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Life Divine Chapter I & II (Dec 1996) - Track 204

Now the sum total of this explanation is that this world appears to be there, although it is not there on account of our mental ignorance. Our mind is at present bewildered, our mind is confused, our mind is ignorant. Now ignorance according to Shankara has two powers, it hides the reality and secondly it projects unreality and superimposes upon reality. I shall repeat. Ignorance has two powers – it hides the reality, conceals the reality, veils the reality. Secondly it projects unreality and imposes unreality upon the reality. So ignorance has done two things, it has concealed the reality of the Brahman, the Brahman is concealed and on that concealment ignorance has produced multiplicity. All this manifoldness of the world it has projected, having projected it superimposes upon the reality. According to Shankara the Reality is only one, one without the second. There are no two realities according to Shankara that is why his philosophy is called the philosophy of Advaita – ‘a’ means not, ‘dvaita’ means two, philosophy of non–two that is philosophy of one. So Shankara spoke of one reality without the second.

So this reality which is one gets concealed by the ignorance just as the sun can be concealed by cloud. Similarly the Reality gets concealed by the ignorance then ignorance projects multiplicity, not oneness but multiplicity and having created multiplicity it imposes upon the reality multiplicity. It is because of the defective mind, here also there is another analogy – you look at the moon with clean eyes, with pure eyes you see only one moon but if your eyesight is bad then if you look at the one moon you will see multiple moons. Although there is one moon really but because of the defective eyesight, you see multiple moons. If your eyesight is corrected multiplicity will disappear and you will see only one moon. Similarly according to Shankara when you have defect in your consciousness, defect in your knowledge, when you are unclear, when your mind is ignorant then due to ignorance you see multiplicity where there is only oneness.

But now the question of question arises. If ignorance is the cause of multiplicity what is the cause of ignorance? So according to Shankara even illusion includes ignorance also. Even ignorance is an illusion then the question arises how did that illusion arise? Shankara says that that ignorance cannot be explained, he calls it inexplicable (anirvachaniya) in Sanskrit it is called anirvachaniya that which cannot be explained. Then you might say that Shankara himself admits his own defeat. If he says ignorance cannot be explained that means therefore that his philosophy is therefore incomplete he has left something unexplained. To this question Shankara answers saying that it is true that so long as you are in ignorance the world appears and neither the world, nor the ignorance can be explained. But when ignorance is transcended you see only the Brahman and ignorance does not even exist there, not only it does not exist but you find that ignorance never existed. There you cannot even raise the question from where the ignorance arose therefore since the question does not arise the question does not need to be replied. Therefore in that sense he says that the question therefore is not left unexplained. As you are a lawyer you will understand the subtlety of the argument that since in the state of awakening where there is only one reality of the Brahman, ignorance is not at all present, there is not even a reference to ignorance. Therefore the question as to how the ignorance arose does not even arise. Therefore you might say which question I have not answered; there is nothing to answer at all. Therefore he says: that I have therefore in my philosophy answered all possible questions, the question as to how ignorance arose that question does not arise in the state of awakening therefore I am not leaving any question unanswered. Now that is his basic argument.

Now there is this further complexity of this argument. According to Shankara avidya or ignorance is something that is in the consciousness of man but apart from the consciousness of man there is also this very power in the universe; not only in the consciousness of man where it is called avidya (ignorance) but there is also in the world at large a corresponding power which he calls Maya, power of illusion, power of illusory creation. Now that Maya according to Shankara is the Mother of the world, Mother of the illusory world. Maya is the power which veils everything and there again you raise the same question: from where does the Maya arise and his first answer is that since there is one Reality namely Brahman, Maya must be in the Brahman. So there is only one Reality, Maya must be in the Brahman. So he says that when Maya is with the Brahman then Brahman itself becomes qualified by Maya. Brahman qualified by Maya is according to him God, he makes a distinction between Brahman which is absolute and God is Brahman associated with Maya. According to him Brahman when associated with Maya is God. The Brahman is ever unmanifest not unmanifested but ever unmanifest. Brahman is absolute which is ever unmanifest, it is absolute, which is not only before creation but which is incapable of creation, it is not creative at all. But when it is associated with Maya he becomes creative. So that who is creative is what he calls God, in Sanskrit the word God is called Ishwara. So he makes a distinction between Brahman and Ishwara; Brahman is the absolute and Ishwara is God; God who is creative, God who creates. And then he asks the question in the philosophy of Shankara the reality or illusoriness of God, of Ishwara. But we were talking of the spiritual argument of Shankara’s philosophy. So there he simply mentions that there are two lower orders of reality, the dream reality and the phenomenal reality but when you go beyond the phenomenal reality then you arrive at what is called the real state of consciousness, the truly awakened state of consciousness and when you reach there both the pragmatic reality and the dream reality both vanish and there remains the real Reality which is one without the second, where there is no God, no Maya, no avidya, no manifold world, not even illusion, not even the memory of illusion or ignorance, nothing there is only swayamprabha the Reality which is self luminous, one without the second, without sinews of energy, immobile, complete silence, Tat Sat that real.

Comment: So according to Shankara there are three degrees of Reality. The first one is the dream reality, then it is the phenomenal reality and the real Reality. The dream reality vanishes when we wake up, the second one doesn’t disappear and it is very much related to our senses, the third one is the absolute be it Brahman which has no connection between both of them.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: That’s right. Now I shall request you if you permit me today we shall stop here but I shall tell you to read this and we shall read again when you come here but I shall request you to read this two paragraphs from this chapter where Sri Aurobindo expounds the philosophy of Shankara. All that I told you Sri Aurobindo writes it down in one single paragraph, so that in a very short, brief statement you will get a complete idea of all that I have said in writing, you will get written statement on this subject from here up to here all that I have spoken it is given here in precise terms, clear terms by Sri Aurobindo.


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