A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
It is always with a full preparation to face the contingency of being caught in vicious circles and to come out of them victoriously that one can attempt to explain anything concerning the Absolute or the Infinite. It is an extremely difficult task, and it many times appears idle to engage oneself in trying to understand the nature of eternal verities ranging beyond the intellect. Man is nothing if he is divested of the intellect, and yet this intellect is a very inadequate means of ascertaining Truth. But, however much imperfect, it is the only human faculty of knowledge nearest to Reality. We can either know Reality imperfectly, or not know it at all. Anyhow, fully to know Reality through a process is an impossibility, for Reality is not a process. It is not expected, however, that in these pages will be found statements not open to further consideration and discussion. It is not possible to enunciate anything without being set in opposition to something. To express what is complete is not within the capacity of the knowing process. All knowing is a process, and all process is imperfection. To know the perfect is to be the perfect, and not to express it. Expression involves relations, and nothing that is related is complete in itself. Intuition, however, is said to be complete; but, then, no philosophy is complete, for philosophy is intellectual judgment. Intellect is not a revelation like intuition, though even intellect is an imperfect revelation. By true revelation is meant the integral vision, not a relational understanding. Intellect is never free from subject-object-relationship, and every such relation falls short of Reality. We can never expound a philosophy which can stand before the light of intuition, for all relations are transcended in intuition. The declaration in the Mandukya Upanishad on the nature of Reality strikes terror into the heart of all speculative philosophy, which vainly tries to know Reality through transitory categories. If the philosopher is not prepared to accept that, until Self-Experience, he simply glories in shadows, he cannot at least deny that his statements are not self-sufficient and self-existent truths. Philosophy appears to be an apology for Truth-realisation, and it fulfils itself when it meets the requirements of intuition.
Let us accept that the intellect is imperfect. But without this imperfect instrument, we do not seem to be better than mere instinctive animals. There are some universal standards of intellectual ascertainment of the Reality behind forms. Positive affirmation of and meditation on such universal truths will not go without leading the meditator to what is real in the absolute sense. We can rise above the intellect through the medium of the intellect itself backed up by faith in and devotion to the Ideal. As long as the highest Reality is not experienced, universal ascertainments through philosophical enquiries should not be allowed to battle with one another. It is true that all real philosophy ends in Absolutism, but the intellectual categories do not go without creating forms of Absolutism, which seem apparently to rival with each other. The wise course would be to consider each form as the highest logical, as long as its sphere is the Absolute, and enough to lead man to the Transcendental Being. To mention one instance, Saguna-Brahman and Nirguna-Brahman, the Personal Absolute and the Impersonal Absolute, should not be considered as antagonistic, so long as they are not subjects or objects of anything, for both are Absolute in their own spheres, and do not involve relations, though the reasoning faculty tries to see a difference between the two. If hostile relations are developed between one absolute and another absolute arrived at through forms of intellectual comprehension, life will end in failure and misery. The intellect should not be stretched beyond itself to the breaking point. Otherwise, there is the danger of self-deceit and knowing nothing. Reason should always be aided by tolerance, and should not forget its own limitations.
How far this work is a success in this direction is for the intelligent seeker after Truth to judge. This is not an attempt to present something new, but to suggest a method to him who is blazing with an aspiration to realise the Highest. The purpose of this work is to provide a leaning staff for those who are determined to plunge themselves in the duty of the struggle for Self-realisation. The pure and the sincere will certainly be benefited by this honest attempt to investigate Truth in the light of the Upanishads. It is impossible for anyone with a penetrative thinking, coupled with a dispassionate heart, to desist from the enterprise of seeking the trans-empirical Reality, whatever worldly loss one may have to incur thereby. Those, however, who do not want it, have to grow wiser and become truer men. The baser nature always finds joy in its aberrations and cannot tolerate what it thinks to be destructive to its dear egoistic relations.
We can very happily console ourselves by admitting that reason cannot determine the nature of Truth. Then, all philosophy is only child's play. Even the Upanishads are truths expressed through words, and words cannot be understood without the intellect. It cannot, somehow, be denied that, at least to some extent, we can convince ourselves, through a carefully guarded intellect helped by faith, about the nature of Reality. The only condition, however, is that the aspiring intellect should be pure and unattached.
The main problem that arises out of the Upanishadic philosophy is regarding the validity of the rise of thought in the Absolute. The universe is explained as the wish or will of Brahman. If wish cannot be attributed to Brahman, the universe has no reality. If wish is attributed to Brahman, Brahman becomes limited and temporal. Somehow, we see something as the universe. But, if we have to be faithful to ourselves, we cannot be so by denying either our critical intelligence or our practical experience in this world. Our common sensory experiences, anyhow, are more untrustworthy than our deepest intelligence. Our sense-experiences are often meaningless, and even in daily life we can see how unwisely we are led by our mistaken notions which cause experiences. Even death occurs through wrong belief, and even life is saved through mere belief. We cannot ask why, then, we see a world if there cannot be change in Brahman. We have to simply admit that we are, somehow, befooled by the world-appearance like many of our other daily weaknesses, in spite of the intelligence ascertaining something other than what we actually experience. Though the reason itself is ordinarily influenced by our practical experiences in the world, it reveals a sort of independence when it is purified of the dross of desires, and then it gives reliable guidance. If the One Brahman is the Undifferentiated Reality, there can be no world of differentiations and relativities. If we experience something else, we have to reject it by force of intelligence, without further deepening our ignorance by questioning about the why and how of it. If, however, through the stress of experience, we admit the reality of a spatio-temporal world-manifestation, we have to deny thereby the existence of the Eternal Reality. If we can ascertain nothing, we have to resort to a static inertia, which, however, we are not willing to do, by our very nature.
Experience tells us that it is always movement tending towards the unity of consciousness that shows signs of greater perfection and wider joy. Here reason and experience coalesce and form one being. This directs us to draw the conclusion that undifferentiatedness and infinitude of experience must be the nature of Reality. Further, this inference agrees with the sacred scriptures, the Upanishads. An idea cannot spring from eternal existence.
And, we are here advised to take the creation-theory as only figurative, meant for the understanding of the less intelligent, and intended for leading their minds upwards through the progressive process of relative reality. This, moreover, is suggested in the Upanishads themselves, though not quite explicitly. Our empirical experience is, somehow, to be taken as a kind of self-entanglement which cannot be easily explained in the realm of appearances. It is explained when the Absolute is realised. In this task, reason should be guided by a dispassionate heart, lest there should be misrepresentation of facts.
While expounding the philosophy of the Upanishads here, portions with a theological and ritualistic bearing have been omitted, as they are not essential to understand the fundamental teachings of the Upanishads, though they may be useful in the practice of certain specific upasanas. Such of those seekers as would be interested in these upasanas, etc. are requested to study the Upasana-Kanda with a suitable commentary. The various lower vidyas or meditations on the lower manifestations, also, are not included in this book, as they are outside its scope.
The translation of the original Sanskrit passages is, for the most part, literal. But where it was thought that a literal rendering would be unintelligible, and it would be better if the spirit of the passage is conveyed in a readable manner, a paraphrase or the main idea is given, either by supplying certain words which are needed for a correct comprehension of the passage, or by omitting what is not required for that purpose.
On account of certain unavoidable uncongenial circumstances, a more detailed exposition of the subject could not be offered. However, some of the points which have been briefly stated in the book are explained further in the Notes appended.
1st August, 1947.