[Advaita-l] Ontological status of avidyA

Venkatraghavan S agnimile at gmail.com
Thu Nov 24 03:13:54 CST 2016

Thank you SadAji.

Talking of Sri Satchidanendra Sarasvati Swaminah, one question he asks (I
think it may be in mANDUkya rahasya vritti, not sure) in this context is -
if we say that avidyA is adhyasta on Atma, how can we then say that the
avidyA, an adhyasta vastu, is adhyAsa kAraNa?

For example, the mithyA snake is superimposed on a satya rope. If the rope
itself is mithyA, how can it lead to snake adhyAsa?

Brahman, being nirvikAra, cannot be a kAraNa at all (vide advaita
prakaraNa). AvidyA being adhyasta itself, also cannot be adhyAsa kAraNa. So
what is the cause of adhyAsa?

Secondly what is the cause for avidyA to be adhyasta on Brahman in the
first place?  This leads to anavasthA, because if you say another avidyA,
what is the cause for that being adhyasta, and so on.

To answer these, I think we have to resort to 1) avidyA being anAdi,
therefore it is ever located in Brahman, hence no cause need be postulated
for it being "adhyasta" on Brahman 2) secondly, we should consider the
ontological status of avidyA as anirvachanIya. Therefore, while we can talk
of the appearance of everything else as adhyAsa due to avidyA, avidyA (ie
mUlAvidyA) is not available as itself for classification. It is only
inferred through its products, kAryAnumeya. Hence the question how can
adhyasta vastu be adhyAsa kAraNa is not applicable for avidyA, it being
unclassifiable as adhyasta in the first place.


On 24 Nov 2016 8:34 a.m., "kuntimaddi sadananda" <kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com>

> Venkatraghavanji - PraNAms
> Beautiful Analysis.
> Avidya as described by Advaita has received in the past lot of
> commentaries and criticisms too. Bhagavan Ramanuja discusses this aspect in
> his mahaapurvapaksha in his Sree bhaashya on Brahmasuutra - stating seven
> untenable against avidya of Adviata - Anirvachaneeya aspect is one them.
> Locus of avidya is second.
> Shree Sachchidanandendra Saraswati (Bhaskarji parama guru) argues
> vigorously that according to Shankara avidya is not bhaava ruupa but is
> abhaavaruupa.
> The fact that gnaana vRitti eliminates the anjaana Vritti and in deep
> sleep state - kaarana shareera is also described as having akhaadaakaara
> ajnaana vRitti, establishes the fact that both jnaana and ajnaana are
> ontologically of the same order of reality.
> Ingalls, coming from navya nyaaya school, may be echoing the arguments of
> Ramanuja and Swami Sacchidanandedra Swaraswati. May be Bhaskarji can throw
> some light on this.
> Hari Om!
> Sadananda
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Venkatraghavan S via Advaita-l <advaita-l at lists.advaita-
> vedanta.org>
> *To:* A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta <advaita-l at lists.advaita-
> vedanta.org>
> *Sent:* Thursday, November 24, 2016 11:54 AM
> *Subject:* [Advaita-l] Ontological status of avidyA
> Namaste,
> Recently, I was reading Prof. Daniel Ingalls' paper on Shankara's arguments
> against Buddhism, see link below.
> http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/ew27155.htm
> Here, Prof. Ingalls makes several very interesting points. One of these,
> while not central to the theme of his paper, struck me as curious. He says:
> "Now, `Sa^mkara, to the best of my knowledge, nowhere says that ignorance
> is unreal. See my article "`Sa^mkara on the Question: Whose is Avidyaa?"
> Philosophy East and West, III, No. 1 (April, 1995), 69-72. It is Padmapaada
> who says this."
> This did not ring true - can it be true that Shankara does not make a
> statement anywhere in his bhAshya that avidyA is mithyA? On reviewing the
> other paper referred to him in the quote above (available on JSTOR, if
> anyone is interested), his point is as follows.
> Essentially, Prof Ingalls reckons that Shankaracharya never made a comment
> on the reality of avidyA. He avoided the problem by talking about the lack
> of a real connection between Atma and avidyA- that is, what is of interest
> to Shankara is not the ontological status of avidyA, but that Atma is ever
> free from it. He cites BGB 13.2, BSB 4.1.3 and BUB 4.1.6 as support.
> While the second half of Prof Ingalls'  comment, that Shankara's interest
> is in proving that Atma is free from avidyA as a paramArtha satya, has
> merit, the first half, that Shankara nowhere says that Atma is mithyA, is
> not valid on examination.
> 1) Just by basic logic, Atma is the only paramArtha satya. If Atma is free
> from avidyA, then it is anAtma, and hence must therefore be mithyA. If
> anAtma avidyA were satya, the basic principle of advaita would be
> invalidated as there would be two entities with ultimate reality. Atma and
> avidyA.
> Shankara himself says that avidyA is not Atma dharma. In BGB 13.2,
> ज्ञेयस्य क्षेत्रधर्मत्वात्, ज्ञातुः क्षेत्रज्ञस्य तत्कृतदोषानुपपत्तेः  -
> what is known is kshetra dharma, whereas the knower is kshetra. Further, he
> says: यदि आत्मनः धर्मः अविद्यावत्त्वं दुःखित्वादि च कथं भोः प्रत्यक्षम्
> उपलभ्यते, कथं वा क्षेत्रज्ञधर्मः. If avidyA is Atma's dharma, then how
> pray, is one aware of ignorance and sorrow, how can it be kshetrajna
> dharma?
> 2) Shankara himself clarifies this in Br.Up.Bh 4.4.22: एतदुक्तं भवति —
> योऽयम् ‘विज्ञानमयः प्राणेषु’ इत्यादिना वाक्येन प्रतिपादितः स्वयं
> ज्योतिरात्मा, स एषः *कामकर्माविद्यानामनात्मधर्मत्वप्रतिपादनद्वारेण*
> मोक्षितः परमात्मभावमापादितः
> Therefore one line of argument can be, in describing avidyA as
> anAtmadharma, Shankara is indirectly saying that avidyA has no paramArtha
> satya.
> The issue with the above is that it can be counter-argued that the avidyA
> referred to above is avidyA which has the mind as its locus, and not
> mUlAvidya/mAya, which has Atma has its locus. It is this avidyA that
> Shankara in Br.Up.Bh 1.4.10 argues has to be located in Atma, as there is
> no other conscious entity apart from it.
> 3) To answer this possible argument, I looked up references to अनिर्वचनीय:
> in advaita sharada. It shows up thrice, each time as तत्त्वन्यत्वाभयां
> अनिर्वचनीय. All three instances are in Brahma SUtra BhAshya - 1.1.5, 2.1.14
> and 2.1.27.
> In each occasion, Shankaracharya does not use this adjective to refer to
> avidyA, but to the avidyAkalpita nAmarUpa.
> However, we can infer the ontological status of avidyA from this. Since
> nAma rUpa is said to be by Shankara as being of the nature of mithyA in
> these instances (तत्त्वन्यत्वाभ्यां अनिर्वचनीयं, incapable of being
> classified as sat or different from it) AND as being avidyA kalpita, it
> follows that the thing because of which they are kalpita, avidyA, is also
> tattvanyatvAbhyam anirvachanIyam, or mithyA.
> 4) More directly, in BSB 1.1.5, this adjective is used to describe the
> nature of nAmarUpa before creation (यत्प्रागुत्पत्ते:) ie in its potential,
> avyakta state.
> किं पुनस्तत्कर्म, यत्प्रागुत्पत्तेरीश्वरज्ञानस्य विषयो भवतीति —
> तत्त्वान्यत्वाभ्यामनिर्वचनीये नामरूपे अव्याकृते व्याचिकीर्षिते इति ब्रूमः
> Therefore this is a comment on the ontological status of avyaktam. Because
> we consider avyakta, avyAkrita, prakriti, mAya, mUlAvidyA as synonymous, we
> can take this as a comment by Shankara on the ontological status of avidyA
> too.
> 5) In Mandukya kArika bhAshya 3.24, Shankara says:
> ‘इन्द्रो मायाभिः’ (बृ. उ. २-५-१९)*इत्यभूतार्थप्रतिपादकेन मायाशब्देन
> व्यपदेशात्*। ननु प्रज्ञावचनो मायाशब्दः ; सत्यम्, इन्द्रियप्रज्ञाया
> अविद्यामयत्वेन मायात्वाभ्युपगमाददोषः । मायाभिः
> इन्द्रियप्रज्ञाभिरविद्यारूपाभिरित्यर्थः ।
> Shankara says that the very use of the word Maya is as अभूतार्थप्रतिपादक,
> that is, the word mAya implies something that is not in existence - या मा
> सा माया.  ie not real and later goes on to say that MAya is avidyAmaya.
> 6) In commenting on BGB 13.34, Shankara describes the phrase
> भूतप्रकृतिमोक्षं च ये विदुः that occurs in the sloka thus:
> भूतप्रकृतिमोक्षं च, भूतानां प्रकृतिः अविद्यालक्षणा अव्यक्ताख्या, तस्याः
> भूतप्रकृतेः मोक्षणम् *अभावगमनं* च ये विदुः विजानन्ति
> That is, those that know that prakriti, also called avyakta, which is of
> the nature of avidyA, is non-existent ultimately. The use of अभावगमनं as
> sublating avidyAlakshaNA prakriti means that it cannot have paramArtha sat.
> Ultimately, if advaita is moksha shAstra, avidyA has to be mithyA also.
> Therefore, if Prof. Ingalls contends that Shankara did not say that  avidyA
> is unreal, it will call into question avidyA's very purpose as a
> soteriological science - how is to one get rid of something that is
> ultimately real?
> Regards,
> Venkatraghavan
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