As S.K. Ramachandra Rao relates in his Introduction to Sw. Satchidanandendra’s book ‘Salient Features of Shankara’s Vedanta’ ( a translation of ‘Shankara-Vedanta-Prakriye’ in Kannada language), the Swami decided to find out for himself what the real tradition of Shankara and the latter’s contributions to it had been, since he had suspected for some time that the former had been misrepresented by later advaitins. This desire took form in the way of a monograph he wrote in Sanscrit in 1929 with the title of ‘Mulavidya -nirasa. ‘He applied himself diligently to repeated study of Shankara’s works (Bhashyas on the three Prasthanas) for several years to convince himself that the sub-commentaries (of Vacaspaty Misra and Padmapada) had not done justice to the great master… It was in the year 1920, a year after his wife passed away, that he felt called upon to take this as a mission in his life’.
Ramachandra Rao tells of the help the Swami received from his then mentor K.A. Krishnaswamy Iyer, his learning under the renowned scholar Hanagal Virupaksha Sastri, and his initiation (in 1910) by the then pontiff of Shringeri, Shri Shivabhinava N. Bharati Soon after the publication of ‘Mulavidya’ his adversaries became ‘naturally’ numerous, for not only he showed disregard for the sub-commentaries, but ‘he threw stones at the shibboleth of convention… few patrons came forward to help… ’. Even his former teacher, Hanagal Virupaksha Sastri (who had taught him Sutra-Bhashya) turned against him. By then the Swami became ‘a heretic and outcast’.
It is related that when Krishnaswamy Iyer and the Swami (SSS henceforth) were going for an evening walk on an occasion, the former suggested to the Swami that he should write a book entitled ‘Mulavidya Kutara’ in Sanskrit. The latter did not know at the time what that term meant, but after being present to a conversation between KI and Venkatesha (same as Virupaksha?) Sastry, the Swami felt the urge to find out the original meaning of Avidya as used by Shankara and went to read in detail the Anandagiri commentary on the Brhadaranyaka Bhasya of the great master. He then came to the conclusion that ‘there are authorities in the commentaries on Shankara [to the effect] that there is no avidya in sushupti state’ (S. Raganath – ‘Contribution of Satchidanandendra Saraswathi to 20th Century Advaita’, pp. 19-20. Further (we read from this source), after reading Panchapadika Vivarana and Advaita Siddhi Sa Vyakhya, ‘he came to know that a separate theory had come into being which was not in conformity with the commentary of Shankara. This is how the basis for the work ‘Moolavidya Nirasa’ took shape’.
As originated by Shankara, the notion of avidya consists in the mutual superimposition of the real self and the unreal non-self due to non-discrimination (in simple terms, mistaking one thing for another). The effect of that is vyavahara – to think and act as if one were the knower, the actor, and the experiencer of the fruits of action. On the other hand, the system offered by Panchapadika postulated avidya as the material cause of the world or manifestation (which purports duality), while knowledge of Brahman destroys that world of duality.
The concept of Mulavidya propounded by SSS was finally accepted and Ananta Murty Sastry was the first one to do so: ‘I realized that I should pay attention to the basic texts more than [to] the commentaries, and now I come to the realization that the opinion of Sharma (SSS) is the opinion of the Bhasyakara and is in keeping with the Shastra and Anubhava… But the other scholars stopped coming for the discussions on Mulavidya from then on’.
DOCUMENTATION (ELUCIDATIONS, COMMENTS, AND REACTIONS)
A (1) ‘… some people are… stating that even there (i.e. in Sushupti) we have a particular Samsara Dosha (defect of transmigratory existence) called Mulavidya entailing us; this theory is baseless and illogical without any support of evidence of any kind… ‘- from ‘The Basic Tenets of Shankara Vedanta’ (transl. D.B. Gangoli), p. 183.
A (2). ‘Suresvara who explicitly states in the sambandha vartika “kalpyavidyaiva matpakshe sA chAnubhavasamshrayA”, “In my view ignorance is merely imagined, and is established in our experience”. The point here is either you admit mulavidya as imagined, in which case it is something superimposed and invalidates the reason to separate it from superimposition, or mulavidya is something other than imagined in which case it ceases to be something notional, and therefore cannot be removed by knowledge. If ignorance cannot be removed by knowledge then the advaita tradition has nothing to offer the seeker of liberation. Subhanu Saxena.
A (3) Comparison of views:
- Avidya itself is only a device for the purpose of teaching non-dual reality and is ultimately discarded. Also, since the aim of the scriptures is to eliminate this ignorance it is an unnecessary complication to dwell on its cause
Other ancient writers were aware of the mulAvidyA school as distinct from Shankara (Mandana Mishra in Brahma Siddhi “tathA choktam avidyopAdAnabhedavAdibhih anAdiraprayojanA avidyA iti)”
|Issue||Orthodox Tradition derived from post Shankara writers|
|What are source texts for Shankara?||· All Bhashya texts
· Upadesha Sahasri
· Prakarana Texts
· Sringeri Math list “definitive”
|What is the nature of Avidya?||· Panchapadika: adhyAsa has a material root cause: An indescribable positive entity (avidyA-shakti) that clings to the fabric of all empirical transactions, driving our basic superimposition, plus giving rise to illusory birth of false objects. Later termed mulAvidyA
· Driven by Sanskrit splitting of “mithyajnAnam” as “mithya cha tad ajnAnam cha”, ie unreal ignorance
· Implication: this root ignorance mulAvidyA is ever present whilst alive, even in deep sleep and for an enlightened soul. Need to understand the cause of adhyAsa, since mulAvidyA is seen to be a positive existing entity
· Note: Bhamati postulates many avidyas
|Does the orthodox tradition pay enough attention to the Method of Vedanta?||· Recognises neti neti is the Method
· VyavahAra and paramArtha standpoints
· Logic and reason may be needed even after the dawn of knowledge (subsequent disciplines of “navya-nyaya” etc indispensible to understanding advaita)
|What discipline is needed to realise the truth||· Sravana, manana, nididhyasana are indespensible, and enjoined
· Yogic practices are indispensible culminating in various forms of samadhi (Bhamati)
|Swamiji’s view (SSS)|
|· Primary importance to Prashthana-Traya Bhashya + Upadesha Sahasri. Sureswara vArtikA’s, naishkaryma siddhi are faithful to Shankara
· This does not necessarily mean that Swamiji totally discounts other texts as having not value (see next)
· Interesting to note increasing congruence of leading scholars that key prakarana works unlikely to have been written by Shankara, and that the Shankara Digvijaya biographies are unrealiable sources.
|· Avidya is a false mental notion (mithyAjnAnam) of the natural confusion of mixing the real and unreal that arises because we are created to look externally vs internal (Katha Upanishad)
· Numerous examples of where mithyAjnAnam is either contrasted with samyajjnAnam, right knowledge (almost forcing the meaning false knowledge), or expressed as mithyApratyaya (a false mental concept). This makes it very hard to see how one can split mithyAjnAnam other than as mithyA+jnAnam
· Avidya itself is only a device for the purpose of teaching non-dual reality and is ultimately discarded. Also, since the aim of the scriptures is to eliminate this ignorance it is an unnecessary complication to dwell on its cause
· Other ancient writers were aware of the mulAvidyA school as distinct from Shankara (Mandana Mishra in Brahma Siddhi “tathA choktam avidyopAdAnabhedavAdibhih anAdiraprayojanA avidyA iti)”
|· Method is not always systematically applied post shankara: Frequent descriptions of concepts as having a reality beyond their useful life
· Technical term adhyAropa-apavAda used more prominently by Swamiji, though he explicitly recognises other terminologies for the Method (see below)
· Examples: 3 states, cause and effect, creation, 5 koshas- post Shankara writers attach a reality to concepts within these when they are only from the adhyAropa standpoint
|· For the highest aspirants sravana alone is sufficient
· For the rest, all 3 are key, though no injunction for knowledge. Such injunctions are only apparent in nature
· Patanjali Yoga can certainly help, as Shankara points out in BSB 2-1-3. However it is not the be all and end all: The scriptures endorse the adhyAtma yoga of turning inwards found in Gita, Katha Up
· Samadhi is a confirmation of the deep sleep experience, and remains as such until false knowledge has been removed