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Jain World
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Publisher's Note

Something About Late Shri V.R. Gandhi
Contents
Introduction
I - The Sankhya Philosophy
  II - The Yoga Philosophy
  III - The Naya Philosophy
  IV - Mimamsa
  V - The Vedanta Philosophy
  VI - Buddhism
  VII - Jainism
  Sanskrit Terms

V - The Vedanta Philosophy

 

 

(c) The Sanskrit language has the great advantage that it can express the difference between the qualified and the unqualified Brahma by a mere change of gender; Brahma being used as a masculine when it is meant for the qualified and Brahma as a neuter when it is meant for the unqualified Brahma, the Absolute Being. This is a great help and there is nothing corresponding to it in English.

 

(d) We must remember also that the fundamental principle of the Vedanta philosophy was not 'Thou art He' but 'Thou art that' and that it was not 'thou will be' but 'thou art'. This 'thou art' expresses something, that is, that has been and always will be, not something that has still to be achieved, or is to follow, for instance, after death.

 

Thus Shankara says: "If it is said that the Soul will go to Brahma, that means that it will in future attain, or rather, that it will be in future what, though unconsciously, it always has been, viz. Brahma. For when we speak of some one going to some one else, it cannot be one and the same who is distinguished as the subject and the object. Also, if we speak of worship, that can only be if the worshipper is different from the worshipped. By true knowledge the individual soul does not become Brahma but is Brahma as soon as it knows what it really is and always has been. Being and knowing are one here."

 

(c) Here lies the characteristic difference between Yoga philosophy and Vedanta. In Yoga the human soul is represented as burning with love for God, as filled with a desire for union with or absorption in God. We find little of that in the Upanishads, and when such ideas occur they are argued away by the Vedanta philosophers. They always cling to the conviction that the Divine has never been really absent from the human soul, that it always is though covered by darkness or nescience, and that as soon as that darkness or that nescience is removed the soul is once more and in its own right what it always has been. It is‑ it does not become‑ Brahma.

 

(f) Last time I gave you the dialogue from the Chhandogya Upanishad between a young student Shwetaketu and his father. In that dialogue we have only a popular and not yet systematized view of the Vedanta. There are several passages indeed, which seem to speak of the union and absorption of the soul rather than of its recovery of its true nature. Such passages are always explained away by the stricter Vedanta philosophers and they have no great difficulty in doing this. For there remains always the explanation that the qualified personal Brahma in the masculine gender is meant and not yet the highest Brahma, which is, free from all qualities. That modified personal Brahma exists for all practical purposes, till its unreality has been discovered through the discovery of the highest Brahma; and as in one sense the modified masculine Brahma is the highest Brahma as soon as we know it and shares all its true reality with the highest Brahma as soon as we know it, many things may in a less strict sense be predicated of Him, the modified Brahma, which in truth apply to it only, the highest Brahma. This amphibole runs through the whole of the Vedanta Sutras and a considerable portion of the sutras is taken up with the task of showing that when the qualified Brahma seems to be meant it is really the unqualified Brahma that ought to be understood. Again, there are ever so many passages in the Upanishads which seem to refer to the individual soul but which, if properly explained, must be considered as referring to the highest Atman that gives support and reality to the individual soul. This at least is the view taken by Shankara, whereas the fact is that there have been different stages in the development of the belief in the highest Brahma and in the highest Atman; and some passages in the Upanishads belong to earlier phases of Indian thought when Brahma was still conceived simply as the highest deity and true blessedness was supposed to consist in the gradual approach of the soul to the throne of God.

 

(g) The fundamental principle of Vedanta philosophy that in reality there exists and there can exist nothing but Brahma, that Brahma is everything, the material as well as the efficient cause of the universe, is of course in contradiction with our ordinary experience. In Indian as any where else, man imagines at first that he in his individual bodily and spiritual character is something that all objects of the outer world also exist as objects. Idealistic philosophy swept this distinction with the Vedantistss.

 

(h) The Vedanta philosopher however is not only confronted with this difficulty but he has to meet another difficulty peculiar to himself. The whole of the Veda is in his eyes infallible, yet that Veda enjoins the worship of many Gods and even in enjoining the worship Upasana of Brahma, the highest deity in his active masculine and personal character, it recognizes an objective deity different from the subject that is to offer worship and sacrifice to him.

 

Hence the Vedanta philosopher has to tolerate many things. He tolerates the worship of an objective Brahma as a preparation for the knowledge of the subjective and objective or the Absolute Brahma, which is the highest object of his philosophy. He admits one Brahma endowed with quality, but high above the usual Gods of the Veda. This Brahma is reached by the pious on the path of the Gods; he can be worshipped and it is he who rewards the pious for their good works. Still, even he is in that character the result of Avidya (ignorance, nescience), of the same ignorance which prevents the soul of man, the Atman, from distinguishing itself from its encumbrances, the so‑called Upadhis such as body, the organs of sense and their works.

 

   (i) This nescience can be removed by knowledge only and this knowledge is imparted by the Vedanta which shows that all our ordinary knowledge is simply the result of ignorance or nescience, is uncertain, deceitful and perishable or, as we should say, phenomenal, relative and conditioned. The true knowledge called Smyagdarshan or complete insight cannot be gained by sensuous perception Prtyaksh or by inference Anuman, nor can obedience to the law of the Veda produce more than temporary enlightenment or happiness. According to the orthodox Vedanta, Shruti alone or what is called revelation can impart that knowledge and remove that nescience which is innate in human nature.

 

    (j) Of the higher Brahma nothing can be predicated but that it is and that through our nescience it appears to be this or that.

 

When a great Vedantistss was asked to describe Brahma, he was simply silent‑ that was his answer. But when it is said that Brahma is, that means at the same time that Brahma is not, that is to say, that Brahma is nothing of what is supposed to exist in our sensuous perceptions.

 

There are two other qualities, which may safely be assigned to Brahma, namely, that it is intelligent and that it is blissful, or rather that it is intelligence and bliss. Intelligent seems the nearest approach to Sanskrit Chit and Chaetanya. Spiritual would not answer, because it would not express more than that it is not material. But Chit means that it is, that it perceives and knows, though as it can perceive itself only we may say that it is lighted up by its own light or knowledge, or, as it is sometimes expressed, that it is pure knowledge and pure light. We can best understand it when we consider what is negatived by it, namely, dullness, deafness, darkness and all that is material. In several passages a third quality is hinted at, namely blissfulness, but this again only seems another name for perfection and chiefly intended to exclude the idea of any possible suffering in Brahma.

 

It is in the nature of this Brahma to be always subjective and hence it is said that it cannot be known in the same way as all other objects are known, but only as a knower knows that he knows and he is.

 

(k) Still whatever is and whatever is known‑two things which in the Vedanta and in all other idealistic systems of philosophy are identical‑all is in the end Brahma. Though we do not know it, it is Brahma that is known to us when conceived as the author or creator of the world, an office, according to Hindu idea, quite unworthy of the Godhead in its true character. It is the same Brahma that is known to us in our own self-consciousness. Whatever we may seem to be or imagine ourselves to be for a time, we are in truth the eternal Brahma, the eternal self. With this conviction in the background, the Vedantistss retains his belief in what he calls the Lord, God, the creator and ruler of the world, but only as phenomenal or as adapted to the human understanding. He thinks that just as a man believes in his personal self so he is sure to believe in a personal God, and such personal God may even be worshipped. But we must remember that what is worshipped is only a person, or as the Brahmins call it a Prteek, an aspect of the true eternal essence as conceived by us in our inevitably human and limited knowledge. Thus the strictest observance of religion is insisted on while we are what we are. We are told that there is truth in the ordinary belief in God as the creator or cause of the world, but a relative truth only, relative to the human understanding, just as there is truth in the perception of our senses and in the belief in our personality, but relative truth only. His belief in the Veda would suffice to prevent the Vedantistss from a denial of the Gods or from what we call atheism.

 

In deference to the Veda the Vedantistss has even to admit, if not exactly a creation, at least a repeated emanation of the world from Brahma and re‑absorption of it into Brahma from Kelp to Kelp or from age to age.

 

If we ask what led to a belief in the individual souls the answer we get is the Upadhi, the surroundings or the encumbrances, i.e. the body with the breath or life in it, the organs of sense and the mind. These together form the subtle body Sooksham Shreer and this Sooksham Shreer is supposed to survive while death can destroy the coarse body Sthool Shreer only. The individual soul is held by this subtle body and its fates are determined by acts which are continuing in their consequences and which persist in their effects for ever, or at least until true knowledge has arisen and put an end even to the subtle body and to all phantasms of nescience.