[Advaita-l] Imagined Nature of Root Ignorance in Vivaranam

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Thu Aug 16 06:47:00 CDT 2012

On Thu, Aug 16, 2012 at 4:04 AM, subhanu saxena <subhanu at hotmail.com> wrote:

> In the spirit of Atma-vichara I am reproducing below the note I wrote on
> the imagined nature of root ignorance in vivaranam. List members should
> note that some followers of Sri Swamiji have felt I have presented Sri
> Swamiji's views as too accomodating in stating under which circumstances
> Mulavidya was acceptable to him. To that my response has been that I have
> simply quoted Sri Swamiji's own views on these points in my note for
> readers to judge. Also, I have not had any responses to the questions I
> pose towards the end of the note regarding the imagined nature of ignorance
> in buddhism as contrasted with vedanta (and the frequent charge of
> shunyavadins that the essencelessness of shunyata is incorrectly portrayed
> as nihilism), or a comparison of how buddhism has employed
> adhyaropa-apavada vs the advaita vedanta traditon. Comments welcome! The
> note now proceeds below:
> The Imagined Nature of Root Ignorance in Vivaranam
> By way of background, there appear to be 2 key objections to Sri Swamiji’s
> explanation of Shankara’s tradition. The first is that it is non-sensical
> to state that our ignorance is imagined, since it does not answer the
> question as to what caused the mind. The orthodox view is that root
> ignorance must been said to cause the mind. The second key objection is
> that root ignorance, mūlāvidyā, is itself just a device for the purpose of
> instruction and it is wrong for Sri Swamiji to make the charge that the
> orthodox tradition breaks the advaita principle of one nondual reality
> because he believes that mūlāvidyā has some kind of entity status. Let us
> see how Swamiji himself addresses these charges in his various Sanskrit
> works. Whilst I have used Prof Alston’s English translations as a basis, I
> have modified them to be more in keeping with what I believe to be the tone
> and measure of Sri Swamiji’s Sanskrit original. My apologies in advance for
> any errors which I have tried to avoid to the best of my ability. I request
> learned members to comment on the below also:
> 1)    The vivaraṇa tradition itself acknowledges the imagined nature of
> root-ignorance
> In section 245 of the Sanskrit work, Sri Swamiji quotes vivaraṇam p294
> where we have the following sentence:
> Nanu jīva-brahmāshrayo vibhāgaḥ katham avidyā-tantraḥ syāt? Ucyate:
> anādyavidyāvashiṣṭam chaitanyam anādi-jīva-bhāvena kālpanikānādi-bhedasya
> āshreyaḥ
> But how can the distinction between the jiva and Brahman be impelled by
> ignorance? We say as follows: consciousness is the ground of an imagined
> beginingless distinction of the form of a beginingless jiva, and is
> qualified by beginingless ignorance. [VPP 245.2]
> VPP then states with reference to the above “ityuktam paribhāvaneeyam”,
> “it is worth pondering over what has been said here”.
> Swamiji then quotes 2 important passages from vivaraṇam:
> Anādi-mithyājñāna-sambandho’pyanātmani ajñānavat “kālpanikatvāt”
> ākāshakārṣṇyavat ātmanah kūṭasthām na vihanti.
>  And since the relationship between beginningless  unreal  ignorance
> [parsing as mithyā+ajñānam , as the author of the vivaranam would have
> done] and the atman is imaginary, like ignorance itself, it does not touch
> the changelessness of the atman just as darkness does not touch the sky”
> [vivaranam  18].
> (Note this is also quoted as the last section in Sri Gangolli’s
> translation of Sri Swamiji’s Kannada work, with the English title The
> Pristine Pure Advaita Philosophy of Adi Shankara. Clearly Sri Swamiji
> attached much importance to this sentence in vivarnam, as he closes this
> Kannada work with the following sentence as translated by Sri Gangolli as
> “if the full meaning (import) of this pregnant sentence is discerned by all
> the critics, I feel that my mission is fulfilled” (p128). Hopefully the
> note below will shed light on this key phrase.
> 2)    Root Ignorance is itself superimposed
> In VPP 245 Sri Swamiji quotes another important section of vivaranam,
> which in his view affirms ajñānasya adhyastatvam, the superimposed nature
> of ignorance in the vivarnam:
> Anādisidhye’pyajñānādhyāse kadāchitkam adhyāsam āshritya āha: aham iti
> tāvat prathamo’dhyāsaḥ

I think here it is  'Anādisiddhe...’p..' and not 'Anādis*idhye’p*

> Although the superimposed nature of ignorance has been established as
> beginningless, the panchapādikā mentions occasional (transient)
> superimposition when it states there “ I am thus” as being the first
> superimposition. [vivaranam 18]
> Sri Swamiji then states that the various theories in vivaranam regarding
> disctinctions and the role of ignorance can be accepted if kālpanikatve
> siddhye ie if taken as merely imagined. However Sri Swamiji charges the
> auther of the vivaranam as falling within  Shankara’s maxim at BSB II.ii.17
> “avidyāmānārtha-kalpanāyām sarvārthasiddhi-prasangāt ..”etc, ie if you are
> prepared to assume the existence of something that doesn’t exist you can
> prove whatever you like (in my view this point is a little polemic and open
> to criticism, for ignorance as imagined can be seen as not really existing
> and an opponent could have charged Swamiji of falling foul of the same
> maxim. The response of course would be that our ignorance as a wrong notion
> is established in experience whereas nobody has the experience of a
> hypothetical force that is root ignorance –see Shankra srutyanugrihīta eva
> hyatra  tarkaḥ anubhavāngatvena āshriyate [BSB 2.1.6], logic in consonance
> with Sruti and experience is to be accepted).

I wish to make the following points:

   - It is true that the root ignorance (mUlAvidyA) has been admitted to be
   adhyasta by the post-Shankara Acharyas.  'adhyastatvenaiva svIkRtA'.
   - In fact Sri SSS too has not been able to do away with a state prior to
   adhyAsa:  He says in the reply to a scholar who objected to his views:  *//
   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 Sri SSS admits of an ignorance
   presupposing *adhyAsa*. It is also clear, from the concluding remarks
   above, that he 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*'? It would be pertinent to examine how and in what ways
   is the *'want of knowledge' or 'j~nAna abhAva'* as his followers term
   it, is different in kind from the *mUlAvidyA* that SSS opposes
   vehemently.  (Please read more

   - A 'jnAnAbhAvaH' preceding adhyAsa, in Sri SSS's scheme will also have
   the same 'yoga-kShema' as the 'mUlAvidyA'.  If he says the latter will hit
   Advaita in its roots, the jnAnAbhAva proposed by Sri SSS too will do the
   same.  If it is said 'jnAnAbhAva' will be sublated/destroyed along with
   adhyAsa/samsAra upon samyagjnAnam, the same is the reply with regard to
   mulAvidyA.  There is no way that one can insist that the 'prior-to-adhyAsa
   condition of jnAnAbhAva' will not do any damage to Advaita but the
   mUlAvidyA alone will.'
   - In other words, even Sri SSS cannot escape his charge against his
   opponent quoting the BSB II.ii.17 “avidyāmānārtha-kalpanāyām
   sarvārthasiddhi-prasangāt ..”etc, ie if you are prepared to assume the
   existence of something that doesn’t exist you can prove whatever you like.'
   - The appeal to the shrutyanugRhIta tarka too will only be strengthening
   the view of Sr SSS's opponent:  In respect to Atma anubhava, Shankara
   invokes 'everyone experiences that 'I exist'; no one experiences 'I do not
   exist' to prove the 'natural' anubhavasiddha nature of Atman and goes on to
   reiterate the need for brahmajignAsA for ONLY the shruti can teach what
   this Atman* is in truth*; that is free of all avidyA-born upAdhis,
   which, however, is not within everyone's experience.  This same logic can
   be stated in the case of adhyAsa too: everyone has the experience of the
   dehAdi-adhyAsa (kArya avidyA/adhyAsa) but only shruti can point to the
   'root' (kAraNa avidyA/adhyAsa) of this adhyAsa.

> 3)    Something either imagined or postulated as a device can only be a
> superimposed notion

As I said earlier, the mUlAvidyA is admitted only as a superimposed entity
and not a real entity as Sri SSS has mistaken.  It is surely a shAstrakRta
adhyAropa and will face apavAda thru samyagjnAnam.

> Sri Swamiji then makes a key statement in VPP 245:
> Api cha sarvasya apyasya arthajātasya kālpanikatve’bhyupagate sarvasya
> apyasya adhyastatvam angīkritam eva bhavati
> “Indeed if these hypothetical concepts are accepted as imagined then they
> are necessarily accepted as superimposed”.
> The use of abhyupagate by Sri Swamiji is important. He recognises in the
> system of Pañchapādikā that avidyā-shakti is a hypothetical device. For we
> have in Pañchapādikā itself:
> Avashyam eṣā bāhyādhyātmikeṣu vastuṣu tat-svarūpa-sattāmātrānubandhinī
> abhyupagantavyā. Anyathā mithyārthāvabhāsānupapatteḥ
> Ignorance as a force, clinging to the very nature of all things internal
> and external, must be hypothetically assumed, otherwise we cannot account
> for false appearances. [PP p 41].
> By using abhyupagantavyā, the panchapādikā is implying that the notion of
> what was later termed mūlāvidyā is a hypothetical device for the purpose of
> teaching. This is why Sri Swamiji goes on to say in VPP 245:
> Evam sthite’pi iyam avidyā adhyāsasya upādāna-kāraṇam iti prakriyāyāḥ
> prādhānyam āsthāya sarva-kalpakādhyāsasya anādaraṇe ko heturiti tu na
> spaṣṭīkritam atra prasthāne
> “As this is the case (ie that a device is imagined and is therefore
> something superimposed) it is not clear why this system takes ignorance as
> the upādāna-kāraṇam of superimposition. In this system no reason is given
> why it should not simply taken that everything is imagined via
> superimposition.”

The reason is not far to seek and not unknown to Sri SSS either.  Just as
he, as cited by me in the foregoing, finds it inevitable to admit a prior
avasthA to adhyAsa by naming it 'jnAnAbhAvaH', the vivaraNa prasthAna too
admits a prior state of adhyAsa.

> 4)    The vivaraṇa school is based on a dialectic inconsistency that is
> unnecessary to properly understand Sri Sankara’s tradition of advaita.

Sri SSS is also not free from such an inconsistency, if he insists  that
charge against his opponent.

> Sri Swamiji sums up the issue nicely in mūlāvidyānirāsaḥ section 116,
> where having raised the objection that  even if you allow a root ignorance
> to be the cause of the mind, it raises the question what causes root
> ignorance, which cannot be resolved by just stating it is beginningless, as
> Sri Swamiji has refuted this possibility earlier in mūlāvidyānirāsaḥ
> (section 46 - if this topic of how Sri Swamiji refutes beginnglessness of
> root ignorance as the get-out clause, then please let me know and I can
> make this the topic of a separate posting).

The 'jnAnAbhAva' admitted by him as a condition prior to and causing
adhyAsa too has to be admitted by him as beginningless.  For, even he
cannot specify as to when in time this jnAnAbhava appeared from nowhere to
cause adhyAsa and the samsara. If he leaves it as it is, there will be
advaita hAniH.

> The important paragraph in section 116 as if follows:
> Tathā cha na mūlāvidyā-siddhiḥ. Kim cha adhyāsāshrayam manaḥ, manasascha
> kāraṇam avidyeti chet svīkriyate, tato vaktavyam bhavati avidyā kim
> adhyastā kim vā neti. Yadi nādhyasta tarhi paramārthasatī seti katham
> tannnivvritiḥ? Athādhyastaiva sā, na tarhi manaḥ-kāraṇam iti ubhayataḥ
> pāshabandhanam!
> “So, root ignorance is not well established (as a key principle). And if
> you claim that the mind is the locus of superimposition and that root
> ignorance is its cause then you must state whether that root ignorance is
> itself superimposed or not. If it is not superimposed it has a reality, and
> how can it therefore be brought to an end? If it is superimposed then it
> cannot be the cause of the mind, so you are either way caught in a trap!”

In fact this very objection hits back on the objector:  The 'jnAnAbhAva'
that is admitted as a condition prior to adhyAsa has to exist somewhere.
What is that locus?  It has to be the mind.  For only for someone who has
jnAnAbhAva the subsequent adhyAsa occurs.  It cannot be simply wished away
by saying: 'just because of jnAnAbhAva, adhyAsa occurs.'  Just like it has
to be, per force, admitted that this jnAnAbhAva that Sri SSS has admitted
is only a superimposition, so too the root ignorance is.  The other
alternative suggested in the above paragraph will not operate since it is
admitted in the vivarana prasthanam that such a causal ignorance is also a
superimposed alone.  The only answer to this 'trap' is: this anirvAchyA
shaktiH is capable of bringing about the impossible: it can bring about a
mind and find a locus for itself and yet cause the further series of
adhyAsa-samsara.  The Advaita Siddhi quotes this (Brahmabindu upanishad?):

svenaiva kalpite deshe vyomni yadvat ghaTAdikam
tathA jIvAshritaavidyAM manyante jnAnakovidAH

Just as jars etc. 'find' a place for themselves to exist by creating a
place for themselves in space,  so too is the case with the avidyA that is
located in the jIva. Such is the conclusion of the Wise.

AvidyA can create a locus for itself to occupy and operate from. That is
why avidyA is called 'vichArAsaha'; it cannot stand the test of enquiry.
Sureshwara gives the example of a berry placed on the tip of the nose - so
precarious is avidyA's existence; yet its power is unimaginable.  Logical
answers to questions regarding avidyA/mAyA/samsAra etc., is never available
in any school.

> In summary Sri Swamiji’s point is as follows: If you take root ignorance
> as a hypothetical device for the purpose of teaching, it becomes something
> imagined as it is something superimposed, and it is non-sensical, and
> unnecessary, to speak of something itself superimposed as the cause of
> anything. If you either take root ignorance as not a device, or something
> other than superimposed it acquires an entity-status that prevents it from
> being removed by knowledge, as it is not then a superimposed notion. In
> that case, the advaita tradition of Shankara has nothing to offer the
> seeker for their liberation.

This charge applies with equal force to the 'jnAnAbhAvaH' that Sri SSS
admits as a condition that prevails prior to adhyAsa.

It can be seen from the above that if one accepts that root ignorance is an
> imagined notion for the purpose of instruction that it could be acceptable
> to Sri Swamiji, although to do so invalidates the very need for root
> ignorance to explain false appearances. To my knowledge this dialectic
> inconsistency is nowhere addressed in any work of the orthodox tradition
> other than the recourse to a beginningless nature.  Also, I am not aware of
> any work where simply taking once ignorance as a false notion for the
> purpose of teaching has been shown to impede one’s sādhanā. Any such
> references from list members would be appreciated.
> I close by quoting two passages from his English works to illustrate:
> From Sankara’s clarification of certain vedantic concepts page 8, section
> 8:
> But it is evident this power (avidyā-shakti) is not really a logical
> necessity, since none of the other thinkers have recognized it and yet
> their systems have not suffered in any manner just because they dispensed
> with the postulates.

All systems, if he is meaning the Dvaita and VA, accept a mUlAvidya; at
least the first one does, as I have understood.Just as he himself could not
escape this 'logical necessity' as he himself has termed it in his writing,
the later Acharyas too admit this.

> From The Pristine Pure Advaita Philosophy of Adi Shankara (eng translation
> by Sri DB Gangolli of Sankara Siddhanta), last section p128, from short
> treatise published by Sri Swamiji in 1940, 13th series of the monthly
> magazine adhyātma prakāsha)
> The quintessence of this article of mine is this much: Because of the
> reason that Avyākrita Nāmarūpa is the seed (cause) for the world of
> duality-if any one calls it mūlāvidyā-thenn the opinion of such people is
> not unacceptable to me. Because of the reason that such Avyākrita Nāmarūpa
> is the cause for everything it can be called ‘Mūla’. But to say that “it is
> not adhyasta (superimposed)-not avidyākalpita (imagined, misconceived due
> to ignorance)-is opposed to Bhāshays and also to Yukti; and hence I can
> never accept that.

I think the whole issue is akin to 'much ado about nothing.'

I wish to add that just like mAyA has been admitted in its dual-aspect
'kArya-kAraNAtmakatvena', so too is avidyA.  In the BG  18.19:
ज्ञानं कर्म च कर्ता च त्रिधैव गुणभेदतः ।
 *प्रोच्यते गुणसंख्याने* यथावच्छृणु तान्यपि ॥१८- १९

In the bhashya Shankara says // the 'categories' admitted by the sAnkhyas
are admissible to us as well, for even though their ultimate siddhanta is
opposed to Vedanta, yet they are 'experts' in categorization. //

Thereby they (sAnkhya-s) start with mUlaprakRti and go on to enumerate
mahat, avyaktam,  ahankara, panchabhutas, and so on.  One can see that the
first enumerated is the kAraNa whose kArya is the rest.  The rest will
lapse in to the cause during pralaya.  In the same way there is nothing
wrong in admitting a kAraNa avasthA for avidyA and a kArya avstha.  What
Shankara describes as 'avidyA' in the adhyAsa bhashyam is only the kArya
avidyA.  The kAraNa avidyA is denoted by the term 'mithyAjnAna nimittaH' in
that very document.  In the 4th adhyAya 4.1.19 Shankara talks about the
'bAdhita ajnAnam's anuvRttiH'.  Here even though the kAraNa avidyA has
undergone sublation, yet its kArya will continue for some time as it has
already begun to operate.
The 13th chapter of the Gita too admits the anAditva of the puruSha and
prakRti.  Here too the prakRti is admitted in its kAraNa avasthA alone as
anAdi.  And the purusha is one who is already 'endowed' with the avidyA in
its kAraNa mode.  The 'commingling' of these two entities brings for the
vyakta prapancha for the puruSha's (jiva's) bhoga.  Both these entities,
however, undergo sublation, which is stated in the last verse of the 13th
chapter: bhUtaprkRti mokSham cha and the operation of the jnAnachakShus
(right knowledge) which discriminates between the kshetra and the
kshetrajna.  The jiva is no longer there, along with the mUlAvidyA, when
the kshetram is negated and the knowledge of the mithyAtva of the kshetram
is what is spoken of as bhUtaprakRti moksha (abhAvagamanam) in the
bhashyam. Thus, bothe mAyA (the jagatkAraNam) and avidyA (the jIvakAraNam)
are sublated in both their kArya and kAraNa aspects, leaving the advaita
Brahman (Kshetrajna) in tact.

Thus the so-called 'problems' that Sri SSS has apprehended do not have a
place upon the proper understanding of the Bhashyam.


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