[Advaita-l] On the nature of muula-avidya

subhanu saxena subhanu at hotmail.com
Sat Nov 5 08:32:14 CDT 2011

V Subramanian wrote:


[I would like to know the source of this
verse.  Someone told me that

Sureshwaracharya has quoted or said this in his
work/s.  Kindly confirm.  I

find a word द्वैतेन्द्रजालस्य in the NS 2.112, however.


Namaste you are correct this verse is BUBV 1.4.371 (see
below) . I had mentioned this and a few other verses oft used in support of
avidya as a shakti in a previous posting that I am repeating below for you


Prior post:

There are a few 
important verses where it  can be
easy for the careless reader of the original Sanskrit to miss the true meaning
and fashion a meaning suggesting a root –ignorance view to Suresvara. Here are
the 3 most important verses in this context: 

nAmarUpAdinA yeyam avidyA prathate’sati  |

mAyA tasyAh param saukshmyam mrtynunaiveti bhaNyate  || 

This avidyA, which is unreal, amplifies its supreme
subtleness as mAyA through name and form, and by the name mrtyu [BUBV 1.2.135] 

Here, the proximity of avidyA and mAyA, both being in the
nominative singular, has led some translators to assume they are treated as
equivalent. You can see clearly that it is mAyA and name and form  that have equivalence. They are described in
the sense of being fashioned by ignorance in a similar way to
avidyAkalpita as used by Shankara in BSB 2.1.14. In this important passage, he
clearly sees mAyA and name and form as anirvachaniya being fashioned by
ignorance and not identical to it. A simple way to think of it is as follows:
Ignorance  (avidyA) is a basic
confusion/misunderstanding that leads to a delusion/illusion (mAyA) of duality
when there is none in reality. 

Mrtyurvai tama ityevam Apa evedam ityapi  |

avidyA prathate maulee vyaktAvyaktAtmanAshinam  || 

In the sentences “death is darkness” and “all this are the
waters” we see ignorance manifesting its presence in seed form as the manifest
and unmanifest, the “destroyer” of the universe [BUBV 1.2.136]


This last verse on a cursory read of the Sanskrit, could be
seen as clinching proof of avidya as mUlAvidyA, because of the word “maulee”.
However, we see the sense again clearly of avidyAkalpita, with name and form as
the seed-form of the universe (the empirical universe cannot be contemplated
without the notion of name and form, which can only be contemplated when
ignorance is assumed to operate). Once again, BSB 2.1.14 is relevant here, and
I give it below for full reference:

Sarvajnasya Iswarasya AtmabhUte ivAvidyAkalpite nAmarUpe
tattvAnyatvAbhyAm anirvachanIye samsAraprapanchabIjabhUte sarvajnyasya
Iswarasya mAyA , shaktih, prakrtih iti cha shrutismrityorabhilipyate | [BSB


Ficticiously imagined by avidya as though they were
identical with the omniscient Lord, name and form, indefinable as either Himself
or distinct from Him, the seed cause of samsAra are called in the shruti and
smriti mAyA, shakti and prakriti We also have one important reference where Sureswavra
explicitly mentions the phrase “upAdAna-kAraNam”: 

asya dvaitajAlasya yadupAdAna kAraNam |

ajnAnam tadupAshritya brahmakAraNam uchyate || [BUBV

“ignorance of the Self is the precondition of this magic
show of duality,

And the absolute is the called the cause mediated through

(Here many follow Anandagiri’s translation “having resorted
to ignorance which is the material cause of this magic show of duality, it is
said that Brahma is the cause”-the point Sureswara is making , consistent with
his many other vartikas, is that the only entity is Brahman which can appear as
a material cause because of ignorance. Nothing more is meant here)

 You can see from the above quote how easy it could be to see
anirvachaniya as referring to avidya, when in fact it refers only to name and
form as well as maya. (btw I still hold that such dialectic differences should
not get in the way of one’s sAdhana)

 End of prior post


When examining the whole of Suresvara’s works to the extent
he admits of anything as a material cause for the purpose of teaching, it is
Brahman. The following two verses following BUBV 1.4.371 are important

ajnānamātropādhitvād-avidyām uṣitātmabhiḥ ।

kauṭasthān-nirdvayo’pyātmā sākṣītyadhsyayate jaḍaiḥ ॥ [BUBV 1.4.372]

The dull witted whose awareness of ātman is robbed by ignorance (of it)

on account of the limitation of ignorance alone, superimpose
the nature of the witness 

on even this ātman
who is unmovable (unchanging) 

jyotiṣām api tajjyotir asaddhī-parimoṣaṇāt ।

tamorūpam avābhāti bhānur naktam-drishām api ॥ [BUBV 1.4.373]

It is the light of all lights on account of its removing
(“robbing away”) the false notion,

Though it appears to have the form of darkness as the sun
(seems dark) for this who see only in night-time 

Note in the last line asaddhīḥ being used for ignorance, as a false
notion, and tamorūpam ivābhāti, it appears to have the form of darkness
(but does not really)

 A few verses before the NS.2.112 lines quoted also by Sri
Subramanian in the post there is an important verse from Suresvara shedding
more light on how we should actually think of the removal of ignorance: 

Avidyā-nāsha-mātram tu phalam ityupacharyate ।

Nājnāta-jnāpanam nyāyyam avagaty-eka-rūpataḥ ॥ [N.S. 2.105]

The fruit of proper knowledge is mere destruction of
ignorance, though this destruction is spoken of figuratively (as nothing
positive actually happens)

To say the result was knowledge of something completely
unknown to us previously is wrong as the self is pure awareness by nature 

ie, We have been are and always will be the atman which
is immediately present and self established. We must not be confused into
thinking that knowledge is somehow actually destroying some “thing”  to bring about something completely new to us,
because this brings us back under the clutches of cause and effect and adhyāsa.
See also Māṇḍūkya bhāṣyam 7. There is also a nice verse at
Panchadashi I.12 describing how a father who knows his son’s voice cannot hear
it in a chorus because it is drowned out by the voices of other boys.

So we simply are not aware of ourselves because of lack
of our own critical reflection and ability to introspect. So in TUBV we have:

Ātmāgrāhātirekena tasyā rūpam na vidyate ।

Amitravadaviyeti satyevam
ghaṭate sadā ॥ [TUBV II. 179]

Its nature consists in nothing more than not grasping the
nature of the self

Only if we say the term avidyā is like the term amitram,
a non-friend, is it tenable

 There is no such thing as a non-friend, same with avidyā.
 Curiously, Anandagiri in explaining this
term invests a meaning beyond what is needed when he says ātmano’grahaṇo nāma āvaraṇam , ie non-perception of the self is the
concealment of the self, implying “by something”. The next verse clarifies
Suresvara’s true intent:

tasmāt sadasadityādir vikalpo mūḍḥachetasām ।

nirūpyamāṇo nirvāti “na vedmi” ityagrahaṇātmani ॥ [TUBV

And so the differentiation of being and non-being is
imagined by foolish minds,

culminating  in not
grasping the self simply as “I do not know”. 

Here note the phrase “imagined” and the simple cause of “I
do not know”, nothing more. 

Again I want to finally re-iterate my key message :
Whether you agree or disagree with the points being made is not the point. You
have direct access to Suresvara’s vast treasures if you can study them for yourself
with a competent teacher. You will then find the meanings for yourselves, for
such internet dialogue can only promote the desire to study further and not
definitively solve an issue one way or another. If I inspire just one person to
undertake a deep traditional study of Suresvara I will deem my postings a




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