RB: “Now the error in calling avidy¯a as something epistemic should be obvious. The following extract, from [SSS], is clearly putting the philosophical cart before the horse:
‘Avidy¯a is subjective and has been explained by ´ Sa ˙ nkara as the natural tendency of the mind to superimpose the self and the not-self on each other.’
When the conception of j¯ıva itself is due to avidy¯a, how can avidy¯a be the ‘natural tendency of the mind to superimpose the self and not-self’?” (*)
Our reply: To repeat, it is not only avidya, but avidya intimately associated with adhyasa, which are responsible for all divisions and superimpositions. No reason why this should be considered a circular argument.
But further: Although we have already dealt with this issue sufficiently, we could add: Both concepts (avidya and adhyasa) are artificial, notional, in the sense that there is ultimately no reality in their referent, and imply one another, as previously stated (except for the non-technical, broad sense of avidya or ignorance – e.g., mistaking a lamp-post for a human being, ignorance of many facts, etc.). If they resemble the chicken-egg dilemma, is because here (the course of life) time appears to be involved – avidya itself being its conjurer, as SSS has indicated. This, in what pertains to empirical life, but the intuition to which Shankara (and to some degree some of his predecessors, Gaudapada in particular) arrived comes directly from Consciousness; it, verily, is ‘original’: ‘Outside time’ in its origin, but ‘in time’ in its ‘descent’ or projection. To be clear, this is still vyavahara.
In other words, there is a kind of avidya which, being pervading and universal in the human sphere, has as its modus operandi superimposition, adhyasa.
“That Inner Dweller, The Witness, all knowing and unobjectifiable, appears to become a separate object through the false superimposition that is avidyA” – Suresvara).
Avidya’s elimination is brought about, not by a thrust of an Alexandrian sword, as if it were a riddle or a Gordian knot, but by understanding what is going on. Indeed, the author (RB) traces this differentiation within avidya to Shankara: “Many times ´ Sa ˙ nkar¯ac¯arya and Sure´svar¯ac¯arya compare the avidy¯a due to which we superimpose false limiting adjuncts on brahman to truly epistemic errors.” But then he uses this affirmation by Shankara and Suresvara for his own purposes by adding: “… there is also a difference between avidy¯a and common place epistemic errors… the fundamental error is the superimposition of a ‘knower’ on brahman, whereas epistemic errors presuppose the existence of a ‘knower’.”
SSS would of course agree that that difference exists, that “a wider ignorance engulfs within its range the truth and error which (we) recognize in ordinary life”; that, besides, “there is no other Ignorance worth the name”, and that “since no human thought-process is possible without the pre-supposition of adhyasa, this latter is pre-eminently entitled to be called Avidya (cf. Adhyasa Bhasia)”.
The difference is, first, that ‘the fundamental error’ consists in a double superimposition (Shankara) per primam, not only that of the ‘knower’ on Brahman.
Secondly, that since both concepts, avidya and adhyasa, play an important, technical role in the philosophy and logic of Advaita Vedanta, both can be considered as epistemic, pace RB.
Thirdly, that though artificial (not embedded in reality), they have consequences in empirical life, as it was said above, which reinforces the opinion just made. RB admits that in this last sense, and in this sense only, it can be admitted that avidya is both epistemic and ontic (“since the effect of avidy¯a is the perceived schism between the observer and the observed. To give a modern analogy, light is neither a wave nor a particle. But it does exhibit characteristics of both, so it could be called both a wave and a particle in that sense…”). He has finally granted what he was so strenuously resisting! – what else is there for him to save, or to confront?
Addendum: The pair, or double concept, that is avidya-adhyasa is a paradox. It amounts to, or results in, a knowledge that is ignorant, or an ignorance that is, or turns into, (a type of) knowledge. It is the root of all types of ignorance in that it mistakes reality for unreality, and vice-versa — a veritable tour de force as by a Demiurge seemingly benevolent towards mankind. Benevolent because the fire he stole from the gods and gave to mankind has been responsible for science and technology, and whatever ‘progress’ has come along with it.
“Everything is produced by ignorance, and dissolves in the wake of Knowledge.” – Aparokshanubhuti.
[As an aside, Aristotle was bothered with the chicken-egg dilemma, and concluded that both bird and egg must have always existed. For Plato, they are ideas, archetypes in the intelligible world, more real than their shadows in the lower realm, our conventional world.]
(*) RB: “Note again that it is not “naisargika”, or natural, for the mind to superimpose the real and unreal. Instead it is natural that the ego (including the mind) is superimposed on the self [by whom, or what?], and a reverse superimposition logically follows. This is made clear by ´ Sa ˙ nkar¯ac¯arya in his adhy¯asa bh¯as. ya. SSS misunderstands this superimposition and reverse superimposition as being performed by the mind.”
Is there not a contradiction or, at least, obscurity in the above paragraph?