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

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Nov 6 19:11:12 CST 2011

On Sat, Nov 5, 2011 at 7:02 PM, subhanu saxena <subhanu at hotmail.com> wrote:

> 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.

It is quite clear that avidyA which is mAyA that projects the universe in
the form of names and forms.  That is the meaning the above verse gives.
That such avidyA/mAyA is asat, unreal, is also understandable.  That such
an entity is jnAnanivartya is also explicit from the vArtika quoted already:

tattvamasyAdi-vAkyottha....In this verse avidyA is indicated in its two
states: kAraNa avidyA and kArya avidyA by the words 'avidyA saha-kAryeNa'.
Since this avidyA is said, in the verse, to be known as not existing in all
three periods of time, just like the superimposed sarpa, upon the dawn of
AtmajnAna, it is undoubtedly a sad-asad-vilakShaNa entity.  Such an entity
can not be admitted to be a 'abhAva' vastu.  Just as Shankara has admitted
the unreal Veda as producing the necessary effect of Jnana, this avidyaa,
being unreal, too produces its effect of samsAra: the

Further, this verse, just as the Vartika verse quoted above, also admits
avidyA and mAyA to be non-different.  The two words are in the dvitIyA -

tarati avidyAm vitatAm hRdi yasminniveshite
  yogI mAyAm ameyAya tasmai jnAnAtmane namaH [Mahabharatam]

  [By enshrining That Lord in his heart a yogi (aspirant) crosses over the
  vast (pervasive) avidyA (which is) mAyA. To such a Lord who is verily
  Consciousness and (therefore)cannot be objectified, I offer my

> Sarvajnasya Iswarasya AtmabhUte ivAvidyAkalpite nAmarUpe
> tattvAnyatvAbhyAm anirvachanIye samsAraprapanchabIjabhUte sarvajnyasya
> Iswarasya mAyA , shaktih, prakrtih iti cha shrutismrityorabhilipyate | [BSB
> 2-1-14]

This quote is also proof of avidyA/mAyA/prakRtiH being a shaktiH.

> 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.

In the BG bhaShya Shankara says:

इतीयं यथोक्ता प्रकृतिः मे मम ऐश्वरी मायाशक्तिः अष्टधा भिन्ना भेदमागता।
प्रकृतिद्वयद्वारेण अहं सर्वज्ञः ईश्वरः जगतः कारणमित्यर्थः।। 7.6 ||

So, whenever Brahman is said to be the cause of the universe, it is the
mAyA-shabalita Brahman, the saguNa Brahman, that is the cause.  And when it
is stated that by knowing the effect the Cause is known, it is Brahman
without the upAdhi of mAyA that is intended.  From the first quote it is
clear that it is this shakti that transforms into the world.  Thus the
material cause of the world is this shakti, mAyA, with, of course, the
support of Brahman.

> We also have one important reference where Sureswavra explicitly mentions
> the phrase “upAdAna-kAraNam”:
> asya dvaitajAlasya yadupAdAna kAraNam |
> ajnAnam tadupAshritya brahmakAraNam uchyate || [BUBV
> 1.4.371]
> “ignorance of the Self is the precondition of this magic
> show of duality,
> And the absolute is the called the cause mediated through
> that”
> (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)

Madhusudana might be quoting this verse from a source other than the
Vartika.  In any case the meaning / translation given by Anandagiri appears
to be quite in order.  It conforms exactly to the BGB 7th ch.Shankara
bhashya quotes shown above.

We have another instance where Sureshwara explicitly mentions the word
'upAdAnam' with reference to ajnAna.  In the NS III.15 sambandhokti, for
instance, he says:

यस्मादज्ञानोपादानाया एव बुद्धेर्भेदो नात्मनः, तस्मादेत्सिद्धम् -...[Since
the (above mentioned) distinction arises for *the intellect alone which is
a product of ignorance*, and not for the Self, this is established.].

Here it is very clear that Sureshwara is talking of ajnAna as the material
cause of the intellect.  If one could cleverly read the meaning
'precondition' for the word 'upAdAnakAraNam' with the sole intention to
preclude the root-ignorance idea, then it can be quite within one's right
to read the meaning of 'upAdAna' in the word 'nimitta' of the
adhyAsabhAShya (mithyAjnAna-nimittaH..).  Where do we end up with this kind
of text-torturing?  Also it is to be noted that while Sureshwara questions
the need to look for a cause for this smasAra-adyAsa, he himself talks of
such a cause in several places, two of which we have seen above.  From that
it is clear that Sureshwara, like the other Acharyas, also resorts to
specify the cause of samsAra-adhyAsa only to enable the prakriyA to
operate, though in the ultimate point of view there is no samsara at all
and hence no need to specify such a cause.

>  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)

The 'anirvachanIyA' tag attached to avidyA/mAyA or avidyA/mAyA kAryam does
not need special mention in Advaita for the very fact of jnAnanivartyatva
is enough to imply this.  In the VivekachUDaMani is the famous verse:
सन्नाप्यसन्नाप्युभयात्मिका नो.....भिन्नाप्यभिनाप्युभयात्मिका
नो.....अनिर्वचनीयरूपा clearly echoes the Shankara BSB 2.1.14 passage:

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

Here one should note that the 'nAmarUpe' that is said to be the bIja for
samsAra is the jiva's imagined avidyA kArya that is the cause that triggers
his karma and the phala thereof that forms the bija, basis, for Ishwara to
create the next prapancha.  That is why we see that Shankara, though
mentioning the nAmarUpa as bIja in one place, does not mention it to be so
in the other places, as for example, in the BGB 7th chapter quote we saw

> 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
> qualifications:
> 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)

That 'sAkShitA' is also not pAramArthikI is well known.  The Shastram
itself posits this 'witnesshood' on the Self for the purpose of easy
apprehension: साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च. Of course what Sureshwara is
saying above is: the shAstram does an 'adhyAropa' of sAkShitva on Atman for
the sake of the dull witted who are under delusion.

> jyotiṣām api tajjyotir asaddhī-parimoṣaṇāt ।
> tamorūpam ivābhāti 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)

True.  This is also stated well in the 'hastAmalakeeya' as 'ghanacchanna
dRShTim ghanacchaannamarkam manyate'.  One's vision is what is obstructed
by the cloud.  Yet one thinks that the Sun is obstructed by the cloud.

The particle 'iva' only means that it is 'not factual' just as 'the rope
appears as though it is a snake.'  Still the sad-asad-vilakShaNatva nature
is kept in tact.

>  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)

True.  AvidyAnAsha by jnAna is exactly like rajjvajnAna nAsha by rajju
jnAna.  Hence this ignorance is some bhAvarUpa entity, else its nAsha is
Shankara has also said: रज्जावादिबुद्धय सर्पादिबुद्धीनां बाधकत्वं
संपादयन्ति  which shows that according to Shankara the ignorance is
undergoing sublation.  Only that which is experienced as 'some thing' can
undergo sublation.  One cannot talk of the sublation of a hare's horn, an
abhAva padArtha.  So, the 'tattvamsyAdi vaakyottha....' verse of Sureshwara
decisively implies the anirvAchyatva/sadasadvilakShaNatva of avidya/ajnAna
in both its kAraNa and kArya versions.

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 lackof 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
> II.180]
> 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.

All said and done we see Sureshwara himself talking of such a cause in
terms of 'sat', in the two examples of his usage of the term 'upAdAnam'
that we have cited above.  Also, that it is 'asat' in the final analysis is
also known from his well-known 'tattvamsyAdivAkyottha..' verse where the
त्रैकालिकात्यन्ताभावप्रतियोगित्वम्’ nature of avidyA/avidyAkArya is
explicitly spelt out by him.  So, Sureshwara is only saying that in the
ultimate analysis it is of no use to look for a cause of samsara.  'na
vedmi' itself shows how one's svaprakAsha Atman is enveloped by a certain
ignorance so as to result in the projection, vikShepa, of the variegated

> 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
> success
> Regards
> Subhanu

I endorse your above views and would encourage anyone to take up such a

Best regards,


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