The Ignorance that Isn’t – 7/8

Part – 6/8  

13.  The Logical Fallacy of Infinite Regress:

While explicating further on the question of “Whose is avidyA  (Ignorance)?” Shankara points out that the contention “I am ignorant” is a logical fallacy which would lead one to an infinite regress.

Shankara says:

ज्ञातुः अविद्यायाश्च सम्बन्धस्य यः ग्रहीता, ज्ञानं अन्यत् तद्विषयं सम्भवति ; अनवस्थाप्राप्तेः   ज्ञातुः अविद्यायाश्च सम्बन्धस्य यः ग्रहीता, ज्ञानं अन्यत् तद्विषयं सम्भवति ; अनवस्थाप्राप्तेः  यदि ज्ञात्रापि ज्ञेयसम्बन्धो ज्ञायते, अन्यः ज्ञाता कल्प्यः स्यात् , तस्यापि अन्यः, तस्यापि अन्यः इति अनवस्था अपरिहार्या  यदि पुनः अविद्या ज्ञेया, अन्यद्वा ज्ञेयं ज्ञेयमेव  तथा ज्ञातापि ज्ञातैव, ज्ञेयं भवति  यदा एवम् , अविद्यादुःखित्वाद्यैः ज्ञातुः क्षेत्रज्ञस्य किञ्चित् दुष्यति

“How can you perceive the relation between the Self and avidyA? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidyA, at the same moment (that your Self cognizes avidyA); for, the cognizer (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidyA. (The Self cannot be both the perceiver and the perceived at the same time).

Neither can there be a (separate) cognizer of the relation between the cognizer (the Self) and avidyA, nor a separate cognition of that (relation); for then you would commit the fallacy of infinite regress (anavastha). If the relation between the cognizer (the Self) and the cognized could be cognized, another cognizer should be supposed to exist; then another cognizer of that cognizer; then another of that again; and so on; and thus the series would necessarily be endless. If, on the other hand, avidyA or, for that matter, anything else — is the cognized, then it is ever the cognized only. So also the cognizer ‘is ever the cognizer; he can never become the cognized. Such being the case, kShetrajna, the cognizer, is not at all tainted by nescience, misery and the like.” (Translation: A.M. Sastri, 1923).

Discussant: ननु अयमेव दोषः, यत् दोषवत्क्षेत्रविज्ञातृत्वम् |

There is in the Self this blemish, viz., that He is the cognizer of kShetra or matter which is full of blemishes. (Translation: A.M. Sastri, 1923).

Vedantin:  न च विज्ञानस्वरूपस्यैव अविक्रियस्य विज्ञातृत्वोपचारात् ;  यथा  उष्णतामात्रेण  अग्नेः  तप्तिक्रियोपचारः तद्वत्  

No. for, it is only by a figure of speech that the Self, the immutable Consciousness, is spoken of as the cognizer, just as, in virtue of its heat, fire is said, figuratively, to do the act of heating. (Translation: A.M. Sastri, 1923).

यथा अत्र भगवता क्रियाकारकफलात्मत्वाभावः आत्मनि स्वत एव दर्शितः – अविद्याध्यारोपितः एव क्रियाकारकादिः आत्मनि उपचर्यते ; तथा तत्र तत्र  2.19, 3.27. 5.17 इत्यादिप्रकरणेषु दर्शितः 

We have shown how here at 2.19, 3.27, 5.15, BG and other places, Krishna has taught that the Self has in Himself no concern with action or with its accessories or with its results, that they are imputed to the Self by avidyA, and that they are, therefore, said to belong to the Self only by a figure of speech. (Translation: A.M. Sastri, 1923).

14.  Self is Existence-Consciousness:

Strictly speaking, we cannot define what this worldly appearance is. It is indeterminate. It does not exist in Reality but it is available to our perception. In other words, everything that we perceive is anAtma including jIva, jagat, and Ishwara.

We may say that all that constitutes anAtma is the illusory appearance (AbhAsa) of Atma. Prior to the creation, even what all now appears as anAtma was in substance AtmA only. Atma appears in a multitude of forms, including those of gods and demons. That which appears in all these forms is real, but the forms themselves are unreal. It is similar to saying that water is real, but its forms – waves, bubbles, whirlpools – are unreal.

Another important feature is the indestructibility of the original substance. For example, gold cannot be destroyed whether we melt it or crush it. But its forms (ornaments) can be destroyed. Appearances (forms) change continuously (vikAra). Atma is nirvikAra, changeless. Sri Krishna tells us in the Gita,

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावक: |
चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो शोषयति मारुत: ||           – 2.23, Bhagavad-Gita

[Meaning: Weapons cannot shred the AtmA, nor can fire burn It. Water cannot wet It, nor can the wind dry It.]

Atma is satcit, Existence-Consciousness. It is the spark that strikes as “I Am.” Like space, it is formless and all-pervasive. It is the witnessing Consciousness that is present as the Self in every one of us. It is immanent and transcendent. It is this witnessing Awareness that discriminates the real (Atma) from the unreal (object).

Since the nature of Atma is sat and cit (Beingness and Consciousness), it has no birth or death.  It is eternally present. It can never be absent because Consciousness (cit) is continuously aware of Beingness (sat). Birth, death, and life are a movement. Atma is immovable (achalam), since It has no form. Such a formless and changeless entity is present in this body-mind organism, which continuously undergoes change. It permeates the entire universe of infinite forms. If we become aware of Its eternal presence, we will be free of all fears and sorrows. In the kaTha Upanishad, Yama teaches:

अशरीरं शरीरेषु अनवस्थेष्ववस्थितम्

महान्तं विभुमात्मानं मत्वा धीरो शोचति     —    1.2.22, kaTha Upanishad

[The Self is bodiless but is immanent in all the bodies. It is Eternal within the impermanent. We only perceive the body and the mind, but not the unchanging Awareness.]

The Absolute is real; the relative (multiplicity) is unreal. Even if we perceive the relative and not the Absolute, we must understand that it is the Absolute only that is appearing as the relative (Absolute as substance, but illusory as form).

15.  jIva and jagat are Notional:

Knowing the presence of a thing is described as bhAvarUpa and knowing the absence of a thing as abhAvarUpa jnAna. Both types of cognitions are objects to the Self. The object world is full of names (jIva – the summation of diverse thoughts and emotions), forms (jagat), and interactions between them (kriyA). Action or kriya is a movement or change.  jIva changes continuously as thoughts arise and subside. Thoughts arise and trigger the limbs and senses to act and experience various objects, emotions etc. We assume these changes are natural to us because we don’t perceive our Self as it really is. Instead of feeling “I AM”, we feel “I do,” “I see.” With a particular result in mind, we perform actions and become “the doers” and “the experiencers” of the results. jIva is, therefore, a collection of thoughts and feelings of doer-ship and experiencer-ship.

Since thoughts of doer-ship/experiencer-ship are created and destroyed continuously, the jIva is only a concept; it’s not real. When a new thought is born, the previous thought dies. Hence, like the waves in the ocean that rise and fall endlessly, the jiva is (re)born and dies endlessly. Since thought-waves and inhalations and exhalations occur in rapid succession, we continue to live as jIva-s and engage in activity. If our breath or our thought-waves stop, we die. This is prArabdha, the effect of past actions. We spend our whole life in this vikAra — a continuous change and movement.

(To Continue … Part 8/8)