A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
The accidental attributes, the tatastha-lakshanas of the Absolute, make it appear as Ishvara, whose existence is in relation to the manifested universe. “The sun rises in Him and sets again in Him.” “The shining region of the heavens is His head, the sun and the moon are His eyes, the quarters of space are His ears, the Vedas full of knowledge are His speech, the air is His vital energy, the universe is His heart, the earth is His feet—This is the inmost Self of all beings” (Mund. Up., II. 1. 4). All reality known to us is limited to this Self. We love and possess things, we speak, act and think, because we are the Self of that which is loved, possessed, spoken, done and thought. The world subsists in our Consciousness which is the Great Self of all. Aught else than our Self is nothing; the Self is the “Vaishvanara”, God of all, and all are, because He is. Our Self and His Self are one; whatever is outside us, is also inside us:
“In reality, great as this external space is, so great is this space within the heart; in it are contained both the heaven and the earth, both fire and air, both sun and moon, lightning and stars, whatever is here, and whatever is not here—everything thereof is contained within it.” —Chh. Up., VIII. 1. 3.
A declaration is made in this, which strikes terror into the man of the world; the individual and the cosmos, the soul and God are one! “That thou art, O Svetaketu!” This may not be easy to accept, but only this can be the truth. This alone removes all contradictions in life, this truth alone stands unsublated. “The Purusha is what is and what is not.” “He who dwells in all beings, and is other than all beings, whom all beings do not know, whose body are all beings, who controls all beings from within—This is thy Self, the Inner Ruler, the Immortal” (Brih. Up., III. 7. 15). “In the space within the heart lies the Ruler of all, the Lord of all, the King Of all... He is the Overlord of all beings, the King of all beings, the Protector of all beings” (Brih. Up., IV. 4. 22). “Etad vai tat—This, verily, is That.”
The Supreme Lord is the Power of powers. “Agni cannot burn even a piece of straw; Vayu cannot blow even a piece of straw, apart from the Will of the Supreme” (Kena Up., III). All beings, even the gods, even the greatest powers, execute their functions properly due to their dread for this Supreme. The Great Lord can do or undo or otherwise do the whole universe in the quick flash of a fraction of a single moment! He is also the boundless ocean of Knowledge. Even the gods cannot see Him. He cannot be known even through penance and sacrifice. This Atman is not to be comprehended through mere discourse, intellectuality or extensive hearing; He is obtained only by him (to) whom He chooses (to reveal His Nature)” (Katha Up., I. 2. 23). This does not mean that God is an autocratic despot acting as He likes, regardless of the feelings and grievances of others. This would be a very poor interpretation of the sentence. God chooses all and excludes none who looks up to Him; He helps even those who do not know Him! Even a villain and an outcaste reaches Him through His grace. God is the ocean of compassion. He is the justest Ruler, the most beloved Parent of all. The condition “whom He chooses” exalts the supreme factor of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation and a flowing of oneself with the Divine Force, as against the egoistic undertakings of the individual, viz., scholarship, etc., which lead to self-conceit and inordinate pride. The passage also means that it is to be obtained only by that which one seeks to obtain, i.e., the Seeker is himself the Supreme Object which is the Sought. The subject and the object are one in Truth. No separate independence should be asserted with good as its effect. We are also cautioned to have the consciousness of the sole existence of the One Purusha, even when we offer sacrifices to different deities. The multiple gods of the Vedas are not the childish imaginations of undeveloped panegyrists who knew but to flatter superhuman powers, but they are the seers’ visions, in the overflow of their ecstatic joy, of the Great Purusha who excels in the blissful revelation of Himself in His universal form. To the Vedic seers the world appeared as the beatific flooding of the abundance of the richness of God. This Supreme One is the Object of spiritual love. All beings have an innate longing, a love to attain it. “It is called Great Longing—Love—it is to be adored as such, and him who knows this, all beings love and long for” (Kena Up., IV. 6). At the mere transcendental wish of this Great Being, the whole universe is issued forth systematically, protected justly and destroyed root and branch. Ishvara is the Absolute Brahman working through the universe.
This is the Nature of Reality as appearing to put on all names, all forms and all actions, though these three aspects are the one being, the Self (Brih. Up., I. 6). The Upanishads do not make much practical difference between Ishvara and Brahman, and hold that “Brahman is both the Formed and the Formless” (Brih. Up., II. 3. 1). They voice both the phenomenal and the absolute points of view.
The proofs for the existence of Ishvara really turn to be proofs for the existence of Brahman. In fact there cannot be any strictly logical proof for the existence of an Ishvara who is different from Brahman. The moment we admit something which distinguishes Ishvara from Brahman, we bring forward a reality which is neither Ishvara nor Brahman. The Absolute which is ever consistent with itself does not allow in any extraneous principle which would limit Pure Existence. Ishvara is Brahman defined by the creative will. Brahman appears as the supreme Person (Purusha-vidha), and in becoming this it would appear to cease to be what it is, at least temporarily. Such a conception of Brahman would go against the very grain of the reality of Brahman. That Brahman becomes Ishvara in any way is not a fact, and if it is a fact, the whole of philosophy which posits the existence of the Absolute Reality would become a self-contradiction and absurdity. To make Brahman pass into another form is to deny Brahman. The theory, which holds that Ishvara’s creation of individuals which are responsible for the nature of the world manifested is determined by the potentialities of the previous world-cycle, makes Ishvara a creature of time, divests him of omnipotence and freedom and creates an eternal duality of Ishvara and the material stuff called potentiality of creation in addition to a real multiplicity of individuals. Such an artificial view of Ishvara shows how it is valid only as a practical device for the explanation of the difficulties of the individual, and how it is not possible to conceive of an Ishvara real in himself. This view of creation is a regrettable echo of the Sankhya which so audaciously asserts a plurality of realities that it is blind to all the difficulties presented by such an assertion. An eternal plurality or duality contradicts the absoluteness of Reality, which is equal to denying Reality altogether. If it is said that Ishvara is not directly connected with creation but only helps in the manifestation of the world which is necessitated by the dormant potencies of the unliberated individuals, the question arises, ‘Who created the individuals?’ It is said that the individuals are only the forms which Ishvara has imagined himself to be. If Ishvara is omnipotent, he can at any time cease from imagining thus. If he is to cause creation every time, after every world-cycle, and work like a clock, Ishvara can only be a machine and does not seem to have freedom of thought and action. Moreover, he seems to be working in strict consonance with the rules which he himself has framed! If the state of dissolution of the universe at the end of a cycle is forced upon Ishvara’s experience, he is no more an Ishvara, a Lord. If, on the other hand, he does it voluntarily, there is no reason why he should go on creating, cycle after cycle, as though it is his bounden duty. Freedom and the sense of duty are opposites. If Ishvara has nothing to do with creation and only the individuals are somehow causing their bondage and liberation through some kind of relation which they have with the Absolute, there is no need for positing an Ishvara who is different from Brahman.
Further, the view that the freed souls should wait in the state of Ishvara until the dissolution of Ishvara himself after the universal cycle, would only show that Ishvara himself is controlled by the process of the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe, and that he has no freedom to stop it though it is his own will. If the world-process is only a sport of Ishvara, it cannot become a rigid routine, as a rule of duty cannot be a sport. We cannot say that Ishvara should abide by the process of the system of world-manifestation, etc., since manifestation and all that is connected with it is in time, and Ishvara is regarded as being the condition of even time. The theory that the creation of Ishvara is independent of that of the individuals, where the latter is the cause of bondage, a superimposition of relative values on universally existent attributeless independent objects, is not convincing. This theory seems to hold that the mind can think or know something even when it is purged of all desires and their impressions. Thinking is an active process, which is the same as the movement of a wish or will, the absence of which alone can be the state of pure equilibrium and harmony which is beyond the movements of the cognitive process. Every form of knowledge in an individual is a process, and pure equilibrium cannot be a process, it being free from all movements which alone can give process a value. What is called the creation of the individual is only external relationship. It is not possible for the individual to exist or know anything external, the moment it puts an end to its creation, viz., external relationship through the mind. The individual is nothing but what it does through its functional organs, and when it does not do anything, i.e., its creation ceases, it itself is no more, for the individual is only a mass of relativities or unintelligible relations even as everything that is created also is. The functional organs, too, cannot be said to be independent of their functions themselves, the relations in which they are inextricably involved, and when these functions cease, the instruments also cease. The individual is not an independently existing something. It is only a name given to a bundle of relationships. When the relationships are withdrawn, the individual is dissolved in pure Being. Ishvara’s creation cannot be explained in terms of the different individuals of the universe, as the existence of the individuals, itself, cannot be proved logically. Ishvara is what he is because of the universe and its contents, and if the latter are not proved, Ishvara, too, is not proved, unless a purely untenable arbitrary argument is brought forward that Ishvara can conceive of pure objectivity or nothingness and imagine that he exists as an absolute individual even if no object second to him is known by him. It is a wonder how Ishvara can be omnipresent and at the same time be different from Brahman. If a differentiating principle exists in Brahman, neither Brahman nor Ishvara can be omnipresent. If there is nothing to separate the one from the other, there is only Brahman and not another Person like Ishvara. Ishvara is an appellation for Brahman viewed from the standpoint of the relative universe.
It is also said that Ishvara divided himself and became the many jivas. How did Ishvara do this without losing his innate characteristics? How did Ishvara conceive of the many individuals without knowing that one individual is different from the other? How can there be awareness of multiplicity without distinguishing one from the other? If Ishvara has no idea of distinctions, how does it follow that he created the multifarious world? If the idea of distinction belongs only to the relative individual and not to Ishvara, and if creation is not possible without the idea of distinction, it means that Ishvara has not created anything, and that therefore there is no creation at all.
These difficulties in proving the existence of Ishvara, as a reality somehow different from Brahman, appear, because the individual tries to shift its own values to the universal truth of things. As long as the individual exists, an Ishvara has to be postulated as its necessary counterpart. There can be no meaning in holding that individuals exist or the world exists, but Ishvara does not exist. If there is an effect, there must be a cause, also. The cause can be denied only when the effect is denied. Ishvara is the necessary objective presentation of the implications of the experiences of the individuals. In the admission of the world and the individuals the existence of a Supreme Creator is implied. If there is no God, there can be no world, too. The limited intelligence of the individual cannot comprehend the meaning of the universe except on the basis of an Ishvara governing it. Ishvara and the jiva are the two sides of the same coin. The two have a reciprocal relationship. When the one is denied, the other, too, is automatically denied. When the one is affirmed, the other, too, is affirmed. Ishvara is the cosmic side of the individual’s acceptance of the reality of its own experiences. The transcendence of individuality, temporality or relativity is at once the transcendence of the state of Ishvara, also. Both the jiva and Ishvara are negated in the supremacy of Brahman. As long as the world is experienced as a reality, the reality of Ishvara is not abrogated. The degrees of reality and experience, which are facts of the individual’s life, cannot be accounted for except by admitting an Ishvara as the Cause of the world. The distinction in quality between waking and dreaming can have meaning only when the existence of Ishvara is accepted as a fact. Truth and falsehood are known to be different from each other because there is a universe outside human fancy. Ishvara, therefore, has a relative reality. He is, in this sense, more an explanation of the universe of experience than true existence. And, wherever Ishvara is identified with the Supreme Self, we have to understand that it is the Essential Reality of Ishvara and not his relative form that is thus identified.
If Brahman appears as Ishvara, this act of appearance is caused by its Power of appearance. We must, indeed, very much hesitate to say anything about “Power” in the Absolute, for thereby we betray the forgetfulness of our bold conclusions regarding the Indivisible, Non-dual nature of Brahman. If Brahman is considered to appear as Ishvara, and as a corollary, the world, we have to answer the question, ‘How does the One become the two and the many?’ We cannot say that Brahman creates Ishvara and the world out of a substance which is other than itself, for it is secondless. Then, we have to take that it creates them out of itself, in which case its changeless, eternal nature is marred and it becomes a phenomenal being. Moreover, there cannot be space, time and causality in Brahman, which are necessary for creation. Hence, creation becomes a self-contradiction. The Brahmanhood of Brahman, i.e., its essential perfection, vanishes, the moment we take it to be the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. Further if there is actual creation, how do the Upanishads reconcile this with their position that on the realisation of the Absolute there is disappearance of objectivity? A real thing can never be negated its existence. Only a false notion can be removed by knowledge. The creative act cannot be called even an Idea or a Thought of the Absolute, for in it thought and reality are one. If creation is different from the Absolute, it cannot exist. If it is identical with it, the Absolute alone is, and not anything produced. Hence, from the highest standpoint, creation must be false, a mere myth. This mysterious juggle, which, though not real, appears to screen the Absolute Consciousness and project an objective consciousness, is the so-called Power of Brahman, and its appearance is suggested in the Upanishads. Indra is said to appear in many forms through his juggling powers (Brih. Up., II. 5.19). The Svetasvatara Upanishad says that the Supreme Being is the juggler and the universe of creation is His jugglery (IV. 10).
This Power is only an objectifying force, as it were, which prevents Self-Experience through veiling and pulling the Consciousness away from itself by making it, for all appearance, self-deluded. But this Power is identical with Brahman even as heat and fire are one; then, how can Brahman delude itself, and where comes the existence of Power in Divisionless Being? And, further, how can there be objective force in the Infinite Mass of Consciousness? This is the inexplicable magic, which somehow must be, and somehow cannot be, which somehow deludes that which is eternally undeluded. Inexplicability is not an excuse if philosophy is to justify its purpose. No speculation has ever been able to give out the meaning of an undivided creation which is from eternity to eternity, and which is, therefore, no creation at all. We cannot say how and why we seem to be caught up in ignorance. This secret is super-logical. Our greatest intelligence lies in admitting that we cannot understand anything, finally. Anirvachaniyatva or inscrutability is our last resort; and this, after all, is the result which the proud philosophical reason has achieved after countless years of thinking. But, some bolder geniuses had the marvellous courage to mercilessly disregard all facts of relative experience without paying any heed to their contradictions and staring hard realities, all which are valid only to the realm of the individual, and to resolutely assert with wisdom that there is nothing but the One Brahman, the Absolute. Dispassionately judging, they alone seem to be the greatest heroes in human history. Nothing can be a better course than what they took. The Upanishad declares:
“Sarvam khalu idam brahma—All this, indeed, is Brahman.” —Chh. Up., III. 14. 1.
Ultimately, there can be no illusion, unreality, maya, error or any objective concept or knowable principle but only Consciousness-Absolute. Nothing else than Consciousness can ever be. This is the Truth. Since even degrees in Reality would mean objectivity and duality therein, they would reduce it to a phenomenal appearance. Reality, as it is in itself, can only be the Absolute free from all dividing elements, including the so-called degrees. The Absolute is ever Itself, never an object, never a subject, and so eternally indivisible.