Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
Subject: Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Vidyasankar Sundaresan)
Date: 8 Jun 1994 23:01:14 GMT
Organization: California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
In article <email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org (Mani
> 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.
Don't the Br. Up. verses II 4, 13 and IV 5, 15 deny duality and thereby
multiplicity? Don't the Upanishads further specify identity in "tat tvam
asi"? Denial of multiplicity is not a premise of Advaita - it is the
highest teaching of the Upanishads.
> ............ 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.
Clearly "prANa" is used in different senses in different places in the
Upanishad. In "prANA vai satyam" it clearly does not mean mass of matter
and souls. Do you notice the subtle change from the plural to the singular
in the wording however - prANA: to satyam, teShAm to satyasya? Clearly the
import of the sentence is that there is only one Ultimate reality.
> > Secondly, the Upanishad does not say that Brahman is
> > "one real among many reals". Nay, it says much more than that.
> > 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.
You are not saying anything fumdamentally different from the Advaita
position here. The individual souls exist as many only in this creation.
Advaita does not deny that. Also one does not need sruti to tell you that
these exist in this creation. What one needs sruti for, is to tell you of
the Transcendental, that which cannot be known by perception or cognition.
As I pointed out earlier, in Advaita terms Real = Eternal. You have not
said anything to the effect that the individual souls are eternally many.
On the other hand, "dependent reality" is just a term that is convenient
to use, without recognizing that for the Brahmavit, who becomes Brahman,
the world loses whatever apparent reality it had. Advaita speaks from the
point of view of the one who is liberated, it does not say that the world
is unreal for the ordinary man. It tells the ordinary man that the first
step towards liberation is recognizing the momentariness of this world.
> 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
> is unreal.
> 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]
It is easy to lose sight of the highly technical meanings of terms here.
By "aham" what is meant here is "ahamkara" - the ego. It is the ego that
sets one apart as distinct from the rest, and since there are no
distinctions in the Ultimate, this ego is false in the ultimate sense. The
individual soul, the Atman, is identical to Brahman, and is not false. The
Upanishad clearly tells you to eliminate even the ahamkara, and then tells
you the person who sees the void when this ahamkara is eliminated is the
> Regarding the term "false", you quote the famous rope/snake analogy:
> 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?
The rope-snake analogy applies not to Brahman, but to the world. Just as
one imagines the snake in the rope, out of ignorance, so does one imagine
the world to be real. When the rope is identified, the snake is understood
as illusion, not as a dependent reality. Similarly when the Real is
known, the world loses the reality one ascribed to it. So none of your
criticisms apply here.
As for the rope being in reality a salamander, you don't know precisely
because it is a matter of objective knowledge. The rope sublates the snake
and maybe later the salamander will sublate the rope. Brahman sublates the
world, and by definition, nothing can sublate Brahman. The question does
> 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
> individual self.
No, you are only asserting your ego. Clearly as the Upanishad says "How
does one know oneself, the Knower?" Does this mean the Knower cannot be
known? No. What it means is that the Knower is not to be known as the
object, but as the subject of knowing. The knower, the known and the
knowledge are in the ultimate sense identical.
> > 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
> Brahman here.
Advaita is clear that the Saguna Brahman is the creator of the world. In
fact, the creative power properly belongs to the Saguna Brahman alone.
Therefore, Sankara is always clear to distinguish between Upanishadic
descriptions of the Saguna and the Nirguna Brahman. Unlike the
Visishtadvaitin who denies the Nirguna Brahman even when the Upanishads
clearly talk about It, he does not tell you that no Upanishad talks of a
Saguna Brahman. There is nothing to be surprised about or refreshed by
> > 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
> > real. The minute he realizes the Truth, he discovers there is no more
> > "world" - as the Upanishads say repeatedly, "For him there is no
> 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!
This exclusivity of Vedanta to mean Visishtadvaita somewhat disturbs me. I
grant that there are different schools of Vedanta, but I find this denial
on your part jarring.
I thought my Advaita moorings were sufficiently clear to understand that
the minute I talk of Maya, I am talking of the Saguna Brahman whose power
it is. Advaita is very specific in saying that the creative power is the
power of the Saguna Brahman, and that this Maya is also destroyed at the
end of it all. Why does Advaita tell you that the highest is Nirguna?
Because this Reality cannot ultimately be captured in words. For when
Maya is also destroyed, how is one to even attempt to describe That? Neti,
neti, all over again. When I said "thinking that the world is
independently real is illusion", I do not necessarily mean that the
converse, viz. "thinking that the world is dependently real is not
illusion" is true. I specifically said that on knowing Brahman as the
Real, the world loses its reality. As for the individual's ignorance being
the cause of bondage, isn't that the very definition of bondage? However,
is the Atman really in bondage? It thinks it is in bondage, but on
realizing its identity with Brahman, it realizes it never was really in
bondage. It is like the woman who thought she had lost her necklace though
she had it on her neck all the time.
As for the world being a vibhUti of Brahman, I beg to differ. I recognize
the world as a creation of Saguna Brahman. I see no reason to exalt this
world as a manifestation of the Highest Brahman. If you say it is a lower
reality, I reply that to think of the Supreme Brahman as a higher
manifestation and a lower manifestation goes against the letter and
the spirit of the teaching which tells you that the Supreme has no parts.
So I can logically think of no higher Brahman than the Nirguna Brahman of
Advaita. Thus I remain in Advaita, thank you.