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Nature of Ignorance According to Shankaracarya

The discussion of Ignorance does not take a prominent position in śaṅkara's commentaries on the prasthānatraya (upaniṣad, brahma sūtra and bhagavad gītā). This is understandably so given that the purpose of vedānta is to ‘know’ what is real and not to investigate into what is not. śaṅkara treats ignorance in a succinct fashion wherever he finds an opportunity to do so in his commentaries. In his commentary on the bṛhadāraṇyaka upaniṣad (3.3.1), śaṅkara describes ignorance to be threefold:


1.  jñāna abhāva - absence of knowledge

2. saṃśaya - confusion or doubts

3. viparīta - contrary notions


And again in the bhagavad gītā bhāṣya (13.2) he mentions ignorance to be threefold: 


1. agrahana - non-apprehension

2. saṃśaya - confusion or doubts 

3. viparīta - contrary notions



With the exception of the saṃśaya and viparīta, śaṅkara uses synonyms to describe the first type of ignorance which is ‘absence of knowledge’. Based on his definitions, it is clear that Self Knowledge has to destroy the threefold ignorance through a targeted and focused discipline. Here enters the much talked about threefold vedānta discipline in the form of Listening (śravana), Reflection (manana) and Assimilation (nididhyāsana) as revealed in the bṛhadāraṇyaka upaniṣad (1.4.2 & 2.1.20). 


The anubhūtiprakāśa (6.49) provides clarity on each of the discipline. The role of śravana is to introduce Knowledge of the Self. This takes care of the need for knowledge and destroys the first type of ignorance. The role of manana destroys the second type of ignorance by removing doubts pertaining to Self Knowledge through reasoning and analysis. Finally the role of nididhyāsana is to remove contrary notions about the Self due to the deep seated habitual identification with the Body-Sense-Mind complex. 


In summary, the threefold discipline of Self Knowledge removes the three types of ignorance directly and completely. 



Read 1286 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 22:02