Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Avidya and Maya Part 2

We continue to examine the Sutrabhashya of Shankara where-in we find different
aspects related to Maya or Avidya and the effects thereof discussed.

In the following excerpt Shankara emphasizes that this Maya shakti while
intrinsic to Brahman never has any sparsha or touch or contact with Brahman.

BSB 1.4.6
For as long as Avidya remains yavad avidya na nivartate, so long the soul is
affected with definite attributes taavad dharmaadigocharatvam jeevasya jeevatvam
cha na nivartate, but as soon as Avidya comes to an end, the soul is one with
the highest Self, tannivrttau tu prajna eva as is taught by such scriptural
texts as 'Thou art that.' But whether Avidya be active or inactive - na cha
avidyavattve tadapagame cha vastuna kaschid sheshesti- no difference is made
thereby in the thing itself.

What is interesting here is that he talks about the persistence and the
sibsequent eradication of this avidya while affirming that in and through both
scenarios, the vastu Brahman never undergoes any transformation whatsoever.

He follows this up with the famous rope/snake analogy and explains that while a
man may, in the dark, mistake a piece of rope lying on the ground for a snake,
and run away from it, frightened and trembling; thereon another man may tell
him, 'Do not be afraid, it is only a rope, not a snake;' and he may then dismiss
the fear caused by the imagined snake, and stop running - but all the while -
the presence and subsequent absence of his erroneous notion, natvahibuddhikale
tadapagamakaale cha - (as to the rope being a snake) make no difference whatever
in the rope itself.

Now we take up another objection that Shankara has the interlocutor bring up -
"You say Brahman is Eternal and Changeless. No transformation is possible. We
accept that. But you are saying Brahman us the Cause of the world. And this
world is by it's very nature ever-changing. In fact change is the very nature of
the world and hence alone it's associated multivariate dimensions of name and
form. It is like saying from a block of white clear ice streams of water which
are red green and yellow emerge. Even if we allow you this incredulous
hypothesis for the sake of argument, is it not reasonable Sir that when these
waters resorb back into Ice that they "stain" that ice with their respective

Shankara provides the answer why.

BSB 2.1.9
The objection that the effect when being reabsorbed into its cause would
inquinate the latter with its qualities does not damage our position 'because
there are parallel instances,' i. e. because there are instances of effects not
inquinating with their qualities the causes into which they are reabsorbed.
Things, for instance, made of clay, such as pots, which in their state of
separate existence are of various descriptions, do not, when they are reabsorbed
into their original matter (i.e. clay), impart to the latter their individual
qualities; nor do golden ornaments impart their individual qualities to their
elementary material, i. e. gold, into which they may finally be reabsorbed.

Shankara is here taking the Upanisadic examples of clay and pot and gold and
ornaments to explain that when mithya resolves into satyam there is no physical
resolution - the mithya aspects are ever in name and form only, and thus when a
necklace resolves into its original gold there is no "necklaceness" that ends up
contaminating the substratum gold. Further =

As the magician mayavi is not at any time affected trshvapi kaleshu na
samsprshyate by the magical illusion produced by himself svayam prasaritaya
mayaya, because it is unreal avastutvat, so the highest Self evam Paramatmapi is
not affected by the world-illusion
Samsaramayaya... For that the highest Self Paramatmano appears in those three
states avasthatraya is a mere illusion atmana avabhasanam, not more substantial
than the snake for which the rope is mistaken in the twilight. With reference to
this point teachers knowing the true tradition of the Vedânta have made the
following declaration, 'When the individual soul which is held in the bonds of
slumber by the beginningless Maya awakes, then it knows the eternal, sleepless,
dreamless non-duality' (Gaudap. Ka. I, 16). Thus we have shown that--on our
doctrine--there is no danger of the cause being affected at the time of
reabsorption by the qualities of the effect, such as grossness and the like."

Shankara thus shows that it is only because of the deep slumber induced by
Ishwara's Maya shakti that the One Nondual Atman appears to be a jiva subject to
three states.

Not satisfied the purvapakshin continues - how then again, would the verisame
diversity reemerge - in other words, how do you postulate such diverse streams
of multicolored water will reemerge with the unbroken continuity of color and
form from what has now resumed its amorphous homogeneity.

Answers Shankara:
--With regard to the second objection, viz. that if we assume all distinctions
to pass (at the time of reabsorption) into the state of non-distinction there
would be no special reason for the origin of a new world affected with
distinctions, we likewise refer to the supporting illustration -
drshantabhavadeva. As in deep sleep and samadhi - sushupti samadhyadavapi -
though in these states also there is a natural eradicastion of differences
svabhavikyamavibhagapraptau; nevertheless, owing to the persistence of unreal
ignorance mithyajnanasyaanapoditattvat poorvavatpunah prabodhe vibhago bhavati,
differences re-establish themselves upon waking up, similarly also it can happen
here. Compare the scriptural passage, 'All these creatures when they have become
merged in the True, know not that they are merged in the True. Whatever these
creatures are here, whether a lion, or a wolf, or a boar, or a worm, or a midge,
or a gnat, or a mosquito, that they become again' (Ch. Up. VI, 9, 2; 3)

For just as during the subsistence of the world the phenomenon of multifarious
distinct existence vibhagavyavahara, based on unreal ignorance
mithyajnanapratibaddhau, proceeds unimpeded like the vision of a dream
svapnavadavyahatah, although there is only one Supreme Self devoid of all
distinction avibhagepi Paramatmani; so, we conclude, there remains, even after
reabsorption, a power of diversification vibhagashakti founded on unreal
nescience mithyajnanapratibaddhaiva.--Herewith the objection that--according to
our doctrine--even the finally released souls would be born again is already
disposed of. For in their case unreal nescience stands eradicated
mithyajnanasyapoditatvat by full illumination samyag jnanena.

Thus we find that Shankara once again asserts here that even after Pralaya when
there is a temporary disoolution of differences, the latent potential or Shakti
for these verisame to reemerge is very much latent. It is only when this seed
potential has been extinguished by samyag Jnana that those jivas obtain release,
and there is no possibility of their obtaining any rebirth. It is important to
note here in this context that were such erroneous knowledge to simply be
absence of knowledge with no specific cause, there could be no particular reason
for the reemergence of jivas - or even of Srshti. It is only because of the
existence during the period of the Cosmic dissolution of the Mayashkti - which
here is termed the latent power of diversification.

We will examine a very crucial passage of this section of the sutrabhashya next
which elaborates on cause and affect.

I am continuing my series on the treatment of avidya/maya by the revered
bhashyakara and we are currently examining the brahmasutra bhashya.
The particular sutra we are going to examine is treated exhaustively by Shankara
- a wide array of advaitic tenets are covered. We will scrutinize a portion of
relevance to this series.

BSB 2.1.14
Since the believers in a changeless Brahman have a predilection for Absolute
Unity, the assertion that the Lord is the cause of the world is contraindicated
Ishwarakaranapratignavirodha, since there will be no distinction of a Ruler and
the ruled.

Here the interlocutor talks about an absurdity he perceives - in postulating a
homogenous Absolute, and the obvious divisions of a jagat with numerous jivas,
and a jagatkaranam Ishwara.


No since that Omniscience sarvajnatvam is contingent on the manifestation of
name and form, which are creations of Avidya and which constitute the seeds of
the world - avidyatmaka namaroopabeeja. The fundamental tenet which we maintain
(in accordance with such scriptural passages as, 'From that Self originated
space, Taitt. Up. II, 1) is that the creation, sustenance, and reabsorption of
the world jagatjanisthitipralayah proceed from the Lord who is by nature
eternal, pure, intelligent and free, omniscient, omnipotent Lord
nityashuddhabuddhamukta svarupasarvajnaat sarvashaktishwara, and not from a
non-intelligent achetana pradhna or any other principle. That tenet we have
stated in I, 1, 4, and here we do not
teach anything contrary to it.

But how, the question may be asked, can you make this last assertion while all
the while you maintain the absolute unity atyantatmanam ekatvam adviteeyam cha
and non-duality of the Self?

The purvapakshin, [like many who are opposed to Advaita], still insists that
there is an incongruity here - a postulate of Absolute nonduality on one hand
and a proposition of Brahman and this vastu - Avidya - which is the seed of the
diverse manifold Universe. One plus one makes two - no?

Listen how. Name and form which constitute the seeds of the entire phenomenal
existence,sansaraprapancha beejabhute and which are conjured up by Avidya
avidyanamakalpite are, as it were, nondifferent from the omniscient God
sarvajnaishwaraysa, atmabhute iva - and they are non-determinable either as real
or unreal,anirvacchaneeya, and are mentioned in the Shruti and Smrti as the
power called Maya of omniscient Lord sarvajna-ishwarasya mayashakti, or as
Prakrti. But Omniscient God is different from them, tabhyamanya sarvajnaIshwara
as is known from the Upanishadic text - 'That which is Space is the accomplisher
of all forms and names; that within which these forms and names are contained is
Brahman' (Ch. Up. VIII, 14, 1); 'Let me manifest names and forms' (Ch. Up. VI,
3, 2); 'He, the wise one, who having divided all forms and given all names, sits
speaking (with those names)' (Taitt. Ar. III, 12, 7); 'He who makes the one seed
manifold' (Sve. Up. VI, l2).

Evam avidyakrtanamarupaupadhyanurodhiIshwarobhavati Thus the Lord conforms (as
Lord) to the limiting adjuncts of name and form, the products of Avidya; just as
the universal space Vyomeva ghatakaraopadhyanurodhi conforms (as limited space)
to the limiting adjuncts in the shape of jars, pots, etc. He (the Lord) stands
within the realm of the phenomenal vyavaharavishaye in the relation of a ruler
to the so-called jivAs or cognitional Selfs - vijnanatmanah, which indeed are
one with his own Self svatmabhutaneva--just as the portions of ether enclosed in
jars and the like are one with the universal ether- but are limited by the
assemblage of bodies and senses produced from name and form - namarupakrta
karyakaranasanghatanurodhino - and that are conjured up by Avidya
avidyapratyupasita. Hence the Lord's "Lord"ship, Ishwarasya Ishwaratvam, his
Omniscience, sarvajnatvam his Omnipotence, sarvashaktitvam - are all contingent
on the limiting adjuncts conjured up
by AvidyA avidyatmakopadhiparichhidapekshaeva; while in reality na paramarthato
none of these qualities belong to the Self shining in its own nature, by right
knowledge, vidyaya, after the removal of all limiting adjuncts. Thus Scripture
also says, 'Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing
else, that is the Infinite' (Kh. Up. VII, 24, 1); 'But when the Self only has
become all this, how should he see another?' (Bri. Up. II, 4, 13.)

Thus we see here the revered Bhagavatpada explain in clearcut terms the two
levels of Reality and their respective ontology. It is also striking to note
that while in my previous post the Acharya had made poignant use of
pratibimbavada, in talking about the Sun and its many reflections, in here, He
is making use of avacchedavada in using the analogy of Universal Space and Pot
Space in explaining the two levels of Reality - paramarthika and vyavaharika. As
is seen by the perspective He thus provides, these two represent different
aspects of one and the same understanding. At the paramarthika level there is
but One NonDual Lord. It is only on account of a Shakti, that the vyavaharika
phenomenal is rendered possible. This Maya Shakti is nothing other than avidyA,
the germinal seed, also called Prakrti. This Maya can be neither characterized
as real nor unreal. This Maya non-different from Brahman, in that it is Its
intrinsic Power, but at the same time
Brahman is other than this, as the NonDual Truth - Thus alone do we understand
the true import of both immanence and transcendence.

I will continue to examine more illuminating excerpts in the next.
The series on avidya and maya as seen in the Shankarabhashyas now pauses at one
of the most important sections of the entire sutrabhashya where - in Shankara
very systematically expunds on the doctrine of satkaryavada and in so doing
demolishes those doctrines that stand opposed - using a breathtaking sequence of
logical considerations. While a detailed examination of this section 2.18,19,
etc is beyond the scope of the series it may be helpful to examine a small
section that has implications for our understanding of Brahman/Maya.

But, an objection will be raised, in some places Scripture speaks of the
effect before its production as that which is not; so, for instance, 'In the
beginning there was only Nonexistece' (Ch. Up. III, 19, 1); and 'Non-existent
indeed this was in the beginning' (Taitt. Up. II, 7). Hence Being (sattvam)
cannot be ascribed to the effect before its production.
The purvapakshin has a valid doubt. Let us take a pot. When can we say it
exists? Obviously only after the potter fashions it. Would you pay 10 rupees for
a existent pot that the potter has not yet made? So before the pot is made, all
there is is its prior nonexistence. And not only sound logic, but the
purvapakshin seems to have Shruti on his side too, and he quotes from two Shruti
passages which clearly affirm his position.

Replies Shankara:

This we deny. For by the Non-existence of the effect previous to its production
is not meant absolute Non-existence, but only a different quality or state, viz.
the state of name and form being unevolved, which state is different from the
state of name and form being evolved. With reference to the latter state the
effect is called, previous to its production, non-existent although then also it
existed identical with its cause. We conclude this from the complementary
passage, according to the rule that the sense of a passage whose earlier part is
of doubtful meaning is determined by its complementary part. With reference to
the passage. 'In the beginning this was non-existent only,' we remark that what
is there denoted by the word 'Non-existing' is in the complementary passage,
'That became existent'- referred to by the word 'that,' and qualified as

The word 'was' would, moreover, not apply to the (absolutely) Non-existing,
which cannot be conceived as connected with prior or posterior time. Hence with
reference to the other passage also, 'Non-existing indeed,', the complementary
part, 'That made itself its Self,' shows, by the qualification which it
contains, that absolute Non-existence is not meant.

It follows from all this that the designation of 'Non-existence' applied to the
effect before its production has reference to a different state of being merely.
And as those things which are distinguished by name and form are in ordinary
language called 'existent,' the term 'non-existent' is figuratively applied to
them to denote the state in which they were previously to their differentiation.

Thus the revered bhashyakara here establishes the eternal fact that from abhava
absolute Nonexistence cannot lead to any effect and hence these passages and
this doubt of the opponent has no validity. Things can be in latent form - the
tree in the seed is latent but the entire gigantic tree is very much present in
seed or potential form alone. What is subsequently seen as tree was always
existent, but from the standpoint of the particular features such as being so
huge and having hundreds of branches and millions of leaves etc we can say that
"tree-ness" was non-existent as it were when this tree existed in seed form.
Thus we can look at the tree and say - "in the seed "this" was nonexistent and
from the seed "this" came into being". The objections to this are of course
stemming from a asatkaryavadin but may as well be stemming from anyone
postulating that a effect not totally unreal can indeed originate from a cause
that is completely nonexistent.
Later in the same sutra Shankara further drives home this verisame analogy -

And even in those cases where the continued existence of the cause is not
perceived, as, for instance, in the case of seeds of the fig-tree from which
there spring sprouts and trees, the term 'birth' (when applied to the sprout)
only means that the causal substance, viz. the seed, becomes visible by becoming
a sprout through the continual accretion of similar particles of matter; and the
term 'death' only means that, through the secession of those particles, the
cause again passes beyond the sphere of visibility. Nor can it be said that from
such separation by birth and death as described just now it follows that the
non-existing becomes existing, and the existing non-existing; for if that were
so, it would also
follow that the unborn child in the mother's womb and the new-born babe
stretched out on the bed are altogether different beings....

In the mother's womb is a embryo devoid of all differentiations - a homogenous
mass of protoplam - and here in the crib is a full-grown infant, with arms,
legs, a shrill cry, and a beautific smile. Would it not be absurd to say that
this baby in the beginning was nonexistent in the embryo?

Shankara now turns the table and shows the asatkaryavadin the absurdity of his

Ordinary experience teaches us that those who wish to produce certain effects,
such as curds, or earthen jars, or golden ornaments, employ for their purpose
certain determined causal substances such as milk, clay, and gold; those who
wish to produce sour milk do not employ clay, nor do those who intend to make
jars employ milk and so on. But, according to that doctrine which teaches that
the effect is non-existent (before its actual production), all this should be
possible. For if before their actual origination all effects are equally
non-existent in any causal substance, why then should curds be produced from
milk only and not from clay also, and jars from clay only and not from milk as

If I have to make a gold ring, it would be impossible for me to use clay. If
however one says from absolute nonexistence some entity can be produced then
anything can be produced from anything - afterall a claypot is nonexistent
before it is fashioned at the wheel - so instead of clay, a claypot may as well
arise from milk.

But wait a minute - cautions this opponent - you are stretching things too far.
Of course the pot is nonexistent before it is made. But it is only gold that has
the capacity of being made into a ring. Milk does not have this property of
being made into a ring. So while we do admit that certain things only can
produce certain effects we still very much postulate that the ring prior to its
origin at the hands of a jeweller does not exist.

Purvapakshin: There is indeed an equal non-existence of any effect in any cause,
but that at the same time each causal substance has a certain capacity reaching
beyond itself (atisaya) for some particular effect only and not for other
effects; that, for instance, milk only, and not clay, has a certain capacity for
curds; and clay only, and not milk, an analogous capacity for jars.

Shankara now shows why this is untenable.

What, we ask in return, do you understand by that potency 'atisaya?' If you
understand by it the antecedent condition of the effect (before its actual
origination), you abandon your doctrine that the effect does not exist in the
cause (asatkaryavadahanih), and prove our doctrine according to which it does so
exist(satkaryavadasiddhih). Again, when potency shakti is assumed in the cause
to determine the effect, that potency cannot influence the effect by being
different (from both the cause and effect) or nonexistent, since (either way)
nonexistence and difference will pertain to that potency as much to the
effect.Hence it follows that that power or potency is identical with, is the
very essence of the cause, and that the effect is identical with, is involved in
the very core of that potency.


Shankara asks the opponent to clarify what is meant by this potential - if clay
has this unique potential to create a pot and gold the unique potential to
create a ring....what is this potential? If you say it is the pot-ability of
clay is what i mean then you abandon your own doctrine - becuase what is this
"pot-ability" or "pot-ency" but a seed form of the pot? On the other hand, if
you say it is a separate Power, then this power cannot be "nonexistent" - not
only that if it is existent, it cannot be other than either the cause or the
effect, otherwise how does it have the particular ability for the particularized
effect from the specifi cause? Looking at this in a different way, if the
"pot"-ency in clay be different from both the clay and the pot, or if such
"pot"ency be non-existent, it may produce anything - perhaps a soccer-ball -
rather than a "pot" alone - for these 2 features - of being different from both
cause and effect and being
noneixtstent are equally valid to the pot as to the soccer-ball. He further
reemphasizes this as he summarizes his lengthy commentary on this sutra.

.....And if (in order to preclude this erroneous conclusion) the opponent should
say that the effect is (not something
different from the cause, but) a certain relative potency (atisaya) of the
inherent cause; he thereby would simply concede our doctrine, according to which
the effect exists in the cause already.

Furthermore -
Nonexistence - abhava has no name and form (is completely unreal) - and hence it
is illogical to indicate any limit for it by saying "nonexistence before its
creation"....About the son of a barren woman it is not asserted "The son of a
barren woman became a king before the enthronement of Purnavarman" whereby he
can be allotted to a certain period of time in the sense that he became, is
becoming , or will become a king.


With this background now we can understand the relationship of Brahman and the
Creation. The Creation is in essence Brahman. It is nonseparate from Brahman.
This Creation did not spring from nonexistence, or from a void, nor from any
kind of "absence". The Creation is not totally unreal as its essence is
Existence alone. The potency or Shakti, for the Creation, is none other than
Maya or Avidya, and this Maya in essence is the very core, the power of Brahman
alone. From this seed of Avidya springs forth the manifest Creation - this
variegated Universe - which then resolves back unto the verisame Unmanifest seed
form in a cycle of beginningless eternity.

....(Since Shruti)...shows that the jiva is not different from Brahman.
Yes - this is the Purvapakshin talking! He is arguing that let us consider the
jivA to be identical with Brahman. Why does he adopt this stance? He wants to
then turn the tables on the Vedantin by showing that ....
Therefore the creative power of Brahman belongs to the jiva also, and the
latter, being thus an independent agent, might be expected to produce only what
is beneficial to itself, and not things of a contrary nature, such as birth,
death, old age, disease, and whatever may be the other meshes of the net of
suffering. For we know that no free person will build a prison for himself, and
take up his abode in it. Nor would a being, itself absolutely stainless, look on
this altogether unclean body as forming part of its Self. It would, moreover,
free itself, according to its liking, of the consequences of those of its former
actions which result in pain, and would enjoy the consequences of those actions
only which are rewarded by pleasure. Further, it would remember that it had
created this manifold world; for every person who has produced some clearly
appearing effect
remembers that he has been the cause of it. And as the magician easily retracts,
whenever he likes, the magical illusion which he had emitted, so the jiva also
would be able to reabsorb this world into itself. The fact is, however, that the
jiva cannot reabsorb its own body even. As we therefore see that 'what would be
beneficial is not done,' the hypothesis of the world having proceeded from an
intelligent cause is unacceptable.
This is a common argument against advaita_ if jiva be Brahman then why is he in
sorrow? And that too all the time? Why is there Evil and Death in this world, if
every jivA everything be nothing but The Lord?
Shankara replies:
That omniscient, omnipotent Brahman, whose essence is eternal pure consciousness
and freedom, is different from the embodied Self, and That alone is the creative
principle of the world.

The faults specified above, such as doing what is not beneficial, and the like,
do not attach to That Brahman; for as eternal freedom is its characteristic
nature, there is nothing either beneficial to be done by it or non-beneficial to
be avoided by it. Nor is there any impediment to its knowledge and power; for It
is Omniscient and Omnipotent.

The jivA, on the other hand, IS of a different nature, and to it the mentioned
faults adhere. But then we do not declare it to be the creator of the world, on
account of 'the declaration of difference.' For scriptural passages (such as,
'Verily, the Self is to be seen, to be heard, to be perceived, to be marked,'
Bri. Up. II, 4, 5; 'The Self we must search out, we must try to understand,' Ch.
Up. VIII, 7, 1; 'Then he becomes united with the True,' Ch. Up. VI, 8, 1; 'This
embodied Self mounted by the intelligent Self,' Bri. Up. IV, 3, 35) declare
differences founded on the relations of agent, object, and so on, and thereby
show Brahman to be different from the individual soul.
The opponent can scarcely conceal his glee, as here is Sankara Himself declaring
that the jivA is different than Brahman. Anxious to not miss an opportunity to
dismiss tat tvam asi he Immediately interjects thus -
Are there not other passages declaratory of non-difference (for instance,'That
art thou'), How can difference and non-difference both be possible, being
Sankara very patiently reiterates his position
The possibility of the co-existence of the two is shown by the parallel instance
of the universal ether and the ether limited by a jar.

Moreover, as soon as, in consequence of the declaration of non-difference
contained in such passages as 'that art thou.' the consciousness of
non-difference arises in us, the transmigratory state of the jiva - jivasya
samsaritvam and the creative quality of Brahman - Brahmansasya Srshtrtvam vanish
at once, the whole phenomenon of plurality, which springs from wrong knowledge -
mithyajnanavijrambhitasya , being sublated by perfect knowledge - samyag jnanena
badhitatvat, and what becomes then of the creation - kuta eva Srshti and the
faults of not doing what is beneficial, and the like? For we have explained more
than once that this entire apparent world, in which good and evil actions are
done, is an illusion, owing to the non-discrimination of limiting adjuncts, viz.
the assemblage of the body and senses, and so on, which are a creation of name
and form - namarupa-krta - which are presented by Avidya -
avidyapratyupasthapita. In reality - Paramarthatah - it does not exist. This is
analogous to the mistaken notion - abhimana -we entertain as to the dying, being
born, being hurt, of ourselves. And with regard to the state in which the
appearance of plurality is not yet sublated, it follows from passages
declaratory of such difference (as, for instance, 'He is to be sought for, He is
to be enquired into" Ch 8.7.1) That Brahman is superior to the individual soul;
whereby the possibility of faults adhering to it is excluded.

The difference between the jiva and Brahman is purely based on the upadhis or
limiting adjuncts. The jivas jivatvam, his smallness, etc and Ishwara's
Ishwaratvam His Omniscience etc are all on the basis of only upadhis - in
essence they are as non-different as is Universal Space and Space enclosed in a

The jiva thus is a helpless victim, that is prone to, and is made to suffer
through, the entire samsaric sequence of evils such as birth disease decay death
etc etc. Why? Because of his error - his erroneous notion of separation of
individuality or ahankara. And what is the cause for this jiva - in essence,
pure, unsullied, consciousness, everfree, to harbor such a pitiful notion of
insignificance and bondage - it is nothing but a Power - of AvidyA or Maya. Thus
alone is mAyA the creative principle of this variegated Universe.

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