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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

For knowledge means illusory superimposition or illusion


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style="text-align: justify;">that we get of it is always through manifestations of forms and names; these phenomenal forms and names are undefinable, incomprehensible, and unknowable in themselves, but under certain conditions they are manifested by the self-luminous real, and at the time they are so manifested they seem to have a positive being which is undeniable. This positive being is only the highest being, the real which appears as the being of those forms and names. A lump of clay may be moulded into a plate or a cup, but the plate-form or the cup-form has no existence or being apart from the being of the clay; it is the being of the clay that is imposed on the diverse forms which also then seem to have being in themselves. Our illusion thus consists in mutually misattributing the characteristics of the unreal forms--the modes of ajnana and the real being. As this illusion is the mode of all our experience and its very essence, it is indeed difficult for us to conceive of the Brahman as apart from the modes of ajnana. Moreover such is the nature of ajnanas that they are knowable only by a false identification of them with the self-luminous Brahman or atman. Being as such is the highest truth, the Brahman. The ajnana states are not non-being in the sense of nothing of pure negation (_abhava_), but in the sense that they are not being. Being that is the self-luminous illuminates non-being, the ajnana, and this illumination means nothing more than a false identification of
being with non-being. The forms of ajnana if they are to be known must be associated with pure consciousness, and this association means an illusion, superimposition, and mutual misattribution. But apart from pure consciousness these cannot be manifested or known, for it is pure consciousness alone that is self-luminous. Thus when we try to know the ajnana states in themselves as apart from the atman we fail in a dilemma, for knowledge means illusory superimposition or illusion, and when it is not knowledge they evidently cannot be known. Thus apart from its being a factor in our illusory experience no other kind of its existence is known to us. If ajnana had been a non-entity altogether it could never come at all, if it were a positive entity then it would never cease to be; the ajnana thus is a mysterious category midway between being and non-being and undefinable in every way; and it is on account of this that it is called _tattvanyatvabhyam anirvacya_ or undefinable and undeterminable either as real or unreal. It is real in the sense that it is

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a necessary postulate of our phenomenal experience and unreal in its own nature, for apart from its connection with consciousness it is incomprehensible and undefinable. Its forms even while they are manifested in consciousness are self-contradictory and incomprehensible as to their real nature or mutual relation, and comprehensible only so far as they are manifested in consciousness, but apart from these no rational conception of them can be formed. Thus it is impossible to say anything about the ajnana (for no knowledge of it is possible) save so far as manifested in consciousness and depending on this the D@r@s@tis@r@s@tivadins asserted that our experience was inexplicably produced under the influence of avidya and that beyond that no objective common ground could be admitted. But though this has the general assent of Vedanta and is irrefutable in itself, still for the sake of explaining our common sense view (_pratikarmavyavasatha_) we may think that we have an objective world before us as the common field of experience. We can also imagine a scheme of things and operations by which the phenomenon of our experience may be interpreted in the light of the Vedanta metaphysics.


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