The Charvaka and Nyaya-Vaisheshika Theories.
In Shri Shankara‘s time there was a crude form of materialism associated with the school of Charvaka. A good account of this erroneous theory is found in Sarva Darshana Sangraha. According to this school, Consciousness is a by-product of matter. It is like the infatuating property of the drug Cannabis indica or the inebriation of alcohol. When the physical elements are shaped into a body, Consciousness is born of them. Shri Shankara calls it Bhuta-dharma, the property of matter, to denote the position of the materialists. Shri Shankara asks: “What is the nature of this Consciousness which the materialists hold to have its origin in matter?” It must either be perceptible to the elements or it must be a quality of the physical elements. In either case the position confronts formidable difficulties. If Consciousness is perceived by the elements, it is an object of perception of the material elements. In that case it cannot be a product of matter, for the subject must be different from the object. It is absurd to think that the physical elements can objectify their own qualities of form, colour and others. If Consciousness is a product of matter, it is absurd to think that it can make material things its object. It is like thinking that a man can ride on his own back. Shri Shankara therefore concludes that Consciousness must be different from the material objects. The Self which is essentially Knowledge, must be different from the physical body. Matter is perceived by Consciousness and, as such, Consciousness cannot be identified with matter. Shri Shankara’s arguments, in this respect, find favour with such a great realist as Professor Alexander, He says: “I cannot have knowledge of my mind in the sense of making it an object of contemplation.”
The second argument of Shri Shankaracharya is that that which is an object of Consciousness cannot be a factor prior to Consciousness, in respect of the alleged origin of Consciousness. T. H. Green, refuting the illogical claims of materialism, remarks that matter is an element in the world of Consciousness. If matter is, primarily, an unknown negation of Consciousness, it cannot explain the rise of Consciousness; it cannot be external to Consciousness. T. H. Green, as is seen here follows his great predecessor Shri Shankara in that respect. Shri Shankara makes it plain that Consciousness is a Reality that is totally free from the attributes that are known or knowable as objects (Vishaya). To reproduce a well-known expression of Kant, Consciousness cannot be a product of nature. Listen to the crushing argument of Shri Shankaracharya: “The objects of knowledge have their determination in time.
They refer to past, present and future; but That for which the temporal relations have a meaning cannot be conditioned in time. It is in this sense an Eternal Present (Sarvada Vartamana Swabhava)”. Locke and a few other Western thinkers adhere to the theory that there is a spiritual soul-substance underlying the fleeting states of consciousness. The Nyaya-Vaisheshika school of ancient India advocated the same theory, as is evident to the students of that small classic Tarka Sangraha. This theory is simple and its persuasive appeal is great, “Knowledge is an attribute of Self”, says Annambhatta. The philosophers of the school of Rishi Kanada hold that Consciousness is produced in the same way as the red is produced in a jar through its connection with fire. According to Shri Shankaracharya, this theory is evidently fallacious. Lord Haldane and Caird have ably exposed this theory and its fallacies.
The Self is above the trio of the knower, knowing and the known.
The above-mentioned theory is often uncritically accepted. Its fallacies are exposed by the Acharya in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad. The categories of substance, attribute and causality are not the conditions under which the Conscious Principle can be known.
The Self and the not-Self, emphasises Shri Shankara, are as different from each other as light is from darkness. The conditions of objective knowledge are inapplicable to the Self which, like the light of the Sun in respect of the objects of the world, is presupposed by all objects which are known. Note this great assertion of Shri Shankara in his commentary on the Taittiriya Upanishad: “An object can be known only when it is differentiated from things other than itself.” You know a lotus when and in so far as it is distinguished by its attributes, blue colour and sweet scent, from the objects other than itself. The final conditions of an object, according to Shri Shankara, are: generic unity, specific difference, act, quality, relative space, time, causality, and non-contradiction. But they are not applicable to the Conscious Principle (Atman) who is nan-dual, free from all distinctions and differences. From Aristotle to Kant, no philosopher has added to the categories postulated by Shankara Swami.
An acceptance of the thesis that Consciousness is the result of the mechanical relation between the mind and the external object must lead to the theory that the perception of ideas is to the soul what motion is to the body, that is, not its essence but one of its operations. Shri Shankara points out that Consciousness, in such a theory, will be an adventitious attribute and the soul essentially an unconscious entity. Water may be heated while on the fire but by nature it is not hot. How do the materialists solve this puzzle? Shridhara Swami, in his Nyayakandana, reduces the argument of the materialists to absurdity. He asks what is the unitary principle, the co-ordinating factor in the perception of a fruit and the water it induces in the mouth as a result of a former experience of the taste of the fruit.