Vedānta series - 2

There are three types of Vedānata philosophy. They are Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Advaita. Dvaita, the dualistic philosophy propagated by Mādhvācārya says that the Brahman and individual soul are different. Vishishtadvaita is qualified non-dualism and propagated by Śrī Rāmānuja. According to him, Brahman and soul are different, yet the individual soul is dependent on the Brahman and has to ultimately become one with the Brahman. The third one is Advaita propagated by Śrī Śaṃkarācārya. According to advaita philosophy, individual soul is nothing but the Brahman. All that exists in the world is only the Brahman, thereby asserting the omnipresent nature of the Brahman. It is said that advaita philosophy is the supreme among the three. There is also another school of thought which says that one should begin his spiritual pursuit from dvaita philosophy, progress to Vishishtadvaita and end at advaita. Advaita beautifully answers the question ‘who am I’? Advaita says ‘I am That’, where, That refers to the Brahman.

For knowing an object, there has to be a knower (the one who is trying to know), the known (the object) and the process of knowing. In Sanskrit, they are known as pramātā, prameya and pramāṇa. While realising the Brahman or the Self, advaita says that both pramātā and prameya (knower and known) are the same Self. This is based on the theory that individual soul is not different from the Supreme Soul, the basic concept of advaita. But what about the process of knowing? There are three ways of acquiring knowledge. One is the pratyakṣa pramāṇa or the direct perception, the knowledge acquired through sensory organs. The example is, knowing an elephant by seeing it. The next one is inference or anumāna pramāṇa, knowing something by inference. When there is smoke, there has to be fire. The fire is inferred on seeing the smoke. The third one is through description or śabda pramāṇa. This is by word of mouth, where sound is used to explain an object. Typical example is pointing out to an apple and saying this is an apple.

Knowledge about the Brahman can be attained only through inference and descriptive words and not by direct perception. Brahma sūtras, Upaniṣhads and Bhagavad Gītā make one understand the Brahman by means of negations and affirmations. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad (II.iii.6) says, “Now the description of the Brahman. Not this, not this. Because there is no other or more appropriate description than ‘not this’.” The question naturally arises, why this negation. If some one asks showing the sun “is this the Brahman”, the answer has to be not this. By showing fire if some one asks “is this the Brahman”, the answer has to be not this. The fact is that there exists nothing to show as an example for the Brahman. Everything is negated to explain the Brahman because, He is beyond everything. After having negated all the objects to explain the Brahman, Upaniṣhad-s proceed to affirm the Brahman. While affirming, they do not refer to objects, but to attributes. For example, Kaṭha Upaniṣhad (I.ii.20) says, “aṇoraṇīyānmahato mahīyānātamā”. This means that the Self or the Brahman is smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest. Again, Taittirīya Upaniṣhad says (II.i.1), “satyaṁjñānamantaṁ brahma”, which means that truth, knowledge and infinity is the Brahman. Śhiva Sūtra (I.1) says, “caitanyamātmā”, which means Consciousness is the Brahman. All this go to prove that Brahman is beyond physical description. If we look at the affirmations of Upaniṣhad-s, they refer to truth, knowledge, infinity, consciousness, etc, all subtle in nature.

Sensory organs are of no use in understanding the Brahman, as He has no form. When we are desperate to know Him, then what is the way out? He can be realised only through knowledge. Knowledge dawns at the end of all negations and affirmations. Negations lead to affirmations and affirmations in turn lead to knowledge. Taittirīya Upaniṣhad said knowledge is Brahman. Therefore, knowledge is one of the sources, through which Self can be realized.

Further Readings:

Types of Advaita Philosophy

Types of Trika Philosophy

Trika and Advaita Philosophies