[Advaita-l] Fwd: On avidyA being anirvachanIya etc

nishanth rope.snake+garland at googlemail.com
Tue Nov 22 21:53:14 CST 2011

om shri sadgurubhyo namah

wow. this an old discussion! i'm finding similar threads everywhere:

There is a metaphor which talks about putting pure water in a colored
> vessel, analogous to the idiom of seeing the world through rose-colored
> spectacles. It is as though the truth is being ‘obscured’ by viewing the
> world through a covering of ignorance. But there is not really something
> positive here, in the same way as the colored glass. What is happening is
> that we have accumulated various opinions and beliefs from books and
> parents etc and these are ‘coloring’ our judgment. Even the word ‘coloring’
> is forcing us to uphold the metaphor and believe that it refers to
> something real. But what this actually means is that they are influencing
> our judgment; there is no physical medium in place.
>  Accordingly, one has to wonder if the problem here is simply one of
> language. A new word ‘ignorance’ was introduced to refer to the state of
> ‘not knowing’ but then, because the word became so much a part of everyday
> usage, we started to think that there was an actual *thing* called
> ‘ignorance’. I am reminded of the Alan Watts’ talk which discussed the idea
> of cause and effect and suggested that so-called ‘causes’ were often
> invented terms of this sort. And he cited the example of this thing called
> ‘gravity’ being described as the ‘cause’ for objects falling to the earth
> when dropped. And he said that, if we dropped a particular object and,
> instead of falling to the ground, it rose up into the air, then we would
> have called it a ‘balloon’ and not a ‘stone’. Clever though this sounded
> when I first heard it, I nevertheless thought that he was deliberately
> taking an extreme, and unrealistic, example to make his point. But now I am
> not so sure.
>  In this case of ignorance, it seems quite reasonable to argue that we
> could quite happily live without the concept. Shankara’s key concept of
> Advaita (as indicated by the fact that his commentary on the Brahmasutras
> is introduced by an explanation) is *adhyAsa*. This is the mechanism by
> which we ‘mix up’ real and unreal, or ‘superimpose’ the not-Self upon the
> Self. And there is a tendency to say that ignorance is the *cause* of *
> adhyAsa*. What I say in ‘Back to the Truth’ about this is: “*What
> Shankara begins by saying is that ‘I’ am different from the perceived
> object. I make a fundamental mistake when either I see one thing and think
> it is something else (e.g. I see a rope and think it is a snake) or I think
> something has an attribute that it does not really have (e.g. I think that
> the mirage is actually a lake). There is always something real (the rope or
> the sand with shimmering air above it) and something illusory. The real
> part is unaffected by our superimposition. What is effectively happening is
> that we partially see the real part, the substratum such as the rope, and
> then overlay it with some recollected memory of something else, such as the
> snake.*” There is no immediately apparent reason as to why we should say
> that this happens because of something called ‘ignorance’.
>  In the metaphor, it is the absence of light which causes us to imagine a
> snake where there is actually a rope. This equates to absence of knowledge
> explaining why we fail to realize that everything is Brahman. But darkness
> is not a positive thing; it is merely absence of sufficient numbers of
> photons of visible electronic radiation to trigger impulses on the retina.
> It is a misunderstanding of the physical process that causes someone to
> claim that a thing is ‘covered’ or ‘hidden’ by darkness. What they really
> mean is that the thing is not being revealed because there is insufficient
> light. Thus, for example, I say in ‘Back to the Truth’ that it is
> ‘ignorance of our true nature’ that is the reason for *saMsAra*. What I
> should perhaps really say, to avoid this confusion, is that it is ‘failure
> to recognize our true nature’ that is the reason.
>  Prior to enlightenment, we identify with the body and mind etc. Since
> these things are always changing, we think that we are subject to change
> also – and we call this ‘ignorance’. As I say in BttT: “*The Sanskrit
> word for ‘truth’ is *satyam* and this is also the word for reality. The
> only reality is brahman. Ignorance is ignoring (literally ‘turning away
> from’) this truth through identifying ourselves with a body, mind, belief,
> cause or whatever. We mistakenly take these things to be real in their own
> right instead of simply a form of one essential reality.*” Ignorance is
> this ‘making a mistake’, not something positive in its own right.
>  The reason I have been thinking about all this is that I have been
> reading SSSS’s (that’s Sri Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati, if you didn’t
> know!) ‘The Heart of Sri Shankara’ (an incredible translation by A. J.
> Alston, since the original is in Sanskrit), which is all about logically
> destroying the idea of a causal, positive ignorance. I will be reviewing
> book this in due course (If I can manage to complete it, since it is not
> the easiest read!) and may also continue this discussion – because this is
> not the whole story by any means. There have been many discussions (or
> perhaps ‘arguments’ might be a better word) on this topic and there is
> another difficult, academic text, which looks at these ideas of SSSS and
> does not altogether agree with them! (This is the doctoral thesis of Martha
> Doherty, a disciple of Swami Dayananda.)
>  SSSS says, amongst many other things, that: “*The final truth is that
> one cannot say that Ignorance really has either an object or a locus. For
> (Ignorance cannot be real, since) what is real cannot be brought to an end.
> *” “*…adequate reflection shows that there is no reality ‘Ignorance’ over
> and above different forms of (wrong) knowledge.* *Ignorance is either
> absence of knowledge or doubtful knowledge or wrong knowledge, as Sri
> Shankara has remarked (Brihadaranyaka bhAShya 3.3.1).*”

On 20 November 2011 08:53, Ramesh Krishnamurthy <rkmurthy at gmail.com> wrote:

> Namaste Subhanu-ji,
> Regarding your point (3) in the earlier post:
> I am not sure what you mean by the term "mental imagination". If the idea
> is that avidyA is conjured up by the mind, that is not a reasonable
> statement because the mind itself is a product of avidyA. avidyA is the
> very nature of the mind. Our list member Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian had
> extensively written about this in a formal paper that was a major topic of
> discussion on the list, and which I am sure you would have read. He clearly
> explained that the mutual superimposition of self and not-self cannot be
> something conjured up "by the mind".
> At least I found his arguments very reasonable. For whatever reason, he is
> no longer a regular participant on the list and I think many on the list
> would agree if I say that the list misses his insightful posts.
> So the mind itself is conjured up by avidyA, and the mahAvAkya is needed to
> destroy avidyA. Of course it is all figurative, in the sense that the Atman
> is always non-dual and avidyA is found to be non-existent upon
> investigation. No traditionalist denies this.
> I hope you notice that it is the SSS school that is actually making a
> "claim" about avidyA, namely, that it is abhAvarUpa, a mental construct,
> etc. The classical tradition merely uses it as a factor or device to
> explain vyavahAra, noting that it can neither be classified as an "entity"
> (bhAvarUpa) nor as a "non-entity" (abhAvarUpa). The tradition also clearly
> says that while avidyA is experienced, it disappears on investigation. It
> is avichAritasiddha and j~nAna-virodhi.
> Anyway, if your idea is that the SSS school has some important insights
> that are worth appreciating, I am only too happy to go along. But we are
> yet to see a post from you that clearly explains what these insights are
> and how they differ from more commonly held traditional positions. All you
> have done so far is to tell everyone that they ought to study
> sureshvarAchArya's works, and even here, none of your quotes so far clearly
> illustrates anything different from commonly held traditional positions.
> I would request you, if possible, to put up an article that clearly brings
> out the specific points (at least with respect to avidyA) being made by the
> SSS school and how they differ from commonly held traditional positions.
> You need not quote from the NS, TUBV, etc. Just let us have a complete
> picture of your thinking on avidyA. This discussion is pointless unless we
> have that picture. My sense, thus far, is that you misunderstand
> traditional positions on avidyA.
> On 8 November 2011 05:32, subhanu saxena <subhanu at hotmail.com> wrote:
> > As such, Ramesh, I await your response to point 3 in my previous post to
> > see if there is a real difference at all.
> >
> >
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