Neither Scripture nor Smriti and Purâna teach Nescience.
The assertion that Nescience--to be defined neither as that which is nor as that which is not--rests on the authority of Scripture is untrue. In passages such as 'hidden by the untrue' (Kh. Up. VIII, 3, 2), the word 'untrue' does not denote the Undefinable; it rather means that which is different from 'rita,' and this latter word--as we see from the passage 'enjoying the rita' (Ka. Up. 1,3, 1)--denotes such actions as aim at no worldly end, but only at the propitiation of the highest Person, and thus
enable the devotee to reach him. The word 'anrita' therefore denotes actions of a different kind, i.e. such as aim at worldly results and thus stand in the way of the soul reaching Brahman; in agreement with the passage 'they do not find that Brahma-world, for they are carried away by anrita' (Kh. Up. VIII, 3, 2). Again, in the text 'Then there was neither non-Being nor Being' (Ri. Samh. X, 129, 1), the terms 'being' and 'non-being' denote intelligent and non-intelligent beings in their distributive state. What that text aims at stating is that intelligent and non-intelligent beings, which at the time of the origination of the world are called 'sat' and 'tyat' (Taitt. Up. II, 6), are, during the period of reabsorption, merged in the collective totality of non-intelligent matter which the text denotes by the term 'darkness' (Ri. Samh. X, 129, 3). There is thus no reference whatever to something 'not definable either as being or non-being': the terms 'being' and 'non-being' are applied to different mode; of being at different times. That the term 'darkness' denotes the collective totality of non-intelligent matter appears from another scriptural passage, viz, 'The Non-evolved (avyaktam) is merged in the Imperishable (akshara), the Imperishable in darkness (tamas), darkness becomes one with the highest divinity.' True, the word 'darkness' denotes the subtle condition of primeval matter (prakriti), which forms the totality of non-intelligent things; but this very Prakriti is called Mâyâ--in the text 'Know Prakriti to be Mâyâ,' and this proves it be something 'undefinable': Not so, we reply; we meet with no passages where the word 'Mâyâ' denotes that which is undefinable. But the word 'Mâyâ' is synonymous with 'mithyâ,' i.e. falsehood, and hence denotes the Undefinable also. This, too, we cannot admit; for the word 'Mâyâ' does not in all places refer to what is false; we see it applied e.g. to such things as the weapons of Asuras and Râkshasas, which are not 'false' but real. 'Mâyâ,' in such passages, really denotes that which produces various wonderful effects, and it is in this sense that Prakriti is called Mâyâ. This appears from the passage (Svet. Up. IV, 9) 'From that the "mâyin" creates
all this, and in that the other one is bound up by mâyâ.' For this text declares that Prakriti--there called Mâyâ--produces manifold wonderful creations, and the highest Person is there called 'mâyin' because he possesses that power of mâyâ; not on account of any ignorance or nescience on his part. The latter part of the text expressly says that (not the Lord but) another one, i.e. the individual soul is bound up by mâyâ; and therewith agrees another text, viz. 'When the soul slumbering in beginningless Mâyâ awakes' (Gaud. Kâ.). Again, in the text 'Indra goes multiform through the Mâyâs' (Ri. Samh. VI, 47, 18), the manifold powers of Indra are spoken of, and with this agrees what the next verse says, 'he shines greatly as Tvashtri': for an unreal being does not shine. And where the text says 'my Mâyâ is hard to overcome' (Bha. Gî. VII, 14), the qualification given there to Mâyâ, viz. 'consisting of the gunas,' shows that what is meant is Prakriti consisting of the three gunas.--All this shows that Scripture does not teach the existence of a 'principle called Nescience, not to be defined either as that which is or that which is not.'
Nor again is such Nescience to be assumed for the reason that otherwise the scriptural statements of the unity of all being would be unmeaning. For if the text 'Thou art that,' be viewed as teaching the unity of the individual soul and the highest Self, there is certainly no reason, founded on unmeaningness, to ascribe to Brahman, intimated by the word 'that'--which is all-knowing, &c.--Nescience, which is contradictory to Brahman's nature.--Itihâsa and Purâna also do not anywhere teach that to Brahman there belongs Nescience.
But, an objection is raised, the Vishnu Purâna, in the sloka, 'The stars are Vishnu,' &c. (II, 12, 38), first refers to Brahman as one only, and comprising all things within itself; thereupon states in the next sloka that this entire world, with all its distinctions of hills, oceans, &c., is sprung out of the 'agñâna' of Brahman, which in itself is pure 'gñâna,' i.e. knowledge; thereupon confirms the view of the world having sprung from agñâna by referring to the fact that Brahman, while abiding in its own nature, is free
from all difference (sl. 40); proves in the next two slokas the non-reality of plurality by a consideration of the things of this world; sums up, in the following sloka, the unreality of all that is different from Brahman; then (43) explains that action is the root of that agñâna which causes us to view the one uniform Brahman as manifold; thereupon declares the intelligence constituting Brahman's nature to be free from all distinction and imperfection (44); and finally teaches (45) that Brahman so constituted, alone is truly real, while the so-called reality of the world is merely conventional.--This is not, we reply, a true representation of the drift of the passage. The passage at the outset states that, in addition to the detailed description of the world given before, there will now be given a succinct account of another aspect of the world not yet touched upon. This account has to be understood as follows. Of this universe, comprising intelligent and non-intelligent beings, the intelligent part--which is not to be reached by mind and speech, to be known in its essential nature by the Self only, and, owing to its purely intelligential character, not touched by the differences due to Prakriti--is, owing to its imperishable nature, denoted as that which is; while the non-intelligent, material; part which, in consequence of the actions of the intelligent beings undergoes manifold changes, and thus is perishable, is denoted as that which is not. Both parts, however, form the body of Vâsudeva, i.e. Brahman, and hence have Brahman for their Self. The text therefore says (37), 'From the waters which form the body of Vishnu was produced the lotus-shaped earth, with its seas and mountains': what is meant is that the entire Brahma-egg which has arisen from water constitutes the body of which Vishnu is the soul. This relation of soul and body forms the basis of the statements of co-ordination made in the next sloka (38), 'The stars are Vishnu,' &c.; the same relation had been already declared in numerous previous passages of the Purâna ('all this is the body of Hari,' &c.). All things in the world, whether they are or are not, are Vishnu's body, and he is their soul. Of the next sloka, 'Because the Lord has knowledge for his
essential nature,' the meaning is 'Because of the Lord who abides as the Self of all individual souls, the essential nature is knowledge only--while bodies divine, human, &c., have no part in it--, therefore all non-intelligent things, bodies human and divine, hills, oceans, &c., spring from his knowledge, i.e. have their root in the actions springing from the volitions of men, gods, &c., in whose various forms the fundamental intelligence manifests itself. And since non-intelligent matter is subject to changes corresponding to the actions of the individual souls, it may be called 'non-being,' while the souls are 'being.'--This the next sloka further explains 'when knowledge is pure,' &c. The meaning is 'when the works which are the cause of the distinction of things are destroyed, then all the distinctions of bodies, human or divine, hills, oceans, &c.--all which are objects of fruition for the different individual souls--pass away.' Non-intelligent matter, as entering into various states of a non-permanent nature, is called 'non-being'; while souls, the nature of which consists in permanent knowledge, are called 'being.' On this difference the next sloka insists (41). We say 'it is' of that thing which is of a permanently uniform nature, not connected with the idea of beginning, middle and end, and which hence never becomes the object of the notion of non-existence; while we say 'it is not' of non-intelligent matter which constantly passes over into different states, each later state being out of connexion with the earlier state. The constant changes to which non-intelligent matter is liable are illustrated in the next sloka, 'Earth is made into a jar,' &c. And for this reason, the subsequent sloka goes on to say that there is nothing but knowledge. This fundamental knowledge or intelligence is, however, variously connected with manifold individual forms of being due to karman, and hence the text adds: 'The one intelligence is in many ways connected with beings whose minds differ, owing to the difference of their own acts' (sl 43, second half). Intelligence, pure, free from stain and grief, &c., which constitutes the intelligent element of the world, and unintelligent matter--these two together constitute the
world, and the world is the body of Vâsudeva; such is the purport of sloka 44.--The next sloka sums up the whole doctrine; the words 'true and untrue' there denote what in the preceding verses had been called 'being' and 'non-being'; the second half of the sloka refers to the practical plurality of the world as due to karman.
Now all these slokas do not contain a single word supporting the doctrine of a Brahman free from all difference; of a principle called Nescience abiding within Brahman and to be defined neither as that which is nor as that which is not; and of the world being wrongly imagined, owing to Nescience. The expressions 'that which is' and 'that which is not' (sl 35), and 'satya' (true) and 'asatya' (untrue; sl 45), can in no way denote something not to be defined either as being or non-being. By 'that which is not' or 'which is untrue,' we have to understand not what is undefinable, but that which has no true being, in so far as it is changeable and perishable. Of this character is all non-intelligent matter. This also appears from the instance adduced in sl 42: the jar is something perishable, but not a thing devoid of proof or to be sublated by true knowledge. 'Non-being' we may call it, in so far as while it is observed at a certain moment in a certain form it is at some other moment observed in a different condition. But there is no contradiction between two different conditions of a thing which are perceived at different times; and hence there is no reason to call it something futile (tukhkha) or false (mithyâ), &c.