Posted by: adbhutam | April 21, 2010


श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः

An objection:

//Dvaitin’s criticism is that, given the fact that Brahman is known only by the Veda pramANa, how can Advaitins posit existence of Brahman first using vAk based aagama and then contradict themselves by holding Brahman is avAchya? Either do not accept Brahman’s existence, or say Brahman exists and do not say He is avAchya. If you accept Brahman’s existence and say He is avAchya at the same time, it is nothing but contradiction.//

The Advaitic position regarding Veda-prAmANya

Veda, the only pramANa for knowing Brahman

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.26 there occurs an expression:

तं त्वौपनिषदं पुरुषं पृच्छामि  [ I ask of you of that Being who is to be known only from the UpaniShads]

In the bhashya, Shankaracharya says:

…य औपनिषदः पुरुषः, अशनायादिवर्जितः, उपनिषत्स्वेव विज्ञेयः, न अन्यत्प्रमाणगम्यः, तं ….पुरुषं पृच्छामि..

[I ask you of that Being, devoid of hunger, etc., Who is to be known only from the UpaniShads, and through no other means of knowledge.]

In the Brahmasutra Bhashya 2.3.1 Shankaracharya says:

श्रुतिश्च नः प्रमाणं अतीन्द्रियार्थ-विज्ञानोत्पत्तौ ।

[In our knowing that which is beyond the scope of the sense organs, Shruti is the means of valid knowledge.]

Brahman is beyond words

In the Bhagavadgita 13.12 the Lord says:

ज्ञेयं यत्तत् प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वाऽमृतमश्नुते ।

अनादिमत्परं ब्रह्म न सत्तन्नासदुच्यते ॥

[That which has to be known I shall describe; knowing which one attains the Immortal.  Beginningless is the Supreme Brahman.  It is not said to be ‘sat or ‘asat’.]

Shankaracharya, in the course of the commentary, raises a question:

ननु महता परिकरबन्धेन कंठरवेणोद्घुष्य ’ ज्ञेयं प्रवक्ष्यामि’ इति, अननुरूपमुक्तं ’न सत्तन्नासदुच्यते’ इति । न, अनुरूपमेवोक्तम् । कथं ? सर्वासु ह्युपनिषत्सु ज्ञेयं ब्रह्म ’नेति नेति’ , ’अस्थूलमनणु’, इत्यादिविशेषप्रतिषेधेनैव निर्दिश्यते, न ’इदं तत्’ इति,  वाचोऽगोचरत्वात् ।

Objection: After proclaiming very loudly that He is going to speak of the Knowable, it does not become the Lord to describe It as neither ‘sat’ nor ‘asat’.

Reply: No; it is quite the right thing that has been said by the Lord.  How? It is thus: Being inaccessible to speech, Brahman, the Knowable, is defined in all Upanishads only by a denial of all specialities, such as ‘Not thus’ (Br.Up.2.3.6) and ‘not gross, not subtle’ (Br.Up.3.8.8) and NOT in the terms ‘It is this’.

ननु न तदस्ति यद्वस्तु अस्तिशब्देन नोच्यते । अथास्तिश्ब्देन नोच्यते, नास्ति तज्ज्ञेयम् । विप्रतिषिद्धं च ’ज्ञेयं तत्’ ’अस्तिशब्देन नोच्यते’ इति च । न तावन्नास्ति, नास्तिवुद्ध्यविषयत्वात् ।

Objection: That thing (alone) exists which can be spoken of as existing.  If the Knowable cannot be spoken of as existing, then It cannot exist.  And it is a contradiction in terms to say that Brahman is knowable and that It cannot be spoken of as existing.

Reply: Neither is Brahman non-existent, since It is not an object of the consciousness of non-existence.

[Shankaracharya is here showing that Brahman is such an entity that cannot be taught as ‘it is’.  For example, in the world, we point to a house and say: It is.  Brahman is not available to any of our senses and so we cannot ‘point’ to It and say ‘It is”.  Then, one could conclude: ‘If It cannot be said to exist, it would be proper to conclude ‘It does not exist’.  To this Shankaracharya says: No, we cannot do that too.  For, if someone asks us: ‘Is the English version of the Mahabharata with you?’ , I would reply, if I do not have it: ‘No. It is not with me’.  Here, the book in question is definitely known to me to be not with me.  One may call it ‘anupalabdhi pramaNa’ that I have used or just anumAna that I have used to say this. Whichever way, I can say ‘It is not there’.  In the case of Brahman, however, we cannot say so.  There is no ‘pramana’ to say that It is non-existent. This is the point Shankaracharya is making so far.

In the discussion that continues, Shankara is making it clear that Brahman cannot come under either ‘It is’ perception or ‘It is not’ perception.  This is because, as we saw above, to say either ‘is’ or ‘is not’ is possible ONLY in the realm of indriya-gochara.  Brahman being अतीन्द्रियं we cannot use either ‘is’ or ‘is not’ with regard to It.

Now, as regards the objection that it is a self-contradiction in terms to say that Brahman, the Knowable, is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’ by Bhagavan, the reply is: there is no contradiction, for the Shruti says: अन्यदेव तद्विदितादथो अविदितादधि (केनोपनिषत् १.३) ‘It is other than the known and above the unknown’.

Now, after showing the Lord’s description of Brahman as “that which cannot be said to be ‘is’ or ‘is not’ “ is quite in alignment with the Shruti, Shankaracharya embarks on showing the appropriateness of the Lord’s words by taking recourse to reason, युक्ति.

Every word employed to denote a thing denotes that thing, when heard by another, as associated with a certain jAti (genus)  or  kriyA (act) or guNa (quality) or sambandha (relation).  Here are some examples:

  1. ‘This is a cow’.  In this sentence we refer to the object through its jAti: गोत्वम्.  A cow, this cow, is a vyakti of that jAti.
  2. ‘He is a cook’ ‘She is a teacher’.  Here, the act, kriyA forms the basis of denoting the object.
  3. ‘This is a white paper’, ‘Here is a black cow’.  In these cases the guNa, quality/colour/attribute is the criterion to refer to that object.
  4. ‘He is the estate-owner’.  Here, the man’s sambandha with the estate becomes the means to describe him.

In no way other than the above can we convey to another about an object.

But in the case of Brahman none of the above is possible.  There is no ‘jAti’ for Brahman; It is not a member of any species.  A cow is a member, vyakti, of the bovine species, गोत्वजातिः.  Being actionless, ‘niShkriyam’, Brahman cannot be spoken of thru any action.  Being devoid of attributes, निर्गुणम्, there is no way of talking about Brahman on the basis of being black or stout, etc.  Finally, Brahman is not ‘related’ to anything as It is Ekam, One only without a second.

In view of this, it is right to say that Brahman cannot be denoted through words at all. Since It is ‘advayam’, ‘aviShayam’ and the very Atman, it is quite reasonable, yuktam, to say that It cannot be denoted by any word. I can use a word to denote anything that is a ‘viShaya’ for me, an object that is other than me.  I can talk about the body, my mind, my intellect, even my ego.  But I cannot say anything about me the Atma. No words can I use regarding the Atma.

Also, there is the Shruti too teaching this:

‘यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते..’ (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.9)

Thus, the impossibility of denoting Brahman through words, shabda, has been established.

‘Existence’ of Brahman and ‘svarUpa’ of Brahman

One should make a difference between the knowledge of the ‘existence’ of Brahman and the knowledge of the ‘svarUpa’, essential nature, of Brahman.  To accomplish both of these, the only pramaaNa, valid means of knowing, is the Veda alone.  Pratyaksha and anumAna cannot establish the existence, ‘astitva’, of Brahman.  Towards this end words, vaak, can work. The Veda itself says, for example –

’यतो वा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते, येन जातानि जीवन्ति तद्विजिज्ञासस्व तद्ब्रह्मेति ’ (Taittiriya Up.)

’असन्नेव स भवति असद्ब्रह्मेति वेद चेत्, अस्ति ब्रह्मेति चेद्वेद सन्तमेनं ततो विदुरिति’ (Taittiriya Up.)

’अस्तीत्येव उपलब्धव्यः…’ (KaTthopanishad)

These words of the Veda definitely teach us the ‘existence’ of Brahman.  That way, वाग्व्यापारः is possible in this respect.

However, when it comes to knowing the ‘svarUpa’ of Brahman, the use of words is given up.  The Veda itself teaches this too, as already quoted by Shankaracharya in the foregoing –

‘यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते..’ (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.9)

अन्यदेव तद्विदितादथो अविदितादधि (केनोपनिषत् १.३) ‘It is other than the known and above the unknown’.

न तत्र वाग्गच्छति (KenopaniShat)’words to not reach It’.

The above are some of the Vedic passages that teach the ‘अवाच्यत्वम्’, ’अशब्दत्वम्’ of Brahman.  For this reason, the Veda does not cease to be a pramANa.

Veda the only pramANa even in our getting to know the svarUpa of Brahman

The Veda does this in a very ingenious manner.  We have already seen above that there is no शब्दप्रवृत्तिनिमित्तत्वम् , scope for use of words, in respect of denoting Brahman for the reason that Brahman is not a member of any species, not a doer of any act, not attributed and not related to anything.  It is only in these four spheres can one use words to denote an object.

In the view of the Vedanta, samsara is characterized by taking Brahman, erroneously, to be the world and the body-mind complex.  The samsari, jiva, encounters the world and knows the world only through names and forms.  This brings the four criteria explained in the previous paragraph within the range of the world.  The entire world can be fitted into these four criteria.  Conversely, these four criteria succeed in ‘describing’ the world.  And this is enough for sAmsAric existence.

Since the Veda is the only pramANa to know about the svarUpa of Brahman, knowing / realizing which alone results in freedom from samsAra, the Veda uses the method of ‘teaching’ the svarUpa of Brahman by words that are characterized by negating what all is encountered by us in the world.  While we encounter ‘this’ and ‘that’, specifying a name and attributing a form, the Veda teaches ‘not this’, ‘not this’ नेति, नेति (Br.Up.4.4.22).  When we say ‘this is a tree’, the Veda teaches, ‘this is not Brahman’.  We have conceptions of stout, lean, short, long, etc. The Veda teaches Brahman is ‘not stout, not lean, not short, not long’ etc.  ’अस्थूलं, अनणु, अह्रस्वं, अदीर्घम्….(Br.Up.3.8.8)

By using words that are directed at negating any attribute, any action, any membership in a species, any relationship, with respect to Brahman, the Veda indicates to us what Brahman ’is not’.  How about words like सत्यं ज्ञानं अनन्तं ब्रह्म? Even here, the words are only negations of their opposites.  We have conceptions like असत्यं, जडं, परिच्छिन्नं, etc in the world.  The Veda teaches Brahman is not these.

Shankaracharya puts the above idea in His own words

In the bhashya for the Mandukya Karika 2.32 Shankaracharya says:

तस्मान्निर्विशेष एव आत्मनि सुखित्वादयो विशेषाः कल्पिताः । यत्तु असुखित्वादिशास्त्रम् आत्मनस्तत्सुखित्वादि-विशेषनिवृत्त्यर्थमेवेति सिद्धम् ।  ’सिद्धं  तु निवर्तकत्वात्’ इति आगमविदां सूत्रम् ।

[Therefore, it is in the attributeless Self that the distinct characteristics of ‘being happy, miserable, intelligent, dull, healthy, ailing ’ etc. are imagined.  And as for the scriptural texts speaking of the absence of happiness etc. in the Self, it is proved that they are merely meant to remove the specific ideas of happiness etc. from It.  And in support of this is the aphorism of those who are versed in the meaning of scriptures: ‘The validity of the scriptures is derived from their negation of positive qualities from the Self.’

Clarifies Anandagiri : उक्तेऽर्थे द्रविडाचार्यसम्मतिमाह – सिद्धान्त्विति । ब्रह्मणि पदानां व्युत्पत्त्यभावेऽपि सिद्धमेव शास्त्रप्रामाण्यम्, अभावबोधननञ्पदसंसृष्टैः स्थूलादिव्युत्पन्नपदैः स्वाभाविकद्वैताभावबोधनेन अध्यस्तनिवर्तकत्वादिति सूत्रार्थः ।

’सिद्धं  तु निवर्तकत्वात्’ – This is a quotation from DravidAchArya.  The idea is this: Though words may not have any positive meaning with regard to Brahman, the validity of the scripture is well established; for the words, that are associated with negation and are well known as denoting the absence of qualities, eliminate all duality from the Self. ‘

A Synopsis

  • The Veda is the Only PramaaNa in respect of knowledge of Brahman
  • The ‘Existence’ of Brahman is known only through the Veda
  • The ‘svarUpa’ of Brahman is also known only through the Veda
  • According to the Veda, Brahman is beyond words
  • By saying so, the Veda does not mean that it ceases to be a pramANa
  • The Veda is indeed the pramANa by teaching the svarUpa of Brahman through words that negate all that has been superimposed as the svarUpa of Bahman
  • This is by means of words like: नेति नेति, अस्थूलं, अनणु, अह्रस्वं , अदृश्यं, अनात्म्यम्, अनिलयनं, अनिरुक्तं , अभयं, अजरं, अमरं, अमृतं, अपाणिपादं, अचक्षुः, अश्रोत्रं, नैव स्त्री, न पुमान्, न नपुंसकः, etc.
  • These are terms that are certainly not taught by any other shAstram about Brahman; the Veda alone teaches us about Brahman through these terms.
  • By using such words the Veda does not specify Brahman the way jAti, kriyA, guNa or sambandha specifies a person or object in the world.
  • In this way, even though Brahman is अवाच्यं/अशब्दं/शब्दप्रवृत्तिनिमित्तरहितं  (not a candidate fit for words being used), the Veda succeeds in conveying to us what Brahman is in truth.
  • Thus, the Veda alone says ‘Brahman Exists’
  • The Veda alone says: Brahman is avaachyam, ashabdam, avaaggocharam
  • The Veda alone teaches Brahman thru नेति, नेति, etc.

In this manner there is no contradiction in 1. Holding Veda as the pramANa  2. Holding Brahman as avAchyam/ashabdam and 2. Resorting to the Veda alone to know the svarUpa of Brahman.  The Veda is free from the defect of contradicting itself.

ओम् तत् सत्

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