Defense of a great Advaitin of the 20th Century.


Review of ‘A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by ´Sa ˙ nkaraBhagavadp¯ada’ – by Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian.

1. The first impression, on a quick glance at the beginning of the article, is that the criticisms of the author contained in the article, and addressed to the writings of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS), a recognized sage and scholar, are extensive to the latter’s whole opus, which comes from an uncompromising position concerning the teachings and method of Shankaracharia. Some of the words and expressions used in the article are quasi-litigious (e.g., ‘intellectual arrogance’, ‘vociferously opposes’, ‘pointless’, ‘glaring inconsistency’, ‘making errors’, ‘misconstruing’, ‘twisting’, ‘has invented a new term’, etc.), reminiscent of the theological disputes and diatribes in the European Middle Ages.

Evidently, SSS has his followers as well as his detractors, and the same can be said of the author of this article, who belongs to an opposite camp. Occasionally, he shows signs of (partial) approval of his adversary’s (if one can use this term) enunciates; for example: “No doubt SSS’s textual analysis skills are excellent, but the problem I see with SSS’s writings is his obsession with terminology, rather than philosophy. Indeed none of his works are about the philosophy of advaita [!], but are oriented almost exclusively towards contradicting previous commentators of ´Sa˙nkar¯ac¯arya”. And soon after that: “The difference between Padmapada and SSS is that the former is a philosopher, while the latter is a textual analyst”. Concerning these pervading criticisms of the work of SSS by the author, Ramakrishna Balasubramanian (RB), the reader may judge whether they are excessive, unwarranted, or justified.

The main criticism by the author, with respect of the interpretation of avidya by SSS, is that this is not due to a double superimposition of the self and the non-self, as the latter maintains, but only to a superimposition of a subject, non-self, on the self: “[T]he fundamental error is a superimposition of an observer on the real… and by a reverse process the inner self, which is the witness of everything, is superimposed on the inner-organ”. He calls this reverse act (or process, as he calls it) ‘natural’, since “a superimposition of observer on the self naturally leads to the imagination of objects ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ the observer, just as described by Gaud.ap¯ad¯ac¯arya”. He adds: “The usage of the continuative ‘adhyasya’ in the above passage also clearly indicates that the superimposition of an observer is avidy¯a and is prior to the reverse superimposition”.

Logically prior? Prior in time? Or simultaneous, by mutual implication? Before going further, the following is a quotation from the Introduction to BS Bh by Shankara:

“It is on the presupposition of this mutual superimposition of the self and the non-self, called avidya that all conventions of the means and objects of right knowledge – whether secular or sacred – proceed, as also all the Sastras dealing with injunction and prohibition or final release.”

The author cannot ignore that, and, indeed, under the section ‘In What Sense can Avidy¯a be Called Mutual Superimposition of the Real and Unreal?’ he states: “It is not completely incorrect to say that avidy¯a is the mutual superimposition of the real and unreal. ´ San˙ kar¯ac¯arya and Sure´svar¯ac¯arya do mention this, e.g., :de :h-A.a:tma:na.eaHI+ta:=e ;ta.=-A:Dya.a.=:ea:pa:Na.a in the prose section of Upade´s¯ahasr¯ı 2.62. This is because the superimposition of an observer on the inner-self naturally leads to the reverse process of superimposing the inner-self on the inner organ. But note the important fact that the reverse superimposition is that of the self onto the ego-mind-body complex. No where do we [find] statements that avidy¯a is the mutual superimposition of the real and unreal by the mind”. This is followed by some complicated argumentation I will not go into.

Here comes a rather important point; at least this is the way I see it: IS SUPERIMPOSITION PRIOR, SUBSEQUENT TO, OR COINCIDENTAL WITH IGNORANCE (AVIDYA)? Certainly, superimposition amounts to ignorance, which in most cases can be used as its synonym. This issue will be further elaborated in subsequent posts. The author continues: “… And, of course this ego sense is superimposed on the self due to avidy¯a … When the conception of j¯ıva itself is due to avidy¯a [or, alternately, to superimposition?], how can avidy¯a be the ‘natural tendency of the mind to superimpose the self and not-self?’”. We saw two paragraphs above that for him (RB) what is natural is the reverse process: the superimposition of the self on the inner organ only – he seems to give much importance to this point.

One could answer his question thus: “Is not the jiva, together with its internal organ, ‘created’ as by one ‘act’ (an act of pseudo-creation entailing the apparent multiplicity of phenomena, jivas, etc. – which act could be called ‘the principle of individuation’, or of ‘multiplicity’)?” This ‘act’ or ‘principle’ is nothing else than a myth (in illo tempore), accounting for, or illustrating, avidya or ignorance – hence the mind’s ‘natural tendency’ to superimpose the self and the non-self. Reminds one of the first vibration (throb) Ramesam was referring to… “and the subsequent harmless first I-consciousness thought is (in the classical terminology) Isvara.The subsequent ‘me’ is the ego or I-thought (ahankaravritti).”

In view of the above, the author’s following statements: “The conception of j¯ıva, i.e., the ‘individual soul’, is prior to that of the mind, since the mind is predicated of a j¯ıva.” [And so?] … “In any case, where did the mind spring up from to confuse the self and not-self? Is not the mind itself in the ‘not-self’ category?” — seem confusing and irrelevant.

Quotes of RS:

(1) “It is certainly ironic that SSS’s exposition of avidy¯a has the same problem, namely avidy¯a cannot account for its own substrate, namely the mind!”— I already dealt with that.

(2) “SSS misunderstands this superimposition and reverse superimposition as being performed by the mind. SSS’s confused understanding of avidy¯a has rather serious consequences, resulting in his confused understanding the role of ´sruti in facilitating knowledge, and an illogical examination of three states.”

2. We saw that the primary or prior, not to say exclusive, importance that the author, RB, gives to the superimposition of a subject, individual mind or jiva, on the self: “the superimposition of an observer is avidy¯a and is prior to the reverse superimposition” – not mentioning that Shankara does not talk of a ‘reverse process’, as if it was something happening through time, but of mutual superimposition of self and not-self.

As it was noted before, RB ‘half’ concedes the point:  “It is not completely incorrect to say that avidy¯a is the mutual superimposition of the real and unreal. ´ San˙ kar¯ac¯arya and Sure´svar¯ac¯arya do mention this … the superimposition of an observer on the inner-self naturally leads to the reverse process of superimposing the inner-self on the inner organ”. His objective in maintaining this priority of the subject in this ‘act’ seems to be to show that SSS is guilty of circularity (petitio principi, in logic). Even so, and rather surprisingly, he claims that avidya is not something subjective (neither is it ontic nor epistemic – see below).

To begin with, what is a jiva if not (essentially, or in fact), sat-chit-ananda, that is, the self Itself? Quite apart from mythology, and now speaking from vyavaharika, the subject or jiva, a living entity, carries already within itself, as it were, the superimposition of the self – it is already ‘done’, along with the reverse and simultaneous superimposition, non-self on self.

Thus it is not a question of priority, for this mutual superimposition is not a process in time, but something simultaneous, as just said, and, furthermore, without a beginning. It can then be said (as a teacher to his/her disciple) that the individual person or jiva is already ‘enlightened’, only he/she doesn’t know; a knower that is veiled: a paradox, difficult, or impossible for the mind to grasp – the same as saying that a person is not a “person”. The truth has to be dis-covered, un-veiled (aletheia, in ancient Greek philosophy).

Thus also, there is no circularity (a vicious circle) saying that avidya entails, and is entailed by, adhyasa – we have already advanced the explanation (under 1-) that the double superimposition is, logically and epistemically, a mutual implication or entailment, where time is not involved. This understanding is the result of a phenomenological analysis, quite close to the shruti and tarka of Advaita Vedanta tradition. The insight, intuition, or ‘revelation’, being universal, it becomes an established fact of empirical life. If we refer to logic in the analysis of this double concept (avidya-adhyasa), this logic is intrinsic. A real intuition (‘logos’ in Greek philosophy) cannot be illogical in any sense of the word; its logic is subsidiary or dependent, and is to be discovered, ‘seen’. This theme will be further developed in the next section.

To stress the fact that the double superimposition (of self and not-self) is responsible for all transactions in ‘normal’ or empirical life is not called for in this discussion, being a separate topic, but note what Shankara had said, quoted in the 1st section of this Review: “It is on the presupposition of this mutual superimposition of the self and the non-self, called avidya, that all conventions of the means and objects of right knowledge – whether secular or sacred – proceed, as also all the Sastras dealing with injunction and prohibition or final release.”

Still on the topic of avidya, and reiterating, or expanding on, some of the points already made, RB goes on to demonstrate that it is neither epistemic nor ontic.

• epistemic: of or relating to knowledge or knowing

• ontic: of, relating to, or having real being

Thus, according to him, avidya is not subjective, as some authors (Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati, Paul Hacker, etc.) maintain, as in this quotation: “the natural tendency of the mind to superimpose the self and the not-self on each other.”… “It is clear that the word Avidy¯awhich, derived as it is from the root Vid – to know, can primarily express only something epistemic” (SSS).

Further, in SSS’s words (in ‘Sankara’s Clarification of Certain Vedantic Concepts’, p.7):  “… (Ignorance) cannot be, obviously, a function of the mind… but nevertheless, we have no other instrument of knowledge, associated with which we can talk of ourselves as ignorant of or knowing anything”.

RB: “Since neither knowledge nor means of knowing exist in a vacuum, any discussion of epistemology has as its fundamental assumption that there is at least one knower/experiencer (i.e., j˜n¯atr./bhoktr. ). It should be clear that the assumption of existence of a bhoktr. is prior to any discussion of epistemology… Thus, the division subject-object is superimposed on brahman due to avidy¯a, which is the root cause of the distinctions we make, such as subjective and objective, epistemic and ontic. Clearly, it is circular logic (cakr¯a´sraya in the terminology of Indian logic) to categorize avidy¯a as subjective or epistemic, or even as ontic… [since] ‘San˙ kar¯ac¯arya clearly points out that both subject and object are superimposed on Brahman”.

We have established, however, that it is not only a question of the subject-object being superimposed on Brahman, but of avidya being intimately tied in, logically and epistemically, with the other fundamental notion, adhyasa, and that both notions are coeval or, we could say, congenital to the individual subject, this being a universal fact. And this is due to the type of psycho-physiological constitution of the subject – perceiver, enquirer – that the human being is [I owe this point to Ramachandra Puligandla, in ‘Jñana-Yoga – The Way of Knowledge’, 1997].

“… apart from superimposition there can be neither name nor form. It follows that superimposition is the only means by which expressible and communicable knowledge can be produced… without superimposition there cannot be talk of the world.”  – R. Puligandla.

In other words, in order to ‘gain’ a world one must lose a unitary vision of reality (must “lose one’s soul”). Being the kind of beings that ‘we’ are, we were bound to do that. That is the myth of Prometheus. And that is called ignorance… or pride?

(Any Sanskrit words, or their transliteration, have been copied from the article and pasted on)

3. RB: “Now the error in calling avidy¯a as something epistemic should be obvious. The following extract, from [SSS], is clearly putting the philosophical cart before the horse:

‘Avidy¯a is subjective and has been explained by ´ Sa ˙ nkara as the natural tendency of the mind to superimpose the self and the not-self on each other’…

When the conception of j¯ıva itself is due to avidy¯a, how can avidy¯a be the ‘natural tendency of the mind to superimpose the self and not-self’?” (*)

Our reply: To repeat, it is not only avidya, but avidya intimately, logically associated with adhyasa, which is responsible for all divisions and superimpositions. No reason why this should be considered a circular argument.

But further: Although we have already dealt with this issue sufficiently, we could add: Both concepts (avidya and adhyasa) are artificial, notional, in the sense that there is ultimately no reality in their referent, and imply one another, as previously stated (except for the non-technical, broad sense of avidya or ignorance – e.g., mistaking a lamp-post for a human being, ignorance of many facts, etc.). If they resemble the chicken-egg dilemma, is because here (in the course of life) time appears to be involved – avidya itself being its conjurer, as SSS has indicated. This, in what pertains to empirical life, but the intuition to which Shankara (and to some degree some of his predecessors, Gaudapada in particular) arrived comes directly from Consciousness; it, verily, is ‘original’: ‘Outside time’ in its origin, but ‘in time’ in its ‘descent’ or projection. To be clear, this is still vyavahara.

In other words, there is a kind of avidya or ignorance which, being pervading and universal in the human sphere, has as its modus operandi superimposition, adhyasa – “There is no other Ignorance worth the name, which, according to Shankara, is directly sublated by Vidya…” (‘Vedantins Meet’, Introduction, SSS).

“Everything is produced by ignorance, and dissolves in the wake of Knowledge.” – Aparokshanubhuti.

“That Inner Dweller, The Witness, all knowing and unobjectifiable, appears to become a separate object through the false superimposition that is avidyA” – Suresvara).

Avidya’s elimination is brought about, not by a thrust of an Alexandrian sword, as if it were a riddle or a Gordian knot, but by understanding what is going on. Indeed, the author (RB) traces this differentiation within avidya to Shankara: “Many times ´ Sa ˙ nkar¯ac¯arya and Sure´svar¯ac¯arya compare the avidy¯a due to which we superimpose false limiting adjuncts on brahman to truly epistemic errors.” But then he uses this affirmation by Shankara and Suresvara for his own purposes by adding: “… there is also a difference between avidy¯a and commonplace epistemic errors… the fundamental error is the superimposition of a ‘knower’ on brahman, whereas epistemic errors presuppose the existence of a ‘knower’.”

SSS would of course agree that that difference exists, that “a wider ignorance engulfs within its range the truth and error which (we) recognize in ordinary life”; that, “since no human thought-process is possible without the pre-supposition of adhyasa, this latter is pre-eminently entitled to be called Avidya (cf. Adhyasa Bhasia)”.

The difference is, first, that ‘the fundamental error’ consists in a double superimposition (Shankara) per primam, not only that of the ‘knower’ on Brahman.

Secondly, since both concepts, avidya, and adhyasa, play an important, technical role in the philosophy and logic of Advaita Vedanta, both can be considered as epistemic, pace RB.

Thirdly, though artificial or imaginary (not embedded in reality), they have consequences in empirical life, as it was said above, which reinforces the opinion just made. RB admits that in this last sense, and in this sense only, it can be admitted that avidya is both epistemic and ontic (“since the effect of avidy¯a is the perceived schism between the observer and the observed. To give a modern analogy, light is neither a wave nor a particle. But it does exhibit characteristics of both, so it could be called both a wave and a particle in that sense…”). He has finally granted what he was so strenuously resisting! – what else is there for him to save, or to confront?

Addendum: The pair, or double concept, that is avidya-adhyasa is a paradox. It amounts to, or results in, a knowledge that is ignorant, or an ignorance that is, or turns into, (a type of) knowledge. It is the root of all types of ignorance in that it mistakes reality for unreality, and vice-versa — a veritable tour de force as by a Demiurge seemingly benevolent towards mankind. Benevolent because the fire he stole from the gods and gave to mankind has been responsible for science and technology, and whatever ‘progress’ has come along with it.

[As an aside, Aristotle was bothered with the chicken-egg dilemma, and concluded that both bird and egg must have always existed (!). For Plato, they are ideas, archetypes in the intelligible world, more real than their shadows in the lower realm, our conventional world.]

(*) RB: “Note again that it is not “naisargika”, or natural, for the mind to superimpose the real and unreal. Instead, it is natural that the ego (including the mind) is superimposed on the self [by whom, or what?], and a reverse superimposition logically follows. This is made clear by ´ Sa ˙ nkar¯ac¯arya in his adhy¯asabh¯as. ya. SSS misunderstands this superimposition and reverse superimposition as being performed by the mind.”

Is there not a contradiction or, at least, obscurity in the above paragraph?

4. Under the section ‘Tarka vs Sruti’ the more or less unconscious device (upadhi) of removing the subject from the ‘picture’ aimed at understanding the world is broached, and the author (RB) quotes E. Schrödinger in that connection: “It became inherent in any attempt to form a picture of the objective world such as the Ionians made”. And so, “…the desire for understanding the world through our imperfect sensory knowledge invariably leads to certain, frequently overlooked, assumptions”.

As a digression, it is curious that the first sleight of hand – by ‘primordial man’, the demiurge of mythology and Platonic philosophy – consisted in carrying out a scission within reality so that subject and object would emerge in opposition to each other: God and man (the Garden of Eden), the One and the many. A second scission was done by philosophical, or ‘thinking’, man, by removing the human subject altogether – provisionally, for the Ionian physiologoi knew what they were doing, though, it is related, Thales of Miletus fell once into a ditch while absorbed looking at the firmament’s stars in utter wonder. Certainly, this device – or both combined – made possible all the empirical sciences, literature, art, and everything we know about the world. If there were no division or separation (no adhyasa and its attending ‘names and forms’), there would be no ‘world’. Allusion was made to this parallel mythological account previously, as well as to the kind of ignorance that became knowledge (with small case).

The human subject, the observer, was ‘re-introduced’ in the latter part of the 20thCentury by modern science, as is well known, not only in physics, anthropology, etc., but in other sciences as well (except mathematics and perhaps biology), the split never having taken place in the plastic arts, in music, and poetry… the Romantic movement took care of that. Could anyone imagine a sociology, or an anthropology, where the observer/scientist is absent, removed? Well, it has been done! – for the sake of neutral (wert frei), objective, detached observation, and description of findings in these fields. And so, once again, the anthropologist as an individual subject, interacting with other subjects, has been re-introduced, with the satisfaction of everyone concerned. Duality cannot be removed from empirical – and human – sciences, indeed from any science.

Western Orientalists too were at it, guilty, it is now realized, of this ‘objectivist’ bias when studying and analyzing Eastern customs, religions, and philosophies for all of 19th and the first half of 20th centuries – Schopenhauer and few others being exceptions, these latter not listed under the denomination of ‘Orientalists’. Were the former not aware of the heavy cultural baggage (and prejudices, namely, Eurocentrism) they were carrying on their shoulders? Tribal or native people, and their customs, were just specimens to be studied ‘in the laboratory’… everything, including sacred traditions, written or oral, forms of worship, etc., were suitable objects for ‘Western science’ to dissect and study. Quite frequently working, functional concepts, such as ‘primitive’, ‘pre-rational’, ‘naïve’ were in wide circulation in learned books and journals.

Under ‘The Uniqueness of ´Sruti Generated Knowledge’, we read:

“Sruti cannot be challenged by mere human reasoning…  Hence, reasoning without the Veda, and based on the independent thinking of persons is inconclusive…  Many other passages asserting that ´sruti alone can reveal the self can be found in the works of ´ San˙ kar¯ac¯arya and Sure´svar¯ac¯arya… anubhava cannot mean direct brahman-knowledge, for the simple reason that if direct brahman-knowledge were already present, there would be no reason for any inquiry.”

Where did Sri Satchidanandendra (the brunt of RB’s criticisms) write that ‘direct Brahman-knowledge is already present’? He did indeed write: “If that [the Self] were altogether unknown all efforts for one’s own benefit would be meaningless.” (cf. beginning of next par., ‘Contribution of S…’). The meaning of this last sentence is clearly different from the one prior to it (by RB). In any case, the above opinion of the author can be countered by the following observations: 1. It is not a question of challenging the Vedas, or of ‘independent thinking’ but, rather, of taking the former as a basis for reflection and inspiration. 2. The scriptures, being couched in language, are based on categorial frameworks (as noted in section 3, above), whereas the transcendent cannot be captured in any framework. And 3. Direct Brahman-knowledge is ‘already present’, but only in those with eyes to see (anubhava).

In ‘Contribution of Satchidanandendra Saraswathi to 20th Century Advaita’, we find the following: “He [SSS] makes a challenging statement that witness is contrasted with the ego; one uniform and unchanging self of all beings is alluded to… and in a revealing passage he says that the Sastra is the final pramana because by removing the ego-hood of the seeker it annuls all notion of validity attached to the concept of thinking and the thought, and reduces even itself into a no pramana just like a dream pramana which is sublated on walking (cf. Gita Bh. 2.69)… The Mundaka Up. declares that even the Vedas are lower knowledge (l.i.4-6), higher knowledge being revealed ‘to the wise’. The Katha Up. confirms this (i.ii.23): ‘The self is not known through the study of scriptures…’”.

RB then continues:

“According to SSS, anubhava is essentially the experience of the three states. SSS also frequently uses ‘intuit’ as a translation of anubhava, since for him the deep-sleep state directly affirms the identity of the individual and supreme selves… Both Sv¯amiGambh¯ır¯ananda and SSS interpret anubhava-avas¯anam as anubhaveavas¯anam, or (brahman-knowledge) ending in direct-experience… (‘For knowledge of brahman has to culminate in intuition, and relates to an existent entity’ – SSS translation of Shankara. SSS also wrote: ‘Express statements and other textual aids … are not the only means of valid self-knowledge in the case of inquiry into the nature of Brahman as they are in the case of inquiry into religious duty’)”.

Answer: Isn’t that so, consistent with the two scriptural quotations in the previous paragraph? To be noted that here (anubhava, intuition) there is no longer duality, for ego-hood (and triputi) are thereby transcended.

The author then adds:  “Indeed, SSS is downplaying the importance of ´sruti as a means of knowledge by itself, although in an almost imperceptible way, in the very chapter asserting the supremacy of the ´sruti. This is because he says that ´sruti is to be interpreted on the basis of anubhava, and that means ´sruti becomes subsidiary to anubhava itself… and he actually calls anubhava as the kingpin of all pram¯’… [But] ´ Sa ˙ nkar¯ac¯arya is merely saying that anubhava is useful in the sense of interpreting ´sruti, just like the other exegetical techniques mentioned before”.

Anubhava – only ‘useful’?

5. A tarka (reasoning, argumentation) is required for the analysis of the means of knowledge (and anubhava?), as both SSS and RB agree – consistent with Shankara’s position. That is, language and thought, needless to say, have a role to play, chiefly for exposition and analysis.

However, after two long, dense paragraphs RB contends: “If the tarka required to examine anubhava is itself completely dependent on ´sruti, then by no means is anubhava the ‘kingpin’ of pram¯”

Prior to this, SSS was quoted as maintaining that “for this unique tarka all universal anubhavas or experiences (intuitive experiences) themselves are the support.” The author states that this affirmation involves circular argumentation and that to say that Shankara interprets the Vedas as being consistent with anubhava is wrong, the truth being the other way around, that anubhava is consistent with the Vedas: “it should be clear that according to Sure´svar¯ac¯arya, the direct realization is directly from just ´sruti itself, thus satisfying the criteria for it to be a pram¯an.a…. The direct realization of the self is from ´sruti alone.”

‘Sruti alone’…  Unaided? What about a/the particular mind that may (or may not) be ripe so as to capture the full meaning of the sruti? A mind, that is, and the experience of anubhava which, it may be said, brings about the transformation of that mind:

“Brahman… is realized only through the scriptures and in Samadhi” – ‘Brahma Sutras’ (Bashya), 2.1.14 (transl. Swami Vireswarananda; Advaita Ashrama, 1993). The Swami could have written: ‘anubhava’ instead of ‘samadhi’, unless he meant sahaja Samadhi (‘the natural state’). In connection with this, the author’s saying that interpretation of the Vedas as being consistent with anubhava is wrong, the truth being the opposite, that is, anubhava being consistent with the Vedas, it can be argued that a scripture, at a particular time, is the occasion for an intuition of the truth/reality to arise, since all truths are contained in the mind – or consciousness – potentially at least). The inanity of this kind of argumentation should be evident. As to circularity, it would only be saying, ‘Food is for alimentation. And what is alimentation? The eating of food’.

The Vedas are literature (‘language and thought’), even if enlightened literature. They are mithya. A prepared mind – potentially or actually enlightened or awakened – is required to extract, to see what the import of any part of the shruti is. The other way around, which is what RB maintains (anubhava being consistent with the Vedas), could be considered as ‘putting the cart before the horse’, an allegation he himself made against SSS and referred to previously. The argument we are putting forward as a defense of SSS’s stance is a repetition of what was said towards the end of the 4th section of this Review: “It is not a question of challenging the Vedas, or of ‘independent thinking’ but, rather, of taking them as a basis for reflection and inspiration”. In essence, mind is intellection (buddhi)-consciousness-atman. Thus consciousness, through buddhi-mind is prior to the Vedas (revelation) – we said, ‘a prepared mind’. In other words, the Vedas may be enlivened by a prepared, mature mind, without which they are just printed paper or sounds.

At the risk of being tedious, to carp on the same issue, we may ask the following question: Which is the kingpin, the text itself, or the grasping of the text? This last is akhandakara-vritti, which destroys every other vritti and results in direct perception of reality (saksatkara)*. As to sastra-yonitvat, which is the third aphorism of the Brahmasutras “(Brahman is not known from any other source since) the scriptures alone are the means of Brahman knowledge”, it can be interpreted as ‘Brahman being omniscient because of Its being the source of the scriptures’, as Swami Vireswarananda has indicated in his translation of the sutra (referred to above). Thus, reality, Consciousness, is first, whence Its manifestations in all realms. And this is inclusive, not exclusive, of what traditions other than the Hindu Vedanta are witnesses of.

What was SSS guilty of, one may ask, since, as he wrote in ‘Intuition of Reality’ (p.104), “The highest Truth can be known only by means of suggestion of the S’ruti or an Acharya by making use of one’s own purified mind alone?” Supposedly, RB is not satisfied with such a ‘weak’ acknowledgment of the role of shruti on the part of SSS. On the other hand, he cannot really object to the mention of a ‘purified mind’ (antahkarana suddhi) as a prerequisite – which is not the same thing as ‘the will of the person’, as RB attributes to SSS in this context.

 *In connection with (the content of) this notion, SSS criticises the idea that it can be achieved by repetition of the Mahavakyas, laya-chintana, etc. (‘Salient Features of Shankara’s Vedanta’, p. 99).

6. RB continues to take SSS to task in the final two sections of his article: 5) ‘AVIDYA and MAYA’, and 6) ‘“COMPARATIVE BASHYA STUDIES” AND OTHER SUCH DISEASES’.

Under 5) RB sees an inconsistency in SSS, since the latter had previously stated that avidya and maya are not synonyms, while in another context he had stated that “To avoid confusion, we shall restrict the use of words avidy¯a and m¯ay¯a to denote ignorance and name and form respectively”. The author insists in the equivalence of both terms, as they occur in many texts: “… note that even in these passages avidy¯a is not a “subjective” ignorance, but something which transcends subjectiveness and objectiveness. Otherwise, we will be placed in the absurd position of claiming that a subjective error, i.e., avidy¯a, is causing an objective reality, i.e., m¯ay¯a (name and form)”.

By ‘objective reality’ one understands, of course, phenomena, and this is nothing else than mithya, even though RB considers maya as both ontic and epistemic, unlike avidya. In this connection, SSS would agree with his statement: “While the terms are used to mean different things in some contexts, they can also mean the exact same thing in some other contexts”.

Under section 6) (listed above), we read: “Brahmavidy¯a is a result of hearing and cogitating over ´srutiv¯akyas. Bh¯as.yas are merely meant to help understand some of the subtle points in the ´sruti, which we may overlook. One should not develop the disease of comparing different bh¯as. yas, and cataloging every difference in their dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s. Such pedantic exercises merely serve to distract from the main thrust of the works, namely the advaita tattva. No doubt there are some differences found in the expositions of various authors. However, thinking that there is an ‘original and true’ method to be found by such pedantic studies of various works is a mere chimera. It merely serves to reinforce the reality of Ambrose Bierces definition of learning as “the ignorance of the studious”.

Those are strong words (could they not be addressed to the author himself?), particularly when intended for such scholar and sage as Sri

Satchidanandendra. Finding, and making a painstaking exposition of, an ‘original and true method’, which RB in a demeaning way calls ‘pedantic’, refers to the exhaustive work carried out by SSS throughout his whole career with respect of the traditional method accepted by Shankaracharya and based on the import of the sentence in the BhG Bh. Xlll.13: ‘For there is the saying of those who know the true tradition, “That which cannot be expressed (in its true form directly) is expressed (indirectly) through false attribution and subsequent retraction”’.

In his Introduction to his monumental work, ‘The Method of the Vedanta’, SSS writes: “Efforts have also been made, within the limits of the author’s capacity, to bring out how the Veda and reason and immediate intuition co-operate together… [along with] an earnest seeker… and (how the Upanishads derive their authority) from their power to lead ultimately to a direct experience of the Self, arising from the cancellation of all play of the empirical means of knowledge with their objects”. Further: “Empty dialectic based on perception and inference alone (sushka-tarka) amount to nothing more than personal opinion, and has no place in this discipline. Here, the term ‘authoritative means of knowledge’ (pramana) is applied (not to the reasoning itself but) to that direct experience in which reasoning must invariably culminate if it is to be called Upanishadic in the proper sense of the term”. There is the key.

[Though unnecessary for our purposes, it is worthwhile to complete the above-quoted paragraph in SSS’s own words: “And the particular nature of direct experience as acknowledged in Vedanta has been explained as direct experience of the Self. This is what follows when the Self has been realized in its own true nature after all superimposition has been abolished through metaphysical knowledge (vidya). The purpose of this explanation is to rule out the teaching about ‘trance’ (samadhi) and so forth found in other schools.”]

Towards the end of the long article, RB goes into considerable detail concerning the ‘reaction’ of the ‘Tradition’ to SSS’s works, some in favor and some against. To explain why SSS ‘misunderstood’ Shankara, he lists 1) lack of formal training in Sampradayic subjects (nyaya and purvamimamsa), and 2) his – along with Krishnaswamy Iyer’s (his mentor) – basic training was a Western education.

Before the Conclusion, RB ends with the statement: “No doubt SSS’s textual analysis skills are excellent, but the problem I see with SSS’s writings is his obsession with terminology, rather than philosophy. Indeed none of his works are about the philosophy of Advaita but are oriented almost exclusively towards contradicting previous commentators of ´Sa˙nkar¯ac¯arya”.

And in the Conclusion, he adds: “I feel Padmap¯ad¯ac¯arya has been meted out a grave injustice by many authors, including SSS, who have largely misunderstood him. The difference between Padmap¯ada and SSS is that the former is a philosopher, while the latter is a textual analyst” (!).

Final comment: To try and make a competent and thorough defense of Swami Satchidananandendra as against the allegations or criticisms of him by Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian contained in his article, would require an erudition and, presumably, formal training in ‘Sampradayic subjects’ which this writer cannot presume to be in possession of.

Alberto Martin Garcia

About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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