Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The locus of avidyA
Shyam Subramanian

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Read Shyam's blog 'Self Knowledge'.
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(Posted to the Advaitin Egroup, April 2007)

I shall try to provide you my perspective based on a simple example. Take the case of a small old pot – let’s call it Mr. Pott.

Mr. Pott is in reality clay, the same clay that all other clay pots are. He takes himself to be only the pot. As long as he entertains a notion that he is a pot he is small, he has aged 20 years since he was born, lives in a poor home, has lost some of the colour on his head, etc.

Now avidyA is Mr. Pott’s ignorance about himself not being just a pot, but in reality being clay. And as clay he is neither born nor will he die - na jAyate mriyate vA kadAchin (BG II.20).

Now if you ask who does this ignorance belong to? The answer is - it belongs to Mr. Pott. Well isn’t Mr. Pott clay? Yes. Then does the ignorance belong to clay. No. The clay never has anything really to do with the ‘pot notion’, although without the clay, the pot cannot have any substantive existence.

Well then isn’t Mr. Pott also a pot. Yes. Then, does the ignorance belong to the pot? No again. The pot by itself is nothing but clay.

Then who is Mr. Pott? He is the I-sense that feels itself to be a pot separate from clay, and doesn’t recognize itself to be clay, even though all along it is clay and nothing but clay.

When did it become ignorant? This is a wrong question because it assumes an absence of ignorance prior to the onset of ignorance which is impossible.

Who needs the right knowledge to get liberated? The clay? No. The pot? No. Mr. Pott - Yes!

When you say avidyA is lighted by Atman, you are linking two things which share no relation really. It is like saying the clay lights up Mr. Pott’s ignorance.

Assigning a locus for avidyA is possible only when there are two distinct realities - not when both pot and clay are in essence one.

For example, there are two sides to a coin, and yes - you can assign a locus to the head - one side versus the other.

In the case of avidyA, this cannot be done because what is real (what IS) is always the clay alone.

The pot is non-different from clay. If you mark a large ‘X’ on the pot are you marking it on clay or on the pot? If you say the pot, then one can say, OK remove the clay and let’s see the X-mark on the pot now. See the difficulty in doing this?

The X-marks are none other than mind, intellect etc. Yes, they all belong to the pot- but there really is no pot - only clay! What Mr. Pott needs to realize is that he is not the pot, that these marks he thinks are his are also in reality nothing but clay which he himself his.

There is no question of the clay needing to make the pot-ignorance of Mr. Pott its object. How can you objectify ignorance? It is truly absurd to postulate. And, for the sake of argument, even if one were to do this then that means you had ignorance about ignorance itself - because now that ignorance has been resolved, and this can only result in infinite regress..

Who will see this ignorance for what it is? Certainly not the clay for which there never is ignorance. Certainly not the pot which is not even existent. Certainly not Mr. Pott because he himself already IS what he is ignorant about.

To use a different analogy, it is like saying the tenth man must first see his ignorance about being the tenth man as an object before he can be satisfied that he indeed is the tenth man.

avidyA is never ‘real’. It is not ‘unreal’ either because, after all, poor Mr. Pott thinks he is small and old and, in so doing, reveals the workings of avidyA. But this is a mere notion on his part. With the dawn of knowledge from an appropriate means of knowledge (i.e. Ma Shruti), this ignorance is once and forever dispelled. He realizes he is clay, not then, in the future, but in and through all times forever in the past and forever in the future.

And again, ignorance did not ‘create’ the pot. The clay is the ONLY material cause for the pot. Mr. Pott's ignorance about his being a limited pot is beginingless and hence there is no creation of someone creating it as we have already seen.

The adhyAsa is this only: that Mr. Pott mistakes the pot for a pot without realizing it is clay. As clay, not only is he immortal but he is also non-separate from the whole clay-universe and, to go one step further, the entire clay-universe is arising from him alone and will dissolve unto him alone.

mayyeva sakalaM jAtaM mayi sarvaM pratiShThitam |
mayi sarvaM layaM yAti tadbrahmAdvayamasmyaham ||
Everything is born from Me alone, everything is based on Me alone Everything resolves back into Me alone. I am the non-dual Brahman. (Kaiv. U. 19)

The recognitions that:

- I am clay and hence not limited by my notion of being a pot.

- The entire world is nothing but clay and hence non-separate from me, and rather than my being a product of the world as i had originally thought, i am actually the very substratum on which this whole universe of pots is seemingly created and destroyed.

- I, the clay, alone am.

are all in essence one and the same recognition. One cannot realize one of these three realities without being ‘realized’ about the other two also.

In that sense there is no differentiating on the basis of a scorecard, any of the Great Masters, Seers, and Prophets who have come to this realization.

Hope this has confused less and clarified more.

Suffice to say, the simplest and really the only answer to any question regarding the locus of avidyA will be ‘i’ or me.

‘i’ who is ignorant am the locus of avidyA because ‘i’ know not that really speaking ‘i’ am ‘I’.

Hari OM Shri Gurubhyo namah, Shyam

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