SrI: SrImathE SatakOpAya nama: SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama: SrImadh varavaramunayE nama:
The comprehension of the import of Vedas
Having explained the import of Vedānta in brief through the initial passages, Svāmī Rāmānuja divides the rest of the text into two sections:
(i) criticism of rival interpretations, and
(ii) explanation of his own position.
Passages 6 to 8 summarize the key positions of rival schools while exposing the contradiction inherent in them.
- The ideas from various schools of Advaita including those of Śrī Śaṅkara are presented first.
- The members of this school fully ignore (paying only lip-service to) the statements which teach difference between Brahman and other entities, and take refuge in those verses which use Samānādhikaraṇya by interpreting them as teaching identity.
- Their conclusions are as follows:
- The Brahman is mere knowledge without any attributes.
- The Brahman is eternally free, and self-revealing. Yet, through the passages that use Samānādhikaraṇya such as ‘tattvamasi’, one must understand the Brahman to be the same as the individual soul.
- In the absence of any other entity, our conception of ignorance, bondage and liberation should apply to the Brahman itself.
- Brahman, which is of the form of pure knowledge, alone is true. The entire universe including differences such as those between ruler and the ruled are false.
- It is impossible to have a system that reckons some soul as bound, and some others as liberated.
- To understand that some souls have already attained liberation in the past is incorrect.
- Only one body has the soul. All other bodies do not have souls. But, nobody knows in which body the soul resides.
- The teacher who teaches the knowledge of scripture is an illusion. The authority on scripture is an illusion. The scripture is an illusion. The knowledge of identity known from the scripture is an illusion.
- All the above conclusions can be known only through scripture which is an illusion itself.
Let us take a critical view of the above principles and implications of Advaita.
The Advaitins provide prominence only to the verses which appear to teach identity of the Brahman and the soul, while disregarding the verses which teach difference. They understand the Vedānta as teaching difference and then denying it by teaching identity. But, there is no reason for the Vedānta to teach difference which is already known through practical experience. The Vedānta could have directly refuted difference and taught identity – which it doesn’t.
The Advaitins also think that the Brahman has no attributes at all, and is merely pure consciousness. This again rejects several passages which predicate attributes for the Brahman. Understanding the Brahman at Saguṇa and Nirguṇa levels is not taught by the Vedānta. Also, the Vedānta never uses the simple definition of the Advaitin as ‘only pure consciousness’ anywhere.
Since the Brahman in the Advaita system has no attributes, it has to be understood outside all relations. It has to be eternally free and self-revealing. The Brahman is the same as the individual soul in its purest form. Since there is nothing other than the Brahman, the only entity that undergoes bondage and liberation has to be the Brahman (from a phenomenal view). Again, since there is nothing other than the Brahman, we cannot say that one is bound while another is liberated, or that great saints have attained liberation previously (from the absolute view). In the state of liberation, there is nothing but the Brahman. So, nobody is liberated. Or, the Brahman itself has now become liberated in some forms while still being bound in other forms. It depends on the view from which we are talking about the Brahman.
Even the gateway to liberation is an illusion
The entire universe is an illusion, and there are no differences in reality. The teacher who teaches Advaita is an illusion. The disciple who learns is an illusion. The scripture and its import are all illusions. Great saints who are authorities on the scripture are illusions. When the teacher teaches, he is teaching to an illusion. When a disciple listens, he is listening to an illusion. The act of teaching and listening, and the content of the instruction, are also illusions. One would think that a teacher who has realized Advaita has no reason to teach because there is nothing other than him to be taught. The very institution of Advaita seems to promote duality in the form of teacher-disciple relationship. The teacher, who takes renunciation from all actions which are connected to duality, will now spend the rest of his life nurturing the duality of teacher and disciple!
Descent into solipsism
If one is taught Advaita, then one must think that one’s entire experience consisting of not only insentient but even sentient beings is an illusion. One can be sure of only one’s own consciousness. Then only (what appears to be) one’s own body has sentience; nobody else has. But, everyone else who learns Advaita would think the same way. So, nobody knows who the real consciousness is, and who is part of illusion. It results in a comical situation where everyone is an illusion to everybody else.
The absurdity of layered reality
Modern Advaitins try to reconcile this by always resolving reality as absolute and phenomenal, and answering a question in the absolute view from the phenomenal and vice versa. But, this is a word trick. Reality, itself, is a concept or an idea, and is part of the duality of real and unreal – notions known only through experience. So, an entity without any attributes and beyond all duality of experience cannot even be real! Also, layers of reality constitute a form of difference which the Advaitin seeks to deny. In which reality are the resolved levels of reality sustained? They cannot be in the absolute which permits no such gradation. They cannot be in the phenomenal too because then, the absolute becomes sustained on phenomenal illusion, and what is sustained on an illusion must be an illusion. In either case, an attribute-less being cannot exist, and is the only true illusion. Likewise, one can see that consciousness is part of the duality of conscious-unconscious; infinitude is part of the duality of finite-infinite. The Advaitin cherry-picks some ideas from duality, while rejecting others using word-play. If every idea that is part of a duality were rejected, then the Brahman of Advaita would only be a figment of imagination (can it even be that?), and the grandest of all illusions.
- The position of Bhāskara’s Bhedābheda is summarized next.
- Though the Brahman is taught to be devoid of all blemish, the identity of individual soul and Brahman is also taught in verses like ‘tattvamasi’. So, it must be understood that the Brahman becomes the basis of various forms of change and suffering due to some limiting factors. It then undergoes bondage and liberation.
Bhāskara realizes the problems in Advaita’s grand illusion theory. So, he advocates real transformation of the Brahman due to some limiting factors. But, in this case, the Brahman directly becomes subject to blemish – a condition the Advaitin tried to avoid using the notion of illusion. The view of Bhāskara, while solving the absurdities stemming from the illusion theory, suffers the drawback of subjecting the Brahman to blemish (which is not consistent with the scripture).
- The position of Yādavaprakāśa is summarized here.
- Misled like the others by words that appear to teach identity, this school concludes that the Brahman, which is the ocean of exalted attributes, has the nature of becoming the soul and takes various states like those of divine beings, humans, plants, animals, residents of hell & heaven and the liberated.
- The very nature of Brahman is both different from, and non-different from everything else.
- The Brahman is subject to modifications such as space, etc.
Bhāskara’s idea of limiting factors leads to the question if these factors are external to and superior to the Brahman. Then what is the greatness of the Brahman which is easily overpowered by such limiting factors, and is unable to liberate itself. Yādavaprakāśa sees no need to posit additional limiting factors, nor does he believe that the Advaitin’s theory of illusions is sound. He suggests that the Brahman, itself, undergoes modification and becoming sentient and insentient entities is in its very nature.
We notice a directed change from the Advaitin to Yādavaprakāśa. The Brahman is increasingly subject to defects. The Advaitin tries to call the corruption of Brahman an illusion. He only appears to save the Brahman from blemish; the trouble is in the details leading to several absurdities. Bhāskara tries to work around these problems by conceding that the Brahman is affected by limiting factors. Yādavaprakāśa removes even these factors, and directly endows the Brahman with defects and modifications. An underlying tension between arriving at a reasonable theory, and removing the Brahman from blemish is apparent. Metaphysicians concede one of these two objectives to varying degrees in their thesis. It appears to be very hard to be both reasonable, and consistent with scripture.
adiyen ranganatha ramanuja dasan
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