How can we imagine that consciousness originally does not exist

In the school of Shri Ramanuja and other theistic teachers, the soul (Self) is atomic by nature. It cannot transcend its atomic nature and cannot attain its all-expansive character. But when the bondage of the soul is broken and the influence of karma is no longer operative it grows in expansiveness under the influence of devotion to Ishvara. Under the divine influence the karma disappears and the reception of divine bliss becomes possible. Thus they hold the soul is dynamic and atomic.

The functions of the soul, generally speaking, in all the schools of Vedanta are knowledge, will, action and feeling. These functions are called vrittis. In the Vedanta of Shri Shankara the vrittis are accepted as the functions of the jiva but they are transformations or modifications of the mental consciousness. They are not inherent in the Self. They are falsely identified with the Self and are supposed erroneously to be created in the Self. Among the vrittis the functioning of buddhi, the higher intellect, is given prominence. Buddhi is attributed with a critical reflection and discrimination, and knowledge is given by their appreciation. In other words, it may be said that the buddhi is predominated by the faculty of sattwa and is transparent and the Self is reflected in it clearly. Self-analysis through vichara is possible in buddhi and it ultimately leads to the cognition of identity. Peeling and will are not given so much importance in Shri Shankara’s philosophy. This is a point of great difference between the Vedanta and the Western schools of thought. The will and the feeling function in the pure plane, of nature and are instruments to satisfy the thirst (trishna) of the jiva. They strengthen the individualistic consciousness and lead to the endless revolving of the wheel of Prakriti. They are instruments of the impulses and inner drives, Buddhi alone is pure, and reflection takes place in it and not in feelings and will. A study of the Shastra implies function of buddhi. Purification of the buddhi by study, vairagya and meditation, is a great means to divine cognition. It is rightly held that the system of Shri Shankara is intellectualistic.

In the system of Shri Ramanuja the jivatman is at once a knower, a doer and an enjoyer. It is concrete self-energising consciousness. It enjoys the fruit of its karma and is a doer as well. The agent and the doer are the same, they hold. In this system, the concrete spiritual Self when freed from nature’s touch and influence functions as pure atomic consciousness, united to Ishwara through devotion and service. A devoted follower of Ishwara enjoys the response of infinite love and knowledge. But the ego has the privilege of the eternal service of the Lord.

Shri Vallabha holds that the soul is atomic consciousness with predominating intelligence. It is a spark of divine consciousness. In the individual condition the soul lacks bliss – Anandam, but as the individuality is a creation of avidya, the soul’s natural purity and integrity are never lost. The jiva can re-acquire them under the spiritual longing and adaptation. This is the Shuddha Advaita of Shri Vallabha. The jiva never loses its atomicity even under moksha, in this system. Shri Vallabha denies blissfulness to the jiva except in the state of pure spirituality.

Shri Ramanuja holds the importance of both knowledge and service. The joy of fellowship with Ishvara in service and devotion is associated with devotion to Ishvara. It is the satisfaction of the demands of the intellect which leads to love and joy, according to Shri Ramanuja. The case is otherwise with the Bengal school of Vaishnavism. But they are not anti-intellectualistic.

None of the theistic schools of Vedanta accept the view of the Naiyayikas that consciousness (Jnana) originates out of the union of the Self and mental consciousness. It is an impossible hypothesis, they hold. How can we imagine that consciousness originally does not exist and comes into being on the union of beings which are non-consciousness?

Index for this series on Fundamental points on the Advaita of Shri Shankara that are overlooked or misunderstood:

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