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Ajātivāda is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of the Advaita Vedanta philosopher Gaudapada. According to Gaudapada, the Absolute is not subject to birth, change and death. The Absolute is aja, the unborn eternal. The empirical world of appearances is considered unreal, and not absolutely existent.
Gaudapada's perspective is based on the Mandukya Upanishad, applying the philosophical concept of "ajāta" to the inquiry of Brahman, showing that Brahman wholly transcends the conventional understanding of being and becoming.
- "A" means "not", or "non" as in Ahimsa, non-harm
- "Jāti" means "creation" or "origination
- "Vāda" means "doctrine"
Taken together "ajātivāda" means "the Doctrine of no-origination" or non-creation.
- "An" also means "not", or "non"
- "Utpāda" means "genesis", "coming forth", "birth"[web 1]
Taken together "anutpāda" means "having no origin", "not coming into existence", "not taking effect", "non-production".[web 2]
"Ajātivāda" is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of Gaudapada. According to Gaudapada, the Absolute is not subject to birth, change and death. The Absolute is aja, the unborn eternal. The empirical world of appearances is considered unreal, and not absolutely existent.
Gaudapada borrowed the concept of "ajāta" from Nagajurna's Madhyamaka philosophy. The Buddhist tradition usually uses the term "anutpāda" for the absence of an origin or śūnyatā.[note 1]
But Gaudapada's perspective is quite different from Nagarjuna. Gaudapada's perspective is based on the Mandukya Upanishad. In the Mandukya Karika, Gaudapada's commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, Gaudapada sets forth his perspective. According to Gaudapada, Brahman cannot undergo alteration, so the phenomenal world cannot arise independently from Brahman. If the world cannot arise, yet is an empirical fact, than the world has to be an unreal[note 2] appearance of Brahman. And if the phenomenal world is an unreal appearance, then there is no real origination or destruction, only apparent origination or destruction. From the level of ultimate truth (paramārthatā) the phenomenal world is māyā, "illusion", apparently existing but ultimately not real.
As stated in Gaudapada’s Karika, chapter III, verse 48:
Ramana Maharshi gave a translation in Tamil of Gaudapada’s Mandukya Upanishad Karika, chapter two, verse thirty-two:
There is no creation, no destruction, no bondage, no longing to be freed from bondage, no striving to be free [from bondage], nor anyone who has attained [freedom from bondage]. Know that this is the ultimate truth.[web 5][note 3]
According to David Godman, the ajata doctrine implies that since the world was never created, there are also no jivas within it who are striving for or attaining liberation. Ramana Maharshi regarded this as "the ultimate truth."[web 5] According to Muruganar, a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, only ajata was in accordance with Ramana Mahrashi's own experience:[web 5]
Though Guru Ramana, who appeared as God incarnate, expounded numerous doctrines, as befitted the different states and beliefs of the various devotees who sought refuge at his feet, you should know that what we have heard him affirm to intimate devotees in private, as an act of grace, as his own true experience, is only the doctrine of ajata [non-creation]. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 100)[web 5]
Levels of truth
Advaita took over from the Madhyamika the idea of levels of reality. Usually two levels are being mentioned, namely saṃvṛti-satya, "the empirical truth",[web 6] and paramārtha-satya, "ultimate truth".[web 6] According to Plott,
"Ajativada is nothing but [an] extreme and exhaustive application of an extreme version of the distinction between the paramartha satya and the samvrtti satya."
The distinction between the two truths (satyadvayavibhāga) was fully expressed by the Madhyamaka-school. In Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā it is used to defend the identification of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) with emptiness (śūnyatā):
The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha's profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved.
- Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the absolute level, "which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved".[web 7] This experience can't be sublated by any other experience.
- Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya (empirical or pragmatical), "our world of experience, the phenomenal world that we handle every day when we are awake".[web 7] It is the level in which both jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Iswara are true; here, the material world is also true.
- Prāthibhāsika (pratibhasika, apparent reality, unreality), "reality based on imagination alone".[web 7] It is the level in which appearances are actually false, like the illusion of a snake over a rope, or a dream.
- The term is also used in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. According to D.T Suzuki, "anutpada" is not the opposite of "utpada", but transcends opposites. It is kenshō, seeing into the true nature of existence, the seeing that "all objects are without self-substance". Another well-known use is in Bankei's "Unborn".
- C.q. "transitory"
- David Godman: "This rendering appears as ‘Stray verse nine’ in Collected Works and as ‘Bhagavan 28’ in Guru Vachaka Kovai. Variations of this verse can also be found in the Amritabindu Upanishad (verse 10), Atma Upanishad (verse 30) and Vivekachudamani (verse 574)."[web 5]
- Sarma 1996, p. 127.
- Comans 2000, p. 36.
- Renard 2010, p. 157.
- Comans 2000, p. 35-36.
- Bhattacharya 1943, p. 49.
- Renard 2010, p. 160.
- Suzuki 1999.
- Suzuki 1999, p. 123-124.
- Suzuki 1999, p. 168.
- Dumoulin 2005b, p. 316.
- Hiriyanna 2000, p. 25, 160-161.
- Renard 2010, p. 130.
- Renard 2010, p. 131.
- Plott 1980, p. 283.
- Garfield 1995, p. 296, 298, verse 24:8-10.
- Puligandla 1997, p. 232.
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- Dr. Vemuri Ramesam, A Critique Of John Wheeler’s “You Were Never Born”
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