Notes on the Unanimous Views of the main schools of the Vedanta

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Notes on the Unanimous Views of the main schools of the Vedanta. Following Badarayana, both Sahkara and Ramanuja reject theories which explain the world

  • Either as the product of material elements which by themselves combine together to form objects,
  • Or as the transformation of an unconscious nature that spontaneously evolves all objects,
  • Or as the product of two kinds of independent reality, such as matter and God, one of which is the material, the other the efficient cause which creates the world out of the first.

Both agree that an unconscious cause cannot produce the world, and both hold that even the dualistic conception of two ultimately independent realities, one conscious and another unconscious, producing the world by interaction, is unsatisfactory.

Both take their stand on the Upanishad view that ‘All is Brahman'(sarvam khalu idam Brahma), and matter and mind are not independent realities but grounded in the same Brahman.

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Both are, therefore, monists or believers in one Absolute, Independent Reality which pervades the world of multiple objects and selves.

Badarayana, whom both Sankara and Ramanuja follow, discusses at length the unsatisfactory nature of other alternative theories of the world. Refutation of other views is based both on independent reasoning and the testimony of earlier scriptures.

We may briefly sum up here the independent arguments by which the chief theories are refuted.

The Sankhya theory that unconscious primal matter (prakrti), composed of the three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas), gives rise to the world without the guidance of any conscious agent is not satisfactory, because the world is a harmonious system of nicely adjusted objects which cannot be believed to be the accidental product of any unconscious cause.

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As the Sankhya itself admits, this world consisting of bodies, senses, motor organs and other objects is made just to fit the diverse souls born into it in accordance with their past deeds. But how can an unconscious nature carry out such a complicated plan?

In admitting that there is a purpose in the world, but denying at the same time the existence of a conscious creator, the Sankhya commits itself to an absurd position. Unconscious teleology is unintelligible. Adaptation of means to ends is not possible without conscious guidance.

The spontaneous flow of milk from the cow for the sake of a calf is cited by the Sankhya as an example of unconscious but purposive act. But it is forgotten that the cow is a living, conscious being and milk flows impelled by her love for the calf.

No undisputed example of an unconscious object performing a complicated purposeful act can be cited. The souls (purusas) that the Sankhya admits are said to be inactive and, therefore, they also cannot help the evolution of the world.

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The Vaisesika theory that the world is caused by the combination of atoms is similarly untenable because these unconscious atoms cannot produce this wonderful world by adjusted atoms.

For the regulation of the atoms in the formation of the world, the moral law of Adrsta is, of course, admitted by the Vaisesika. But this law is also unconscious and the difficulty is not removed. Besides, how atoms at first begin to move in order to create the world is not explicable.

If movement were the inherent nature of the atoms, they would never cease to move and the dissolution (pralaya) of objects, as the Vaisesika admits would never occur. Souls are of course admitted, but they are not admitted to have any intrinsic consciousness.

Consciousness arises after the souls are associated with bodies and the organs of knowledge; and these do not exist before creation. Hence atoms cannot receive any conscious guidance even from souls.

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Against those Bauddha thinkers who explain the objects of the world as aggregates of different momentary elements, it is pointed out that momentary things cannot possess any causality.

Because to produce an effect the cause must first arise and then act and, therefore, stay for more than one moment, which is against the doctrine of commentaries.

Even if the separate momentary elements be somehow produced, no aggregate can be caused, for no substances are admitted (by these Baudhas) which can bring together the elements and produce the desired objects.

As consciousness itself is admitted to be the effect of the aggregation of the different elements, it cannot exist before aggregation, and the difficulty of unconscious cause, seen before, arises here also.

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Against those Bauddha who hold the view of subjective idealism (Tjnanavada) and declare that the world, like a dream, is only an illusory product of the imagination, the following important objections are pressed by Sahkara following Badarayana.

The existence of external objects cannot be denied because they are perceived to exist by all persons. To deny the existence of a pot, cloth or pillar while it is being perceived, is like denying the flavour of the food while it is being eaten: it is a falsification of immediate experience by sheer force.

If immediate experience is disbelieved, then even the reality of mental states cannot be believed in. To say that ideas of the mind illusorily appear as external objects is meaningless unless at least something external is admitted to be real. Otherwise, it would be as good as to say that a certain man looks like the child of a barren woman.

Unless different perceived objects like pot and cloth are admitted, the idea of a pot cannot be distinguished from that of a cloth, since, as consciousness, they are identical.

There is a vital difference between dream objects and perceived objects: the former are contradicted by waking experience, while the latter are not.

External objects perceived during waking experience cannot be said to be unreal so long as they are not felt to be contradicted. So subjective idealism, and along with it also nihilism (sunyavada), fail to explain the world satisfactorily.

Even a deistic theory (held by the Saivas, Pasupatas, Kapalikas and Kalamukhas) which holds that God is the efficient cause and matter is the material cause of the world is not accepted.

The chief objection raised is that as such a view is based not on the Vedas, but on independent reasoning and ordinary human experience, it should tally with what we observe in life; but it does not do so.

So far as our experience goes, a spirit can act upon matter only through a body, consisting of organs of perception and movement. Again this activity is caused by some motive, such as attainment of pleasure and removal of pain.

But God is said to be devoid of body as well as passions and desires. In the light of empirical experience we fail, therefore, to understand the manner as well as the motive of God’s creation of the world.

We have seen that God is conceived even as early as the Vedas in two aspects: God pervades the world, but He is not exhausted in the world, He is also beyond it. God is both immanent and transcendent.

These two aspects of God persist throughout the Upanisads and the later Vedanta, though the meanings of transcendence and immanence are not the same in all thinkers.

It is usual to call the theory of the presence of God in all things ‘pantheism’, and Vedanta is commonly described by this name Pantheism etymologically means all-God-theory.

But if all is God the question remains open whether God is the mere totality of all objects of the world, or the totality of things and something more.

When such distinction is made, the word ‘pantheism’ is generally confined to the first view, whereas ‘panentheism’ (a word coined by a German philosopher, Krause) is used for the second.

To avoid the ambiguity of the word ‘pantheism’ and to remind ourselves of the fact that God in Vedanta is not simply immanent, but also transcendent, we should call the Vedanta theory of God panentheism, rather than pantheism.

It is necessary to mention here that in the Upanisads, and later Vedanta literature, the word, Brahman, is used for the Highest Principle or Absolute Reality, as well as for the creator of the world, the object of worship.

The word, Isvara, is also sometimes used in later literature to denote the second aspect. In English ‘Absolute’ is sometimes used for the first and ‘God for the second.

But ‘God’ is also used in a wider sense for both the aspects, (e.g., in Spinoza, Hegel, Whitehead) in his Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers (p. 32, Vol. I) Edward Caird even defines ‘the idea of God as an absolute power or principle.’

We have used the word, God, here, along with Brahman, in the wider sense (for both God of religion and Absolute of theosophy) and the context in each case will show the precise meaning.

The use of two names is apt to suggest two corresponding realities and obscure the truth of one reality having two aspects.

Another point of agreement among Vedantins is that all of them believe that the knowledge of the existence of God is, at the first instance, obtained not by reasoning but from the testimony of the revealed scriptures.

It is admitted, of course, that on the perfection of religious life the presence of God can be realised by the devout souls. But to start with, we have to depend on indirect knowledge of God through the undoubted testimony of the scriptures.

Scarcely any attempt is made, therefore, in the Vedanta, as in the Nyaya and other theistic systems, to adduce purely logical proofs for the existence of God.

Arguments are confined generally to showing the inadequacy of all theories of God, not based on scriptures, and to the justification of the scriptural views. This attitude of the Vedanta appears to be dogmatic and is sometimes made the object of criticism.

It should be noted, however, that even many Western philosophers (like Kant, Lotze and others) have ever and anon rejected theistic proofs as inadequate. Lotze makes it clear that unless we start with some faith in God, the rational proofs are of little avail.

As he puts it: ‘Therefore, all proofs that God exists are pleas put forward in justification of our faith.’

This faith according to him springs from ‘the obscure impulse which drives us to pass in our thought as we cannot help passing from the world given in sense to a world not given in sense, but above and behind sense’.

According to the Vedanta also an initial faith is necessary for religious life and thought. This faith, thought starting from a personal feeling of inadequacy and disquiet and a longing for something higher, remains a mere blind groping m the dark till it is enlightened by the teachings of the scriptures that embody the sages’ direct realisation of God.

Reasoning is necessary for the understanding of the teachings, for removing doubts and realising their cogency. By itself reasoning is an empty form or method of thinking which can work only when Materials are supplied.

The scriptures supply to reason the matter for speculation, argumentation and meditation. This kind of dependence of reason on matter supplied from a non-rational source is nothing peculiar to theology.

Even the greatest discoveries in science can be traced back to some non-rational origin like intuitive flashes of truth in imagination which reasoning afterwards attempts to justify, by further observation, experiment, proof and elaboration.

‘Dialectic,’ says Bergson ‘is necessary to put intuition to the proof.’ Though all Vedantins primarily depend on the scriptures for belief in God, they make full use of reasoning in the justification and elaboration of that belief.

They learn from the Upanisads that God is the Infinite Conscious, All-inclusive Reality, the Creator of the universe as well as its Preserver and Destroyer. Each one tries in his own way to develop what he thinks to be the most consistent theory of God.

The sutras of Badarayana have for their subject-matter God and are, therefore, named Brahma-sutra. But they are written for man, the embodied soul, and, therefore; called also Sdriraka- sutra.

Man, therefore, occupies a central place in the Vedanta. It is for his enlightenment and his salvation that the Vedanta undertakes philosophical discussion.

But what is the real nature of man? The Upanisads teach us that man has no existence independent of God. Both Sahkara and Ramanuja accept this view. But they interpret the self s dependence on God in different ways.

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