[Advaita-l] The Ontological Status of avidyA
sjayana at yahoo.com
Mon Aug 20 21:35:28 CDT 2012
It has been said enough number of times on this list, yet hasn't yet been grasped by one small faction. But it worth saying again to drive home the point!
Question: What is the ontological status of Ignorance (avidyA)?
Reply: Ignorance does have an ontological status, but cannot be classified as Real or Unreal. Importantly, avidyA is NOT UNREAL. The reason(s) for this will be explained below.
1) First Reason ("small" reason): Textual
Let us first examine updeshasaahasrii 2.14.19:
AtmA hyAtmiiya ityeSha bhAvo.avidyAprakalpitaH .
Atmaikatve hyasau nAsti bIjAbhAve kutaH phalam.h ..
Swami Jagadananda's translation:
"For the ideas 'me' and 'mine' are superimposed on the Self due to Ignorance.
They do not exist when the Self is known to be one only.
HOW CAN THERE BE AN EFFECT WITHOUT A CAUSE?"
Sankara's phrase "bIja-abhAve kutaH phalam.h" is translated (rightly) by Swami Jagadananda as "How can there be an effect without a cause?".
This is a fundamental thesis of VedAnta: there cannot be an effect without a cause!
Let us now consider the GItA 10.11:
teShAmevAnukampArthamahamaGYAnajaM tamaH .
nAshayAmyAtmabhAvastho GYAnadIpena bhAsvatA .. 10\-11..
"Out of compassion for them (Devotees), as the Self, I destroy the darkness (tamaH)
that is ignorance-born (aGYAna-jam), by the luminous lamp of Wisdom."
What is surprising in the above verse is that darkness or tamaH is considered to have aGYAna as the CAUSE, for darkness is BORN OUT OF IGNORANCE. Ignorance - the CAUSE - cannot be unreal!
The word used for the removal of tamas is "nAshayAmi" (I DESTROY), which is not used for a non-existence entity!
Sankara's commentary with Swami Gambhirananda's translation:
teshhaameva kathaM nu naama shreyaH syaat iti anukampaarthaM dayaahetoH
aham aGYaanajam avivekataH jaataM mithyaapratyayalaxaNaM
mohaandhakaaraM tamaH naashayaami, aatmabhaavasthaH aatmanaH bhaavaH
antaHkaraNaashayaH tasminneva sthitaH san GYaanadiipena
yathoktaaM bhagavataH vibhuutiM yogaM cha shrutvaa arjana uvaacha --
"Anukampartham, out of compassion; tesam eva, for them alone,
anxious as to how they may have bliss; aham, I; atmabhavasthah,
residing in their hearts-atmabhavah means the seat that is the heart;
being seated there itself; nasayami, destroy; tamah, the darkness;
ajnanajam, born of ignorance, originating from non-discrimination, the
darkness of delusion known as false comprehension; jnana-dipena, with
the lamp of Knowledge, in the form of discriminating comprehension; i.e.
bhasvata, with the luminous lamp of Knowledge-fed by the oil of divine
grace resulting from devotion, fanned by the wind of intensity of
meditation on Me, having the wick of the intellect imbued with the
impressions arising from such disciplines as celibacy etc., in the
receptacle of the detached mind, placed in the windless shelter of the
mind withdrawn from objects and untainted by likes and dislikes, and
made luminous by full Illumination resulting from the practice of constant
concentration and meditation. After hearing the above-described
majesty and yoga of the Lord..."
Note that Sankara evidently accepts that aGYAna or ignorance is the CAUSE of tamaH or darkness! If there cannot be an effect without a cause, please do the math!
The same theme is reiterated in upadeshasaahasrii 1.2.48 (translation by Swami Jagadananda):
avidyA nimittaM , vidyA tasya nivartikA ,
avidyAyAM nivR^ittAyAM tannimittAbhAvAt.h mokShyase janmamaraNalakShaNAt.h ,
svaprajAgraduHkhaM cha nAnubhavishhyasIti .
"The teacher said, "The CAUSE is Ignorance (avidyA nimittaM). Knowledge brings it to an end.
When Ignorance, the cause, will be removed, you will be liberated from the transmigratory
existence consisting of birth and death.
You will never again feel pain in the states of waking and dream.""
NOTE: Ignorance is said to be the CAUSE (nimittaM) of bondage. What more is needed to show that avidyA -the CAUSE -is NOT UNREAL?
2) Second Reason ("BIG" reason): Basic Philosophy
The textual reasons, although valid, are very minor. Rather, the major reason is purely from experience.
Everyone feels miserable at some point in his or her life. This misery cannot be said to be Brahman, whose nature is pure Ananda. If everything everywhere is bliss, what then is the cause of this misery?
The very reason for the existence of the shAstra is to lead one from misery to bliss. The state of misery is called saMsAra and the state of bliss is called mokSha. If the phenomenal existence is not even accepted as real-for-the-sake-of-instruction, shAstra becomes meaningless, dharma becomes a joke, and all sAdhana is nonsense!
Rejecting the phenomenal world without Self-realization is not merely philosophically immature, but it is philosophical GIBBERISH!
I recall a quote from Swami Vivekananda (from memory, since it's been at least two decades): "Ignorance is not real, for that can be said only of Brahman; nor can it be unreal, for how can the phenomenon occur?" The latter phrase "how can the phenomenon occur" is precisely which avidyA is NOT UNREAL.
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