A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

This page describes the philosophy of sureshvara (a.d. 800): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the tenth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta (continued)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Sureśvara’s chief works are the Naiṣkarmyasiddhi and Bṛhad-āraṇyakopaniṣad-bhāṣya-vārttika. The Naiṣkarmyasiddhi has at least five commentaries, such as the Bhāva-tattva-prakāśikā by Citsukha, which is based on Jñānottama’s Candrikā. This Candrikā is thus the earliest commentary on the Naiṣkarmyasiddhi. It is difficultto determine Jñānottama’s date. In the concluding verses of this commentary the two names Satyabodha and Jñānottama occur; and Mr Hiriyanna points out in his introduction to the Naiṣkarmyasiddhi that these two names also occur in the Sarvajña-pītha of Conjee veram, to which he claims to have belonged as teacher and pupil, and according to the list of teachers of that Matha Jñānottama was the fourth from Śaṅkara.

This would place Jñānottama at a very early date; if, however, the concluding verses are not his, but inserted by someone else, then of course they give no clue to his date except the fact that he must have lived before Citsukha, since Citsukha’s commentary was based on Jñānottama’s commentary Candrikā. Another commentary is the Vidyā-surabhi of Jñānāmrta, the pupil of Uttamāmrta; another is the Naiṣkarmya-siddhi-vivaraṇa of Akhilātman, pupil of Daśarathapriya; and there is also another commentary, called Sārārtha, by Rāmadatta, which is of comparatively recent date.

Sureśvara’s Naiṣkarmyasiddhi is divided into four chapters. The first chapter deals with discussions regarding the relation of Vedic duties to the attainment of Vedāntic wisdom. Avidyā is here defined as the non-perception in one’s experience of the ultimate oneness of the self: through this rebirths take place, and it is the destruction of this ignorance which is emancipation (tannāśo muktir ātmanaḥ).

The Mīmāmsists think that, if one ceases to perform actions due to desire (kāmya-karma) and prohibited actions, then the actions which have already accumulated will naturally exhaust themselves in time by yielding fruits, and so, since the obligatory duties do not produce any new karma, and since no other new karmas accumulate, the person will naturally be emancipated from karma. There is, however, in the Vedas no injunction in favour of the attainment of right knowledge. So one should attain emancipation through the performance of the Vedic duties alone. As against this Mīmāṃsā view Sureśvara maintains that emancipation has nothing to do with the performance of actions. Performance of Vedic duties may have an indirect and remote bearing, in the way of purifying one’s mind, but it has certainly no direct bearing on the attainment of salvation.

Sureśvara states a view attributed to Brahmadatta in the Vidyā-surabhi commentary, that ignorance is not removed merely by the knowledge of the identity of oneself with Brahman, as propounded in Vedānta texts, but through long and continuous meditation on the same. So the right apprehension of the Upaniṣadic passages on the identity of the Brahman and the individual does not immediately produce salvation; one has to continue to meditate for a long time on such ideas of identity; and all the time one has to perform all one’s obligatory duties, since, if one ceased to perform them, this would be a transgression of one’s duties and would naturally produce sins, and hence one would not be able to obtain emancipation.

So knowledge must be combined with the performance of duties (jñāna-karma-samuccaya) , which is vehemently opposed by Śaṅkara. Another view which occurs also in the Vārttika, and is there referred to by the commentator Ānandajñāna as being that of Maṇḍana, is that, as the knowledge derived from the Vedāntic texts is verbal and conceptual, it cannot of itself lead to Brahma-knowledge, but, when these texts are continually repeated, they produce a knowledge of Brahman as a mysterious effect by just the same kind of process as gives rise to the mysterious effects of sacrificial or other Vedic duties.

The Vārttika refers to various schools among the adherents of the joint operation of knowledge and of duties (jñāna-karma-samuccaya :), some regarding jñāna as being the more important, others regarding karma as more important, and still others regarding them both as being equally important, thus giving rise to three different schools of jñāna-karma-samuccaya. Sureśvara tries to refute all these views by saying that true knowledge and emancipation are one and the same thing, and that it does not in the least require the performance of any kind of Vedic duties.

Sureśvara also refutes the doctrine of the joint necessity of karma and jñāna on the view of those modified dualists, like Bhartṛprapañca, who thought that reality was a unity in differences, so that the doctrine of differences was as true as that of unity, and that, therefore, duties have to be performed even in the emancipated state, because, the differences being also real, the necessity of duties cannot be ignored at any stage of progress, even in the emancipated state, though true knowledge is also necessary for the realization of truth as unity.

Sureśvara’s refutation of this view is based upon two considerations, viz. that the conception of reality as being both unity and difference is self-contradictory, and that, when the oneness is realized through true knowledge and the sense of otherness and differences is removed, it is not possible that any duties can be performed at that stage; for the performance of duties implies experience of duality and difference[1].

The second chapter of the Naiṣkarmya-siddhi is devoted to the exposition of the nature of self-realization, as won through the proper interpretation of the unity texts of the Upaniṣads by a proper teacher. The experience of the ego and all its associated experiences of attachment, antipathy, etc., vanish with the dawn of true self-knowledge of unity. The notion of ego is a changeful and extraneous element, and hence outside the element of pure consciousness. All manifestations of duality are due to the distracting effects of the antaḥkaraṇa. When true knowledge dawns, the self together with all that is objectivity in knowledge vanishes. All the illusory appearances are due to the imposition of ajñāna on the pure self, which, however, cannot thereby disturb the unperturbed unity of this pure self.

It is the antaḥkaraṇa , or the intellect, that suffers all modifications in the cognitive operations; the underlying pure consciousness remains undisturbed all the same. Yet this non-self which appears as mind, intellect, and its objects is not a substantive entity like the prakṛti of the Sāṃkhya; for its appearance is due merely to ignorance and delusion. This world-appearance is only a product of nescience (ajñāna) or false and indescribable illusion on the self, and is no real product of any real substance as the Sāṃkhya holds. Thus it is that the whole of the world-appearance vanishes like the illusory silver in the conch-shell as soon as truth is realized.

In the third chapter Sureśvara discusses the nature of ajñāna, its relation with the self, and the manner of its dissolution. There are two entities, the self and the non-self; now the non-self, being itself a product of ajñāna (nescience or ignorance), cannot be regarded as its support or object; so the ajñāna has for its support and object the pure self or Brahman; the ignorance of the self is also in regard to itself, since there is no other object regarding which ignorance is possible—the entire field of objective appearance being regarded as the product of ignorance itself. It is the ignorance of the real nature of the self that transforms itself into all that is subjective and objective, the intellect and its objects. It is thus clear that according to Sureśvara, unlike Vācaspati Miśra and Maṇḍana, the avidyā is based not upon individual persons (jīva), but upon the pure intelligence itself. It is this ignorance which, being connected and based upon the pure self, produces the appearances of individual persons and their subjective and objective experiences.

This ajñāna, as mere ignorance, is experienced in deep dreamless sleep, when all its modifications and appearances shrink within it and it is experienced in itself as pure ignorance, which again in the waking state manifests itself in the whole series of experiences. It is easy to see that this view of the relation of ajñāna to pure intelligence is different from the idealism preached by Maṇḍana, as noticed in the previous section.

An objection is raised that, if the ego were as much an extraneous product of ajñāna as the so-called external objects, then the ego should have appeared not as a subject, but as an object like other external or internal objects (e.g. pleasure, pain, etc.). To this Sureśvara replies that, when the antaḥkaraṇa or mind is transformed into the form of the external objects, then, in order to give subjectivity to it, the category of the ego (ahaṃkāra) is produced to associate objective experiences with particular subjective centres, and then through the reflection of the pure intelligence by way of this category of the ego the objective experience, as associated with this category of the ego, appears as subjective experience.

The category of the ego, being immediately and intimat&ly related to the pure intelligence, itself appears as the knower, and the objectivity of the ego is not apparent, just as in burning wood the fire and that which it burns cannot be separated. It is only when the pure intelligence is reflected through the ajñāna product of the category of the ego that the notion of subjectivity applies to it, and all that is associated with it is experienced as the “this,” the object, though in reality the ego is itself as much an object as the objects themselves. All this false experience, however, is destroyed in the realization of Brahman, when Vedāntic texts of unity are realized. In the third chapter of the Naiṣkarmyasiddhi the central ideas of the other three chapters are recapitulated. In the Vārttika Sureśvara discusses the very same problems in a much more elaborate manner, but it is not useful for our present purposes to enter into these details.

Footnotes and references:


See also Prof. Hiriyanna’s introduction to his edition of the Naiṣkarmya-siddki.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: