[Advaita-l] Imagined Nature of Ignorance in Vivaranam

Anand Hudli anandhudli at hotmail.com
Sun Aug 19 05:35:33 CDT 2012

Dear Shri Subhanuji,

> Here we get to the crux of the issue: Does the orthodox tradition place mulavidya within or outside the scope of superimposition. Sri Subramanian has come closest to clarifying this,

> but in Sri Swamiji’s time there were certainly divergent opinions within the tradition on this point.

Yes, all avidyA, whether it is mulAvidyA or avasthAjnAna, is after all
a superimposition. See, for example, the siddhAnta lesha sangraha
(Pariccheda 1, 19.4) remark on mulAvidyA:
ghaTaM na jAnAmi iti ghaTajnAnavirodhitvena ghaTajnAne sati
ghaTAjnAnaM nivRttamiti tannivartyatvena cAnubhUyamAnaM na
mUlAjnAnam.h|  shuddhacaitanyaviShayasya tajjnAnanivartyasya

ca tasya tathAtvAyogAt| kintu ghATavacchinnacaitanyaviShayaM
mUlAjnAnasya avasthAbhedarUpamajnAnAntaramiti tannAsha evAbhibhavaH |

Clearly, we use the term mUlAvidyA to denote that it is a
superimposition over shuddhachaitanya or Pure Consciousness, thus
distinguishing it from other illusions such as the snake over a rope.

The viShaya or content of ajnAna is different here. In the case of the
snake over rope illusion the viShaya is rope, while in the case of
mUlAvidyA, the viShaya is shuddhacaitanya.
 When the illusion of a snake over a rope ends, due to the knowledge
of the rope, it certainly does not mean mulAvidyA is destroyed. The
avidyA of the rope is called avasthA ajnAna or tUlAvidyA.

In English, mUlAvidyA is primal ignorance while avasthA ajnAna is
modal ignorance.

The divergences among advaitins may have been due to different answers
to the followup question:
Whose is this superimposition-mUlAvidyA? Does it belong to Brahman or the jIva?

To reiterate, there is a need to distinguish superimposition on the
Self from other superimpositions. Else, we have the following dilemma,
if we treat all superimpositions as the same. To remove
a simple illusion of a snake over a rope, it takes nothing less than
BrahmajnAna! Or, if the illusion is removed, by knowledge of the rope,
it is equivalent to realizing the Self! In fact, we read
about such objections from opponents in polemical treatises.

The advaita texts anticipate these questions and have answered them
well. For example, the panchapAdika vivaraNa says:

मूलाज्ञानस्यैव अवस्थाभेदाः रजताद्युपादानानि शुक्तिकादिज्ञानैः
सहाध्यासेन निवर्तन्त इति कल्प्यताम् ।
The material causes (upAdAnAni) of the illusory silver, etc. may be
considered to be  modes (or states, avasthA's) of the mUlAvidyA. These
avasthA-ajnAnas are sublated along with the (respective) adhyAsa by
knowledge of nacre, etc. (ie. the substratum of the illusion).

>By stating there is a bhava-rupa avidya in deep sleep implies it is not imagined, which contradicts Vivaranam and Suresvara kalpyavidyaiva matpakshe in SV 183. Shankara also clarifies in BSB 2-1-9
> that we talk of a possible objection that all would become liberated on waking if ignorance were not present simply because our false notions have not been removed.
>This point is made by Suresvara in NS also where he tells us that the mind is not present to reveal it in deep sleep, nothing more. When we are in the clutches of ignorance then the false notion
>that is our ignorance infuses all our discussion of the 3 states.  For these are themselves superimpositions to be rescinded. So, postulating an avidya outside the realm of superimposition in a
>superimposed state makes no sense also. Also nobody has the experience upon waking “I experienced a bhava-rupa-avidya”.
Agreed, the three states of sleep, dream, and waking are themselves
superimpositions, but then, why would a principal upaniShad be devoted
to description of the three states, if we are able to brush them aside
so easily? The analysis of the three states is crucial for
understanding advaita.  If we treated all superimpositions as one,
then advaita philosophy becomes extremely terse and, consequently,
open to many questions.
It would not satisfy the aspirant who seeks answers to many classical
questions.  If we said, Brahman is the sole reality, everything else
is a superimposition, where is the need to explain Creation, for
Where is the need to elaborate on Vedanta sUtras such as "janmAdyasya
yataH"? All systems must make a sincere attempt to answer such
questions. This is a fundamental premise. In the process of finding
to such questions, it becomes necessary to distinguish between primal
and modal superimpositions.


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