Mayavada Darpanam

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Attack on Ajnaana of Advaita - 3


Prostrations to all.

In the last mail in the series, we learnt that avidya is valid and possible as it is “experienced” and “tenable”.

The basic concept here is that avidya doesn’t really veil the ever-present Self but only seems to veil the Self. This seeming veiling of avidya is something which cannot really be explained & hence avidya is called anirvachaneeya or indescribable. We will see Sankara clearly mentioning about the same later. And since the scriptures as well as advaitins accept avidya to be destroyed or sublated (as is the term recommended by madhusudana saraswathi following the footsteps of sureshwaracharya), therefore avidya is not at all accepted as existent or prior-existent by advaitins.

Next the advaitin goes on to quote sruthi as well as various acharyas words which clearly explain the concept of avidya (that which can never be really explained through logic). This part of the work of Mayavada Darpanam is important because here we find that the concept of avidya has been explained very clearly by acharyas and hence the attack of other systems is unwanted or lack of proper knowledge. We cannot say that it is due to lack of proper knowledge that these opponent system acharyas attack avidya of advaita because BNK Sharma clearly shows that the dvaita acharyas knew the philosophy of advaita very clearly and have explained so as well --- so this boils down to unwanted attack through hair-splitting logics.

What a seeker has to remember is that there is only one entity here which is beyond logic and contradictions which is Consciousness. Madhva can refute anything and everything under the Sun but he cannot refute his own Consciousness. His very nature of Consciousness is the one which illumines all other things in the world. This Consciousness doesn’t require an external Ishwara for illumination – it is self evident and self luminous. Thus this Consciousness is the substratum for all existences – thus it is the only independent entity whereas other things are fully dependent on Consciousness. Thus Consciousness is the only reality whereas other dependent entities are mere illusions in the substratum of Consciousness.

Remembering this ultimate reality and that everything is Consciousness alone, let us now see the quotations of the advaitin in the work.

Uktam cha

“ghanachhanna dristhih ghanachhannam arkam
Yathaa nishprabham manyathe cha atimoodah
Tathaa bhaddhavat bhaathi yo mooda dristeh
Sa nitya upalabdhi svaroopoham aatma”

(Hastaamalakeeya 12)

As Sun is considered to be not shining or without shine by the ignorant who considers the Sun as veiled by clouds, similarly the Self which is ever-present nature of Consciousness is considered to be in bondage by the moodah or ignorant.


This analogy of Sun being veiled by clouds as seen by the ignorant is an important one and which clearly explains the concept of avidya veiling and making the Self bonded.

We see that at times (before rain), clouds veil the Sun. For an ignorant, the Sun is totally veiled by the clouds & hence Sun has now lost its power of shining. But for a learned person, the Sun is never veiled but just seems to be veiled by the clouds. It is an illusion which seems to be happening but never is really happening. Similarly the Self is never in bondage and never thus requires liberation. But it seems to be in bondage for an ignorant person who considers himself as under avidya and therefore seeks liberation. The Self can never be veiled by avidya & thus bondage itself is not at all possible. But due to lack of proper knowledge, the ignorant sees himself as being veiled by avidya & therefore seeks to remove the veil. But the learned person understands that he just seems to be in bondage but never really in bondage.

Thus avidya seems to be veiling the Self but never really veils. This is not just a statement of the advaitin but can be inferred from sruthi vakyas. Sruthi and Lord says that removal avidya is moksha. Avidya can be removed only if it is not eternal or real. That which is real can never be removed or negated. Thus the very fact that avidya vanishes means that it is not real but only an illusion. He who is in bandha can never get moksha of eternal liberation because such a newly acquired moksha can again be lost.

Adi Sankara defines the Self in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya as Nitya shuddha Buddha muktha svabhaava – of the nature of ever-pure, ever-enlightened and ever-liberated. Gaudapada says that there is neither bandha nor moksha for the Self.

It is as a result of this that even the dvaitin defines moksha as “svaroopa avirbhaava eva moksha” (Jaya Teertha in his tika to tattva viveka of madhva).

The advaitin continues by summarizing about avidya and quoting Sankara thus:

Avidya yadhyapi paramaarthatho naasthi tathaapi saa anubhootitvaat asthi

Even though avidya doesn’t exist ultimately but still as it is experienced, therefore it exists at the empirical level (for the ignorant person).

Tathoktham aachaaryaih gitabhashyaih “atra aah saa avidhya kasya ithi yasya drishyathe tasya eva” ithi

Therefore (following this), Sankaracharya has explained in his Gita Bhashya thus:

Here we ask avidya is for whom??
(We answer) Avidya exists for that person who sees it (experiences it).


The advaitin kind of summarizes about avidya by telling that avidya is not there ultimately but for the ignorant seeker, it is there at the empirical level as it is experienced. As far as even dvaita philosophy is considered, experience or anubhava or pratyaksha is a strong pramaana unlike advaita where sruthi is the final and pratyaksha is mainly refuted or negated.

Thus since avidya is experienced, therefore it has validity. As long as avidya is experienced by the ignorant seeker, it is valid. But once knowledge of the reality dawns, avidya automatically vanishes & hence ultimately, avidya is not at all real but only an illusion in the reality of Brahman.

In order to show that this is not his own view, the advaitin here quotes Sankaracharya’s Gita Bhashya. This bhashya quotation is from the 13th chapter 2nd sloka wherein Sankara raises a question from the purvapakshin or a shishya (preferably the later because purvapaksha statements generally start with “nanu”).

The question raised is as to who experiences avidya. Sankara replies that avidya exists for the person who experiences it. This explanation is so right and exact that it totally summarizes the philosophy of avidya and there remains nothing more to say on the topic.

Avidya exists only for the person who really experiences it. Another person will never be able to prove avidya through any pramaanas. It is this nature of avidya as to not able to withstand logic or pramaana which has been attacked thoroughly by madhva and ramanuja among others. If we only admit or accept that avidya exists for the person who experiences it & such an experience doesn’t require any other proof, these objections will become invalid.

Let’s now see a little logical analysis of avidya to show that it cannot be subject to logic or proof (we will deal with this later while quoting sureshwaracharya’s exhaustive analysis in his Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya Vartika).

Avidya is ignonrance of something. If I know that I am ignorant of something, then obviously I know about that which I am ignorant of. Doesn’t it seem contradictory??? J

Taking an example, avidya of mathematics. If I know that I am ignorant of mathematics (or I say that I am ignorant of mathematics), this means I know something about mathematics & hence can say that I don’t know it. Doesn’t it look contradictory that I know that I don’t know!!!

The above clearly shows that if we try to prove avidya through logic or analysis, it will just fail.

But then how can we say that avidya is there or exists??? Simply because I am ignorant of mathematics.

How am I ignorant of the Self???
Because I don’t know the Self nor its blissful nature which I am not experiencing. If I know the Self, then there will be no seeking & there will be eternal bliss & contentment which is lacking & thus infers that knowledge of Self is lacking.

Thus avidya being existent is just a matter of experience for the ignorant & this vanishes once the reality is known. And since avidya cannot be really explained through logic, therefore it is called anirvachaneeya and illusory. But as it is experienced, it cannot be said as untenable or impossible.

Vidyaranya in his Panchadashi Tattva Viveka Prakaranam overcomes the above “knowing that I don’t know” by telling that there are two types of knowledge – saamaanya jnaana or general knowledge and vishesha jnaana or specific knowledge. Even as the father of son recognizes his son’s voice in a group of people chanting but still can’t clearly characterize his son’s voice, similarly the Self is known by all as it is their very nature but is not known specifically as it is not experienced as bliss at all times. Thus there is paroksha jnaana of the Self as that which ever exists as bliss but aparoksha jnaana of always being blissful is not there (this analysis of Self as bliss is valid for all systems even bauddha and jaina systems as the final goal of all systems is bliss alone).

Thus avidya is valid only for the person who experiences it – experience of avidya of Self is non-experience of bliss or experience of sorrow or discontent or unsatisfied etc.

We will see the advaitin’s quotation of sureshwaracharya’s words in the next mail in the series. The next mail would be a bit logical and hence request everyone to go through this mail maybe 3-4 times as the basis for next mail’s explanation would be the content of this mail.

Sorry for being irregular in posting of this thread – the reason being lack of proper dedication to explain logical things in a way that everyone is able to understand and appreciate. Mayavada Khandanam itself being a highly logical work, the counter work has also to be that much logical & the content dealt is subtle that it would require lot of explanation from the writer as well as lot of mental reflection from the reader.

Going forward we will have a couple of mails in this thread every week. There is lot more content to be dealt from madhva’s work as well as the counter work & hence this thread would go on for many days. Hence kindly request everyone (Jwhoever is reading this thread regularly) to keep revisiting the entire content or at least the particular part being discussed from the blog so that continuity is maintained.

Prostrations to all.


Let a moment not pass by without remembering God


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