Preceptors of Advaita
P. S. KRISHNAMURTI SASTRI
In the history of Advaita, in the times before the 10th century the orthodox schools, particularly the Nyaya, were concerned with opposing the Buddhistic schools. After this period, the influence of Buddhism waned and the attention of the orthodox schools turned in a more pronounced manner against each other. The Nyaya School justified the reality of the categories of experience as against the philosophy of jagan-mithyatva of Sankara. This school formed the main target of the criticism of the Advaitins in the 12th and the 13th Centuries.
Sri-Harsha flourished during the middle of the 12th Century and he led the opposition against the Nyaya system. His most important philosophical contribution is the Khandana-khanda-khadya in which he refutes all definitions of Nyaya system intended to justify the reality of the world and tries to show that the world end all world-experiences are purely phenomenal and have no reality behind them. The only reality is the non–dual Brahman which is of the nature of consciousness. The Nyaya system holds that whatever is known has real existence. Sri-Harsha, on the other hand, proves that all that is known is indefinable either as real in the sense in which Brahman is real or as unreal in the sense of an absolute nothing. They have only relative existence and they are adapted to practical needs of life. Though the Nyaya system is the main target of Sri-Harsha’s criticism, yet since his arguments are of destructive nature they could be used with some modifications against any other system. He refutes all definitions of Nyaya and so his dialectic would be valid against any definition of other systems. Sri-Harsha starts with the thesis that none of our cognitions ever require any proof for their validity. The Advaita of Sankara and the idealistic school of Buddhism (Vijnanavada) differs in this that while the latter holds that everything including the cognition is unreal and indeterminable, the former holds that knowledge is identical with Reality from which the entire universe proceeds and, therefore, knowledge is real and the entire universe is indeterminable. It is this distinction between the Advaita school of Sankara and the idealistic school of Buddhism that the critics of Advaita often overlook when they charge that Advaita is akin to the Vijnana-vada school of Buddhism. Indefinability is the very nature of the objects of the world. Sri-Harsha contends that no amount of ingenuity can succeed in defining the nature of the objects which have no definable existence. All the definitions of the objects put forward by the Nyaya writers are shown to be faulty even according to the canons of logical discussions and definitions accepted by the Naiyayika. Sri-Harsha contends that no definitions of the phenomenal world are possible and that the world of phenomena and all our so-called experiences of it are indefinable. So the Advaitins could affirm that the indeterminable nature of the world is proved. Sri-Harsha does not believe in the reality of his arguments. He employs them without any assumption of their reality or unreality. If the arguments of Sri-Harsha are proved to be unreal then that establishes his own contention that nothing except the self-luminous Brahman is real. Sri-Harsha is interested only in refuting the definitions of the Naiyayikas. And, his conclusion is that the manifold world of our experience is indefinable and the one Brahman is absolutely and ultimately real.
The Advaitin may be asked to furnish a proof for the ultimate oneness of being. Sri-Harsha argues that the very demand suggests that the idea of ultimate oneness already exists. If the idea does not exist, no one could ask for a proof of it. If, in anticipation of this reply, it is admitted that the idea of ultimate one-ness is known already, then, the question that naturally arises is whether that knowledge is a valid one or an erroneous one. If it is the former, then it is itself the proof. If it is the latter, then one cannot ask to set forth proofs to demonstrate what is false. Hence Sri-Harsha concludes that it is highly improper on the part of one to ask the Advaitin to furnish a proof for the ultimate oneness. He, however, states that the Upanishadic texts are the sole means of knowing the ultimate one-ness, that is, Brahman.
It may be objected that the non–duality taught in the Upanishadic texts is contradicted by the cognition of difference arising from perception. Perception gives us knowledge of the object (say) cloth as well as its difference from other objects in the form of “The cloth is different from (say) pot”. Sri-Harsha points out that the concept of difference can hardly be defined. He asks whether the difference which is cognised at the time of perceiving the object is identical with the object or different from it. In either view there are difficulties. The first alternative, namely, that difference is of the nature of the object comprehended, is untenable on the ground that while the notion of difference is relative, that of the nature of a thing is not so. We can cognize ‘cloth’ by itself, but we cannot cognise its difference from ‘pot’ without distinctly calling to mind that from which it differs, namely, pot. Owing to this disparity between the ‘cloth’ and ‘difference’, they cannot be the same. It may be added here that, as difference is relative, it should be held as unreal. The second alternative is that difference is different from the object. Sri-Harsha argues that, if ‘difference’ were different from the object, then it would amount to saying that there is difference between ‘the first difference’ and the object. The second difference must be admitted to be different from the relata; and in order to account for this difference we must admit a third difference. And, so on, ad infinitum. Sri-Harsha concludes that as the concept of ‘difference’ cannot be defined, it is anirvachaniya, and as such it has no intrinsic validity. It cannot, therefore, contradict the non-duality taught in the Upanishadic texts. Sri-Harsha does not deny that we perceive seeming differences in all things; but what he denies is their ultimate validity.
‘na vayam bhedasya sarvathaivasattvam abhyupagacchamah kim nama na paramarthikam sattvam’1.
The above passage is more or less identical with the one found in the Ishta-siddhi of Vimuktatman. He says that there exists the cognition of difference. And, that is why we are able to use words to refer to objects, and objects are adapted to practical needs of life. But we are unable to account for the root-cause of that cognition.
‘satyam prasiddhih asti ata eva vyavaharamah; kim tu nasyah mulam pasyamah’2.
The implication of this argument is that ‘difference’ is due to avidya alone. Our world of experience consists of knower, the objects known, and the act of knowing. We cannot define the knower without distinctly referring either to the objects known or to the act of knowing. Similarly, we cannot define the objects known without a reference to the knower or the act of knowing. Thus there is a circle of relativity which precludes all possibilities of giving an independent definition of any of the three things. Hence it must be admitted that the manifold world of our experience is indefinable and Brahman the absolute consciousness alone is ultimately real. This, in short, is the main theme of the Khandana-khanda-khadya.
Sri-Harsha’s place in the history of Advaita is unique as he led the main opposition against the Nyaya School which was active in opposing the philosophy of Sankara. His main contribution rests in this that he proved that all the definitions used by the Naiyayika to define the objects of the world and on that basis to prove their real existence are faulty, as they involve the defects of mutual dependence, infinite regress, and vicious circle. He has thus shown that there is no way in which the real nature of things can be proved. The doctrine of ‘mithyatva’ which is proved on the authority of scriptures is proved on the basis of reasoning by Sri-Harsha. It is no wonder that Madhusudana-sarasvati incorporates many of the views of Sri-Harsha in his Advaita-siddhi.
1. Khandana-khanda-khadya (Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, Benaras, 1914), p. 214.
2. Ishta-siddhi (Gaekwad Oriental Series, Baroda), p. 2.
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