[Advaita-l] On avidyA being anirvachanIya etc

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Sat Nov 5 02:27:54 CDT 2011


The tradition consistently maintains that avidyA is sat-asat-vilakShaNa,
anirvachanIya, etc. The term "bhAvarUpa" is only used to emphasize that
aj~nAna/avidyA is not the same as j~nAna-abhAva. aj~nAna is certainly
j~nAna-virodha as it is destroyed when j~nAna arises, and in that sense
aj~nAna is "correlated" to j~nAna-abhAva. However, it must still be
distinguished from pure j~nAna abhAva or absence of knowledge. There of
course various reasons why the tradition says so. This post only focuses on
one of them.

Let us look at the way any abhAva is cognized. Consider the statement
"there is no pot on the table". The eyes only perceive the bare table. And
yet the mind cognizes the absence of a pot. This cannot happen without
prior knowledge of pots. A person who has no prior knowledge of pots cannot
make such a cognition. Hence, in cognitive terms, although both the
presence and absence of an entity are facts, there is a certain distinction
between in them in the sense that the latter cannot be established unless
there is prior knowledge of the object being negated.

j~nAna of an object arises when the operation of a suitable pramANa results
in the manifestation of the corresponding mental vRtti, which in turn is
illumined or witnessed by the sAkShI chaitanya. In the case of j~nAna of
the absence of an object, the said vRtti cannot be generated by
indriya-pratyakSha as described in the pot example. Hence advaitin-s (and
bhATTa mImAMsaka-s) admit anupalabdhi as a separate pramANa

Again, looking at the pot example, what is evident to the sAkShI is either:

a) a vRtti formed due to indriya pratyakSha if the pot is present and
(therefore) seen by the eyes, or

b) a vRtti formed due to anupalabdhi if the pot is absent and (therefore)
not seen by the eyes.

The latter is possible only when there is prior knowledge of the pot.

Now, unlike external (to the mind) objects that are revealed by deploying a
pramANa, mental vRtti-s are directly evident to the sAkShI chaitanya. Or
rather, j~nAna being svataH prakAsha (or sAkShI being j~nAnasvarUpa), the
formation of the mental vRtti is coterminous with the understanding "I know
this object".

This is where the problem arises with the idea that aj~nAna is
j~nAna-abhAva. In the case of an external object, prior knowledge of the
object can enable a cognition of its absence. In the case of j~nAna
however, it would mean that j~nAna must be revealed for j~nAna-abhAva to be
revealed, which is absurd. In effect, it would mean aj~nAna cannot be
revealed at all and we would never be able to say “I don’t know”. It would
be a case of asking the mind to do the impossible task of simultaneously
manifesting a given vRtti as well as the absence of the very same vRtti.

The only way out is to say that aj~nAna/avidyA is distinct from a pure
absence of knowledge. pramANa operation results in a vRtti that destroys
the specific aj~nAna (tula aj~nAna) corresponding to the object, but until
the vRtti was formed, this tula aj~nAna was "included" in a generic
undifferentiated aj~nAna that is illumined by the sAkShI. It is only
because of this that we are able to make statements such as "I don't

Therefore, all entities, whether known or unknown to the individual, are
revealed to the sAkShI chaitanya. In the case of known objects, there are
specific mental vRtti-s that are illumined by the sAkShI, and in the case
of unknown objects, there is generic undifferentiated aj~nAna that is also
illumined by the sAkShI.

Therefore, avidyA can neither be absence of all knowledge
(j~nAna-sAmAnya-abhAva) nor absence of specific knowledge
(j~nAna-visheSha-abhAva). It cannot be the former because, if it were, it
would not be witnessed by the sAkShI at all (but we see that avidyA is
indeed witnessed by the sAkShI). It cannot be the latter as already
explained using the pot example.

The term term “bhAvarUpa” may be confusing if not understood properly, but
a denial of anirvachanIyatvam of avidyA is not at all meaningful. At the
very least, it has to be understood that avidyA is not j~nAna-abhAva. It is
certainly “correlated” to j~nAna-abhAva, in the sense that once j~nAna
arises, aj~nAna is destroyed and one can say “I HAD j~nAna abhAva until
this j~nAna arose”, because it is only when j~nAna arises that previous
j~nAna-abhAva is revealed. In effect, this only means the manifestation of
a vRtti also reveals its prAgabhAva. But one cannot say “I HAVE
j~nAna-abhAva”, which is absurd. One can only say “I have aj~nAna” and this
aj~nAna is generic and undifferentiated and hence distinct from
j~nAna-abhAva which is specific and differentiated.

Of course, aj~nAna is not bhAva either. All pramANa-s reveal only sat (or
bhAva), which is the very svarUpa lakShaNa of brahman. On the other hand,
aj~nAna is not only NOT revealed by any pramANa but is in fact destroyed
whenever a pramANa is operated. It is destroyed in its entirety when the
mahAvAkya pramANa is operated, and in small parts (tula aj~nAna) when other
pramANa-s are operated. However, aj~nAna is also the very basis of
pramAtRtvam, and is PRESUMED whenever a pramANa is deployed, for if there
were no aj~nAna there would be no need to deploy a pramANa and remove the
aj~nAna. If there were no mUla-aj~nAna, there would be no need to deploy
the mahAvAkya and if there were no tula aj~nAna-s, there would be no need
to deploy other pramANa-s.

Every cognition is only an unveiling of brahman, albeit in a specific mode,
or rather brahman itself is the content of every cognition. In other words,
all j~nAna-visheSha-s are apparent manifestations of the j~nAnasvarUpa
sAkShI alone, which is why aj~nAna is destroyed, or rather, understood as
mithyA (sat-asat-vilakShaNa), in the final analysis.


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