
phenomena are due to the play of maya. Maya is the sakti of Isvara or the
activity of Reality. Thus, existence of different souls, objects, etc., do
not clash with the advaitic point of view.

(2) The Pratibhasika: The jagat, jiva and Isvara are all cognised by the
seer only. They do not have any existence independent of him. So there is
only one jiva, be it the individual or God. All else is simply a myth.

(3) The Paramarthika: i.e., ajatavada (no-creation doctrine) which admits
of no second. There is no reality or absence of it, no seeking or gaining,
no bondage or liberation and so on. The question arises why then do all the
sastras speak of the Lord as the creator? How can the creature that you are
create the creator and argue that the jagat, jiva and Isvara are mental
conceptions only? The answer is as follows: You know that your father of
this jagrat state is dead and that several years have elapsed since his
death. However you see him in your dream and recognise him to be your
father, of whom you were born and who has left patrimony to you. Here the
creator is in the creature. Again, you dream that you are serving a king
and that you are a part in the administrative wheel of the kingdom. As soon
as you wake up all of them have disappeared leaving you, the single
individual, behind. Where were they all? Only in yourself. The same analogy
holds good in the other case also. (from Talk 399)

Environment, time and objects are all in me. How can they be independent of
me? They may change, but I remain unchanging, always the same. The objects
can be differentiated by means of their names and forms, whereas each one’s
name is only one and that is ‘I’. Ask anyone, he says ‘I’ and speaks of
himself as ‘I’, even if He is Isvara. His name too is ‘I’ only.

So also of a locality. As long as I am identified with the body so long a
locality is distinguishable; otherwise not. Am I the body? Does the body
announce itself as ‘I’?

Clearly all these are in me. All these wiped out entirely, the residual
Peace is ‘I’. This is samadhi, this is ‘I’. (from Talk 582)

Talks is available as a PDF document from the official Sri Ramanasramam web

On 30 October 2011 19:04, subhanu saxena <subhanu at hotmail.com> wrote:

> Sri Sadananda wrote:
> This write up is
> based on my notes of the talk by Swami Paramarthanandaji on 2/11/2011,
> summarizing the 3rd chapter of Naishkarmya Siddhi.
> Namaste, I would propose a modification of the order and
> content of points mentioned in your note as follows to be more in line with
> what Suresvara actually says both in Naishkarmya Siddhi (N.S.) and
> Brihadaranyaka and Taittiriya Upanishad Bhashya Vārtikās  (BUBV and TUBV
> respectively below). I am fully
> aware that you have recorded notes based on another person’s talks so
> please
> excuse me if I mis-represent any of the points made. I also make these
> points
> solely for the purpose of ātma-vichāra to aid seekers to deeply
> reflect on the teachings of the shāstra
> and to encourage them to directly study the vārtikās
> of Suresvara to find the meanings for themselves with their teachers. In
> the
> interests of brevity I will only provide full quotations for a few of the
> vārtikās,
> but will give the references for people to look at the source verses
> themselves. Some verses have been posted by me in full before. If anybody
> would
> like the original verses and a translation of the verses referenced then
> please
> email me directly so as not to clog up the list:
> 1)      Nature of ignorance in Suresvara’s works
> a)
> Sri Sadananda:  The nature of fundamental ignorance: Sureswara
> says its essential nature is anirvacanIyam or inexpressible. That means it
> is
> sat assat vilakshaNam – It cannot be that it is real or sat, since only
> Brahman
> which is of the nature of  pure knowledge
> is real, and Brahman being infinite there cannot be any other reality.
> Real is
> that which cannot be negated at any time and therefore is eternal. Thus
> ignorance cannot be sat or real. The ignorance is also not asat or unreal,
> since it is experienced by everyone.
> Suresvara actually says something different to the above.
> Ignorance is purely a mental notion [eg BUBV 2.1.267, BUBV 4.3.1530] of the
> nature of mixing one thing for another [N.S. 2.100], because the ātman has
> not been known through
> lack of critical reflection [BUBV 1.4.444]. If one were to open at random
> the
> BUB Vārtikā at any verse then there
> is a highly likelihood that you will find a verse within 50 either side
> that
> refers to the lack of critical reflection as the only reason we have not
> known ātman
> .  In fact the only cause for confusion
> admitted in Vedānta is that the Ātman  has not been known:
> na
> hi vedāntasiddhānte hyajnātātmātirekataḥ ।
> sānkhyānām iva siddhānte labhyate kāraṇāntaram  ॥[BUBV 4.4.179]
> Indeed,
> in the Vedānta siddhānta, no other cause
> exists, other than the unknown Ātman
> This
> is in contrast to other systems such as Sānkhya etc (which postulate a
> material cause for the universe)
> Further,
> our ignorance must be notional and not real or some other indeterminate
> entity
> or force, since it would destroy the very basis of the tradition that only
> knowledge removes ignorance, for knowledge can only remove a notion, not a
> thing or a force. Suresvara echoes his teacher Shankara’s statement in BUB
> 1.4.10
> jnāpakam hi shāstram na kārakam in the following:
> jnāpakāni hi shāstraṇi kārakāṇi na kutrachit [BUBV 1.4.1262]
> The
> shastras inform and do not anywhere create
> Indeed
> the statement that avidyā  is mithyā+ajnānam, an anirvachīniya shakti is
> explicitly
> refuted in BUBV 1.4.425:
> mithyājnānam katham vastu na hi
> mitthyeva vastu sat ।
> mithyā tad vastu chetyuktir mahatām iva shobhate ॥ [BUBV 1.4.425]
> How can Mithyājnānam be an entity since a
> false entity cannot exist?
> A
> statement that something can be false (non-existent) and also existent
> befits
> only the great
> A
> rare example of quite a sarcastic statement by Suresvara to reject
> anirvachanīyatā of ignorance, possibly to
> show the force with which he wished to make the point. Suresvara is
> consistent
> with his teacher in describing ignorance as having no existence in the
> past,
> present or future at any time:
> tattvamasyādivākyottha-samyagdhī-janma-mātrataH |
> avidyā
> saha kāryeṇa nāsIdasti
> bhaviṣyati || [S.V. 183]
> On the rise of right knowledge from sentences such as tat
> tvam asi etc, it is known that ignorance and its effects was not, is not,
> and never will be
> Ignorance is simply a notion that is a non-entity that  is opposed to
> knowledge: ajnānam hi nāma jnānābhāvasya
> cha avastu-svābhāvyāt [N.S. III.6] , an error cancelled through knowledge
> [N.S. 2.29 and also upadesha sāhasrī 16.62 verse section] and
> does not need the status of bhāvarūpam in Suresvara’s works.
> So, whenever avidyā
> is said to cause something it is of the nature of nimitta-kāraṇam
> not upādana-kāraṇam
> in Suresvara’s writings, so we have:
> Ajnāna-mātra- nimittatvāt [N.S. III.1], and
> yannimittam cha sākshitvam  [BUBV 4.3.350]
> This is entirely consistent with his teacher Shankara (who
> explicitly describes avidyā-nimittam
> in Upadesha Sāhasrī    2.51
> prose section rather than avidyā-upādānam) , who tells us this fundamental
> error is of the
> nature of mixing one thing for another. The adhyāsa bhāṣyam quotes that
> describe this innate error that is
> ignorance as a superimposition are well known to all : sarvathāpi tu
> anyasya anyadharmāvabhāsatām na vyabhicharati, and adhyāso nāma
> atasminstadbudhirityavochāma
> [Adhyasa Bhashyam].  Shankara makes an
> even more explicit statement in Upadesha Sāhasrī   2.51
> avidyā nāma anyasmin
> anyadharmādhyāropaṇā,
>  ignorance is nothing but the
> superimposition of the attributes of one thing upon another. We can see how
> adhyāsa and avidyā are used interchangeably
> here, as well as in the vārtikās [BUBV 1.4.412, 473]
> So ignorance is merely imagined [BUBV 4.3.402, 436 and many
> others], purely notional , described as moha [BUBV 2.1.6], bhrānti
> [N.S.2.31], mithyādhīh , a false notion [BUBV 1.4.438], of the nature of “I
> have not known Ātman ” [BUBV 1.4.173-179, TUBV 2.176 etc]. The word
> tattvāgrahaṇam has been used also to describe this not knowing, and
> previous posts have mentioned that there is no need to infuse this meaning
> with
> the sense of root ignorance, as a literal rendering is sufficient.
>  An important corollary to the above is to always remember that
> there is no actual entity as anātman
> [BUBV 4.3.1521, 4.4.322-327, TUBV 2.369].
> 2)      Suresvara only ascribes anirvachanīyatā
> to the name and form imagined through ignorance, in keeping with his
> teacher
>  The name and form imagined through avidyā has been described
> by Suresvara as anirvachanīya
> however [eg BUBV 1.4. 397-399, 1.4.482]. This is quite in keeping with his
> guru
> eg  BSB 2.1.14 and Upasesha Sāhasrī   1.18 -19
> prose section, where we also have the famous salilah-phenavat analogy of
> foam
> and water and the apparent indeterminacy of the name and form of foam
> fashioned
> by ignorance of its true nature. See also BUB 2.4.10
> 3) Avidyā
> is of the common experience of everyone and does not need to be
> established by
> any pramāṇa
>  b)Sri
> Sadananda: In addition ignorance cannot be proved by any known means of
> knowledge, pramANa.
> Avidyā,  itself being
> innate, natural and not any form of power/shakti [SV 1088] has no need to
> be
> established through pramāṇas, as stated in the notes of Sri Sadananda,
> since it is
> experienced by all
> atah pramāṇato’shakyā’vidyā’syeti vīkshitum |
> kīdrashī vā kuto vā’sāvanubhūtyekarūpatah  || [SV 184]
> In fact one can never know ignorance as belonging to anyone,
> neither determine its nature, or conceive how it can possibly be at all,
> since
> it is essentially the nature of common experience itself [SV 184]
> (Side note: in the vivaraṇam on
> the panchapādikā we find an extensive
> attempt to establish anirvachaniya avidyā  by various pramāṇas eg
> arthapatti, anupalabdhi etc. According to Suresvara this is quite
> unnecessary)
>  4)      The teachings of Shankara’s tradition are
> for those who have already prepared themselves for right knowledge via
> correct sādhanā,
> obviating the need for certain questions such as “what causes my
> confusion?”,
> which can serve no meaningful ultimate purpose
> If an aspirant is unable to get past the question of what
> causes his confusion then a notion of mūlāvidyā could be beneficial
> provided the aspirant is clear this is provisional (Sri Subramaniam
> brought out
> in previous posts this point when he affirmed that avidyā  is merely
> imagined, nothing more, and the notion
> of a cause of ignorance, quoting  Citsukhacharya “upachārāt”,
> can only be a courtesy for the purpose of teaching) , and that ultimate
> knowledge can only come through Sruti vākyam
> [S.V 1092] for the qualified aspirant. It is important to not forget that
> seeking for a cause keeps aspirants under the clutches of the very adhyāsa
> they are trying to
> eliminate.
> This last point is worth a short mention. We must not forget
> that Shankara’s teachings were for qualified aspirants who were
> sādhanā-chatuṣṭaya-sampannāḥ. Such aspirants would already have understood
> the
> independent unreality of the world around them through discrimination of
> the
> real and unreal and would therefore not be troubled by such questions as to
> what causes their confusion. In times after Shankara we tend to want to
> delve
> directly into the highest teachings of the Shāstra without necessarily
> having taken the care to
> prepare ourselves for such knowledge through the appropriate sādhanā
> [which is described in a
> step by step manner in N.S. 1.51]. As a result,  seekers can get bogged
> down in the
> intellectual dialectic of why they are confused.  Shankara’s and
> Suresvara’s writings, in slight
> contrast to later vedantins, are more concerned with Brahman than the
> external
> world and its cause. Their focus is less to explain avidyā and more to
> eliminate it. One can imagine if such a seeker came to Shankara with such a
> question as “well, why am I confused and see the world?”, then Shankara
> would
> have almost said “You are not yet ready, come back when you are!” We get a
> hint
> of this in the dialogue with a student in Upadesha Sāhasrī   prose
> section 2, and also the short shrift he gives to questions such as to
> whose is
> ignorance eg BSB iv.1.3, GBh XIII.2.
> 5)      Call to action to re-institute the
> extensive study of Suresvara’s works
>  In summary we can see that a full study of Suresvara reveals
> more clearly the profound nature of his teachings which makes it all the
> more
> sad that his works are so neglected these days. For, a complete study of
> his
> works yields a comprehensive picture of the advaita tradition of Shankara,
> and
> also where he is in consonance with his teachers and how he may have
> differed
> from subsequent vedantins.
>  Prof AJ Alston makes this pertinent point on his translation
> to Naishkarmya Siddhi chapter III which was the basis of the lecture notes
> of
> Sri Sadananda:
> “Padmapāda
> and the classical “Vivaraṇa” school which followed him
> are concerned with cosmology and with giving some reputable philosophical
> account of the external world as grounded in Brahman. Hence they stress
> mūlāvidyā-causal
> avidyā as a kind of
> stuff or substance grounded in Brahman whose modifications cause the
> external
> world. Suresvara, by comparison, is less concerned with the external world
> and
> more concerned with Brahman. There is hardly a sentence on cosmology in the
> “Naishkarmya Siddhi” (contrast “Panchadashi”), though its author claims it
> handles all essential topics. Avidyā
> is not so much a substance which transforms itself into the world as an
> inexplicable force which hides Brahman. [ie not an anirvachanīya shakti
> that is the upādāna kāraṇam of
> the universe]. In harmony with this we find Suresvara stressing the total
> non-existence of the world in the consciousness of the jnāni  (in contrast
> to  “Panchadashi” , for example). And again in
> harmony with the view that refuses to waste time examining avidyā but in a
> hurry to do away with it, etc” [The
> Realization of the Absolute tr AJ Alston, page 142]. We find similar
> sentiments
> from Prof Shoun Hino and Prof Hacker.
>  I hope
> the above provides some food for thought for aspirants and has shown that a
> cursory study of small section of Suresvara’s works may not give a complete
> picture of what he really said.  Actually
> my main purpose for writing this note was not to lay out whether or not
> mūlāvidyā
> is found in Suresvara’s writings but to simply to make a plea for people to
> undertake a direct study of Suresvara’s vārtikās  and Naishkarmya Siddhi
> for themselves, so they
> may directly uncover the treasures therein which will definitely aid their
> sādhanā
>  Regards
> Subhanu
> _______________________________________________

[image: RANGOLI.jpg]
"Come out into the universe of Light.
Everything in the universe is yours,
Stretch out your arms and embrace it with love.
If you ever felt you wanted to do that, you have felt God."
--- Swami Vivekananda**  *(London, November 12, 1896)*

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