A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

This page describes the philosophy of prakashananda (a.d. 1550—1600): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the twenty-eighth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta (continued)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 28 - Prakāśānanda (a.d. 1550—1600)

It has been pointed out that the Vedānta doctrine of monism as preached by Śaṅkara could not shake off its apparent duality in association with māyā , which in the hands of the later followers of Śaṅkara gradually thickened into a positive stuff through the evolution or transformation of which all the phenomena of world-appearance could be explained. The Vedāntists held that this māyā, though it adhered to Brahman and spread its magical creations thereon, was unspeakable, indescribable, indefinable, changeable and unthinkable and was thus entirely different from the self-revealing, unchangeable Brahman.

The charge of dualism against such a system of philosophy could be dodged by the teachers of Vedānta only by holding that, since Brahman was the ultimate reality, māyā was unreal and illusory, and hence the charge of duality would be false. But when one considers that māyā is regarded as positive and as the stuff of the transformations of world-appearance, it is hardly intelligible how it can be kept out of consideration as having no kind of existence at all. The positive character of māyā as being the stuff of all world-appearance has to be given up, if the strictly monistic doctrine is to be consistently kept. Almost all the followers of Śaṅkara had, however, been interpreting their master’s views in such a way that the positive existence of an objective world with its infinite varieties as the ground of perceptual presentation was never denied.

The whole course of the development of Vedānta doctrine in the hands of these Vedānta teachers began to crystallize compactly in the view that, since the variety and multiplicity of world-appearance cannot be explained by the pure changeless Brahman, an indefinable stuff, the māyā , has necessarily to be admitted as the ground of this world. Prakāśānanda was probably the first who tried to explain Vedānta from a purely sensationalistic view-point of idealism and denied the objective existence of any stuff. The existence of objects is nothing more than their perception (dṛṣṭi). The central doctrine of Prakāśānanda has already been briefly described in chapter x, section 15, of volume 1 of the present work, and his analysis of the nature of perceptual cognition has already been referred to in a preceding section of the present chapter.

Speaking on the subject of the causality of Brahman, he says that the attribution of causality to Brahman cannot be regarded as strictly correct; for ordinarily causality implies the dual relation of cause and effect; since there is nothing else but Brahman, it cannot, under the circumstances, be called a cause. Nescience (avidyā), again, cannot be called a cause of the world; for causality is based upon the false notion of duality, which is itself the outcome of nescience. The theory of cause and effect thus lies outside the scope of the Vedānta (kārya-kāraṇa-vādasya vedānta-bahir-bhūtatvāt). When in reply to the question, “what is the cause of the world?” it is said that nescience (ajñāna —literally, want of knowledge) is the cause, the respondent simply wants to obviate the awkward silence.

The nature of this nescience cannot, however, be proved by any of the pramāṇas ; for it is like darkness and the pramāṇas or the valid ways of cognition are like light, and it is impossible to perceive darkness by light. Nescience is that which cannot be known except through something else, by its relation to something else, and it is inexplicable in itself, yet beginningless and positive. It will be futile for any one to try to understand it as it is in itself. Nescience is proved by one’s own consciousness: so it is useless to ask how nescience is proved. Yet it is destroyed when the identity of the self with the immediately presented Brahman is realized.

The destruction of nescience cannot mean its cessation together with its products, as Prakāśātman holds in the Vivaraṇa', for such a definition would not apply, whether taken simply or jointly. Prakāśānanda, therefore, defines it as the conviction, following the realization of the underlying ground, that the appearance which was illusorily imposed on it did not exist. This view is different from the anyathā-khyāti view, that the surmised appearance was elsewhere and not on the ground on which it was imposed; for here, when the underlying ground is immediately intuited, the false appearance absolutely vanishes, and it is felt that it was not there, it is not anywhere, and it will not be anywhere; and it is this conviction that is technically called bādha.

The indefinability of nescience is its negation on the ground on which it appears (pratipannopādhau niṣedha-pratiyogitvam). This negation of all else excepting Brahman has thus two forms; in one form it is negation and in another form this negation, being included within “all else except Brahman,” is itself an illusory imposition, and this latter form thus is itself contradicted and negated by its former form. Thus it would be wrong to argue that, since this negation remains after the realization of Brahman, it would not itself be negated, and hence it would be a dual principle existing side by side with Brahman[1].

True knowledge is opposed to false knowledge in such a way that, when the former dawns, the latter is dispelled altogether. An objection is sometimes raised that, if this be so, then the person who has realized Brahma knowledge will cease to have a bodily existence; for bodily existence is based on illusion and all illusion must vanish when true knowledge dawns. And, if this is so, there will be no competent Vedānta teacher. To this Prakāśānanda replies that, even though the Vedānta teacher may be himself an illusory production, he may all the same lead any one to the true path, just as the Vedas, which are themselves but illusory products, may lead any one to the right path[2].

On the subject of the nature of the self as pure bliss ( ānanda) he differs from Sarvajñātma Muni’s view that what is meant by the statement that the self is of the nature of pure bliss is that there is entire absence of all sorrows or negation of bliss in the self. Bliss, according to Sarvajñātma Muni, thus means the absence of the negation of bliss (an-ānanda-vyamtti-mātram ānandatvam)[3]. He differs also from the view of Prakāśātman that ānanda , or bliss, means the substance which appears as blissful, since it is the object that we really desire. Prakāśātman holds that it is the self on which the character of blissfulness is imposed. The self is called blissful, because it is the ground of the appearance of blissfulness. What people consider of value and desire is not the blissfulness, but that which is blissful.

Prakāśānanda holds that this view is not correct, since the self appears not only as blissful, but also as painful, and it would therefore be as right to call the self blissful as to call it painful. Moreover, not the object of blissfulness, which in itself is dissociated from blissfulness, is called blissful, but that which is endowed with bliss is called blissful (viśiṣṭasyaiva ānanda-padārthatvāt)[4]. If blissfulness is not a natural character of the self, it cannot be called blissful because it happens to be the ground on which blissfulness is illusorily imposed. So Prakāśānanda holds that the self is naturally of a blissful character.

Prakāśānanda raises the question regarding the beholder of the experienced duality and says that it is Brahman who has this experience of duality; but, though Brahman alone exists,yet there is no actual modification or transformation {pariṇāma) of Brahman into all its experiences, since such a view would be open to the objections brought against the alternative assumptions of the whole of Brahman or a part of it, and both of them would land us in impossible consequences. The vivarta view holds that the effect has no reality apart from the underlying ground or substance. So vivarta really means oneness with the substance, and it virtually denies all else that may appear to be growing out of this one substance.

The false perception of world-appearance thus consists in the appearance of all kinds of characters in Brahman, which is absolutely characterless (niṣprakārikāyāḥ saprakārakatvena bhāvaḥ). Since the self and its cognition are identical and since there is nothing else but this self, there is no meaning in saying that the Vedānta admits the vivarta view of causation; for, strictly speaking, there is no causation at all (vivartasya bāla-vyutpatti-prayojana-tayā)[5]. If anything existed apart from self, then the Vedāntic monism would be disturbed. If one looks at māyā in accordance with the texts of the Vedas, māyā will appear to be an absolutely fictitious non-entity (tuccha), like the hare’s horn; if an attempt is made to interpret it logically, it is indefinable (anirvacanīya), though common people would always think of it as being real (vāstavī)[6].

Prakāśānanda thus preaches the extreme view of the Vedānta, that there is no kind of objectivity that can be attributed to the world, that māyā is absolutely non-existent, that our ideas have no objective substratum to which they correspond, that the self is the one and only ultimate reality, and that there is no causation or creation of the world. In this view he has often to fight with Sarvajñātma Muni, Prakāśātman, and with others who developed a more realistic conception of māyā transformation; but it was he who, developing probably on the lines of Maṇḍana, tried for the first time to give a consistent presentation of the Vedānta from the most thorough-going idealistic point of view. In the colophon of his work he says that the essence of the Vedānta as preached by him is unknown to his contemporaries and that it was he who first thoroughly expounded this doctrine of philosophy[7].

Prakāśānanda wrote many other works in addition to his Siddhānta-muktāvalī, such as

and this shows that, though a thoroughgoing Vedāntist, he was religiously attached to tantra forms of worship. Nānā Dīkṣita wrote a commentary on the Muktāvalī, called Siddhānta-pradīpikā , at a time when different countries of India had become pervaded by the disciples and disciples of the disciples of Prakāśānanda[8].

Footnotes and references:


Brahmaṇy adhyasyamānaṃ sarvaṃ kālatraye nāstītiniścayasya asti rūpadva-yam ekam bādhātmakam aparam adhyasyamānatvaṃ; tatra adhyasy amānatvena rūpeṇa sva-viṣayatvam; bādhatvena viṣayitvam iti nātmāśraya ity arthaḥ tathā ca nādvaita-kṣatiḥ. Compare also Bhāmatī on Adhyāsa-bhāṣya. Nānā Dīkṣita seems to have borrowed his whole argument from the Bhāmatī. See his commentary on the Siddhānta-muktāvalī. The Pandit, 1890, p. 108.

This idea, however, is not by any means a new contribution of Prakāśānanda. Thus Citsukha writes the same thing in his Tattva-dīpikā (also called Pratyak-tattva-pradīpika), p. 39, as follows:

sarveṣām api bhāvānām āsrayatvena sammate pratiyogitvam atyantābhāvam prati mṛṣātmatā,”

which is the same as prati-pannopādhau niṣedha-pratiyogitvam. Compare also Vedānta-paribhāṣā, pp. 219 and 220, mithyātvaṃ ca svāśrayatvenābhimata-yāvanniṣṭhātyantābhāva-prati-yogitvam. In later times Madhusūdana freely used this definition in his Advaita-siddḥi .


kalpito 'pyupadeṣṭā syād yathā-śāstraṃ samādiśet
na cāvinigamo doṣo ’vidyāvattvena nirṇayāt.
     The Pandit,
1890, p. 160.


Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka, 1. 1. 174.


     The Pandit,
1890, p. 215.


bālān prati vivarto ’yaṃ brahmanaḥ sakalaṃ jagat
avivarttitam ānandam āsthitāḥ kṛtinaḥ sadā.
      The Pandit,
1890, p. 326.


tucchānirvacanīyā ca vāstavī cety asau tridhā
jñeyā māyā tribhir bodhaiḥ śrauta-yauktika-laukikaiḥ.
.  p. 420.


vedāntasārasarvasvam ajñeyam adhunātanaiḥ
aśeṣena mayoktaṃ tat purusottama-yatnataḥ.
      The Pandit,
1890, p. 428.


yacchiṣyasiṣyasandoha-vyāptā bhōrata-bḥūmayaḥ
vande tam yatibḥir vandyaṃ Prakāśānandam īśvaram.
p. 488.

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