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Preceptors of Advaita
Among the many schools of Indian philosophical thought, the system of Advaita by virtue of its thoroughness and profundity occupies a pre-eminent position. Rooted in the Upanishads, this system was expounded, fairly consistently, by Gaudapada in his commentary on the Mandukya-karika and later, systematically worked out by Sankaracharya in his commentaries on the ‘Prasthanatraya’. After him his followers took upon themselves the task of interpreting, elucidating and supplementing his teachings; in the process, they formed distinct views on some of the important concepts like maya, the nature of the individual souls (jiva), release (mukti), etc., which eventually led to the formulation of the three sub-schools, viz., the Vartika, the Vivarana, and the Bhamati. Noteworthy, and one of the earliest among these followers who made significant contributions to the development of Advaitic thought, was Jnanaghanapada. His views are identical with those of the Vivarana School. His main work Tattvasuddhi is known for its clarity and precision and has been referred to by Appayya Dikshita in several places in his Siddhantalesasangraha.
1. brahma satyam, jaganmithya, jivobrahmaiva naparah.
Reality further, as the irreducible substratum of existence that cannot be denied is of the nature of existence which is identical with consciousness. Advaita regards the triune perception involving the distinction of the knower, the known, and the act of knowing, as constituting different aspects of pure consciousness. The distinction among these is merely due to the mental modifications resulting from avidya. When these modifications cease, what remains is the ‘Inward Self’ (pratyagatman) as changeless and as of the nature of consciousness, which renders possible every type of knowledge but which does not depend on any other knowledge for its manifestation. In other words, Brahman-Atman Reality, as of the nature of consciousness, is self-luminous (svayamprakasa), and that it is so is demonstrated by Jnanaghana by means of perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumana), verbal testimony (sabda) and presumption (arthapatti)5. Since realising one’s Self as being non-different from Brahman is regarded as the supreme bliss which is the summum bonum of all human endeavour (paramapurushartha), Brahman-Atman Reality referred to as of the nature of Existence and Consciousness is also spoken of as of the nature of Bliss(ananda).
But Brahman being infinite and reflected in maya is Isvara8, endowed with all auspicious qualities (saguna). Knowledge being His essential nature, He is all–knowing (sarvajna) and is able to perceive the world of the present, past and future; hence omniscient9. Brahman viewed from this perspective, i.e., Brahman in association with maya is the cause of the universe. In trying to establish the advaitic position that only an intelligent principle like Brahman can be the cause of the universe, the rival schools of thought such as the Nyaya and the Sankhya, holding atoms and pradhana respectively to be the cause of the universe, are refuted. Brahman is not merely the efficient but the material cause as well (abhinnanimittopadanakarana). Arguing on the basis of scriptures, he says that when the Upanishadic statements such as ‘In the beginning, O, gentle one! This was Being or Existence alone, one only without a second’, ‘In the beginning, verily, all this was Atman only’, ‘Brahman alone is all this’, etc., speak of co-ordinate relation between a sentient cause and the world, they clearly indicate that Brahman is the material cause. If Brahman were not the material cause, the Upanishads cannot speak in terms of co-ordinate relation between Brahman and the world, the reason being that co-ordinate relation cannot hold between the non-material cause and effect10. The effect is not a transformation (parinama) but only a transfiguration or an appearance (vivarta) of the cause; and as such, it (the effect) as being neither existent nor non-existent is inexplicable (anirvachaniya), not only after but also even before its origination11.
5. Op.cit., p. 203
Since Jnanaghana enunciates his theory of the world on the basis of his causal theory, the corollary that follows from it is not far to seek. Viewed in the light of this theory, Brahman, the cause, by its own nescience, can only be said to appear as the world of names and forms without undergoing any change whatsoever, and that the world regarded as an effect, being an illusory appearance of the cause, is neither real nor unreal. It is not real since it is sublated by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman12. Nor is it unreal, for, unlike hare’s horn, it comes within the range of perception. It is, therefore, inexplicable (anirvachaniya) and it is for this reason that Advaita regards the world as illusory (mithya). This, however, should not be taken to mean that the sacred and secular knowledge of the empirical world are unreal and so are not valid. For, even as the transactions in dreams are regarded as real and valid till one wakes up, the empirical world and its knowledge as a means of empirical transaction should also be regarded as real till the individual self (jiva) realises its non-difference from Brahman13.
Discussing the nature of the individual self (jiva) Jnanaghana observes that it (jiva) is the reflection of Intelligence in the intellect (antahkarana), the product of maya or avidya14. The psycho-physical organism together with the substrate-intelligence constitutes the nature of the individual self (jiva). The substrate-intelligence or the ‘inner-self’ is otherwise known as the ‘witness-intelligence’ (sakshi-chaitanya) since it remains as the unchanging witness in the three states of waking (jagrat), dream (svapna), and deep-sleep (sushupti) that the individual self experiences. The substrate or witness-intelligence is nothing other than Brahman conditioned as it were by avidya. The witness-intelligence, though of the constitution of Brahman, appears to be of the constitution of the individual self (jiva) even as the ‘this-ness’ which really belongs to nacre appears to belong to silver15. However, it as being essentially non- different from Brahman is eternal, all-pervasive and self-luminous. The need for acknowledging the existence of such a principle is argued by Jnanaghana on the ground that in the absence of such a self-effulgent principle which is the means or cause to accomplish everything, empirical usages cannot be accomplished. A passage from the Svetasvatara Upanishad may be quoted in favour of Jnanaghana’s position. It reads as follows: ‘He presides over all actions and all beings reside in Him. He is the witness, and He is pure consciousness free from the three gunas of nature16’.
This brings us to Jnanaghana’s concept of maya. Maya has been viewed essentially from two standpoints: (a) as the cause and (b) as the effect. Viewed from the former perspective, maya may be said to be the principle of creation or the creative power (sakti) of Brahman while from the latter, to the phenomenal creation itself. In other words, it may be said to signify the causal as well as the manifest state of the universe. In its former aspect, maya is the causal potency (bijasakti) of the primordial nature, with the diversity being latent in it which becomes patent with the development of the objective world from it. And it is in this sense that maya is said to be the origin of the world and the latter a product thereof. But maya differs from its products in this respect that while it, as the source of the universe, is beginningless (anadi), its products have a beginning in time. Further, maya being neither real for the reason that it is liable to be sublated by right knowledge, nor unreal as it is the root cause of all appearances, nor both as that would involve contradiction, is indeterminable (anirvachaniya) in its nature.
12. Ibid., p. 100.
Jnanaghana agrees with the other advaitic preceptors in holding the view that maya, in so far as it conceals the self-luminous Brahman, has Brahman for its content (vishaya). But he argues that to conceal Brahman which is consciousness, it is perforce necessary that ajnana should have its abode in Brahman without which concealment will not be possible. So, ajnana can conceal Brahman only by remaining in it, even as darkness can envelop only that place where it is particularly spread. It, therefore, follows that in the opinion of Jnanaghana, maya or ajnana has for its abode (asraya) only its content (vishaya),
viz., Brahman. In other words, maya by itself does not (na svatah) require an abode other than its content. This is as it should be because ajnana is not of the nature of an act (akriya). Applying the analogy that the limiting adjuncts, say, mirror or pot are found to be related directly to the face and etheric space respectively and not to the face that is reflected in the mirror or the space delimited by the pot, Jnanaghana contends that ajnana too can be appropriately said to be related to consciousness as such and not to its reflection in the intellect (antahkarana), i.e., the individual self. For, if the latter case is admitted then the individual self itself being the product of nescience, there would arise the fallacies of “self-dependence” (atmasraya) and “mutual-dependence” (anyonyasraya) 19.
But the ‘avarana’ aspect of maya in the case of Isvara is powerless over Him in the sense that Brahman though concealed by maya retains its own nature of pure consciousness without in any way being affected by the concealment and is ever conscious of His identity with the world. Isvara, in fact, as devoid of internal organ and sense organs is referred to as the non-doer (akarta) and therefore the merits and demerits which arise as a result of one’s performing actions do not pertain to Him; His knowledge being unsurpassable is infinite and so independent22. With regard to the individual self (jiva) on the other hand, it is just the reverse in that, it (avarana) accounts for its bondage. It is on account of ignorance (ajnana) that the individual self identifies itself with the sense organs and internal organ, performs actions, and earns merits or demerits as a result of which it gets itself entangled in the transmigratory existence. Further, being under the influence of ignorance (ajnana) its knowledge is limited and therefore dependent (on the Lord).23 As the mediacy characterising Isvara and the transmigratoriness and finitude characterising the individual self (jiva) are the results of ignorance (ajnana), the cognition of difference also, as caused by ignorance (ajnana) cannot but be apparent like the difference between the original and the reflection. Both the Lord (Isvara) and the individual self (jiva) are, as mere reflections and as having consciousness as their essential nature are essentially non–different24.
19. Ibid., p. 251
It should be mentioned in this connection that Jnanaghana besides advocating the theory of plurality of selves (nanajivavada), gives a free expression to the other theory also, viz., the theory of only one individual self (ekajivavada), otherwise known as the drishti-srishti-vada. This view is regarded as the foremost of all the views expounding the nature of the individual self and that is probably the reason why Jnanaghana has accommodated this view also in his work along with the other one. According to the theory of only one individual self, since ignorance (ajnana) is one, and Brahman is associated only with that one adjunct, the individual self, the result of this association is also only one. All the other individual selves are innumerable reflections, fancied by this single individual self, by its own nescience (ajnana). As a result of this differential appearance (avabhasat) of the individual selves, there is the “preceptor-disciple, bound-released, individual self-supreme self” and such other classifications which, as in the case of the dream state, hold good till the dawn of true knowledge. It is true that there are statements in scriptures declaring the release of Suka, Vamadeva, and others; but, they only aim at extolling the state of release. To the doubt as to who that one individual self is, Jnanaghana answers that the doubter himself is that self, while the other individual selves like those that are seen in dream are only reflections, and this individual self alone is entitled for release25 which is attained on the removal of ignorance (ajnana or avidyanivritti).
25. Ibid., p. 251.
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