Posted by: adbhutam | September 9, 2009

The Bhagavadgita, the forerunner of Relativity

ShrIgurubhyo namaH

The inevitability of specifying two levels of reality, the relative and the absolute, is a distinctive feature of any search for truth.  This is typical of Vedanta where the state of bondage is taught as the relative one and that of liberation as the absolute one.  The method of the Vedanta is to take the seeker from the ‘known’ to the ‘unknown’.  This is so because, unless one is shown how the unknown is ‘related’ to the known, there is no way the transcendental unknown is grasped even intellectually.

In the Bhagavadgita (2. 69) we find a deeply significant verse:

या निशा सर्वभूतानां तस्यां जागर्ति संयमी ।

यस्यां जाग्रति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुनेः ॥

[What is night for all beings, therein the self-controlled Sage is awake.  Where all beings are awake, that is the night of the Sage who sees.]

In this verse we see the relative-absolute divide prominently laid out.  The relative plane is that one where the ignorant beings live in bondage.  They are not even aware of an absolute state that transcends the state that alone they consider as real.  How is this inferred?  By the word ‘night’.  The word ‘night’ signifies darkness, of ignorance.  Those in bondage are ignorant of a state called liberation.  For them, what they know is where they are ‘awake’.  The state of liberation is the unknown ‘night’ for them.  Quite interestingly, the word ‘nishaa’ meaning ‘night’ occurring for the second time in the verse has a special connotation.  It is not used in the same sense of ‘ignorance’ as is in the first occurrence.  Here it means: From the Self-realized sage’s viewpoint, the world of bondage is just unreal, born of ignorance.  In simple terms: For the ignorant beings, the state of liberation is non-existent, because they are unaware if its existence and for the liberated sage, the state of bondage does not really exist.  It is the superimposed snake for he has known the substratum rope.  Shankaracharya says in His commentary for this verse:

// …to all beings who are ignorant and who correspond to night-wanderers, the Supreme Reality is dark, is like night; for it is not accessible to those whose minds are not in It.  With reference to that Supreme Reality, the self-restrained Yogin who has subdued the senses, and who has shaken off the sleep of Avidya (nescience), is fully awake.  When all beings are said to be awake, i.e., when all beings, who in reality sleep in the night of ignorance, imbued with the distinct notions of perceiver and things perceived, are as it were mere dreamers in sleep at night, – that state is night in the eye of the sage who knows the Supreme Reality; for it is nescience itself. //

The above commentary brings to the fore two viewpoints:  the avidyA dRShTi  and the vidyA dRshTi.  The Scripture speaks about both these viewpoints and holds out the latter as the goal attainable, to be attained.  It speaks of the ignorant viewpoint only to inform us what is it that is to be given up.  In this discourse, the creation of the world, the variety in beings, the nature of the ignorant beings, the goals that they seek, the means that they employ to attain them, what worlds they attain as a result of action, etc. is spoken of in detail to ultimately show that it is misery.  This is called ‘prapancha’ or ‘samsAra varNanam’.

The scripture places before the aspirant the nature of the absolute state of liberation, the means to be employed to attain that goal, etc. with a view to show it as contrasting the ignorant state of bondage.  This is called ‘prapanchopashamam’, the complete absence of the created world in the moksha varNanam.

From the scriptural delineation of the two contrasting viewpoints of prapancha and its negation, the purport of the scriptural teaching is: the created universe of ignorant beings is an unreal appearance on the locus of the unnegatable Truth,  Brahman, (the Turiya of the Mandukya Upanishad).

This very Upanishad’s kArikA portion of GaudapAdaacharya sums up the above concepts in a verse:

अनादिमायया सुप्तः यदा जीवः प्रबुध्यते ।

अजमनिद्रमस्वप्नं अद्वैतं बुध्यते तदा ॥ (I.16)

(When the jiva, asleep under the influence of beginningless maya, is awakened, it then realizes the birthless, sleepless and dreamless Non—duality.)

(The above verse is treated as part of the Upanishad itself by the Dvaitins)

The relativity character of the Vedanta is seen in this famous prayer of the Upanishads:

‘asato maa sad gamaya, tamaso maa jyotir gamaya, mRtyor maa amRtam gamaya’

[From non-existence lead me to Existence, from darkness lead me to Light, from death lead me to Immortality]  (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)

The Gita verse and the Gaudapaada Verse are all undoubtedly reflecting the import of this upanishadic prayer.  In the above prayer we see the ‘relative’ expressed as ‘asat’, ‘tamas’ and ‘mRtyuH’.  The Absolute is depicted by ‘Sat’, ‘jyotiH’ and ‘amRtam’.  By the very fact that the Absolute is held out as the goal, it can be concluded that the relative is unreal.  For, if it is real, there can be no true freedom from it.  The ‘second’ will always cause fear, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: dviteeyaad vai bhayam bhavati.  Again, juxtaposing the Mandukya Upanishad 7th mantra, we can see that the relative is ‘prapancha’ and the Absolute is ‘prapanchopashamam’.

The above conclusions can be arrived at through the metaphysics of the Madhva school as well.  For, according to that school, ‘…Brahman can do very well without prakRti and purusha’.

// Though Brahman can do very well without prakrti or purusa (Dependent Realities), it prefers, in its infinite glory and inexorable will, ‘to do with them’. Such dependence (apeksa) of Brahman on things which are in themselves dependent on It, is no mark of inferiority or limitation. …..

Madhva’s chief ontological classification of ‘being’ is into principles viz. ‘svatantra’ (Independent Reality) and ‘paratantra’ (Dependent Reality). ….

The dependence of the world of matter and the souls on Brahman is in the sense that both are functioning at His will, which is the essential condition and sustaining principle that invests them with their reality and without which they would be but void names and bare possibilities. //

From the above position of the Madhva school, we can flawlessly conclude:

  • The ‘Brahman that can do very well without prakrti or purusa (Dependent Realities)’ as admitted by them is the Swatantra, the Absolute.
  • The Dependent realities constituting the prakriti (world) and the jiva are the paratantra, the relative.
  • Since the Absolute ‘can do very well without the relative’, the Absolute alone is the sole reality, the Satyam.
  • The ‘relative’ that enjoys a seeming existence that is contingent on the ‘will’ of Brahman, is essentially mithyA, unreal.
  • A mithyA object is that which appears on a locus where it does not exist/belong in all three periods of time.
  • The acceptance by the Madhva school of a two-level reality in exactly the same way Advaita does only with a different name: pAramArthika and vyaavahArika, culminates in Dvaita being essentially non-different from Advaita.
  • ‘Brahman that can do very well without prakrti or purusa (Dependent Realities)’ is the Dvaita way of admitting a NirguNa Brahman.
  • Their ‘saguNa Brahman’ is defined by them as ’It (Brahman) prefers, in its infinite glory and inexorable will, ‘to do with them’.
  • In Advaita too the NirguNa Brahman, in association with Maya (substituted by Dvaitins by the word ‘will’ (icchaa), renders It saguNa.
  • Thus, just as in Advaita, Dvaita too accepts the distinction between saguna and nirguna Brahman.
  • Dvaita’s ‘Brahman that can do very well without prakrti or purusa (Dependent Realities)’ is the native state of Brahman; the ‘icchA’-associated nature is only incidental.
  • The synonymous nature of ‘icchA’ and ‘mAyA’ can be understood from this:  //triguNAtmikArtha-vijnAnam vishNushaktiH tathaiva cha. mAyAshabdena bhaNyate.  mahAmAyA  iti, avidyA iti, niyatiH, mohini iti cha, prakRitiH, vAsanA iti cha…// from the Brahma sUtra anu bhAshya 3.2.3 of Madhva as quoted in page no. 219 of the kannada book ‘mata traya sameekshA’ of Dr. Anandatirtha V. NAgasampige, a noted Madhva scholar, Director, Purnaprajna Samshodhana Mandiram (A prestigious research body functioning under the aegis of the Madhva school), Bangalore,  under the section: Dvaita darshana.

Before quoting this the eminent author writes in kannada: ”upaniShattugaLalli mAyAshabdavu paramAtmana icche, jaDaprakRti, shrihariya shakti, tejassu emba aneka arthagaLalli baLakeyAgide.” [in the Upanishads the word ‘mAyaa’ has been found to be used in several senses of: the icchA, desire/will of ParamAtma, the inert matter, the power of the Lord, His effulgence, and so on.]

  • In Dvaita too, just as in Advaita, Brahman’s ‘bringing forth the world is only an incidental feature.’ In their system Brahman the Swatantra initiates any creative activity only through the dependent (paratantra) prakriti, Lakshmi.  Without Lakshmi, the prakrti, Brahman cannot engage in creation.  The Bhagavadgita is full of such references.  Lakshmi is the womb in which Brahman places the seed of Consciousness to create the universe.
  • All the above points confirm that the Swatantra Brahman of Dvaita is the Absolute and the paratantra reality is only relative.
  • The idea behind a veiled acceptance of the Advaita metaphysics by Dvaita is only to make the two systems appear distinct from each other.
  • That the Dvaita system accepts the two fundamental levels of reality can be appreciated by noting what Shankara has said in a path breaking statement, which is only authenticated by the Scripture, as we have already seen in the Gita verse above: In His Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya Shankaracharya has made a trendsetting statement:

सर्ववादिनामपि अपरिहार्य: परमार्थ-संव्यवहारकृतो व्यवहारः ।

//sarva-vAdinaamapi aparihaaryah paramaartha-samvyavahaarakRto vyavahaarah// (Brihadaranyaka bhashya: 3.v.i).

//in fact, all schools must admit the existence or non-existence of the phenomenal world according as it is viewed from the relative or the absolute standpoint.// (translation by Swami Madhavananda, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad with the commentary of Sri Shankaracharya, published by advaita ashrama, kolkota.)

  • // The dependence of the world of matter and the souls on Brahman is in the sense that both are functioning at His will, which is the essential condition and sustaining principle that invests them with their reality and without which they would be but void names and bare possibilities. //
  • The above statement of the Madhva school gives us the true purport of the ‘vAchArambhaNa shruti’ of the Chandogya Upanishad Chapter VI.  Especially the words ’….  without which they would be but void names and bare possibilities.’. This exactly is the way Advaita explains the purport of the shruti there:  The clay-products, being dependent on clay, are ‘mere void names and bare possibilities’ when we consider that they are essentially clay and not just names and forms.
  • Thus, the entire universe (samsara) that is the ‘relative’ (paratantra-vyAvahArika) is the realm of ignorance.  Brahman, the Absolute (Swatantra-pAramArthika) is the transcendental realm of Knowledge.
  • Ignorance can never have a real place in Knowledge in all the three periods of time; it is just an appearance.  Hence the ‘relative’ is mithya.


Om Tat Sat

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