A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1932 | 241,887 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of shankara’s defence of vedanta: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta (continued)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - Śaṅkara’s Defence of Vedānta

Philosophy of Bādarāyaṇa and Bhartṛprapañca

Śaṅkara’s defensive arguments consisted in the refutation of the objections that may be made against the Vedāntic conception of the world. The first objection anticipated is that from the followers of Sāṃkhya philosophy. Thus it is urged that the effect must be largely of the same nature as the cause. Brahman, which is believed to be intelligent (cetana) and pure (śuddha), could not be the cause of a world which is unintelligent (jaḍa and acetana) and impure (aśuddha). And it is only because the world is so different in nature from the intelligent spirits that it can be useful to them. Two things which are identical in their nature can hardly be of any use to each other—two lamps cannot be illuminating to each other. So it is only by being different from the intelligent spirits that the world can best serve them and exist for them. Śaṅkara’s answer to this objection is that it is not true that the effect should in every way be similar to the cause—there are instances of inanimate hair and nails growing from living beings, and of living insects growing out of inanimate objects like cow-dung.

Nor can it be denied that there is at least some similarity between Brahman and the world in this, that both have being. It cannot be urged that, because Brahman is intelligent, the world also should be intelligent; for there is no reason for such an expectation. The converse of it also has not been found to be true—it has not been found that what is unintelligent has been known to have been derived from a source other than Brahman[1]. The whole point of this argument seems to lie in the fact that, since the Upaniṣads assert that Brahman is the cause of the world, the apparent incompatibility of the production of an impure and unintelligent world from the intelligent and pure Brahman has to be explained away; for such ultimate truths can be discovered not by reason, but by the testimony of the Upaniṣads.

Another objection supposed to be raised by Sāṃkhya against Vedānta is that at the time of dissolution (pralaya), when the world of effects will dissolve back into Brahman the cause, the impurities of the worldly state might also make the causal state of Brahmahood impure. Śaṅkara refutes it by pointing out two sets of instances in which the effects do not affect the causal state when they return to it. Of these, one set of instances is to be found in those cases where articles of gold, silver, etc. are melted back into their original material states as unformed gold and silver, and are not seen to affect them with their specific peculiarities as formed articles. The other instance is to be found in the manifestation of magic by a magician.

The magical creations of a magician are controlled by him and, when they vanish in this way, they cannot in any way affect the magician himself; for the magical creations have no reality. So also a dreamer is not affected by his dreams when he is awake. So the reality is one which remains altogether untouched by the changing states. The appearance of this reality as all the changing states is mere false show (māyā-mātram), like the appearance of a rope as a snake. Again, as a man may in deep sleep pass into a state where there is no trace of his mundane experiences and may yet, when he becomes awake, resume his normal vocation in life, so after the dissolution of the world into its causal state there may again be the same kind of creation as there was before the dissolution. So there can be no objection that the world of impure effects will affect the pure state of Brahman at the time of dissolution or that there could be no creation after dissolution.

These arguments of Śaṅkara in answer to a supposed objection that the world of effects, impure and unintelligent as it is, could not have been the product of pure and intelligent Brahman are not only weak but rather uncalled for. If the world of effects is mere māyā and magic and has no essence (vastutva), the best course for him was to rush straight to his own view of effects as having no substantiality or essence and not to adopt the pariṇāma view of real transformations of causes into effects to show that the effects could be largely dissimilar from their causes. Had he started with the reply that the effects had no real existence and that they were merely magical creations and a false show, the objection that the impure world could not come out of pure Brahman would have at once fallen to the ground; for such an objection would have validity only with those who believed in the real transformations of effects from causes, and not with a philosopher like Śaṅkara, who did not believe in the reality of effects at all.

Instead of doing that he proceeded to give examples of the realistic return of golden articles into gold in order to show that the peculiar defects or other characteristics of the effect cannot affect the purity of the cause. Side by side with this he gives another instance, how magical creations may vanish without affecting the nature of the magician. This example, however, does not at all fit in with the context, and it is surprising how Śaṅkara failed to see that, if his examples of realistic transformations were to hold good, his example of the magic and the magician would be quite out of place.

If the pariṇāma view of causation is to be adopted, the vivarta view is to be given up. It seems however that Śaṅkara here was obliged to take refuge in such a confusion of issues by introducing stealthily an example of the vivarta view of unreality of effects in the commentary on sūtras which could only yield a realistic interpretation. The sūtras here seem to be so convincingly realistic that the ultimate reply to the suggested incompatibility of the production of effects dissimilar from their causes is found in the fact that the Upaniṣads hold that this impure and unintelligent world had come out of Brahman; and that, since the Upaniṣads assert it, no objection can be raised against it on grounds of reason.

In the next section the theory of realistic transformation of causes is further supported by the sūtra which asserts that in spite of the identity of effects with their cause their plurality or diversity may also be explained on the analogy of many popular illustrations. Thus, though the waves are identical with the sea, yet they have an existence in their plurality and diversity as well. Here also Śaṅkara has to follow the implication of the sūtra in his interpretation. He, however, in concluding his commentary on this sūtra , says that the world is not a result of any real transformation of Brahman as effect; Brahman alone exists, but yet, when Brahman is under the conditioning phenomena of a world-creation, there is room for apparent diversity and plurality. It may be pointed out, however, that such a supplementary explanation is wholly incompatible with the general meaning of the rule, which is decidedly in favour of a realistic transformation. It is unfortunate that here also Śaṅkara does not give any reason for his supplementary remark, which is not in keeping with the general spirit of the sūtra and the interpretation which he himself gave of it.

In the next section the sūtras seem plainly to assert the identity of cause and effect,

“because of the possibility of the effect, because the cause exists, because the effect exists in the cause and is due to an elaboration of the cause and also for other reasons and the testimony of the Upaniṣads.”

Such a meaning is quite in keeping with the general meaning of the previous sections. Śaṅkara, however, interprets the sūtra as meaning that it is Brahman, the cause, which alone is true. There cannot therefore be any real transformation of causes into effects. The omniscience of Brahman and His being the creator of the wrorld have thus only a limited validity; for they depend upon the relative reality of the world. From the absolute point of view therefore there is no īśvara who is the omniscient creator of the world[2]. Śaṅkara supports this generally on the ground of the testimony of some Upaniṣad texts (e.g. mṛttiketyeva satyam, etc.). He however introduces an argument in support of the sat-kārya-vāda theory, or the theory that the effect is already existent in the cause.

This theory is indeed common both to the pariṇāma view of real transformation and the vivarta view, in two different ways. It is curious however that he should support the sat-kārya-vāda theory on pariṇāma lines, as against the generative view of a-sat-kārya-vāda of the Nyāya, but not on vivarta lines, where effects are treated as non-existent and false. Thus he says that the fact that curd is produced from milk and not from mud shows that there is some such intimate relation of curd with milk which it has not with anything else. This intimate relation consists in the special power or capacity (śakti) in the cause (e.g. the milk), which can produce the special effect (e.g. the curd). This power is the very essence of the cause, and the very essence of this power is the effect itself. If a power determines the nature of the effect, it must be already existent in the cause as the essence of the effect.

Arguing against the Nyāya view that the cause is different from the effect, though they are mutually connected in an inseparable relation of inherence (samavāya), he says that, if such a samavāya is deemed necessary to connect the cause with the effect, then this also may require a further something to connect the samavāya with the cause or the effect and that another and that another ad infinitum. If it is urged that samavāya , being a relation, does not require any further relation to connect it with anything else, it may well be asked in reply how “conjunction” (saṃyoga), which is also regarded as a relation, should require the relation of inherence (samavāya) to connect it with the objects which are in conjunction (saṃyogin). The conception of samavāya connecting substances with their qualities is unnecessary; for the latter always appear identified with the former (tādātmya-pratīti). If the effect, say a whole, is supposed to be existing in the cause, the parts, it must exist in them all taken together or in each of the separate parts.

If the whole exist only in the totality of the parts, then, since all the parts cannot be assembled together, the whole as such would be invisible. If the whole exist in the parts in parts, then one has to conceive other parts of the whole different from its constituent parts; and, if the same questions be again repeated, these parts should have other parts and these others; and thus there would be a vicious infinite. If the whole exists wholly in each of the parts at the same time, then there would be many wholes. If it exists successively in each of the parts, then the whole would at one time be existent only in one part, and so at that time the functions of the whole would be absent in the other parts. If it is said that, just as a class-concept (e.g. cow) exists wholly in each of the individuals and yet is not many, so a whole may also be wholly existent in each of the parts, it may well be replied that the experience of wholes is not like the experience of class-concepts.

The class-concept of cow is realized in each and every cow; but a whole is not realized in each and every part. Again, if the effect is non-existent before its production, then, production being an action, such an action would have nothing as its agent, which is impossible—for, since the effect is non-existent before its production, it could not be the agent of its production; and, since being non-existent, it cannot be the agent of its production, such a production would be either itself non-existent or would be without any agent. If, however, production is not defined as an action, but as a relationing of an effect with its cause (. svakāraṇa-sattā-samavāya), then also it may be objected that a relation is only possible when there are two terms which are related, and, since the effect is as yet non-existent, it cannot be related to its cause.

But, if the effect is already existent, what then is the necessity of the causal operation (kāraka-vyāpāra) ? The answer to such a question is to be found in the view that the effect is but an elaboration of the cause into its effect. Just as a man may sit with his limbs collected together or stretched out and yet would be considered the same man, so an effect also is to be regarded as an expansion of the cause and as such identical with it. The effect is thus only a transformed state of the cause; and hence the causal operation is necessary for bringing about this transformation; but in spite of such a transformation the effect is not already existing in the cause as its potency or power.

There are seven other smaller sections. In the first of these the objection that, if the world is a direct product of the intelligent Brahman, there is no reason why such an intelligent being should create a world which is full of misery and is a prison-house to himself, is easily answered by pointing out that the transcendent creator is far above the mundane spirits that suffer misery in the prison-house of the world. Here also Śaṅkara adds as a supplementary note the remark that, since there is no real creation and the whole world is but a magical appearance, no such objection that the creator should not have created an undesirable world for its own suffering is valid. But the sūtras gave him no occasion for such a remark; so that indeed, as was the case with the previous sections, here also his māyā theory is not in keeping even with his general interpretation of the sūtras , and his remarks have to be appended as a note which hangs loosely and which does not appear to have any relevancy to the general meaning and purport of the sūtras.

In the next section an objection is raised that Brahman cannot without the help of any other accessory agents create the world; the reply to such an objection is found in the fact that Brahman has all powers in Himself and can as such create the world out of Himself without the help of anything else.

In the next section an objection is raised that, if the world is a transformation of Brahman, then, since Brahman is partless, the transformation must apply to the whole of Brahman; for a partial transformation is possible only when the substance wrhich is undergoing the transformation has parts. A reply to such an objection is to be found in the analogy of the human self, which is in itself formless and, though transforming itself into various kinds of dream experiences, yet remains unchanged and unaffected as a whole by such transformations. Moreover, such objections may be levelled against the objectors themselves; for Sāṃkhya also admits the transformation of the formless prakṛti.

In another section it is urged that, since Brahman is complete in Himself, there is no reason why He should create this great world, when He has nothing to gain by it. The reply is based on the analogy of play, where one has nothing to gain and yet one is pleased to indulge in it. So Brahman also creates the world by His līlā or play. Śaṅkara, however, never forgets to sing his old song of the māyā theory, however irrelevant it may be, with regard to the purpose of the sūtras , which he himself could not avoid following. Thus in this section, after interpreting the sūtra as attributing the world-creation to God’s playful activity, he remarks that it ought not to be forgotten that all the world-creation is but a fanciful appearance due to nescience and that the ultimate reality is the identity of the self and Brahman.

The above discussion seems to prove convincingly that Bādarāyaṇa’s philosophy was some kind of bhedābheda-vāda or a theory of transcendence and immanence of God (Brahman)—even in the light of Śaṅkara’s own commentary. He believed that the world was the product of a real transformation of Brahman, or rather of His powers and energies (śakti). God Himself was not exhausted by such a transformation and always remained as the master creator who by His play created the world and who could by His own powers create the world without any extraneous assistance. The world was thus a real transformation of God’s powers, while He Himself, though remaining immanent in the world through His powers, transcended it at the same time, and remained as its controller, and punished or rewarded the created mundane souls in accordance with their bad and good deeds.

The doctrine of bhedābheda-vāda is certainly prior to Śaṅkara, as it is the dominant view of most of the purāṇas. It seems probable also that Bhartṛprapañca refers to Bodhāyana, who is referred to as vṛttikāra by Rāmānuja, and as vṛttikāra and Upavarṣa by Śaṅkara, and to Dramidācārya, referred to by Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja; all held some form of bhedābheda doctrine[3].

Bhartṛprapañca has been referred to by Śaṅkara in his commentary on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad ; and Ānandajñāna, in his commentary on Śaṅkara’s commentary, gives a number of extracts from Bhartṛprapañca’s Bhāṣya on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. Prof. M. Hiriyanna collected these fragments in a paper read before the Third Oriental Congress in Madras, 1924, and there he describes Bhartṛprapañca’s philosophy as follows. The doctrine of Bhartṛprapañca is monism, and it is of the bhedābheda type. The relation between Brahman and the jīva, as that between Brahman and the world, is one of identity in difference. An implication of this view is that both the jīva and the physical world evolve out of Brahman, so that the doctrine may be described as Brahma-parmāma-vāda.

On the spiritual side Brahman is transformed into the antaryāmin and the jīva ; on the physical side into avyakta, sūtra , virāj and devatā, which are all cosmic; and jāti and piṇḍa, which are not cosmic. These are the avasthās or modes of Brahman, and represent the eight classes into which the variety of the universe may be divided. They are again classified into three rāśis, para-mātma-rāśi, jiva-rāśi and mūrttāmūrtta-rāśi, which correspond to the triple subject-matter of Religion and Philosophy, viz. God, soul and matter.

Bhartṛprapañca recognized what is known as pramāṇa-samuccaya , by which it follows that the testimony of common experience is quite as valid as that of the Veda. The former vouches for the reality of variety and the latter for that of unity (as taught in the Upaniṣads). Hence the ultimate truth is dvaitādvaita. Mokṣa , or life’s end, is conceived as being achieved in two stages—the first leading to apavarga , where saṃsāra is overcome through the overcoming of āsaṅga ; and the second leading to Brahmahood through the dispelling of avidyā. This means of reaching either stage is jñāna-karma-samuccaya, which is a corollary on the practical side to pramāṇa-samuccaya on the theoretical side.

It is indeed difficult to say what were the exact characteristics of Bādarāyaṇa’s bhedābheda doctrine of Vedānta; but there is very little doubt that it was some special type of bhedābheda doctrine, and, as has already been repeatedly pointed out, even Śaṅkara’s own commentary (if we exclude only his parenthetic remarks, which are often inconsistent with the general drift of his own commentary and the context of the sūtras , as well as with their purpose and meaning, so far as it can be made out from such a context) shows that it was so. If, however, it is contended that this view of real transformation is only from a relative point of view (vyavahārika), then there must at least be one sūtra where the absolute (pāra-mārthika) point of view is given; but no such sūtra has been discovered even by Śaṅkara himself.

If experience always shows the causal transformation to be real, then how is one to know that in the ultimate point of view all effects are false and unreal? If, however, it is contended that there is a real transformation (pariṇāma) of the māyā stuff, whereas Brahman remains always unchanged, and if māyā is regarded as the power (śakti) of Brahman, how then can the śakti of Brahman as well as its transformations be regarded as unreal and false, while the possessor of the śakti (or the śaktimat, Brahman) is regarded as real and absolute? There is a great diversity of opinion on this point among the Vedāntic writers of the Śaṅkara school.

Thus Appaya Dīkṣita in his Siddhānta-leśa refers to the author of Padārtha-nirṇaya as saying that Brahman and māyā are both material causes of the world-appearance—Brahman the vivarta cause, and māyā the pariṇāma cause. Others are said to find a definition of causation intermediate between vivarta and pariṇāma by defining material cause as that which can produce effects which are not different from itself (svā-bhinna-kāryajanakatvam upādānatvam). The world is identical with Brahman inasmuch as it has being, and it is identical with nescience inasmuch as it has its characteristics of materiality and change. So from two different points of view both Brahman and māyā are the cause of the world. Vācaspati Miśra holds that māyā is only an accessory cause (sahakāri), whereas Brahman is the real vivarta cause[4].

The author of the Siddhānta-muktāvalī , Prakāśānanda, however, thinks that it is the māyā energy (māyā-śakti) which is the material cause of the world and not Brahman. Brahman is unchangeable and is the support of māyā ; and is thus the cause of the world in a remote sense. Sarvajñātma Muni, however, believes Brahman alone to be the vivarta cause, and māyā to be only an instrument for the purpose[5].

The difficulty that many of the sūtras of Bādarāyaṇa give us a pariṇāma view of causation was realized by Sarvajñātma Muni, who tried to explain it away by suggesting that the pariṇāma theory was discussed approvingly in the sūtras only because this theory was nearest to the vivarta , and by initiating people to the pariṇāma theory it would be easier to lead them to the vivarta theory, as hinted in sūtra 11. i. 14[6]. This explanation could have some probability, if the arrangement of the sūtras was such as to support the view that the pariṇāma view was introduced only to prepare the reader’s mind for the vivarta view, which was ultimately definitely approved as the true view; but it has been shown that the content of almost all the sūtras of 11. i. consistently support the pariṇāma view, and that even the sūtra

11. i. 14 cannot be explained as holding the vivarta view of causation as the right one, since the other sūtras of the same section have been explained by Śaṅkara himself on the pariṇāma view; and, if the content be taken into consideration, this sūtra also has to be explained on the pariṇāma view of bhedābheda type.

Footnotes and references:


kiṃ hi yac caitanyenānanvitaṃ tad abrahma-prakṛtikaṃ dṛṣṭam iti brahma-vādinaṃ praty udāhriyeta samastasya vastujātasya brahma-prakṛtikatvābhyu-pagamāt.
      Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya, n. i. 6.


kūṭa-stha-brohniātma-vādinaḥ ekatvaikāntyāt īśitrīśitavyabhāvaḥ īśvara-kāraṇa-pratijñā-virodha iti cet ; na; avidyātmaka-nāma-rūpa-bīja-vyākaratiāpek-ṣarvāt sarvajñatvasya.
      Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra. n. i. 14.

na tāttvikam aiśvaryyaṃ sarvajñatvaṃ ca brahmaṇaḥ kintv avidyopādhikam iti tadāśrayam pratijñā-sūtram, tattvāśrayaṃ tu tad ananyatva-sūtram.
on the above Bhāṣya.


Prof. S. Kuppusvāmī Śāstrī, in an article read before the Third Oriental Conference, quotes a passage from Venkata’s Tattva-ṭīkā on Rāmānuja’s commentary on the Brahma-sūtras, in which he says that Upavarsa is a name of Bodhāyana —vṛttikārasya Bodhāyanasyaiva hi Upavarṣa iti syān nāmaProceedings of the Third Oriental Conference, Madras, 1924. The commentators on Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya say that, when he refers to Vrttikāra in I. i. 9, 1. i. 23,1. ii. 23 and hi. iii. 53, he refers to Upavarsa by name. From the views of Upavarsa referred to in these sūtras it appears that Upavarsa believed in the theory of jñāna-karma-samuccaya, held also by Bhāskara (an adherent of the bhedābheda theory), Rāmānuja and others, but vehemently opposed by Śaṅkara, who wanted to repudiate the idea of his opponents that the performance of sacrificial and Vedic duties could be conceived as a preliminary preparation for making oneself fit for Brahma-knowledge.

References to Dramiḍācārya’s commentary on the Chāndogya Upaniṣad are made by Ānandagiri in his commentary on Śaṅkara’s commentary on the Chāndogya Upaniṣad. In the commentary of Sarvajñātma Muni’s Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka, ni. 217-227,byNṛsiṃhāśrama,the Vākyakāra referred to bySarvajñātma Muni as Atreya has been identified with Brahmanandin or Ṭañka and the bhāsyakāra (a quotation from whose Bhāṣya appears in Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka , ill. 221, “antar-guṇā bhagavatī paradevateti,” is referred to as a quotation from Dramidācārya in Rāmānuja’s Vedārtha-saṃgraha, p. 138, Pandit edition) is identified with Dramiḍācārya, who wrote a commentary on Brahmanandin’s Chāndogyo-paniṣad-vārttika.


Vācaspati Miśra flourished in about A.D. 840. In addition to his Bhāmatī commentary on the Brahma-sūtra he wrote many other works and commentaries on other systems of philosophy. His important works are: Tattva-bindu, Tattva-vaiśāradl (yoga), Tattva-samīkṣā Brahma-siddhi-ṭīkā, Nyāya-kaṇikā on Vidhi-viveka, Nyāya-tattvāloka, Nyāya-ratna-ṭīkā, Nyūya-vārttika-tātparya-ṭīkā, Brahma-tattva-saṃhitoddiparii, Yukti-dīpikā (Sāṃkhya), Sāṃkhya-tattva-kaumudī, Vedānta-tattva-kaumudī.


He lived about A.D. 900 during the reign of King Manukulāditya and was a pupil of Deveśvara.


vivarta-vādasya hi pūrva-bhūmir
vedānta-vāde pariṇāma-vādaḥ
vyavasthite 'smin pariṇāma-vāde
svayaṃ samāyāti vivarta-vādaḥ.
, 11. 61.

upāyam ātiṣṭhati pūrvam uccair
upeyam āptum janatā yathaiva
śrutir niunīndraś ca vivarta-siddhyai
vikāra-vādaṃ vadatas tathaiva.
11. 62.

vikāra-vādaṃ Kapilādi-pakṣam
upetya vādena tu sūtra-kāraḥ
śrutiś ca saṃjalpati pūrvabhūmau
sthitvā vivarta-pratipādanāya.

11. 64.

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