A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
It is contended by some that the world is not such an utter negation of Reality, that the world of names and forms is in the being of Reality, that plurality cannot be a nothing, that diversity which is real is indwelt by the Supreme. It is also held that the individual is not the Absolute until it realises the Absolute, that the process of change and evolution is a perfect truth and not an appearance, and that the quality of the Absolute is not attributable to the individual at any time.
It is not difficult to note that indwelling is possible only when the Indweller is different from the indwelled, that is, when there is a second entity. To assert that God pervades the diverse beings and that God impels all actions is a trick played by the cunning individuals flowing with the current of instinct to get a license of objective indulgence. The self-expression called the world is not a deliberate objective act of the Absolute, for we cannot say that the Absolute acts. It is an undivided appearance without any ultimate logical reason for its existence or disappearance. Hence we often come to the conclusion that appearance, subsistence, disappearance, bondage, life and liberation are eternal! An undivided change is no change. Eternal transformation is changelessness, and it cannot be considered as any motion at all. Thus, appearance would become eternal like Reality, and two eternals contradict the Absolute. This proves the invalidity of the existence of appearance.
To assert diversity is to deny absoluteness. It does not, however, mean that the Absolute excludes the diverse finitudes, but the finite is eternally dissolved in or is identical with the Absolute, and therefore, it does not claim for itself an individual reality. It is argued that to ignore differences is to reduce the Absolute to a non-entity. The Absolute does not depend upon the reality of egoistic differences. By cancelling the relative we may not affect the Absolute, but we, so long as we are unconscious of the fundamental Being, improve thereby our present state of consciousness. Individuality is in every speck of space and these egos must be so very undivided that diversity becomes an impossible conception and homogeneity persists in every form of true reasoning in our effort to come to a conclusion in regard to the nature of the Absolute. We may blindly assert difference, but it is not possible to establish it through any acceptable reasoning.
To say that we are not yet the Reality, and we have yet to "become" it, may be true with partiality to empirical consciousness, but it is not the highest truth. Perfection or Absoluteness is not something to be got or acquired from somewhere, but is only a "realisation" of what actually and eternally "is", a mere "knowledge" of the fact that "exists". The individuals are in essence the Absolute itself, which is beyond all contradiction. This truth is not to be grasped through dull metaphysics or idle intellectual quibbling, but through realisation and experience. The form of the world can never have a substantial existence as it is not independent of the Absolute. The reality of the forms of the world is based on the working of the ego-sense or the idea of separateness in the individual. Realisation is not an actual "becoming", but an unfolding of consciousness, an experience of Truth, Truth that already is, Truth that is eternal. The essential existence can never change. We cannot become what we actually are not at present. We have no right to claim what we do not really possess. The Self is not really bound by space and time. Compromising philosophers make a false distinction between the individual and the Absolute, between becoming and being, between the finite self and the ultimate Brahman. The words "ultimate" and "relative" have no basis outside simple misapprehension of what is really unchanging and eternal. The Upanishads do not simply mean that duality is not final, but that it has no basis at all in the region of Reality. The Absolute of the Upanishads is the only Reality, and all forms must, therefore, be non-existent from the point of view of its exact nature.
"Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood." —Mund. Up., III. 1. 6.
A faithfulness to diversity must necessarily end in a failure in the practical walk of life. The discord of the material universe is kept up by the belief in actual separateness in life, which has deluded the consciousness of the whole race of beings. Truth is the undivided Absolute. Truth cannot be twofold. It is a perversion of the natural intelligence that is the cause of the devotion of individuals to a truth of diversity. The Absolute and the relative are not two different entities standing like father and son. The two are the presentation by the human intellect of what is in fact Non-Dual. The Absolute does necessarily and obviously cancel the validity of the existence of the fictitious relative and the finite. The form of the world is not simply less real than the Absolute but a distortion of the characteristic nature of the Absolute. Progress and downfall in life are not an actual process but an appearance of the states of the one Consciousness. The form of the process of the world seems to be rigidly determined when looked from the point of view of the corresponding subjective intellects or the individuals in the same grade of reality, but it appears otherwise when we are open to the fact that the perceiving subjects are not made of the same processes of the psychological stuff, that all are not in the same grade of reality, and that cognising subjects are also infinite in number. The form of the world has no authoritative existence and does not bear the test of reason. There is no reasonable evidence for the existence of an eternal plan and purpose underlying the evolutionary scheme of the world-process, except the fact that it serves as the required objective field of training and self-transcendence for individuals whose constitution is in consonance with the constitution of the world in which they find themselves.
Truth being one, it cannot be classed as absolute and relative, except for the sake of human convenience and with reference to subjective changes. It is a sanction of the inability to apprehend Truth, and is not valid with stricter and saner perception. If the one is true, the other must be false. If we cannot experience the Absolute, we have to admit our defeat and ignorance, but we cannot thereby take advantage of our limited consciousness and try to prove that what we experience at present also is real independently. If Brahman has expressed itself as the world, then, the world cannot exist outside Brahman. How can it express itself when there is no space for it to express or expand? Even space is Brahman. Expression or change becomes impossible. When space and time, the subtlest aspects of physical manifestation, are nothing but the being of the Brahman itself, it becomes difficult to imagine the expression of Brahman into a world of diversities. There can be no diversity without space. Change demands a spatial emptiness where changing subject is not. It cannot be said that space at present is not Brahman but afterwards it will become Brahman. What is real, now at present, can never be changed subsequently. If we are not Brahman at present, we can never be That at any time in future. A not-Brahman cannot be turned into Brahman. Stone does not become milk or honey. Becoming Brahman is only a consciousness of the state of mere "Be"-ness. And that Consciousness is never absent. When existence is undivided there cannot be a separation of things by space. Creation, manifestation, expression, thought, are all in relation to the ego which has been tied fast to the feeling of separateness. Absolute-Existence does not admit of differentiation of any kind. Name, form, action, change, are cast off as apparitions. Nothing can be said about the Absolute, except that it "is".
Brahman which is the cause and the world which is the effect are basically identical, and hence change and causation lose their meaning. The phenomenal world is caught up in space, time and causation, which scatter themselves without a past or a future. One thing is in relation to the other, and the world-process seems to be eternal. An eternal multiplicity is an impossibility, and an individual cannot be an enduring being. The world, thus, proves itself to be a naught and gives way to the being that is one and that does not change. Since samsara as a whole has neither a beginning nor an end, except with reference to the individuals, the ideas of a real creation and destruction fall to the ground. Absolutism satisfactorily solves all the problems of life.
The form of the world is the projection of the objective force of the Universal Consciousness or the World-Mind. Everything in the world is a network of unintelligible relations. Things are not perceived by all in the same fashion. The perceptions of a chair by many individuals are not of the same category of consciousness. They differ in the contents of their ideas which are the effects of the particular modes of the tendency to objectification potentially existent in the individuals. The forces of distraction which constitute the individual consciousness are not of the same quality in everyone. There is a difference among individuals in their perception and thinking. It is impossible to have a knowledge of anything that does not become a content of one's own consciousness. Everyone is inside the prison of his own experience and knows nothing outside his consciousness. The world is rooted in the belief in its existence. The form of the world changes when the consciousness reaches the different relative planes of the various degrees of reality. When consciousness expands into the truth of Pure Being, the world discloses its eternal nature of Pure Consciousness alone.
It is argued that the artistic poet-souls of the Upanishads lived in the world of diversity and did not fly out of it. This does not mean that the sages were tied to the plurality-consciousness of the temporal world. They transcended earthly consciousness and realised that the earth is Brahman itself illumining. But in such a realisation there is no concession given to the reality of diverse appearances in any case. The conception that the world is God's revelation of Himself does not fare better. Revelation again presupposes the operation of the play of space, time and causation, the final validity of which is already repudiated. A God who changes Himself is not a permanent being. God's self-revelation requires a change in the total existence itself, which process is logically inadmissible. Divine revelation is in relation to the consciousness of the individual and is not an eternal fact of existence. Existence is itself full and perfect and dissipation within it is not admitted by reason. The denial of multitudinousness does not, as it is sometimes supposed, reduce the rich life of the world to a dream-shadow. It is not known how variety in existence adds to the richness of the Absolute. The richness of the part is not equal to the magnificence of the Whole. The grandeur of the relative world is dependent on the imagination of the individual. To a person who has opened his eye of true consciousness the world does not appear as such. We cannot see any cogency in the argument that it is possible to have worldly enjoyment together with the knowledge of the Absolute.
It is further contended that even if the Atman is the sole reality, the existence of plurality cannot be denied. If the Atman is the sole reality, it is to be accepted that it is without internal or external differentiations. If there is thus no plurality in the Atman, and also if nothing exists but the Atman, there is no meaning in holding that existence is inclusive of plurality. If the Atman or Brahman is non-dual, there can be no plurality, because other than Brahman anything is not. The view that, because it is said that with the knowledge of Brahman "all" is known, Brahman-realisation does not destroy plurality but merely renders the person immune from objective attraction, and that "all" implies the existence of plurality, is a misunderstanding of this sentence. The word "all" does not refer to the reality of the plurality of things. It is only a symbolical expression of the Upanishads used for want of words to express unlimitedness. When we say "all" is known, and "all" is Brahman, we do not mean that the trees and the mountains, the sky and the ocean are Brahman differently. If they are all one, and if Brahman has no heterogeneous qualities, the assertion, "all" is known, does not imply plurality in the natural essence of Brahman. Space and time are swallowed up in the being of the Reality and plurality cannot exist unless there is something second to Brahman, which persists eternally. Eternal duality or plurality is impossible, as can be seen from an examination of the nature of Consciousness, and we are compelled to admit the homogeneous character of Brahman's essence. If being and becoming are identical, the cause of the appearance of the world must be attributed to some mysterious and inscrutable ignorance and cannot itself be given a place in existence. Duality cannot survive and individuality cannot exist in the Truth of Brahman.
"Where there is duality, as it
were, there one sees the other,—
But where everything is one's own Self,
then, whom would one see?" —Brih. Up., II. 4. 14.
"Where one sees nothing else,
hears nothing else, understands
nothing else, that is the Infinite." —Chh. Up., VII. 24.
The Upanishads deny the reality of the form of the world of plurality and duality. According to them, except the non-dual Brahman, nothing is. The universe is explained by them as the imagination of the Absolute-Individual. We can only understand that this absolute-imagination is merely figurative and it can have meaning only with reference to individuals in the world, and not in itself. The infinite Bhuma alone hails supreme. It is established on its own Greatness. It is not dependent on anything else, for anything else is not. There cannot be imagination in the Absolute. Imagination may differ in degree or intensity, but even these degrees are but imagination. Even the acceptance of such a difference is ultimately invalid. The experience of external objects depends on the strong belief that they exist. This belief may be individual or universal. But the moment that belief is withdrawn, their reality is negatived. Mere belief or ideation does not make a thing really existent. All that glitters is not gold. All that appears to exist need not really exist as such. The Goal of human aspiration is the establishment of the self in the eternal Consciousness. It is sometimes believed that we penetrate the "Real" "through" this world, and therefore the world is real. But empirical experiences should not be taken as standards for judging the Real. The modification effected in a thought-process in knowing Reality is identical with what is experienced after the act, i.e., the attainment of Reality. Hence the means becomes identical with the end in the case of knowledge of Reality. The experience of the Eternal is not independent of the effort exercised to attain it. All actions to reach the Real require a self-transformation which is the same as what they aim at through that. Cause and effect are intrinsically non-different. The exercise of the effort towards experiencing the Real, becomes itself the experience of the Real. Without knowing the Real we cannot move towards the Real, and knowing it is being it. Reaching the Real is not an action. All actions modify the subject of the act. Action is impossible without the differentiation of the subject by a non-being of the subject. It cannot be said that the subject, the Self, is absent at any place. If it is everywhere, no action is possible. If it is not everywhere, it is perishable. Our actions lead us to a vicious circle. We seem to be doing many things, though, actually, we do nothing. The experience of the Eternal and the destruction of the ego are simultaneous events. The diverse world cannot, therefore, be said to be a necessary "means" in the individual's struggle for Self-realisation. If the world is a means, the world is also the end, and we "reach" nothing "through" the world. A perishable means cannot lead to an eternal end. Knowledge, which is not of the world, is eternal, and it is this that is the means, and the end, too.