[Advaita-l] The Advaita Tradition of Shankara

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Thu Dec 15 01:18:08 CST 2011

On Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 5:46 AM, subhanu saxena <subhanu at hotmail.com> wrote:

> 3. That which is perceived as not ātman is due to ignorance, and such
> ignorance is
> removed by knowledge
> Ignorance is error, confusing one thing for another, also described as
> superimposition (there are
> at least 100 instances in the brahma sutra bhashya where ignorance is
> described
> as superimposition as something imagined). The erroneous notion we hold is
> that
> we are seekers striving for some object or result, creating a division
> between
> subject and object, knower and known, seeker and sought.  This makes us
> vest an independent reality to objects around us and we see multiplicity
> when there is none. We perceive
> anātman as real simply because we have not known ātman, through our lack of
> critical reflection. However, all such distinctions are a result of our
> ignorance, and it is this ignorance which the Shastra aims to remove,
> letting ātman
> shine of its own accord. The world around us never changes its true nature
> as
> Brahman, so it is not “produced” by something. This is a characteristic of
> our
> ignorance as a wrong conception vs something that has the power to
> “create” an
> illusory appearance. This ignorance is therefore only removed by right
> knowledge. Lest it be forgotten we also only talk of how the notion that
> Ignorance causes the Self to undergo bondage, and that knowledge removes
> that
> bondage and accords release, as also notions pertaining solely to the
> realm of
> ignorance. As a courtesy to speaking empirically, the question arises,
> what is
> the nature of this ignorance that is removed by knowledge? Is it real? Is
> it
> some inexplicable force that somehow creates the world, or is it simply a
> false
> notion?
> 4. Knowledge cannot remove an actual thing, it can only remove a notion
> Knowledge has never been known to remove an actual thing. It can only
> eliminate a false notion. Knowledge can inform, not
> create. This makes perfect sense. If there is only one reality, the view
> that
> there is something other than this reality cannot be real, only notional.
> This
> knowledge, which can ultimately only accrue to a qualified aspirant from
> sruti-vākyam,
> simply removes false notions by cancelling an error, after ascertaining a
> true
> nature through discrimination. Regardless of whether you characterise it as
> absence of knowledge, doubt, wrong knowledge (or if you must, some
> bhāvarūpa),
> it can only be notional.
> 5.
> Therefore the true nature of ignorance is that it is a false notion, not
> an entity of any
> kind
> Shankara describes this ignorance as mithyāpratyaya, a false notion, many
> times in the Bhāshya .
> However, an objection may be raised:  “But I see the world and there must
> be a reason for this!” This is only when we see the world through the eyes
> of anātman that it appears independently real.
> Through the “eyes” of ātman there is only ātman.  Anātman is “born” of
> ignorance, as we have not
> known the ātman, which is the only cause admitted for not realising the
> truth.  It is tempting to seek for a cause of our ignorance, as this seems
> a perfectly reasonable question. However, the notions
> of cause and affect are themselves within the clutches of this very
> ignorance,
> so such a question can have no meaning: When you struggle in time, space
> and
> causation you are bound in time, space and causation. Only Vedanta shows
> us how
> to break free from this chimera by negating all that is false, leaving
> Brahman
> to shine forth on its own. To realise that the very question “What causes
> my
> ignorance?” is an illegitimate question, is an important discovery for an
> aspirant.
> A further objection can be raised: “But the mind is itself a product of
> Avidyā, so it is nonsensical to
> talk of our ignorance as imagined. This is a common charge against the
> notion
> of our ignorance being merely imagined. However the question itself is
> based on
> a misconception: As mentioned above, to postulate a cause for the mind is
> within the very clutches of the ignorance we are trying to dispel, so the
> question cannot have a legitimate answer anyway. Second, whenever the mind
> is
> said to operate, ignorance is simultaneously said to operate. When there
> is no
> mind there is no ignorance and vice versa. Suresvara makes this point
> explicitly in NS.3.58 and shows he was not troubled by this question. It is
> unnecessary to posit a causality of the mind in Shankara’s system since the
> question itself is steeped in ignorance and ignorance, which is
> established on
> the basis of our experience, will not brook further enquiry. Also the
> statement
> that ignorance causes the mind makes a claim about the mind that is
> completely
> unnecessary, as it may attach a reality to it unintentionally, for how can
> a
> device, or a courtesy concept of a Root Ignorance (which must be
> superimposed
> since it is just a device!), be the cause of a superimposition?

Namaste Subhanu ji,

I think by saying // Therefore the true nature of ignorance is that it is a
false notion, not an entity of any
kind // you are implying that the orthodox or sampradaya-Acharyas are
admitting a* real entity* (called 'ignorance').  That such is even the
misunderstanding of Sri SSS is proved by his own statement:

   The following is what Sri SSS says in the ‘Reply’ (to a scholar who
objected to the former's views on mUlAvidyA):

// *AdhyAsa*, of course, presupposes ignorance or want of true knowledge.
But this is a logical presupposition, a necessary implication of thought.
No positive entity like the unfortunate *MUlAvidyA* can claim precedence in
time over *adhyAsa; *for, as already said, time itself is its product.
Vedanta which predicates the unity of Brahman will be shattered to pieces,
if a second entity not subjected to or originating from *adhyAsa* be for a
moment conceded to exist. The reality of the not-self (*anAtman) *follows
necessarily from its not being *adhyAsa, *superimposed. I submit this vital
aspect of the system to the learned Professor for his deep consideration.//

>From the above it is clear that SSS admits of an ignorance presupposing
adhyAsa. It is also clear, from the concluding remarks above, that SSS has,
erroneously, equated the bhAvarUpa status of mUlAvidyA with the Reality of
Brahman. He says that accepting a condition of ignorance prior to
superimposition is *a logical presupposition, a necessary implication of
thought. *What prevents him from extending this privilege of logical
necessity to the Acharyas who have found it necessary to posit a condition
preceding adhyAsa and naming it ‘mUlAvidyA’?

And Sri SSS by charging the traditional Acharyas with postulating something
'prior' to adhyAsa as an illogicality since 'time' itself is a product of
adhyAsa, strangely allows himself the privilege of  this 'logical
presupposition as a necessary implication of thought.'  While his very term
'pre-supposition' is pregnant with the notion of time, the concept of
mUlAvidyA, in the eyes of Sri SSS, is illogical if proposed as a
presupposition for adhyAsa.

It is clear that Sri SSS has misunderstood the traditional Acharyas when it
comes to the status they accorded to this causal avidyA.  From Sri SSS's
fears of 'Brahman being shattered to pieces if a second entity is admitted'
it is undisputably proved that he is attributing a position to his opponent
something that the latter himself does not admit.  How do we say this?  In
the adhyAsa bhAShya we have the term 'mithyAjnAnanimittaH' for which it is
well known that the parsing of the compound as admitted by the traditional
Acharyas is: mithyA cha tadajnAnam cha.. where it is beyond doubt that the
ajnAnam is admitted, qualified, to be mithyA.  It is well known that
anything  mithyA  cannot be really counted as second along with the
pAramArthika satya Brahman.

It is untenable also that Sri SSS should place a condition that only that
emerging AFTER the first adhyAsa alone should be mithyA.  While for him the
// a condition of ignorance prior to superimposition is *a logical
presupposition, a necessary implication of thought.// *such a condition is
not a threat to Brahman's advitIyatvam,  a condition, which the others hold
'as a logical presupposition as  a necessary implication of thought'
becomes a threat to Brahman by holding out the prospect of 'shattering It
to pieces'.

I think this fundamental misunderstanding lies at the foundation of Sri
SSS's edifice of objection against the traditional Acharyas.  In the
absence of this fundamental misunderstanding I think there will be nothing
for Sri SSS to object.

> We find nowhere in Shankara’s bhāshya’s,
> Upadesha Sāhasri, the kārikās or Suresvara’s vārtikās and Naishkarmya
> Siddhi an
> explicit reference to an indeterminable ignorance as a force as the cause
> of
> our error unless you infer such a meaning into innocent phrases as
> agrahaṇam,
> apratibodhaḥ, or mithyājnānam or tamas (which is explicitly defined by
> Suresvara in BUBV 1.4.341 as just not knowing Brahman and nothing more).
> It is
> simply not necessary in their writings, and Suresvara in N.S explicitly
> directs
> the aspirant to not enquire after the cause of his delusion in N.S. 3.65.

Don't you think the 'innocent' phrases such as 'mithyAjnAnanimittaH' and
'evamlakShaNam adhyAsam....avidyeti manyante' are 'inferred' to give
meanings that are supposed to contradict the meanings given by the
traditional Acharyas and to suit one's own line of thinking?



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