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Vidya and Avidya through sAstra- A vAkyapadiya analysis


Background

"andham tamah pravisanti ye avidyam upasate tato bhuya iva te tamah ya u vidyayam ratah" - says Isa upanishad.

One who is situated/worships/serves avidya enters the blind tamas. Those who enjoy vidya also become similar".

I translate vidya as learning and avidya as un-learning. If that is so, Isa Upanishad says that only un-learns is blind tamasic. Tamasic means lack of information. Blind tamasic means bereft of any information at all. This is understandable. If someone (or something) keeps un-learning, they would soon be bereft of any information at all.

But it also says those who learn only are also blind tamasic. This means that if one keeps learning new information, then also they become bereft of any information.

"vidyāṃ cāvidyāṃ ca yastadvedobhya saha, avidyayā mṛtyuṃ tīrtvā'mṛtamaśnute" - Learning and Unlearning both together overcomes the mortality to immortality.

This means that one who wants to acquire knowledge has to learn (acquire information) and has to un-learn (has to give up information). It has to be both. That is the knowledge that leads from mortality to immortality.

What is that avidya, the un-learning..?

vAkypadiya 2.233

zAstresu prakriya abhedair avidya upavarNyate
anAgam avikalpa tu svayam vidya upavartate 

The avidya (which I translate as un-learning) is described (upavarNyate) in the different (abhedair) observance (prakriya) of sAstras. Vidya (Learning) is by itself (svayam) remains (upavartate) without alternative (avikalpa) possessed from time immemorial (anAgam).

Various observance of sAstras describe ‘un-learning’. Learning remains by itself, without alternative and possessed from time immemorial.
This is said by vAkyapadiya in the context of scriptures of grammar. It is grammar that helps to create understanding of meaning of words.

But how are the scriptures/grammar describing un-learning..?

vAkypadiya 2.234

anibaddha nimitteSu nirupàkhya phala yathà
tathà vidyà ‘pyanàkhyeyà zàstropàyeva lakSyate

Not bounded (anibaddha) by the origin/cause (nimitteSu), that cannot be accounted for/inexpressible (nirupakhya) results (phala) like (yahA), in that way (tatha) learning (vidya) increased/stout/robust declaration (Apyana akhyeya), zastra means/way (upAya) is seen (lakSyate)

The inexpressible origin/cause is not bounded to the result. In that way, the learning of robust declarations, sAstra is seen as the means/way.

The learning of robust declarations are like the ‘nimitta’ the cause that are inexpressible or that cannot be accounted for the result, but a trigger. The way of zAstras is that. The learning of robust declarations of sAstras is seen like that, a trigger that does not fully account for the result.

The learning of robust declarations of sAstras don’t fully account for the knowledge.

vAkypadiya 2.235

yathābhyāsaṃ hi vāg arthe pratipattiṃ samīhate
svabhāva iva cānādir mithyābhyāso vyavasthitaḥ

Like (yatha) practicing (abhyAsam) the meaning of expression (vAg arthe) experience (pratipattim) one accomplishes (samihate), the inherent nature (svabhAva) and (ca) beginningless (anAdir) untrue/contrarion (mithya) practise (abhyAsa) is determined (vyavasthitah)

As practising the meaning of expression accomplishes the experience of it, the inherent nature (of that expression/vAg) is certainly beginningless and contrarion, the practise only determines/situates it.

The inherent nature of vAg, the expression is beginningless and contrarion. By repeated human practise of un-learning, the nature of contrarion expressions are determined.

vAkypadiya 2.236

utprekṣate sāvayavaṃ paramāṇum apaṇḍitaḥ
tathāvayavinaṃ yuktam anyair avayavaiḥ punaḥ 

Observing (utprekSate) with all parts/paraphernalia (sa -avayavam) the atoms in everything (parama-anum) the non-experts (apanditah) in that way (tatha) of the constituted entities (avayavinam) joining (yuktam) other (anyair) by the different parts (avayavaih) repeatedly/again (punah).

The non-experts (a-paNDitah) observe in all the parts, atoms in everything, in that way, join the constituted parts, other parts, again/repeatedly.

We observe the parts, the atoms that constitute the parts, connect these different parts repeatedly and arrive at an understanding of the expressions of nature.

vAkypadiya 2.237

ghaṭādidarśanāl lokaḥ paricchinno 'vasīyate
samārambhāc ca bhāvānām ādimad brahma śāśvatam

In the world (lokah) that is seen/observed (darzana) starting from pots/ pots etc (ghaTadi) limited/cut-off/detached (paricchinna) is decided (avasiyate). Commencement (samarambha) manifestations (manifestations) and have a beginning (Adimat), brahman is eternal.

In the observed world, pots etc (objects like them) are decided by limitations. Objects are defined by their limits. Brahman is eternal. Manifestations have a commencement and state of beginning.

Our observations are characterized by limitations. The objects we observe have a beginning and end.

vAkypadiya 2.238

upāyāḥ śikṣamāṇānāṃ bālānām upalāpanāḥ
asatye vartmani sthitvā tataḥ satyaṃ samīhate

The means (of sAstra) (upAya) for those who are learning (siksamananam), the young/childish (balanam) who are talking (upa-lApanah). On the path of asatya (asatye vartmani), in that way (tatah) they strive for the satya (satyam samihate).

The means of sAstra, which is through learning of robust declarations, are for the learning of children who can talk. Being in the path of asatya, they strive to learn the satya.

vAkypadiya 2.239

anyathā pratipadyārthaṃ padagrahaṇapūrvakam
punar vākye tam evārtham anyathā pratipadyate

Completely (pUrvakam) capturing (grahana) a word (pada) meaning (artham) obtained (pratipadya) is different (anyata), Again (punah) the meaning (artham) obtained (pratipadya) of that (tam) in a sentence (vAkya) is different (anyatha).

Completely capturing a word, meaning obtained is different. Again the meaning obtained of that in the sentence is different.

vAkypadiya 2.240

upāttā bahavo 'py arthā yeṣv ante pratiṣedhanam
kriyate te nivartante tasmāt tāṃs tatra nāśrayet

Carrying (upatta) multiple (bahavah) meanings (arthA), some (eSa) in the end (anta) negated (pratisedhanam). Their returning/giving up (nivartante) is done (kriyate), therefore (tasmat) those there not reside (na azrayet)

When words carry multiple meanings (standalone, in a sentence or combinations), some are negated at the end. Those meanings are returned or given up and hence those meanings don’t reside in us any longer.

This is the process of un-learning where we unlearn, give up several meanings of words/sentences for a specific meaning that alone resides. Thus sAstras (in this case grammar) actually help us unlearn.

vAkypadiya 2.241

vṛkṣo nāstīti vākyaṃ ca viśiṣṭābhāvalakṣaṇam 
nārthe na buddhau saṃbandho nivṛtter avatiṣṭhate

Thus (iti) sentence (vAkyam) ‘vrkso na asti’ special (visista) manifestation (abhava) is seen (laksanam). By the relationship (sambhando) of the words (arthena), the information (buddhau) is avoided (nivrtter) being established (avatiSThate).

The sentence vrkso nAst is seen as one such special manifestation. The words vRksa convey the information or knowledge ‘tree’ to our mind. The word ‘nAsti’ convey the information or knowledge ‘non-existence’ to our mind.

But when they get related, the information in the mind disappears. Vrksa nAsti means there is no tree. Now our mind does not register any information.

The learning of information/knowledge from individual words is lost when these words get related and form a sentence.

We ‘un-learnt’ in the sense our mind returned the information.

vAkypadiya 2.242

vicchedapratipattau ca yady astīty avadhāryate
aśabdavācyā sā buddhir nivarteta sthitā katham

Experience of (pratipattau) separated words (viccheda) and in which (ca yady) the understanding (avadharyate) exists in this way (asti iti). How soundless expression stops the information/knowledge..?

The two words conveyed two independent understandings. But when they joined together without addition of any other sound, just by the relationship they gave a totally different understanding.

Summary of vAkyapadiya 2.233 to 2.242

sAstras for avidya

According to vakyapadiya, sAstras (in its case the grammar) describe ‘avidya’ which I call as un-learning, as well as Vidya, the learning. It says various (some/many) observances (prakriyas) of sAstras describe ‘un-learning’.

Learning remains by itself, without alternative and possessed from time immemorial. Learning necessarily does not need sAstra. Where sAstras help us is to un-learn..

The learning of robust declarations of sAstras are to be seen as the ‘means/way’, like the ‘nimitta’, the origin, which cannot account fully for the result. So the learning or unlearning through sAstras does not determine the result (of acquiring knowledge), but they may originate the process of acquiring knowledge.

Unlearning the limitless to limited

Practicing the meaning of expression accomplishes the experience of it. The inherent nature of expressions/vAg is without a specific beginning (to identify an object with some expression or other) and contrary in nature (conflicting between meaning of a word and sentence). Practice only determines/situates the exact meaning (as the nature of expression could be contrary).

This is exactly like the Universe’s expression. Brahman is eternal, beginningless and vast. But the world is understood by from sight of objects which have a beginning. These wordly objects serve to conceal the ‘truth’ for the sake of ‘childish/young’ who are learning. Thus through the ‘asatya’ one learns the ‘satya’.

Grammar is of this nature. Knowledge/Truth is vast and beginningless and indescribable. But it is realized through grammar. Like objects with beginning realize the beginningless nature, grammar that prescribes limitations helps realize the limitless knowledge.

Unlearning the Parts and the Whole

The non-experts (a-paNDitah like us) observe the parts, atoms in everything, in that way, join the constituted parts, other parts, again/repeatedly. But often the parts and whole may be contrary in nature.

For eg., in an observed world, pots etc (objects like them) are decided by limitations (Clay when limited becomes a pot). Such manifestations have a commencement and a state of beginning. (Being made into a pot from clay). But the nature of Clay and Pot are contrary.

Similarly, on completely capturing a word, the meaning obtained is different. Again the meaning obtained of that word in a sentence is different.

When words carry multiple meanings (standalone, in a sentence or combinations), some meanings are negated at the end, because of the sAstras (grammar). Those meanings are returned or given up and hence those meanings don’t reside in us any longer.

This is a process of un-learning where several meanings of words/sentences are given up for a specific meaning that alone resides. Thus sAstras (in this case grammar) actually help us unlearn.

This also explains what is avidya. Avidya is the process of losing information (returning it) in such a way that overall knowledge increases. It is not, 'not-learning' or 'ignorance' as traditionally translated.

vRkso nAsti - An example for un-learning

The sentence vrkso nAst is seen as one special manifestation (as an example). The words vRksa convey the information or knowledge ‘tree’ to our buddhi. The word ‘nAsti’ convey the information or knowledge ‘non-existence’ to our buddhi.

But when they get related, the information in the buddhi disappears. Vrksa nAsti means there is no tree. Now our buddhi does not register any information, as the tree is not there.

The learning of information/knowledge from individual words is lost when these words get related and form a sentence.

But this un-learning is a further step in our understanding or realization. It is a new knowledge to be gained.

When we hear the word ‘vRksa’, we register the information of ‘tree’ in our buddhi. When we hear nAsti and connect it with tree in our buddhi, we un-learn that or remove that information of tree from our buddhi. The information is given up (nivartate). But we gained a new knowledge. That the tree is not there is a new knowledge, which did not exist before. We have progressed to the next step of understanding.

That is our buddhi learns information and un-learns information and that’s how we get knowledge. sAstras play a role in helping us to un-learn the information, as much helping us to learn information. How..?

sAstra, in this case grammar, tells us that the ‘nA’ is on the ‘subject’, which is the ‘tree’ here. Through the sAstra, the grammar, we know that nA is for the tree here. Hence we un-learn the tree information from our mind. For eg. if it is ‘nA, vRksa asti’, then the sAstra, the grammar tells us not to connect the nA with subject vRksa and we may gain the knowledge that tree is there. (This is covered in the subsequent slokas after 2.242).

Brahman (evolution) through Vidya and Avidya

The sAstras helps to un-learn, in particular for the young (bAla), who are into learning (sikshamAna). The un-learning through the sAstras, help the young to re-define those sAstras or evolving those sAstras, when they grow up, based on their learnings and un-learnings.

This is how the Universal evolution also operates. It un-learns, reduces information in such a way that the next generation of elements evolves.

For eg. take the gravitational collapse of a gas cloud. The overall possible micro-states of matter, the information content or entropy reduces due the collapse, but that increases the thermal energy, which overcomes the electromagnetic repulsion between protons and introduces nuclear fusion. Newer elements or newer knowledge comes into existence because of this un-learning.

So Avidya, the un-learning is not simply removing the information, but gaining new knowledge by removing that information, as in the case of VrkSa nAsti or the gravitational collapse leading to newer elements.

Brahman is sAsvata and it goes through this Vidya and Avidya process. sAstras help/aid in this process of brahman.

Should we be struck with sAstras..?

sAstras are more like science and less of belief/faith, though they are carried over as traditions. For that matter, knowledge gained through science is also carried over, but always questioned and re-written.

What the sAstras are supposed to do is to help us in this learning/gaining or un-learning/ removing information, which is the ‘nimitta’ or the origin, in the same way as science does.

The sAstras trigger the process of acquiring knowledge by helping us to un-learn as well as learn, in particular when we are young and in the process of learning. As the origin and the results are not often directly connected, this process of acquiring knowledge also does not happen automatically, though un-learning is the trigger.

Very often, we don’t understand this. We are struck with sAstras, we don’t use them for giving up information and we don’t generate new knowledge

Let’s practise this avidya, the un-learning which is not simply removing the information, but gaining new knowledge by removing that information, as in the case of VrkSa nAsti or the gravitational collapse leading to newer elements.

References

1. Studies in the vAkyapadiya - Vol I - By K. Raghavan Pillai
2. http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/6_sastra/1_gram/vakyp1pu.htm
-TBT

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