[Advaita-l] 'I do not know' is bhāvarūpa ajnana

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Jun 11 03:40:08 EDT 2017

In the Advaita siddhi there is a discussion on the status of the ajnana of
the form 'I do not know', 'मयि ज्ञानं नास्ति’. While the siddhantin's stand
is that this is not an abhāva of jnāna since there is the knowledge of 'the
content of ajnana', the purvapakshin's stand is that there is no need to
accept a bhāvarūpa ajnana but settle for a jnānābhāva for this kind of

There is a very long drawn discussion on this. Here is a summary.

When we refer to an abhāva, for instance, 'bhūtale ghato nāsti', we have to
see whether it is sāmānyābhāva or viśeṣābhāva. It is the former when the
pot of no description/attribute is there. It is the latter when a
particular pot is had in mind.  In any case, an abhāva pratiyogin has to be
specified. When the person says 'there is no pot here', he does have a
pot-knowledge and only denies the existence of the known pot. Hence, the
abhāva is not any atyantābhāva but of that pot whose knowledge is had.

Similarly when someone says 'I have no knowledge', the abhāva pratiyogin is
'some' knowledge whose absence is what is specified. Without knowing what
he does not know, he cannot be saying 'I have no knowledge.'

While expounding this, the revered scholar gave this example: It is known
to all aspirants of Vedanta that moksha is concomitant upon one's getting
the akhandakaravritti.  But this knowledge by itself does not constitute
the akhandakaravritti. Similarly, the knowledge that one has ignorance (of
something) does not amount to possessing the knowledge of what one is
ignorant of. To express that 'I have no knowledge', it is enough that one
knows 'I have no knowledge of....' This is essentially sakshi vedya. That
which is vishaya for sakshi, in this case ajnana, cannot be any abhava.
Sakshi will not illumine mere absence.  Since a content is there for the
ajnana of that person, this is essentially bhāvarūpa ajnana and not
jnānābhāva. Even if one were to say 'I have jnanabhava', he is already
having knowledge of the abhava pratiyogin and therefore that ajnana is
certainly 'of' something. Hence it is 'bhavarupa ajnanam' and not

After having thus decided upon the bhāvarūpatva of ajnāna through two types
of pratyaksha, sāmānyataḥ and viśeṣataḥ, the siddhikara goes ahead with
establishing bh'āvarūpa ajnana through the third type of pratyakṣā,
sushupti experience, as well. During sleep we do experience bliss. However,
along with this we have the experience of ignorance too. Even though there
is no way of expressing this during sleep,yet upon waking one gives
expression to the experience thus: I slept happily so long and I did not
know anything. This he does by recalling, remembering, the experience had
then. Is this ajnana, abhāva or bhāva rupa? Not the former for there is no
sāmagri like pratiyogin to know the ajnana during sleep. If we accept it as
bhāvarupa, then since the ajnana that existed and experienced then was
illumined by the sākshi which is there even during sleep, then we can
easily account for the existence of ajnana during sleep. Thus even this
recollection-expression of the sleep experience of bliss and ignorance
proves only the bhāvarupatva of ajnana.

The purvapakshin objects to this and suggests that one need not hold there
is a recollection of an earlier experience, by way of anumāna, for the
expression of ignorance in sleep. Instead one can explain this by holding
that upon waking up one infers the jnanābhāva during sleep by the following

Just as the common experience of (sun)set and rise with a period
intervening the two, between the start of sleep (setting of activity of
instruments) and start of (activity of instruments) waking, one can infer
an intervening period and say 'during that intervening period I was endowed
with jnānābhāva' since (1) that was a distinct state (different from sleep
and dream states) (2) I was devoid of auxiliaries that would generate
knowledge (jnanasāmagri) (3) while the 'I' is remembered upon waking, as to
what was experienced is not remembered, only because there was no jnana,
that is, jnānābhāva, then. Thus the expression 'I did not know anything'
has for its content jnānābhāva alone. Thus, with this expression of the
deep sleep experience, on cannot establish a bhāvarūpa ajnāna.

The PP himself rules out the possibility of smarana since there is no
samskāra. For a recollection, there has to be a samskāra that is generated
by the first anubhava. The anubhava does not remain at the time of a
smarana. So, the anubhava, through the medium of a samskāra enables the
smarana when the udbodhaka sāmagri is present. Since there is no experience
at all of ajnana during sleep, there is no way a samskara can be admitted
to account for the smarana.

The siddhāntin replies that whether it is (1) anumana or (2) smaraṇa, with
regard to the sushupti experience, both end up in establishing a bhāvarūpa
ajnana alone. Everyone, upon waking, without initiating any process of
anumāna, spontaneously recollects the ajnana experience and expresses it as
'I did not know anything.' In any case the siddhāntin denies the three
hetu-s proposed by the pp. For the (1) hetu:  //that was a distinct state
(different from sleep and dream states)// that distinct state, which is
characterized by jnānābhāva, is to be inferred to be so with the help of
the hetu specified above.  It amounts to saying: At that state I did not
have any knowledge. Why? Since that state is characterized by absence of
knowledge. When the state itself is directly known as one devoid of
knowledge, what is there to be inferred about it with the help of a hetu?

For the (2) hetu:  I was devoid of auxiliaries that would generate
knowledge (jnanasāmagri) amounts to anyonyāśraya: Why is that state that of
jnānābhāva? Because there is no jnānasāmagri at that state. How does it
amount to be a state devoid of jnanasamagri? Because there is no jnana that
was generated then. This is the anyonyaśraya here. The PP may counter thus:
When I wake up, my senses are all fresh and pleasant. If they had been
functioning during sleep, this fresh feeling would not be experienced.
Hence, with this fact one can infer that they were at rest then and hence
no sāmagri. This is countered by the siddhantin thus: The feeling of
freshness with respect to the senses is due to the sukhānubhava that ensued
during sleep and hence there is no need to propose the senses-were-at-rest

For the (3) hetu: //while the 'I' is remembered upon waking, as to what was
experienced is not remembered, only because there was no jnana, that is,
jnānābhāva,// is it that there is no recollection at all as a rule or is it
with a qualification that there is no recollection 'as delimited by the
sushupti state'?  In the first instance it is defiled by 'asiddhi'. That
is, the hetu does not inhere in the pakṣa. In the expression proposed by
you 'That I who was in the state of sleep, was devoid of jnāna', the 'I' is
definitely remembered. When something is recalled, it happens along with
the experience had then. Thus, your statement that only the 'I' is recalled
but not the jnana (anubhava) of that state is impossible.  In the second
alternative 'with a qualification that there is no recollection 'as
delimited by the sushupti state' is also not possible since everyone
recalls the sleep experience only upon waking; during the experience of
sleep no such experience as 'I am experiencing sleep' ensues. Hence, your
statement, if it is of the second type: 'since there is no recollection 'as
delimited by the sleep state' there is jnānābhāva' is not possible. To say
that, you will have to propose a vyāpti: wherever a state is not remembered
as endowed with some knowledge, that state is devoid of knowledge. Such a
vyāpti is negated in cases where I have had various experiences and I do
not recall those experiences later because I would have been indifferent to
various events/objects at that time (upekṣaṇīya vastu). At a subsequent
juncture I recall it. Just because I did not recall it earlier, can I
conclude that no knowledge arose during that original experience?  Hence to
conclude that 'since there is no recollection of the form 'there is no
knowledge in sleep' there was no knowledge in sleep' would be wrong. Since
there is nothing that can rule out upekṣātmaka jnanam during sleep, the
hetu proposed does not inhere in the sādhya and hence there is vyabhichāra.

The above write up is no substitute to the original exposition which is a
class by itself. Those interested can listen to those discourses in Tamil.

Om Tat Sat

Om Tat Sat.

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