[Advaita-l] On the nature of muula avidya

nishanth rope.snake+garland at googlemail.com
Sun Nov 6 19:50:55 CST 2011

||om shri satgurubhyo namah||


This discussion is challenging and overwhelming to me. Yet it is enjoyable
to be exposed to such subtle ideas of the great Achaaryas and Advaitins of
the past. And, it is enjoyable to see the room for interpretation on such
fundamental pillars to the whole of Vedanta IMO.

It is rare to get this chance to delve into such ideas for one not able to
navigate SamskRtam texts directly.

Here is an excerpt from an old translation of Shri Vidyaranya which seems
to bring up Avidyaa and Maayaa differently than the interpratation of
presented by Shri Subhanu ji (a la

Forgive me for stating the obvious. I am way out of league here. But
egotistically, would nonetheless endeavor to contribute and  primarily just
state the awe of the subject matter.

here is the textual excerpt:


Translated from the Original Sanskrit into English
by Alladi Mahadeva Sastrty

As published in:
Samata Books, 1980

Introduction to the Study of Upanishads by Vidyaranya published 1899.
Published for Samata Books by V. Sadanand
10 Kamaraj Bhavan, 573 Mount Road, Madras, 600 006, India

“To that unknowable Self of wisdom, who being well kept in the heart, the
> yogin crosses the vast Avidyaaand Maayaa, be this bow!”
> 21 Munduka-Upanishad 2.2.9
> There is one positive principle called ajnaana. It is avidyaa when veiling
> its own seat (viz., Aatman); and it
> is itself called Maayaa when giving birth to manifold effects; so that
> knowledge of the Reality removes
> Maayaa as well as avidyaa. Therefore in the case of him who knows the
> Reality, his inherent nature as
> non-dual and pure bliss itself is never veiled. Neither will he be subject
> to a new birth or such other effects.
> When the tie of avidyaa is thus unloosened, then do all ties of the heart
> and the like cease. This has been
> taught in the same Upanishad as follows:—
> “He—the lower as well as the higher—being seen, the heart-tie is broken;
> all doubts are cut asunder;
> and his karmas perish.”***22
> 22 Munduka-Upanishad 2.2.9
> The Paramaatman, the Supreme Self, is all, the low and the high. He is the
> higher than the high,—than
> even ajnaana which is the cause of the universe. When He is realised, the
> heart-tie is broken. 'Heart'
> means antah-karaNa, the inner sense, the linga-shareera. When penetrated
> by the light of
> consciousness, it becomes a sentient entity manifesting itself as the
> agent of action. This entity has been
> regarded in the Tarka-shaastra and the Poorva-mimaamsa as the real Self,
> whereas in the view of the
> Vedaanta this Self is as false as the self of the physical body. The
> illusion by which one regards the heart,
> this linga-sharira, as identical with the conscious Self of pure
> bliss,—like the illusion which leads one to
> identify the real but unrecognized mother-of-pearl with silver imagined to
> exists therein,—constitutes
> what is spoken of as the heart-tie. No man who has not been initiated into
> truth by a Guru and the
> Scriptures can distinguish the real conscious Self of pure Bliss,—veiled
> as he is by ajnana,—from the
> linga-shareera, a product of the subtle elements (sookshma-bhootas) and
> endued with the attributes of
> agency and the like. He looks upon the two as forming one entity; and when
> he wishes to describe his
> own nature in full he says 'I am the agent.' By a realization of the
> Reality, this heart-tie is broken; the two
> constituents are distinguished from each other. Against this view, one may
> perhaps urge that even he
> who knows of the Reality is found to speak of himself as the agent, as he
> ever did before. In reply we say
> that, though he speaks of himself in this fashion, it is not exactly in
> the same manner as he did before.
> Accordingly in his commentary on the Shareeraka-mimaamsaa, the Blessed
> Bhaashyakaara says as
> follows:—
> “He who has known the Self to be one with Brahman is not a samsaarin (a
> man of the world) as before
> he was. He who, on the other hand, is a samsaarin as he was before, has
> not known the Self as one with
> Brahman.”
> In the Upadesha-saahasree also the blessed Bhaashyakaara says:
> “Whoever, though knowing Aatman, cherishes thoughts of accepting and
> avoiding, he is not, be it know,
> fit for moksha; he is indeed discarded by Brahman.”23
> Op cit. 14.14
> As to the knower of the Self speaking of himself “I am the agent,” he can
> do so by intellectually
> distinguishing the conscious Self from the linga-sharira; for, in his view
> neither the heart (linga-sharira)—
> the 'I' of the conception 'I am the agent'—nor agency and other attribute
> inhering in the linga-sharira
> have any real connection with the Self. This has been said also in the
> Upadesha-saahasri as follows:
> “When and to whomsoever the notion of personal Ego conveyed by 'I'
> and the notion of personal possession conveyed by 'mine' cease to be
> 'real', then his the knower of
> Aatman.”24
> 24. Ibid XIV.29
> These notions had some kind of reality before when by illusion Aatman and
> the heart—linga-sharira—
> were regarded as together forming one entity. They lose that reality as
> soon as they are referred to the
> linga-sharira exclusively.
> Avidyaa, the cause of illusion, ceasing, no illusion indeed can arise,
> because of the absence of its cause.
> Indeed, having in the dream gone half-way to Kaashi, no man, when awake,
> however clever he may be, is
> able to continue the journey forward from that point on the following day.
> Hence the breaking of the
> heart-tie without any obstacle.
> All those whose mind is directed outwards have experienced numberless
> doubts, either arising from the
> defectiveness of their intellect, or generated by a study of the various
> systems of science. Those doubts
> are such as the following: Is the Self identical with the physical body,
> or with the subtle body, or distinct
> from both? If distinct, is He of the size of an atom, or of the middling
> size, or all-pervading? Is He
> insentient? Or is He a substance with the attribute of intelligence? Or is
> He consciousness itself? Is He
> distinct from the Eeshvara? Or is He the Eeshvara Himself? Is the universe
> real or false? Which of the
> two, knowledge or works, is the means to Moksha?
> All these dobuts are preceded by what has been called the heart-tie,
> inasmuch as they do not present
> themselves in the states of sushupti, death and swoon in which the
> heart-tie is absent. So that, even in
> the jaagrat state such doubts cannot be generated by ever so many
> shaastras in the mind of one who
> realizes the one Self of pure bliss and consciousness, abiding steadily
> within, free from the heart-tie.
> When doubts are cut asunder, nothing consequently standing in the way of
> the realisation of the fruits of
> knowledge, all Karma done in the past, productive of good and evil
> results, become extinct; just as the
> three debts which the householder owes to Devaas, Rishis and PitRs
> respectively, as well as the civil
> contests regarding houses, lands, etc., cease altogether as soon as he
> enters on the fourth order of
> sannyaasa. And this is quite reasonable. All actions, indeed, abide in the
> agent. And we grant that so long
> as this agent is identified with the conscious Self, actions of that agent
> may affect the Self. But when the
> conncection with the agent has been done away with by discrimination, how
> can they any longer affect
> the conscious Self? This, again, has been clearly shewn by the Lord in the
> following verses:
> “The seat and actor and the various organs, and the several functions of
> various sorts, and the Divinity
> also, the fith of these:
> “Whatever action a man does by the body, speech and mind, right of the
> opposite, these five are its
> causes.
> “Now, such being the case, verily, he who, owing to untrained
> understanding, looks on the Self alone as
> the agent,—that man of perverted intelligence sees not.24
> 24 Bhagavad-Geetaa 18.14_to_16
> The seat is the gross physical body. Actor is the linga-sharira penetrated
> by the light of consciousness.
> Organs are the eye, etc., forming members of the linga-sharira. The
> several functions are seeing, hearing,
> going etc., which constitute the outgoing activities of praana or
> life-principle. The sun and the other
> Devataas (Intelligences) impelling the sense-organs to action constitute
> the Divinity. These five, the
> physical body, etc., but not the conscious Self, are the causes of good
> and evil actions achieved by means
> of the body, speech, or mind; so that it is only by the deluded who do not
> know the Self that agency is
> attributed to the Self. Then the Lord continues:
> “He who is free from egoistic notion, whose mind is not tainted,—though he
> kills creatures, he neither
> kills nor is bound.”25
> 25 Bhagavad-Geetaa 18.17
> He who knows the truth does not speak of his own conscious Self, the One
> Existence, as an agent, since
> the heart-tie has been broken. Hence the statement of the
> Upadesha-saahasri (14.29) quoted above, that
> the notion of personal Ego has not the same reality for him as it had
> before. When he says 'I am the
> agent' the enlightened sage refers only to the linga-sharira. Hence it is
> that there is no taint in the mind.
> When even the slightest idea of the acts of linga-sharira causing rebirth
> to the Self is removed, there
> being no longer any doubt or misconception regarding it, his mind remains
> untainted. Though a yogin of
> this sort will make no attempt to kill any, because of the absence of all
> such feelings as attachment and
> hatred, still it is possible that Arjuna who was a Kshatriya bound to rule
> a kingdom, and whose duty it
> was to punish the wicked and protect the dutiful, might engage in acts,
> like a Yogin who sleeps and eats
> as well as practices Yoga. On the same principle we should explain the
> following passage in the
> Kausheetaki-Upanishad:
> “He that knows Me, his world of enjoyment will not be diminished by any
> act whatsoever, not by
> matricide, not by patricide, not by theft, not by the killing of a vedic
> scholar.”26
> 26 Op. cit. 3.1

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