Mayavada Darpanam

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Attack on Ajnaana of Advaita - 4


Prostrations to all.

In the last mail we saw quotation from Hastamalakeeya as well Gita bhashya of Sankara and through the advaitin’s summarization of the subject of avidya thus that:

Avidya doesn’t really exist at the ultimate level but since it exists at the empirical level, therefore avidya is valid for the ignorant person. That it cannot be proved itself shows that avidya is not a real entity but only empirically real.

Thus it is wrong to say that avidya cannot be proved at all – that it cannot be proved itself is proof that it is only an illusion and exists only for the ignorant person (exists means seems to exist). This existence of avidya is based on the experience of the ignorant person which is the highest pramaana of pratyaksha (anubhava) and hence really valid. And since Lord himself states about avidya in many places in Gita, therefore avidya is really valid through sruthi, yukthi and anubhava.

Let us now try to see the riddle of avidya through the vision of Sureshwaracharya. A few words about sureshwara would not be out of context over here. Sureshwara was one of the four main disciples of Sankara. Tradition has it that sureshwara was the famous mimaamsaka mandana mishra before getting defeated by sankara in debate.

Sureshwara is also known as the vartikakaara in advaita – this is because most of his works are vartikas on works of sankara. The following are the works of Sureshwara (all really huge mass of knowledge):

1. Naishkarmya Siddhi – an independent treatise on advaita Vedanta
2. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad bhashya vartika – a vartika on sankara’s brihadaranyaka Upanishad bhashya. This is a huge work encompassing 12000 verses in total. The initial chapter called as sambandha bhashya vartika (explanation of Sankara’s sambandha bhashya – which is nothing but an introduction into as to why the study of this Upanishad is taken etc.) itself contains almost more than 1000 slokas.
3. Taittiriya Upanishad bhashya vartika – vartika on Sankara’s taittiriya Upanishad bhashya.
4. Manasollasa – a vartika on Sankara’s Dakshinamurthy astakam.
5. Panchikarana vartika – vartika on Sankara’s Panchikaranam.

The most important of all the works of Sureshwara is the Brihadaranyaka Bhashya Vartika – as it is filled with immense knowledge.

We are going to see a few verses from the sambandha bhashya vartika (which is part of the Brihadaranyaka Bhashya Vartika) wherein Sureshwara beautifully explains the riddle of avidya. It is but sad that even though he has explained avidya quite beautifully and beyond doubts, but still objections are raised on the same.

After quoting Sankara’s Gita bhashya words, the advaitin now enters into Sureshwara’s words.

Uktam cha vaartikakaariah

“vasthuno anyatra maanaanaam vyaprithirna hi yujyathe
Avidyaa cha na vasthu istham maanaaghaata sahishnutvaat

Avidhyayaa avidhyaatva idameva tu lakshanam
Maanaaghaata sahishnutvam asaadhaaranam ishyathe”


The vartikakaara has also said thus:

“pramaana or proof is not there apart from the vasthu or real entity (meaning that it is not logical to have proof for anything other vasthu or real entity). And it is not liked to have avidya as a vasthu as avidya cannot withstand proof (maana means pramaanam).

Avidya’s avidyaatva (the quality of being avidya) itself is its lakshana or characteristic. The asaadhaaranam lakshana (characteristic which is distinct from characteristics of other things) is that it cannot withstand proof.”


As mentioned earlier, as a result of the vartika works, Sureshwaracharya is known as the vartikakaara in Advaita.

What is a vartika?
There are different types of commentaries that can be written on a particular work. They are:

1. Bhashya – bhashya is that work which explains each of the words other original work & gives the explanation of the main work.
2. Vyaakhya – vyaakhya is a detailed analysis or explanation of the work which might or might not explain each word of the original.
3. Vivarana – a quite detailed analysis of the original work explaining the various concepts in depth.
4. Tika – annotation which is not a detailed analysis of the original work but gives the gist or explanation in short of the original work. This might omit certain words or verses which doesn’t require much explanation.
5. Dipika – as the word denotes lamp illumining the original work going into subtle concepts and explaining most of the technical aspects of the work. The famous dipika that comes to mind is the Gudartha dipika of Madhusudana Saraswathi which is a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita as well as the bhaavartha dipika of Sridhara swamin on the Bhagavatham
6. Vartika – a critical analysis of the original work.

Vartika is oft-explained through the below sloka:

Ukta anuktha duruktaanaam chintha yatra pravarthathe
Tam grantham vaartikam praahurvaarthikajnaa maneeshinah

That work which contains ukta, anuktha and duruktha is called as vartika by people who know about vartikas.

Vartika is thus explained as that work which deals with UKTA, ANUKTA and DURUKTA – explaining the content of the original work, explaining those things which have been omitted from the original and correcting things that have been wrongly mentioned in the original work.

It is only a vartika which can go against the original work – all other commentaries cannot go against the original work. Thus we find Sureshwara differing from Sankara’s interpretation in certain places in Brihadaranyaka Bhashya.

It is interesting that instead of DURUKTA (wrongly mentioned things are corrected), anandagiri gives the word of SU UKTA for explanation of VARTIKA in his tika on the Brihadaranyaka Bhashya Vartika.

Let us now see the explanation of what Sureshwara is pointing out in the two verses.

Once again mentioning the difference between SAT and ASAT as well as their definitions, SAT is that which is devoid of non-existence (meaning it never ceases to exist or exists beyond the three times) whereas ASAT is that which never really exists.

VASTHU is something which is SAT. Vasthu is that which is ever proved and cannot be negated or proved to be non-existent.

Only that can be proved which really exists. We can never prove the existence of dream world or the existence of water in desert – as these are not VASTHU as they are not SAT. Proof or pramaana (valids means of knowledge) can be achieved through six ways (which Vedanta accepts – Dvaita accepts only three pramaanas). The six are:
1. Pratyaksha or perception through the sense organs
2. Anumaana or inference
3. Sruthi or scriptures or words of Mahatmas
4. Upamana or analogy
5. Arthaapatti or presumption
6. Anupalabdhi or non-perception

For now, the word meanings of above is enough as the pramaanas are very vast to be discussed here (detailed analysis of each of these pramaanas can be found in Vedanta Paribhaasha of Dharmaraja Adhvarindra – book with translation is available from Ramakrishna Mission).

The above six can be used to prove only valid or existing entities. That which doesn’t really exist cannot be proved. Thus Sureshwara says that proof goes hand in hand with VASTHU. VASTHU and MAANA (vasthu means entity and MAANA means proof) remain together only.

We can prove only that which exists & that which exists can alone withstand proof.

Avidya is not a VASTHU – because it cannot withstand proof. This is very much evident from the dvaitin’s or vishista advaitin’s arguments as they themselves agree that avidya cannot be proved. Avidya is not a vasthu because it doesn’t withstand maana. As maana and vasthu go hand in hand, therefor avidya which cannot withstand maana cannot be a vasthu. This is what sureshwaracharya explains in the second line of the first sloka that avidya is not a real entity as it cannot withstand proof. The first verse thus gives a clear definition of avidya.

Sureshwara goes on to explain as to why avidya cannot withstand proof and that it is not that avidya doesn’t exist because it cannot withstand proof but only that it doesn’t exist at the ultimate level – but it very well is proved for the ignorant because he experiences it.

The second sloka gives the definition of avidya. It cannot be objected that avidya cannot be explained as it is not VASTHU – this is wrong because even though avidya is not a VASTHU but still it experiences at the empirical level, definitions are valid at the empirical level and it is only at the ultimate level that there cannot be any explanations.

Explanations or definitions are not valid at the ultimate level because sruthi herself mentions that “yatho vaacho nivarthanthe apraapya manasaa sah” (there the mind and words cannot reach) meaning that at the ultimate level definitions are not valid (definitions require thought and words which are invalid at the ultimate level).

That explanations are valid at the empirical level so long as avidya is there and brahma jnaana has not dawn is shown through the Lord’s statement that “tad viddhi pranipaatena pariprashnena sevayaa upadeshyanthi te jnaanam jnaaninah tattva darshinah” – to know the reality seek the Guru, offer prostrations at his feet, offer your services & question him – he will then explain to you knowledge as he is a knower of the reality.

Thus avidya can very well be explained at the empirical level as that which cannot withstand logic. Sureshwara gives one of the most beautiful and logical definition of avidya as the very characteristics of being avidya. Avidya is that which possesses avidyatva or has avidya. This definition is not meant to show that avidya has avidyaatva – because then it would lead to infinite regress. But it just tells us that avidya is that which possesses the main characteristics of avidya – the main characteristic of avidya is mentioned in the second line of the second line as ASAADHAARANA LAKSHANA which is “not able to withstand proof”. Thus avidya is that which cannot withstand proof – since it cannot withstand proof, therefore it is not a vasthu.

As avidya cannot withstand proof therefore it cannot be logically proved & thus it is termed ANIRVACHANEEYA or indescribable. Even though it can be hinted at but still it is inexplicable as it cannot withstand any logic.

Thus with the two slokas, avidya is very clearly explained as
1. Cannot withstand proof
2. Hence is not a vasthu
3. This ability of not able to withstand proof alone is its characteristics

It is very important to remember the main two characteristics of avidya as “not being a vasthu” and “not able to withstand proof”.

Keeping this in mind, we will see as to how avidya cannot withstand proof, what will happen when avidya vanishes or totally ceases to exist & as to its proof (for the ignorant alone) at the empirical level with Sureshwara’s further quoting in the next mail in the series.

Prostrations to all.


Let a moment not pass by without remembering God


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