A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

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

This page describes the philosophy of vedanta and other indian systems: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eighteenth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 18 - Vedānta and other Indian Systems

Vedānta is distinctly antagonistic to Nyāya, and most of its powerful dialectic criticism is generally directed against it. Śaṅkara himself had begun it by showing contradictions and inconsistencies in many of the Nyāya conceptions, such as the theory of causation, conception of the atom, the relation of samavāya, the conception of jāti, etc.[1] His followers carried it to still greater lengths as is fully demonstrated by the labours of Śrīharṣa, Citsukha, Madhusūdana, etc. It was opposed to Mīmāṃsā so far as this admitted the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika categories, but agreed with it generally as regards the pramāṇas of anumāna, upamiti, arthāpatti, śabda, and anupalabdhi.

It also found a great supporter in Mīmāṃsā with its doctrine of the self-validity and self-manifesting power of knowledge. But it differed from Mīmāṃsā in the field of practical duties and entered into many elaborate discussions to prove that the duties of the Vedas referred only to ordinary men, whereas men of higher order had no Vedic duties to perform but were to rise above them and attain the highest knowledge, and that a man should perform the Vedic duties only so long as he was not fit for Vedānta instruction and studies.

With Sāṃkhya and Yoga the relation of Vedānta seems to be very close. We have already seen that Vedānta had accepted all the special means of self-purification, meditation, etc., that were advocated by Yoga. The main difference between Vedānta and Sāṃkhya was this that Sāṃkhya believed that the stuff of which the world consisted was a reality side by side with the puruṣas. In later times Vedānta had compromised so far with Sāṃkhya that it also sometimes described māyā as being made up of sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Vedānta also held that according to these three characteristics were formed diverse modifications of the māyā. Thus Iśvara is believed to possess a mind of pure sattva alone. But sattva, rajas and tamas were accepted in Vedānta in the sense of tendencies and not as reals as Sāṃkhya held it. Moreover, in spite of all modifications that māyā was believed to pass through as the stuff of the world-appearance, it was indefinable and indefinite, and in its nature different from what we understand as positive or negative. It was an unsubstantial nothing, a magic entity which had its being only so long as it appeared.

Prakṛti also was indefinable or rather undemon-strable as regards its own essential nature apart from its manifestation, but even then it was believed to be a combination of positive reals. It was undefinable because so long as the reals composing it did not combine, no demonstrable qualities belonged to it with which it could be defined. Māyā however was unde-monstrable, indefinite, and indefinable in all forms; it was a separate category of the indefinite. Sāṃkhya believed in the personal individuality of souls, while for Vedānta there was only one soul or self, which appeared as many by virtue of the māyā transformations.

There was an adhyāsa or illusion in Sāṃkhya as well as in Vedānta; but in the former the illusion was due to a mere non-distinction between prakṛti and puruṣa or mere misattribution of characters or identities, but in Vedānta there was not only misattribution, but a false and altogether indefinable creation. Causation with Sāṃkhya meant real transformation, but with Vedānta all transformation was mere appearance. Though there were so many differences, it is however easy to see that probably at the time of the origin of the two systems during the Upaniṣad period each was built up from very similar ideas which differed only in tendencies that gradually manifested themselves into the present divergences of the two systems. Though Śaṅkara laboured hard to prove that the Sāṃkhya view could not be found in the Upaniṣads, we can hardly be convinced by his interpretations and arguments. The more he argues, the more we are led to suspect that the Sāṃkhya thought had its origin in the Upaniṣads.

Śaṅkara and his followers borrowed much of their dialectic form of criticism from the Buddhists. His Brahman was very much like the śūnya of Nāgārjuna. It is difficult indeed to distinguish between pure being and pure non-being as a category. The debts of Śaṅkara to the self-luminosity of the Vijñānavāda Buddhism can hardly be overestimated. There seems to be much truth in the accusations against Śaṅkara by Vijñāna Bhikṣu and others that he was a hidden Buddhist himself. I am led to think that Śaṅkara’s philosophy is largely a compound of Vijñānavāda and Śūnyavāda Buddhism with the Upaniṣad notion of the permanence of self superadded.

Footnotes and references:


See Pañcadaśī.

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