Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
Subject: Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
From: email@example.com (Mani Varadarajan)
Date: 13 May 1994 23:08:32 GMT
In-Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org's message of 12 May 1994 21:51:31 GMT
Organization: Stanford University
Vidya and I disagree very strongly about the nature of Brahman.
Here's what I say: "You are fundamentally real, I am
fundamentally real, the world is real, and we are each
individuals; but we are united in Brahman because He ensouls each
of us, and He is our Inner Controller, the Reality among the
other realities that are ourselves and the Universe." In my
view, this is what the Upanishads teach.
> Mani Varadarajan writes:
> > Secondly, while all three preach that the Truth is what is to
> > be attained, the difference in how Advaita defines "Truth" compared
> > to how the other two do so is so vast that Bhaskar's statement that
> > "all these three preach this..." implies a false unity of purpose.
> Agreed, but then Vishistadvaita also defines the Highest Truth as the
> Brahman. However, because Truth is defined differently from Advaita,
> Brahman now has to be defined as "satyasya satyam", which is just another
> way of stating what Advaita says in the first place!
How does Advaita interpret "satyasya satyam" ("the Reality of realities")?
Please tell me, because if Sankara's interpretation
agrees with Visistadvaita's, it denies Advaita's fundamental
premise, viz., the ultimate falsehood of the individual soul!
The full context of the Upanishad is:
atha nAmadheyam, satyasya satyam. prANA vai satyam.
tesAm eSha satyam.
Then, He is called the Reality of realities. The breaths
are true, and of them He is the truth.
The Upanishad is stating here in not unclear terms that Brahman is
real, and through His reality, He bestows reality to everything
else -- the mass of jivas ("souls") and matter. Why else would
the teaching describe Brahman as one real among many reals? The
Katha Upanishad says the same thing: "nityo nityAnAm, cetanaS
cetanAnAm" ("Eternal among eternals, Soul among souls...")
Advaita clearly cannot give this passage its due justice. By
declaring that the world is "false" ("jagan mithya", to quote
Vidya), the Advaitin goes against the grain of both perception
The error of Sankara's Advaita will become clearer below.
> If Sankara is completely wrong, then Ramanuja and Madhwa should hold that
> Yagnavalkya of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is also completely wrong, if
> they want to be consistent. Isn't Yagnavalkya essentially stating the
> Advaita position when he defines Brahman as 'Neti, neti" - not this, not
Au contraire, Vidya! Let's look at what Yajnavalkya says in this
wonderful Upanishad, and how the Brahma-sutras explain his
words. I use most of the passage to establish the context of
All this comes fromthe BrhadAraNyaka Upanishad, 2.3.
(Murta-amurta-braahmaNa), the section that contains the above
dve vAva brahmaNo rUpe, mUrtam ca amUrtam ca.
Brahman has two forms, the concrete and the subtle.
What he means by "concrete" and "subtle" are explained in the
next two paragraphs of the text. "Concrete" means all matter
other than air and space, i.e., the world of reality that is
visible to us. "Subtle" means the air, space, and breaths
("prana-s") of the individual souls. Note that there is not even
a suggestion of unreality or falsehood here.
What is the essence of these two forms? Yajnavalkya describes:
tasya etasya mUrtasya ... sata eSha raso ya eSha
tapati sato hi eSha rasah.
The essence of the concrete form is "That which burns."
(i.e., the Sun).
amUrtasya tasya eSha raso ya eSha etasmin maNDale
puruShah ... hi eSha rasa ity adhidaivatam.
Of the essence of the subtle form, the essence is the
Person within the Sun.
In similar terms, the Upanishad says that the essence of the
concrete individual is the eye, and that of the subtle individual
is the Person in the right eye.
What is the meaning of this analogy? Clearly, Yajnavalkya is
saying that the two essences are related to one another; just as
the Adhidaivatam, the Highest God, is embodied by the Sun, the
purpose of the passage is to show that Brahman ensouls *all* of
this, the concrete as well as the subtle. Brahman is also
immanent in the human personality, shining through the right eye
of a person, with the breath as his body. Yajnavalkya is saying
that whether in the human body or in the Sun, it is the same One
Brahman who illumines all this varied world comprising forms and
formless aspects. Can we describe His brilliance?
Yes! Pictures the aesthetic splendor of Brahman:
tasya hi etasya rUpam yathA mahArAjanam vAsah.
yathA sakRd vidyuttam.
ya evam vEda SrIr bhavati.
His form is like a saffron colored raiment.
Like that of white wool.
Like a flame of fire.
Like a white lotus.
Like a flash of lightning.
To know Him as such is to attain glory.
So far, so good. I don't think Sankara would really disagree with
any of the above, since he would place it in the "saguna brahman
sruti" category (i.e., texts that describe the lower, "aSuddha",
impure Brahman, who has attributes).
It is in this context that we come to the disputed teaching,
Sankara says that the words "Now follows the teaching, 'not this,
not this'" ("atha AdeSo neti neti") negates all the previous
descriptions as forms of the true Brahman.
In his commentary on this passage, he says, "A form is that by
which the formless is brought into figuration by ignorance and
falsemless is brought into figuration by ignorance and
false impositions." ("rUpe rUpyate yAbhyAm arUpam param brahmA
avidyA adhyAropaNabhyAm.") He goes on to say that such 'forms'
are likely to "delude the world" ("vyAmohAspadam") and are of the
nature of mirage ("mRgatRShnikA") and hallucination
("indrajala"), or at best, mere painted figures on walls and
cloth ("pata bhitti citravat"), and mere "illusion" ("maya").
To Sankara, Brahman is nothing more than pure being.
My question is, why would Yajnavalkya delude people by telling
them what they never asked for, i.e., the forms of Brahman which
aren't really forms? And how can Sankara immediately make this
distinction in teaching, when semantically the text does not
Ramanuja, following the interpretation of the Brahma-sutras, says
that "not this, not this" means that these forms attributed to
Brahman do not exhaust his Infinitude. "Not just this, not only
this", is what is meant. Just look at what Yajnavalkya says
na hi etasmAd iti, na iti anyat param asti.
There is none higher than this, none away from this.
The infinitiude of Brahman, the limitless glory of the Supreme
Being is brought out by this apparent negative construction.
Even Yajnavalkya can only partially measure the greatness of
Brahman. S.S. Raghavachar writes, "It is not a denial of what is
affirmed, but a denial of the denial of what is not affirmed in
the finite affirmation at hand." The Brahma-sutras distinctly
The context denies the 'so-much-ness' only, because it
further declares repeatedly the abundance (of qualities).
prakrita etAvatvam hi pratiShedhati, tato bravIti bhUyah.
*After* this, Yajnavalkya affirms the ultimate reality of all of
this with the statement "He is the Reality of realities." How
Sankara can read into this wonderful passage the illusory nature
of the individual soul and the world astonishes me. I suppose
this is what happens when a commentator takes four words out of
context. [I will give Ramanuja's comments verbatim in a
Regarding Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 and 4.5.13, which Vidya
quotes in support of pure Advaita, I do not have the Sanskrit
texts available at the moment. When I do, I will respond. I find
that the translations used are usually very distorted, and do
not convey the original meaning [Max Muller is particularly
guilty of this]. This is why I almost invariably use both the
Sanskrit and an English translation.
> Ramnauja interprets 'ekameva advitiyam" in
> his own way, but then in practical terms, his followers resort to a
> hierarchy of gods in which Vishnu is the most superior. Nowhere in the
> Upanishads is it stated that Vishnu is superior to Siva or vice versa.
> Advaita therefore refuses to hierarchize this way, and followers of
> Advaita are true to this.
The issue of Vishnu's supremacy is not critical to the religion
of the Upanishads, or Ramanuja's philosophy. Ramanuja's
followers worship Vishnu for two reasons:
(i) cultural -- Visistadvaita was nurtured in a Vaishnava
environment, based upon the outpourings of previous saints
and existing Vedic sentiment.
(ii) they believe that only Vishnu fits the attributes mentioned
in the Upanishads.
Ramanuja spends very little time discussing the supremacy of
Vishnu. However, what he does insist is that one's conception of
Brahman be consistent with the thoughts implied in the Upanishads
and the Gita: "Whose will is true" ("satyasankalpa"), "Whose
desires are true" ("satyakama"), etc.
Besides, both Sankara and Suresvara (his chief disciple)
invariable use the words "Narayana" and "Hari" as descriptive of
the Saguna Brahman in their structured works of Vedanta, even
when the context does not call for it. Of course, Sankara's
Gita-bhashya glorifies Krishna/Narayana, but even Suresvara's
vartika on the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad identifies the Divinity as
"Kesava" (verse 167), as does his introductory verse to the
Naishkarmya-siies the Divinity as
"Kesava" (verse 167), as does his introductory verse to the
Naishkarmya-siddhi. It is just an artifact that most Vedic
scholars used the Gita, Mahanarayana-upanishad, Vishnu Purana,
etc., as important texts, and so a culture of picturing Brahman
(saguna or not) as Narayana emerged. But let us not pursue this
dispute; it is rather orthogonal to the issues we are
discussing. I grant that anyone who perceives of Brahman as
having satyam (reality), jnanam (intelligence), anandam (bliss),
amalatvam (purity), tejas (splendor), as His primary attributes
but calls Him "Siva" instead of "Vishnu" is thinking of the same
Brahman as I.
> Also there is an important
> Advaita concept to be understood - Brahman is nirvisesa, not just because
> It is "One without *any* qualities whatsoever", but because It transcends
> all these qualities. This is because Advaita is again being most
> consistent. Pick any quality, I can cite an opposite quality.
Right, but none of these opposing bad qualitites are part of
Brahman's inherent nature (svarupa). The Upanishads repeatedly
say that Brahman is Splendor (tejas), Brahman is Light
(jyoti). They *never* say that He is inauspicious, that He is
darkness. Whenever they describe His nature, they speak of
incomparably auspicious attributes. I would object to saying that
Brahman has "avidyA" (ignorance), "asatyam" (unreality), misery,
etc., as attributes, since the Upanishads quite clearly say that
He is characterized by knowledge, bliss, etc. So Advaita is *not*
being consistent here.
> Brahman is "ekameva advitiyam" there is nothing real outside Brahman. This
> Brahman therefore necessarily has to transcend all qualities; It is not
> just simply devoid of any qualities whatsoever. Accusing Sankara like this
> is deliberately misinterpreting him and casting him in a Buddhist mould,
> which he most definitely isn't.
What does "nirvisesa" mean, then? That is *exactly* how Sankara
describes Brahman, as being without *any* attributes! The
Advaitin Suresvara clearly says:
yad yad viSeShaNam draShTam na Atmanas tad ananvayAt
svasya kumbhAdivat tasmAd AtmA syAt nirviSeShaNah
Nothing that appears as qualitatively determining the
Self really belongs to the Self, just as things like
a pot appearing as qualifying space do not really belong
to space. There the Self is fundamentally unqualified.
I don't see any infinitude of attributes here (that is
Visistadvaita). Rather, he says "the Self has *no* attributes."
Nihilistic if you ask me.
[Vidya quotes the Maitrayani Upanishad several times].
In my opinion, the Maitrayani Upanishad is not an authoritative
text. Not that it cannot be interpreted in a manner opposite to
yours; I do not know either way. But, Ramanuja never quotes it,
and I believe neither do Sankara or Suresvara (Ramanuja tends to
stick only to Upanishads used by Sankara). It's used neither in
Sankara's Gita commentary, nor in the Naishkarmya-siddhi. So, I
suggest we stick to commonly accepted texts. Otherwise, I could
simply quote my Alvars!
> > This is rather patronizing, isn't it? Effectively, you are saying,
> > "Advaita is the best, but Visistadvaita is okay for you people whose
> > consciousness is less evolved." What a great insult to Ramanuja and
> > Madhva!
> Well, Ramanuja and Madhwa and their respective followers have been
> insulting Sankara all along, haven't they? Namely, "Advaita is okay for
> some, though it is completely wrong, therefore Visishtadvaita is the best
> for people whose consciousness is truly evolved!"
No, not at all! We say, "The Advaita of Sankara is fundamentally
flawed, and is fundamentally incorrect. Aside from its bhakti
aspects, it won't lead you anywhere, Come join us, avoid the
delusion of kevala-advaita, and we'll teach you a real philosophy
that is self-consistent!"
> For all
> you know, Christianity or Islam may be the ultimate truth, and we as
> Hindus will never accept that.
In general, I have little dispute with Advaitins who practice
bhakti, or with devout theists such as Christians and Muslims
(eternal damnation and other such difficulties aside). I myself
have worshipped in a Catholic church countless times, and view
the God of Christianity, Islam, Vaishnavism, and Saivism to be
essentially the same. But the Brahman as defined by Advaita is
one that I cannot stomach, both philosophically and religiously.