(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.