Three objections are raised in regards to the possibility of such error
- it is not tenable
- it is not perceptible i.e. I do not see it
- it has no cause
The fact that it is not tenable is a alankAra for us, the fact that there can never be a real association between atma and anatma is what we assert and want you to see for yourself.
The second objection is answered by pointing out that when you say I am ignorant of this – you yourself are pointing to a witnessing principle that is illumining your ignorance; else how do you know that you are ignorant? The I involved in the superimposition is partly known - it is not a completely unknown entity like svarga - and in addition to being partially known, the other requirement for adhyAsa is buddhi or intellect - if these two factors are there adhyAsa is certainly possible and is also seen whenever we use expressions like I am sukhi, I am dukhi, you are admitting that there is a mixing up of I the atman with different states of the mind and so something that is a matter of your experience – how can you dismiss?
Thirdly, now, if you do experience such a mixing there must be a cause, there must be an ingredient that is involved and this is hence a matter at the least for further enquiry.
anyonya atmani anyonya atmakathAm
anyonya dharmascha adhyasya
atyanta viviktayoho dharmadharminoho
mithyajnana nimittaha satyanrte mithinikrtya
Even though yadyapi, committing such a error is not possible mithya iti bhavitum yuktamTathApi – Inspite of this, Even so, this is a matter of common experience – what a marvel it is; that regrettably, the impossible is made possible aghatita ghatana – because we see that indeed it is our common anubhava – it is lokavyavahAra. The term lokavyavahara refers to both the universal knowledge (erroneous) as well as experience born of such knowledge, as well as the activities or transactions that stem from such a experience – why does this happen; how is this possible? Because of itaretara avivekena – lack of discrimination between what is atma and anatma. Idam is taken as aham – see how beautifully and powerfully Adi Shankara conveys to us at the very outset the magnitude of the problem here - "this" is taken as "me". So with complete conviction i says "I am a man" "I am this body," This is tAdAtmyadhyAsa. And yet again, sometimes there is some confusion even at this level when I am able to look at as an object - and then i say my body is tired, my mind is in anguish, etc - here one develops a sense of objectivity to the body/mind but one retains complete ownership of it - mama idam. This is samsargadhyAsaha. Difference is seen, but is owned. The very first adhyasa is I am this body and then follows in its wake a whole host of adhyasas - I am a male, i am sad, happy, etc etc - so first is dharmi adhyAsa then follow all the dharma adhyAsas. Then why mention dharmadhyAsa separately (anyonya dharmascha) - because with reference to the sense organs there is no dharmi adhyAsa - no one says "I am the eye" but one readily takes on the dharma of the eye by saying "i am blind" whence blindness belongs to the optical apparatus.
So what is seen is a mixing up mithinikrtya of subject and object - satyanrte - why specify satyanrte - why not leave it at simply anyonyosmin - mutually superimposing -this is to specify that of the two entities invovled one is sat and the other is mithya - otherwise if A is being superimposed on B and B is being superimposed on A and each is sublated what one is left with is shunyA!
How can such a lokavyavahAra be possible - it must have a special kAranA - after all like we already saw - the two things being superimposed are tamahprakAshavat viruddhasvabhAvayoho - of opposing polarity like light and darkness - it is nothing but mithya and ajnana - mithyajnana.
This term has become a source of great contention and schools of thought have emerged based on alternative interpretations of this one complex word.
Mithyajnana in this context does not mean false knowledge - i.e. mithya plus jnAna - why?
Let us examine this a bit in detail.
We have already seen that there is a mixing up of levels and that this is lokavyavaHara. If Shankara were to simply say that this is due to false knowledge then he is leaving a whole lot of things unexplained. He has to complete the sentence by pointing to the cause of this problem. This is indicated here by the word nimitta - cause - what is the cause mithya and ajnAna.
If one were to say that the cause for this false knowledge, as indicated by the term lokavyavahAra, for this mixing up or superimposition is false knowledge, then one is left having to explain what is the cause of that false knowledge - it is absurd to say the cause for the tree is the tree. We cannot expect Shankara to leave out a gaping unanswered hole in this sentence of why? and we are assured that he doesnt by his own use of the term nimitta. This way the entire essence of the what how and why of adhyAsa is fully conveyed in one masterful sentence.
Mithya here is a ontological word - meaning anirvachhaneeyam. That which cannot be categorized - it is neither existent nor nonexistent. It is avidya - and has two shaktis - a Avarana shakti called ajnAna and a vikshepa shakti called avidyA. This avidyA is what is referred to as avyaktA in the Bhagawad Gita. Because of avidyA alone there is agrahana and because of mAyA there is anyatha grahana.
Now another school of thought interprets it such - mithyajnAna is not mithya plus jnAna but ajnAna alone - but this ajnAna is abhAva alone. It is absence of knowledge. Why can't we take it like this? Why say mithyA refers to anirvachhaneeyam when it can just as well as refer to abhAva or nonexistence ? Absence of anything is absence alone. Between knowledge absence, and wealth absence and pot absence, the absence is the same - there is no difference in the absence - nonexistence is nonexistence alone, and this nonexistence cannot be a nimitta - a cause for anything. Can we say sat-chit-ananda plus abhAva created the world or is the cause for adhyAsa? There is no special thing called "jnAna abhAva" and to explain creation you need to have a cause other than abhAva.
Also even if we were to contend that absence of knowledge (ajnAna) alone is the cause for this superimposition, then who should this absence of knowledge belong to? where should this ajnAna abide? in the cause of the effect? Of course in the cause. We cannot say jivA is the effect of the false knowledge and still contend that ajnAna belongs to the jivA. So this would necessarily mean that ajnAna belongs to the Atma. So satyam jnanam anatam brahman now has a attribute - ajnAnam. And attributeless Atma can never have any attributes let alone one of ajnAna - Atma is ekamEva, and morover it is ekarasaha - uniform. So Atma can never have ajnAnam. So ajnAnam in the sense of abhAva - or absence of knowledge cannot be said to be a nimitta for this superimposition.
So having established that ajnAnam cannot be nonexistent, now can we swing the pendulum to the other side and say this ajnAnam is existent- no! - if ajnAnam is real it can never go away - this ajNanam is purely notional - it is opposed to knowledge - jnAna nivrttyaha adhyasa - and hence alone the term mithya beautifully explains it as anirvachhaneeyam.
Now another point - vishayaprayojanam. Is Shruti or knowledge obtained from Shruti opposed to mithyaJnanam or false knowledge? No. It is opposed to ajnAnam alone.
When i see a snake where there is a rope, then "snake jnAnam" is not the cause for the snake, absence of rope knowledge alone is the cause for the snake. If I need to see the rope, can I (or do I need to) first remove the superimposition of the snake? Can i first remove snake -knowledge? No.
This superimposition can never be removed without seeing the rope - mere removal of snake knowledge will only replace some other superimposition on the rope if the rope ie yet unseen. Secondly without seeing rope how will you definitively this snake knowledge is false?
So when I see the rope - do i remove snake adhyAsa or gain rope-knowledge?
It is only through gain of rope knowledge. Without gaining knowledge of the rope, I cannot sublate the erroneous notion of the snake. So only Jnana is responsible for removal of adhyAsa. No other factor can be said to be an instrument for removal of adhyAsa. Similarly Shastra as a pramAna has nothing to do with the adhyAsa - there is no connection between adhyAsa and the vastu except ajnAna. And since ajnAna (not mithya jnana nor jnana abhAva) alone is jnAna virodhi, Shruti pramAna serves to give us the jnAna that serves to eliminate ajnAna - and thus alone there is vishaya prayojanam for Shruti. JnAna nivrttyeva ajnanam. One cannot knock off avidya by any factor besides jnAna. Once mithyAjnAna is taken as false knowledge then of course it cannot go away by "mere" jnAna, Sabda (or mahAvAkya) is no longer a pramAna, and then one is forced into conjuring up all manners of theories to explain this away. The bottomline is - one cannot postulate a removal of adhyAsa without the simultaneous gain of knowledge of the vastu.
Now next question is when did this ajnAna start - ignorance can never have a beginning in the sense that one can never arrive at its beginning - ignorance is not brought into being - hence the term naisargika - if it was mithya-jnAna then t would be agAntuka - the fact that is mithya and ajnAna alone accounts for the term naisargikA.
(to be continued..)