Mulavidya – Real or Unreal? – I


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’.



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

33 thoughts on “Mulavidya – Real or Unreal? – I

  1. Dear Martin,

    Please accept our humble salutations for boldly taking up head on one of the most controversial issues for a detailed elucidation with a fresh perspective. Though the topic may have been debated earlier, I guess revisiting it is highly educative and such an effort does throw new light as the minds collectively mature in the process of ‘manana.’

    I like very much the format you chose in presenting the topic in a structured manner supported by source quotes along with the historical background – a method worthy of emulation.

    It is a human frailty to deify or reify (See for example : ). No wonder minds weaker than that of the great Shankara tended to deify mAyA (see for example: vivekachuDAmaNi verses 108 and 109) and reify ignorance casting it as a ’cause’ in the post-Shankaran times as you have shown.

    I am certain that many like me will eagerly be looking forward to the forthcoming parts of this very interesting Series on the “root ignorance.”


  2. I recently came across Sw. Satchidanandendra Saraswathi’s books, and I read many parts of his book ‘The method of Vedanta’. I must say that his expertise is simply awesome.

    But I also found that it contradicts with many things taught by a lot of Vedanta teachers today. I actually had a lot of confusion regarding certain things because of lack of clear or inconsistent definitions. His book cleared up a lot of things for me.

    I think it is important to get this resolved so that modern teachers can teach the original method used by Shankara. I have listed some of the differences that I found between the teachings of modern teachers and Swamiji in this article:

    I would request the teachers to share their thoughts as comments in the article or their own blogs.. Thanks

    • You may find in this blog (under the category ‘Martin’) my 5-part critique of an article by Ramakrishnan Balasubrahmanian which was published here 1 year ago. At the time I wrote the following:

      (Ramesam asked me to review the following article, with which I complied after much hesitation. The article is over 40 p. long and quite dense and complicated in parts – in other words, ‘academic’, only for specialists; one could go on: cutting the slices so thin that the substance is practically lost, or forgotten).

      Review of ‘A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by ´Sa ˙ nkara Bhagavadp¯ada’ – by Ramakrishnan Balasubrahmanian

      The first impression, on a quick glance at the beginning of the article, is that the criticisms of the author contained in the article, and addressed to the writings of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS), a recognized sage and scholar, are extensive to the latter’s whole opus, “as coming from an uncompromising position concerning the teaching and method of Shankaracharia”. Some of the words and expressions used in the article are quasi-litigious (e.g., ‘arrogant’, ‘vociferously opposes’, ‘pointless’, ‘glaring inconsistency’, ‘making errors’, ‘misconstruing’, ‘twisting…’, ‘has ìnvented a new term’, etc.), reminiscent of the theological disputes and diatribes in the European Middle Ages.

      Evidently, SSS had his followers as well as his detractors, and the same thing can be said of the author of this article, who belongs to an opposite camp. Occasionally, he shows signs of (partial) approval towards his adversary (if one can use this term): “No doubt SSS’s textual analysis skills are excellent, but the problem I see with SSS’s writings is his obsession with terminology, rather than philosophy. Indeed none of his works are about the philosophy of advaita [¡!], but are oriented almost exclusively towards contradicting previous commentators of ´Sa˙nkar¯ac¯arya”.

      And soon after that: “The difference between Padmapada and SSS is that the former is a philosopher, while the latter is a textual analyst”. Concerning these pervading criticisms of the author, the reader may judge whether they are excessive, unwarranted, or justified.

      • Thanks for taking the time to comment and letting me know about the articles.. I will read them and will comment my thoughts 🙂

  3. Thanks Shanmuguan for your post.

    Apologies, I am student rather than teacher, but if I may comment: I would agree: SSS’ books are very clear. I would recommend his concise booklet “Adhyatma Yoga” as a easy way of understanding his approach.

    Modern Vedanta teachers, seem to have taken a leaf out of the book of western neo-advaitins, to promote a rather pedestrian interpretation of Advaita Vedanta, which says you can attain jnana, in the sense of intellectual knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be desireless and at peace. Rather, ‘you’ (!) continue to have to work at that, to unravel your psychological conditionings.

    I guess this is a more palatable position for them, since they can justify charging fees for a course / seminar / webinar, at the end of which they can claim to have transmitted jnana to their students. The quick fix demand of western disciples won’t really tolerate having to pay fees without a guarantee of success, especially if it still requires the hard work of mañana and nidhidhyasana, and then, still leaving enlightenment to atman’s grace! Much easier to assume an air of quiet spirituality and softly say “you are always awareness . . .”

    The other commonality between neo-advaitins and modern vedanta teachers is that they seem unable to face up to some very clear guidance in Bhagavad Gita on nishkama karma; and of Shankara’s strong belief that a life of austerity / renunciation was a pre-requisite for, and an inevitable sequitur to, realisation; though he accepted that this may not apply to a few like a Janaka.

    James Swartz is a case in point of confused teaching with his: “As long as my desires do not cause me to violate the physical and moral laws operating in the creation, why should I remove them? I am free to fulfill them.”

    It is a case of of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too.

    • I agree Venkat..In fact cessation of desires and ending the suffering is the whole point of liberation.. I have read that there is still a small portion of avidya called avidyalesa left in the Jivanmuktas but that is only for them to function in the world.

      SSS’ s book on Adhyatmayoga is awesome and gives detailed instructions on Nididhyasana. That is one of my favorites.

      • ‘Under the paternal care and guidance of Krishnaswamy Iyer he was able to realize as to how much injustice had been done to genuine, traditional Vedanta, in general, and to Shankara, in particular. With a view to getting rid of all doubts and anomalies, both Krishnaswamy Iyer and Subbharaya [SSSS’ former name] met Hanagal Virupaksha Shastry and raised the issue. They were shocked out of their wits, so to speak, when Shastriji, in reply to a pertinent query answered that “for prarabdha karma to remain, a remnant part of avidya alone is the cause; in other words, in jñanis too there remains a little bit of ignorance… how at all could such a spurious admixture of fallacious, highly imaginative Avidya doctrine get into the mainstream and where from?”… the Vyakhyanakaras were.. the real culprit… ‘ – K.A. Krishnaswamy Iyer, ‘Vedanta or the Science of Reality’, p.89 (I don`t have that book).

  4. Hi Shanmugam,

    Please accept our Congratulations on your Blog posts.
    It is very heartening to see that you are inspired by and are investing your attention on the teachings of Swami Sachidanandendra Saraswati Swami. SSSS is an uncompromising Shankarite.

    It is not surprising that you say: “But I also found that it contradicts with many things taught by a lot of Vedanta teachers today.” Many of our so-called modern teachers have a missionary approach to promote and spread the Advaita knowledge. In their (misplaced ?) enthusiasm to spread the message to the West, they cut corners, compromised on siddhAnta and even invent new terminologies. A Western disciple recently mentioned at a Social Network site that a term like “jIvanmukti with pratibandhaka-s” has been introduced by her teacher to meet the needs of the disciples! It is hard for me how one can be a liberated man if s/he still faces impediments in the full realization of jIva brahma aikya. As Venkat said in his post, one cannot but wonder where the interest of such teachers lies. Martin has studied and deeply researched into the teachings of SSSS. I second his suggestion that it would be quite salutary to read his 5-part series.


    • thank you for your comment and clarification.I think it is really important for everyone to go through SSS’s books as he has dedicated his whole life in bringing out what Shankara actually taught. Since he is also a sanskrit scholar, it is safe to assume that his interpretations of words in the scriptures are more accurate than any other interpretations.Reading his works cleared up a lot of confusions in me.

      All of his books are available for free here in pdf format: .

      I will read Martin’s 5 part series.. Thank you 🙂

  5. Two new items re Mulavidya – Real or Unreal?:

    A) (From other correspondence) Just began reading Coman’s book – the pages on SSSS. He published it in the year 2000, when he had recently become acquainted with Martha Doherty, presumably giving a priori credence to what she wrote in her criticism of SSSS (he saw “two draft chapters of her thesis” – ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, p. 279). The Doc. I append here came somewhat later, and, if you have not read it before, I suggest that you do it now. It shows clearly that what was meant to be a condemnation of SSSS and his theses in relation with Shankara by Doherty, turned out to be a commendation (I can give you separately the name of the author, which does not appear in the Doc.). So, that thesis of Doherty loses much weight in the face of all this. Has Comans made any change in his views in all these years concerning this particular issue (one wonders)?

    I always had difficulty with the equivalence given by SSSS and Krishnaswamy Iyer to the awake and dream states, and the article I wrote a few years ago (under the sway of Nisargadatta and R. Maharshi) had a different interpretation of the three states (briefly, metaphorical, as a progression in understanding, as I thought). Accordingly, I realize there is a problem with the former account by the two authors mentioned above, but I have yet to finish reading that chapter of Comans book.

    B) In his recent and interesting book, ‘Nonduality’, David Loy blames Shankara for the unjustifiable notion (he calls it ‘a failure’) that ‘maya “projects” the world of appearance… it is indeterminable and indefinable, [Shankara] being the originator of these notions, at least of avidya (a technical term when properly understood and equivalent to adhyasa)’.

    As I wrote elsewhere commenting on those statements by D. Loy, ‘In fact, the error of taking maya as a positive force operating in the empirical world comes from post-Shankara commentators, specifically Vacaspati Misra and his Bhamati school. Although the Vivarana school also fell into some other errors, avidya is, from its perspective, “a positive something”, but not real (satya) since it can be annulled by knowledge. The doctrinal deviations concerning avidya and maya have persisted up to the present time (as for example, in the Revised Ed. of ‘A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy, by John Grimes, 2009)’.

  6. I’m bound to say that, as time goes on, I find myself more and more mystified by how scholars can argue about theories/concepts relating to the empirical realm. What it amounts to is trying to decide whether one mithyA notion is ‘more correct’ than another mithyA notion. The fact of the matter is simply that both are (equally) mithyA. In practical terms, what this amounts to is that whichever theory helps person X to progress towards a realization of the non-dual truth is the ‘correct’ one for person X. There is not really any other valid criterion.

  7. I just came across this passage in Vivekachudamani:

    v.420: The fruit of detachment is knowledge; of knowledge, abstinence is the fruit. That leads to the experience of the bliss of the truth self, which in turn, leads to peace.

    From the commentary of Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati of Sringeri:

    The Gita text “On seeing the Supreme, his taste too ceases”, desire for sense objects does not remain, even as a tendency. Hence, vairagya of the form of absolute absence of desire for objects is established in its fullness. Therefore when enquiry is made by steadying the mind in practice of vairagya, bodha which must necessarily arise does not arise, then it must be concluded that the means, namely vairagya, is not complete . . . Even after this knowledge has been acquired, if the withdrawal from the mind from the external objects is absent, it must be understood that the mind has not acquired firm knowledge.

  8. Hi Martin

    I just understood it to mean that desirelessness is an inevitably corollary of jnana. If that withdrawal from sense objects, that desirelessness is not there, then there is no jnana.

    Hence throwing the light on James Swartz’s confused assertion:
    “As long as my desires do not cause me to violate the physical and moral laws operating in the creation, why should I remove them? I am free to fulfill them.”


  9. Hi Venkat

    Yes, I think you are right. With respect of James Swartz, it would seem as if he writes from an individualistic point of view, which is very strange. It sounds as if he subscribes to this viewpoint… with alacrity. Not just the (neutral) vyavahara one as seen by a third person.

    I have somewhere criticisms of Ramana Maharshi made by him. Is Swartz an orthodox orthodox advaitin?

  10. Martin

    I think Swartz was initially with Sw Chinmayananda, but subsequently fell in with Sw Dayananda. If I remember correctly, he says that Maharshi only became enlightened after he read / was taught Vedanta. He also makes the same criticism of self-enquiry that Dayananda’s followers seem to.

    Ramesam in his earlier comment also mentioned that Dayananda disciples were talking about how it is possible to be a “jIvanmukti with pratibandhaka-s”. Which again, goes against all the teaching about jivanmukti from Shankara.

  11. Shanmugan,

    I head read this before. It was an interesting discussion, though the Swami seemed to spend most of the time correcting Swartz, whilst Swartz back-tracked. Credit to him for posting the discussion though.

    However he does revert in his final essay to differentiating knowledge and experience, which was an area he did not resolve directly with the Swami. And of course, the usual mis-characterisation of “Who am I”. Also the essay is a device of having the final word, without any challenge from the swami!

    What did you take from it?

  12. Shanmugan

    The more trivial point is his rather clumsily claiming moksha, and then defending it by saying Sri Ramana said the same through the statements “I am the Self”.

    As I think Martin alluded to previously, Swartz talks in an individualistic manner about non duality. When Ramana said “I am the Self”, he would equally have said, you are also the Self.


    • I felt the same way about the discussion… I don’t see any point in saying knowledge is superior than experience because I see both as same… Probably the English word ‘experience’ is misleading but isn’t atmashakshatkara and atmajnana the same?

      But putting emphasis on the word ‘knowledge’ leads to believe people that Moksha is completely intellectual. Unless there is an equal emphasis on the experiential part, this cannot be resolved, imo.

  13. Agree with Shanmugam. My preferred expression is ‘knowledge-experience’, with the understanding that none of these two linked-up terms refer *necessarily* to a given individual jiva, which results in unavoidable ambiguity (James Swartz makes a point of this).

    Having read so far only the first half of the dialogue you are referring to, I will only say for now that both discussants appear to me as ‘ultra-conservative’ or ultra-orthodox – for one thing due to the weight they both give to such terms as nirvikalpa samadhi, akhandakara vritti, and the vasanas. How different from the clear air and clear expressions of Sw. Satchidanandendra on any of these topics!

    I will make some more comments in one or two days, after I read the long discussion to the end.

  14. Swartz: ‘… I happen to think that his [Chinmayananda] ‘modern’ Vedanta was good for the times but like the New Vedanta that came out of Vivekananda’s teachings it distorted the tradition in certain subtle ways… *Your guru is your guru and you are you*. Only in a spiritual sense is he or she you’ (Note that Chinmayananda had been his guru for two years, as he stated).

    This quote (coming at the end of the discussion with the Swami) reveals James Swartz as an independent thinker, and one who gives primary importance to knowledge, whereas the Swami gives it to experience; Samadhi has, for the latter, a fundamental role in moksha, while it is secondary for Swartz. In the debate, they make numerous comments on other aspects preparatory for self-realization (and also on teachers, especially Ramana), but the divide knowledge-experience comes out as being the main difference in emphasis between the two debaters.

    It also shows how Swartz takes the empirical viewpoint quite seriously, as after all it is the focus of all discussions, teachings, etc.

    From the above it can be seen that my intention in a previous comment was not to present Swartz as an ‘individualist’ tout court, but rather as independent and taking a self-conscious stand in vyavahara or ordinary life. This cannot be blameworthy, except that, in this way, one would tend to take any person or individual one meets and talks with, even in a teaching situation (or among Advaitins), as real, as reality itself. Am I wrong in this judgment?

    The discussion is well worth reading and reflecting on despite its length.

    Hereunder are some links for those interested (I would recommend the several comments made in the Quora link):


  15. Hi Martin,

    You wrote: “This cannot be blameworthy, except that, in this way, one would tend to take any person or individual one meets and talks with, even in a teaching situation (or among Advaitins), as real, as reality itself. Am I wrong in this judgment?”

    Yes, I believe you are judging James incorrectly. Having just recently attended one of James’ satsangs, I can say with certainty that he draws a clear distinction between satya and mithya and only ascribes reality to satya. He makes it abundantly clear that the apparently multiple jivas in attendance, and even the seminar itself are all mithya, not real. One has to think in terms of provisional explanations, later to be sublated or negated, as one would expect of a proper unfolding of Vedanta.

    Best Regards,

  16. Quite right, Charles. No one can portray J. Swartz as an individualist! I said that “Swartz takes the empirical viewpoint quite seriously, as after all it is the focus of all discussions, teachings, etc.” before I paused concerning any potential risk thereby. Someone might have – might have – the impression that Swartz takes the relative reality (vyavahara) at face value, as if phenomena were for him real – as phenomena – but you corrected me by saying that he meant mithya all along. lmpossible such an error in the case of a knowledgeable Advaitin… or of any Advaitin!

    On the other hand, you may agree, everything ‘in front of you’ is not other than the Self, the way It presents Itself: there is no other reality. In this sense, what we call ‘phenomena’, appearances, are also real, or are embedded in reality.They are not phantoms!

    • Yes, Martin, I agree that the appearances are not mere phantoms. They exist but are not real, as Vedanta defines reality (i.e., That which cannot be negated or sublated). James would say that everything “in front of you” is a *dependent* reality, i.e., mithya, not merely an illusion, just apparent objects arising in Consciousness.


  17. Marin

    “Swartz as an as independent [thinker] and taking a self-conscious stand in vyavahara or ordinary life”

    I have never understood this over-emphasised distinction between vyavahara and paramathika satya. What I have understood from the distinction is that most of us operate at the level of vyavahara, missing the underlying paramarthika satya.

    However Swartz basically seems to say that it is fine to continue living as you do, continue to have and fulfil your desires (provided they are in consonance with the law) but just remember the truth of who you are. So fine, if you are a Steve Jobs, to exploit workers to achieve your ends, just remember that you are the absolute. This seems to be a lovely theory for the western audience that Swartz gives satsang to, to relieve their existential angst / guilt about the meaninglessness of their way of life. He is basically giving them a green light to continue your way of life, it is fine, it is vyavahara, mithya, whatever, just know that it is not real.

    I don’t know what the point of this type of moksha is, apart from relieving one’s own psychological suffering – which is, as I said, exactly the target market segment of western seekers that Swartz is aiming at.

    This is a far cry from Socrates going about Athens harassing people about why they lead the worldly lives that they lead.

    This is a far cry from Krishnamurti, talking about the suffering of mankind, and to transform the world we have to transform ourselves first, to stop being selfish.

    This is a far cry from Nisargadatta saying:
    “A man who knows that he is neither body nor mind cannot be selfish, for he has nothing to be selfish for. Or you may say he is equally “selfish” on behalf of everybody he meets; everybody’s welfare is his own. The feeling “I am the world, the world is myself” becomes quite natural; once it is established, there is just no way of being selfish. To be selfish means to covet, acquire, accumulate on behalf of the part against the whole . . . When the centre of selfishness is no longer, all desires for pleasure and fear of pain cease; one is no longer interested in being happy; beyond happiness there is pure intensity, inexhaustible energy, the ecstasy of giving from a perennial source.”

    And this is a far cry from Shankara and Maharshi renouncing all material comforts, with the former advocating austerity and the latter saying
    “Prarabdha (the actions the body has to perform in this life) is of three categories: ichha, anichha and parechha (personally desired, without desire and due to others’ desire). For him who has realised his Self, there is no ichha prarabdha. The two others remain. Whatever he does is for others only. If there are things to be done by him for others, he does them but the results do not affect him. Whatever be the actions that such people do, there is no punya (merit) and no papa (sin) attached to them.”

    This vyavahara and paramathika fetishisation, is no more than a erudite but bankrupt justification for selfishly continuing to live as you do, with the (self-)pretence that you have jnana. Most of the neos (who Swartz tries to decry with his Vedantic scholarship) are in the same category.

    What is the point of such moksha?

  18. Martin,

    Here is V.S Iyer, a great exponent of the philosophical rather than the mystical side of Advaita – making it clear that knowledge of vyavahara has to merge into paramarthika:

    “The more duality is disregarded in your actions and life, the clearer becomes realization, the more you refrain from thinking of other people as separate from you, the more sympathetic to others that you are to them, the easier will realization be possible.”

    “The study of Advaita must be repeated until you are absolutely convinced; your actions will be the test or evidence of such conviction, which alone is realisation.”

    “The goal of Vedanta is to see the other man’s sufferings as your own. Because in dream all the scenes and all the people are made of the same essence as yourself, they are as real as you are. Do not treat other people as mere ideas but your own self as real. If they are ideas, so are you. If you are real, so are they. Hence you must feel for them all just what you feel for yourself.”

  19. Final point Martin. Nonduality is obviously true. Even basic science, even common sense tells us, that we are made of the same stuff. The illusion, the maya, is believing that we are separate, and have to strive for ourselves.

    Forget the mental masturbation of Vedantic terms, what more is realisation than living free of this conditioning, living without a self-aggrandising ego, living as if you had no more importance than the stranger next to you.

    There is only truth, we know what that truth is, so have the courage to live it, rather than hiding behind this vyavhara / paramarthika distinction.

    • Venkat, I believe you make two valid points, not just one. In my reply to Charles I only covered one aspect, agreeing with him in that particular point concerning Swartz. What you say about desires and their fulfilment (and pursuit of) in the case of a purported jnani is correct in my view.

      The second point is the distinction vyavahara/paramartha, which I believe did not exist at the time of Shankara and his immediate followers (this pair, and mithya, have been covered several times in Q&As in AV, I believe).

      One thing is pratibhasa (illusory, purely subjective), and quite another mithya, which may be seen as relative (just a point of view!), but that in essence is reality itself, on which it depends. Vyavahara is… neither here nor there (?); does it not depend on whether one believes that phenomena (vyav.) are real – as phenomena – or not? So, it is also subjective (again a point of view)… not very useful or determinant as an epistemological concept (same as ‘belief’). I say something like this in my reply to Charles. Greetings, Martin

      P.S. To compound things, I have it from Dr. M.D. Shastry that both vyavahara and pratibhasa are mithya; all of them ‘points of view’, thus subjective! But, as Dennis has said and we can all repeat,’everything is mithya’ . Only actual experience (equal to Knowledge), anubhava, is unsublatable.

  20. Dear Venkat, in my opinion the advaita shuffle has deep roots, it is not just a neo advaita maneuver.

    It is difficult to swallow the teaching of ANY great jnani whole, they have all delivered themselves of howlers on topics that they had no business pronouncing on, but nevertheless did, as “victims” of prarabdha. Before someone asks; yes, one can produce a list of such instances.

    And every single one of them found fault, mildly or strongly, directly or indirectly, with every other point of view. All the while carrying on about “bliss”….

    The fact of the matter, it seems to me, is that this entirely subjective state called “enlightenment”, or what you will, is completely orthogonal to every known characteristic of human existence. (biology?).

    But it is a fascinating hobby to some.

  21. Everything that we perceive, think, experience or know, we do so through the medium of these body-minds, which are mithyA.

    Since there is only brahman, ‘everything’ (that we perceive/think/experience/know) is brahman.

    The scriptures and Shamkara say that ‘the knower of brahman becomes brahman’. Since we are already brahman, this can only mean that, prior to ‘knowing’, we think/believe that we are NOT brahman. We listen and question and eventually the ignorance of our true nature is removed. We then ‘know’.

    ‘Experience’ plays no role in this process – everything we experience is brahman, all the time, whether we know it or not.

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