SrI: SrImathE SatakOpAya nama: SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama: SrImadh varavaramunayE nama:
The comprehension of the import of Vedas
Criticism of Advaita
The objector speaks: Avidyā is proposed by us for two reasons: (i) the Vedas have mentioned it and (ii) the teaching that the individual soul is identical to Brahman requires it. That is why avidyā is explained as defect which veils the essential form of the Brahman.
Response: The universe is ultimately unreal and depends on avidyā to explain its illusion. Since Avidyā is also ultimately unreal (on the absolute level), it should in turn depend on another defect that explains its illusion. Then, we would have to accept that the Brahman itself is the explanation and reason for illusion.
The argument that avidyā is beginning-less is not of much use to solve the above problem. The idea that avidyā is beginning-less also exists only in the perception (illusion) of the Brahman. Since no other real reason is accepted in your philosophy to explain avidyā, the Brahman must be taken to be the reason for illusion. If Brahman is the reason for illusion, since the Brahman is eternal, the illusion would be eternal and liberation becomes impossible.
From the above discussion, the view that there is only one jīva (soul) also stands refuted. This incorrect view holds that there is only one body which has a soul and all other bodies are soul-less. This condition is similar to the case of a dream where only the dreamer is the soul and all other people in the dream are soul-less. Therefore, except for one, all other souls are unreal.
Further in your theory, you hold that the Brahman creates the sense of individual soul (jīva) and bodies, which are contrary to the Brahman’s true form. Even if there is only one body with a soul, since the soul itself is ultimately unreal, it follows that all bodies are unreal. Saying that only one body has a soul makes absolutely no difference.
However, in our view, we do not deny the reality of body and soul of the dreamer since they are not denied in the waking state. We only deny the reality of bodies and souls of others in the dreaming state which are sublated in the waking state. This is the difference between us.
Also, how is the end of avidyā achieved? What is the nature of its end?
(Opponent’s answer) The knowledge of identity achieves the end of avidyā. The nature of its ending is a state that is completely the opposite of avidyā which escapes definition (it is anirvacanīya).
(Response) If avidyā is beyond definition, what is the complete opposite of it, must be well defined. This must either be real, unreal or both real and unreal. There is no other option. The end of avidyā cannot be other than the Brahman itself, since cognizing anything other than the Brahman is an effect of avidyā. But, if it is the Brahman, since the Brahman always exists, the end of avidyā also should exist always. Then, avidyā is destroyed always and without anticipating the knowledge of Vedānta. Thus, your view that the knowledge of unity ends avidyā, while the absence of this knowledge causes bondage, stands refuted.
There is another problem too. If you say that the knowledge of identity of soul and Brahman ends avidyā, this knowledge too is an effect/form of avidyā. How can a form of avidyā destroy itself has to be explained by you. You may say, ‘Like how fire burns wood and then dies itself, so too the knowledge of identity, which is a form of avidyā, destroys all differences and being momentary dies itself.’ Or you may say, ‘This is like poison itself being a cure for poison.’ But these are not correct.
Since the knowledge that ends avidyā is taken to be other than the Brahman, it must be unreal in its true form, and its origin and cessation. Then, avidyā must exist in some form in order to support the cessation of this knowledge. How does the avidyā which supports the cessation of knowledge disappear?
After all, in the case of fire, poison etc. the entities only change state and exist in a state which does not contradict its previous state (they do not utterly disappear).
Who is the knower of the knowledge which eliminates the perception of everything other than the Brahman? It cannot be ahaṃkāra which is the product of superimposition of illusion on the Brahman. This is because it is the object of avidyā-eliminating-knowledge, and cannot be its subject. If it is said that the Brahman itself is the knower, is the knowership part of the essential form of the Brahman or is it superimposed? If it is superimposed, then superimposition is the object of avidyā-eliminating-knowledge and cannot be its subject. If there is something else required for the elimination of this superimposition, it must be too of the form of knowledge and must involve the three factors: knowledge, knower and known. This leads to infinite regress. Since all knowledge is the apprehension of an object by a subject, knowledge bereft of these three factors cannot be knowledge itself. Any knowledge that does not involve the three factors cannot remove avidyā in the same way that the (attributeless contentless) knowledge that is the real form of the Brahman is insufficient to eliminate avidyā.
To avoid these contradictions, if you admit that the Brahman is really the knower, not by superimposition of illusion, then you are effectively admitting our view.
The argument that the avidyā-eliminating-knowledge and the knowership of the knowledge are also part of what is eliminated is laughable.
This is like saying that the meaning of ‘Devadatta destroyed everything other than the floor’ is: Devadatta destroyed everything which includes the process of destroying, the action of destroying, and the fact that he was a destroyer.
Some explanations are necessary to enable correct understanding of the above arguments.
The fundamental defense of Advaita in justifying avidyā is to appeal to the fact that avidyā finds mention in the Vedas and it is the only way to explain illusion which is the knowledge of difference. This illusion is removed by the knowledge of identity of the soul and Brahman.
The author analyzes the synthesis of the idea of avidyā in the system of Advaita to show that it is conceived poorly.
- Brahman is the root of avidyā and no liberation is possible
The entire illusion is sustained by avidyā. On what is avidyā sustained? It has to be sustained since it is ultimately unreal. If it is self-sustaining, then avidyā can never be eliminated since it will always manage to sustain itself. It will end up becoming ultimately real.
If it is sustained by another, there is nothing other than the Brahman which can sustain it. If it is sustained by the Brahman, on account of the Brahman’s nature being eternal, again, it will always remain sustained.
Claiming that avidyā is beginningless does not answer the question. It is beginningless only as a phenomenal illusion, not as the ultimate reality. One cannot say that the beginningless-ness of avidyā is ultimately real. Avidyā, whatever its nature, needs to be sustained on account of its being ultimately unreal. The only real which can explain its existence is the Brahman.
In Viśiṣṭādvaita, the Brahman is the support of both universe and souls. Everything other than the Brahman is controlled and lorded by the Brahman. patiṃ viśvasya ātmeśvaram. The universe is not unreal. Its reality depends on the Brahman. The souls are also real and liberation applies to the souls who align themselves in harmony with the Brahman. The presence or absence of harmony of the soul with Brahman explains the states of bondage and liberation.
However, the Advaitin in trying to establish the reality of the Brahman to overcome the blatant failings of Buddhism falls into the same error. He is unable to explain what sustains avidyā and leaves it dangling. Since it is unreal, it cannot be left dangling and must be tied to something real. The illusion of snake is fixed to the reality of the rope. The illusion of mirage is attached to the reality of earth. Then the sustained of avidyā must be the Brahman.
Since the Brahman of Advaita is without any attribute or content and is mere knowledge, there is no dimension of the Brahman that can arbitrate the illusion; the Brahman is inert. Since the Brahman is eternal, the illusion sustained by the inert Brahman is also eternal. So, liberation from avidyā is impossible.
- The knowledge of identity is left unexplained as well
Advaita leaves not only avidyā unexplained but also the knowledge which removes it. Since the knowledge which removes avidyā is of definite form and taught by teacher to student, it cannot be the Brahman which is content-less, attribute-less knowledge.
If the knowledge that removes avidyā is other than the Brahman, then it is also part of avidyā which it is supposed to have destroyed. This is because, in Advaita, anything other than the Brahman is an effect of avidyā. If it is identical to the Brahman, then since the Brahman always exists, this avidyā-eliminating-knowledge also always exists. This ensures that avidyā never arises at all.
The Advaitin obviously cannot identify this knowledge with the Brahman but must only consider it as a part of avidyā. If that is the case, then what destroys the avidyā-eliminating-knowledge?
Some common answers which Advaitins, old and new, repeat without examination is that the avidyā-eliminating-knowledge destroys itself in the same way that a fire burns up wood and then vanishes itself or in the way that poison neutralizes poison.
But, these examples when examined reveal that burning or neutralizing do not result in utter annihilation but only the transformation of entities from one state to another – ash, non-poisonous substance, etc. Hence, they are not within the application of the Advaitin’s notion of complete annihilation. Besides, the fire which burns the wood is other than the wood. The knowledge which burns avidyā must be other than avidyā which is not acceptable to the Advaitin. Likewise, poison neutralizing poison must be understood carefully. If it were as simple as poison vs poison, then the person must simply consume twice the quantity of poison for it to be neutralized. Instead, poison taken initially assumes a particular nature in the body which is neutralized by a different dose of poison. The neutralizer and the neutralized are different.
Also, avidyā-eliminating-knowledge cannot really be that. Since this knowledge is unreal, it is in anticipation of the avidyā which it is supposed to eliminate. Since, this knowledge is not the Brahman, it is of the threefold nature of knowledge, knower and known (which is the character of avidyā).
Let us analyze who is the knower of this knowledge? It cannot be the Brahman superimposed by illusion because illusion is the object of the knowledge (what it eliminates) and cannot be the subject (knower who understands it). It cannot be the Brahman because in Advaita, the Brahman is not the knower.
It is not correct to say that the knower knows the knowledge and in the next instant, everything falls. Looked at carefully, this is effectively the same as saying that the initial knowledge attains a mature state which is a different state of realization. What explains the demise of this mature knowledge? We end up in infinite regress assuming more and more mature states of knowledge sublating previous states of knowledge. As long as the knowledge is an effect of avidyā, it can never destroy avidyā. Fire cannot scorch itself. It can only burn something else.
If one says that Devadatta destroyed everything other than the floor, it only means that Devadatta destroyed everything else that was standing on the floor. It does not mean that Devadatta destroyed the process of destroying, the action of destroying and his role as the destroyer also. Thinking so would be laughable.
From the above discussion, it is clear that the notions of Advaita, though spoken in captivating language, are not logically sustainable and only mislead the spiritual aspirant by setting incorrect expectations.
adiyen ranganatha ramanuja dasan
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