Mayavada Darpanam

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Attack on Ajnaana of Advaita - 2


Prostrations to all.

We now enter into the analysis of Ajnaana from the words of acharyas of Advaita. Ajnaana is something which cannot be really explained and hence there has been lot of confusion created over the same. It is because of lack of proper knowledge of Advaita and lack of open-mindedness that many acharyas like Ramanuja, Madhva have attacked ajnaana like anything. Ramanuja has dedicated an entire portion of his Sri Bhashya called Saptha Vidha anupapatti (seven types of illogicalities of Ajnaana) to attack Ajnaana. Madhva has attacked Ajnaana like anything in Mayavada Khandana (as we are currently learning) and in many of his other works like Anu Vyaakhyaana etc.

The first and foremost thing a Guru wants from a disciple is open mind. It is tough for a Guru to teach a disciple who has some little knowledge on Vedanta. A real shishya is one who goes to a Guru with nothing in his mind. This is not the case with Vedanta alone but with any science. The more open-minded you are, the more you learn. When a person starts to learn seriously, he should make his mind blank on the topic. Once we make our mind blank on all the wrong concepts or little concepts on Ajnaana, we will see the mysterious ajnaana theory folding up beautifully in the ultimate reality of Brahman. As Lord Krishna propounds in Gita, such a person will see Jnaana rising against Ajnaana like Sun rising against darkness. This knowledge of Sun is such that once it rises, there is never any set possible for it.

Thus we have to now make our mind blank and open to all concepts before starting on the analysis of ajnaana. Let me once again offer my prostrations to the Guru Parampara and prayers to the ultimate reality of Brahman in the form of AMMA that we may be able to grasp this subtle truth about the most mysterious concept in Vedanta – Ajnaana.

We will deal this part of Mayavada Darpanam not in one mail but in a series of mail so that this concept becomes very clear to us.

As per Advaita, ajnaana veils the ever-present Self. Thus a person becomes bonded due to this veiling. It is knowledge that releases this bondage and thereby the person realizes the ever-present Self.

This concept has been attacked by Jaya Teertha in his tika by the statement that Ajnaana can never veil the Self because the Self is ever present and self-luminous as per Advaita. Such an ever-present Self and self-luminous Self can never be veiled by anything. Thus since ajnaana can never veil the Self, there cannot be any bandha or moksha as such in Advaita. Thus the system itself is futile as it can neither explain Ajnaana nor explain how ajnaana veils the Self.

This argument of Jaya Teertha is wrong. How it is wrong is being said by the advaitin thus:

Yattu jaya teerthena uktham ‘na aavaranam sambhavathi’ tat na sat

What Jaya teertha has said that ‘veiling is not possible’ is not correct.

Yadhyapi avidhyaa paramaarthatho aatmanaavaranasya kaaranam na bhavathi, tathaapi anubhootitvaat, upapattescha avidhyaa aatmanaavaranasya kaaranam bhavathi vyavahaare

Even though avidya never veils the Atman at the ultimate level but still avidya is the cause for veiling of the Self at the empirical level because it is experienced & logical enough.

Svaprakaashaatmanah ajnaana aavaranam vyavahaare sambhavathi, tat paramaarthathopi naasthi ithi na kaschit anupapattih

Veiling of the self-luminous Self by ajnaana or avidya is possible at the empirical level & since it is not there at the ultimate level, there is no illogicalities in the same.

Yathaa meghah sooryo aavarathi tathaa

As the clouds veil the Sun, similar is the case here.


We have to understand that avidya is explained only at the empirical level and not at the ultimate level. This differentiation of ultimate level and empirical level is not that has been coined by Advaita but is based on sruthi as well as yukthi. At the ultimate level, there is nothing apart from Brahman as propounded by the sruthi vakya Sadeva soumya idam agre aseet ekameva aseet – O Dear! Existence alone existed prior to creation, one without a second. It is true that different systems interpret Ekam eva adviteeyam in different ways but it just is logical enough that the ultimate reality of Brahman alone existed before creation because before creation, there was Brahman alone & other ways was created from the thinking of Brahman as proclaimed in the Upanishads.

Thus since in the beginning, before creation, Brahman alone existed. From Brahman started creation and creation will surely have an end as it had a starting. Thus in the end also there will be Brahman alone.

Thus Gaudapada says following Yoga Vasistha that the world which doesn’t exist in the beginning and at the end has no existence at all. Thus it is only an illusion in the substratum of Brahman on which the world is superimposed. Thus we have at the ultimate level, Brahman alone exists. At the empirical level, we have the world existing. This world is existent at the empirical level as an illusion. World ceases to exist only when the ultimate level of Brahman is realized and a person is at the ultimate level. This is understood easily with the analogy of dream. Dream world exists at the time when a person is dreaming but vanishes to exist once the dreamer wakes up from the dream world.

Thus avidya is accepted at the empirical level so long as the seeker doesn’t realize his own very nature of Brahman. Avidya can never really exist because it cannot really veil the ever-present Self. Madhva’s argument that the avidya cannot veil the ever-present Self is valid enough at the ultimate level. We never accept avidya veiling Brahman at the ultimate level. At the ultimate level, we accept existence of non-dual Brahman alone. But at the empirical level, avidya can veil the Self. This veiling is not real veiling but only an illusory veiling.

The advaitin gives the example of clouds veiling the Sun for the same. Sun is self-effulgent and gives light to all other things in the world. Thus the Sun cannot be veiled by anything. But we do experience the veiling of Sun by clouds. This experience is valid so long as we experience the clouds as veiling the Sun. But ultimately, it is accepted by all that the clouds never veil the Sun but only seem to veil the Self.

Similarly, the Self is not at all veiled by avidya but only seems to be veiled by avidya at the empirical level.

How can we say that avidya veils the Self at the empirical level or seems to veil the Self????

The advaitin gives two reasons for the same.

1. Anobhootitvaat – as it is experienced by all.
2. Upapatteh – as it is logical.

It is logical that avidya can illusory veil the Self at the empirical level as the example of clouds veiling the Sun is possible when the person is experiencing the veiling. Thus empirically, it is very much possible that avidya seems to veil the Self. But once a person realizes his own very nature of Self, he realizes that he never was veiled by avidya – thus avidya is not at all accepted at the ultimate level. Thus this veiling at empirical level and non-acceptance of avidya at the ultimate level is logical.

The one answer to the riddle of avidya is ANOBOOTITVAAT – as it is experienced. Avidya exists only for that person who seems to experience it. Dreamer alone can prove the existence of dream world and that too because he experiences it. Similarly avidya exists only for that person who is in avidya – for such a person, there is no need of any proof because he experiences it. Since he experiences it, therefore avidya does exist. Since this avidya is not eternal, therefore it is given an empirical status and not ultimate status.

Dvaitins cannot argue here that advaitins don’t give much emphasis to pratyaksha or perception or experience because dvaitins themselves give emphasis on pratyaksha to show that the jeeva is different from Brahman and is limited as experienced.

Thus the dvaitin cannot attack the advaitin on the same front. As far as we are concerned, we accept pratyaksha and anubhava at the empirical level but just mentioning that these are not eternal as ultimately there is only one reality of non-dual Brahman.

To conclude on this part of the work, Madhva’s as well as Jaya Teertha’s argument that avidya cannot veil the Self is completely wrong. More than wrong, it is a wrong understanding of the concept of avidya of Advaita. Advaita doesn’t accept real veiling of the Self by avidya but only accepts veiling of the Self by avidya at the empirical level because it is experienced by the seeker himself. We will see in the coming mails in the series as to what Sankara among other advaitins have to say about this. When we learn those statements of acharyas, the concept of advaita will become very clear & we will also understand as to how wrongly the concept of avidya or ajnaana has been understood by rival schools.

We will continue with the analysis of ajnaana in the next mail.

Prostrations to all.


Let a moment not pass by without remembering God


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