Essay on the Rational Basis of Sankara’s Theory of God.

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The different ideas about God, as explained above, are based primarily on the interpretation of the scriptures. But they can also be logically deduced from the conclusions established in the previous section by the critical analysis of ordinary experience and by reasoning based thereon. We saw their how Sahkara demonstrates by argument that:

(a) Pure existence is the ground and material of all particular and changing forms of existence constituting the world,

(b) That particular objects being open to contradiction cannot be taken as absolutely real,

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(c) That only pure existence is beyond actual and possible contradiction and, therefore, the only Absolute Reality, and

(d) That pure existence is pure consciousness as well. It will be found, therefore, that this Absolute Existence-Consciousness is nothing other than God, described by the Upanisads as Brahman, real, conscious and infinite.

Now the two aspects of God, the immanent and the transcendent, can also be logically deduced. The idea of God, as pure existence is reached, we saw, through the world of particular objects, by a logical enquiry into its nature and reality.

Till such critical examination takes place, the world of normal waking experience passes as the only reality. Our ordinary practical life is based on such an unsuspecting acceptance of this world.

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But when on examination one comes to realise pure existence as the universal ground of the world, one perceives such existence in every phenomenon. In other words, God or Brahman is found manifested through every particular form of existence.

Although the world appears to him in all its multiplicity, God is thought to be its sole ground and substance.

But when it is realised that though pure existence appears in many forms, yet these latter cannot be accepted by reason as real, one has to think that the cause of the world has the inscrutable power of manifesting itself as many without undergoing any real modification.

This metaphysical idea, put in terms of theology, is nothing but the conception of God as the Creator of the world and possessed of a magical creative power, maya.

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This is also the conception of Isvara or Saguna-brahman, Brahman endowed with the attributes of omnipotence (the power of causing all things) and omniscience (consciousness revealing all forms of existence).

Again, as all objects perish only to merge in existence of some other form, objects can be conceived as being withdrawn into their ground, which is existence. God can thus be described as also the Destroyer or that into which the world’s objects lose their particular forms.

But on still deeper thought it is realised that the relation of the unreal to the real cannot be itself real. The attributes ascribed to God to express His relation to the apparent world cannot, therefore, be taken as real.

Thus emerges the idea of God in His transcendent and truly real aspect of Parabrahman, the Supreme Reality, above all multiplicity and devoid of all really ascribable attributes, the Nirguna Brahman or Indeterminate Absolute.

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Sankara’s conception of Brahman in its twofold aspect and all ideas connected there with are, therefore, found to be logically deducible also from a critical view of ordinary experience.

Like Spinoza’s conception of God, as substance, Sankara’s conception of God. As Parabrahman or Nirguna Brahman, differs from the God of Religion, that is, God conceived as an object of worship, distinct from the worshipper and endowed with the highest attributes.

It is no wonder, therefore, that like Spinoza, Sahkara also is sometimes accused of atheism. This charge stands or falls according as God is taken in this narrow sense or in the wider one, we have previously discussed.

If God connotes, among other things, the Supreme Reality, Sankara’s theory is not surely atheism, but rather the logical perfection of the theistic faith.

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Indeed, whereas atheism believes only in the world and not at all in God, and ordinary theism believes in both, the world and God, Sahkara believes only in God. For him God is the only Reality.

Rather than denying God, he makes the most of God. This view also marks the highest extension of the, ordinary religious emotion towards God.

For it points to the stage where love of God becomes absolute, suffering neither the ego nor the world if this type of faith is to be distinguished from ordinary theism (or belief in personal God), the word for it should be, not atheism, but rather.

In connection with the process of creation, we saw, that the Advaitin imagines the gradual evolution of the world out of Brahman through Maya, by a process of apparent change of the subtle to the gross.

Three stages are sometimes distinguished in this process of evolution in analogy with the development of a seed into a plant, namely, the undifferentiated seed stage or causal stage, the subtly differentiated germinating stage and the fully differentiated plant stage.

Brahman, the unchanging reality, cannot, of course, be said to be undergoing evolution. All change and, therefore, evolution belong to the sphere of Maya.

It is Maya, the creative power which at first remains unmanifested, then becomes differentiated into subtle objects, and then into the gross ones.

Brahman conceived as the possessor of the undifferentiated Maya is named Isvara, and described as omniscient and omnipotent. It is the conception of God existing prior to actual creation, but possessed of the power of creation.

Brahman possessed of subtly differentiated Maya is called Hiranyagarbha (also Sutratma and Prana). God in this aspect would be the totality of all subtle objects.

Brahman possessed of Maya differentiated further into gross or perceptible objects is called Vaisvanara (also Virat).

This aspect of God is the totality of all gross objects, the entire manifested world, including all individuals (jivas).

Sometimes this gradual process of evolution is compared to the three states of the individual, namely, deep sleep, dream and wakefulness. Isvara is God in deep slumber. Hiranyagarbha is God in dreaming state, and Vaisvanara is God fully awake.

It should be remembered that whereas ordinarily Isvara implies the entire immanent aspect of God, that is Brahman associated with Maya in all stages, the word is used in the present context in a narrower sense, and confined only to the first stage.

Counting these three immanent aspects of God in relation to creation along with the transcendent aspect beyond all such relation, we have the four possible aspects of Brahman, namely, Pure Consciousness-Existence (Parabrahman), Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Vaisvanara though these are generally taken as the successive stages of manifestation.

It is equally possible to think of them as simultaneously existing. For, Pure Consciousness never ceases even when it seems to evolve, nor do the subtle manifestations (e.g. buddhi, manas, pranas, senses and motor organs) cease when the gross ones come into existence.

Sahkara does not seem to attach any serious importance to the different alternative accounts of the order of creation, and metaphors in support thereof, though he tries to explain all of them as they occur in the different scriptures, without any attempt to justify some and reject the rest.

There are two problems that appear in the human mind as to the world. One of them is: What is the ultimate ground, substance, or reality logically presupposed by the world? The other is: Why or how does the world originate from what is accepted as the ultimate?

The solution of the first is the primary business of philosophy. Sahkara, Spinoza, Green, Bradley and most other great philosophers of the world address themselves to this problem.

They start from the world of experienced facts, analyse it critically and try to find out what is logically pre-supposed by it. Reasoning or logic is the chief instrument here. We saw already how Sahkara thus discovers pure existence and consciousness as the only and ultimate reality.

The solution of the second problem is the business of mythology which starts with God (or some other ultimate) and gives an imaginary account of why and how the world is created. Imagination is the chief instrument here, and no logical rigour can be expected in its work.

The mythological explanation of the world has always been a pastime for the human mind in all lands, as all the scriptures and legends of the world would show. Sometimes it is found intermingled also with philosophical speculation. But all great philosophers have fought shy of mythological explanation.

The hackneyed criticism against Spinoza that his substance is like a lion’s den to which there are many steps but out of which there are none, points to this fact, though it misunderstands the primary business of the philosopher.

Green and Bradley plainly confess that the why and how of creation cannot be explained by philosophy.

Similarly, Sankara does not take the stories and motives of creation described in different scriptures, with the same seriousness with which he tries to establish the reality of Brahman, the ultimate ground of the world, or expose the contradictory character of all changing and particular finite modes of existence. The accounts of creation are true, for him, only from the lower point of view.

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