The impossibility of ‘Fire being Cold’ is invoked by Shankara at least four times to my knowledge in his bhAShya-s on prasthana trayi. It is not seldom do I find that participants use those words of his in their discussions on Advaita fora on topics concerned with the pramANatva of shruti vAkya. However, either they misquote or partially quote Shankara to bolster their own arguments.
Hence, I propose to gather below the four instances where bhAShyakAra invokes the example of ‘Fire is cold’ and indicates the actual purpose, in his own words, when he cites it.
My general impression is that Shankara would never like to compromise on the ‘supremacy’ of the shruti being the highest pramANa even if its word sounds odd for us, the ajnAni-s. Its word is unquestionably supreme when it reveals something apUrva, not known before, that is something not experienced; maybe the exception being in purely loukika issues within empirical transactions (i.e. “matters lying within the range of pratyaksha” – प्रत्यक्षादिविषये ).
In short, as he says at 3.3.1, BUB, “The authority of the Vedas being inviolable, a Vedic passage must be taken exactly in the sense that it is tested to bear, and NOT according to the ingenuity of the human mind.”
1. At 18.66, BGB:
न हि श्रुतिशतमपि ‘शीतोऽग्निरप्रकाशो वा’ इति ब्रुवत् प्रामाण्यमुपैति । यदि ब्रूयात् ‘शीतोऽग्निरप्रकाशो वा’ इति, तथापि अर्थान्तरं श्रुतेः विवक्षितं कल्प्यम् , प्रामाण्यान्यथानुपपत्तेः, न तु प्रमाणान्तरविरुद्धं स्ववचनविरुद्धं वा ।
na hi śrutiśatamapi ‘śīto’gniraprakāśo vā’ iti bruvat prāmāṇyamupaiti | yadi brūyāt ‘śīto’gniraprakāśo vā’ iti, tathāpi arthāntaraṃ śruteḥ vivakṣitaṃ kalpyam , prāmāṇyānyathānupapatteḥ, na tu pramāṇāntaraviruddhaṃ svavacanaviruddhaṃ vā |
Meaning: Even if hundreds of shruti-s (Veda-s) say that ‘Fire is cold, it doesn’t shine’, it cannot be considered as valid knowledge. If “shruti should at all declare that fire is cold or that it is dark,” we would still suppose that it “intends” quite a different meaning from the apparent one; for its authority cannot otherwise be maintained: we should in no way attach to shruti a meaning which is opposed to other authorities or to its own declaration. — Translation: A.M. Sastri.
2. From Shankara’s Intro to 3.3.1, BUB:
न च प्रमाणान्तरविरुद्धार्थविषये श्रुतेः प्रामाण्यं कल्प्यते, यथा — शीतोऽग्निः क्लेदयतीति ; श्रुते तु तादर्थ्ये वाक्यस्य, प्रमाणान्तरस्य आभासत्वम् — यथा ‘खद्योतोऽग्निः’ इति ‘तलमलिनमन्तरिक्षम्’ इति बालानां यत्प्रत्यक्षमपि, तद्विषयप्रमाणान्तरस्य यथार्थत्वे निश्चिते, निश्चितार्थमपि बालप्रत्यक्षम् आभासी भवति ; तस्मात् वेदप्रामाण्यस्याव्यभिचारात् तादर्थ्ये सति वाक्यस्य तथात्वं स्यात् , न तु पुरुषमतिकौशलम् ; न हि पुरुषमतिकौशलात् सविता रूपं न प्रकाशयति ; तथा वेदवाक्यान्यपि न अन्यार्थानि भवन्ति ।
na ca pramāṇāntaraviruddhārthaviṣaye śruteḥ prāmāṇyaṃ kalpyate, yathā — śīto’gniḥ kledayatīti ; śrute tu tādarthye vākyasya, pramāṇāntarasya ābhāsatvam — yathā ‘khadyoto’gniḥ’ iti ‘talamalinamantarikṣam’ iti bālānāṃ yatpratyakṣamapi, tadviṣayapramāṇāntarasya yathārthatve niścite, niścitārthamapi bālapratyakṣam ābhāsī bhavati ; tasmāt vedaprāmāṇyasyāvyabhicārāt tādarthye sati vākyasya tathātvaṃ syāt , na tu puruṣamatikauśalam ; na hi puruṣamatikauśalāt savitā rūpaṃ na prakāśayati ; tathā vedavākyānyapi na anyārthāni bhavanti |
But that (i.e. upAsana + dhyAna) which is to be known exclusively from the scriptures, cannot, in the absence of explicit statements to that effect, be imagined to have properties similar to those of poison, curd, etc. Nor are the shrutis supposed to have authority in matters which are contradicted by other means of knowledge, as for instance if they said, ‘Fire is cold and wets things.’
If, however, a passage (e.g. ‘thou art that’) is ascertained (using the six tests, viz. beginning, conclusion, repetition, originality, result, eulogy and demonstration – see Vedantasara) to have the meaning given by the shrutis, then the evidence (i.e. dualistic evidence) of the other means of knowledge must be held to be fallacious. (Swami Madhavananda’s explanatory “Notes” for each word is given in parentheses).
“For instance, the ignorant think of fire-fly as fire, or of the sky as a blue surface; these are perceptions no doubt, but when the evidence of the other means of knowledge regarding them has been definitely known to be true, the perceptions of the ignorant, although they are definite experiences, prove to be fallacious.
Therefore, the authority of the Vedas being inviolable, a Vedic passage must be taken exactly in the sense that it is tested to bear, and not according to the ingenuity of the human mind. … Therefore, the authority of the Vedas being inviolable, a Vedic passage must be taken exactly in the sense that it is tested to bear, and not according to the ingenuity of the human mind.” — Translation: Swami Madhavananda.
Moreover, if one goes by one’s own pratyakSha anubhava, the world and the objects in it look very real to our senses + mind. But that’s NOT what Advaita teaches.
3. 3.9.7, BUB:
ननु वचनेनापि अग्नेः शैत्यम् उदकस्य च औष्ण्यं न क्रियत एव, ज्ञापकत्वाद्वचनानाम् ; न च देशान्तरेऽग्निः शीत इति शक्यते ज्ञापयितुम् ; अगम्ये वा देशान्तरे उष्णमुदकमिति —
nanu vacanenāpi agneḥ śaityam udakasya ca auṣṇyaṃ na kriyata eva, jñāpakatvādvacanānām ; na ca deśāntare’gniḥ śīta iti śakyate jñāpayitum ; agamye vā deśāntare uṣṇamudakamiti —
(Objection): But even a scriptural text cannot make fire cold or water hot, for these texts are merely informative. They cannot tell us that in some other country fire is cold, or that in some inaccessible country water is hot.
न, प्रत्यगात्मन्यानन्दविज्ञानदर्शनात् ; न ‘विज्ञानमानन्दम्’ इत्येवमादीनां वचनानां शीतोऽग्निरित्यादिवाक्यवत् प्रत्यक्षादिविरुद्धार्थप्रतिपादकत्वम् ।
na, pratyagātmanyānandavijñānadarśanāt ; na ‘vijñānamānandam’ ityevamādīnāṃ vacanānāṃ śīto’gnirityādivākyavat pratyakṣādiviruddhārthapratipādakatvam |
Tentative answer: Not so, for we observe bliss and knowledge in the individual self. Texts such as, ‘Knowledge, Bliss,’ etc., do not convey a meaning that clashes with perception and other means of knowledge, as for instance the sentence, ‘Fire is cold,’ does. On the contrary, we feel their agreement with them. One directly knows the self to be blissful, as when one feels, ‘I am happy.’ So, the agreement in question with perception etc. is quite clear. Translation: Swami Madhavananda.
4. Mantra 18, Isha.U.B.:
क्रमेणैकाश्रये स्यातां विद्याविद्ये इति चेत् ,
krameṇaikāśraye syātāṃ vidyāvidye iti cet ,
Opponent: Suppose we say that Knowledge and karma cohere in the same person successively.
न ; विद्योत्पत्तौ तदाश्रयेऽविद्यानुपपत्तेः ; न हि अग्निरुष्णः प्रकाशश्च इति विज्ञानोत्पत्तौ यस्मिन्नाश्रये तदुत्पन्नम् , तस्मिन्नेवाश्रये शीतोऽग्निरप्रकाशो वा इत्यविद्याया उत्पत्तिः । नापि संशयः अज्ञानं वा, ‘यस्मिन्सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभूद्विजानतः । तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः’ (7, ई. उ.) इति शोकमोहाद्यसम्भवश्रुतेः ।
na ; vidyotpattau tadāśraye’vidyānupapatteḥ ; na hi agniruṣṇaḥ prakāśaśca iti vijñānotpattau yasminnāśraye tadutpannam , tasminnevāśraye śīto’gniraprakāśo vā ityavidyāyā utpattiḥ | nāpi saṃśayaḥ ajñānaṃ vā, ‘yasminsarvāṇi bhūtāni ātmaivābhūdvijānataḥ | tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvamanupaśyataḥ’ (7, ī. u.) iti śokamohādyasambhavaśruteḥ |
Answer: No. For when Knowledge arises, karma vanishes, since in the person in whom Knowledge exists, karma cannot remain. For it is fact that when the knowledge, “Fire is hot and effulgent,” has arisen in a person, then in that very person there cannot arise the ignorance, doubt or error (of the form), “Fire is cold or non-illuminating.”
The impossibility of sorrow and delusion (for a man of Knowledge) is declared by the Vedic text: “When to the man of realization all beings become the very Self, then what delusion and what sorrow can there be for that Seer of Oneness?” (7, Isha.U.). — Translation: Swami Gambhirananda.