V Subrahmanian, Thursday, February 10, 2011 5:38 am

An Appraisal of SSS’ views (3 of 3)

BhAva rUpa avidya:

The following is what SSS says in the ‘Reply’:

// 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 SSS admits of an ignorance presupposing adhyAsa. It is also clear, from the concluding remarks above, that SSS 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.

Let us take a look at what the BhAmati says on what this ‘want of knowledge’ is:

????????????? ??? ??????????????? ?????????????: ?????????????????????????? ????????????????????????????????:? ???? ?????????????: ???????????????? ??? ??????????? ?????????, ????????????????? ?????????????????? ?????? ??????????? ??????? ??????????? ???????:?

The above means: When the Innermost Self is so very distinct from the non-Atman, there arises an adhyAsa owing to non-discrimination of the Self from the non-Self. When taking recourse to scriptural study, contemplation etc. there arises the right discriminative knowledge and through that the elimination of the non-discriminative ignorance, the right knowledge pertaining to the Real Thing, vastu, gets established in the person.

Again, a little later, says the Bhaamati: ????????? ??????????? ?????????????????: (by the admixture of the real and the unreal, owing to non-discrimination, there arises adhyAsa.)

The BhAmatI terms this pre-adhyAsa condition as ‘viveka agrahaH‘ (non discriminative insight). The mANDUkya kArikA calls this ‘tattva agrahaNam‘. shaMkara calls this ‘agrahaNa’. SSS calls this very same entity: j~nAna abhAvaH. These are only different names for mUlAvidyA. When we look at this term ‘mUlA avidyA‘ we find that those who began using this term too perhaps recognized ‘avidyA‘ to be adhyAsaa alone as SSS has done. They only qualified it by adding the word mUlA to mean the ‘root’, ‘seed’ of adhyAsa. SSS has only put it in another fasion: lack of knowledge.

It is amply clear that the condition of ‘want of knowledge’ that has to prevail prior to adhyAsa is not an eternally real entity such as brahman. Why do we say so? The fact that right knowledge destroys that a priori condition is itself the proof of its not being of an eternal nature. Hence, mUlAvidyA, in other words, the j~nAna abhAva, that is admitted, as a logical necessity, as existing prior to adhyAsa, is no threat to brahman so as to ‘shatter brahman to pieces’. brahman is ever adviteeya, without a second. The admitting, temporarily, of a mUlAvidyA or j~nAna abhAva, will not bring any harm to the One Only nature of brahman. That is the reason why shaMkara calls it ‘mithyAj~nAna nimittaH‘ in the first sentence of the preamble to the brahmasUtra bhAshya. The manner in which this compound word is split by the traditional acharyas, ‘mithyA cha tad aj~nAnam’, is perfectly in order and does not militate against the j~nAna abhava concept of SSS. The ‘j~nAna abhava‘ too is not an eternally real entity. It is to be admitted even by SSS to be annihilated once the Right Knowledge arises. It is exactly this phenomenon that makes mUlavidyA or j~nAna abhava a bhAva rUpa entity. If this is not admitted, even the j~nAna abhAva will enter the category of atyanta abhAva, a negative entity, a non-entity, like a vandhyAputra or shasha viShANa, a barren woman’s son or a hare’s horn. What is wrong in it being so? The problem is this: Even in imparting training in the use of weapons, a dummy enemy/target is used on which the weapon is applied. Without a target/object, it is impossible to use a weapon, even for training purposes. The trainee does not use the weapon in the wilderness. So too, to use the weapon of Atma j~nana, there has to be an ‘existing’ avidya. If it is abhAva, there is no way I can use the Atma j~nana weapon. Surely SSS would not want this to happen. Therefore, the categorization of mUlavidyA, like j~nAna abhAva, as bhAva rUpa, a positive entity, is perfectly in order. Otherwise, GaudapAdacharya and shaMkaracharya will have to be faulted for placing brahman at the risk of being ‘shattered to pieces’ by their admitting mUlavidyA or j~nAna abhava, although by another name: tattva agrahaNa.

The objection of SSS that mUlavidyA is admitted as a ‘second entity’ to brahman is untenable. mUlAvidyA enjoys the same status of j~nAna abhAva of SSS. Admitting a j~nAna abhava as the cause of adhyAsa places SSS on the same objection of positing a second entity to brahman even before adhyAsa has taken place. SSS cannot point out this defect in admitting mUlavidyA while j~nAna abhAva is not free of this ‘defect’. Nor have the advaita Acharyas admitted mUlAvidyA as a second entity. It is only a temporary ‘adhyAropa’ (deliberate superimposition) made by the shAstra so as to explain the adhyAsa. The ‘apavAda’ (negation of what was deliberately superimposed earlier) of this comes in the manner of: na nirodho na chotpattiH…etc. where creation, dissolution, bondage, liberation, a person bound and one liberated are all negated from the absolute standpoint.

In order to understand the inevitable ‘bhAvarupa’ status of mUlavidyA or j~nAna abhAva, we shall consider this illustration: We use the term ‘poverty’. This can be looked at as a malady producing several undesirable effects like malnutrition, poor sanitation, epidemic, lack of basic education, and so on. We can also look at ‘poverty’ as ‘lack of money or resources’. When it comes to eradicating poverty, the most natural course would be to ‘acquire money or resources’. For, any correction that could be done on the front of malnutrition, epidemics, sanitation, etc. will presuppose pumping in the required money or resources. Now, for addressing the situation, the cause, that is, ‘lack of money’ we admit that it ‘exists.’ It would be impossible to address the problem if ‘lack of money’ is said to be a negative or non-entity. Yet, once the necessary money has been acquired, the ‘lack of money’ that ‘existed’, no longer exists now.

Similar is the situation we have on hand regarding the cause preceding adhyAsa. mUlavidyA or j~nAna abhAva has to be necessarily admitted to be an ‘existing’ (bhAva rUpa) entity. It cannot be a non-entity like a hare’s horn. Yet, once Self knowledge dawns, this ‘lack of knowledge’ as SSS has termed it, will no longer exist. And what is the kind of knowledge that the j~nAni acquires? It is of the kind: ‘I never was ignorant, I never was a samsArin….’. This Knowledge will be so clear to him that he knows that he was, is and ever will be the Secondless brahman. So, where is the question of ‘brahman being shattered to pieces’ just because an avidya or j~nAna abhava was admitted temporarily? Even this j~nAni did address the mUlavidyA and only then became a j~nAni. If he had debated that mUlAvidyA cannot be an existent entity, he would never have succeeded in annihilating it.

The ‘other name’ of mUlAvidyA is j~nAna abhAva. By choosing to give a different name to a cause that precedes adhyAsa, SSS has not succeeded in changing the character of mUlAvidyA. It is settled beyond doubt and dispute that mUlAvidyA and j~nAna abhAva of SSS are just two names to denote the same entity. It is like the words ‘jalam’ and ‘udakam’ used in Sanskrit to denote water.

The most compelling reason to accept mUlAvidyA or j~nAna abhAva:

The one, sublime, avowed purpose of the vedAnta is to give Self Knowledge to the suffering jIva-s and liberate them from the trammels of samsaric life. That means, the vedAnta knows that it is Self Knowledge that is wanting in the jIva-s. This ‘want’, whether articulated as a ‘want’ or not, is what is lacking in the jIva-s. Any benefactor, any donor, will ideally give only to the one who is in need of something. That the vedAnta has chosen it fit to give Self Knowledge is the greatest proof of the presence of lack-of-Self-Knowledge. This lack of knowledge, as rightly termed by SSS, is the j~nAna abhAva or otherwise called ‘mUlAvidyA‘. Can ‘j~nAna abhAva‘ be a non-experience? No. It has to take the form: ‘I do not know the Atman‘ as Narada pleaded before Sage Sanatkumara (chhAndogya upaniShad 7th Chapter). That the vedAnta aims to fill the jIva with Self Knowledge and free him from this want and thereby free him from samsara and the jIva succeeding in securing Self Knowledge and becoming liberated is the undeniable, indisputable proof for the presence of mUlavidyA, as long as samsara is present. It is in recognition of this fact that the Acharyas, right from GaudapAda onwards, have given specific expressions to this phenomenon. That this j~nAna abhAva is annihilated by Atma j~nAna is the proof of its being bhAvarUpa. If j~nAna abhAva/mUlavidyA were to be non-existent, abhAva rUpa, the vedAnta would not have bothered to give Atman Knowledge.

This kind of reasoning is known in the shastra as ‘arthApattiH’ or postulation. For example, one morning, waking up from sleep, I come out of my house and find the place all around wet with water here and there. Last night, before I went to bed, it was quite dry everywhere. But this morning it is all wet. I cannot explain the wetness unless I ‘supply’ the inferential data that ‘it must have rained when I was asleep.’ Similarly, we see that the shruti‘s ultimate aim is to give Self Knowledge. We know that any ‘giving’ is preceded by the recognition of a ‘want, a need’ somewhere. What is the ‘want’ here? It is the ‘want of knowledge’. We also see that enlightenment takes place as a result of resorting to the shruti. This is the manner in which the j~nAna abhAva or mUlAvidyA is postulated by reasoning in order to validate/justify/understand the shruti‘s aim to give Self Knowledge. Unless there is lack of Knowledge, mUlAvidyA, the shruti would not give Self Knowledge. The shruti gives Self Knowledge. Therefore one must admit the presence of lack of Knowledge or mUlavidyA.

Needless to say that this bhAvarUpaj~nAnaabhAva/mUlavidyA does not remain after Realization. Says Sri SureshwarachArya:

: ?

??????? ?? ??????? ????????? ???????? ?

tattvamasyAdi vAkyottha samyagdhI janma mAtrataH
avidyA saha kAryENa nAsIdasti bhAvishyati (sambandha vArtika

[Even as the Right Knowledge of the Atman arises as a result of applying the vedAntic instructions such as ‘Tat tvam asi’, avidyA (j~nAna abhAva/mUlAvidyA) along with its effects (adhyAsa and the consequent saMsAra) was not, is not and will not be.]

So, that gives us a clear picture of mUlavidyA/j~nAna abhAva and its bhAvarUpa nature.

The place of SSS in the advaita Tradition:

The personal views of SSS that are a clear deviation from shaMkara’s teaching have resulted in the forming of a breakaway group of the followers of SSS from the traditional advaita as taught in the official Mathas following and propagating the teachings of shaMkara. In this connection, the following two references are presented:

Source  1:  

Martha Doherty
A Contemporary Debate among advaita
vedAntins on the nature of avidya 1

Says Martha Doherty in her paper on pages 229 – 230: // What is extolled here by his disciples is regarded as a serious deficiency in his study by the traditional advaitins. When Satchidanandendra submitted the manuscript of the mUlavidyanirasa to Virupaksa Sastri, he wrote on the manuscript It should not be respected by those who are desirous of liberation, (sreyaskamair naadaran.iyam?????????????? ????????). He observed that Satchidanandendra ‘did not know samprad_aya’ placing him outside of the advaita tradition. Apart from a few months of study with Virupaksa Sastri, Satchidanandendra undertook independent study of vedAnta texts.//

Source 2:

A book titled: mUlAvidyA bhAshya vArtika aurthored by Vidwan Panditapravara Shri.K.Krishna Jois, published by Sringeri Jagadguru Mahasamsthanam, 1982. This book, in Sanskrit, is a compendium of numerous references  from the commentaries of  shaMkara and Sureshwaracharya’s Vartikas in substantiation of the admittance of Moolaavidyaa.

Source 3:.

An excerpt from the Book: Crest Jewel of yogis, (Biography and Advices of the Peerless
Preceptor HH Abhinava VidyAteertha Mahaswamigal) (vol.I)
(authored by Sri R.M.Umesh published in 1984 by Sri Sharada Trust, Sringeri,  First Volume p.405:

 //Once a Sabha was held at Bangalore wherein Pandits argued out whether Bhagavatpada recognixed mUla avidyA‘. Traditional scholars hold that Bhagavatpada accepts primary nescience. But some followers of the late Swami of Holenarasipur were of the view to the contrary. 

Representatives of both the schools decided to thrash out the issue in a debate and that was why the Sabha was called. Acharyal witnessed the proceedings with avid interest. A person asked Him why He could not pass His verdict as a Jagadguru. Acharyal’s poignant reply was, ‘ I am not here as a Jagadguru. On the contrary, I am seated as one who was taught the Sastras  and I want to confirm what I have learnt.’ This shows how impartial Acharyal can be in spite of His being recognixed by scholars all over the nation as an unparalleled exponent of tarka and vedAnta. In passing, it may be remarked that the debate ended in favour of the upholders of the traditional view.//


This study, in the form of a review of some views of SSS, was taken up in order to clear the confusion pertaining to those views.

SSS’ view that avidyA is only adhyAsa was shown to be at variance with the view of shaMkaracharya. Ref: . bhagavadgItA bhAshyam (13.2) He says: //tAmaso hi pratyayaH AvaraNaatmakatvAd-avidyA viparIta-graahakaH, samshayopasthaapako vA, agrahaNAtmako vA// [It is the ignorance, being of the nature of covering/screening, that takes the form of (a) wrong cognition or (b) doubtful cognition or (c) non-cognition.] It would be correct to say: avidyA is adhyAsa also. It would be incorrect to say: avidyA is adhyAsa only.

SSS’ view that shaMkaracharya does not admit the presence of avidya in deep sleep was also shown to be at variance with the expressed views of shaMkaracharya and Gaudapadacharya. In short, avidya type 1 is present in deep sleep and only avidya type 2 is what is denied in deep sleep.

SSS’ view that admitting a bhAva rUpa mUlavidya will ‘shatter brahman to pieces’ was shown to be a misplaced fear. ‘lack of knowledge’ or j~nAna abhAva admitted by SSS as the cause of adhyAsa was shown to be in no way different from the mUlavidyA that he has vehemently opposed.

It was also shown that even the j~nAna abhava, which is the same as mUlavidyA, has to be bhAvarUpa alone if it has to be annihilated by Self Knowledge. A non-existent entity cannot be an object of annihilation. If I have to destroy a pot with a stick, the pot should be existent, available, for my dealing a blow on it.


The ultimate purpose of this review, is to help create a situation where the ‘controversial’ views of SSS are shorn of their opposing character and taken into the mainstream of traditional shaMkara vedAnta. What has been proposed in the above study is just a ‘dotting the i’s and dashing the t’s’ of the venerable Swami’s views so that these much debated views do not remain the cause of the Swami’s school being alienated by the traditional school of shaMkara vedAnta. If the present author’s cherished goal is appreciated, even in parts, this labor would stand amply rewarded.

Related Reading: The file titled ‘Treatment of avidyA could also be read for further insights on the subject.


Part 1, Part 2

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