Shastras – Shad Darshana

Advaita Darshana : Part-2

(M. Dwarakanath )

Advaita Ontology: Ontology deals with the subject of existence and the categories of being. In Advaita, the only real existent is Brahman or the Self. Thus, Advaita ontology may be limited to just Brahman; and there is not much to say about Brahman other than it exists. It is identified with the Self or pure consciousness. This is Paramarthika Satya or ultimate reality.  However, as seen in the previous segment, there are two other types of existents – the Vyavaharika Satya or transactional reality and Pratibhasika Satya or masquerading reality. The world of objects experienced by the public falls under transactional reality. Masquerading reality is the experience of individuals due to some type of cognitive defect such as seeing a snake in a coiled rope. The snake in the rope is not a universal experience. It is limited to individuals. Unreal are concepts that cannot exist by definition; such as the child of a barren woman – the opposite of a Kantian analytic judgment. However, in trying to understand Advaita, a number of different concepts get introduced. All these topics are best studied under ontology.

Satkaryavada: posits that material effects pre-exist in material cause. Potness exists in clay as a potentiality. This is Sankara’s theory of causation. Although Sankhya also subscribes to Satkaryavada, there is an essential difference between the Sankhyan view and Sankara’s view. The Sankhyan view is one of real modification (Parinama) while Sankara holds it as apparent modification (Vivarta.) Sankara refutes Parinamavada as a real change would run afoul of effect existing in cause; the effect being different from the cause due to the real change could not have been in the cause. According to Sankara, everything is Brahman and all the effects (names and forms) are present in Brahman as potentiality or effects or mere appearance. Michelangelo is known to have said that every block of marble has a statue in it and it is the task of the sculptor to release the statue by removing the excess marble around it.

Nature of Reality in Advaita: It is a common misconception that Advaita postulates an unreal world in the sense the objective world is not out there but is merely conjured by the imagination; it is a creation of the mind. This is Berkley’s idealism. Advaita admits the world to be very much real as a matter of practice. However, the names and forms that one perceives are ultimately unreal. Only the underlying substance or substratum is real. In the case of the pot, the pot is not real but the substratum – clay is very much real. Pot is mere name and form involving no special substance other than the clay. Changelessness, permanence and unsublatability are the hallmarks of absolute reality. Absolute reality is Trikala-abadhita or not affected by the three times of past, present and future.

Pot is subject to change but not clay at the level of the analogy. According to this yardstick, the world is not real but only in the absolute sense, as it is constantly changing. The substratum of the world – Brahman alone is real. In particle physics, certain exotic particles that exist fleetingly are dubbed virtual. The boundary between virtual existence and real existence is rather arbitrary. Advaita moves this boundary to infinity! According to this definition, only the ever unchanging is ultimately real. A physicist may correctly claim the universe is ultimately just an assemblage of protons, neutrons and electrons. Appearances (names and forms) lie in how these three come together. The neutron is known to decay with a half-life of about 10 minutes and the proton possibly decays after a very long, life span! Neither the proton or the neutron is partless. If the eyes had sufficient resolution to discern these elementary particles, everything would appear as a gas of elementary particles with mostly empty space! The Advaitin reduces these three to just one – Brahman! Brahman is absolute as it does not depend on any other substance for its existence. Even in physics, the three can be reduced to quantum fields and energy!

Sublation is the act by which an earlier judgment is replaced by a new judgment based on new facts. Scientific progress happens through a sequence of sublations! As, the world is constantly changing, no judgment about the empirical world can remain unsublated! Changes involve features or distinctions. As a judgment it needs a subject and an object. Unsublatability implies no distinctions and no subject-object duality. Existents are sublatable and what is sublated is less real than what replaces it.

The Phenomenal World: As stated earlier, the world is every bit real at the transactional level. The phenomenal world is a creation of Maya (to be discussed later.) The building blocks of the phenomenal world are the Pancamahabhutas or the five basic elements. The five elements are: Space (ether,) Air, Fire, Water and Earth. They are the basis for Sound, Touch, Form, Taste and Smell respectively. As Maya has the three qualities – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the five elements also display the three qualities. The Satvik aspect of the five elements corresponds to the five sense organs:  Ears, Skin, Eyes, Tongue and Nose respectively. The Rajasik aspect correspond s to the five organs of action. The Tamasik aspects of the five subtle elements combine to form the five gross elements. Each gross element is made of 50% of the Tamasik aspect of the corresponding subtle element together with 12.5% each of the Tamasik aspects of the other four subtle elements. For example, the gross Ether is composed of 50% subtle Tamasik Ether and 12.5% each of the Tamasik aspects of the other four elements. This process is called Pancikarana or grossification. The correspondence between the subtle and the gross elements may be likened to that between atoms and molecules.

The Human Being: Human beings identify themselves primarily with their bodies or occasionally with their mind / intellect. The all-important spirit or self or consciousness is rarely referenced. Vedanta makes amply clear human beings, and for that matter all life, is more than the body and the mind. The self, in bondage, is enveloped in five sheaths. The self is the sentient principle. It is the witness, the knower or Sakshin. The outermost sheath is the gross body or the food sheath. The body consisting of skin, flesh, bone, fat and marrow; it is composed of the gross elements.  It encases the SukshmaSharira or Linga Sharira; it is composed of the subtle elements.The Jeeva is Antahkarana (the internal apparatus) together with Cidabhasa or reflected consciousness. Sometimes, the Sukshma sharira + Cidabhasa is regarded as the Jeeva.  the subtle sense organs. Antahkarana comprise the cognitive faculties of Mind, intellect and ego.

Within the food sheath is the sheath of vital airs which are manifestations of Air – Vayu. Vayu being insentient is not the self. The sense organs and the mind comprising the mental sheath is the cause of Ego and seeing diversity or division where there is none. The mind is the locus of ignorance. The mind is active in the dream state also creating the world of objects. Only in deep sleep is the mind in repose and there is total peace, which is the natural state of the Self. Next follows the sheath of knowledge constituted of the intellect, which too is only inert matter, but by reflecting the light of the self appears as sentient. This knowledge sheath, with Ego, identifying itself with the body, being active is the Jeeva. The Jeeva carries the Vasanas or impressions from its deeds in past lives and hankerings. The Jeeva is propelled to transmigrate by its Vasanas. Next follows the bliss sheath which is of the nature of Avidya which reflects the effulgence of the self but is Ignorant. Its nature is one of peace and pleasure. It is active in deep dreamless sleep. What remains after peeling off the five sheaths is the Atman or the effulgent self. It is the witness, eternal, pure and changeless.

The three bodies: The five sheaths can alternately be classified into three bodies. As already observed, the outermost sheath, called the food sheath is the gross body which falls in death. The gross body is the product of the gross elements. The type of body one assumes is the product of past karma and desires at the time of earlier death. The next three sheaths consisting of the vital airs, the mind and the intellect form the subtle body or the SukshmaSharira. The subtle body is a product of the subtle elements before their grossification or Pancikarana. It consists of the five senses of knowledge, the five organs of action, the five vital airs, mind, intellect, ego and memory shell. The subtle body carries with it the Vasanas or latent impressions of past existence. The subtle body resolves into the subtle elements in Videha mukti. The bliss sheath is known as the causal body or the Karana Sharira. It is a state of ignorance. It is also called Avyakta or the undifferentiated. It is composed of the three Gunas.

The three States or Avastha-traya: The Jeeva has three states of existence – the waking state, the dream state and the state of deep sleep. The self or pure consciousness associated with the waking state is called Viswa at the level of an individual Jeeva. The self of the totality of sentients is called Virat. Similarly, the self in the dream state is called Taijasa at the individual level and Hiranyagarbha at the total level. Finally, in the deep sleep state the self is called Prajna and Ishwara respectively. There is no fourth state of experience. The so called Turiya is not a state of experience; it is the experiencer or the self itself. The three states and the experiences therein are used to provide support for the scriptural statement – Brahma-satyam, Jaganmithya.

Cognition: According to Vedanta, cognition is not a single feature of sentience. It consists of the Mind, the Intellect, Memory and the Ego. The mind is characterized by indecision and vacillation, whereas the intellect is the decider. While the mind and the intellect are directed outward, the ego is directed inward. It is what individuates with the notion of I-ness. The entire cognitive apparatus is called Antahkarana (inner apparatus) and the ego is called Ahankara (I-ness creator). Memory is called Citta. Cognition starts with the senses and travels to the mind where it is illumined by consciousness to create experience.

Consciousness: Consciousness is an essential attribute of life. Its locus is the brain. There are as many consciousnesses as there are conscious beings. Consciousness has posed a problem to philosophers. The problem has been divided into the easy problem and the hard problem. The easy problem is the explanation of reaction to stimuli. This is like a computer program – stimuli cause neurons to fire and the electrical signals travel to the motor cortex which in turn cause muscles to contract or relax causing the response. The hard problem is to explain the sense of awareness; the ineffable sense of seeing the blueness of the sky or hearing a mellifluous tune. How can such a vivid sensation arise from insentient matter? The dualist views mind and matter as two fundamentally different categories of things. Panpsychism literally means that mind is part of all matter. Consciousness is commonplace in the world of matter. All types of matter, even atoms, have a modicum of consciousness. One can grade consciousness to go from atoms to cells to microbes to plants to animals and ultimately to humans where it manifests most profoundly.

Vedantic view differs from both the dualists’ view and those of the panpsychists’. According to Vedanta, consciousness is the only ontological reality. Consciousness is not produced by the brain; rather, consciousness illumines the brain or more precisely the goings on in the brain. Thoughts are ripples in the mind which when illumined by the universal all-pervading consciousness provides experience. Vedanta does not talk about the brain but the inner apparatus – the Antahkarana which is insentient! Antahkarana illumined by consciousness is experience. Although consciousness is all pervading, it interacts with only certain subtle elements to create experience. There can be no conscious experience in a stone as the stone lacks this subtle matter. This is somewhat compatible with the panpsychist view that everything is conscious to different degrees.

Consciousness may be compared to sunlight. Sunlight may be regarded as all pervading in a limited sense. Sunlight falling on insentient matter has very little effect. However, when it falls on chlorophyll, the energy is effectively used to make food etc. Falling on the skin, it makes the vitamin D and so on. There is no experience in a dead body even if the gross body may appear to be intact. The subtle body having left the gross body is not responsive to the all-pervasive consciousness. The Jeeva in association with the body is limited consciousness but associating with all of sentience, it becomes limitless.

The Upanishads refer to Brahman as the Atman – the Self, Purusa – being, and Sat – the real or existent. Brahman is ‘one without a second’ and ‘all this is Brahman’ leads Sankara to extend the idea of consciousness, by analogical reasoning, as the hallmark of Brahman.  To remain true to certain statements of Upanishads which to Sankara are hermeneutical, he identifies universal consciousness with Brahman as the only ultimately real entity. Existence – consciousness is the same in all of manifestation; only the names and forms are different.

Embodiment: Embodied existence is a state of ignorance where the soul is not aware of its true essence of pure consciousness. The mind though insentient, reflects universal consciousness. The quality of reflection depends on the nature of the Antahkarana – whether it is Sattvik, Rajasik or Tamasik. As seen earlier, the mind reflecting consciousness takes the names of Antahkarana and Ahankara. The intellect though insentient, appears to be conscious because of the reflection of consciousness. This reflection, which is limited, sentient and unchanging, is different from the Ego which is inert and changing. The inert Ego identified with the aware consciousness is called the sentient Ego or the Jeeva. The confusion in identifying the Ego with the reflection has been compared to a glowing red-hot iron ball. An inert material iron ball is mistaken as fire which is pure energy. Matter is mistaken for energy. The sentient ego by associating itself with the inert gross body ends up with the false identification – I am this body!

To be continued……


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