Consciousness, Shri Shankara on the Kshanika-Vijnana and Madhyamika theories3 min read

The Kshanika-Vijnana and Madhyamika theories.

The Madhyamika nihilists of the Buddhist school, deluded as they are, deny the very existence of Consciousness and audaciously reduce it to Pure Nothing. Before them, the Yogachara school of the Buddhists reduced everything to momentary flashes of consciousness. William James held a similar position and challenged the existence of Consciousness. The Madhyamikas are perhaps too bold in trying to demolish what they call the ‘superstition, of Consciousness. F. H. Bradley is rightly characterized as the modem Madhyamika. He denies the Self and self-consciousness as mere appearances, but tries to find a home for them in the Absolute. Nagarjuna finds the Self as unreal as the horns of a hare.

Shri Shankara looks upon the doctrine of Shunyata (Void) as unworthy of consideration; yet his scathing criticism proves that a significant denial has, even in the absence of an experience, a reference to something real as its basis. If you negate the illusory snake as unreal, you assert the perceived rope as real. Shri Shankara says:

“If everything is denied and no reality is left, the negation becomes impossible, and consequently that entity which we started to deny becomes real.” If the position of the subjective idealists of the Buddhist school is a consideration of the reality or unreality of the object of knowledge , or even if such consideration is suspended, we cannot but presuppose the reality of Knowledge or Consciousness. The nihilists have to consider that non-existence or abhava is knowable and also permanent.

The behaviouristic and non-realistic doctrines of Consciousness do not postulate the universal denial of Consciousness and attribute it to a special type of relation between the external stimulus and the organism. They too do not escape the criticism of Shri Shankara, Let us ask these philosophers, including William James, whether the two neutral events into which they reduce the bits of Consciousness are themselves unknown or known. If unknown, then they are pure nothing and, as such, nothing can be predicated of them. They can in this case explain nothing. The only other alternative is that they are objects of knowledge and as such presuppose the reality of Knowledge or Consciousness. When I doubt, I cannot doubt that I doubt, and as doubting is a mode of Consciousness, when we doubt we assert the reality of Consciousness. Refuting the theories of subjective idealism and the Madhyamika nihilism, that illustrious dialectician Shri Sureshwaracharya, with his characteristic terseness, observes: “All objects in so far as they are appealed to in explanation of something known, must have their prius in “I think”, “I know” or “I am conscious”. The epistemological priority of Consciousness is undeniable. Shri Sureshwaracharya calls it Atmanpurvaka.

The unwarranted postulate to which the Western thinkers give allegiance is that Consciousness is an object and it can be investigated like any other object. Shri Shankara has repeatedly asserted that Consciousness is above the subject-object relationship. Kant, Green, J. Ward and others have reduced Consciousness to a zero and drifted into agnosticism. In the Kena Upanishad it is clearly stated that Self is the mind of the mind, the eye of the eye. This is the second feature of the Adwaita theory of Consciousness.

It is absurd to believe that all that is real must be an object of thought. Atman is self-revealed (swayamprakasha). Under the light of Self the proving process is made possible. Hegel says that Consciousness is comparable with the light which reveals itself and other objects. If you identify Self or Consciousness with its contents, you will never have a clear conception of it. Hume, Bradley and Pringle-Pattison have fallen into the same error. “Self is different from any object in the world but that does not mean it is unknown,” says Shri Shankara in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad.

Both materialism and agnosticism start with the same fallacious assumption that Consciousness is an object of thought.