A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
Long ago, the Rigveda has proclaimed: “The One Being the wise diversely speak of.” All philosophy proceeds from this, all religion is based on this. We, moreover, hear such declarations as “Truth, Knowledge, Infinity is Brahman,” “Consciousness, Bliss, is Brahman,” “All this is, verily, Brahman,” “This Self is Brahman,” “Immortal, Fearless, is Brahman,” and the like. And we are further aware of assertions like “That from which these beings are born, That by which, after having been born, they live, That into which they re-enter and with which they become one—know That, the Brahman.” Omnipresence omniscience and omnipotence are said to be the characteristics of God. These serve the purpose of defining the twofold nature of Brahman, the Reality—its essential nature (svarupa-lakshana) and accidental attribute (tatastha-lakshana). The former is the independent and imperishable truth of Brahman, the latter is its superimposed dependent quality which is subject to change in the process of time.
Being is truth in the transcendent sense without reference to anything else. It does not pay heed to the difficulty of man that he cannot transcend the limitations of relativistic consciousness and so naturally takes the value and meaning of the relative order to be the truth. The highest value of truth is equated with pure being, for non-being can have no value.
“Existence (Being) alone was this in the beginning, one alone without a second.” —Chh. Up., VI. 2. 1.
Brahman is that which is permanent in things that change. It is without name and form, which two are the characteristic natures of the world of appearance, and is essentially existence-absolute. Existence can never change, never perish, though things in which also it is, perish. Hence existence is the nature of Reality and is different from the things of form and name. Existence is secondless and has no external relations or internal differentiations. It is unlimited by space, time and individuality. It is related to nothing, for there is nothing second to it. It has nothing similar to it, nothing dissimilar, for That alone is. The whole universe is a spiritual unity and is one with the essential Brahman. It has no difference within or without. Brahman is alike throughout its structure, and hence the knowledge of the essence of any part of it is the knowledge of the Whole. The knowledge of the Self is the knowledge of Brahman. Everything that is, is the one Brahman, the Real of real, satyasya satyam. By knowing it, everything becomes known. “Just as by the knowledge of a lump of earth, everything that is made of earth comes to be known, all this modification being merely a name, a play of speech, the ultimate substratum of it all being the earth, similarly, when Brahman is known, all is known.” “Where there is an apparent duality, there is subject-object-relation; but where the Atman alone is, how can there be any relation or interaction of anything with anything else?” “There is knowledge, and yet, there is no perception or cognition, for that knowledge is indestructible, it is unrelated consciousness-mass” (vide Brih. Up.). It is the eternal objectless Knower, and everything besides it is a naught, an appearance, a falsity.
Brahman is Existence which is infinite Consciousness of the nature of Bliss.
“Brahman is Existence, Consciousness, Infinitude.” —Taitt. Up., II. 1.
“Brahman is Consciousness, Bliss.” —Brih. Up., III. 9. 28.
“That which is Infinitude is Bliss and Immortality.” —Chh. Up., VII. 23, 24.
These sentences give the best definition of the highest Reality. Brahman is Consciousness—prajnanam brahma. It is the ultimate Knower. It is imperceptible, for no one can know the knower, no one can know That by which everything else is known. “There is no seer but That, no hearer but That, no thinker but That, no knower but That.” It is the eternal Subject of knowledge, no one knows it as the object of knowledge. This limitless Self-Consciousness is the only Reality. The content of this Consciousness is itself. This is the fullness of perfection and infinitude. “Brahman is Infinite, the universe is Infinite, from the Infinite proceeds the Infinite, and after deducting the Infinite from the Infinite, what remains is but the Infinite.” This sentence of the Upanishad seems to pile up infinities over infinities and arrive at the bewildering conclusion that after subtracting the Whole from the Whole, the Whole alone remains. The implied meaning here is the changeless and indivisible character of the Infinite Reality, in spite of forms appearing to be created within it. The Infinite is non-dual and there can be no dealings with it.
We read of Sanatkumara leading the thought of Narada from inadequate conceptions of Truth to more adequate conceptions, until at last he asserts the supremacy of the Bhuma, the “absolutely great”, the “unlimited”, beyond which there is nothing, which comprehends all, fills all space, and is identical with the Self in us. This Bhuma is the Essential Brahman where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else. It is Bliss and Immortality, the plenum of felicity. This is the Complete Being.
Now, the conception of Reality as constituting being gives rise simultaneously to the idea of non-being. The Rigveda (X. 129. 1) says that in the beginning there was neither non-being nor being (na asad asit, no sad asit). Being was not, because there was no non-being. Non-being was not, for there was no being. Truth is a super-intellectual transcendence of the ideas of being and non-being, of whatever is concerned with the temporal relations of thought, for in what is Real there is no psychosis of any kind. According to the Rigveda, even “immortality and death are its shadows”. Whatever truly exists is the Real. It is
“the being and the beyond, the expressed and the unexpressed, the founded and the unfounded, consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and unreality, the real, and whatever that is.” —Taitt. Up., II. 6.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II. 3. 1) says that Brahman has two forms, “the formed and the formless, the mortal and the immortal, the existent and the moving, the real and the beyond.” There is a contrast between Brahman and the name-and-form world, the former being the beyond, the inexpressible, the foundationless, the unconscious, the unreal in relation to the latter which is empirically experienced as the being, expressible, founded, conscious, real. Logically, attribute or quality itself becomes an unsound concept when it is extended to the Absolute. A thing has an attribute only in relation to another thing. There is no meaning in saying that a substance has an attribute when that substance alone is said to exist. The nature of a self-existent absolute principle is indeterminable. Every attribute limits it and creates a difference in non-difference. Brahman cannot be said to have any intelligible attribute, for Brahman is the entire existence and has nothing second to relate itself to. Sat (being) is an idea in relation to asat (non-being), chit (consciousness) in relation to jada (inertness), ananda (bliss) in relation to duhkha (pain), ananta (infinitude) in relation to alpa (limitedness), prakasha (light) in relation to tamas (darkness). Every qualitative concept involves relations, and every thought creates a duality. To think Brahman is to reduce Brahman to the world of experience. Thought is possible only in an individualised state, but Brahman is not an individual, and is unapproachable by an individual. Brahman cannot even be conceived of as light, for it has nothing to shine upon. Not even is it consciousness, for it is conscious of nothing. Consciousness or light in the absolute condition cannot be called as consciousness or light, for such conceptions are dualistic categories. Being as it is in itself is nothing to the individual. It is not an object of knowledge. Truth is independent, unrelated, self-existent; but there is no such thing as an independent, unrelated, self-existent quality. The only recourse to be taken is to admit the failure of the intellect in determining the nature of Reality and resort to negative propositions.
“The Atman is not this, not this.” —Brih Up., IV. 5. 15.
“The Atman is not that which is inwardly conscious, not outwardly conscious, not bothwise conscious, not a consciousness-mass, not conscious, not unconscious; it is unseen, unrelated, ungraspable, indefinable, unthinkable, indeterminable, the essence of the consciousness of the One Self, the negation of the universe, peaceful, blissful, non-dual.” —Mand. Up., 7.
“It is unknown to those who know it. It is known to those who do not know it.” —Kena Up., II. 3.
These references depict the absolutely transcendent nature of Reality. “It is not obtainable by many even to hear of, and even when heard of, it remains unknown to many. Wonderful is the declarer of it! Blessed is the obtainer of it!” The awe-inspiring Absolute is described as “soundless, touchless, formless, imperishable, tasteless, constant, odourless, beginningless, endless, higher than the high, eternal, by knowing which one is liberated from the mouth of death.” It exists in such a homogeneous and differenceless condition that “whatever is here, is there also; whatever is there, is here,” and hence the spatial nature of existence with its concomitant differentiations of time and individuality is overcome in the indivisible constitutive essence of Brahman. It, therefore, is and is-not.