[Advaita-l] Four kinds of Non-existence (abhAva)

S.N. Sastri sn.sastri at gmail.com
Sun Aug 17 09:18:09 CDT 2008

Four kinds of Non-existence (abhAva)


nyAya and vaisheShika schools of philosophy, as also the bhATTa school of
pUrvamiimAmsA, recognize abhAva or non-existence as a category and divide it
into four types as will be described below. advaita does not recognize
abhAva as a category. According to it non-existence is identical with the
substratum on which the non-existence of an object is postulated. Thus, when
we say that there is no pot on this floor it means that there is only the

Although advaita does not recognize abhAva, it is referred to in the bhAshya
of Shri Shankara for refuting the objections of nyAya based on abhAva.
Examples of this are found in the bhAshya on br. up. 1.2.1 and taitt. up.
bhAshya introduction. An understanding of the four kinds of abhAva according
to nyAya is therefore useful for understanding the bhAshya. These are
described below.

1. prAg-abhAva- This is the non-existence of a particular pot before (prAg)
it was made. This is known as antecedent non-existence. This has no
beginning because this particular pot was always non-existent before it was
made. But this prAg-abhAva ends as soon as the pot is made. It therefore has
an end.

2. pradhvamsa-abhAva—This is the non-existence after destruction. pradhvamsa
means destruction. This is known as annihilative non-existence. This begins
as soon as the pot is destroyed. But it has no end because the destroyed pot
can never come back.

3. atyanta-abhAva—This is the same as limitation in space. An object does
not exist at a particular time in any place other than where it is at that
time because it is limited in space. This term is applicable only to things
which exist somewhere and not to things like the horn of a rabbit which have
no existence anywhere at all. This is known as absolute non-existence.

4. anyonya-abhAva- This is actually the difference of one thing from
another. A pot is not a cloth. There is anyonya-abhAva between the two. This
is known as mutual non-existence.

All the objects in the world have all these four kinds of abhAva, except
AkAsha which is all-pervading and cannot therefore have atyanta-abhAva
anywhere. They all have a beginning and an end. They are limited in space.
Each object is different from all other objects.

But brahman cannot have any of these abhAva's. It has neither origin nor
destruction and so it does not have the first two kinds of non-existence.
brahman is not limited in space and so it cannot have atyanta-abhAva
anywhere. All objects are superimposed on brahman and so no object is
different from brahman. It has therefore no anyonya-abhAva.


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