You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : July 1999

Re: avidyA and advaita

From: Venkatesh Elayavalli (
Date: Tue Jul 13 1999 - 08:13:30 PDT

Dear Sri Ramakrishna,

I should say first that I am not  familiar in Sanskrit and
the following observation is based on English commentaries
by scholars such as S. Dasgupta and P. T. Raju.

>3. So what is avidyA and why is avidyA predicated? Su raises the
>pUrvapaxa that if it is admitted that brahman has avidyA, then it
>is a defect. And if brahman is free from avidyA, then knowledge
>which results in moxa, is futile (SVa 2.175-176). The answer is
>that avidyA is predicated based purely on experience (anubhava)
>and thus involves no contradictions. How? As seen from point 1,
>the existence of real entities other than the self is impossible
>to establish. However, empirically, the world is experienced and
>hence avidyA is predicated. The analogy Su gives is the blueness
>of the sky resembling the petals of a blue lotus (BUBhVa
>My explanation of this analogy is as follows: It is already known
>that ether does not possess the quality of color. However, the
>blue color of the sky (ether) is seen and accepted. Thus the
>acceptance of the blue color is based on anubhava only. In other
>words, we have a case of abhAsa. The existence of avidyA is

Please correct me if I am wrong, The analogy presented above
seems to be more akin to Ramanuja's theory.

"According to Shankara, The defect, avidya hides its own nature
and produces various appearances and can neither be described as
being nor as non-being: for it cannot be being, since then the
illusion and the realization of its being an error would be
inexplicable, and it cannot be non-being since the world-
appearance as well as its realization as being wrong, would be
inexplicable" - A History of Indian Philosophy, S. Dasgupta.

Ramanuja refutes this by saying that all Knowledge is real and
the so called avidya is also knowledge produced by percepton. If
you percieve that the ether is blue, because of the sky, it can
be no longer avidya, as the assumption that ether is blue is
based on the association of it to the fact the sky is blue.

Ramanuja's says that avidya is impossible as it must
lean on some other thing for its support. He goes on to say
that if avidya is inexplicable, then there would be neither
illusion nor its correction. So it has to be perception.

So your analogy seems to be more in line with Ramanuja's theory.

To me the major difference between the two schools is, Shankarites
do not admit the theory of illusion as one thing appearing as
another, while Ramanujists explain that as a real knowledge
learned by perception and is corrected once the illusion
is realized.

>3. I will note here that the examination of the three states is
>extremely important in understanding Sh and Su. Understanding the
>position of avidyA in advaita is very closely tied to this. I'll
>write this up in detail in the next few months, and will be
>posting it on the advaita list. For those who are impatient, the
>following references should be useful:

I look forward to this post.


Venkatesh K. Elayavalli             Cypress Semiconductor
Data Communications Division        3901 N. First St. MS 4
Phone: (408) 456 1858               San Jose CA 95134
Fax:   (408) 943 2949

email: (external)
Home Page Location:

Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit