Question: What is the origin of avidya?
Swamiji: Avidya cannot have an origin, because if ignorance has a beginning then before its beginning, there must have been knowledge. Therefore, if avidyas has a prior non-existence (ie it is beginningless), there must be knowledge.
Knowledge is opposed to ignorance. Therefore ignorance can have posterior non-existence (an end) but prior non-existence (a beginning) it cannot have. Therefore will we have if ignorance has prior non-existence? Definitely there must be knowledge because where avidya is not, knowledge is. If knowledge is, ignorance cannot be. Therefore ignorance cannot have beginning in any way.
Question: Avidya can have posterior non-existence (an end), but does knowledge have a beginning?
Swamiji: Ignorance has an end, but knowledge has no beginning because no one can create knowledge. You only remove ignorance. In that sense it has no beginning. But it has a seeming beginning, it has an apparent beginning, because ignorance goes away at a given time.
Question: According to Advaita, knowledge is not gained through action. Removal of ignorance also is not through action. How is action then related?
Swamiji: Removal of ignorance cannot be an action. There are two things conveyed by this one statement: removal of ignorance is not ‘through’ action, and removal of ignorance ‘is’ also not an action. Removal of ignorance cannot be therefore an action inasmuch as action produces a result involving a doer. I am a doer and the doer performs an action to produce a result and therefore that is not knowledge. It cannot remove ignorance. Therefore removal of ignorance is an epistemological problem. It is purely a matter of operating a means of knowledge and that is not an action because in an action there is a choice. In knowledge there is no choice.
Your eyes are functioning and suppose I ask you what is this – it is a shawl. For this you don’t need anything. You open your eyes and you see the shawl. Whether you like it or not, it is a shawl.
Now suppose I say to you that it is a rabbit. Then what will you say? You are not going to accept it. Even if you have shraddha in Swamiji and you wish to accept Swamiji’s words, you cannot accept them in this case because this object is not a rabbit. Suppose you accept it, it will still not be a rabbit because knowledge does not depend on your will.
Now suppose I ask you to come here and take this shawl from me. Whether to do it or not depends upon your will. You may come, you may not come or you may come in your own manner. Action is purusha-tantram, centred on the will of a person, but knowledge is vastu-tantram, centred on the object as it is.
If your eyes are open, if the object is present and your mind is behind the eyes, you will see; the seeing will take place. You cannot avoid it. That is why sometimes we see something for which we regret for your lifetime. You happen to be there, you see. You happen to be at a place, you hear.
Thus knowledge is not an action. Action presupposes purusha, which in this context is means will. Therefore where will is involved, there is action. Wherever vastu or object is involved, there is knowledge. In one karta, doer is involved; in the other pramata, knower is involved.
Question: Then what will happen to the philosophy of action since action does not lead to knowledge?
Swamiji: Action does not lead to knowledge and knowledge is not affected by action. But action is useful, because if it performed with a certain attitude, it becomes yoga. It is not really a yoga of action, it is yoga of attitude with reference to action and result.
I have a certain attitude towards action, the action that I have to perform, and the attitude makes the action yoga because of which likes and dislikes do not create any problem in my mind. The attitude enables me to accept the result, whatever it be. This involves Ishvara-arpana buddhi, the attitude of offering to the Lord and prasada-buddhi, glad acceptance of the result. That is where religion, God, prayerful attitude etc come in.
I perform an action, such as clapping my hands. It is a very simple action. I clap my hands and the sound is produced. Having performed the action, I see the result happening there. Suppose I did not know that clapping would produce sound; now I know that it does and so if I do not want this sound to be made, I should not perform the action of clapping. That is how by performing action we learn about the result and thereby we become wiser.
Now suppose I perform an action and expect that a given result should not come, I have no control over the result. Action will produce the result whether I like it or not.
For every action there is a result, an appropriate result and the result is governed by the laws of action and reaction. The laws are not my creation and I cannot change them also.
Om Tat Sat