Thursday, November 1, 2012


    What is called evil is attributed by our Indian sages to Ignorance. This is known as avidya, ajnana, maya, prakriti and other analogues. How does this arise? One answer is given in the verse:-

    Anatmany-atma-buddhir ya

    Anve svam iti ya matih||

    Avidya-taru-sambhuti-bijam etad dvidha athitam||


    "The tree of avidya (ignorance) springs forth from the seed of a two-fold aspect. The one aspect of this seed is the mistaking or misapprehending what is not-self for self and the other the mistaking or misapprehending of what is not one's own as one's own." The first mistake arises from reducing the universe to one category, viz., matter; and the second mistake arises from the reduction of the universe into one's own possession, or property. The first misconception is of the material plane, the second of the mental plane. In relation to the material plane, the terms like pradhana and prakriti are applicable. In relation to the mental (which includes moral and emotional), avidya and ajnana are applicable. In relation to both, maya is applicable. From these definitions of terms, our general inference, as regards the subject-matter under discussion, is that ignorance – which is at the root of all our evil – arises from a two-fold misconception, the one of mistaking the non-self for the self, and the other the misconstruction of what is not one's own property as one's own property. So far we have some clear conception of terms, and our ground is cleared for further advance.

    2.    Now, in the statement, 'mistaking non-self for self, are involved two terms, non-self and self. By the term non-self is understood that category in the universe which is devoid of intelligence, and thus self, its opposite, denotes a category which is of intelligence. The former or non-self is matter, the latter, self, is spirit. Thus, the first misconception, viz., of taking non-self for self, is based on the one hand of conceiving the universe as constituted of one category, matter; and that if the other category be admitted even hypothetically, the misconception arises from looking on this spirit (or self) as matter. If this misconception is to disappear, the fact of a two-fold constitution of the universe, by spirit and matter, must be clear to our mind. Secondly, in the statement viz., 'the misapprehending of property which is not one's own as one's own,' are involved two terms, property, and one's own; and the term one's own, is implication of another Being or Category – God we shall call it – different from the category to which what one knows as himself belongs. Thus we have involved in this statement three terms, 'property,' 'one' and 'another.' By the term 'one,' is meant self, or the embodied self, or the compound of individual soul and the body with which it is in conjunction. When one says: "this thing belongs to me," he is – without other proof – intuitively convinced that 'me' is not his body, but the spirit dwelling in it, but which is embodied. To one in this stage, the first misconception of reducing the universe to matter or body has already disappeared. The term property applies to whether the property be matter or spirit. The relative term 'another' as required by the statement: "what is another's as one's own" points to another spirit or self – a third term – to which both matter and the first spirit (or soul) must belong as property, in order that a misconception may arise, viz., of the misappropriating of that other spirit's property to one's self. Let us now fix our terms to definite significations. By the term matter, we mean the non-self, or non-intelligent category; by the term self, we mean the intelligent category, which let us call by the name of soul; by the term spirit, let us understand the universal soul, God. We have thus matter, soul (or the individual spirit), and God (or the Universal Spirit), Now let us proceed

    3.    Ignorance is due to a two-fold misapprehension, it was said. In the first misapprehension, the cosmos is composed of but one stuff, the matter-stuff. In the second misapprehension, that it (cosmos) is a compound of matter and soul is clearly seen, and therefore only two categories are admitted, but God is absent. Thus, for the first misapprehension to disappear, we must believe in matter and soul, and for the second misapprehension to disappear, we must believe in matter, soul and God. The question for us now to settle is, not whether soul exists as distinguished from matter, not whether God exists as distinguished from both. These three archetypal constituents of the cosmos must be taken for granted before proceeding to show what our scriptures tell us as to how to get rid of ignorance, the root of our evil. But let us in the meanwhile consider what the term misconception or misapprehension implies.

    4.    In that term is implied a dualism, viz; a conceiver and a conceived. The conceiver implies conception. Conception implies intelligence. The conceived is the object of conception. It may be an object of intelligence or no-intelligence. If we put soul in the place of the conceiver, the conceived may be either matter, the conceiver itself, or God. Now the first misconception or misapprehension – that is the one aspect of the seed, avidya – or the mistaking of non-self for self, is thus clearly a self-deception. For the very act of mistaking is an act of intelligence; and if cosmos is all non-self, or unintelligent matter-stuff, how can there be any act involving intelligence? This ratiocinative process alone is a proof of soul, and it is not our present task to formulate other kinds of proofs for the existence of this category. From this kind of reasoning alone, we may get rid of the first kind of misconception, of mistaking non-self for self. But as long as this misconception persists, we are under ignorance, and this ignorance is caused, as we are taught by our Vedanta sages, by the alliance brought about between soul and matter, where the sight of the soul is blinded by matter, so far and in such proportions as the intelligent acts of the soul – born of its free-will – have brought about the said alliance (samsara). This is avidya on the material plane, so to say. We shall now consider the other aspect of this ignorance, on the mental plane, so to say.

    5.    The mental avidya is only more subtle than the material avidya, for in both are both, but in each, one is vastly more predominant than the other. For mental or that which relates to the mind is according to our Vedanta is also material. For, mind according to us is material, for mind according to us in not soul. The prime intelligence of soul working with the subtle matter – our mind – or intelligence functioning on a subtle material organ, is our mind. And we say consistently with this train of reasoning also say that intelligence functioning on gross material organs is our matter. To us intelligence and non-intelligence or self and non-self are never dissociated; and that we think and define and speak of them as distinct categories, is for a mere mental grasp of the thing. We stated before that this mental avidya is that which gives rise to the misappropriation of what is not one's own as own, and we showed that this involved three terms: matter, soul and God. If matter and soul are God's property, but if the soul looked on matter as its property, and looked upon itself as an independent existence, and God as non-existent, here comes the mental Avidya inclusive, (as said above), of the moral and emotional elements of the mental plane. Perhaps, to call this as the spiritual avidya in contradistinction to the material avidya, viz: the first misconception, would render our ideas clearer. But so long as we manage to understand what we mean, we need not trouble ourselves about what terms we use to convey our meaning.

    6.    So long then as soul is not clearly perceived as apart from matter, the material avidya (ignorance) must persist; and so long as God is not clearly perceived as apart from matter and soul, the spiritual avidya (a queer expression) must persist. And, as shown already, the cause of both these misconceptions lies in the alliance of soul with matter. This is the meaning of the verse in Gita:

        "Karanam Guna-Sango Asya

        Sad-asad-yoni-janmasu."     XIII-21.


and the Brahma-Sutra:-

        Deha-yogadva sopi         III-2-6.

    It is this misconception, or ignorance, which – when we read different treatises on Vedanta,- is called delusion, deception, illusion, maya, the seeming, the passive, the phenomenal &c. Here a word is necessary as to the differences of opinion on this matter between monists and dualists, or idealists and realists as we say. To the monist, maya is illusion, or a mental hallucination, and no category therefore as matter-stuff exists, and on the other hand as soul itself is God, no separate God exists. Not so is the position of the dualistic philosopher. To him matter is a real entity, and God is a real entity, and illusion is a name for the wrong conceptions arising in the soul as regards matter on the one hand (the 1st ignorance) and as regards God on the other hand (the 2nd ignorance). When this illusion vanishes, Maya is overcome, and all the three categories matter, soul and God are realized as they are.

    7.    As to how to get rid of our ignorance we may as well go into some more detail of the nature of this ignorance. Two-fold, it was stated. One was the mistaking the body for soul, which we called the material avidya; and what we called the spiritual avidya, viz, the erroneous notions as respects the ownership of body and soul, was the other. And this other has for better comprehension been sub-divided by one of our saints, Sri Parasara Bhattarya, into 5 classes, viz:-

    (i)    The error of independence (svatantry-andho)

    (ii)    The error of transferred allegiance (itara-seshatva-dhih)

    (iii)    The error of self-preservation (atma-tranon mukhah)

    (iv)    The error of misplaced friendship (bandhava-bhasa-lolatvam)

    (v)    The error of sense-delight (vishaya-chapalapdhitvam)

    As was already stated, these errors are errors of the mental plane, and are committed with respect to the third category, God. Let is consider each of these sub-divisions:-

    (i)    The error of independence consists in the soul thinking itself as independent in being, thought, deed and enjoyment, and not recognizing a God on whom all these things depend.

    (ii)    The error of transferred allegiance, implies the recognition of God, but the error consists in paying homage to others than the one God, be they beast or men, trees or Devas; or philosophically stated nearly the error of polytheism as against monotheism.

    (iii)    The error of self-preservation consists in the soul thinking that it itself is its protector, both in the embodied state of existence here and transcendental states which may hereafter be attained; but not God.

    (iv)    The error of misplaced friendship consists in looking on bodily relations and others as our well-wishers, or as those who would help us in the salvation of our souls, and not God.

    (v)    The error of sense-delights consists in the thought that all enjoyments is derived through the senses, and that it is the only enjoyment in the cosmos; and not God.

    These 5 kinds of errors comprise the second mis-conception or ignorance of the mental kind, - the knot of evil.

    The first misconception is of the material kind already stated.

    8.    How to get rid of this ignorance, which has persisted from aeons as stated in the Mandukyopanishad "Anadi-mayaya suptah," and which the Saiva Siddhantis call by the name, Anava-mala; or maya or mala comprised of Ahankara and Mamakara in other words. Ahankara and Mamakara are but again expressing in a different way, the two-fold aspects of ignorance. Ahankara and Mamakara constitute in the present-day terminology, the individuality and personality accreting round the soul. The more the ideas of "the individual," and "the personal" persist, the more is the soul fettered. The more these ideas vaporize, the more the freedom, the less the binding. The secret of the Prapatti Sastra, or renunciation to God, consists in reducing one's self to nothing; or to put it happily resolving one's own self into God. Of self, as individual, as personal, nothing must be left. They must vanish, and God recognized as complete. "What I am, and what mine is, is Thou and Thine"(Mamanatha &c.,) declared Sri Yamuna-charya. How to get rid is the question. It has been briefly answered thus by the said sage Bhattarya.

    (A)    When thou thinkest thou art the body, think thou art the soul.

    (B)    (i)    When thou thinkest thou art independent, think thou art dependent on God.

        (ii)    When thou seemest other than God, think that that is fornication, and transfer thy allegiance to Him, and Him alone, the One God to whom and whom alone thou art bound by ties of allegiance, and other ties.

        (iii)    When thou thinkest thou art thy care-taker, think that thou art not, but God is really thy Care-taker.

        (iv)    When thou thinkest that others than God are thy friends, and can help thee in thy salvation, it is a mistake. Think that thy only true relative and friend is God – Who alone is thy Savior.

        (v)    When thou thinkest that thy delights are sense delights, think they are ultimately but poison, and cause thy ruin, nor are they lasting. They die. Think that God alone is thy real and lasting delight, as says the Sruti: "Rasovai Sah" = He is all delight.

    9.    To our cross ignorance, the above is a brief statement of the means. And that means is as you will have seen, but the education of the mind; the education of the mind spiritually. There are ways chalked out for the spiritual education of the bodily organs, for speech and for mind. There are ways, called by the several names of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti Prapatti, Acharyabhimana, and these are suited to men of various tastes, various stages and various capacities, and suited to the circumstances of the country, the times and conditions. These are found in the Sastras, or those treatises which undertake to lay down the Dharmas or rules of conduct for all kinds of men. But mind-training and mind-control are the chief. When the mind is controlled, speech and body are controlled. Thought is potent. Form comes after thought. Speech is form, and body the more so, and thought itself has its images. Regulate thought, in other words train the mind and let its images be of the heavenly kind; and then speech and deed will be formed after that model. This is tersely expressed by the Sanskrit "Yad-bhavam tadbhavati."

    10.    Out of a multitude of the rules of conduct laid down for a spiritually, progressing soul, the rules of thought laid down for the mind in the Gita – which followed by the disappearance of ignorance and dawning of enlightenment – are to be found in the XIIIth Adhyaya, from verse 7 to 11, which we shall briefly state below to make the subject-matter of our present discussion complete:-

    (a)    Cultivation of the feelings of respect and humility towards the good and the great. (amanitvam)

    (b)    Doing works of charity unostentatiously (adambhitvam)

    (c)    Doing not injury to others in deed, speech or thought. (ahimsa)

    (d)    Preserving one's temper against others' assault. (kshantir)

    (e)    Uprightness, or oneness of mind, speech and act towards others (arjavam)

    (f)    Service (reverence &c.), to instructors (Acharyopasanam)

    (g)    Cleanliness, external and internal as aids to spiritual progress. (saucham)

    (h)    Courage of convictions as regards matters spiritual (sthairyam)

    (i)    Abstraction of mind from subjects not relating to spirit. (atma-vinigraha).

    (j)    Repugnance to objects of sense. (indriyartheshu vairagyam).

    (k)    Discriminating soul from body. (an-ahankara)

    (l)    Constantly dwelling on the miseries and afflictions connected with birth, death, old age, disease and pain. (Janma-mrityu-jara-vyadhi-dukha doshanu-darsanam)

    (m)    Placing no affections on things non-spiritual (asakti)

    (n)    Keeping the heart from undue or inordinate attachment to wife, children, home &c. (an-abhishvangah)

    (o)    Ever preserving the mind's balance, when disturbed by events, of good or bad import. (nityam sama-chittatvam).

    (p)    Of what is of the foremost importance, cultivation of pure and unswerving love (bhakti) for Me (God) (Mayi an-anya-yogena bhaktir avyabhi-charini).

    (q)    Spending time in retired spots. (vivikta-desa-sevitvam)

    (r)    Absence of wish to mingle with the crowd. (aratir jana samsadi).

Here is an epitome of morals by the cultivation of which, we may get rid of avidya, and realize vidya. In this epitome, one cannot fail to see that its adoption or rejection depends upon the granting or the denial of the three main postulates concerned in the making of the Life-Problem, viz., matter, soul and God. What is soul, what is God, and what are the proofs for their existence are matters which must form separate lines of investigation, and must therefore be left to independent treatment.

    8.    Ignorance, thus, is the fact of our mind and heart set on things below. Ignorance is a fact, not an illusion. Knowledge is soul's intrinsic virtue. This is obscured by ignorance. Ignorance is determined by karma or actions of the soul which is free. Karma attracts the material, or matter which is the material cause of ignorance. Soul is thus the efficient cause of ignorance, and matter the material cause. By soul's karma again or acts of virtue, worship of God and the like, the attraction for matter ceases. Man thrives, and God comes with His grace (see English Translation Sri Bhashya Introduction pp.) To put in another way, a change of heart has to be brought about before this ignorance will cease; and to bring about that change are the rules or articles of one's belief – or as we would put, the Tatvas or categories of the cosmos. Ignorance is what also is called by the term moha. It will be seen on reflection that it means attachment or attraction for material objects begot from desire inhering in the soul. When there is desire, there is attachment, there is bondage; and bondage is sorrow. The teachings of our Scriptures – of which our Bhagavad Gita is a compendium – show how to conduct oneself in this world, in other words how to act, i.e., act without tying down the heart and mind to the results thereof. The way to do it is by adopting the code of morals, laid down, of which an illustration from the XIIIth Book was given. When the heart or the affection is set upon the spirit and all eternal concerns, gradually a withdrawal from or repugnance to, material and ephemeral concerns is felt. This is called vairagya, or dislike. This is a concomitant condition of jana or spiritual wisdom. When this has dawned, ignorance has vanished. Says the 52nd verse of Book II of Gita, thus:

Yada-te mohakalilam, buddhir vyatitarishyati;

tada gantasi nirvedam, srotavyasya srutasyacha.


"When thy intellect shall have transcended the confusion of illusion, then shall those attain to the state of vairagya, or desirelessness for things experience (terrestrial here) or things to be experienced celestial, hereafter)."

"Karmajam buddhiyukta hi, phalam tyaktva manishinah,

janmabandha vinir-muktah, padam gacchanty anamayam."


"And those who know the secret of how to act without desire, shall be freed from the fetters of bondage and pass on to the state of peace and bliss," says the 57th verse of the same book,

"The conclusions of the Gita are the conclusions of the nineteenth century, after all the experience of its civilization. I quote from an article "The search for happiness," from "The Herald of the Golden Age." Happiness and contentment are found in the elimination of desire (or tyaga); or to express it more correctly in the transference of desire from the 'transitory' to the 'permanent.' Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where mirth and rest doth corrupt.

    9.    Now, who did not follow these rules and therefore he remained in ignorance? Who followed these rules and transcended maya? If a few examples be cited, that will give a practical value to our deliberation, and besides carry conviction home. The Demon Hiranyakasipu did not follow the rules. He remained in ignorance and met destruction at the hands of Nara-hari. The sage Prahlada followed rules, and he overcame ignorance, and reached God and bliss.

    Ravana went against the spiritual law, and was therefore ignorant. He was in the end ruined, whereas Vibhishana was a follower of the law, and was therefore wise and was blessed with both here and after.

    Sisupala hated Lord Krishna, and he had therefore to give his head as the price for his ignorance, whereas Arjuna was the blessed man to receive the Holy Instructions of Gita direct from the lips of God. Sukracharya lost his eye, whereas Bali gained the kingdom of Patala. Generally, those who belong to the avidya class are the Asuri-prakritayah, and those who belong to the vidya class are the Daivi-prakritayah, or those who follow the spiritual law, and those who do not respectively. This is exhaustively treated in the XVIth adhyaya of the Gita.

12.    The blessed Saint Parankusa (Nammazhar) therefore sang thus:    

Yane yennai-yariyakilade

Yane yendanade yennirunden

Yane ni yennudaimaiyumniye

Vane yettum em vanavarere.


    "All these ages, I have been laboring under the delusion that I am for me, and all is mine. Thus I had no knowledge of myself. Now I have true knowledge, for I now know that I am Thou, and all that I called mine is Thine, O, Almighty, that art praised by the heavenly choir."

    13.    Lord Krishna gives the following recipe for overcoming ignorance,

"Daivihy esha guna-mayi

Mama maya duratyaya

Mam eva ye prapadyante

Mayam elam taranti te" VII-14.


    This maya, or that which is made up of the gunas, is the instrument with which I sport; it is hard to transcend it; But those who seek Me alone as their Refuge, shall transcend it."

    "Set thy heart on Me and let all thy senses function in me, and thou shalt be master of thyself" is the purport of another verse."

                "Yukta asita Mat-parah &c." II-61.





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