Mayavada Darpanam

Monday, September 25, 2006

Attack on Ajnaana of Advaita - 5


Prostrations to all.

In the last mail in the series we saw Sureshwaracharya defining avidya as that which is not a vasthu and hence cannot withstand proof.

There can be a doubt now as to if avidya is not a vasthu & hence cannot withstand proof, then how can it be proved as advaita claims. It has always been the arguments of opponent systems that avidya if not proved will reduce advaita to ZERO. Anticipating this objection, Sureshwara answers following Sankara that avidya is proved through the experience of one who is experiencing it. Thus avidya even though is not a vasthu, still is something which is experienced by an ajnaani (or one who is in ajnaana).

Urdhvam choktham
“Kalpyaa avidhyaiva matpakshe saa cha anubhavasamsrayaa”

Sureshwaracharya has explained further thus
“Even though avidya is something illusory, yet in our view (system) it is subject to experience”.


As explained earlier, Sureshwara is here echoing the view of Sankara. And this statement of Sureshwara is to answer the objection that avidya cannot be proved thereby causing advaita to have logical issues.

We have to understand the word of “anubhava samsrayaa” properly – it only means that avidya is present for the ignorant. Since doubts/objections are obviously raised by ajnaanis & if a person enters into the study of the scriptures, that itself means that he is an ajnaani.

The advaitin continues with further quotation of Sureshwara (have split the words in the slokas so that it is easy to read and correlate with the translation)

“Yatho anubhavatho avidhyaa brahma asmi ithi anubhootivat
Atho maanotthavijnaanadvasthaa saa api ethi atha aatmathaam

Brahmani avidhithe abodhaat na avidhya ithi upapadhyathe
Nitharaam chaapi vijnaathe mrishaadheer na asthi abaadithaa

Avidhyavaan avidhyaam taam na niroopayithum kshamah
Vasthuvrittham atho apekshya na avidhya ithi niroopyathe”

Even though avidyaa is experienced by an ajnaani like the experience of a jnaani that “I am Brahman”, it is destroyed through proper knowledge of the Self and thereby merges into the Self (from where it seems to come & which is its substratum).

As long as Brahman is not known, avidya is not known or realized – thus it is proved or logically known that avidya is not there. And after realizing Brahman, it doesn’t exist at all like water seen in desert (mrisha or unreal) and therefore cannot be sublated (basically cannot be proved at all).

A person who is under avidya is thus not capable of proving avidya. And since to prove anything vasthu vritti is required, therefore he contrarily proves that “avidya is not there”.


Sureshwara said that avidya is not a vasthu as it cannot withstand proof but still it is a matter of experience for the ajnaani. Thus anubhava proves avidya’s existence. Now there can be a doubt as to if avidya is experienced – then will it be sublated??? (pratyaksha or experiences are considered by many systems like dvaita as most prominent of the pramaanas and hence sublation is not possible). This objection or doubt is being answered by Sureshwara in the first sloka over here.

Avidya is experienced by an ajnaani like the experience “I am Brahman” of a jnaani. We see over here clearly that either one of these experiences will be there in a person. Both are contrary and hence cannot remain together. Either a person is an ajnaani or a jnaani – he cannot be a little of both. Here jnaani means a person of atma saakshaatkara (realized Brahman). Ajnaana can never affect a person who has realized the ultimate reality of Brahman. Similarly an ajnaani can never have the aparoksha anubhava that “I am Brahman” even though he experiences the Self of “I” at all times – this “I” for an ajnaani is mixed and associated with the body-mind-intellect complex.

Even though avidya is experienced by an ajnaani, still it vanishes through knowledge of the Self in the right way (through the right pramaaanas). When avidya vanishes, it merges into its source of Self. It is but logical that avidya which is illumined by the saakshi of Self merges into the Self itself. Avidya cannot merge into anything else as avidya is caused out of the Self. Thus Sureshwara here says that avidya even though is experienced but still it is sublated through knowledge of the Self – after sublation avidya merges into the Self (or becomes one with the Self). Here “merging” only means that it simply vanishes into its substratum even as the snake vanishes into the substratum of rope. Thus there is no question about whether avidya is sublated or not as it is experienced.

As Sankara points out in his bhashyas, pratyaksha is not always right. We see water in desert but it is not real. Thus experience or pratyaksha anubhava need not be right at all times. Also as sruthi points out the Self as that which is beyond mind and thoughts, therefore the Self cannot become an object of any pramaana but is just the Subject of all pramaanas.

Sureshwara with the next two slokas shows clearly that avidya can never be proved through any pramaana except that it is experienced by an ajnaani. As he explained, avidya is in present in its source of Self as the substratum (since Self is substratum therefore there is no question of the Self getting veiled or affected by ajnaana). Thus as long as Self or Brahman is not known, it is but tenable that avidya is not at all there. This means that so long as Brahman (the substratum) is not known, avidya cannot be proved. As long as the rope is not known, the snake cannot be proved. Rama sees snake in the rope – it is his anubhava and hence for him the snake exists. But if he calls Krishna and shows the snake in the rope, Krishna will not (might not) see it (as it is Rama’s perception only) and hence Rama will not be able to prove the snake so long as the rope is not known. If it is argued that Krishna also might see the snake, still there might be others who will not see the snake instead see a thief or a lover – thus it cannot be universally proved. Without knowledge of the rope, the snake cannot be proved in the rope.

“But once the rope is known, the snake can be known” – if this is said, Sureshwara says in such a case as well the snake cannot be proved. This is because once the rope is known; the snake totally vanishes and is known as “illusory or unreal perception of the intellect/mind”. In this case as well the snake cannot be proved.

Similarly as long as Brahman is not known, avidya cannot be proved. After knowing Brahman as well, avidya cannot be proved or sublated. Thus avidya can never be universally proved through any pramaana. As explained earlier, avidya’s very nature of not withstanding proof itself is a proof to its being illusory or unreal.

We have to remember and understand clearly that anubhava and pramaa (valid knowledge) are totally different. What I might be experiencing need not be valid knowledge or pramaa. Thus avidya cannot be pramaa but still is anubhava for the ajnaani.

After clearly showing that avidya cannot be proved (here proving doesn’t include anubhava), Sureshwara now shows that even if a person wants to prove avidya (an ajnaani who is experiencing avidya) he cannot do so.

If a person wants to prove avidya, he would require a real vasthu which alone can be proved through pramaanas. But since avidya is not a vasthu (as it cannot withstand pramaana), therefore the ajnaani who is trying to prove avidya will end up proving that avidya is not there. Thus the person started off wanting to prove avidya but proves that avidya is not at all there. This is also similar to a fault in anumaana called anyathaa siddha dosha wherein a person tries to prove A but instead proves B. Moreover here B is exactly the opposite of A.

The last verse also is meant to point out to the seeker as to how to overcome avidya. When avidya is sought out, it vanishes itself merging unto the Self. When a person tries to seek “ignorance of mathematics”, he in turn learns “mathematics” thereby sublating the ignorance. Thus a person who wants to overcome avidya (which he experiences) should seek avidya which is ignorance of the Self. Avidya can be sought only when the nature of the Self is studied through the scriptures. Thus the seeker learns about the Self and finally ending up that “avidya is not at all there”. This is how the obstacle of avidya vanishes when brahma jnaana dawns.

In the next mail in the series (we will have the mail after a couple of days as long gap between the mails would require people to go through the previous article to keep in touch), we will see a summary of Sureshwara’s wonderful unfoldment of the riddle of avidya thereby ending with the advaitins quoting of Gita to prove avidya.

Prostrations to all.


Let a moment not pass by without remembering God


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