mahAvAkyadarpaNa -3 on ignorance

Anand Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 15 12:48:08 CDT 1998

 shuddhimichchhanty-ashuddhasya nityaduHkhAtmanaH sukhaM |
 anityasyaiva nityatvamaho aGYajanAGYatA               ||

 They desire (think of) the impure as the pure, the eternally
 sorrowful as  (yielding) happiness, and the non-eternal as the
 eternal. Oh! What can we say about the ignorance of the ignorant!

 The mahAvAkyadarpaNa, as the name suggests, seeks to explain the
 essence of mahAvAkya's such as tattvamasi of the upanishhads.
 This work has been attributed to Shankara according to tradition,
 and has been hailed as belonging to the same calibre as the

 The above verse requires some explanation. Shankara has referred
 to the Yoga suutras of Patanjali in this verse.

 Yoga suutra 2.5 explains avidyA (ignorance) as follows:

 || anityAshuchiduHkhAnAtmasu nityashuchisukhAtmakhyAtiravidyA  ||

 avidyA (ignorance) is the (wrong) cognition of eternality, purity,
 happiness, and the Self in (what is) non-eternal, impure, sorrow or
 pain, and non-Self respectively.

 Let us consider these wrong cognitions one by one. The ignorant
 person considers what is non-eternal as the eternal. For example,
 the world, the sky with all its luminaries, etc. are thought of
 as being everlasting. The next wrong cognition is that of purity
 in what is impure. The body is impure because it is made up of
 flesh and blood, and contains fecal matter, urine, worms, etc. But
 the ignorant person thinks that the body is pure. The third wrong
 cognition mentioned by the suutra is that of happiness in what is
 sorrow. Everyone likes to experience pleasure. The ignorant person
 thinks pleasure can be derived from the enjoyment of sense objects
 and by the avoidance of unpleasant experiences.  First of all,
 unpleasant or painful experiences such as disease, old age, and
 death cannot be avoided. And enjoyment of
 sense objects is preceded by desire for such enjoyment. This desire
 increases passion and is indeed painful. In order to enjoy something
 we will have to undergo the painful stage of acquiring the sense
 object and creating conditions suitable for such enjoyment. The
 effort that is involved is painful. Furthermore, even after
 sense enjoyment, the desire does not decrease but it only increases,
 just as fire grows being fed by fuel. So sense enjoyment will not
 lead to an end of desire, but to increase in desire, which is again
 pain. Even during sense enjoyment there may be an anxiety that the
 enjoyment may come to end. For example, if someone earns a million
 dollars after considerable (and painful) effort, he/she will no
 doubt be happy at first to see the earnings. But soon anxiety
 takes over, because this hard-earned money has to be "wisely spent"
 or "invested", and not wasted or lost. So the point is that sense
 enjoyment always involves pain or sorrow. But the ignorant person
 thinks there is happiness to be found in sense enjoyment which is
 verily sorrow.

 The fourth wrong cognition mentioned is that of the non-Self in the
 Self. The ignorant person identifies the Self with the body, mind,
 relatives and possessions, etc.

 VyAsa in his commentary on the Yoga sUtras makes the following
 point while dealing with this sUtra.  The word "amitra", meaning
 non-friend, indicates neither the absence of a friend nor someone who
 is a friend. It means "an enemy." In the same way, avidyA is not the
 mere absence of cognition, nor is it the correct cognition. It is of
 a nature opposite to that of vidyA or jnAna.


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