A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
These stages correspond to shravana, manana, nididhyasana and sakshatkara in the terminology of the Vedanta. Each succeeding stage here is the effect of the deepening and the expanding of the preceding stage. Even the integral thought or the infinite psychosis (brahmakara-vritti) of the third stage is only a ‘stage’, a ‘step’ which destroys all ignorance and finally destroys itself, too, in That which is beyond being and non-being, beyond knowledge and ignorance, beyond joy and sorrow, beyond substance, quality and relation, beyond space, time, cause, effect; beyond everything.
“He, who has become the Pure Light by the Peace of Knowledge attained through the affirmation of the Attributeless Being, beholds it.” —Mun. Up., III. 1. 8.
Knowledge of Brahman is not an act, and Brahman is not a result of an action or an effect produced through a change in the being of the one who knows it. The rope that is perceived on the sublation of the ignorance conjuring up the false snake is not the production of any act but is merely the unaffected existence which was such even prior to the negation of the ignorance which appeared in relation to it. The knowledge of Brahman is independent of human endeavour, and so, it cannot be connected with any act which is by nature relative and is always what is known, an external to knowledge, and is never the same as or related to Consciousness which is by nature trans-empirical and unmodifiable. Nor is Brahman related to an act as the object of the act of knowledge, for knowledge is not an action. Knowledge is being. If knowledge is to become an act, then, who is to know this act of knowledge? The attempt to know such a knower would only land one in an infinite regress from which extrication is not possible. Knowledge of Brahman is being Brahman, and this is moksha or Liberation. Moksha is not what is produced, for it is eternal. The realisation of Brahman is the realisation of the Atman or the Inner Self, and since no action can be a help in knowing oneself, moksha or Self-realisation is not the result of any action. Action or movement has a meaning when what is to be reached or effected is outside in space, but is ineffective when what is to be reached is the reacher himself, who is not something which is situated in space or changing in time, i.e., when Consciousness is what is reached and also the reacher. The knower cannot be known through an act of knowledge, and there is no such thing as a knower of a knower or a knower of knowledge. Individualistic knowledge is a mental act, but the Absolute-Knowledge which is Being itself cannot be an act. In knowing an external thing knowledge appears as a mental or an intellectual process, but Brahman is not anything external, and so it cannot be known through any process or act. Knowledge which knows Brahman is Brahman itself; the knower, the knowledge and the known are one in Brahman.
All activity is a manifestation of the defective nature of the imperfect individual. Action which is a means to achieving an unachieved end is incompatible with Perfection which is Supreme Fulfilment. Action is not the essential nature of a thing; it is the agitation of the illusory vestures in which things are shrouded that is called action. It is possible to change the course of an action, but Self-Knowledge is ever unchanging. Action is relative; Knowledge is absolute. Action is dependent on the individual doer; Knowledge is independent of the individual and rests solely on the unchanging object, Brahman, with which it is identical. Knowledge is not subject to the process of producing, obtaining, purifying or modifying as action is and as the results of action are. After an act there is something to be known or attained other than the act; but after attaining Knowledge there is nothing to be done and nothing else to be attained. Action is of the nature of prompting or inciting one to something else outside but Knowledge is Illumination itself which is at once the breaking of the bond of samsara and the experience of the Perfection of the Absolute. The jnana-marga or the Path of Knowledge, because it aims at a fusion of the means and the end in one, is, for those who are not endowed with the necessary equipments, extremely hard to tread, and the difficulty is well pointed out in such references to it as “the razor’s edge”, “the pathless path”, and the like, which show that Knowledge has a unique track of its own which is not what is known to the mind and the intellect working with the material supplied by the senses. “The path of the Knowers is untraceable like the track of birds in the sky and of aquatic beings in water.” As the great Acharya, Sankara, has said, “The intelligent and learned person who is an expert in arguing in favour of Truth and refuting what is false and goes counter to it, who is endowed with the qualities mentioned above, is the one fit for the reception of Self-Knowledge. Only he is said to have the fitness to enquire into and know Brahman, who has the discrimination between the Real and the unreal, whose consciousness is directed away from the unreal, who is possessed of inward composure and the other virtues, and who is yearning for Liberation” (Vivekachudamani, 16, 17). Only those who have a penetrating insight and are perfectly dispassionate can walk the Path of Knowledge.
The above threefold process of Truth-realisation is carried on through the methods of denial and affirmation. The denial is the forced negation of the microcosmic and the macrocosmic objectivity, a transcendence of the superficial phenomenal vestures; of the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the nescious planes of existence, which, both individually and cosmically, constitute the gross, the subtle and the causal manifestations differing in the degree of the intensity of their objectifying power. All these are denied as
“not this, not this,”
for, That which is the Real is not this which is seen and which appears to create a difference in existence. Even the worship of God outside oneself is not ultimately correct, for here God becomes an object set against a subject. Everything that is an object of knowledge is ultimately unreal, a ‘not-That’, and “he who worships a divinity second to his own self, thinking ‘I am one; he is another’, knows not (the Truth); he is like a sacrificial animal” (Brih. Up., I. 4. 10). “One should adore the Self alone as dear” (Brih. Up., I. 4. 8). Even an objective God is a self-limitation of the Absolute, and so a being existing as the subjective knower of an objective existence and the objective ideal of the subjective devotee. God is the cosmic integration of the physical, the subtle and the causal universe, whereas man is an individual disintegration into the physical, the subtle and the causal body. Hence, both the individual and Ishvara are phenomenal beings, though Ishvara is to a very large extent more real than the individual. Anyway, all objective beings, whether individual or cosmic, are to be denied through the force of the integrating thought which moves towards the Unity of Existence. The Taittiriya Upanishad (II. 8; II. 2-6) explains this method of self-transcendence, where the five objective layers of consciousness are crossed over to the experience of the Absolute. Each internal layer is subtler and more extensive than the external ones and pervades them as their self or very being. Hence, when, through this method of negative assertion aided by faith and reason, all the external consciousness-sheaths are stepped over, the innermost real Self, the Brahman, which includes and transcends all these as their sole Being, is realised. Here, the body and the world are simultaneously negated in all their degrees of manifestation, and thus Reality is experienced in its Essence.
The affirmative method is a direct attempt to identify oneself with the Absolute. It starts with the attunement of oneself with every being of the universe, and then proceeds with the ideas of Eternity, Infinity, Immortality, Immutability, Completeness, Independence and Absoluteness. This is a much bolder method than the negative one, because positivity is always a harder reality than negativity, more difficult to grapple with, and hence a greater amount of courage, perseverance, patience, firmness and severity of will are needed here.
“I am the Absolute”, and “All this is the Absolute”,
are the two forms of the positive assertion of Reality. These are the two stages of Experience-Whole, the latter succeeding the former. The former is in relation to oneself, the individual, and the latter is the conclusive certainty. The former arises in relation to the subjective body, while the latter arises with reference to the whole universe. At first there is the experience “I am the Reality”, and subsequently the greater experience “All is the Reality, I am the All, the Reality alone is.” “Aham brahma asmi” and “sarvam khalu idam brahma” constitute the great affirmative processes of Self-Integration, in which even the infinite psychosis (brahmakaravritti) generated through the first experience is dissolved in the Pure Existence-Consciousness attained through the second experience. This is a sort of attempt at drowning oneself in the Absolute-Consciousness at once by stopping all foreign dualistic thought (vijatiyavrittinirodha) and allowing the essential unifying consciousness to assert itself fully (sajatiyavrittipravaha). Thought gets buried in conscious absoluteness by brushing aside the idea of all multitudinousness and duality. The individual effort ceases at the experience of the infinite psychosis, for this is the beginning of the dissolution of the individual consciousness of separateness in the Consciousness of the Infinite Completeness. Beyond this stage of infinite cognition, it can only be the functioning of the Force of the Truth of Absolute Unity that causes the change of experience; otherwise, such an effortless transformation cannot be explained. Effort is exercised so long as objective integration or the integration of the perceptible universe is effected, but the Absolute-Integration in which the personality or the individual itself is swallowed up into Infinite Being cannot be the effect of any effort on the part of the individual. This is a super-rational mystery, and so not a subject for philosophical discussion.
The ideas of the Absolute Ocean of Light, Power, Wisdom, Bliss, Peace, Unconditioned Plenitude and Unlimited Satisfaction are the ways of positive affirmation. There are numerous sentences in the Upanishads that suggest this process of Truth-realisation. Thought materialises itself into effect through intense affirmation, and a superior and more expanded state of consciousness thus experienced through the affirmation of the super-individualistic Truth helps in unfolding the state immediately beyond it, and thus Absolute Perfection is attained and realised in the end. This is the method of brahmabhyasa or brahmabhavana which brings immediate liberation, here and now. “Here (itself) he experiences Brahman” (Katha Up., VI. 14). “His vital energies do not depart; they merge right here itself” (Brih. Up., IV. 4. 6; III. 2. 11). The Knower of Brahman does not pass through different planes or regions; He is.