'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.
We are now studying Aatmabodha. As always, with each week, you are encouraged to review the previous teachings and spend some time in contemplation of the meanings as the affect your life. Please do consider purchasing the text. Remember, also, to recite the mangala charana before each study and review the lessons before each new one.
It has been mentioned previously, that the upaadhis arise from an ignorance (avidya) of the True Nature of things. Avidya cannot itself be an effect - at no time can we say "oh you became ignorant because…." We can gain Knowledge but we can never 'gain' ignorance. We can, therefore, say that "you do not know this or that because… of your ignorance" and then set to removal of the ignorance. Avidya shows itself to be a cause of not knowing. Once we know, we can no longer be ignorant… and have you ever tried 'unknowing' something?! This is the basis by which the following shloka states;
Avidyaa, which is indescribable and beginningless, is the causal body. Know for certain that the Aatman is other than these three conditioning bodies.
When Truth is not known (avidya), when the reality of a things is veiled from us (aavarana), we cannot but misinterpret the Truth through our own confused and erroneous imagings (vikshepa), which in turn form the delusory projections we call the world (adhyaasa). A clouded intellect dances to the tune of the untamed mind and creates all sort of terrors for itself.
We misapprehend the Aatman (spirit) due to the original avidya, crediting the upaadhis (the physical manifestations) with more than their worth and identifying with them, developing an ego-self and claiming "I-ness" and "my-ness", setting up our own individual cells of torture!
This 'original ignorance' is said to be the causal body (karana shariira) insofar as it is due to the non-knowledge of the possibility of Spiritual Perfection that our gurgling desires in the intellect, the thoughts of our mind and the actions of our body currently serve immediate and selfish needs, not even recognising that in attempting to serve these needs, we are still answering the call to serve the ultimate need - to return to the baseline existence of Sat-Chit-Aananda… and if we don't know about that possibility, how can we strive for it?
Upon what basis can Shankaraacharya state that avidya is anaadi - beginningless? As normal human beings, the concept of beginningless-ness is almost harder to grasp than endless-ness. This may be due to the fact that at some level or other we would all like to think we can live forever. However, one cannot have endlessness unless there is no beginning. We can turn to physics for this. Think in terms of time. For us to be perceiving anything at all, we have to be experiencing. For there to be an experience (or a unit of time) three things are required; the event to be experienced, the observer of the event (experiencer) and the connection between the first two, the experiencing. An experience cannot be said to exist until these three things are unified. Time is said to be the interval between events. At point A, there is no distance to measure. Only when point B appears, can distance be measured and that unit between them is given a name… one second of time, let's say. Only in the lapsing and replacing of A with B can time be said to be moving. Time cannot exist without our imposing the upaadhi of 'measurement' upon it. In the case of experience, even for the very first experience where 'time' is an impossible concept, the very fact that we apprehend that experience suggests that the equipments by which to measure experience must have arisen… and the only place they could have arisen from is that very avidya itself.
This is such an advanced concept that the other word here given in reference to avidya is 'indescribable'! Make no mistake, what we are talking about here in Vedantic terms is the equivalent of the 'big bang' of the science of astrophysics. By terming the causal body as 'avidya', we must understand that what has arisen has come from something and not from nothing, but that the description of this is, currently, beyond us.
However, in this shloka, it is not that we must know avidya, but that we must know and understand the Truth by what we can percieve - the upaadhis - the Knowledge being that Aatman is none of these. Avidya is darkness. No matter how hard we try we cannot actually 'see' darkness, as such, because the darkness itself prevents us from seeing it. However, darkness is easily dispelled by light and much can be seen; light, of course, being Knowledge.
A fool lit a lamp and walked all over his house trying to find the darkness. The more we try to understand avidya, the more it eludes us. By using the lamp, the fellow might have found the jewel in his altar room, if he had chosen to look for what can be found rather than what cannot.
We cannot know Truth through ignorance, only through Knowledge.