by Swami Krishnananda
The following consists of replies to some difficulties raised by students of philosophy and religion.
It has been argued that the system of philosophy which is known as Advaita, propounded by Acharya Sankara, is not a philosophical system, since it accepts the authority of the scripture, and philosophy does not accept scriptural testimony as a test of truth. To this point of view, several answers may perhaps be appropriate. Firstly, the term AdvaitaEneed not necessarily be associated with Sankara, because it stands for a way of thinking or a doctrine which can be promulgated by a methodology of reason. Even if Sankara had not been born, this system of human thought would remain as a way of possible logical analysis and synthesis. Perhaps it would not be difficult to see that the conclusions which are associated with Advaita can be drawn even without reference to any scripture or theological background. That historical circumstances required Acharya Sankara to consider Scripture as the final authority would not preclude the great logical acumen which is demonstrated in his writings, which can stand independently as a supreme philosophical system, even without any reference to Scripture. Hence, a true student of philosophy need not have to mix up the theological atmosphere of Sankaras times with the philosophical conclusions that he drew by pure reason alone.
Further, it is strange that philosophy should be interpreted as a position totally opposed to Scripture or irreconcilable with Scripture, if we are to consider Scripture as an accepted hypothesis which itself cannot be questioned, and not necessarily a book written by someone or even revealed to anyone. Which scientific method or philosophic situation can be said to be free from the necessity to be finally grounded on some hypothesis on which it bases itself and on whose pedestal it raises the edifice of its system? How would science or philosophy or any thinking process at all assume a sense or meaning if it is not to found itself on some irrefutable fact which is already accepted not as something deduced from a premise, since a premise itself cannot be deduced? Indian philosophers, whether they accept the authority of Scripture or not, had also amply revealed in their expositions the great power of reason which, while it was not necessary for it to refute Scripture, could also stand on its own legs.
It is also argued that the Advaita position that Brahman is consciousness is a sort of self-contradiction, for consciousness is a quality. To this, it has to be said that consciousness is certainly not a quality, nor can it be a product of the conjunction of the subject and the object as some thinkers have tried to establish. If consciousness were a quality, it would have to be a quality of something other than consciousness, but what on earth can that be which is other than consciousness? That so-called something which is other than consciousness has necessarily to be also that which is not known to consciousness, in which case it cannot be related to consciousness, and consciousness cannot be related to it. Where then comes the question of consciousness being a quality of anything at all? Secondly, it is contended that the Advaita conclusion that Brahman (the Absolute) is consciousness is not tenable, for, it is argued, the statement Brahman is consciousnessEis tautological. The point is that if Brahman is consciousness, it would be like saying that Brahman is Brahman, and to say that Brahman is consciousness would be like an analytic judgement, not a synthetic one, adding no new information to the subject Brahman, since Brahman is already said to be consciousness. This objection arises on account of introducing the defects of linguistic grammar into a philosophic proposition, for we cannot see any tautology in the statement that Brahman is consciousness, inasmuch as the statement is intended to describe the characteristic of Brahman, or, we may say, the constituent essence of Brahman, or, rather, more precisely, what Brahman is. Hence, the statement Brahman is consciousnessEdoes not introduce the conjunction andE so that there should be Brahman andEconsciousness in order that Brahman may be consciousness. The grammatical copula isEin the statement Brahman is consciousnessEdoes not distinguish between Brahman and consciousness, but is only a verbal contrivance necessitated by the exigency of grammar. The spirit of the statement is the real philosophic position, and not the form of the linguistic structure of the sentence. It is well known that every sentence involves a subject and a predicate linked together by a verb. Only, in the present context, neither Brahman nor consciousness can be taken as a predicate, because one and the same thing is asserted even when two terms are used. Thus, it appears the objection is not philosophical. The statement Brahman is consciousnessEcannot be considered as a truism, as if it is a well known fact, for it requires an elucidatory effort to come to the conclusion that the nature of Brahman is consciousness. If a father makes a statement, Rama is my sonE it does not follow that the statement is tautological or a truism, for, while Rama and son mean one and the same person, the one term explains the intrinsic nature of that which is indicated by the other.
It has often been glibly and sarcastically opined by many a thinker that the Advaita doctrine propounds the unreality of the world, the illusoriness of all things, that nothing exists at all. While the process of an investigation into the validity of the question of the unreality of the world is a little intricate and need not be discussed here, it is not true that the Advaita crudely brushes aside the content of world-experience as a literal unreality. No content of an experience can be regarded as totally unreal as long as there is such a thing as experience, and no one with the least sense would dub an experience as unreal as long as it remains an experience. But, while it is certainly true that the very meaning of experience is that it is thereE and no one will speak of it if it is not there, no experience can be considered as unreal as long as it isEan experience, whether it is of the world or anything else. Yet, there is certainly something more to be said about this phenomenon. Would we call it an experience when it is contradicted by another experience subsequently following it? The famous analogy of the experience of a snake in the rope is before us. Is the snake real? No one would say that it is unreal, for it is a content of experience which is real. But, at the same time, there is a point which requires a more judicious consideration of the issue, since, in a different experience which is of the rope, the snake is realised to be unreal. Who would ever regard the snake as a reality on the perception of the rope as a real experience? It appears to us that the analogy of the snake and the rope, which is so well known, is not a puerile connivance of some psychological whim, but a most apt illustration of the position of the world as a whole and of mans location in the world. It would thus be obvious how one and the same proposition can be unreal as well as real in two different contexts, while not being self-contradictory as a blending of totally opposite positions.
It may also be added here that it would not be wisdom to stretch even the weapon of logic to its breaking point, for logic is a function of reason operating on the dichotomy of the subject and the object, while at the same time feeling the necessity to bring together the two as an integral statement.
If there are no proofs which can demonstrate Brahmans reality, this need not be considered as a serious defect in the situation. Rather, it should be happily accepted as the glory of truth itself, which is also associated with eternity. How is one to prove the eternal through non-eternal means, and what eternal means are available to man in a world of temporal processes? What proof does one expect to establish the existence of Brahman, as Brahman is the basis of all proof, the indubitable existence as the very self of the one who argues and thinks in terms of proof? How would it be proved by some other proof, and where is the point in expecting a proof at all?
The illustration of experience in the state of deep sleep sometimes advanced in the Advaita system as an evidence of the existence of an absolute being, is not without substance. Reversing the Cartesian proposition, I think, therefore I am,Ethe analogy cited is an adventure in the direction of the conclusion, I am, therefore I think. Would there be a need to bring a proof that ones own self exists? Obviously, it is not hard for one to realise that proofs proceed from the fundamental experience of there being such a thing as self, and if the self itself were to be an object of doubt, there would be no worth-the-while conclusion in life, which would be free from the defect of the same doubt. If there is anything at all which cannot be doubted, it has to have a base which itself cannot be doubted. All this would be commonplace to any sensible point of view.
Now comes the question, What happened in deep sleep? This is one of the great analyses made in the system of Advaita philosophy. While in the waking state the body seems to be the whole of the reality of oneself, in dream ones existence is proved to be possible without association with the physical body. The point that comes to relief in deep sleep is that one can and one does exist there in a condition wherein even the mind does not operate, and ones existence in the state of sleep is free from association of every kind, physical as well as psychological. It is no great feat of discovery to make much of the psychological difficulty involved in understanding the nature of the memory that remains subsequent to sleep, of ones having existed in the state of sleep. That the physical and the psychological embodiments are not the reality of a person is the essence of the discovery which is made from ones existence in sleep. Whether sleep is a biological condition, or is brought about by this factor or that, is irrelevant for the purpose. We need not go into the details here as to how and why one enters the state of deep sleep. The Upanishad has something to say about it, while the medical man or the psychologist and the scientist may have something else to say from their own points of view. These considerations, however, do not touch the essential point made out in the study of the self in sleep, that it is impossible to set aside the conclusion that the self is basically of the stuff of consciousness. While the experience of joy in sleep is attributed to different factors and can be explained in several ways, it is impossible to believe that there can be satisfaction in a state of unconsciousness. No doubt, sleep is a state of unconsciousness and it should be a contradiction for anyone to believe that such sleep should have any value. Is it not strange that the value of sleep seems to outweigh any other value, even if it is to be considered only as a reminder, though occasional, that man is evidently something other than what he appears to be in his much-adumbrated waking activity?
It is said that the condition of sleep cannot be regarded as an experience because this condition is an eventE and all events are not experiences. To this it is to be pointed out that it is difficult to understand what an eventEcan be if it is not existent, and what can existence mean if it is not something that is known to exist? Precisely, an experience is the knowledge of existence; it may be the existence of an event, a condition, a situation, a thing, or whatever it be. Then, why should not sleep be an experience, if it is an event? Further, the argument that in order to call an event an experience, it must be an event of which someone is the subject, does not in any way affect the issue on hand; for, how could sleep be an experience or an event if it is not an experience to someone or an event occurring in respect of someone or something? In fact, what exists, or, precisely, is, in the state of sleep is the pure subject alone. In sleep there is an indication of subjectivity, free from traces of all objectivity, if only we are not to consider the state of unconsciousness as an object counterposed before a subject. The definition of consciousness has also to be made a little clear. Consciousness cannot be considered as something happening to someone, whether it is noticed or not. Philosophically, the term consciousnessE when it is applied to describe the pure metaphysical subject, is to be understood as denoting something more than even what is usually called self-consciousness. It is the basic presupposition of any meaning whatsoever. Hence, such a subliminal base of the very meaning of anything, the primary being or existence of whatever can be regarded as meaningful, has to be something not only not associated to any other primary being which may be its subject, but should be not even a state of self-consciousness in the sense of one being ones own object of awareness. It is pure universality, consciousness as such, which cannot be distinguished from being as such. Thus, consciousness need not mean noticing, seeing or any kind of happening to anyone. This latter empirical characterisation of consciousness may have the utilitarian value of a grammatical subject, or sensorily conditioned individuality localised in space and time. But consciousness has to supersede space and time, since the former knows the latter as its content. The suggested pure subject indicated by the experience of sleep is not an ego, which latter is a self-conscious, localised, embodied something, but a general state of reality which encompasses all that can be anywhere or at any time. The subject indicated in sleep is not the enjoying or suffering subject, for it is prior to every psychological condition, since, here again, psychological experiences are its contents.
Experience is not doing somethingE for the fact of doing anything would be the object of a consciousness prior to it. Thus, we find that consciousness cannot be associated with anything other than itself, neither an event nor a thing. The Advaita argument of the presence of bliss in the state of deep sleep, as evidenced by a subsequent memory thereof, cannot be just brushed as totally irrelevant. There is certainly a great point which the Advaita makes out here. It is logically impossible to conceive of memory or remembrance except as a conscious recollection of a previous experience. Since experience cannot be dissociated from a consciousness of it, the conclusion that consciousness is not absent in the state of sleep cannot also be ruled out. As regards the experience of happiness in sleep, it is up to anyone to prove it or disprove it. An intense subjectivity to which consciousness is driven in sleep should be considered as the explanation for the happiness mentioned. The nearer one moves to oneself, the truer one is, and, hence, freer; and, is not freedom a state of happiness? It is entanglement in objectivity that distracts the attention of consciousness by making it appear as something other than its own self, which may safely be called a sort of metaphysical schizophrenia. The utter subjectivity which everyone craves for as an emblem of total freedom is demonstrated by man in the process of history. No one would like to be other than oneself, or involved in what one is not. Such empirical involvements are not present in sleep, and though this not-being-present is a kind of negative freedom and an entry into pure subjectivity through the backdoor (this, incidentally, differentiates sleep from Samadhi, or universal consciousness), there is no doubt that this apparent negativity becomes at least a suggestion of the possibility of positive subjectivity, even as the reflection of an object, which may be said to be the negative presentation of the object, indicates the nature of that object itself. In studies of this type, one may have to be dispassionate and honest, as far as ones own feelings and experiences are concerned, and not allow an empirical logic to interfere with its validity, for, as we have noted, logic is not a permanent friend of the very source of logicality. We need not identify this source entirely with the Transcendental Unity of apperception of Immanuel Kant, but here is certainly its elder brother, as it were, and the presence of it none can deny without denying the deniers existence itself. In a way, the true self is reflected in spatio-temporal involvement in the state of waking and, evidently, philosophers are right when they opine that the world is a dream, if it is true that all spatial and temporal experience is a shadow cast through the screen of objectivity by that which is the archetype transcending the space-time network. Platos analogy of the cave is profound and pertinent, and it is a happy augury that in a more explicit manner this truth is coming to light through the discoveries of modern physics, into whose findings we need not enter here.