Devadatta Kīrtideva Aśvamitra

3 – The adhyāropāpavāda implementation on knowledge and ignorance

Vidyāvidyā Vicāra

The present chapter is essentially based on the teachings of Svāmī Satcidānandendra Sarasvatī Mahārājajī and their explanations by Śrī Śrī Prakaśānandendra Sarasvatī Svāmījī. It will be useful for the reader to keep in his mind the article “The adhyāropāpavāda method of Advaita Vedānta by Svāmī Satcidānandendra Mahārājajī, already published in this Site, from which our discussion begins.
The secret underlying the method adhyāropāpavāda has been expressly disclosed in this way by Gauḍapādācārya himself on the authority of the tradition and of his own intuition:

Since, when the incomprehensibility [of Brahman] is understood as a fact, all that was expounded earlier [in order of explaining the nature of Brahman] is negated by the text: “This Self which has been described as neti neti”. Therefore the birthless Self becomes self-revealed. (Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, Gauḍapāda Kārikā -MUGK-, III. 26)

Since the self-established Ātman is not objectifiable, it is impossible to know it directly. So at first the śruti employs a number of superimpositions1, secondly negates the device employed in the superimposition and thereby only suggests that Ātman is ungraspable.
It will be seen that superimposition (adhyāsa) of the non-self upon the Self is of two different varieties; one due to innate avidyā of the ordinary man, and the second a deliberate device employed by the Śāstras. Of these two, the ordinary human procedure due to avidyā is the source of all misery in life, while deliberate superimposition employed by the Śāstras for the purpose of teaching is purely a conventional device aiming at enlightening the intellect of the jijñāsuŚrī Gauḍapāda declare:

Everything is born from the saṃvṛti2 point of view and so there is nothing eternal. As a matter of fact, however, everything is unborn (aja) and so there is no destruction whatever. (MUGK IV.57)

Saṃvṛti means concealing, superimposed, overlapping, that is the common sense-view of ordinary men under the influence of avidyā. The meaning of the śloka is this: from the empirical standpoint all this is certainly born; so in the domain of avidyā there is nothing which can be considered to be eternal. But from the point of view of things as they are, that is viewed from the Reality standpoint, everything is the only one Principle, the unborn Self, thus there is nothing destructible (avināśi).

He who exists from the point of view of the imagined opinion (kalpita saṃvṛti) does not exist from the Reality point of view. He is only a theoretical hypothesis (paratantrābhi saṃvṛti) of other schools, but not as a matter of fact. (MUGK IV.73)

Here kalpita saṃvṛti (lit. imaginary overlap) only means the procedure adopted by the Śāstra or by the guru as a means for teaching the pramāṇas used to know the truth: as for instance, in passages such as the following: He is unborn (aja) both within and without (Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad -MuU-, II.1.2), where “interior” and “exterior” are only assumed to be applicable to what in reality is devoid of any “within” or “without”. This superimposition (paratantrābhi saṃvṛti) applied only to a certain extent, is used as a tool for argumentation in the demonstrations made by the sāṃkhyas, vaiśeṣikas and others who postulate the distinction between pramāṇa and prameyaSatkāryavāda, the theory of the pre-existence of the effect in the cause and the paramāṇukāraṇavāda, the theory of the atoms as the cause of Universe, are only to be taken as allowed tools for the sole purpose of teaching the truth.
It will thus be seen that while worldly and the Vedic karma khaṇḍa procedure are both in the sphere of avidyā only, the superimposition incorporated in the vedāntic method known as adhyāropāpavāda by no means invalidates the authority of the Śāstra. For example, whoever believes that the Upaniṣads teach that Brahman is knowable through its attributes is just a literalist ajñāni. The Upaniṣads teach that Brahman is qualified by attributes only for adhyāropa, being apavāda their true goal. Indeed it has to be remembered that this superimposition is only an initial concession for those who aspire to be jñāni (jijñāsu), as Śrī Gauḍapāda has clearly shown, and Śaṃkara is only following in the footsteps of his guru.
The implementations of the method adhyāropāpavāda are innumerable, and now in the present pages and next chapters we are going to consider some of them as samples only.
Although Brahman is devoid of all specific features and although it is ever attained because of its all-pervading nature and because of its being the very Self of every one, some “attainability” is imputed to it in certain śrutis, such as:

The knower of Brahman attains the Highest. (Taittirīya Upaniṣad -TU-, II.1)

This is only to negate that it is attainable by some means other than knowledge. It also implies that Brahman should not be regarded as something to be reached after travelling towards it, as in the case with regard to non-Supreme Brahman (or rather Hiraṇyagarbha) whose attainability is taught in śrutis like:

He attains Svārājyam [Hiraṇyagarbha’s kingdom, the Brahma loka]. (TU I. 6)

Sometimes knowability is attributed to Brahman by superimposition, as for instance in the following śrutis :

It is to be known, for it is always in the form of one’s own Ātman. (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad -ŚU-, I. 12);

Nārāyaṇa, the great knowable. (TU, Nārāyaṇa vallī, XIII.29);

[The teaching] by which even that which is not heard becomes heard, that which is not thought over becomes thought over, and that which is not understood becomes understood. (Chāṅdogya Upaniṣad -ChU-, VI.1.3)

And this superimposition is to reveal that ignorance is utterly destroyed by knowledge and that there remains nothing else to be known henceforth. And in certain cases knowership is superimposed to negate knowability, as for instance in the śruti:

By what means, my dear, can the knower be known? (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad -BU-, II.4.12)

And by certain s again the nature of being the Witness (Sākṣin) is imputed to to deny even knowership to as in the text:

He is the Witness, conscious and devoid of all attributes. (ŚU VI.11)

And by some other texts the very essential nature of Ātman is pointed out like he is neti neti (BU II.3.6) in order to negate all specific attributes including the nature of being a Witness. Similarly knowability by vedāntic texts only is superimposed sometimes to teach that Ātman is not knowable by perception and other empirical means, as may be seen from texts like:

Those who have quite correctly ascertained the truth by means of intuition arising from Vedāntas [viz. Upaniṣads]. (MuU III.2.6)

Ascertainability by the mind is sometimes taught to indicate that it is not known through sensuous knowledge, as is done in texts like:

By mind alone is this [Brahman] to be seen, there is no multiplicity whatever here. (BU IV. 4.19)

And in other instances it is taught that Brahman is beyond both the mind and speech in order to reveal that Ātman is known exclusively through intuition distinct from both. As for instance, in the case of texts like this:

From which words fall back, along with the mind failing to reach it, one who has intuited that bliss of Brahman is not afraid of anything. (TU II.9)

Similarly, the discriminating (vivekin) sādhakas may interpret for themselves other instances of deliberate superimposition.
Nor is it a rule that each superimposition aims at removing only one particular thought-construction. To illustrate by an example: superimposition of knowability of Ātman not merely wards off the supposition that some other thing deserves to be known, but also suggests that one becomes omniscient by the knowledge of Brahman and that all his ignorance of Ātman alone is responsible for the appearance of all duality, and that subsequent of the dawn of Self-knowledge there would no longer continue the distinction of knower, means of knowledge and the object of knowledge; and so on. It will thus be seen that the one superimposition of knowability on Brahman implies the dispersal of all constructs of imagination such as (1) the supposition of the actual existence of something other than Ātman, (2) the presumption that assumption of duality is the only imagination-construct to be removed by its knowledge, (3) the imagination that ignorance might recur at some future time, even after the knowledge of Brahman, (4) the supposition that actual existence of duality is responsible for its appearance, (5) the unfounded lease of continuance for knowership even after the knowledge of Ātman has dawned, and so on.

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Now, as a first example, we will examine the method of adhyāropāpavāda applied to the distinction between knowledge and ignorance. The following texts declare that by knowledge of Brahman alone one can attain the highest goal of human life, the state of Brahman:

The knower of Brahman attains the Highest. (TU II.1);

Whoever comes to know that Supreme Brahman, becomes that very Brahman. (MuU III.2.9);

Indeed this one is the all-pervading, unborn Ātman, undecaying, deathless, immortal, fearless Brahman. Brahman as is well known is fearless. Whosoever knows thus becomes indeed that very fearless3 Brahman. (BU IV.4.25)

Hence we conclude that Liberation (mokṣa or mukti) is intercepded by the ignorance (avidyā) alone. Therefore the method of distinguishing vidyā and avidyā, that is to say right and mistaken knowledge, has got to be considered first and foremost. The following extracts from the Śaṃkara’s commentaries may well be pondered over in this connection:

In the same way as in the case of a piece of nacre appearing like silver, not grasping it consists only in the interception of wrong knowledge, so also grasping it means right knowledge only; for knowledge aims at removing the interception of wrong knowledge only.
So also, in the present case, not attaining Ātman means only the interception of avidyā.
So attainment means only its removal, and never can there be any other way of attaining it. (BU Śaṃkara Bhāṣya -BUŚBh-, I.4.7);

For Brahman alone is the state of Freedom. (Brahma Sūtra Śaṃkara Bhāṣya -BSŚBh-, III.4.52)

Here we are told that the identity with Brahman, which is ever-existing, seems to be unattained due to avidyā while it appears to be attainable through vidyā.
It is evident that the subject and the object, opposite by nature and corresponding respectively to the ides of “I” and “you”, can never be mutually interchangeable into the nature of one another4. Therefore it is but proper to disclaim any superimposition of the object corresponding to the “you” and its properties5 upon the subject corresponding to the aham and its mamakas, in as much as the subject is of the nature of consciousness. Neither, conversely, there can be any superimposition of the subject and its properties on the object. Nevertheless, it is natural to confuse the real and the unreal due to the wrong knowledge resulting from the lack of discrimination of what the two absolutely distinct properties are and to whom they belong to. Ordinary people are superimposing subject and object and their related properties without any distinction, thinking that “I am so and so”, and that “This is mine”. Now the wise consider this thus defined superimposition to be avidyā, and the ascertainment of the essential nature of subject-object after discrimination they call vidyā. In this way it is disclosed the nature of avidyā which screens our real nature as Brahman. Mutual superimposition of the Self and the non-self and the mistaken exchange of their properties due to non-discrimination is avidyā. Therefore, in this way it is also declared that the ascertainment of the true nature of Reality by means of discrimination is vidyā. Thus by means of deliberate superimposition of vidyā and avidyā, the reality of bondage and the adventitiousness of release have been denied. Here we mention few excerpts from the Śaṃkara commentaries suggesting that knowledge, no less than ignorance, is a deliberate superimposition and not the inherent nature of Ātman:

In the same way as Ātman is presumed to be the knower (vidvān6) of the objects like sound etc., which are conveyed by intellect etc., because of avidyā, or mental modifications7 of the nature of non-discriminating knowledge, Ātman himself who is really changeless is called the vidvān because of the mind modification, which is unreal likewise, viz., knowledge discriminating the Self and the non-self. (Bhagavad Gītā Śaṃkara Bhāṣya –BhGŚBh-, II.21)

Both viveka and aviveka are directly intuited to inhere in the antaḥkāraṇa8. It is common knowledge that colour which is perceived is no property of the perceiver [but of the perceived object]. And avidyā is objectified by one’s own intuition as when one thinks “I am ignorant”, “My knowledge is not distinct”. The discrimination due to vidyā is likewise intuited. Wise ones impart their knowledge to others and these others grasp it. Vidyā and avidyā, therefore, have to be classed with name and form alone; and name and form are admittedly no propreties of Ātman9(TU Śaṃkara Bhāṣya –TUŚBh-, II.8)

Objection: But will be there some difference in the Self due to its being or not being the cause of ignorance, as in the case of a man affected or not affected with the eye-disease called cataract!

Reply: No, because the śruti denies that Ātman by itself is the cause of ignorance, as in the passage: “it thinks, as it were and moves, as it were 10”» (BUŚBh IV.4.6)

It is stated here that vidyā and avidyā both belong to the not-self since they can be objectified, and that the fact of Ātman appearing to possess them as properties is only a false appearance. It will thus be seen that the vidyā and avidyā viveka is employed only by superimposition of knowership on Ātman in accordance with others’ views, but in reality Ātman is not even a knower. This is in consonance with the upaniṣadic statement above mentioned:

He who exists from the point of view of the imagined opinion (kalpita saṃvṛti) does not exist from the Reality point of view. He is only a theoretical hypothesis (paratantrābhi saṃvṛti) of other schools, but not as a matter of fact. (MUGK IV.73)

A particular aspect of vidyāvidyā vicara is represented by śāstra prāmāṇya viveka, the discrimination based on the authority of the scriptures. When it is maintained that Ātman is known only through the Upaniṣads, on the strength of texts like:

I ask thee of the Puruṣa known in the Upaniṣad. (BU III.9.26);

That goal of which all the Vedas sing. (Kaṭha Upaniṣad –KU-, I.2.15)

It is only for the purpose of intimating that he is not knowable by perception and other empirical means of knowledge and not to convey the idea that he is actually known through the upaniṣadic texts (śābda pramāṇa)11. So Śaṃkara says:

The intuition of Brahman is indeed achieved through the ascertainment of the import of Vedic texts and not by other empirical means of knowledge like inference. (BSŚBh I.1.2);

For this Principle is no object of perception because it has no colour and other properties. Nor it is the object of inference and other means for it has no indicatory mark [necessary for those means to function] etc.
This Principle can be known through the agama alone like Dharma. (BSŚBh II.1.6)

It is for the purpose of teaching that Brahman is known only through the Veda that the revered Bādarāyaṇa has written the aphorism “Because it has the Śāstra for its means”. Śaṃkara has explained it thus:

The meaning is that Brahman, the cause of the Universe manifestation, is knowable through the Śāstra pramāṇa. (BSŚBh I.1.3)

But because of this, one should not delude oneself into the belief that the distinction of means and object of knowledge (pramāṇa and prameya) sanctioned by common usage is really real, and that Śāstra is also a means of knowledge just like perception etc. enabling one to know Brahman which is not known through other means12. Beacause the śruti says:

That which is not expressible by speech, but by which speech itself is expressed, that alone is Brahman. (Kena Upaniṣad –KeU-, I.5)​

And there is a further reason for this warning, because all pramāṇas and Śāstras function under the presupposition of avidyā for their basis. This is stated by Śaṃkara:

As for Śāstras, it is the final (antya) pramāṇa; it derives its validity only pointing out and removing what is not the property of Ātman, but not by directly making known what is not known through other means. (BhGŚBh II.18)

The antya pramāṇa removes the knowership itself and while so removing it loses its own validity, just as the means of knowlwdge in a dream, is invalidated on waking. (BhGŚBh II.69)

The idea is that śruti also is spoken of as a means of knowledge only in a secondary sense, from the stand-point of avidyā, since all talk of pramāṇas depends on the presupposition of a knower, who is himself really a product of avidyā.

All usage of the means and objects of knowledge, whether worldly or vedic ones, proceeds on the presupposition of the mutual superimposition of the Self and not-self known by the name of avidyā; so also do the Śāstras seem to lay down injunctions or to prohibit certain acts to teach the Liberation. (BSŚBh, Upodghāta)

The word “all” being a general term, the talk of one who desires to be released is also to be understood as the outcome of avidyā. Since there are texts mentioning people who teach the Liberation (mokṣa parāṇi), these people along with the Śāstras arguing about Ātman are to be considered within the ambit of the usage of pramāṇas based on avidyā. Thus it is evident that for the Vedāntins the convention of the means and objects of knowledge as also that of Śāstra etc. is only a device subsumed under the comprehensive method of adhyāropāpavāda contrived for the purpose of teaching.
With this it is also demonstrated that:

There can be no talks of the science of Vedānta, or relation of a master and the pupil aspiring for a course of instruction in that Science without the concept of Avidyā as a prius. (Svāmī Satcidānandendra Sarasvatī, Śaṅkara’s Clarification of certain Vedāntic Concepts, Holenasipur, Adhyātma Prakāsha Kāryālaya, 1996, p. 89)

  1. The superimposition (adhyāsa) consists in attributing some qualities (guṇas) to the unqualified (nirguṇa) Principle, in order to limit it, thus making it definable (padārtha) and imaginable (vikalpita).
  2. Here saṃvṛti replaces the term vyavahāra.
  3.  “«What should I fear, if there is nothing else but me?» Then the fear disappeared. In fact, what could he be afraid of? One may feel fear only in the presence of a second entity.” (BU I. 4. 2)
  4. When the subject, instead of paying attention to the multiple objects that make up the world, contemplates the world as a single object, it accomplishes what the Vedānta calls dṛg dṛśya viveka, discrimination between contemplator and contemplated.
  5. Tvadīya, “your” things, belonging to “you” (tva), as mamaka are “my” things, belonging to the “I” (aham).
  6. In the Bhagavad Gītā the term vidvān (wise) is often used to define jñātṛ, the one who performs the cognitive inquiry at the individual level.
  7. With mental modifications (mānasa vṛttiVedānta means the ideas or thoughts produced by the mind for its own modification.
  8. The internal organ, viz. the mind as a whole.
  9. “The akṣara and avyakta Māyā is a kind of power that has the same origin of name and form.” (BSŚBh I.2.22)
  10. That is to say: “he thinks and moves only in appearance”.
  11. See the discussion on antya pramāṇa in this Website: Maitreyī, Conoscenza vedāntica e conoscenze empiriche.
  12. This is the mistake of those who have a devotional attitude towards sacred texts. In this case they falsely suppose that the text contains the knowledge of the Supreme (that is to say the Supreme itself) and therefore they consider the book to be “eternal”.