[Advaita-l] Who has Ajnana/Maya?

Venkatraghavan S agnimile at gmail.com
Thu Mar 16 18:27:20 EDT 2017

Namaste Sri Sriram,

>    1. Who has Ajnana? If Jeeva has ajnana, that is inconsistent since the
>    existence of Jeeva's identity is Ajnana and we cannot call Jeeva "has"
>    ajnana any longer. But if paramatma has ajnana, that is a blemish on
>    paramatma.

Shankaracharya considers this question 3 times - In Bhagavad Gita bhAshya
13.2, Brahma sUtra bhAShya 4.1.3 and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad bhAshya
4.1.6. In the bhagavad gIta and brihadAraNyaka upaniShad, the focus of the
argument is to say that avidyA cannot be located in the self and it has to
be an attribute of the non-self, as it is experienced. In the Brahma sUtra,
Shankaracharya refuses to answer the question and simply says that the
person asking the question has the avidyA. When the questioner objects
saying that the scriptures claim that he, the questioner in fact is god,
and god cannot have avidyA, Shankara rebuffs him saying that if he is
enlightened enough to know that, he should also know that avidyA is

These positions are considered further by sureshvarAchArya who was of the
view that Brahman is the locus of avidyA. vAcaspati mishrA, on the other
hand, takes the jIva to be the locus of avidyA. Both positions can be
justified, so take your pick.

On the specific issues identified with each position - If jIva is taken as
the locus of avidyA, the issue of circularity does not arise, because both
jIva and avidyA are beginningless, so it is not logically correct to assert
that jIva is a product of avidyA, because neither jIva nor avidyA are
products. This is the argument advanced by madhusUdana sarasvati.

If Brahman is taken as the locus of avidyA, there is no issue with that
position either - because avidyA's ontological status is lower than
Brahman's - that being so, it is no more capable of affecting Brahman, than
mirage water is capable of wetting the sand on which it appears. Secondly,
there are two kinds of Ashraya - adhishThAna rUpa Ashraya and abhimAni rUpa
Ashraya - so while Brahman is adhishThAna rUpa Ashraya for avidyA (ie
Brahman is the substratum on which avidyA is located), it cannot be
considered to be abhimAni rUpa Ashraya (ie "I am ignorant"), thus the issue
of blemish does not really exist.

>    2. If Maya is an attribute of Ishwara, then doesn't Mayatva contradict
>    the nirgunatva aspect that Advaitins claim?

Again, Brahman and mAya have different ontological statuses - so mAya is
not a guNa of Brahman from the standpoint of ultimate reality. It is
acceptable for Ishvara to have mAyA as an attribute within advaita
sampradAya. In advaita, Ishvara is considered to be saguNa Brahman and
there is a separate entity called nirguNa Brahman. Thus, it is possible for
one to say that mAyA is the attribute of Ishvara, while maintaining that
mAyA is not an attribute of nirguNa Brahman.


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