Sri Shankaracharya has given out the ‘lakShaNa’ of avidya/ajnAna in more than one place in His commentarial literature. In the Bhagavadgita 13.2 Bhashya, for instance, He says:
- तामसो हि प्रत्यय आवरणात्मकत्वादविद्या विपरीतग्राहकः, संशयोपस्थापको वा, अग्रहणात्मको वा (१३.२)
In the Mandukya KArikA 1.16 bhAshya He has given it as:
- तत्त्वाप्रतिबोधरूपेण वीजात्मना, अन्यथाग्रहणलक्षणेन च, अनादिकालप्रवृत्तेन मायालक्षणेन..
Elsewhere, in the BrihadaranyakopaniShad BhaShya, He has said:
- यदि ज्ञानाभावः, यदि संशयज्ञानं, यदि विपरीतज्ञानं वा उच्यते, अज्ञानमिति सर्वम्
The wording ‘jnAnaabhaavaH’ in the above bhAshya has given an impression to a section of the Advaitins that according to Shankaracharya ajnAnam/avidya/maya is of the nature of ‘abhAva’, non-existence . This view has led them to alienate themselves from the view held by the majority of the Advaitins representing the ‘sampradAya’ that avidya/ajnAna/Maya is of a ‘bhAvarUpa’, or of the nature of an existent entity. In the sequel the two views are examined in the light of a variety of pramaNa-s and concluded that there is no evidence to hold avidya to be of the nature of ‘abhAvarUpa’ and that it is reasonable and correct to adhere to the traditional view: avidya/ajnAna is of bhAvarUpa.
At the outset let us take the definitions shown under 1 and 3 above and look at the common features and see what is uncommon between them:
- तामसो हि प्रत्यय आवरणात्मकत्वादविद्या विपरीतग्राहकः, संशयोपस्थापको वा, अग्रहणात्मको वा (१३.२)
- यदि ज्ञानाभावः, यदि संशयज्ञानं, यदि विपरीतज्ञानं वा उच्यते, अज्ञानमिति सर्वम् (BruhadAraNyaka Bhashya)
In the first sentence three features of avidya are given out: 1. agrahaNaatmaka – non-perception of the truth, 2. viparItagraahaka – wrong-perception of the truth and 3. samshayopasthApakaH – doubtful perception of the truth. All these features are shown to be of ‘avidyA’ which itself is of the nature of /transformation of tamas.
In the second sentence too we have these features shown: 1. jnAnAbhAvaH, ignorance/non-perception of the Truth, 2. samshayajnAnam, doubtful knowledge/perception and 3. viparIta jnAnam, erroneous knowledge/perception. Shankaracharya groups these three under ONE ’ajnAnam’.
Thus the common factors in the two sentences are:
In both the sentences we find the features: ignorance/non-perception, doubt and error/wrong/mis-perception. That shows that the two sentences are defining one thing. And that one thing is: ‘avidya’ as per the first sentence and ‘ajnAnam’ as per the second sentence. That proves that according to Shankara avidyA is the same as ajnAnam.
Shankara Himself calls ‘avidya’ as a ‘taamasa pratyaya’ in the first sentence. We have in the Gita 14th chapter that ‘ajnAnam’ is the effect of ‘tamas’. Thus, once again, it is proved beyond doubt that Shankara’s usage of ‘avidyA’ and ‘ajnAnam’ is synonymous.
What is uncommon between the sentences is that the first sentence uses the term ‘avidyaa’ and the second one, the term ‘ajnAna’. Now, from the above analysis we can easily conclude that:
- ‘avidayA’ and ‘ajnAna’ are not different from each other; they are only synonyms.
- As avidya has been shown as a transformation of ‘tamas’, tamoguNa of prakRti, it is but fitting to conclude that ajnAna too is a taamasa pratyaya.
Now that we have concluded that avidya and ajnana are not different concepts but two names to denote one concept, we are able to further say that avidya/ajnana is a power that brings forth certain effects. That it is a power basically is indicative of its being a ‘vastu’ an entity. For, we cannot have something that is non-existent and yet have the potency to bring out effects. So, this power avidya/ajnana has to be a bhAvarUpa vastu.
Scriptural proof for the above conclusion:
In the Bhagavadgita, for instance, we have several verses that show that this power called ajnAna/avidyA/Maya is ‘connected’ with some or the other sentient entity:
- दैवी ह्येषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया 7.14 ( This My ‘mAyA’ that is divine and is attributed is extremely difficult to transcend). Here mAyA is related to the Lord, for He says: it is ‘My’ mAyA. We can see this षष्ठी सम्बन्ध between the Lord and mAyA. It is impossible to have a sambandha with a non-existent entity. Thus Maya is bhAvarUpa.
- ज्ञानेन तु तदज्ञानं येषां नाशितमात्मनः …..(Whosever ignorance has been dispelled by knowledge….) Here too, as in the previous case, ajnAna is related to a sentient entity, a jiva. The word आत्मनः is denotive of a षष्ठी सम्बन्ध between ajnana and the jiva. And, ‘ajnAnam’ of /pertaining to the Atman. It is ‘his’ ajnana that has been now destroyed owing to his gaining atma jnAna. This ‘sambandha’ is impossible to even refer to, even in the avidyA-kRuta bandha avasthA, if the ajnAna were to be a ‘abhAva’ vastu just as a hare’s horn. We cannot say ‘This man is the proud owner of a very expensive hare’s horn’. On the other hand we can say with all validity ‘this lady is the owner of a huge coffee plantation’.
- In the 14th Chapter of the Bhagavadgita it is said:
सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणाः प्रकृतिसंभवाः (14.5) (sattva, rajas and tamas are guNa-s born of PrakRti) This shows that ‘tamas’ is an effect, kAryam, of PrakRti, the kAraNam. From this we can easily conclude that since a kAryam, effect, cannot be an abhAvarUpa entity, tamas is essentially a bhAvarUpa vastu. Shankaracharya has said in the definition of avidya that it is ‘taamasa pratyaya’, a transformation of tamas. Equally forcefully this Gita verse teaches us that a kAraNam, cause, cannot be an abhAva vastu, a non-existent entity. Since PrakRti/mAya is taught as the kAraNam of tamas, it has to be a bhAva vastu. We cannot say: ‘this vandhyA putra has sired three children’. Nor can we say ‘this offspring is a vandhyAputra’. Thus from this study we conclude that ‘tamas’, that avidya/ajnana is, has to be a bhAva padArtha and never an abhAva padartha.
- The Gita 14.16 specifically teaches: अज्ञानं तमसः फलम् ( ignorance is the effect of tamas.
- By the same logic we have to conclude that since Shankaracharya has said that avidya, a taamasa pratyaya, manifests itself as vipareeta grahaNa, otherwise called adhyAsa (atasmin tad buddhiH), it has to be a bhAva vastu. For, an abhAva vastu cannot be admitted to manifest/bring forth/cause various effects such as adhyAsa, samshaya. Thus, according to Shankara, it is beyond doubt, that avidyA, a तामसप्रत्ययः, is the भावरूपकारणं of अध्यासः/विपरीतग्रहणम्/अतस्मिंस्तद्बुद्धिः/अन्यथाग्रहणम्.
- Now, the Acharya has also taught that this adhyAsa born of avidya/ajnana is the cause of samsara. Therefore we further conclude that adhyAsa is a bhAvarUpa vastu. Its cause, avidya/ajnana is already determined to be a bhAva vastu.
- Thus, the kAraNa avidya and its kArya adhyasa/samshaya have to be bhAva vastu-s alone and their being an abhava vastu is totally beyond reason and scriptural evidence. To reiterate, any kAraNa and any kArya cannot be a abhAva vastu; they have to be bhAvarUpa alone.
Anubhava pramANa: Shankaracharya initiates an interesting discussion in the Bhagavadgita BhAshya 13.2:
//Objection: The very fact that Kshetrajna is possessed of avidya makes him a samsarin, and the effect thereof – happiness and misery and so on – is directly perceived.
Answer: No; for what is perceived is an attribute of kshetra and kshetrajna the cognizer cannot be vitiated by the blemish due to it. …whatever blemish, not inhering in kshetrajna, you ascribe to him, it comes under the cognized, and therefore forms a property of kshetra, and not the property of kshetrajna. Nor is kshetrajna affected by it, …//
It is easy to recall the opening sentence of the AdhyAsa Bhashya where the viShaya – viShayi distinction is stated. Avidya, in the form of its effects, like sukha, duhkha, dvesha, etc. are cognized by the Saakshi, the viShayI. This shows that the cognized entity is not an abhAva vastu; it is definitely bhAvarUpa, since an abhAva-vastu can never be an object of cognition. Also in this very chapter the Lord details what constitutes prakRti, avidya, maya, ajnana:
महाभूतान्यहङ्कारो बुद्धिरव्यक्तमेव च ।
इन्द्रियाणि दशैकं च पञ्च चेन्द्रियगोचराः ॥ 5
इच्छा द्वेषः सुखं दु:खं सङ्घातश्चेतना धृतिः ।
एतत्क्षेत्रं समासेन सविकारमुदाहृतम् ॥ 6
//The Great elements, egoism, reason, as also the unmanifested, the ten senses and the mind, and the five objects of the senses, desire, hatred, pleasure, pain, the aggregate, intelligence, courage – the kshetra has been thus briefly described with its modifications.//
Thus, the above list names the products of avidya/ajnana proving that these are all bhAvarUpa since they are experienced. Even the mahAbhUta-s, not experienced by ordinary humans, are essentially bhAvarUpa since they are taught by the Scripture. Scripture cannot teach what is abhAvarUpa.
The verses 13.7 to 13.11 are the teaching of the exercise, abhyAsa, an aspirant has to undertake in order to manage the effects of avidya. अमानित्वं, अदम्भित्वं, etc are the counters to tackle their opposites that are clearly bhAvarUpa. In His commentary to the verse 24 Shankaracharya gives a graphic explanation of how the jnAnaabhyAsa is undertaken:
//sAnkhya consists in thinking thus: ‘these, sattva, rajas and tamas, are guNas, Atman is the witness of their acts, eternal, and distinct from the guNas.’ //
This is another proof of avidyA/ajnAna being bhAvarUpa. If they are abhAvarUpa, how can Shankara teach them as vishaya, dRshya for the Atman? Remember Shankara had defined avidyA in 13.2 as ‘taamasa pratyaya’ and now here He says this tamas itself, in the form of its effects, is a dRshya to Atman, again proving that avidyA is bhAvarUpa.
A discussion on the concept of ‘abhAva’
We have seen in the foregoing that Shankaracharya has used the word ‘jnAnAbhAva’ in giving out the definition of ‘ajnAnam’. A question arises as to the purport of the portion ‘abhAvaH’ contained in the compound word ‘jnAnAbhAvaH’. Is this ‘abhAvaH’ non-existence, of the nature of ‘abhAvarUpa’? No. It cannot be non-existence and abhaavarUpa. The following reasons prove this:
- As we have already seen, ‘jnAnAbhAvaH’ is a substitute for the word ‘tattva-agrahaNam’ in the Bhashya sentence of the Mandukya kArika 1.16 and the word ‘agrahaNarUpa’ of the sentence of the Gitabhashya 13.2.
- We have analyzed and concluded in the foregoing that ‘agrahaNa’ is the very basis, the root, the mUla, for adhyAsa / viparIta grahaNa / atasmin tad buddhi / anyathA grahaNa and samshaya/doubt. We have also observed that anything that causes certain effects cannot itself be a non-existent entity; it has necessarily to be an existent, bhAvarUpa vastu. It need not be real, but it has to be an existent entity, a vyAvaharika satya vastu.
- Also, quite significantly, we have to recall that Shankara Bhagavatpada has, in the Taittiriya Upanishad Bhashya categorically criticized the suggestion of an existent, bhAva vastu, entity originating from non-existence, abhAva. //अभावाद्भावोत्पत्तिः …सर्वप्रमाणव्याकोपः..// There is no possibility of such an event as it is against all evidence. By ‘pramAna’ we understand shruti, yukti and anubhava. By none of these means can we admit a bhAva vastu originating from an abhAva entity. Conversely an abhAva entity like ‘jnAnaabhAva’ cannot give rise to bhAva entities like adhyAsa, samshaya, etc.
- We also referred to the fact that ‘ajnanam’ is a kArya of ‘tamas’ of PrakRti, on the basis of the Gita verses of the 14th chapter. In the Brihadaranyaka bhashya sentence where the word ‘jnAnabhAva’ occurs, Bhagavatpada concludes with the word ‘ajnAnam’. That means, according to Him, ‘jnAnabhAva’ is only an offshoot of ‘ajnAnam’. Hence, we conclude that ‘jnAnAbhAva’ is an effect of tamas and therefore has to be a bhAva vastu, since a kAryam cannot be abhAva rUpa.
- What indeed, then, is meant by the portion ‘abhAva’ in the word ‘jnAnaabhAva’? Let us consider an example to appreciate the purport of Bhagavatpada’s bhaashya word. ‘Darkness’, termed ‘tamah’ in Sanskrit can be defined as ‘absence of light’ or तेजोऽभावः’.
Is this ‘absence of light’ of the nature of non-existence, abhAvarUpa? No. We have in the antaryAmi brAhmaNa of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad a mantra 3.7.13 that reads:
//यस्तमसि तिष्ठन् तमसोऽन्तरो यं तमो न वेद यस्य तमः शरीरं यस्तमोऽन्तरो यमयत्येष त आत्मा अन्तर्याम्यमृतः //( He who inhabits darkness, yet is within darkness, whom darkness does not know, whose body darkness is and who controls darkness from within —He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.)
Now, if tamaH, darkness, were to be merely an ‘abhAva’ of ‘tejas’, light, how can the Upanishad talk about tamas as a devataa and say that the antaryAmi Atma ‘resides’ in darkness, tamas, and the tamas itself is ignorant of the antaryAmi? This shows that even though we may say ‘tamas is teja-abhAvaH’, tamas is not declared to be an ‘abhAvarUpa’ entity. Exactly in the same way when Shankaracharya uses the word ‘jnAnaabhAva’ He does not mean that it is ‘abhAvarUpa’. He only means that ‘the jnAna pertaining to Atman is lacking’, that is all.
In the Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.8,9 we have the famous mantras:
अविद्यायां बहुधा वर्तमानाः ..
//8. Fools, dwelling in darkness, but wise in their own conceit and puffed up with vain scholarship, wander about, being afflicted by many ills, like blind men led by the blind.
9. Children, immersed in ignorance in various ways, flatter themselves, saying: We have accomplished life’s purpose. Because these performers of karma do not know the Truth owing to their attachment, they fall from heaven, misery- stricken, when the fruit of their work is exhausted. //
How can the Upanishad teach that ‘people are immersed in ignorance’ if according to the Upanishad ‘avidyA’ is an abhAvarUpa? How can anyone immerse and bathe in mirage water? Shankaracharya has quoted a verse in the Taittiriya Upanishad (Anandavalli 1) bhashya:
मृगतृष्णाम्भसि स्नातः खपुष्पकृतशेखरः ।
एष वन्ध्यासुतो याति शशशृङ्गधनुर्धरः ॥
// Having bathed in mirage water, donning his hair with the sky-flowers, there goes the barren-woman’s son holding the bow made of hare’s horn.//
Holding avidya/ajnAna to be abhAvarUpa will amount to the above caricature that Shankara has quoted.
The view of Sri Sacchidanandendra Saraswati SwaminaH (SSS)
The following is what SSS says in the ‘Reply’ to a scholar’s article on MUlAvidyA:
// 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 ‘jnAna 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:
प्रत्यगात्मनि खलु अत्यन्तविविक्ते बुद्ध्यादिभ्य: बुद्ध्यादिभेदाग्रहनिमित्तो बुद्ध्याद्यात्मत्वतद्धार्माध्यास:। तत्र श्रवणमननादिभि: यद्विवेकविज्ञानं तेन विवेकाग्रहे निवर्तिते, अध्यासापबाधात्मकं वस्तुस्वरूपावधारणं विद्या चिदात्मरूपं स्वरूपे व्यवतिष्ठते इत्यर्थ:।
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: सत्यानृते मिथुनीकृत्य विवेकाग्रहादध्यास: (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’. Shankara calls this ‘agrahaNa’. SSS calls this very same entity: jnAna 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’ or ‘root’ of adhyAsa. SSS has only put it in another fashion: 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 jnAna 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 jnAna abhAva, will not bring any harm to the One Only nature of Brahman. That is the reason why Shankara calls it ‘mithyAjnAna 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 ajnAnam’, is perfectly in order and does not militate against the jnAna abhava concept of SSS. The ‘jnana 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 JnAna abhava a bhAva rUpa entity. If this is not admitted, even the jnAna 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 Jnana, there has to be an ‘existing’ avidya. If it is abhAva, there is no way I can use the Atma Jnana weapon. Surely SSS would not want this to happen. Therefore, the categorization of mUlAvidya, like jnAna abhAva, as bhAva rUpa, a positive entity, is perfectly in order and also saves SSS’s formulation of an अभावरूप-ज्ञानाभावः from the defect of being akin to a vandhyaaputraH. Otherwise, GaudapAdacharya and Shankaracharya will have to be faulted for placing Brahman at the risk of being ‘shattered to pieces’ by their admitting mUlAvidya or jnAna 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 jnAna abhAva of SSS. Admitting a jnAna 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 jnAna 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 the Bhagavadgita the Lord has delineated the kshetram known also as aparaa-prakRti in the 13th and 7th chapters. He has detailed what constitutes PrakRiti. On more than one occasion He has said ‘It is My prakRti/mAya. Shankaracharya does not make a distinction between prakRti kArya and avidya/ajnAna kArya. The Lord has himself detailed what the prakriti kArya is as we have already quoted in the foregoing. Now, after talking about avidya/ajnana/prakRti as a bhAvarUpa entity that we have discussed elaborately above, the Lord in the last verse of the 13th chapter says: भूतप्रकृतिमोक्षं च (the (knowledge of) the non-existence of bhUtaprakRti.) Shankara has commented that this word means: avidyAlakShaNaa, and its abhAvagamana. He says that the Jnani realizes that this prakRuti, avidya, avyakta, is non-existent.
Now, if Bhagavan were to have meant the PrakRti to be a ‘second entity’ to Brahman, as real as Brahman, His subsequent teaching of the non-existence of Prakriti would be meaningless. This shows that even according to the Lord the PrakRti, avidya, avyaktaa, ajnana, is only a temporary acceptance, an adhyArOpa, but definitely bhAvarUpa, for the purpose of bandha-moksha vyavahaara. The apavaada comes in the 13.34 verse were the ‘abhAvagamana’ of prakrti is taught. Thus there is no defect of ‘admitting a second absolutely real entity apart from Brahman’ if avidya/ajnana is admitted as bhAvarUpa. Such a charge would be untenable and be directed against both the Lord and Shankaracharya. Hence, the correct, blemishless, logical, scripture-friendly, experience-friendly and above all vidvadanubhava-certified position is: ajnAna/avidya is bhaavarUpa.
In order to understand the inevitable ‘bhAvarupa’ status of mUlAvidya or jnAna 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. MUlAvdiya or jnAna 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 Jnani 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 a bhAvarUpa mUla- avidya or jnAna abhava was admitted temporarily? Even this jnAni did address the mUlAvidya and only then became a jAnin. If he had debated that mUlAvidyA cannot be an existent entity, he would never have succeeded in annihilating it.
This statement of SSS requires close examination:
// The reality of the not-self (anAtman) follows necessarily from its not being adhyAsa, superimposed.//
If SSS contends that the ‘bhAvarUpa mUlAvidyA’ is a ‘real’ entity in the sense that it is not a superimposed entity, and therefore not anAtmaa, what is the status of the ‘jnAnAbhAva’ or ‘lack of knowledge’ that SSS has proposed as a condition existing prior to adhyAsa? Is it anAtmA or not? If it is anAtmA, how can it be a causal entity even before adhyAsa occurs? If it is Atma, how is it different from the un-superimposed Atma of the Vedanta? In reply if SSS says that it is neither atmA nor anAtmaa, then it is essentially in the category of sad-asad-vilakshana. This is exactly the status of the bhAvarUpa mUlAvidyaa. Thus, it is impossible to differentiate the ‘jnAnAbhAva’ proposed by SSS from the ‘bhAvarUpa mUlAvidyA’.
The ‘other name’ of mUlAvidyA is jnAna abhAva. By choosing to give a different name to a cause that precedes adhyAsa, SSS has not succeeded in changing the character of the bhAvarUpa mUlAvidyA. It is settled beyond doubt and disputation that mUlAvidyA and jnAna abhAva of SSS are just two names to denote the same entity. The two terms are like the words ‘jalam’ and ‘udakam’ used in Sanskrit to denote water.
- The terms ‘ajnAna’ and ‘avidyA’ are synonyms; they mean the same condition that obtains during samsara, as the cause of samsara.
- It is of an existent nature, bhAvarUpa.
- It is not of a non-existent nature, ‘abhAvarUpa’ since such an entity cannot be a cause of anything.
- The Shruti, SmRti and bhAShya are the authorities that teach that avidyA, the cause of samsara, is a bhAvarUpa entity.
- The term ‘jnAnAbhAva’ in Shankara’s BrihadaraNyaka Upanishad Bhashya definition of ‘ajnAna’ is only a substitute for the term ‘agrahaNa’ that He has used while giving out the definition of avidyA in the Gita bhaShya.
- The ‘abhAvarUpa jnAnAbhAva’ proposed by SSS is devoid of logical, scriptural and shAnkara-bhAShya support.
- There is absolutely no difference between the ‘jnaanAbhAva’ proposed by SSS and the ‘bhAvarUpa mUlAvidya’ espoused by the Vedantins of the ShAnkara sampradAya.