Consciousness, Shri Shankara on Brahman.5 min read

Brahman (The Absolute)

The opposite of the Absolute is the relative. “The relative” means, in a certain sense, that when you think or talk of it, you do so “in relation to” something. It is relational; it is like something, it is unlike another thing.

“The Absolute” of Shri Shankara is not “the Absolute” of the Buddhists or Hegel. It is not only transcendent but also immanent in every object, nay, the very being of every object. It is a universal category presupposed by conceivable things. It includes the concepts of substance, attribute, cause, effect, idea, illusion and error. It is not limited in its conception or application to any group or class.

It is the foundation of all conceivable entities. All knowledge, whether conceptual or perceptual, presupposes the Self which cognizes it.

It is not something almost nothing, as some Western thinkers suppose. Perhaps Shri Shankara anticipated the theories of these agnostically- minded thinkers when he postulated Brahman as omniscient and omnipotent at the beginning of his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. “The Absolute” of Vedanta is the universal and ultimate Reality which is free from all distinctions and differences and similitude. Think of yourself and see if it is so or not. Is “Myself” relational? When you think of yourself, do you at the same time think of something other to complement the Self? No. The Self is Absolute. What is then “the Absolute”?  “THAT THOU ART”

Consider Shri Shankara’s statement: “Brahman is Truth, Knowledge

and Infinite (Satyam jnanam anantam)”. Truth is no truth if it is limited and conditioned. It will be subject to development and decay and, like any other object of conception and perception, will of necessity be inert, dark and painful. Truth must be infinite. As infinite, it must be beyond the grasp of the mind and the senses. It is not a God but an ass which you can perceive and conceive of in finite terms. Again, It is not nothing. “TAT TWAM ASI”

“The Absolute” is infinite (anantam). Brahman is not limited by time, space or substance. Infinity of Self is infinity of the highest type; its nature is, in the words of Shri Shankara: ‘Therefore Atman is, without a break, infinite”. (Commentary on the Taittiriya Upanishad). The infinity of “the Absolute” is not of the type of the infinity of space or time. Shri Shankaracharya says: “It is the existence of a thing different from a given thing that limits the latter,”

Time is not space; space is not time. Each limits the other. But not Atman. What is it? “TAT TWAM ASI”

According to the modem idea of “the Absolute”, It is a unity in difference. “The Absolute” is supposed to be a spiritual Principle which expresses Itself in the different parts, and not a bare Identity which excludes all difference. The Western idea is that the Infinite is a concrete Universal which realises itself in the finite particulars.

This is not the idea of “the Absolute” of Shri Shankara.

All rules of determinate knowledge are inapplicable to Brahman.

It has nothing different from Itself, nothing whatsoever like It. The intellect cannot grasp It because the intellect comprehends everything through specific relations between itself and things different from it.

Brahman cannot even be named, because a name means something which is different from other things, for instance “a cow” means that it is “not a horse”.

Both Nargarjuna and Hegel postulate a Pure Being which is, in other words, a Pure Nothing. Nagarjuna prescribes silence as the only wise course for a philosopher. It is objected that if “the Absolute” (Brahman) cannot be known as we know a rose, then the definition of It as Sat-Chit-Ananda will be as meaningless as the assertion that “the son of a barren woman, having bathed in the waters of the mirage and adorned with sky-blossoms, is going armed with a bow made of a hare’s horn”. (Commentary on Taittiriya Upanishad). The reply is that “the Absolute” is the Self (Atman) because of which all objects have a meaning and which therefore cannot be meaningless. The Self is presupposed by all experience; how can it be a Nothing, as Deussen thinks? The Absolute has no presupposition.

It may be asked how there can be cognition of “the Absolute” by meditation etc. The answer is given by Shri Shankaracharya in his commentary on verse 50 of Chapter XVIII of the Gita Shastra: “Brahman, though eminently evident, intimately known, very near, and essentially the Self, appears to the un-understanding people as obscure, difficult to be known, remote and different from the Self. But to those whose intellect (buddhi) has been withdrawn from the external objects, there can be nothing so blissful, so evident, so easily comprehensible, so near”. Brahman is unknown to the intellect soiled with mis-identification. If the Self be unknown, all actions for the attainment of an objective will be meaningless, says the great Acharya. Though apparently learned, Deussen is highly stupid.

Adwaita is not a purely intellectual adventure of purely theoretical interest. It is a practical discipline meant to lead the ignorant self to the highest bliss by shravana, manana and nididhyasana.

Bradley proves the incompetence of thought by thought itself. In Adwaita, the Self is revealed by the Self; nay, It is ever-revealed but obscured.

Let it be clearly understood that Madhyamika Buddhism is not Adwaita, and that the philosophy of Adwaita is far, far higher than the scepticism of the deluded Buddhists. Any attempt to prove that Shri Shankara is indebted to the Madhyamikas is futile and perhaps mischievous. The Absolute” of Shri Shankara is not such a transcendental principle as “the Absolute” of Chandrakirti. A careful analysis of knowledge and experience proves the reality of Brahman, while the Madhyamika position of Shunyata is absurd.

Do study carefully and with composed and withdrawn mind, the Acharya of Adwaita with a Guru, if truth is dear to you.