Preceptors of Advaita
In the Indian philosophical tradition the part played by a commentator is valuable and significant. His work is not merely one of interpretation and exposition of the original but also of throwing fresh light on the deeper significance of the text he is commenting on. Thus the commentary becomes as valuable as the original. By offering a novel interpretation, by placing the text in an entirely new perspective, the commentator makes a “breakthrough”, striking a new line of thinking which becomes in course of time a new school or tradition. Herein lies the significance of the work of a commentator. The literature on Advaita Vedanta abounds in innumerable original and independent treatises as well as commentaries. The Brahmasiddhi1 which is the earliest among the works of the siddhi-literature is one such valuable and original treatise on the Advaita; and there is an elaborate commentary on it written by Sankhapani.
Professor Kuppuswami Sastri, the learned editor of the Brahmasiddhi, points out that we do not have any definite information about Sankhapani excepting that he was a Nambudiri Brahmin of Malabar. We do not know whether he wrote any other work in addition to his commentary on the Brahmasiddhi. Of the four commentaries known to have been written on the Brahmasiddhi, Sankhapani’s commentary appears to be the latest. The Tattvasamiksha by Vachaspatimisra is the earliest commentary on the Brahmasiddhi; but no manuscript of this commentary has so far been found. Chitsukha who lived in the 13th century wrote a commentary on the Brahmasiddhi called Abhiprayaprakasika. Anandapurna who lived in the 14th century wrote his commentary called Bhavasuddhi. So Sankhapani whose commentary on the Brahmasiddhi appears to be the latest must have lived after Anandapurna.
Sankhapani’s commentary on the Brahmasiddhi is elaborate and exhaustive, clear and lucid. It is obvious that Sankhapani who is greatly influenced by Vachaspati closely follows the Tattvasamiksha. In the presentation of ideas and the elucidation of problems, he follows the same method adopted by Vachaspati in his Bhamati. It is said of Vachaspati that “he always tries to explain the text as faithfully as he can, keeping himself in the background and directing his knowledge of the subject to the elucidation of the problems which directly arise from the texts and to explaining the allusions and contexts of thoughts, objections and ideas of other schools of thought referred to in the text.”2 This is equally true of Sankhapani. His commentary is replete with objections and answers to them, rebuttals and rejoinders.
Let us discuss in this paper Sankhapani’s treatment of the Bhatta view of bhedabheda which he exposes to scathing criticism following very closely the arguments stated in the Brahmasiddhi.3
According to the Mimamsa of the Bhatta School, the generic attribute (jati) is in the individual object (vyakti). Though the generic attribute and the individual object are undoubtedly different from each other, they are not totally different. They are, according to them, different while being the same. If they were entirely different, they should be separable; but they are not, as admitted even by the Vaiseshikas. Not only this: if they are absolutely different, the one cannot be equated with the other, and there should be no identification of the two by placing them in co-ordination. Just because they are not totally different, it should not be said that they are absolutely the same. In the proposition, “This is a cow”, the individual object is referred to by the word “this” and the generic attribute by the word “cow”. If the generic attribute and the individual object are identical, then like “hasta” and “kara”, “this” and “cowness” would turn out to be synonyms4. They are not, however, synonyms. Thus, the generic attribute and the individual object are not totally different; nor are they absolutely the same. They are different, while being the same. The relation between them is identity in difference (bhedabheda).
We can restate the standpoint of the Bhattas in this way. Every object is of the nature of the generic attribute and the individual object (samanya viseshatmatakam ekam vastu); it is a universal-particular. Since the relation between the generic attribute and the individual object is one of difference-cum-identity, the object is of the nature of both identity and difference. The conception of a thing in this doctrine is that of a one-many (ekam-dvyatmakam)5.
Following Mandana, the author of the Brahmasiddhi, Sankhapani argues that this way of looking at an object as a one-many does not satisfy the demands of reason. To say that an object is of the nature of both identity and difference is to bring together two incompatible factors in the same place and therefore is patently self-contradictory. A cognition which relates to incompatible factors in the same thing is ipso facto erroneous. The cognition of an object to the effect, “This is a post or a man”, is erroneous because it relates to incompatible elements in the same thing6. The cognition of an object in the dual form (dvyatmakam) as a universal-cum-particular is on a par with the dubitative cognition (samsaya-jnana). When we say, “This is a cow”, our cognition relates to the generic attribute which is the element of anuvritti and the individual object which is the element of vyavritti; it is in the form of the generic attribute and the individual object, and so it is dual in nature. In the same say, the dubitative cognition, “This is a post or a man”, is dual in form in so far as the same object is cognised as a post and a man. There is co-ordination between the generic attribute and the individual object. Similarly in the dubitative cognition referred to above, there is co-ordination between post and man, the two forms of the object. Since the two are on the same footing, Sankhapani insists on the application of the same logic to both. If the dubitative cognition is declared to be erroneous on the score that it relates to incompatible factors in the same thing, the cognition of an object as a universal-particular must also be dubbed erroneous for no other reason than that it relates to incompatible factors in the same thing. If the Bhattas are bent upon treating the cognition of an object in the dual form of universal-cum-particular as valid, let them equally treat the dubitative cognition of an object which is in the dual form as valid. They are not, however, prepared to adopt this unwelcome position. In other words, the cognition of an object in the dual form of generic attribute-cum-individual object cannot be but invalid7.
It may be argued that the comparison between dubitative cognition and the cognition of an object as a universal-particular is not sound as there is an important point of difference between the two. In the one case we cognise an object as a universal and a particular. The object is of the nature of both. Our cognition testifies to the combination of two forms in the same place. In other words, our judgment in this case is conjunctive. In the case of dubitative cognition, there are alternative predications. The object, we say is either a post or a man and not both a post and a man. The dubitative cognition is expressed in a disjunctive proposition. Since the judgment is conjunctive in the one case and disjunctive in the other, the two cannot be placed on the same footing.
It is true that there is no simultaneous predication of two forms; but the two forms can be predicated of the object alternatively; that is to say, it is a post in one state and a man in another state. If it be said that an object cannot be one thing now and something else at a different time for the simple reason that its nature is determined in one way by the causal conditions responsible for its genesis8, Sankhapani demands consistency in the Bhatta argument and insists on the application of this standard to the Bhatta conception of the object. How can that which is a generic attribute at one time be an individual object at a different time? If an object is “one” (ekam) at one time, how can it be “dual” (dvyatmakam) at a different time? If it is inconsistent to say that an object which is in one form now is in a different form at a different time, it is also inconsistent to say that an object which is “one” at one time is “dual” at a different time.
In another way also it may be argued that the identical treatment meted out to dubitative cognition and the cognition of an object as generic attribute-cum-individual object is not justifiable, as there is a fundamental difference between the two. Dubitative cognition is declared invalid, not because it relates to incompatible factors in the same thing, but because it is sublated by a subsequent cognition which is valid. There is first the dubitative cognition like “This object is a post or a man;” subsequently, let us say, we are in a position to determine the nature of the object and say that it is only a post and not a man. The dubitative cognition which is earlier becomes erroneous since it is sublated by a valid cognition which arises subsequently. But there is no such sublation in the case of our cognition of an object as both generic attribute and individual object; hence it is valid in spite of the fact that it relates to two incompatible factors in the same thing. According to this argument, (i) dubitative cognition is declared to be erroneous not because of the incompatible factors it refers to in the same thing; (ii) but it is declared to be invalid, because it stands contradicted by a subsequent cognition which is valid; and (iii) in spite of the incompatibility between the generic attribute and the individual object, the cognition of an object as of the nature of both is valid, since it is not sublated subsequently. It may, therefore, be argued that there is no parity between dubitative cognition and the cognition of an object as both generic attribute and individual object.9
The issue that has now to be decided is whether the invalidity of dubitative cognition is due to the fact that it relates to incompatible elements in the same thing or to the fact that it stands contradicted by a subsequent cognition which is valid. Sankhapani answers that it is due to the former and not to the latter. If we are able to determine the nature of the object in one way after getting the doubtful cognition, it is undoubtedly true that the subsequent valid cognition sublates the earlier doubtful cognition and renders it invalid. But what are we to say when we are not in a position to determine the nature of the object? It is not always the case that dubitative cognition is followed by a determinate cognition which is valid. If it is not followed by a determinate valid cognition, are we to say that the object is a post in one state and a man in a different state? But it has already been pointed out that an object cannot be one thing now and something also at a different time. So the invalidity of dubitative cognition should not be decided by the test of contradiction by a subsequent valid cognition to which it is exposed; but it should be decided solely on the ground that it relates to incompatible factors in the same thing. If so, irrespective of the fact whether there is contradiction by a subsequent valid cognition or not, the cognition of an object as universal-cum-particular must be declared to be invalid, since it relates to incompatible factors in the same thing like dubitative cognition.
There is another reason also to show that the cognition of an object as both generic attribute and individual object is not different from dubitative cognition. We know how in the case of silver-shell illusion the cognition of silver is invalidated by the subsequent cognition of shell which is powerful. There is, on the Bhatta view, the cognition of the object as “one”; there is also the cognition of it as “dual”. Of these two cognitions which are opposed to each other, whichever is powerful––whether the cognition of oneness or that of duality––will take the field by sublating the other. In that case, the object cannot be “one” (ekam) as well as “dual” (dvyatmakam) in nature. If it be said that both the cognitions are of equal strength with the result that neither can score a victory over the other, it is undoubtedly a case of doubt. So, the Bhatta view of the object as a one-many is not satisfactory.
The Bhattas bring in the relation of difference-cum-identity in order to explain the relation between the generic attribute and the individual object and so it is incumbent upon them to give definition of difference and of identity. Difference, the Bhattas could say, is mutual exclusion or mutual non-existence (anyonyabhava). Identity or non-difference could be defined in the opposite way: it is absence of mutual exclusion or mutual non-existence. In the light of these definitions we have to examine the generic attribute and the individual object. The question that has to be answered by the Bhattas is this: are the generic attribute and the individual mutually exclusive or not? If they are mutually exclusive like a pot and a cloth, then they are admittedly not one. The Bhattas are, therefore, at perfect liberty to say that the generic attribute and the individual object are different; but they cannot say that they are also the same. In order to establish their sameness or identity, the Bhattas could fall back upon the other definition and argue that the generic attribute and the individual object are not mutually exclusive, because by being placed in co-ordination they are cognised as non-different. In that case, it could be said that they are one. In short, the Bhattas could say either that the generic attribute and the individual object are different or that they are identical; but they could not say that they are both identical and different. So the conception of a thing as a one-many does not hold good.
1. Edited by Professor S. Kuppuswami Sastri, Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Series No. 4, 1937.
2. S.Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. II (Cambridge 1932), p. 108
3. Only a few of the many arguments elaborately discussed by Sankhapani are mentioned in this paper.
4. Vide Manameyodaya, Edited with an English translation by C. Kunhan Raja and S.S.S Sastri (Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, 1933), p. 234.
5. Brahmasiddhi ( to be called hereafter BS) Part II, p. 169.
6. Vide Kuppuswami Sastri, A primer of Indian Logic (Varadachary & Co., Madras 1932), Part III, pp. 339-40:
“A doubt is a cognition which relates to several incompatible attributes in the same thing, as in the dubitative cognition – It may be a post or a man.”
7. BS, Part II, p. 169.
8. na hi vastu vikalpyate.
9. BS, Part II, p. 170
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Preceptors of Advaita