[Advaita-l] Sri SSS Discussions

subhanu saxena subhanu at hotmail.com
Tue Aug 14 18:59:35 CDT 2012

Michael C wrote:
"I'm interested in archives relating to Martha Doherty's 1999 dissertation, A Contemporary Debate .... Avidya and the Views of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati."
Vidyasankar wrote:
"there was, at one point of time, some discussion on that group on Martha Doherty's thesis and an English language
essay countering her stance, written by a saMnyAsin from Holenarsipur/Mattur . "
Namaste Michael,
As mentioned by Sri Vidyasankar, the essay was written by Swami Jnanaprasunendra Saraswati. In full transparency he and I studied under the same Guru Aswattha Narayana Avadhani so any comments I may make on the nature of his response are likely to be seen as biased, so I am simply giving the link to his essay from Sri Ramakrishna Upadrashta's site:

Whilst it is addressed at her journal note and not directly at the Phd thesis, her journal article is drawn directly from the same thesis. 
In addition, I would point you to a posting of mine from Dec 12 2011 which summarises a number of the points regarding the orthodox tradition and Sri Swamiji's explanation of Shankara's sampradaya:
I would also offer that you can email me directly off the list for any further detailed points so as not to distract the list from topics that have been exhaustively covered in the past, other than to make the point that Martha Doherty's thesis, apart from limiting her comments to a few of Sri Swamiji's works only,  does not address the central objections made by Sri Swamiji as found in Mulavidya Nirasah (MVN), Vedanta Prakriya Pratyabhijna (VPP), Sugama, Kleshapaharini etc etc. Some of these points being as follows:
1) With regards to her objection that avidya=adhyasa is outside of the tradition and baseless, she fails to address the following: If mulavidya is itself only a device to teach reality, since from the highest standpoint there is only brahman, then a device is itself something superimposed and it becomes un-necessary to postulate a separation between avidya and adhyasa, as our ignorance is simply established in experience (see below). Whilst Martha Doherty challenges Sri Swamiji's insistence on just focusing on Shankara's definition of adhyasa as avidya in the adhyasa-bhashyam, implying that Shankara somehow defines it differently elsewhere, she has ignored a number of significant references in the Bhashyas and Suresvara's vartikas where avidya is superimposition.  For example in the prose section of upadesha sahasri we have the explicit statement "avidyA nAma anyasmin anyadharmAdhyAropaNA", "ignorance is the superimposition of the attributes of one thing on another"

2) The other potential objection is to challenge the assertion Sri Swamiji makes that in Shankara's tradition avidya is merely imagined. Here there are a number of those who profess to follow the orthodox tradition who have difficulty with this assertion since the mind must be caused by something. I have refuted this objection in the advaita-l posting above. However her view is in direct contradiction to vivaranam which states the imagined nature of the notion mulavidya. Sri Subramanian has tried to bring this point out in various postings on this list. More seriously she contradicts Suresvara who explicitly states in the sambandha vartika "kalpyavidyaiva matpakshe sA chAnubhavasamshrayA", "in my view ignorance is merely imagined, and is established in our experience". The point here is either you admit mulavidya as imagined , in which case it is something superimposed and invalidates the reason to separate it from superimposition, or mulavidya is something other than imagined in which case it ceases to be something notional, and therefore cannot be removed by knowledge. If ignorance cannot be removed by knowledge then the advaita tradition has nothing to offer the seeker of liberation. Martha Doherty's thesis does not address these points of Sri Swamiji anywhere, nor his refutation in MVP of the possible response that mulavidya is beginningless. I have written a short note on the imagined nature of root ignorance in the vivaranam on the satchidandendra list which I can forward to you directly if you are interested
3) As had been stated a number of times on this list by Sri Vidyasankar and others the central problem in such a debate is how to deal with the supposed materiality of the world around us which must therefore require some “material” cause, which leads to a possible requirement that a constituent "root" avidya must be the cause of all this (note a number of those who follow the tradition have tried to point out that “material” is a bad translation of “upadana” which is why I use the phrase constituent), otherwise we cannot explain worldly phenomena. This leads to the need of describing such an ignorance as sad-asad-vilakshanam/anirvachaniya etc, since the world is real to us. Martha Doherty's paper fails to respond to Sri Swamiji's key objections to this view, which are twofold: First, these questions arise in seekers who have not prepared themselves for the knowledge of atman. The sadhana-chatushtaya is the pre-requisite, as this naturally turns the seeker inward and ready to reject the independent reality of the world without fuss. When we have not prepared ourselves for this highest knowledge of atman, which can only accrue to qualified aspirants through Shruti statemtns such as tat tvam asi, then we try and intellectualise our way out of the problem, and to establish cause effect relationships to give us a sense of a logical consistency in the framework where none is needed or called for within Shankara's system, as taking our ignorance as experienced by all of us is enough for the purpose of the teaching. Second, she fails to address Swamiji's citations of Suresvara stating that such questions only come to mind regarding anatman because we have not known atman. To the extent a "cause" is needed it is simply a lack of critical reflection "avicharita-siddha" on the part of an unqualified seeker not steeped in the sadhana-chatushtaya. Swamiji is clear and consistent with Shankara that first and foremost a seeker should live a life conducive to the rise of knowledge, rooted in Shruti tradition, over and above the dialectic machinations of intellectual debate. Please see Suresvara Naishkarmya Siddhi 1.51 for the sequence of steps that create the conditions for knowledge to arise in a seeker. There are further vartika references I can provide also if needed.
4) Martha Doherty's paper also fails to recognise the instances Sri Swamiji himself gives as to how avidya and maya can be used interchangeably and when not, as well as how one could think of a "root" ignorance if one felt the need. Again I can provide you these references directly, plus send you a summary table I prepared for elsewhere of common misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Sri Swamiji's position (for example that through an analysis of the 3 states alone without recourse to Shruti knowledge can accrue. This is a popular misrepresentation of Sri Swamiji’s views)
I hope the above links and notes are helpful for whatever purpose you are researching. If your purpose is not just for academic research but to also aid your atma-vichara, then overall I would encourage you to always focus on the right sadhana that allows knowledge to accrue effortlessly when you are ready to understand the full import of tat tvam asi, and not get too distracted by such dialectics other than to help you sharpen your understanding.


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