Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Brahma Sutra; Shankara Bhashya 4

The questions posed by the purvapakshin are answered (more in-depth answers will be seen as the bhashyA proceeds).
“Yes Atman is something that is not unknown – it is prasiddha – well-known to everyone as “I am” – no conscious entity ever harbors any doubt about “I am” - no one ever says "i am not" - But at the same time there is erroneous notions about it, - various schools of thought exist as to what the atman as - as we shall see very soon as we begin our enquiry – Self is evdient - but Self is Brahman is not at all evident - hence athAto brahma jijnAsa.

Yes, knowledge by itself does not yield any result – unless – -
unless "Absence of that knowledge 'atmanavabodha' causes problems, leads to anartha."
In this case what is needed is right knowledge – and especially so because the vastu is very much self-established – nothing special needs to be done to achieve this.

And this knowledge is a unique jnana because it talks about aikyam. Knowledge "this is apple" - no vichara needed; Knowledge "this is consciousness, this is brahman" - no vichara needed; Knowledge "you are brahman" - aikya-jnana - vichAra is needed. So in this peculiar case knowledge has a direct effect, because and only because the bondage is not "real" - it is adhyasta - i the atma is taken to be something else, and the result of this mistaken notion, this superimposition is the entire problem of beginigless samsara.

This now sets the stage for one of Adi Shankara’s most important works – the adhyasa bhashya which systematically lays the very groundwork of advaita. No study of advaita can ever begin without an attempt at understanding adhyasa and no study of advaita can ever end without a complete and comprehensive understanding of adhyasa. One can never hope to reach the portals of Advaita without passing through the corridors of Adhyasa.

Critics and scholars have often felt that Adi Shankara begins his bhashyas with adhyasa bhashya which seems to be hoisting his own philosophy onto the brahma sutras. They claim there is no sparsha no connection between the brahmasUtra and adhyAsa. They point out that Bhagwan VyAsa begins his Sutra with "athato brahmajijnAsa" and the bhashyakAra instead of staring to talk about Brahman or some related topic, starts talking elaborately about superimposition or adhyAsa! In fact, the truth of the matter is, without this adhyasa bhashya there can be no meaning to the very opening lines of the brahmasutra - athato brahmajijnasa. A thorough reading of the adhyasa bhashya makes this crystal clear. How so?
As we noted earlier, if bondage is real, then knowledge by itself cannot achieve liberation; and so any enquiry in an attempt to gain knowledge will not achieve anything of consequence - it is precisely because we are dealing with a bondage which is notional, due to a superimposition of what is apparent on what is real, that this enquiry needs to be done, and when accomplished bears fruit. Only when we can prove that there is adhyasa can there be any possibility of moksha by means of enquiry and shastra can be a pramAna.

If jiva as a separate entity is real, abhaditam satyam, then limitation is real, then that real limitation can never be eliminated, it can only be temporarily forgotten (like in deep sleep), there cannot be moksha (anirmoksha prasanga). Only a notional limitation due to adhyasa can be sublated by knowledge.

So Shastravishayaprayojanam is not there unless adhyAsa siddhi is established.

Adi Shankara begins with what seems to be a very valid and powerful objection aakshepa:

Yushmatasmatpratyaya gocharayoho
SiddhAyAm TaddharmAnAmAmapi
Itaretara bhavanupapatti
Ityatah asmatpratyagochare vishayini
Yushmatpratyaya gocharasya
taddharmanAmcha adhyAsah
tadviparyayena vishayinah
tad dharmanAm cha vishaye adhyasah
mithyeti bhavitum yuktam

[youshmat - you, (in the plural)
asmat -
pratyaya -
that which is known - prateeyate iti pratyaya
object Vishaya - object of the subject - witness,
vishayee -
the subject
TamahprakAshavat - like darkness and light
vir uddhasvabhAvayoh oh -
being of opposite polarity, being totally opposed to each other
itaretarabhAvAnupap attau - one cannot become the other, cannot be taken or "mis"taken for the other
SiddhAyAm -
it is obvious, it is wellknown, it is very clear
- also their qualities
Itaretara bhavanupapatti -
one cannot be taken or mistaken for the other
Ityatah asmatpratyagochare vishayini - the subject, I, the witnesser,
- by nature a conscious entity,
Yushmatpratyaya gocharasya -
and the non-subjects which are jada, the objects, taddharmanAmcha - their qualities also
-be mistaken for each other

tadviparyayena vishayinah - tad dharmanAmcha vishaye adhyasah -
mithyeti bhavitum yuktam -
it is but proper that this cannot be (possible).]

Now, whenever any major work is begun, there is always a prayer, a remebrance of the Lord - mangalam. Here in the very opening line, prthyagAtma, the ParamAtman, is talked about and this prthyagAtma smaranam itself is the mangala suchitam here according to the tikAkAra.
The very first word yushmatpratyaya - the you-sense or the sense of object, and asmatpratyaya - the I-sense are talked about.
Why not say "this" sense instead of saying "you"sense to refer to objects - because while "this" on occasion may be used in place of "i" - "you" can never be taken for "i" - so in the very opening lines it is made clear that what is talked about is two distinct entities of opposing polarity - "i" the subject, vishayee, and "you" the object, the vishaya. All objects, all the non-"I" - is included in the term yushmat.
That which is self-evident is the subject
That which is evident to self, i.e. objectifiable is the object.
To use an analogy one can consider the light in the room and the pot that is illumined by this very light.
Now this is the problem.
When you say something is superimposed like a snake on a rope, there are a few factors that need to be present.
There are two real entities - real rope and real snake, one of which has to be pratyaksha - an object of perception i.e.rope. Morover the rope should not be fully known - i.e. there should be possibility of an error.
The cognizer has to have prior experience or samskAra(pUrva anubhava janya samskArA) of both these entities
Both these entities have to a sAdrshyam - i.e. you cannot mistake a pot for a mountain.
Only because the rope is of certain appropriate length, is coiled in a certain way, and one has seen a very similar snake before, or carries the memory of the same, can this superimposition take place, and whn one sees rope - one recoils with fear thinking "its a snake!"
Now in this case, one is dealing with entities that could not be more divergent - viruddhasvabhAvayoh
Atma or asmat pratyaya is self evident, and hence ignorance of the Atma is impossible.
In addition, there are no similarities between atma and anatma for a misconception to take place. Atma being the conscious, chaitanya, changeless subject, vishayee, and anaatma the insentient jada, object, vishaya, subject to modifications.
Adhyasa requires the previous experience of a real object in order to create a samskara of the superimposed entity. Anatma being unreal, a previous experience of Anatma is not possible. Therefore, no vasana or samskara of Anatma is created.
Here mithyeti - the word mithya has two meanings - one meaning is anirvachaneeyam - i.e. that which cannot be categorically stated - the other meaning is apahnuvArte or abhAva - i.e. nonexistence - it is this latter sense that mithya is meant here - i.e. such a adhyAsa is not possible at all.
As an example we can take sunlight illumining a pot.
The light is the illumining entity. The pot is what is illumined.
The pot can never illumine.
The light itself is non-objectifiable.
So one cannot mistake light for pot. One also cannot mistake the pot for light.
The pot cannot acquire luminosity.
The light cannot also acquire the colours of the pot, etc
The quality of the pot cannot be assumed by the light, much less the quality of the light assumed by the pot.

So light cannot be mistaken for pot. (This mixing up of 2 subtantives is called “dharmi adhyasa”.) At the same time the qualities of light and the qualities of the pot cannot also be mutually superimposed or mistaken for one another. (This is called “dharma adhyasa”.) Anatma is always composed of gunAs and in the case of Atma being nirgUna it cannot assume the qualities of any one gunA - so this is also not possible.

For example - "I am blind" - defect belonging to the eye is superimposed on the Atma I - this is an example of dharma adhyAsa.
Not only can the pot never become light nor can the light become pot, but there is no possibility of the pot being mistaken for light nor can the light ever be mistaken for the pot.
What the pUrvapakshin is intending to say is that when one says "I am a man" there is a gauna-prayoga (from a "real" association) - just like when we say blue flower - the blueness is a quality of the flower, similarly, the guna of shareera is assumed by the atma for real, in other word
Just like blueness of the sky is not bramA (illusion) but pramA(knowledge) similarly pramAta of atma is not a adhyAsa not a bhramA but a pramA - why not adhyAsa - ? because viruddhasvabhAvayohoh as we have already seen.
This Akshepa, very well articulated no doubt by the opponent, is actually mangalam for us. It is not a dUshanam but a bhUshanam.
How? Shankara negates the objection by fully ing with it - yes - such a thing is really NOT possible.

(to be continued)


Anonymous said...

May I suggest that you are being over complicated in your approach to the preamble. This is the effect of your bringing too much knowledge to it or of having heard discussions of it time and time again. You must put all that away and don the beginner's mind. There is nothing unusual about Sankara's starting from a puzzle or indeed the puzzle itself. The puzzle is this: how is knowledge possible? How does the object out there become knowledge in me. In a very general description or a basic intuition of what takes place - the object is in some manner placed in or on my consciousness. Please note that no recondite exploration of the nature of superimposition has taken place yet, so pre-empting that discussion is misleading. The line of his thought is clear on this. N.B. Of course knowledge is only a problem on the presumption that the object is really out there and that the knowledge that it has become is an accurate reflection of what it is.

Reflecting on the idea that the (knowledge of the) object is on or on the mind of the subject filling it to its edges, so to speak, leads him to consider the everday experience of confusion as analogous to this. Now we get to a discussion of the psychological phenomenon of confusion as an analogy for superimposition.
Best Wishes,
Michael Reidy

Shyam S said...

Dear Michael,
Humble pranams.
I am so glad to have a seasoned and respected scholar such as yourself read over my notes.
Your points are truly well-taken.

I am consciously trying to not bring to the table at this stage issues that have hitherto not yet been developed or dicussed by Shankara - for example I have studiously avoided any reference of mithya upto this point. Your comments will no doubt help me redouble my efforts to be alert on this score.

When I point out that it is strange Shankara is starting with a puzzle, it is from the standpoint of
a. a great work starting without an invocation of a deity - something the tikAkara notices and explains (away?) in the manner i have indicated - this is to me a minor point - more importantly -
b. from a "lay"person standpoint - there is no seeming connection at all - here is the "Brahma"Sutras starting with athato "brahma"jijnAsa (note advaita is not yet taken "for granted", and here is Adi Shankara starting with "Yushmatpratyaya gocharasya"!
It is this latter point that has led many to (mistakenly) dicredit Adi Shankara of hoisting his own philosophy on the Sutras.

Once again, thank you for your valuable comments and look forward to your continued and benevolent scrutiny.

Warmest regards

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.