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Mani-Vidyasankar debate: Points

From: Sudarshan Iyengar H3-378 (
Date: Thu Jun 23 1994 - 11:39:30 PDT

     Here are some points you may want to consider in your reply to Vidya's latest posts.
 Probably you already know most of them, but just in case ...

Discussion in newsgroup soc.religion.eastern
Subject: mAyA (was Re: The Theism of the Upanishads)

vidya>> In Advaita Vedanta, God (Brahman) is defined as Being. This is in perfect  
vidya>> accordance with the Upanishad which says "sadeva sowmya idam agra AsIt."  
vidya>> (sat = Being/Reality, eva = only -> Being alone, dear student, was here in  
vidya>> the beginning.) This world, not being Brahman as is, is therefore, not  
vidya>> Being. However, it is not non-Being either, because, Being is the  
vidya>> substratum of this world. That it is neither follows at once. Also it is  
vidya>> not both, because no entity can be both Being and non-Being at the same  
vidya>> time.   Automatically, it can only be perceived as mithya, as mAyA. The  
vidya>> same argument holds for the mAyA conceived as the power of creation too.  
vidya>> Whether this mAyA is real or not is the next question. For Advaita  
vidya>> Vedanta, Brahman is the only Reality. Thus mAyA is not Real, not Unreal,  
vidya>> nor both, nor neither. That is the primary meaning. Illusion comes about  
vidya>> only as a popular secondary meaning, because that which is mAyA is  
vidya>> generally understood as illusion.  As regards the world, the conclusion of  
vidya>> Advaita is that this world is a vivarta on Brahman, not a pariNAma - i.e.  
vidya>> the world-origination does not change Brahman, which continues to be the  
vidya>> changeless Nirguna. In that sense, the world is one of appearances, not of  
vidya>> ultimate reality. How is that we perceive the world around us as real  
vidya>> then? How is it that the world originates from Brahman, but Brahman Itself  
vidya>> is not changed by it? The answer is - that is inexplicable, that is mAyA,  
vidya>> which is "anirvachanIya", a mystery. Advaitins use mAyA in this technical  
vidya>> sense. Critics of Advaita, both Dvaitins and Visishtadvaitins, purposely  
vidya>> misunderstand it in the popular sense as mere illusion, and find fault  
vidya>> with it.

vidya>> Visishtadvaitin, there are other reals. Hence he finds no problem  
vidya>> in ascribing reality to mAyA too. Advaita does not differentiate various  
vidya>> things in Ultimate Reality, because as the Upanishads repeatedly tell us,  
vidya>> the Highest is undifferentiated, without parts. Advaitins also maintain  
vidya>> this "anirvachanIya" nature of mAyA only at the Ultimate level. The  
vidya>> meaning of mAyA as neither real nor unreal occurs only at the level of  
vidya>> "pAramArthika satya". At the level of "vyAvahArika satya" - mAyA is as  
vidya>> real as anything else, but then that is only because one doesn't apprehend  
vidya>> the pAramArthika at the level of the vyAvahArika. To find fault with mAyA  
vidya>> at the level of objective reality is putting the cart before the horse -  
vidya>> what we perceive as objectively real is due to this mysterious thing  
vidya>> called mAyA; we cannot say anything about its reality or otherwise unless  
vidya>> we have known the pAramArthika satya. Visishtadvaitins easily slip into  
vidya>> characterizing the Advaitic idea of mAyA as unreal. Advaita is careful to  
vidya>> point out that ultimately, if mAyA is not real, it is not unreal either.  
vidya>> To argue that such a category cannot exist, that mAyA has to be either  
vidya>> wholly real or wholly unreal, is being simply blind to the logic behind  
vidya>> such a categorization.

       Visistadvaita rejects the exlanation of mAyA according to Advaita, at both
  the levels. (vyAvahArika satya & pAramArthika satya) and not just at the 
  vyAvahArika level. One has to look carefully at the "Anirvaachaniya Khyati"    
 posited by Advaita to understand what exactly they are saying. This khyati
 says that all things apprehended as shell-silver (an example) or any other
 thing are not real, but only distortions of reality. All these presentations
 are therefore mere products of Avidya. In the shell-silver case neither the
 shell nor the silver is real. The silver in the shell is neither existent NOR
 non-existent,  a result of the inexplicable or Anirvaachaniya nescience or
      This khyati is totally rejected by Visistadvaita, for existence or Satva
 and non-existence or Asatva cannot reside in the same thing at the same place
 and time. So Anirvaachaniya is not a Fact of apprehension at all. Hence the 
 mysterious thing called mAyA need not be introduced when another viable
 explanation exists: The experience, namely "This is silver"  or "This is shell"
 is contradicted in the Advaitic Khyati. 
     In the Visistadvaitic explanation (YathArtha Khyati) all knowledge is 
 yathArtha or knowledge of an object as is. The reason for the shell-silver
 error is due to a very Real defect in the viewing apparatus and/or in the
 the surrounding. Error is therefore due to either real defects or upadhis.
 If they are not able to satisfy our practical need, then they are aprama
 or false. ie. in the shell-silver case there is no silver that can be 
 used. Instances of perceptual error like the yellow-conch, red crystal,
 a mirage, a fire brand wheel are all Real effects for Real causes. Due to
 the defective sense material the "thinghood" of the thing is mis-apprehended.
 The thinghood of the thing and it's difference from other things is not
 grasped and illusion ensues. 

   Hence the Visistadvaita school says that if there is a viable explanation
 for this worldly phenomena, there is no need to posit Avidya which is
 trapped as Anirvaachaniya.
  One has to read the detailed analysis of Sri Vedanta Desika to appreciate
 the level of depth to which the Advaitic mAyA concept has been subjected to,
 including the points raised by Vidya.

mani>> Mani -  For example, consider the ontological status of mAyA, the 
mani>>        principle that is supposed to be the source of avidyA and hence
mani>>        our bondage in this world.  Other Vedantins wish to know, if 
mani>>        Brahman is pure, homogeneous Consciousness, admitting of no 
mani>>        difference whatsoever, how does mAyA fit into the picture? 
mani>>        Advaitins respond by saying "it is anirvacanIya 
mani>>        (incomprehensible)". Now you tell me, is that a response in the 
mani>>        context of a debate?

vidya>> My response to this frivolous charge is this. Don't you resort to  
vidya>> incomprehensibility yourself? Let me elaborate. Visishtadvaita explains  
vidya>> the relationship between the Atman and the Brahman, not as an Identity  
vidya>> (even though Upanishad expressly tells us so) but as a SarIra-SArIrin  
vidya>> relationship. When asked how is it that changes in the SarIra (one's AtmA)  
vidya>> do not affect the SArIrin (Brahman), what is the Visishtadvaitin's answer?  
vidya>> He cannot say that one's individual AtmA is changeless, because that is  
vidya>> the Advaitic view. However, Brahman, the AtmA of this Atma, must remain  
vidya>> changeless, because Upanishad says so. How does he resolve this? He  
vidya>> resorts to this same mysteriousness! The Visishtadvaitin can hardly find  
vidya>> fault with Advaita for saying mAyA is anirvachanIya. The double standard  
vidya>> in his reasoning is patent. When the Advaitin says mAyA is inexplicable  
vidya>> i.e. mysterious, that is not a proper response in the context of a debate.  
vidya>> When the Visishtadvaitin says "Mysterious are the ways of the Lord", that  
vidya>> is a wonderful response in the debate and the Advaitin should exalt him as  
vidya>> a great bhakta, I suppose!

        I think the concept of Sarira-Sariri bhava has not been
 examined thoroughly by Vidya here! I have not read or heard from anyone that
 the Sarira-Sariri bhava has any Anirvaachaniya element at all. Vidya's charges
 here are totally unfounded as there is no "mysteriousness". Sarira-sariri
 bhava emphasises the spiritual synthesis of the universe and establishes the 
 unity of the Divine. (not identity). This concept does NOT in any way 
 suggest a biological organism, for this is a spiritual Analogy, used to 
 establish the inter-dependence of the Universe and Brahman. The absolute
 co-exists with the finite centres of experience, as well as the world of nature,
 being their ground and goal. Iswara or Brahman is the real self of the
 Universe. Why should this all powerful cosmic principle ensoul itself in the
 matter and the selves?  Does he get tainted by the imperfections of the body ?

  The answer to these are as follows:
          The universe does not become the body of Brahman due to any external
 agency like Karma, as is the case of the finite self. The world is inherently
 the body of Isvara and not resultant of Karma or Chance. But this is not so
 with the individual soul. The finite soul is not inseperably related to matter
 as it's soul. The body of the finite soul changes from birth to birth and 
 in the final stage it's relation with matter is once and for all severed. 
 But the sentient and non-sentient entities are not related to Brahman like
 this.  They are inseperably related to Brahman and they cannot at any instant
 exist apart from it. Brahman is characterised with these 2 entities in both the
 subtle (causal) and the gross (consequent) stages. In the composite being of
 Brahman each substance retains it's distinctive nature.  

      The analogy of a piece of cloth woven with threads of different colors
 where each thread retains it's color, is given by Sri Ramanuja. 
 Ramanjua states that a soul does not experince pain or pleasure only because
 it is associated with the body, but because of the Karma. But the supreme self
 is far removed from any evil, though he has the universe as his body, he has no 
 trace of Karma whatsoever.
     The defects of the body do not touch the self at all. This is how Brahman
 is not affected by the trappings of the finite self.
    So there is no Anirvaachaniya here.

  I'll send out points on the "Tat Twam Asi" section in a subsequent email. 

 (References: 1. The Philosophy of Sadhana in Visistadvaita by N.S. AnanthaRangachar
          2. Introduction to the VedarthaSangraha of Sri Ramanuja by SS Raghavachar)