Who attains Knowledge?

In order to appreciate Ramesam’s question “What happens after Self-realisation?”, I think we need to first understand who is it that has ignorance, and therefore who attains Knowledge / Brahman.

Surevara in his introduction to Chapter 3 of Naiskarmya Siddhi concludes that:

“The not-Self is neither the locus of ignorance nor the object concealed by ignorance. Hence we conclude, as the only remaining alternative, that it is the Self alone which is both the locus of and the object concealed by ignorance”

He further writes at 4.14:

“Discrimination belongs to the intellect alone, for it is only because the intellect is not-self that distinctions arise at all. Finally discrimination destroys the intellect as the plantain-fruit destroys the parent tree.”

Then, couple this with Guadapada’s Mandukyakarika 2.16:

“First of all is imagined the Jiva, and then are imagined the various entities, objective and subjective, that are perceived”

From this, we can conclude that avidya does not simply pertain to the mind / intellect of the jiva – because they themselves are products of nescience and hence not-Self – but rather that the locus of ignorance must be the Self.

This conforms with Taittiriya Upanishad 2.8.5 and Sankara bhasya thereon. First the Upanishad:

“He that is here in the human person, and He that is there in the sun, are one. He who know thus attains, after desisting from this world, this self made of food, attains this self made of vital force, attains this self made of mind, attains this self made of intelligence, attains this self made of bliss.”

Sankara’s bhasya on this is lengthy, and first explains that the seeker must go progressively inward, discarding the outer (not-Self) upadhis. Given this discarding, he finally poses the logical question, then who is it that attains the Supreme Self? His answer:

The attainer must be the supreme Self alone, inasmuch as merger into that state is the idea implied . . . the idea conveyed is that of removal of the identity (with the body etc.) created by ignorance. The attainment of one’s own Self through the knowledge of Brahman, that is taught, is meant to imply the elimination of the distinct selves—such as the food-self, the products of nescience –  which are really non-Selves, superimposed as Selves.

Sankara then poses the question that Dennis no doubt would: non-perception of duality is not a matter of our daily experience, and that duality clearly exists because we perceive it, so this just cannot be a logical position to take. Sankara responds:

“No, for duality is not perceived by those who are deeply absorbed in the Self during sleep . . . The perception of duality that occurs in the dream and waking states is the result of ignorance, because it ceases on the cessation of ignorance . . .  The perceptions occurring in the dream and waking states are but modal expressions, for the true state of a thing is that which exists in its own right, and the unreal state is that which depends on others, inasmuch as it ceases with the cessation of others. Hence, unlike what happens in the dream and waking states, no modality occurs in deep sleep, for the non-perception in the latter state is natural.”

So what Sankara and Suresvara are saying is that the world-body-mind, and the waking and dreaming states are all products of ignorance; and that deep sleep is not a product of ignorance, but is the natural state of non-duality.

Further they state that Knowledge is gained first through the mind / intellect, but then this too is eliminated, like the snake sloughing its skin, or more cogently, a wooden stick stoking a fire, that in the process itself gets consumed.

Sw Nikhilananda puts it aptly in his comments on this Taittiriya bhasya:

“When conditioned by the upadhis of the physical body, the senses, etc, the Supreme Self becomes the phenomenal jiva and knower. But free from upadhis, He remains as the Supreme Spirit, the Entity to be known.”

Furthermore the implication of all this is that there cannot logically be a delay between the realisation of knowledge (elimination of ignorance) and moksha – between a jnani and a jivanmukta. This is why Suresvara can write in Naiskarmya Siddhi 1.90:

“Since the fruit of knowledge is immediately experienced and destroys phenomenal existence for ever”

25 thoughts on “Who attains Knowledge?

  1. Apologies – I don’t seem to be able to correct the formatting of the quotes. Must be some issue with copying and pasting.

  2. Dear Venkat,

    The Word press feature of ‘Block editing’ does seem confusing.
    What I normally do, instead of learning the ‘Block editing’ anew, I click on ‘Publish.’ After the article is published, I log in again and go for ‘editing’ in the ‘classic edit’ mode.

    I tried to adjust the spacing in that fashion, and I hope your article now reads okay for you. Please let me know.

    2. You say, “I think we need to first understand who is it that has ignorance, and therefore who attains Knowledge / Brahman.”

    The question of “Who is it that gets actually liberated?” has been dealt by me at the very beginning of my Series in the first Part, as you may have noticed. There I started of with Swami Krishnananda’s concept that the individual seeking ‘liberation’ is none other than a ‘mass’ of “a “centralization” of desire at a spatio-temporal point.”

    In your article, rightly of course, you took still one step back and said that ‘ignorance’ is the entity. If we keep in mind that ‘desire’ is the ‘expressed form of ignorance,’ it will be clear that we are talking about the same.

    3. As you know well, Shankara never wasted any time of his getting into the locus and object (Ashraya and vishaya) part of ignorance because anything that is given as an answer would be speculative and depends on the explanatory “model” based on which an edifice of internally consistent explanation is built.

    Even 6.14.2, chAn. U. tells the story of a Gandharwa being kidnapped and left in a forest to illustrate our effort to “return home to be as the pristine and pure Consciousness,” never bothered to explain who those kidnappers were, why did they kidnap, what retribution was given to them for their evil act etc. etc. It just is focused on how one redeems himself/herself from the miserable position that one finds oneself in the now. In fact, the shruti does not take it as its purpose to explain the “Why?” or “initial Motive” of what has happened. Its purpose is to ameliorate oneself from the misery and suffering, as I understand.

    4. Further, the concept of “enjoying the jnAna phalam,” as Dennis seems to speak about, looks to me to be more in alignment with the RK Mission people who famously quote often that “they would like to be a fly that enjoys the jaggery rather than be the jaggery that is discovered finally” or some such words which is nothing but dualism as it sounds to me.

    regards,

  3. Dear Venkat and Ramesam,

    Post formatting looks fine. I agree that the latest WordPress update proved tricky to navigate but trial and error seems to get one there eventually.

    As I just responded to Ramesam’s post, I do not want to embark upon another jIvanmukti discussion. And ‘Ignorance’ is a huge topic. I am still writing about it for Confusions 2 and the text on this currently stands at over 35,000 words and I am still to complete the Satchidanandendra section.

    As regards the locus of ignorance, you can find Shankara quotations for both jIva and Brahman but his best, I think is BrahmasUtra-s 4.1.3: “To whom does this ignorance belong?” And he answers: “To him who is asking that question! When you are awakened. you find not ignorance.”

    And my bottom-line conclusion, if I ever get there, will be (I think) that ignorance is in the mind of the one who claims to be ignorant!

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  4. Dear Dennis,

    I happened to refer 2-3 times in our discussions in the past at this site to Shankara’s 4.1.3, BSB quote about ignorance, (which you referred to above). The same ideas he expressed at 13.2. BGB also. So I fully agree with you with what you say in the last para of your response above.

    regards,

  5. Hi Dennis and Ramesam

    Thank you Ramesam for fixing the editing on this.

    So, I guess I would have to disagree with both of you on this. Ignorance can’t just be in the mind of the jiva, because the mind itself, as a second not-Self upadhi, is a part of the ignorance.

    Hence why Gaudapada can talk about mind becoming no-mind; Brhad Up can talk about the dissolution of particular consciousness like a salt doll in water; or Suresvara can talk about discrimination destroying the intellect.

    I am particularly fond of BGB 13.2, because Sankara says (Alladi Sastry translation):
    “If avidya is perceived, then you perceive also the one who has that avidya . . . If you know to what particular entity, not immediately perceived, avidya is related, to what avail is that to you?”

    Sastry explains: “Though the possessor of avidya is not immediately perceived, still you know in what entity avidya inheres. Where is then any occasion for your question?”

    Later Sankara goes on to say:
    “It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidya at the same moment (that your Self cognises avidya); for the cogniser (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidya.”

    So, it is not that ignorance is in the mind, but the mind is part of the ignorance, which when realised becomes no-mind. Hence when there is mind, it can ask the question who has ignorance; but if there is no mind / no jiva, then that question just cannot arise.

    Best wishes,
    venkat

    • I can certainly agree with your last sentence, Venkat: If there is no mind, then the question just cannot arise! I suggest that you meditate on that. 😉

      Best wishes,
      Dennis

  6. If there’s ONLY Brahman, then why all this talk of world, body, mind, etc?

    If there’s really NO SECOND THING, I don’t understand all the confusion and constant debating! For reals!

    Someone please help me as once this is known truly, there can be no question nor debating. Or else all of this, including Advaita, is just armchair philosophy and more ego games.

    And I’m sure I’m speaking for others who read these posts and are truly searching for truth.

    And finally, I think it’s in Ashtavakra Gita that it’s said that whoever argues or continues to argue and debate is completely missing the point and not “getting it”!

    Much love but I just had to comment and ask here… ❤️

    • So we can surmise from our ego games and debating, that this is not truly known. 🙂

      Btw I don’t think Ashtavakra ever said that.

  7. Ramesam

    One other thought on the locus of ignorance. It is actually very important.

    Because, if you postulate that it ignorance is just in the mind, then the book knowledge (panditya) that our minds gain can indeed remove ignorance, and there can be a gap between knowledge and completing one’s sadhanas to attain moksha – as Dennis holds.

    If however the jiva mind IS the ignorance, then statements referring to merging in Brahman, disappearance of the world and no-mind, all make sense.

  8. Ashtavakra Gita Chapter 9 DETACHMENT:

    My paraphrasing of Ashtavakra Gita is correct if you choose to go see for yourself in the above quoted chapter.

    Again, the arguing, debating and “being right” is not only nonsense but a waste of time and will never get you what you’re really looking for.

  9. [Jason says] “Again, the arguing, debating and “being right” is not only nonsense but a waste of time and will never get you what you’re really looking for.”

    Jason, you’re aiming at the very heart of the tradition. Ashtavakra, alas, speaks in extremely rarified air which allows for few words. But whether or not you find all this back and forth here edifying or enlightening, and I think I understand your obvious dismay, Advaitins have for many centuries examined their own doctrines as well as those of their rivals in the context of the Indian tradition of philosophic debate and abstruse logic. From at least the time of Shankara’s celebrated if perhaps apocryphal weeks long debate with Mandana Mishra and his wife Ubhaya Bharati, this has been done with a high level of intellectual honesty and sophisticated philosophic methodology and yes, often with a strong desire to see one’s opponent vanquished. These men were writing for intelligent and critically minded readers and not pleading for the silence of mystic communion.

  10. Dear Venkat,

    You say above, “So, I guess I would have to disagree with both of you on this. Ignorance can’t just be in the mind of the jiva, because the mind itself, as a second not-Self upadhi, is a part of the ignorance.”

    First of all, I will have to admit that I was a bit sloppy when I said that I agreed with Dennis’s comment. I overlooked the word ‘mind’ in Dennis’s comment and took that statement to mean that ignorance lies with the one who asked a question about “Whose is ignorance?” I was thinking in terms of Shankara’s reply to such a question at both places – 4.1.3, BSB and 13,2, BSB.

    In fact, I quoted Shankara’s replies at both places, 4.1.3, BSB and 13.2, BGB, in a long comment of mine on Sep 26, 2020.

    I also referred to Shankara’s detailed commentary at 13.2, BGB in my article here: https://www.advaita-vision.org/the-ignorance-that-isnt-6-8/

    If one thinks of “mind” as a container and imagines ‘ignorance’ to be sitting inside, that would be a misleading model, IMHO. Mind is merely a vibration and that thought-modulation lighted by (reflected) consciousness appears as ignorance at that moment. Ignorance does not have any entity-hood other than that vibration at that moment. IOW, there is no animal called ‘ignorance’ other than that particular vibration. That is the ‘model’ I followed.

    In another comment, you observed, “if you postulate that it ignorance is just in the mind, then the book knowledge (panditya) that our minds gain can indeed remove ignorance, and there can be a gap between knowledge and completing one’s sadhanas to attain moksha – as Dennis holds.”

    No.
    As you yourself wrote many times earlier in your articles/comments, the information in the ‘mind’ is merely “mediate knowledge.” As 4.4.21, Br.U. and also BG say, the mediate-knowledge has to turn into “immediate-Knowledge.” Then only one is said to have “realized the Self.”

    We discussed this aspect too several times in these columns during early 2020s. So, I hope there is no confusion.

    Finally, let me make one more point. My article ‘What happens after Self-realization – 2/3,” the jIva is an intermix of Consciousness (speck or reflection) + the inert mind. What can be the ‘locus’ for ‘ignorance’ within the jIva?

    regards,

  11. Understand completely but it’s already been done, and the whole point of guru and scriptures.

    … and that is to guide one to the Ultimate truth of oneself and the “world”. The Upanisads are the FINAL CONCLUSION!

    This is not an ongoing debate or confusion.

    Swami Dayananda, Swami Paramartananda and Swami Sarvapriyananda are VERY CLEAR about this as well obviously!

    My whole point is that there is more arguing and debating with all of this than there is in actually Knowing/Being and celebrating what actually is the truth! Which is Brahman. Which is YOU! Right now!

    So what’s left to argue here? And why?

    If you or anyone doesn’t know, then as is said many times, start from the beginning and go through the process of hearing and removing all doubts.

    Or else the guru and scriptures are complete BS and this is all just another silly game or shop-talk!

    (It’s VERY important to know that I’m not trying to jump into this ongoing arguing and debating, but merely pointing out that it gets no one anywhere, and the whole point ANYWAYS is to get to the BOTTOM LINE!!! Which is already available through guru and scriptures!)

  12. Hi Jason,

    The traditional process of gaining the understanding is shravaNa and manana. Just hearing (or reading) the bottom line is not usually sufficient for seekers. It is natural to doubt and to question everything until it is fully understood and appreciated. So this sort of discussion IS usually necessary. This is especially the case when a seeker has gained their prior understanding via a not-strictly-traditional route, in which case some misleading ideas are likely to have been assimilated. This is not to say that their route will not take them to the final understanding, but when routes differ, discussion (and even argumentation!) is inevitable.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  13. Dear Ramesam,

    “First of all, I will have to admit that I was a bit sloppy when I said that I agreed with Dennis’s comment.”

    LOL! 😉 I must confess that I was a bit surprised!

  14. Dear Ramesam and Venkat,

    Shankara’s argument that ignorance has to be in the mind occurs in his commentary on BG 13.2:

    avidyāvattvāt kṣetrajñasya saṁsāritvam iti cet, na; avidyāyāḥ tāmasatvāt | tāmaso hi pratyayaḥ, āvaraṇātmakatvāt avidyā viparītagrāhakaḥ,saṁśayopasthāpako vā, agrahaṇātmako vā; vivekaprakāśabhāvē tadabhāvāt, tāmase ca āvaraṇātmake
    timirādidoṣe sati agrahaṇādeḥ avidyātrayasya: upalabdheḥ

    Ignorance has to be in the mind. It is a condition of mind in which tamas prevails. It is in the mind that discriminative knowledge arises. avidyA is not the ‘opposite’ of vidyA but rather an ‘obstruction’. And the obstruction to knowledge has to be in the same locus as that which generates knowledge, i.e. the mind. When the mind is unable to ‘generate knowledge’ because of the obstruction, we say that there is ‘ignorance’. Shankara gives the metaphor of seeing two moons because of a cataract in the eye. The ‘cataract’ is the ‘obstacle’ and its removal cures the double vision. Similarly, once the tamasic ignorance in the mind is removed, we are able to realize our oneness with Brahman.

    Best wishes,
    Denni

  15. Hi Dennis

    Thanks for this. So yes and no regarding ‘ignorance has to be in the mind’. Let me have a go at setting out the logic flow:

    1. Avidya is the superimposition of the non-Self on the Self

    2. The non-Self covers not just the world and body, but also the mind and intellect

    3. As a result of the superimposition, an ‘I’-thought arises in the mind, from which spring desires and fears and further ignorance. The ‘products of nescience’ as per the Sankara quote in the post.

    4. Viveka and vairgagya serve to attenuate the mind’s thoughts, desires / fears, and turn it inward, progressively discarding all that is non-Self. The REMOVAL of the mistaken identification, as Sankara states is what is implied by knowledge.

    5. Then, as Suresvara states: “Discrimination belongs to the intellect alone, for it is only because the intellect is not-self that distinctions arise at all. Finally discrimination destroys the intellect as the plantain-fruit destroys the parent tree.”

    So ignorance is in (and further promulgated by) the mind, but the mind itself is a product of avidya, as Suresvara makes clear. Whether he / Sankara / Gaudapada meant that it is actually destroyed, or whether it is a deep level of attenuation of the mind / detachment can be debated – and is unknowable until ‘we’ get there.

    Best wishes,
    venkat

  16. Hi Venkat,

    I don’t think it is as straightforward as that.

    ‘Avidya is the superimposition…’ Yes – but where does this avidyA-adhyAsa take place? In the mind. But then how can the mind be a result of this? Chicken and egg problem! This is an aspect of Ramanuja’s ashraya anupapatti.

    I’ve argued against manonASha extensively. See https://www.advaita-vision.org/manonasha-not-the-literal-death-of-the-mind/ and also https://www.advaita-vision.org/the-mind-and-its-death/ for the specific Gaudapada aspects.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  17. Hi Dennis

    In that case, how would you interpret Suresvara’s comment:

    “Finally discrimination destroys the intellect as the plantain-fruit destroys the parent tree.”

    thanks
    venkat

  18. Dear Dennis and Venkat,

    It is precisely to avoid the danger of the type of discussions that both of you are having, I said I was a bit sloppy in endorsing Dennis’s statement about identifying ‘mind’ concretely as the locus. If we are to imagine ‘mind’ as a concrete entity sitting there, the downstream conclusions as derived by Dennis become inevitable.

    The chicken and egg or seed and plant relationship is a mutual dependency. There is no scope for such a relationship of mutual dependency. In such cases, both the entities are unreal and both arise from a ‘Reality’ that exists prior to them.

    Further, as we know, there cannot be any such relationship of ‘mutual dependency’ between the Self and ignorance. Self is always the Cognizer and stays untainted by what is cognized. Self is the one that ‘sees’ both the mind (strictly the antaHkaraNa) and the avidyA also.

    I will like to draw your attention to the Parts 6 and 7 of the Series of articles at this site on “The Ignorance that Isn’t” and the explanation given there from the last parts of Part – 6/8 to the end of the article.

    regards,

    P.S. In the Comment by Dennis, he also wrote “It is in the mind that discriminative knowledge arises. avidyA is not the ‘opposite’ of vidyA but rather an ‘obstruction’. And the obstruction to knowledge has to be in the same locus as that which generates knowledge, i.e. the mind.”

    The original Sanskrit text quoted by Dennis DOES NOT say the three sentences:

    i) “It is in the mind that discriminative knowledge arises;
    ii) avidyA is not the ‘opposite’ of vidyA”;
    iii) the obstruction to knowledge has to be in the same locus as that which generates knowledge, i.e. the mind.”

  19. Dear Venkat,

    Sureshvara’s comment about discrimination ‘destroying’ the intellect is exactly the same as the manonASha discussion. He means that, once you understand that mind and chidAbhAsa are mithyA and only the Atman is satyam, then the intellect is ‘falsified’. This knowledge nevertheless requires all three to be present since Atman is akartA etc. and cannot be a literal knower without making use of the mind. (As Gaudapada points out, the mind has utility but that does not make it real.)

    [You cannot ‘destroy’ that which is not ‘real’ to begin with.]

    I discuss this question of ‘Who am I?’ in parts 5 and 6 of the pratibandha series – https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-5-of-7/.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  20. Dear Ramesam,

    My response to Venkat answers your query to some extent. The Atman does not ‘see’ anything. It does not ‘do’ anything. It is the combination of Atman, intellect and chidAbhAsa that appears to do things in vyavahAra.

    Regarding your objection to my interpretation of the Shankara Gita bhAShya, I would genuinely be grateful and truly interested if you could provide a word by word translation of the Sanskrit since this particular post is a direct extract from my ‘Confusions’ on Ignorance and I would like to get it right. Ideally the translation would be by someone who does not have a prior understanding of what it is saying!

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  21. Dear Dennis,

    “Ideally the translation would be by someone who does not have a prior understanding of what it is saying!”

    You are putting an impossible condition for me! 🙂 🙂
    IOW, we need a Sanskrit scholar who had not read Gita.
    Maybe such a guy is available somewhere within the portals of the Western Academia; but I cannot imagine that it’s possible in India!
    The word to word translation of the passage you quoted from the BGB will take a lot of space and I shall separately e-mail it to you and Venkat.

    Regarding: “It is the combination of Atman, intellect and chidAbhAsa that appears to do things in vyavahAra.”

    Much needs to be said about the above sentence from a pedantic angle as you yourself are very particular reg: precise use of words.
    Vedanta talks about separable (sand and grains), inseparable (milk and water) and imaginary (adhyAropita) combinations. Secondly, intellect and cidAbhAsa are just two functional aspects of one and the same thing.

    Another point I would like to mention is that the terms like ‘mAyA’; ‘avidyA’; Ignorance; ‘anAdi’; etc. are merely “explanatory” artifacts in Vedanta. Therefore, I found it much more salutary to keep in mind that they are unreal and one should not invest too much into them. Believing in any explanation based on those red herring terms is surely likely to lead one into a rabbit hole.

    regards,

  22. I actually agree with what you say here, Ramesam! I believe that incalculable amounts of time have been wasted by post-Shankara writers on the subject of ignorance. I have read a lot on the subject recently and find it astounding how tortuous logic is used to put points of view which ultimately have to be dropped anyway. I gave up on a lot of it as I could not justify the effort in trying to understand it.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  23. i) “It is in the mind that discriminative knowledge arises;
    ii) avidyA is not the ‘opposite’ of vidyA”;
    iii) the obstruction to knowledge has to be in the same locus as that which generates knowledge, i.e. the mind.”

    There is a confusion here regarding definition of Vidya avidya. What definition we are talking about
    Per SB on BG 13.2 SB 2.3
    “Vidya avidya are in sharp contrast and point in opposite directions”

    And per ISA 10,11
    Swami P pravachana it has a different meaning:
    Ye avidyām upāsate – So here we have to carefully note what is said. In Īśāvāsya
    upaniṣad, every word has a special meaning not found in dictionary. In this
    context, the word avidyā means karma. Vidyā virodhitvāt karma avidyā iti
    ucyate. So avidyā refers to karma. Here we have to note further that it refers to
    sakāma-karma – karma done for material benefit. And Vidya refers to sakarna Upasana.

    It will help us follow your arguments if you clearly define Vidya and avidya in the context.
    Vijay

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