Shankara’s views on Maya or Avidya:
“It is something positive … though not real. It is called positive in order to emphasize the
fact that it is not merely negative. It has two aspects. In its negative aspect it conceals …
Reality and acts as a screen to hide it. In its positive aspect it projects … the world of
plurality on the Brahman-Ground. It is non-apprehension as well as
misapprehension” (Sharma p. 274).
“It is indescribable and indefinable for it is neither real nor unreal nor both. It is not
real, for it has no existence apart from Brahman; it is not unreal, for it projects the world
of appearance. It is not real, for it vanishes at the dawn of knowledge; it is not unreal, for
it is true as long as it lasts. It is not real to constitute a limit to Brahman and yet it is real
enough to give rise to the world of appearance. And it is not both real and unreal, for this
conception is self-contradictory” (Sharma p. 274-275).
Sharma says: “The words ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ are taken by Shankara in their absolute
sense. Real means real for all time and Brahman alone can be real in this sense.
Similarly, unreal means absolutely unreal like the hare’s horn, which this phenomenal
world is not. Hence this world is neither real nor unreal. This shows its self-contradictory
and therefore incomprehensible nature…. Shankara’s intention is perfectly
clear – none can condemn this world as unreal; he who does it, is not qualified to do so
and he who is qualified to do so, will not do so, for he would have risen above language
and finite thought” (Sharma p.279).
Shankara’s views on Brahman:
“Brahman is the only Reality. It is absolutely indeterminate and non-dual. It is beyond
speech and mind. It is indescribable because no description of it can be complete. The
best description of it is through the negative formula of ‘neti neti’ or ‘not this, not this’.
Yet Brahman is not an abyss of non-entity, because it is the Supreme Self and stands selfrevealed
as the background of all affirmations and denials. The moment we try to bring
this Brahman within the categories of intellect or try to make this ultimate subject an
object of our thought, we miss its essential nature” (Sharma p. 280).
Sharma, Chandrahar. A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass