A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of atman, jiva, ishvara, ekajivavada and drishtisrishtivada: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifteenth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 15 - Ātman, Jīva, Īśvara, Ekajīvavāda and Dṛṣṭisṛṣṭivāda

We have many times spoken of truth or reality as self-luminous (svayamprakāśa). But what does this mean? Vedānta defines it as that which is never the object of a knowing act but is yet immediate and direct with us (avedyatve sati aparokṣavyavahārayogyatvam). Self-luminosity thus means the capacity of being ever present in all our acts of consciousness without in any way being an object of consciousness. Whenever anything is described as an object of consciousness, its character as constituting its knowability is a quality, which may or may not be present in it, or may be present at one time and absent at another. This makes it dependent on some other such entity which can produce it or manifest it.

Pure consciousness differs from all its objects in this that it is never dependent on anything else for its manifestation, but manifests all other objects such as the jug, the cloth, etc. If consciousness should require another consciousness to manifest it, then that might again require another, and that another, and so on ad injinitum (anavasthā). If consciousness did not manifest itself at the time of the object-manifestation, then even on seeing or knowing a thing one might doubt if he had seen or known it. It is thus to be admitted that consciousness (anubhūti) manifests itself and thereby maintains the appearance of all our world experience. This goes directly against the jñātatā theory of Kumārila that consciousness was not immediate but was only inferable from the manifesting quality (jñātatā) of objects when they are known in consciousness.

Now Vedānta says that this self-luminous pure consciousness is the same as the self. For it is only self which is not the object of any knowledge and is yet immediate and ever present in consciousness. No one doubts about his own self, because it is of itself manifested along with all states of knowledge. The self itself is the revealer of all objects of knowledge, but is never itself the object of knowledge, for what appears as the perceiving of self as object of knowledge is but association comprehended under the term ahaṃkāra (ego). The real self is identical with the pure manifesting unity of all consciousness. This real self called the ātman is not the same as the jīva or individual soul, which passes through the diverse experiences of worldly life.

Īśvara also must be distinguished from this highest ātman or Brahman. We have already seen that many Vedāntists draw a distinction between māyā and avidyā. Māyā is that aspect of ajñāna by which only the best attributes are projected, whereas avidyā is that aspect by which impure qualities are projected. In the former aspect the functions are more of a creative, generative (vikṣepa) type, whereas in the latter veiling (āvarand) characteristics are most prominent.

The relation of the cit or pure intelligence, the highest self, with māyā and avidyā (also called ajñāna) was believed respectively to explain the phenomenal Īśvara and the phenomenal jīva or individual. This relation is conceived in two ways, namely as upādhi or pratibimba, and avaccheda. The conception of pratibimba or reflection is like the reflection of the sun in the water where the image, though it has the same brilliance as the sun, yet undergoes the effect of the impurity and movements of the water. The sun remains ever the same in its purity untouched by the impurities from which the image sun suffers.

The sun may be the same but it may be reflected in different kinds of water and yield different kinds of images possessing different characteristics and changes which though unreal yet phenomenally have all the appearance of reality. The other conception of the relation is that when we speak of ākāsa (space) in the jug or of ākāśa in the room. The ākāśa in reality does not suffer any modification in being within the jug or within the room. In reality it is all-pervasive and is neither limited (avachinna) within the jug or the room, but is yet conceived as being limited by the jug or by the room. So long as the jug remains, the ākāśa limited within it will remain as separate from the ākāśa limited within the room.

Of the Vedantists who accept the reflection analogy the followers of Nrsimhāśrama think that when the pure cit is reflected in the māyā, Īśvara is phenomenally produced, and when in the avidyā the individual or jīva. Sarvajṅātmā however does not distinguish between the māyā and the avidyā, and thinks that when the cit is reflected in the avidyā in its total aspect as cause, we get Īśvara, and when reflected in the antahkaraṇa—a product of the avidyā—we have jīva or individual soul.

Jīva or individual means the self in association with the ego and other personal experiences, i.e. phenomenal self, which feels, suffers and is affected by world-experiences. In jīva also three stages are distinguished; thus when during deep sleep the antahkaraṇa is submerged, the self perceives merely the ajñāna and the jīva in this state is called prājña or ānandamaya. In the dream-state the self is in association with a subtle body and is called taijasa. In the awakened state the self as associated with a subtle and gross body is called viśva. So also the self in its pure state is called Brahman, when associated with māyā it is called Iśvara, when associated with the fine subtle element of matter as controlling them, it is called hiraṇyagarbha; when with the gross elements as the ruler or controller of them it is called virāt puruṣa.

The jīva in itself as limited by its avidyā is often spoken of as pāramarthika (real), when manifested through the sense and the ego in the waking states as vyavahārika (phenomenal), and when in the dream states as dream-self, prātibhāṣika (illusory).

Prakāśātmā and his followers think that since ajñāna is one there cannot be two separate reflections such as jīva and Īśvara; but it is better to admit that jīva is the image of Īśvara in the ajñāna. The totality of Brahma-cit in association with māyā is Īśvara, and this when again reflected through the ajñāna gives us the jīva. The manifestation of the jīva is in the antahkaraṇa as states of knowledge. The jīva thus in reality is Īśvara and apart from jīva and Īśvara there is no other separate existence of Brahma-caitanya. Jīva being the image of Īśvara is thus dependent on him, but when the limitations of jīva are removed by right knowledge, the jīva is the same Brahman it always was.

Those who prefer to conceive the relation as being of the avaccheda type hold that reflection (pratibimba) is only possible of things which have colour, and therefore jīva is cit limited (avac-chinna) by the antahkaraṇa (mind). Īśvara is that which is beyond it; the diversity of antahkaraṇas accounts for the diversity of the jīvas. It is easy however to see that these discussions are not of much fruit from the point of view of philosophy in determining or comprehending the relation of Īśvara and jīva. In the Vedānta system Īśvara has but little importance, for he is but a phenomenal being; he may be better, purer, and much more powerful than we, but yet he is as much phenomenal as any of us.

The highest truth is the self, the reality, the Brahman, and both jīva and Īśvara are but illusory impositions on it. Some Vedantists hold that there is but one jīva and one body, and that all the world as well as all the jīvas in it are merely his imaginings. These dream jīvas and the dream world will continue so long as that super-jīva continues to undergo his experiences; the world-appearance and all of us imaginary individuals, run our course and salvation is as much imaginary salvation as our world-experience is an imaginary experience of the imaginary jīvas. The cosmic jīva is alone the awakened jīva and all the rest are but his imaginings. This is known as the doctrine of ekajīva (one-soul).

The opposite of this doctrine is the theory held by some Vedantists that there are many individuals and the world-appearance has no permanent illusion for all people, but each person creates for himself his own illusion, and there is no objective datum which forms the common ground for the illusory perception of all people; just as when ten persons see in the darkness a rope and having the illusion of a snake there, run away, and agree in their individual perceptions that they have all seen the same snake, though each really had his own illusion and there was no snake at all.

According to this view the illusory perception of each happens for him subjectively and has no corresponding objective phenomena as its ground. This must be distinguished from the normal Vedānta view which holds that objectively phenomena are also happening, but that these are illusory only in the sense that they will not last permanently and have thus only a temporary and relative existence in comparison with the truth or reality which is ever the same constant and unchangeable entity in all our perceptions and in all world-appearance.

According to the other view phenomena are not objectively existent but are only subjectively imagined; so that the jug I see had no existence before I happened to have the perception that there was the jug; as soon as the jug illusion occurred to me I said that there was the jug, but it did not exist before. As soon as I had the perception there was the illusion, and there was no other reality apart from the illusion. It is therefore called the theory of dṛṣṭisrṣṭivāda, i.e. the theory that the subjective perception is the creating of the objects and that there are no other objective phenomena apart from subjective perceptions. In the normal Vedānta view however the objects of the world are existent as phenomena by the sense-contact with which the subjective perceptions are created.

The objective phenomena in themselves are of course but modifications of ajñāna, but still these phenomena of the ajñāna are there as the common ground for the experience of all. This therefore has an objective epistemology whereas the dṛṣṭisrṣṭivāda has no proper epistemology, for the experiences of each person are determined by his own subjective avidyā and previous impressions as modifications of the avidyā. The dṛṣṭisrṣṭivāda theory approaches nearest to the Vijñānavāda Buddhism, only with this difference that while Buddhism does not admit of any permanent being Vedānta admits the Brahman, the permanent unchangeable reality as the only truth, whereas the illusory and momentary perceptions are but impositions on it.

The mental and physical phenomena are alike in this, that both are modifications of ajñāna. It is indeed difficult to comprehend the nature of ajñāna, though its presence in consciousness can be perceived, and though by dialectic criticism all our most well-founded notions seem to vanish away and become self-contradictory and indefinable. Vedānta explains the reason of this difficulty as due to the fact that all these indefinable forms and names can only be experienced as modes of the real, the self-luminous.

Our innate error which we continue from beginningless time consists in this, that the real in its full complete light is ever hidden from us, and the glimpse that we get of it is always through manifestations of forms and names; these phenomenal forms and names are undefinable, incomprehensible, and unknowable in themselves, but under certain conditions they are manifested by the self-luminous real, and at the time they are so manifested they seem to have a positive being which is undeniable. This positive being is only the highest being, the real which appears as the being of those forms and names.

A lump of clay may be moulded into a plate or a cup, but the plate-form or the cup-form has no existence or being apart from the being of the clay; it is the being of the clay that is imposed on the diverse forms which also then seem to have being in themselves. Our illusion thus consists in mutually mis-attributing the characteristics of the unreal forms—the modes of ajñāna and the real being. As this illusion is the mode of all our experience and its very essence, it is indeed difficult for us to conceive of the Brahman as apart from the modes of ajñāna. Moreover such is the nature of ajñānas that they are knowable only by a false identification of them with the self-luminous Brahman or ātman. Being as such is the highest truth, the Brahman.

The ajñāna states are not non-being in the sense of nothing of pure negation (abhāva), but in the sense that they are not being. Being that is the self-luminous illuminates non-being, the ajñāna, and this illumination means nothing more than a false identification of being with non-being. The forms of ajñāna if they are to be known must be associated with pure consciousness, and this association means an illusion, superimposition, and mutual misattribution. But apart from pure consciousness these cannot be manifested or known, for it is pure consciousness alone that is self-luminous. Thus when we try to know the ajñāna states in themselves as apart from the ātman we fall in a dilemma, for knowledge means illusory superimposition or illusion, and when it is not knowledge they evidently cannot be known. Thus apart from its being a factor in our illusory experience no other kind of its existence is known to us.

If ajñāna had been a nonentity altogether it could never come at all, if it were a positive entity then it would never cease to be; the ajñāna thus is a mysterious category midway between being and non-being and indefinable in every way; and it is on account of this that it is called tattvānyatvābhyām anirvācya or undefinable and undeterminable either as real or unreal. It is real in the sense that it is a necessary postulate of our phenomenal experience and unreal in its own nature, for apart from its connection with consciousness it is incomprehensible and undefinable. Its forms even while they are manifested in consciousness are self-contradictory and incomprehensible as to their real nature or mutual relation, and comprehensible only so far as they are manifested in consciousness, but apart from these no rational conception of them can be formed.

Thus it is impossible to say anything about the ajñāna (for no knowledge of it is possible) save so far as manifested in consciousness and depending on this the Drṣṭisrṣṭivādins asserted that our experience was inexplicably produced under the influence of avidyā and that beyond that no objective common ground could be admitted. But though this has the general assent of Vedānta and is irrefutable in itself, still for the sake of explaining our common sense view (pratikarmavyavasathā) we may think that we have an objective world before us as the common field of experience. We can also imagine a scheme of things and operations by which the phenomenon of our experience may be interpreted in the light of the Vedānta metaphysics.

The subject can be conceived in three forms: firstly as the ātman, the one highest reality, secondly as jīva or the ātman as limited by its psychosis, when the psychosis is not differentiated from the ātman, but ātman is regarded as identical with the psychosis thus appearing as a living and knowing being, as jīvasākṣi or perceiving consciousness, or the aspect in which the jīva comprehends, knows, or experiences ; thirdly the antahkaraṇa psychosis or mind which is an inner centre or bundle of avidyā manifestations, just as the outer world objects are exterior centres of avidyā phenomena or objective entities. The antahkaraṇa is not only the avidyā capable of supplying all forms to our present experiences, but it also contains all the tendencies and modes of past impressions of experience in this life or in past lives.

The antahkaraṇa is always turning the various avidyā modes of it into the jīvasākṣi (jīva in its aspect as illuminating mental states), and these are also immediately manifested, made known, and transformed into experience. These avidyā states of the antahkaraṇa are called its vṛttis or states. The specific peculiarity of the vṛtti-ajñānas is this that only in these forms can they be superimposed upon pure consciousness, and thus be interpreted as states of consciousness and have their indefiniteness or cover removed.

The forms of ajñāna remain as indefinite and hidden or veiled only so long as they do not come into relation to these vṛttis of antahkaraṇa, for the ajñāna can be destroyed by the cit only in the form of a vṛtti, while in all other forms the ajñāna veils the cit from manifestation. The removal of ajñāna-vṛttis of the antahkaraṇa or the manifestation of vṛtti-jñāna is nothing but this, that the antahkaraṇa states of avidyā are the only states of ajñāna which can be superimposed upon the self-luminous ātman (adhyāsa , false attribution).

The objective world consists of the avidyā phenomena with the self as its background. Its objectivity consists in this that avidyā in this form cannot be superimposed on the self-luminous cit but exists only as veiling the cit. These avidyā phenomena may be regarded as many and diverse, but in all these forms they serve only to veil the cit and are beyond consciousness. It is only when they come in contact with the avidyā phenomena as antahkaraṇa states that they coalesce with the avidyā states and render themselves objects of consciousness or have their veil of āvaraṇa removed. It is thus assumed that in ordinary perceptions of objects such as jug, etc. the antahkaraṇa goes out of the man’s body (śarīramadhyāf) and coming in touch with the jug becomes transformed into the same form, and as soon as this transformation takes place the cit which is always steadily shining illuminates the jug-form or the jug.

The jug phenomena in the objective world could not be manifested (though these were taking place on the background of the same self-luminous Brahman or ātman as forms of the highest truth of my subjective consciousness) because the ajñāna phenomena in these forms serve to veil their illuminator, the self-luminous. It was only by coming into contact with these phenomena that the antahkaraṇa could be transformed into corresponding states and that the illumination dawned which at once revealed the antahkaraṇa states and the objects with which these states or vṛttis had coalesced. The consciousness manifested through the vṛttis alone has the power of removing the ajñāna veiling the cit. Of course there are no actual distinctions of inner or outer, or the cit within me and the cit without me.

These are only of appearance and due to avidyā. And it is only from the point of view of appearance that we suppose that knowledge of objects can only dawn when the inner cit and the outer cit unite together through the antahkaraṇavṛtti, which makes the external objects translucent as it were by its own translucence, removes the ajñāna which was veiling the external self-luminous cit and reveals the object phenomena by the very union of the cit as reflected through it and the cit as underlying the object phenomena. The pratyakṣa-pramā or right knowledge by perception is the cit, the pure consciousness, reflected through the vṛtti and identical with the cit as the background of the object phenomena revealed by it.

From the relative point of view we may thus distinguish three consciousnesses:

  1. consciousness as the background of objective phenomena,
  2. consciousness as the background of the jīva or pramātā, the individual,
  3. consciousness reflected in the vṛtti of the antahkaraṇa; when these three unite perception is effected.

Pramā or right knowledge means in Vedānta the acquirement of such new knowledge as has not been contradicted by experience (abādhitd). There is thus no absolute definition of truth. A knowledge acquired can be said to be true only so long as it is not contradicted. Thus the world appearance though it is very true now, may be rendered false, when this is contradicted by right knowledge of Brahman as the one reality. Thus the. knowledge of the world appearance is true now, but not true absolutely. The only absolute truth is the pure consciousness which is never contradicted in any experience at any time. The truth of our world-knowledge is thus to be tested by finding out whether it will be contradicted at any stage of world experience or not. That which is not contradicted by later experience is to be regarded as true, for all world knowledge as a whole will be contradicted when Brahma-knowledge is realized.

The inner experiences of pleasure and pain also are generated by a false identification of antahkaraṇa transformations as pleasure or pain with the self, by virtue of which are generated the perceptions, “I am happy,” or “I am sorry.” In continuous perception of anything for a certain time as an object or as pleasure, etc. the mental state or vṛtti is said to last in the same way all the while so long as any other new form is not taken up by the antahkaraṇa for the acquirement of any new knowledge. In such cases when I infer that there is fire on the hill that I see, the hill is an object of perception, for the antahkaraṇa vṛtti is one with it, but that there is fire in it is a matter of inference, for the antahkaraṇa vṛtti cannot be in touch with the fire; so in the same experience there may be two modes of mental modification, as perception in seeing the hill, and as inference in inferring the fire in the hill.

In cases of acquired perception, as when on seeing sandal wood I think that it is odoriferous sandal wood, it is pure perception so far as the sandal wood is concerned, it is inference or memory so far as I assert it to be odoriferous. Vedānta does not admit the existence of the relation called samavāya (inherence) or jāti (class notion) ; and so does not distinguish perception as a class as distinct from the other class called inference, and holds that both perception and inference are but different modes of the transformations of the antahkaraṇa reflecting the cit in the corresponding vṛttis.

The perception is thus nothing but the cit manifestation in the antahkaraṇa vṛtti transformed into the form of an object with which it is in contact. Perception in its objective aspect is the identity of the cit underlying the object with the subject, and perception in the subjective aspect is regarded as the identity of the subjective cit with the objective cit. This identity of course means that through the vṛtti the same reality subsisting in the object and the subject is realized, whereas in inference the thing to be inferred, being away from contact with antahkaraṇa, has apparently a different reality from that manifested in the states of consciousness.

Thus perception is regarded as the mental state representing the same identical reality in the object and the subject by antahkaraṇa contact, and it is held that the knowledge produced by words (e.g. this is the same Devadatta) referring identically to the same thing which is seen (e.g. when I see Devadatta before me another man says this is Devadatta, and the knowledge produced by “this is Devadatta” though a verbal (Jābda) knowledge is to be regarded as perception, for the antahkaraṇa vṛtti is the same) is to be regarded as perception or pratyakṣa.

The content of these words (this is Devadatta) being the same as the perception, and there being no new relationing knowledge as represented in the proposition “this is Devadatta” involving the unity of two terms “this” and “Devadatta” with a copula, but only the indication of one whole as Devadatta under visual perception already experienced, the knowledge proceeding from “this is Devadatta” is regarded as an example of nirvikalpa knowledge. So on the occasion of the rise of Brahma-conscious-ness when the preceptor instructs “thou art Brahman” the knowledge proceeding from the sentence is not savikalpa, for though grammatically there are two ideas and a copula, yet from the point of view of intrinsic significance (tātparya) one identical reality only is indicated.

Vedānta does not distinguish nirvikalpa and savikalpa in visual perception, but only in śābda perception as in cases referred to above. In all such cases the condition for nirvikalpa is that the notion conveyed by the sentence should be one whole or one identical reality, whereas in savikalpa perception we have a combination of different ideas as in the sentence, “the king’s man is coming” (rājapuruṣa āgacchati). Here no identical reality is signified, but what is signified is the combination of two or three different concepts[1].

It is not out of place to mention in this connection that Vedānta admits all the six pramāṇas of Kumārila and considers like Mīmāṃsā that all knowledge is self-valid (svataḥpramāṇa). But pramā has not the same meaning in Vedānta as in Mīmāṃsā. There as we remember pramā meant the knowledge which goaded one to practical action and as such all knowledge was pramā, until practical experience showed the course of action in accordance with which it was found to be contradicted.

In Vedānta however there is no reference to action, but pramā means only uncontradicted cognition. To the definition of self-validity as given by Mīmāṃsā Vedānta adds another objective qualification, that such knowledge can have svatah-prāmāṇya as is not vitiated by the presence of any doṣa (cause of error, such as defect of senses or the like).

Vedānta of course does not think like Nyāya that positive conditions (e.g. correspondence, etc.) are necessary for the validity of knowledge, nor does it divest knowledge of all qualifications like the Mīmāmsists, for whom all knowledge is self-valid as such. It adopts a middle course and holds that absence of doṣa is a necessary condition for the self-validity of knowledge. It is clear that this is a compromise, for whenever an external condition has to be admitted, the knowledge cannot be regarded as self-valid, but Vedānta says that as it requires only a negative condition for the absence of doṣa, the objection does not apply to it, and it holds that if it depended on the presence of any positive condition for proving the validity of knowledge like the Nyāya, then only its theory of self-validity would have been damaged. But since it wants only a negative condition, no blame can be attributed to its theory of self-validity.

Vedānta was bound to follow this slippery middle course, for it could not say that the pure cit reflected in consciousness could require anything else for establishing its validity, nor could it say that all phenomenal forms of knowledge were also all valid, for then the world-appearance would come to be valid ; so it held that knowledge could be regarded as valid only when there was no doṣa present; thus from the absolute point of view all world-know-ledge was false and had no validity, because there was the avidyā-doṣa, and in the ordinary sphere also that knowledge was valid in which there was no doṣa. Validity (prāmāṇya) with Mīmāṃsā meant the capacity that knowledge has to goad us to practical action in accordance with it, but with Vedānta it meant correctness to facts and want of contradiction. The absence of doṣa being guaranteed there is nothing which can vitiate the correctness of knowledge[2].

Footnotes and references:


See Vedāntaparibhāṣā and Sikhāmaṇi.


See Vedāntaparibhāṣā, Sikhāmaṇi, Maṇiprabhā and Citsukha on svataḥprāmāṇya.

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