Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
Due to the lengthy nature of this discussion, I've split up my
reply into a few pieces. I've tried to make the division as
logical as possible.
This particular posting deals with the reality of the individual
Vidyasankar Sundaresan writes:
> Mani Varadarajan writes:
> > It denies Advaita's fundamental premise, viz.,
> > the ultimate falsehood of the individual soul!
> Fundamental premise??!! Mani, the very first sentence of Sankara's
> Brahmasutra bhashya says "jIvo brahmaiva, nA parah"! Advaita is all about
> establishing the identity between the individual soul, jiva (Atman) and
Pardon me for playing a little fast and loose with my wording.
Advaita's fundamental premise is the falsehood of the "multiplicity"
of souls. The divisions into individual bodies are false and
illusory, right? Sankara himself says that the jIva is a false
creation, due entirely to adventitious circumstances.
[From "Advaita Vedanta", by M.K.V. Iyer, p. 123. He quotes,
"paramArthatas tu na jIvo nAma buddhyupAdhiparikalpitasvarUpa-
vyatirekeNa asti." Sankara's collected works, vol. 2, p. 462.]
My criticism of your interpretation of "satyasya satyam" (reality of
realities) remains undisturbed, however. The phrase clearly implies
multiplicity, with one undergirding Reality bestowing reality to
all the other entities, including the individual souls.
> > 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...")
> The MUrta amUrta BrahmaNa starts by enumerating the mortal and the
> immortal. I see no justification for explaining prANas as "mass of jivas
> (souls) and matter" when the Upanishad specifically says prANa.
You are correct. In this case, the Upanishad only talks about the
souls being real and immortal. "prAna" (vital breath) in this
context refers to the individual soul, since the it is always
associated with prAna, and the breaths are mere instruments of
the soul. Furthermore, the text uses "prANa" in the singular
when describing instantiations of the immortal; this clearly
cannot refer to the breaths themselves, since they are fivefold,
as you indicated.
This usage also follows from the discussion in the Bhuma Vidya
section of the Chhandogya Upanishad. Also, Sankara himself says that
the word prAna has many meanings, including the individual
soul (Brahma-sutra Bhashya, vol I, p. 102, Thibaut's edition).
[In case you still dispute this, what else could prAna mean? Certainly
not the highest Brahman, since prAna is spoken of in the plural.
If they are simply the breaths, you will have to admit that the
breaths themselves are spoken of as real, which gets you into
more difficulties than admitting that the souls themselves are
> Secondly, the Upanishad does not say that Brahman is
> "one real among many reals". Nay, it says much more than that. Satyasya
> satyam because, devoid of Brahman, everything else loses its reality.
I agree with your final sentence, but why does that mean that
the individual souls are not real? Certainly, without Brahman, there
is no reality. This only means that there is no independent reality
aside from Brahman, and indeed this is impossible to conceive of,
since Brahman pervades all. The individual souls are modes, as
it were, of Brahman, are pervaded by Him, and are real, in that
they exist. But there is no reality independent of Him.
What Advaita says, however, is that the entire concept of "I" is
illusory, is false, and is in the end unreal. Contradicting
the "cetanAnAm" ("among souls") part of the Katha Upanishad
passage I quoted earlier, Advaita says that even such individuation
Even "aham brahma asmi" ("I am Brahman"), one of the most positive
statements of the Upanishads, is interpreted by the Advaitins to
negate the individual:
"brahma asmi" iti dhiyASeShA hy ahaMbuddhir nivatyate |
The sentence, "I am Brahman", sets up the idea that sublates
the whole idea of the "I".
[Suresvara's Naishkarmya-Siddhi, 2.29]
Regarding the term "false", you quote the famous rope/snake analogy:
> Advaita does not claim that this world is "false". It only says that it is
> illusory. Let us pause a minute here and go over the rope and snake
> analogy. A man sees a coiled rope in insufficient light and thinks it to
> be a snake, and is therefore afraid. Later, when he sees it again, he
> recognizes it as a rope, and realizes he was in error when he thought it
> to be a snake. However, till he realizes that his object of perception is
> not a snake, he still harbors the illusion that it is a snake i.e. he is
> under the influence of his own ignorance about the true identity of the
> thing, and is therefore under "mithyAtva". The same "snake" is later, at
> the moment of realization, understood to be a "rope".
> Similarly, man thinks this world has an independent reality, and assumes
> that the pleasures and joys and frustrations and miseries he experiences
> here are somehow "real". It is this that is "mithyA".
You run into a problem with this analogy. To cognize the fact that
the snake is indeed a rope, you have to perceive a difference between
the first and second perceptions. In other words, the second cognition
needs to show you the object's ropeness, to destroy the cognition of
its snakeness. Therefore, positive qualities need to be perceived
that give you the idea of "ropeness".
However, regarding Pure, Homogeneous Consciousness, which is the
Advaitic definition of Brahman, there are no distiguishing attributes,
since nothing can be distinguished at all. So how can we get rid
of our perceptions of mithyAtvam? No positive cognition can occur,
in your system; furthermore, there is not even an object to cognize,
since Advaitins deny the ultimacy of the concepts of subject and
object. Simply telling me the snake is illusory, without describing
some distinctively rope-like attributes is of no use, especially if
the snake looks real enough to bite me, and especially if you
yourself may be under this illusory spell.
Let's also say that I somehow cognize the ropeness. How do I now
know that this is the final truth, and that in reality the rope is
not a salamander?
Clearly, there are problems with your definition of illusion. Our
understanding of our individuality is certainly not false. Rather, by
stating a sentence such as "I know", I am asserting the reality of my
> He does not realize
> "sarvam khalvidam brahma", which would give him moksham.
Interestingly, Sankara would disagree with you! He interprets the
entire "sarvam khalv idam brahma" ("all this indeed is Brahman") text
as referring to the lower Brahman. It is refreshing to know that he
admits that the Upanishad is describing a cosmic and describable
Certainly, "sarvam khalv idam brahma" is a fundamental Vedantic
text. It shows that since Brahman is the origin, sustenance, and end
of "all this", He *is* all this. The text then enjoins meditation on
this Supreme Brahman.
> Similarly, the world is brought forth by the power of Brahman,
> called Maya, which is by no means false. And it is man's ignorance
> (avidyA) that keeps him in the illusion that the world is independently
> real. The minute he realizes the Truth, he discovers there is no more
> "world" - as the Upanishads say repeatedly, "For him there is no return."
I couldn't agree with you more. Maya is the wondrous power of the
Lord, the Supreme Brahman, and is not false. And the individual soul
needs to learn that nothing, not even the world, is independent of
Brahman. The minute he realizes the Truth, he realizes that all is
Brahman -- he sees Brahman everywhere; where he used to see an
independent world, he now sees it as a vibhUti (manifestation) of
Brahman. Having achieved this vision, liberation for him is assured.
But do you think Sankara would agree with the implications of what you
have just said? You've ascribed power and maya to Brahman; you've
talked about a world that is dependently real; and you've said that
it's the individual's ignorance that keeps each soul in bondage. Welcome
to Visistadvaita, and welcome to Vedanta!