Ajātivāda (अजातिवाद) 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. The concept is also found in Madhyamaka Buddhism, as the theory of nonorigination.
See also: Jāti (Buddhism)
- “A” means “not”, or “non” as in Ahimsa, non-harm
- “Jāti” means “birth,” “creation” or “origination; it may refer to physical birth, but also to the arising of mental phenomena
- “Vāda” means “doctrine”
Taken together “ajātivāda” means “the Doctrine of no-origination” or non-creation.
The concept of “ajāta” was borrowed by Gaudapada from Madhyamika Buddhism, which uses the term “anutpāda”:
- “An” also means “not”, or “non”
- “Utpāda” means “genesis”, “coming forth”, “birth”
Taken together “anutpāda” means “having no origin”, “not coming into existence”, “not taking effect”, “non-production”.
“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 Maya (unreal as it is transitory), 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.
Yet, according to Comans, 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, then the world has to be an unreal (transitory) appearance of Brahman. And if the phenomenal world is a transitory 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.
In Gaudapada-Karika, chapter III, verses 46-48, he states that the quietened mind becomes one with Brahman and does not perceive of any origination:
When the mind does not lie low, and is not again tossed about, then that being without movement, and not presenting any appearance, culminates into Brahman. Resting in itself, calm, with Nirvana, indescribable, highest happiness, unborn and one with the unborn knowable, omniscient they say. No creature whatever is born, no origination of it exists or takes place. This is that highest truth where nothing whatever is born.— Gaudapada Karika, 3.46-48, Translated by RD Karmarkar
Acknowledgeing the strong Buddhist influences, but arguing for the need of an “unchangeable permanent reality,” Karmakar opinions that the ajativada of Gaudhapada has nothing in common with the Sunyavada concept in Buddhism. While the language of Gaudapada is undeniably similar to those found in Mahayana Buddhism, Coman states that their perspective is different because unlike Buddhism, Gaudapada is relying on the premise of “Brahman, Atman or Turiya” exist and are the nature of absolute reality.
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.
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.”
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”, and paramārtha-satya, “ultimate truth”. 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.
Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:
- Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the absolute level, “which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved”. 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”. 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”. It is the level in which appearances are actually false, like the illusion of a snake over a rope, or a dream.
It is at the level of the highest truth (paramārtha) that there is no origination. Gaudapada states that, from the absolute standpoint, not even “non-dual” exists.
Advaita Vedanta and Madhyamaka Buddhism
Many scholars, states Richard King, designate Madhyamaka Buddhism as Ajativada. The concept Ajati, he adds, exists in both Vedanta and Buddhism, but they are different in the following way:
1. “There is no birth.” (Madhyamaka), and 2. “There is an Unborn.” (Advaita Vedānta.)
Ajativada in Madhyamaka refers to its doctrine that things neither originate nor is there cessation. This is also called the theory of non-origination of Madhyamaka.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia