A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the theory of avidya refuted: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventh part in the series called the “controversy between the dualists and the monists”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Vyāsa-tīrtha says that it cannot be assumed that an entity such as the avidyā must exist as a substratum of illusion, since otherwise illusions would be impossible; for it has been shown before that the definition of avidyā as the material cause of illusion is untenable. Moreover, if it is held that illusions such as the conch-shell-silver are made out of a stuff, then there must also be a producer who works on the stuff to manufacture the illusions. Neither God nor the individual can be regarded as being such a producer; nor can the changeless Brahman be considered to be so. Again, avidyā, being beginningless, ought to be as changeless as Brahman. Moreover, if Brahman be regarded as the material cause of the world, there is no necessity for admitting the existence of avidyā ; for under the Śaṅkarite supposition Brahman, though not changing, may nevertheless well be the basis of the illusions imposed upon it. If that were not so, then avidyā, which needs a support, would require for the purpose some entity other than Brahman. It may be suggested that the supposition of avidyā is necessary for the purpose of explaining the changing substratum of illusion; for Brahman, being absolutely true, cannot be regarded as the material cause of the false illusion, since an effect must have for its cause an entity similar to it. But, if that is so, then Brahman cannot be regarded as the cause of the sky or other physical elements which are unreal in comparison with Brahman. It cannot be urged that, since the individual and the Brahman are identical in essence, without the assumption of avidyā the limited manifestation of bliss in the individual would be inexplicable; for the very supposition that Brahman and the individual are identical is illegitimate, and so there is no difficulty in explaining the unlimited and limited manifestation of bliss, in Brahman and the individual, because they are different.

Madhusūdana in reply to the above says that antaḥkaraṇa (or mind) cannot be regarded as the material cause of illusion; first, because the antaḥkaraṇa is an entity in time, whereas illusions continue in a series and have no beginning in time; secondly, the antaḥkaraṇa is in its processes always associated with real objects of the world, and would, as such, be inoperative in regard to fictitious conch-shell-silver—and, if this is so, then without the supposition of avidyā there would be no substratum as the material cause of avidyā. Brahman also, being unchangeable, cannot be the cause of such illusion. It cannot be suggested that Brahman is the cause of illusion in its status as basis or locus of illusion; for, unless the cause which transforms itself into the effect be admitted, the unchanging cause to which such effects are attributed itself cannot be established[1], since it is only when certain transformations have been effected that they are referred to a certain ground or basis as belonging to it.

Again, if ajñāna be itself invalid, as the Śaṅkarites say, it is impossible that it should be amenable to the different valid means of proof. If it is contended that ajñāna has only an empirical existence (vyāvahārika), then it could not be the stuff of the ordinary illusory experience; for the stuff of the empirical cannot be the cause of the illusory, and there is no evidence that the avidyā is illusory. If it is contended that the valid means of proof serve only for negating the non-existence of avidyā, then the reply is that, since the ajñāna is grasped by the faultless sākṣi-consciousness, it must be admitted to be valid. It is wrong also to suppose that the means of proof negate only the non-existence of ajñāna; for, unless the nature of ajñāna could be known by inference, the negation of its non-existence could also not be known. It must also be noted that, when the valid means of proof reveal the ajñāna, they do so as if it were not an illusory conch-shell-silver known by the sākṣi-consciousness, but a valid object of knowledge, and they also do not reveal the non-existence of ajñāna in the locus of its appearance. Thus the valid means of proof by which ajñāna is supposed to be made known indicate its existence as a valid object of knowledge. The avidyā, therefore, may be regarded as non-eternal (being removable by knowledge), but not false or invalid. The statement of the Śaṅkarites, therefore, that avidyā is invalid by itself and yet is known by valid means of proof, is invalid.

If avidyā is apprehended by the pure faultless consciousness, it should be ultimately true, and it ought to persist after emancipation. It cannot be said that it may not persist after emancipation, since, its esse being its percipi, so long as its perception exists (as it must, being apprehended by the eternal pure consciousness) it also must exist. If it is held that avidyā is known through a vṛtti, then the obvious difficulty is that the two conditions which can generate a vṛtti are that of valid cognitive state (pramāṇa) or defects (doṣa), and in the case of the apprehension of avidyā neither of these can be said to induce the suitable vṛtti. There being thus no possibility of a vṛtti, there would be no apprehension of avidyā through the reflection of consciousness through it. Again, the vṛtti, being itself an avidyā state, would itself require for its comprehension the help of pure consciousness reflected through another vṛtti, and that another, and so on; and, if it is urged that the comprehension of the vṛtti does not stand in need of reflection through another vṛtti, but is directly revealed by sākṣi-consciousness, then such a vṛtti would be experienced even after emancipation. Moreover, it is difficult to conceive how an entity like avidyā, whose esse is percipi, can be regarded as capable of conditioning a vṛtti by the reflection of the consciousness through which it can be known. For there is no esse of the thing before it is perceived, and according to the supposition it cannot be perceived unless it has a previous esse.

The reply of Madhusūdana is that the above objections are invalid, since the ajñāna, being perceived by the sākṣi-conscious-ness, which is always associated with the perceiver, has no such ontological appearance or revelation. In reply to some of the other criticisms Madhusūdana points out that, avidyā being a defect and being itself a condition of its own vṛtti, the objections on these grounds lose much of their force.

Vyāsa-tīrtha says that the Śaṅkarites think that, since everything else but the pure consciousness is an imaginary creation of avidyā, the avidyā can have for its support only Brahman and nothing else. He points out that it is impossible that ignorance, which is entirely opposed to knowledge, should have the latter as its support. It may well be remembered that ignorance is defined as that which is removable by knowledge. It cannot be said that the opposition is between the wWz-knowledge and ajñāna ; for, if that were so, then ajñāna should be defined as that which is opposed to knowledge in a restricted sense, since zr«i-knowledge is knowledge only in a restricted sense (the real knowledge being the light of pure consciousness). If consciousness were not opposed to ignorance, there could not be any illumination of objects. The opposition of ignorance to knowledge is felt, even according to the Śaṅkarites, in the experience “I do not know.” It is also well known that there is no ignorance with regard to pleasure or pain, which are directly perceived by the sākṣi. This is certainly due to the fact that pure consciousness annuls ajñāna, so that whatever is directly revealed by it has no ajñāna in it. It is contended that there are instances where one of the things that are entirely opposed to each other may have the other as its basis. Persons suffering from photophobia may ascribe darkness to sunshine, in which case darkness is seen to be based on sunshine; similarly, though knowledge and ignorance are so much opposed, yet the latter may be supposed to be based on the former. To this the reply is that, following the analogy where a false darkness is ascribed to sunlight, one may be justified in thinking that a false ajñāna different from the ajñāna under discussion may be based on the pure consciousness. Moreover, the experience “I am ignorant” shows that the ignorance (avidyā) is associated with the ego and not with pure consciousness.

It cannot be suggested that, both the ego and the ignorance being at the same time illusorily imposed on the pure consciousness, they appear as associated with each other, which explains the experience “I am ignorant”; for without first proving that the ajñāna exists in the pure consciousness the illusory experience cannot be explained, and without having the illusory experience first the association of ajñāna with pure consciousness cannot be established, and thus there would be a vicious circle. It is also wrong to suppose that the experience “I am ignorant” is illusory. Moreover, the very experience “I am ignorant” contradicts the theory that ajñāna is associated with pure consciousness, and there is no means by which this contradiction can be further contradicted and the theory that ajñāna rests on pure consciousness be supported. The notions of an agent, knower, or enjoyer are always associated with cognitive states and therefore belong to pure consciousness. If these notions were imposed upon the pure consciousness, the ajñāna would belong to it (which, being a false knower, is the same as the individual self or jīva), and, so would belong to jīva; this would be to surrender the old thesis that ajñāna belongs to pure consciousness. It is also not right to say that the ajñāna of the conch-shell belongs to the consciousness limited by it; it is always experienced that knowledge and ignorance both belong to the knower. If it is contended that what exists in the substratum may also show itself when that substratum is qualified in any particular manner, and that therefore the ajñāna in the pure consciousness may also show itself in the self or jīva, which is a qualified appearance of pure consciousness, to this the reply is that, if this contention is admitted, then even the pure consciousness may be supposed to undergo through its association with ajñāna the world-cycles of misery and rebirth.

The supposition that the jīva is a reflection and the impurities are associated with it as a reflected image and not with the Brahman, the reflector, is wrong; for, if the ajñāna is associated with pure consciousness, it is improper to think that its effects should affect the reflected image and not Brahman. Moreover, the analogy of reflection can hold good only with reference to rays of light, and not with reference to consciousness. Again, if the jīvas be regarded as a product of reflection, this will necessarily have a beginning in time. Moreover, the reflection can occur only when that through which anything is reflected has the same kind of existence as the former. A ray of light can be reflected in the surface of water and not in mirage, because water has the same status of existence as the ray of light; but, if Brahman and ajñāna have not the same kind of existence, the former cannot be reflected in the latter. Moreover, ajñāna, which has no transparency, cannot be supposed to reflect Brahman. Again, there is no reason to suppose that the ajñāna should be predisposed to reflect the Brahman, and, if the ajñāna is transformed into the form of ākāśa, etc., it cannot also at the same time behave as a reflector. Moreover, just as apart from the face and its image through reflection there is no other separate face, so there is also no separate pure consciousness, apart from Brahman and the jīva, which could be regarded as the basis of ajñāna. Also it cannot be suggested that pure consciousness as limited by the jīva-iorm is the basis of the ajñāna ; for without the reflection through ajñāna there cannot be any jīva, and without the jīva there cannot be any ajñāna, since on the present supposition the ajñāna has for its support the consciousness limited by jīva, and this involves a vicious circle. Again, on this view, since Brahman is not the basis of ajñāna, though it is of the nature of pure consciousness, it may well be contended that pure consciousness as such is not the basis of ajñāna, and that, just as the jīva, through association with ajñāna, undergoes the cycles of birth, so Brahman also may, with equal reason, be associated with ajñāna, and undergo the painful necessities of such an association.

The analogy of the mirror and the image is also inappropriate on many grounds. The impurities of the mirror are supposed to vitiate the image; but in the present case no impurities are directly known or perceived to exist in the ajñāna, which stands for the mirror; even though they may be there, being of the nature of root-impressions, they are beyond the scope of the senses. Thus, the view that the conditions which are perceived in the mirror are also reflected in the image is invalid.

It cannot be held that, just as in the Nyāya view the soul is associated with pain only through the intermediacy of body, so the pure consciousness may be regarded as associated with ajñāna in association with its limited form sls jīva; for, since pure consciousness is itself associated with the mischievous element, the ajñāna, the attainment of Brahmanhood cannot be regarded as a desirable state.

Madhusūdana in reply says that pure consciousness, in itself not opposed to ajñāna, can destroy ajñāna only when reflected through modification of ajñāna as vṛtti, just as the rays of the sun, which illuminate little bits of paper or cotton, may burn them when reflected through a lens. It is wrong also to suppose that the ignorance has its basis in the ego; for the ego-notion, being itself a product of ajñāna, cannot be its support. It must, therefore, have as its basis the underlying pure consciousness. The experience “I am ignorant” is, therefore, to be explained on the supposition that the notion of ego and ignorance both have their support in the pure consciousness and are illusorily made into a complex. The ego, being itself an object of knowledge and removable by ultimate true knowledge, must be admitted to be illusory. If ajñāna were not ultimately based on pure consciousness, then it could not be removable by the ultimate and final knowledge which has the pure consciousness as its content. It is also wrong to suppose that the ajñāna qualifies the phenomenal knower; for the real knower is the pure consciousness, and to it as such the ajñāna belongs, and it is through it that all kinds of knowledge, illusory or relatively real, belong to it. The criticism that, there being ajñāna, there is the phenomenal knower, and, there being the phenomenal knower, there is ajñāna, is also wrong; for ajñāna does not depend for its existence upon the phenomenal knower. Their mutual association is due not to the fact that avidyā has the knower as its support, but that ignorance and the ego-notion are expressed together in one structure of awareness, and this explains their awareness. The unity of the phenomenal knower and the pure consciousness subsists only in so far as the consciousness underlying the phenomenal knower is one with pure consciousness. It is well known that, though a face may stand before a mirror, the impurities of the mirror affect the reflected mirror and not the face. The reflected image, again, is nothing different from the face itself; so, though the pure consciousness may be reflected through impure ajñāna, impurities affect not the pure consciousness, but the jīva, which, again, is identical in its essence with the consciousness. It must be noted in this connection that there are two ajñānas, one veiling the knower and the other the object, and it is quite possible that in some cases (e.g., in mediate knowledge) the veil of the object may remain undisturbed as also the veil of the subject.

It is wrong to suppose that reflection can only be of visible objects; for invisible objects also may have reflection, as in the case of ākāśa, which, though invisible, has its blueness reflected in it from other sources. Moreover, that Brahman is reflected through ajñāna is to be accepted on the testimony of scripture. It is also wrong to contend that that which is reflected and that in which the reflection takes place have the same kind of existence; for a red image from a red flower, though itself illusory and having therefore a different status of existence from the reflecting surface of the mirror, may nevertheless be further reflected in other things. Moreover, it is wrong to suppose that ajñāna cannot be predisposed to reflect pure consciousness; for ajñāna, on the view that it is infinite, may be supposed to be able to reflect pure consciousness in its entirety; on the view that it is more finite than pure consciousness there is no objection that a thing of smaller dimensions could not reflect an entity of larger dimensions; the sun may be reflected in water on a plate. Moreover, it is not a valid objection that, if ajñāna has transformation into particular forms, it is exhausted, and therefore cannot reflect pure consciousness; for that fraction of ajñāna which takes part in transformation does not take part in reflection, which is due to a different part of ajñāna. Again, the criticism that, in contradistinction to the case of reflection of a neutral face appearing as many images, there is no neutral consciousness, apart from the jīva and Brahman, is ineffective; for the neutral face is so called only because the differences are not taken into account, so that the pure consciousness also may be said to be neutral when looked at apart from the peculiarities of its special manifestation through reflection.

It must be noted that the function of reflection consists in largely attributing the conditions (such as impurities, etc.) of the reflector to the images. This is what is meant by the phrase upādheḥ pratibimba-pakṣapātitvam (i.e., the conditions show themselves in the images). It is for this reason that the impurities of ajñāna may show themselves in the reflected jīvas without affecting the nature of pure consciousness.

Also it cannot be said that māyā is associated with Brahman; for, if this māyā be ajñāna, then the possibility of its association with Brahman has already been refuted. Māyā, being ajñāna, also cannot be regarded as a magical power whereby it is possible to show things which are non-existent (aindrajālikasyeva avidya-māna-pradarśana-śaktiḥ); for, since ajñāna in general has been refuted, a specific appearance of it, as magic, cannot be admitted; also it is never seen that a magician demonstrates his magical feats through ajñāna. If māyā be regarded as a special power of Brahman by which He creates the diverse real objects of the world, then we have no objection to such a view and are quite prepared to accept it. If it is held that māyā is a power of deluding other beings, then, since before its application there are no beings, the existence of māyā is unjustifiable. Again, if such a power should be regarded as having a real existence, then it would break monism. If it be regarded as due to the false imagination of the jīvas, then it cannot be regarded as deluding these. If it be regarded as due to the false imagination of Brahman, then it must be admitted that Brahman has ajñāna, since without ajñāna there cannot be any false imagination.

The view of Vācaspati that avidyā resides in the jīva is also wrong—for, if jīva means pure consciousness, then the old objection holds good; if jīva means pure consciousness as limited by reflection from ajñāna or the ajñāna-product, the buddhi, then this involves a vicious circle; for without first explaining avidyā it is not possible to talk about its limitation. If it is said that avidyā, standing by itself without any basis, produces the jīvas through its reference to pure consciousness, and then, when the jīva is produced, resides in it, then it will be wrong to suppose that avidyā resides in the jīva ; even the production of the jīva will be inexplicable, and the old objection of the vicious circle will still be the same. Nor can it be held that, the jīva and the avidyā being related to each other in a beginningless relation, the criticism of the vicious circle through mutual dependence is unavailing is not correct; for, if they do not depend on each other, they also cannot determine each other. If the ajñāna and the jīva are not found to be related to each other in any of their operations, they also cannot depend upon each other; that which is entirely unrelated to any entity cannot be said to depend on it. It is held that the difference between jīva and Brahman consists in the fact of the former being a product of avidyā, and it is also held that the avidyā has the jīva as its basis, so that without the knowledge of jīva there cannot be avidyā, and without the knowledge of avidyā there cannot be any jīva.

To this Madhusūdana’s reply is that the so-called vicious circle of mutual dependence is quite inapplicable to the case under discussion, since such mutual dependence does not vitiate the production, because such production is in a beginningless series. There is not also a mutual agency of making each other comprehensible; for, though the ajñāna is made comprehensible by pure consciousness, yet the latter is not manifested by the former. There is, further, no mutual dependence in existence; for, though the ajñāna depends upon pure consciousness for its existence, yet the latter does not depend upon the former. Madhusūdana further points out that according to Vācaspati it is the ajñāna of the jīva that creates both the iśvara and the jīva.

The ajñāna is supposed to veil the pure consciousness; but the pure consciousness is again supposed to be always self-luminous, and, if this is so, how can it be veiled? The veil cannot be of the jīva, since the jīva is a product of ajñāna', it cannot be of the material objects, since they are themselves non-luminous, so that no veil is necessary to hide them. The veiling of the pure consciousness cannot be regarded as annihilation of the luminosity of the self-luminous (siddha-prakāśa-lopaḥ); nor can it be regarded as obstruction to the production of what after it had come into existence would have proved itself to be self-luminous; for that whose essence is self-luminous can never cease at any time to be so. Moreover, since the self-luminosity is ever-existent, there cannot be any question regarding production of it which the ajñāna may be supposed to veil. Again, since it is the nature of knowledge to express itself as related to objects, it cannot stand in need of anything else in order to establish its relationing to the objects, and there cannot be any time when the knowledge will exist without relationing itself to the objects. Moreover, on the Śaṅkarite view the pure consciousness, being homogeneous in its self-luminosity, does not stand in need of any relationing to objects which could be obstructed by the veil. Nor can it be said that the veil acts as an obstruction to the character of objects as known (prākatya-pratibandha); even according to the Śaṅkarites the prākaṭya, or the character of objects as known, is nothing but pure consciousness. It cannot be said that such awareness as “this exists,” “it does not shine” cannot be said to appertain to pure consciousness; for even in denying the existence of consciousness we have the manifestation of consciousness. Even erroneous conceptions of the above forms cannot be said to be the veil of ajñāna; for error arises only as a result of the veiling of the locus (e.g., it is only when the nature of the conch-shell is hidden that there can appear an illusory notion of silver) and cannot therefore be identified with the veil itself. Citsukha defines self-luminosity as that which, not being an object of awareness, has a fitness for being regarded as immediate (avedyatve sati aparokṣa-vyavahāra-yogyatvam). The view that the self-luminosity is the fitness for not being immediate or self-shining as an explanation of the veil of ajñāna that exists in it, is wrong, for that is self-contradictory, since by definition it has fitness for being regarded as immediate.

Again, a veil is that which obstructs the manifestation of that which is covered by it; but, if a self-luminous principle can manifest itself through ajñāna, it is improper to call this a veil.

Again, if a veil covers any light, that veil does not obstruct the illumination itself, but prevents the light from reaching objects beyond the veil. Thus a light inside a jug illuminates the inside of the jug, and the cover of the jug only prevents the light from illuminating objects outside the jug. In the case of the supposed obstruction of the illumination of the pure consciousness the same question may arise, and it may well be asked “To whom does the veil obstruct the illumination of the pure consciousness?” It cannot be with reference to diverse jīvas; for the diversity of jīvas is supposed to be a product of the action of the veil, and they are not already existent, so that it may be said that the pure consciousness becomes obstructed from the jīvas by the action of the veil. It is also wrong to suppose that the illumination of the Brahman so far differs from that of ordinary light that it does not manifest itself to itself; for, if that were so, it might equally remain unmanifested even during emancipation and there would be no meaning in introducing ajñāna as the fact of veiling. It is held that even while the sākṣi-consciousness is manifesting itself the ajñāna may still be there, since the sākṣi-consciousness manifests the ajñāna itself. It is further held that in such experiences as “I do not know what you said” the ajñāna, though it may not veil anything, may yet be manifested in pure consciousness, as may be directly intuited by experience. To this the reply is that the conception of the ajñāna aims at explaining the non-manifestation of the unlimited bliss of Brahman, and, if that is so, how can it be admitted that ajñāna may appear without any veiling operation in the manifested consciousness? Though in the case of such an experience as “I do not know what you said” the ajñāna may be an object of knowledge, in the case of manifestation of pleasure and pain there cannot be any experience of the absence of manifestation of these, and so no ajñāna can appear in consciousness with reference to these. Moreover, even when one says “I do not know what you say” there is no appearance of ajñāna in consciousness; the statement merely indicates that the content of the speaker’s words is known only in a general way, excluding its specific details. So far, therefore, there is thus a manifestation of the general outline of the content of the speaker’s words, which might lead, in future, to an understanding of the specific details. Anyway, the above experience does not mean the direct experience of ajñāna. Just as God, though not subject like ourselves to illusions, is yet aware that we commit errors, or just as we, though we do not know all things that are known by God, yet know of the omniscience of God, so without knowing the specific particularities of ajñāna we may know ajñāna in a general manner. If the above view is not accepted, and if it is held that there is a specific cognitive form of ajñāna, then this cognitive form would not be opposed to ajñāna, and this would virtually amount to saying that even the cessation of ajñāna is not opposed to jñāna, which is absurd. Moreover, if ajñāna were an object of knowledge, then the awareness of it would be possible only by the removal of another ajñāna veil covering it.

Again, if it is said that ajñāna exists wheresoever there is a negation of the vṛtti-jñāna, which alone is contradictory to it, then it should exist also in emancipation. But, again, when one says “I do not know,” the opposition felt is not with reference to vṛtti-knowledge specifically, but with reference to knowledge in general. Moreover, if caitanya (pure consciousness) and ajñāna were not opposed to each other, it would be wrong to designate the one as the negation of the other, i.e., as knowledge (jñāna) and ignorance (ajñāna). Moreover, if cognitions are only possible and ignorances can only be removed through the manifestation of the self-shining pure consciousness, it stands to reason that it is the pure consciousness that should be opposed to ajñāna. It is also unreasonable to suppose that the self could have ajñāna associated with it and yet be self-luminous. There ought to be no specific point of difference between the vṛtti and the sākṣi-consciousness in their relation to ajñāna ; for they may both be regarded as opposed to ajñāna. If the sākṣi-consciousness were not opposed to ajñāna, then it could not remove ignorance regarding pleasure, pain, etc. There is no reason to suppose that no ajñāna can be associated with whatever is manifested by sākṣi-consciousness. It is indeed true that there is no ajñāna in the knower, and the knower does not stand in need of the removal of any ignorance regarding itself.

The self is like a lamp ever self-luminous; no darkness can be associated with it. It is for this reason that, though ordinary objects stand in need of light for their illumination, the self, the knower, does not stand in need of any illumination. It is also wrong to suppose that the pure consciousness is opposed to ajñāna only when it is reflected through a vṛtti state, and that in the case of the experience of pleasure the sāfof-consciousness is reflected through a vṛtti of the pleasure-form; for, if this is admitted, then it must also be admitted that the pleasure had a material existence before it was felt, and thus, as in the case of other objects, there may be doubts about pleasure and pain also; and so the accepted view that the perception of pleasure is also its existence must be sacrificed. Thus it has to be admitted that pure consciousness is opposed to ignorance regarding pleasure, pain, etc. There is, therefore, as regards opposition to knowledge no difference between pure consciousness and pure consciousness manifested through a vṛtti. Nor can it be said that pleasure, pain, etc., are perceived by the pure consciousness as reflected through the vṛtti of the antaḥkaraṇa; for the vṛtti of the antaḥkaraṇa can arise only through sense-functioning, and in the intuition of internal pleasure there cannot be any such sense-function. Nor can it be a reflection through the vṛtti of avidyā; for that is possible only in the presence of a defect or defects. If, like things immersed in darkness, like absence of knowledge, ajñāna be utter unmanifestation, then it cannot be manifested by the sākṣi-consciousness. Again, if it is held that vṛtti is opposed to ajñāna, then, since there exists the ego -vṛtti forming the jīva and the object-formed vṛtti representing the knowledge of the material objects, it might well be expected that these vṛttis would oppose the existence of ajñāna and that there would be immediate emancipation.

To this Madhusūdana’s reply is that the ajñāna is called a veil in the sense that it has a fitness (yogyatā) by virtue of which it is capable of making things appear as non-existent or unmanifested, though it may not always exert its capacity, with the result that in dreamless sleep the operation of the veil exists, while in emancipation it is suspended. Generally speaking, the veil continues until the attainment of Brahma-knowledge. It may be objected that the concept of a veil, being different from that of pure consciousness, is itself a product of false imagination (kalpita), and therefore involves a vicious circle; to this the reply would be that avidyā is beginningless, and hence, even if a false imagination at any particular stage be the result of a preceding stage and that of a still further preceding stage, there cannot be any difficulty. Moreover, the manifestation of the āvaraṇa does not depend on the completion of the infinite series, but is directly produced by pure consciousness. It must be remembered that, though the pure consciousness in its fulness is without any veil (as during emancipation), yet on other occasions it may through the operation of the veil have a limited manifestation. Against the objection of Vyāsa-tīrtha that pure consciousness, being homogeneous, is incapable of having any association with a veil, Madhusūdana ends by reiterating the assertion that veiling is possible—for which, however, no new reason is given.

To the objection that the veil, like the jug, cannot avert the illumination of the lamp inside, and can obstruct only with reference to the things outside the jug, but that in the case of the obstruction of pure consciousness no such external entity is perceivable, Madhusūdana’s reply is that the obstruction of the pure consciousness is with reference to the jīva. The veiling and the jīva being both related to each other in a beginningless series, the question regarding their priority is illegitimate. Madhusūdana points out that, just as in the experience “I do not know what you say” the ignorance is associated with knowledge, so also, in the manifestation of pleasure, pleasure is manifested in a limited aspect with reference to a particular object, and such limitation may be considered to be due to the association with ajñāna which restricted its manifestation. Madhusūdana contends that in such experiences as “I do not know what you say” the explanation that there is a general knowledge of the intention of the speaker, but that the specific knowledge of the details has not yet developed, is wrong; for the experience of ajñāna may here be regarded from one point of view as having reference to particular details. If the specific details are not known, there cannot be any ignorance with reference to them. But, just as, even when there is the knowledge of a thing in a general manner, there may be doubt regarding its specific nature, so there may be knowledge in a general manner and ignorance regarding the details. It may also be said that ignorance is directly known in a general manner without reference to its specific details. Vyāsa-tīrtha had contended that the knowledge of ignorance could only be when the particulars could not be known; thus God has no illusion, but has a knowledge of illusion in general. Against this Madhusūdana contends that in all the examples that could be cited by the opponents ignorance in a general manner can subsist along with a knowledge of the constituent particulars. Again, it is argued that, since ajñāna is an object of knowledge, it would be necessary that the veil of ajñāna should be removed; this is self-contradictory. To this Madhusūdana’s reply is that, just as in the case of the knowledge of specific space-relations the presence of an object is necessary, but yet but for the knowledge of its negation presence of the object would be impossible, so also in the case of the knowledge of ajñāna the removal of a further veil is unnecessary, as this would be self-contradictory.

It may be urged that ajñāna is known only when the object with reference to which the ignorance exists is not known; later on, when such an object is known, the knower remembers that he had ignorance regarding the object; and the difference between such an ajñāna and negation of jñāna (jñānābhāva) lies in the fact that negation cannot be known without involving a relationing to its defining reference, whereas ajñāna does not stand in need of any such defining reference. To this supposed explanation of ajñāna by Vyāsa-tīrtha Madhusūdana’s reply is that the Śaṅkarites virtually admit the difference between ajñāna and abhāva, against which they have been contending so long. Moreover, when one says “I do not know what you say,” the ajñāna with reference to the speech of the speaker is directly known at the present time, and this would be inexplicable if the cognition of ajñāna did not involve a cognition of the defining reference. So, since ajñāna is cognized along with its object, there is no discrepancy in the object being manifested in its aspect as under the grasp of ajñāna as intuited by the sākṣi-consciousness. Madhusūdana urges that the pure consciousness can remove ajñāna only by being reflected through the pramāṇa-vṛtti and not through its character as self-luminous or through the fact of its being of a class naturally opposed to ajñāna[2]. The difference between the vṛtti and the sākṣi-consciousness in relation to ajñāna consists in the fact that the former is opposed to ajñāna, while the latter has no touch of ajñāna. The latter, i.e., the sākṣi-consciousness, directly manifests pleasures, pains, etc., not by removing any ajñāna that was veiling them, but spontaneously, because the veil of ajñāna was not operating on the objects that were being directly manifested by it[3].

Footnotes and references:


na ca vivartādhiṣṭḥānatvena śukty-āder ivopādānatvam avidyām antareṇā-tāttvikānyathā-bhāva-lakṣaṇasya vivartasysaṃbhavāt.
p. 573.


pramāṇa-vṛtty-upārūḍha-prakāśatvena nivartakatvaṃ brūmaḥ, na tu jāti-viśeṣeṇa, prakāśatva-mātreṇa vā.
p. 590.


sākṣiṇi yad ajñāna-virodhitvam anubhūyate tan nājñāna-nivartakatva-nibandhanaṃ, kintu sva-viṣayecchādau yāvatsattvam prakāśād ajñānāprasakti-nibandhanam.
p. 590.

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