A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

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

Part 2 - Bhāskara and Śaṅkara

There is a text of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, vi. i. i, which is treated from two different points of view by Śaṅkara and Bhāskara in connection with the interpretation of Brahma-sūtra, II. i. 14[1]. Śaṅkara’s interpretation of this, as Vācaspati explains it, is that, when clay is known, all clay-materials are known, not because the clay-materials are really clay, for they are indeed different. But, if so, how can we, by knowing one, know the other? Because the clay-materials do not really exist; they are all, and so indeed are all that pass as modifications (vikāra), but mere expressions of speech (vācārambhaṇam), mere names (nāmdheyam) having no real entities or objects to which they refer, having in fact no existence at all[2].

Bhāskara says that the passage means that clay alone is real, and the purport of speech depends on two things, the objects and the facts implied and the names which imply them. The effects (kārya) are indeed the basis of all our practical behaviour and conduct, involving the objects and facts implied and the expressions and names which imply them. How can the cause and effect be identical? The answer to this is that it is true that it is to the effects that our speech applies and that these make all practical behaviour possible, but the effects are in reality but stages of manifestation, modification and existence of the cause itself. So, from the point of view that the effects come and go, appear and disappear, whereas the cause remains permanently the same, as the ground of all its real manifestations, it is said that the cause alone is true—the clay alone is true. The effect, therefore, is only a state of the cause, and is hence both identical with it and different from it[3]. The effect, the name (nāma-dheya), is real, and the scriptures also assert this[4].

Bhāskara argues against Śaṅkara as follows: the arguments that the upholder of māyā (māyāvādin) could adduce against those who believed in the reality of the many, the world, might be adduced against him also, in so far as he believes in monism (adraita). A person who hears the scriptures and philosophizes is at first under the veil of ignorance (avidyā); and, if on account of this ignorance his knowledge of duality was false, his knowledge of monism might equally for the same reason be considered as false. All Brahma-knowledge is false, because it is knowledge, like the knowledge of the world.

It is argued that, just as from the false knowledge of a dream and of letters there can be true acquisition of good and evil or of certain meanings, so from the false knowledge of words and their meanings, as involved in the knowledge of monistic texts of the Upaniṣads, there may arise right knowledge. But such an argument is based on false analogy. When from certain kinds of dreams someone judges that good or evil will come to him, it is not from nothing that he judges, since he judges from particular dream experiences; and these dream experiences are facts having particular characters and features; they are not mere nothing, like the hare’s horn; no one can judge of anything from the hare’s horn.

The letters also have certain shapes and forms and are definitely by common consent and agreement associated with particular sounds; it is well known that different letters in different countries may be used to denote one kind of sound. Again, if from a mistake someone experiences fear and dies, it is not from nothing or from something false that he dies; for he had a real fear, and the fear was the cause of death and was roused by the memory of a real thing, and the only unreality about it was that the thing was not present there at that time. So no example could be given to show that from false knowledge, or falsehood as such, there could come right knowledge or the truth. Again, how can the scriptures demonstrate the falsehood of the world? If all auditory knowledge were false, all language would be false, and even the scriptural texts would be nonexistent.

Further, what is this “avidyā” if it cannot be described? How can one make anyone understand it? What nonsense it is to say that that which manifests itself as all the visible and tangible world of practical conduct and behaviour cannot itself be described[5]. If it is beginningless, it must be eternal, and there can be no liberation. It cannot be both existent and non-existent; for that would be contradictory. It cannot be mere negation; for, being non-existent, it could not bring bondage. If it brings bondage, it must be an entity, and that means a dual existence with Brahman. So the proposition of the upholder of māyā is false.

What is true, however, is that, just as milk gets curdled, so it is God Himself who by His own will and knowledge and omnipotence transforms Himself into this world. There is no inconsistency in God’s transforming Himself into the world, though He is partless; for He can do so by various kinds of powers, modifying them according to His own will. He possesses two powers; by one He has become the world of enjoyables (bhogya-śakti), and by the other the individual souls, the enjoyers (bhoktṛ); but in spite of this modification of Himself He remains unchanged in His own purity; for it is by the manifestation and modification of His powers that the modification of the world as the enjoyable and the enjoyer takes place. It is just as the sun sends out his rays and collects them back into himself, but yet remains in himself the same[6].

Footnotes and references:


tad-ananyatvam ārambhaṇa-śabdādibhyaḥ.
ii. i. 14.

yathā saumya ekena mṛt-piṇḍen asarvaṃ mṛṇmayaṃ vijñātaṃ syādvācāram-bhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ mṛttike’ty’eva satyaṃ
     (Ch. vi. 1. 1).


Bhāmatī, Brahma-sūtra, ii. i. 14. Rāhu is a demon which is merely a living head with no body, its sole body being its head; but still we use, for convenience of language, the expression “Rāhu’s head” (Rāhoḥ śiraḥ) ; similarly clay alone is real, and what we call clay-materials, jugs, plates, etc., are mere expressions of speech having no real objects or entities to which they can apply—they simply do not exist at all—but are mere vikalpa;

vācā kevalarti ārabhyate vikāra-jātaṃ na tu tattvato’sti yato nāmadheya-mātram etat;...
yathā rāhoḥ siraḥ...
śabda-jñāna -nupātī vastu-śūnyo vikalpa iti; tathā caz'astutayā am tarn vikāra-jātaṃ.


vāg-indriyasya ubhayam ārambhaṇam vikāro nāmadheyam. . . ubhayam ālambya vāg-vyavahāraḥ pravartate ghaṭena udakam āhare’ ti mṛṇmayam ity asya idaṃ vyākhyānam. . . kāraṇam eva kāryā-tmanā ghaṭavad avatiṣṭhate. . . kārana-sya vasthā-mātraṃ kāryaṃ vyatirikta vyatiriktaṃ śukti-rajataz'ad āgamāpāya-dharmitvāc ca anṛtam anityam iti ca vyapadiśyate.
11. 1. 14.


atha nāma-dheyaṃ satyasya satyamiti, etc. Ibid.


yasyāḥ kāryam idaṃ kṛtsnaṃ vyavahārāya kalpate
nirvaktuṃ sā na śakye ti vacanaṃ vacanār-thakaṃ.


Bhāskara-bhāṣya, ii. i. 27, also I. 4. 25.

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