A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of self-luminosity and ignorance: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifth part in the series called the “the philosophy of vijnana bhikshu”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 5 - Self-Luminosity and Ignorance

Citsukha has defined self-luminosity as that which not being knowable may yet be treated or felt as immediate (avedyatve sati aparokṣa-vyavahāra-yogyatvam). Bhikṣu argues that such a definition of self-luminosity (svaprakaśatva) is quite inadmissible. It is nowhere so defined in the Upaniṣads and it does not follow from the etymology of the word svaprakaśatva. The etymology only indicates the meaning “known by itself.” Again, if a thing is not known or cognized, it cannot for that simple reason have any relation to us; and such a meaning would be directly against the scriptural testimony which affirms that the ultimate truth can be apprehended or intuited. It may be suggested that though the Brahma-state of the mind cannot be directly known yet it will have the effect of removing the avidyā in the puruṣa. But this is open to various objections.

Firstly, the self-luminous is a valid means of knowledge—a pramāṇa ; but the mere removal of the avidyā from the puruṣa cannot be regarded as valid knowledge or a. pramāṇa. In this connection it is also relevant to ask the meaning of the term “avidyā.” If it means an illusory mental state, it must be a state of the buddhi, and its destruction must also belong to the buddhi and not to the puruṣa. If it means the psychical instincts or root-inclinations which are the cause of errors, then also since such root-instincts belong to the guṇas of the prakṛti the destruction of such root-instincts must also qualify the prakṛti. If it is regarded as a tamas —substance which covers the self, the supposition would be inadmissible, for if the tamas inherent in the buddhi is not removed there cannot be any modification of the buddhi copying the object in it, and if the tamas in the buddhi is once so removed then there cannot be any reflection of it in the puruṣa. Thus the view that knowledge leads to the dissolution of the veil of ignorance cannot be supported. The veil is only related to the instruments of knowledge, such as the eye, and cannot therefore be regarded as having anything to do with the pure consciousness. The explanation of the rise of knowledge as being due to the removal of the veil in the pure consciousness cannot therefore be justified.

There cannot be any veil in the self. If the self be of the nature of pure consciousness, there cannot be any veil of ignorance inherent in it as the two suppositions are self-contradictory. Again, if it is supposed that the world-appearance is due to the operation of the principle of ignorance or avidyā in the mind and if it is supposed that true knowledge dispels such ignorance, then we are led to the absolutely unwarrantable conclusion that the world may be destroyed by knowledge, or that when one self attains true knowledge the world-appearance as such ceases, or that when emancipation is attained during the lifetime of a saint he will have no experience of the world around him. If it is held that the emancipated saint has still an element of ignorance in him, then the theory that knowledge destroys ignorance has to be given up. Moreover, if the self be regarded as being absolutely unattached to anything (a-saṅga), it is wrong to suppose that it would be associated with avidyā or ignorance.

The veil can have reference only to the mental states, but it cannot have any relation to pure and unchangeable consciousness; for we have no analogy for such a thing. Again, if it is held that there is natural association of ignorance with pure consciousness, such an association can never be broken off. If such an association be regarded as the consequence of some causal condition, it may well be said that such causality may be found in the mental states themselves. At least this would be a much simpler supposition than the primary assumption of a relationship of avidyā with pure consciousness and then to assume the operation of the mental states to dissolve it. The association of a veil with the mental states has to be admitted at least in the case of deep sleep, swoon or senility. Thus, if the veil has to be associated with the mental states, as the instrument of knowledge, it is quite unnecessary to assume it with reference to the self or pure consciousness.

Patañjali, in his Yoga-sūtra, has defined avidyā as a mental state which apprehends the non-eternal as the eternal, the impure as the pure, the pleasure as sorrow. It is not, therefore, to be regarded as a separate substance inseparably associated with pure consciousness. In the same way it is wrong to define knowledge as the cessation of avidyā, which belongs to the puruṣa in this capacity. The proper way of representing it would be to say that knowledge arises in the puruṣa with the cessation of avidyā in the mental states. With the rise of the final knowledge as “I am Brahman” towards which the whole teleological movement of the prakṛti for the puruṣa was tending, the ultimate purpose of the prakṛti for the sake of the puruṣa is realized, and that being so the teleological bond which was uniting or associating the buddhi with the puruṣa is torn asunder and the mind or the buddhi ceases to have any function to discharge for the sake of the puruṣa.

With the destruction of false knowledge all virtue and vice also cease and thus there is the final emancipation with the destruction of the integrity of the buddhi.

  • Avidyā (false knowledge),
  • asmitā (egoism),
  • rāga (attachment),
  • dveṣa (antipathy),
  • abhiniveśa (self-love)

may all be regarded as avidyā or false knowledge which is their cause, and avidyā may also be regarded as tamas which is its cause.

This tamas obstructs the manifestation of sattva and it is for this reason that there is false knowledge. When the tamas is dominated by the sattva, the sattva manifests through its instrumentality the ultimate self. The words “knowledge” (jñāna) and “ignorance” (ajñāna) are used in the scriptures to denote sattva and tamas. The word tamas is used to denote ajñāna and there is no such ajñāna as indescribable or indefinite entity as is supposed by the Śaṅkarites. In ordinary experiential knowledge this tamas is only temporarily removed, but in the case of the rise of true and ultimate knowledge the power of the guṇas to undergo modification for the sake of the relevant puruṣa is destroyed. Before the sattva can show itself in its own vṛtti or state, it must dominate the tamas w hich would have resisted the sattva state. Thus the ontological opposition of the sattva and the tamas must settle their differences before a psychological state can make its appearance.

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