Preceptors of Advaita
BRATINDRA KUMAR SENGUPTA
It is as a humble homage to the memory of an Advaita Acharya Prakasatman, that I contribute this paper on an Advaita theory which has stood the onslaughts of a very challenging school, the Mahayana Buddhism. To arrive at the right Advaita conclusion is very difficult, in as much as the mess and tangle of logic of the controversy have to be dismembered–in parts and in final analysis.
Professor S.N. Dasgupta says: “Prakasatman (A.D. 1200) in his Panchapadikavivarana raises this point and says that the great difference between the Mahayanists and the Vedantists consists in the fact that the former hold that the objects (vishaya) have neither any separate existence nor any independent purpose or action to fulfill as distinguished from the momentary ideas, while the latter hold that, though the objects are in essence identical with the one pure consciousness, yet they can fulfill independent purposes or functions and have separate, abiding and uncontradicted existences1.”
The implications of this approach, as pointed out by Professor Dasgupta, are manifold. Firstly, there is the logical question of the separateness of the object and its knowledge. This question has further to be dependent on an ontological approach and, therefore, the two schools have to face each other. But the second, and more important, question will be about the real crux in the matter of the analysis and approach, which we find in the Reality of all existence, –apart from its epistemological analysis.
Prakasatman wrote the famous sub–commentary Panchapadikavivarana, on the Panchapadika, a commentary by Padmapada on the Sarirakamimamsabhashya of Sankara. Coming to the Panchapadikavivarana of Prakasatman, we land ourselves in the epoch–making period of this school, and henceforward move towards a history of dialectical literature of Advaita philosophy, which bases itself solidly upon the conclusions, arrived at in clear terms by Prakasatman. From the colophon of his work we know that his real name is Svaprakasanubhava-bhagavat, or simply Svaprakasanubhava, and he was the disciple of Ananyanubhava2. But the more commonly known name of the author of the Panchapadikavivarana is Prakasatmayati or Prakasatman3.
The Advaitist stand-point regarding the awareness of the object is distinct from the view of Mahayana Buddhism, specially in the Yogachara School. When two objects are perceived, they are perceived as distinct from each other where the distinctness is perceptible. Supposing, according to the Mahayanist, we perceive a ‘nila’ (blue) and ‘pita’ (yellow) substance (which is itself an object of perception as this or that). The Yogachara view will lead us to the unity of consciousness and the substance. But we should also remember that as ‘nila’ is distinct from another as ‘pita’, and the distinctness ought to be perceived, though that is somewhat inexplicable in the subjective idealism of this particular school. Still the distinctness is also one with consciousness and hence cannot be evaded. Therefore, though unwarranted, this position has to be willy-nilly accepted by the Yogachara idealist. In the Advaitist School however, as Padmapada, and following him, Prakasatman very clearly bring out, that there is no necessity of the distinctness in the direct awareness of this or that object. Even in the awareness of a distinctness regarding this object or that object the awareness remains the same in regard to the directness. It does not change from object to object, as required to be known in every case of the knowledge of a given object. Hence direct awareness is the very basic propaedeutic in our knowledge – situations regarding the objective universe. The Mahayanist is defeated by the Advaitist in respect of this very significant theory of direct cognition of the given objects.
* With special reference to his critique of Mahayana Buddhism.
1. S.N. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy (Cambridge, 1961), Vol. II, p.30.
Compare: tattvadarsinastu advitiyat samvedanat abhede’pi vishayasya bhedenapi arthakriyasamarthyasattvam sthayitvam cha abadhitam astiti vadanti (Panchapadika-vivarana, p. 73, Vizianagaram Edn.) anuvrittasya vyavrttannabhedo’ nuvrittatvat akasaghatadivat (Ibid., loc. cit).
2. Panchapadikavivarana Introductory verse, 6.
3. Ibid., 7.
In the Mahayana theory of idealism, again, the consciousness of the object as ‘nila’,’pita’,etc., as in its own nature of pure subjectivity (vijnanamatra), is inexplicable. The consciousness of the ‘nila’ cannot be said to be ‘knowable’ (grahyarupa nilasamvit) as distinct from the pure subjectivity (grahakarupa vijnanamatrata). Padmapada has shown that the nature of consciousness, according to this school, should be of the intrinsic nature of its own subjectivity, without any reference to the ‘nila’ as coming into that nature as a distinct awareness of objectivity, as that is logically and even epistemologically, if not metaphysically, unwarranted. The bifurcation of consciousness as subjective and objective in one epistemological activity is purely an ultimate question of subject and object, and not an epistemological, or even psychological, one.
It should be clearly understood by all students of epistemology that it should stand apart from any ultimate system of reality. To know an object by some valid processes involves the question whether there should be any idealistic approach to the theory of knowledge (as the Mahayanist accepts, and as the Advaitist also advocates) or merely an empirically backed hypothesis. Hence the Mahayanist cannot but accept uniform nature of consciousness in our direct awareness of an object, however much he may explain the status of the object as grasped by the consciousness. If it be argued by the Mahayanist that the different pieces of consciousness of ‘aham’ (I, myself), ‘idam’ (this,object), ‘janami’(know) are distinctly revealed in a direct manner, it should be stated in the opposite way by the conscious objector that there is no warrant to join together the distinct pieces in one single relation of direct awareness. The idealistic theory of knowledge propounded by the Buddhist regards the consciousness of the knower as passing through four stages4. If it is said that the relation is joined to the subjective consciousness of the second (samanantara) stage, the objection will be that the resultant consciousness will be of the nature of a whole, which is again a distinct consciousness, and hence the relation will not be adhering to that consciousness which the subject will have for itself. This impracticable relation of the subjective consciousness, according to the Buddhists, will never have been achieved even on their own showing. If the knowing activity is to be ‘a relation’, then it should be shown that the activity involved cannot pertain to the momentary pieces of consciousness. Therefore,
the subjective consciousness should depend on a permanent object of experience as ‘nila’ to be the permanent seat of that knowing activity. But when an activity engenders the direct awareness of ‘nila’ etc., there is no meaning in the permanence of the consciousness regarding the object (i.e.) the permanent object of experience on which the consciousness is based. Every knowing activity should, therefore, pertain to the present consciousness as distinct from the non-present one, according to this Buddhist view. That is to say, every object should be bound to the limits of the present consciousness as a distinct individuality (ahamiti samvidah pratikshanam svalakshanabhedena bhavyam) as Padmapada analyses. But that is going too far into the epistemology of perception where the actual experience is split into logical bits. Even if it is argued that all these logical bits of experience are very much identical, and hence no distinction is apparent amongst them, still a greater epistemological difficulty will arise. All our experience will have no footing if the real distinction of the actual experiences, one from the other, is not known and the stream becomes a bundle of disjoined moments of a single experience. The idea of similitude is again unwarranted and unmeaning when there is real unity of consciousness. Unless the idea of unity is false, the idea of similitude cannot arise at all. But the question of the falsity of unity of consciousness is forthright rejected by the Advaitist. Still the Mahayanist may argue that any fallacy applicable to his theory may well apply to the Advaitist. For example, the fallacy of mutual dependence (itaretarasrayatva) is leveled against the Yogachara idealist. For, according to his theory, there is the similitude possible due to the falsity of the unity (of consciousness). Difference amongst bits of consciousness is, according to his School, nothing but the nature of consciousness (samvitsvarupa), as the difference cannot be otherwise grasped or explained between the one as dharmin (the one having the difference) and the other as pratiyogin (that from which there is a difference in the former). But difference in this way being the nature of samvit will mar the very nature of samvit as self-revealing. Thus the similitude amongst different samvits becomes unjustified, as practically difference is unestablished in the unity of nature of all samvits. But when Yogachara says that the knowledge of unity itself is false, then the fallacy of mutual dependence will arise. If there is false knowledge in the unity (of consciousness), then, according to his School, the knowledge of similitude is not either ungrounded or opposed to proof. But it is here that itaretarasrayatva will come in and vitiate the hypothesis of this school, viz., that there is false knowledge (vyamoha) in the unity of consciousness. For, it will come down to non-establishment of similitude itself as dependent on the falsity of unity (of consciousness); the falsity of unity being the basis of establishing similitude as not opposed to proof, will not be so when similitude being an established fact will make for the falsity in the unity of consciousness. Thus the Yogachara’s theory of the establishment of similitude amongst bits of consciousness in an experience is unwarranted, for it is unity which should be taken as the only valid experience, not depending on the idea of similitude at all. The Mahayanist’s apprehension that the Advaitist position also warrants an itaretarasrayatva (mutual dependence) is also to be forthright rejected. The apprehension arises from an argument that the idea of similitude being ungrounded (apramanikatva) and opposed to proof (pramanavirodha), the reality of the knowledge of unity (of consciousness) is established, and, inversely, the idea of similitude is ungrounded and opposed to proof when the knowledge of unity becomes established as real. This argument loses all stings to the Advaitist who holds that the knowledge of unity is self–established and not dependent, in any way, on the idea of similitude. It is realized as real on its very nature which is one. It is the intrinsic character– and not an extrinsic characteristic like the falsity of similitude,–that is known as real on its own merits. Hence the knowledge of unity is intrinsic and, therefore, self–established. But this is not so in the idea of similitude. That is extrinsic to the nature of consciousness. It is established not on its own merits but on the borrowed merit of the unreality of consciousness which is an ungrounded hypothesis. Unreality is ungrounded as a false character imposed on consciousness, and the idea of similitude is born out of this false knowledge. Hence it is equally ungrounded. There is no question of positing a similitude amongst various bits of knowledge when this itself is so ungrounded. There is only unity and no heterisation of experience. Nor can the idea of similitude be established by interference, based on the experience of destruction of the succeeding bit of experience in one-single knowledge, as the Buddhist upholds. The penultimate bit of experience, say, of a jar, is no more existent when the knowledge of the object is ultimately destroyed. Thus all the preceding bits of experience are inferred to be non-existent at the successive stages of their destruction. Hence, the Buddhist dialectician would say that all existent beings are but momentary (yat sat tat kshanikam) based on the inferential proof as his argument is. But against this argumentation, the Advaitist equally advances the opposite inference to prove that existence does not posit momentariness, but continuity of unity. The Buddhist cannot also argue that as our experience of the ultimate moments is necessarily of destruction (i.e. negation), we cannot posit any existence with regard to the same. For, the opposite argument from the Advaitist stand–point would again equally apply that our experience of re-perception or re-cognition (pratyabhijna) of the previous moments would posit their continuity of unity, and not successive destruction or negation. In fact, re-cognition (pratyabhijna) has been accepted as a proof by the Advaitist, contra the Buddhist and, to some extent, contra the Prabhakara Mimamsaka as regards the status of the self in such experience.
4. Prabodhaparisodhini, (Madras Government Oriental Series, No. CLV), 105.
The arguments set forth here from the Buddhist standpoint regarding the momentariness of the existent entity, which have been controverted by the Advaitist, are very clearly set forth in the Sarvadarsanasamgraha by Madhavacharya (circa 14th Cent. A.D.) Madhavacharya has detailed all these arguments of the Buddhist hypothesis that whatever is existent is momentary and that existence (sattva) means potentiality of action (arthakriyakaritva). All these arguments of the Buddhist dialecticians have been analysed by Madhavacharya in his work on the chapter Saugatadarsana. Madhavacharya has quoted from Jnanasri, a Buddhist philosopher (circa, 9th Cent. A.D), who flourished before Udayana, and who in his Kshanabhangasiddhi has enumerated all these arguments of the Buddhist dialectics to establish momentariness by existence qua potentiality for action.
The Buddhist theory of existence qua potentiality for action is, however, open to serious objections. This potentiality for action may be said to be the origination of the knowledge of itself as the object (svavishayajnanajanana) but that is true of external object only. For, the internal bits of consciousness are never the objects of knowledge of themselves, as they are never objectified by the knowledge-process being unique (svalakshana) as self -revealed in their own nature. Objectivity would make for this other-revealedness. Thus the unique characteristic of the external object (vishayasvalakshana) and the unique characteristic of internal consciousness (samvitsvalakshana) are totally different in nature. Hence according to the Buddhists’ own acceptance of potentiality for action, it would apply to only the external objects, which alone would be existent. Nor can it be argued by the Buddhists that the internal bits of consciousness also are objectified by the consciousness of a different subject (person as perceiver). For, such kind of objectivity will attach an indirect character to the perceived consciousness, which is undesirable epistemologically, if not also ontologically. The Buddhist dialectician would not condescend to accept an indirect or inferred character in the consciousness which is only perceptible, i.e. self-revelatory. Even in an external perception of an object there is the possibility of inference through an indirect method of positing arthakriyakaritva, which is a unique characteristic (svalakshana) in that case. But in the case of the unique characteristic (svalakshana) of consciousness it is only direct, being non-objectified and self-revelatory.
Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:
Preceptors of Advaita