A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of controversy with the monists by madhava mukunda: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “the nimbarka school of philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - Controversy with the Monists by Mādhava Mukunda

(a) The Main Thesis and the Ultimate End in Advaita Vedānta are Untenable.

Mādhava Mukunda, supposed to be a native of the village of Aruṇaghatl, Bengal, wrote a work called Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra or Hārda-saṅcaya, in which he tried to show from various points of view the futility of the monistic interpretation of Vedānta by Śaṅkara and his followers.

He says that the Śaṅkarites are interested in demonstrating the identity of the individuals with Brahman (jīva-brahmai-kya) and this forms the principal subject-matter of all their discussions. This identity may be illusory or not. In the former case duality or plurality would be real, and in the latter case, i.e. if identity be real, then the duality presupposed in the identification must also be real[1]. It is not the case of the single point of an identity that Śaṅkarites are interested in, but in the demonstration of an identification of the individuals with Brahman. The demonstration of identity necessarily implies the reality of the negation of the duality. If such a negation is false, the identification must also be false, for it is on the reality of the negation that the reality of the identification depends. If the negation of duality be real, then the duality must also be real in some sense and the identification can imply the reality of the negation only in some particular aspect.

The objections levelled by the Śaṅkarites against the admission of “duality” or “difference” as a category are, firstly, that the category of difference (bheda) being by nature a relation involves two poles and hence it cannot be identical in nature with its locus in which it is supposed to subsist (bhedasya na adhikaraṇa-svarū-patvam). Secondly, that if “difference” is different in nature from its locus, then a second grade of “difference” has to be introduced and this would imply another grade of difference and so on ad infinitum. Thus we have a vicious infinite.

To the first objection, the reply is that “difference” is not relational’in nature with this or that individual locus, but with the concept of the locus as such (bhūtalatvā-dinā nirapekṣatve’pi adhikaraṇātmakatvena sāpeksatve kṣaterabhāvāt)[2].

The charge of vicious infinite by the introduction of differences of differences is invalid, for all differences are identical in nature with their locus. So in the case of a series of differences the nature of each difference becomes well defined and the viciousness of the infinite series vanishes. In the instance “there is a jug on the ground” the nature of the difference of the jug is jugness, whereas in the case of the difference of the difference, the second order of difference has a separate specification as a special order of dif-ferenceness. Moreover, since difference reveals only the particular modes of the objects, these difficulties cannot arise. In perceiving difference we do not perceive difference as an entity different from the two objects between which it is supposed to subsist[3]. One might equally well find such a fault of mutual dependence on the identification of Brahman with jīva, since it depends upon the identification of the jīva with the Brahman.

A further discussion of the subject shows that there cannot be any objections against “differences” on the score of their being produced, for they merely subsist and are not produced; or on the possibility of their being known, for if differences were never perceived the Śaṅkarites would not have been so anxious to remove the so-called illusions or mis-perception of differences, or to misspend their energies in trying to demonstrate that Brahman was different from all that was false, material and the like; and the saint also would not be able to distinguish between what was eternal and transitory. Again, it is held that there is a knowledge which contradicts the notion of difference. But if this knowledge itself involves difference it cannot contradict it. Whatever may signify anything must do so by restricting its signification to it, and all such restriction involves difference. Even the comprehension that demonstrates the illusoriness of “difference” (e.g. this is not difference, or there is no difference here, etc.) proves the existence of “difference.” Moreover, a question may be raised as to whether the notion that contradicts difference is itself comprehended as different from difference or not. In the former case the validity of the notion leaves “difference” unmolested and in the second case, i.e. if it is not comprehended as different from “difference,” it becomes identical with it and cannot contradict it.

If it is contended that in the above procedure an attempt has been made to establish the category of difference only in indirect manner and that nothing has been directly said in explanation of the concept of difference, the reply is that those who have sought to explain the concept of unity have fared no better. If it is urged that if ultimately the absolute unity or identity is not accepted then that would lead us to nihilism, then it may also be urged with the same force that, differences being but modes of the objects themselves, a denial of difference would mean the denial of the objects, and this would also land us in nihilism. It must, however, be noted that though difference is but a mode of the objects which differ, yet the terms of reference by which difference becomes intelligible (the table is different from the chair: here the difference of the table is but its mode, though it becomes intelligible by its difference from the chair) are by no means constituents of the objects in which the difference exists as their mode.

The Śaṅkarites believe in the refutation of dualism, as by such a refutation the unity is established. The thesis of unity is thus though, on the one hand dependent upon such refutation and yet on the other hand identical with it because all such refutations are believed to be imaginary. In the same manner it may be urged that the demonstration of difference involves with it a reference to other terms, but is yet identical in nature with the object of which it is a mode; the reference to the terms is necessary only for purposes of comprehension.

It must, however, be noted that since difference is but a mode of the object the comprehension of the latter necessarily means the comprehension of all differences existing in it. An object may be known in a particular manner, yet it may remain unknown in its differential aspects, just as the monists hold that pure consciousness is always flashing forth but yet its aspect as the unity of all things may remain unknown. In comprehending a difference between any two objects, no logical priority which could have led to a vicious circle is demanded. But the two are together taken in consciousness and the apprehension of the one is felt as its distinction from the other. The same sort of distinction has to be adduced by the monists also in explaining the comprehension of the identity of the individual souls with the Brahman, otherwise in their case too there would have been the charge of a vicious circle. For when one says “these two are not different,” their duality and difference depend upon a comprehension of their difference which, while present, prevents their identity from being established. If it is held that the duality is imaginary whereas the identity is real, then the two being of a different order of existence the contradiction of the one cannot lead to the affirmation of the other. The apology that in comprehending identity no two-term reference is needed is futile, for an identity is comprehended only as the negation of the two-term duality.

Thus, from the above considerations, the main thesis of the Śaṅkarites, that all things are identical with Brahman, falls to the ground.

According to Nimbārka the ideal of emancipation is participation in God’s nature (tad-bhāvā-patti). This is the ultimate end and summutn bonum of life (prayojana). According to the Śaṅkarites emancipation consists in the ultimate oneness or identity existing between individual souls and Brahman. The Brahman in reality is one with the individual souls, and the apparent difference noticed in our ordinary practical life is due to misconception and ignorance, which impose upon us a false notion of duality. Mādhava Mukunda urges that in such a view, since the individual souls are already one with Brahman, they have nothing to strive for. There is thus really no actual end (proyojana) as the goal of our strivings. Mādhava Mukunda, in attempting to emphasize the futility of the Śaṅkarite position, says that, if the ultimate consciousness be regarded as one, then it would be speckled with the various experiences of individuals. It cannot be held to be appearing as different in accordance with the variety of conditions through which it appears, for in our experiences we find that though through our various cognitive organs we have various experiences they are also emphasized as belonging to one being.

Variability of conditions does not necessarily imply a variety of the units of experience of individual beings, as is maintained by the Śaṅkarites. The pure and ubiquitous dif-ferenceless consciousness (nirviśeṣa-caitanya) cannot also be regarded as capable of being identified as one with the plurality of minds (antaḥkarana). Again, it is admitted by the Śaṅkarites that in dreamless sleep the mind is dissolved. If that were so and if pure consciousness is regarded as being capable of manifesting itself through false identification with minds, there would be no explanation of the continuity of consciousness from day to day in the form of memory. It cannot be urged that such a continuity is maintained by the fact that minds exist in a state of potency (saṃskārā-tmanā’ vasthitasya) in the deep dreamless sleep; for the mind in a potent state cannot be regarded as carrying impressions and memories, since in that case there would be memories even in dreamless sleep.

Further, if the experiences are supposed to belong to the states of ignorance, then emancipation, which refers only to pure consciousness, would refer to an entity different from that which was suffering from bondage. On the other hand, if the experiences belong to pure consciousness, then emancipation will be associated with diverse contradictory experiences at the same time according to the diversity of experiences.

The Śaṅkarites may urge that the conditions which bring about the experiences are associated with pure consciousness and hence in an indirect manner there is a continuity of the being that experiences and attains salvation. To this the reply is that the experiencing of sorrow is a sufficient description of the conditions. That being so, where the experiencing of sorrow does not exist, the conditions, of which it is a sufficient description, also do not exist. Thus, the discontinuity of the entities which suffer bondage and attain emancipation remains the same.

Again, since it is held that the conditions subsist in the pure consciousness, it may well be asked whether emancipation means the dissolution of one condition or many conditions. In the former case we should have emancipation always, for one or other of the conditions is being dissolved every moment, and in the latter case we might not have any emancipation at all, for all the conditions determining the experiences of infinite individuals can never be dissolved.

It may also be asked whether the conditions are associated with the pure consciousness in part or in whole. In the first alternative there would be a vicious infinite and in the second the differentiation of the pure consciousness in various units would be inadmissible.

Moreover, it may be asked whether conditions are associated with pure consciousness conditionally or unconditionally. In the former alternative there would be a vicious infinite and in the second case there would be no chance of emancipation. The theory of reflection cannot also explain the situation, for reflection is admitted only when the reflected image has the same order of existence as the object. The avidyā has a different order of existence from Brahman, and thus reflection of Brahman in avidyā cannot be justified. Again, in reflection that which is reflected and that in which the reflection takes place must be in two different places, whereas in the case of avidyā and Brahman the former is supposed to have Brahman as its support. The conditions (upādhi) cannot occupy a part of Brahman, for Brahman has no parts; nor can they occupy the whole of it, for in that case there will be no reflection.

In the Nimbārka system both the monistic and the dualistic texts have their full scope, the dualistic texts in demonstrating the difference that exists between souls and God, and the monistic texts showing the final goal in which the individuals realize themselves as constituents of Him and as such one with Him. But in the Śaṅkara system, where no duality is admitted, everything is selfrealized, there is nothing to be attained and even the process of instruction of the disciple by the preceptor is unavailable, as they are all but adumbrations of ignorance.

(b) Refutation of the Śaṅkara Theory of Illusion in its various Aspects.

The Śaṅkarite doctrine of illusion involves a supposition that the basis of illusion (adhiṣṭḥāna) is imperfectly or partly known. The illusion consists in the imposition of certain appearances upon the unknown part. The stump of a tree is perceived in part as an elongated thing but not in the other part as the stump of a tree, and it is in reference to this part that the mis-attribution of an illusory appearance, e.g. a man, is possible by virtue of which the elongated part is perceived as man. But Brahman is partless and no division of its part is conceivable. It must therefore be wholly known or wholly unknown, and hence there can be no illusion regarding it. Again, illusion implies that an illusory appearance has to be imposed upon an object. But the avidyā, which is beginningless, cannot itself be supposed to be an illusory appearance. Following the analogy of beginninglessness Brahman may be regarded as illusory.

The reply that Brahman being the basis cannot be illusory is meaningless; for though the basis is regarded as the ground of the imposition, there is no necessary implication that the basis must also be true. The objection that the basis has an independent reality because it is the basis associated with ignorance which can become the datum of illusion is futile; because the hasis may also be an unreal one in a serial process where at each stage it is associated with ignorance. In such a view it is not the pure Brahman which becomes the basis but the illusory Brahman which is associated with ignorance. Moreover, if the avidyā and its modifications were absolutely non-existent they could not be the subject of imposition. What really exists somewhere may be imposed elsewhere, but not that which does not exist at all. The pure chimericals like the hare’s horn can never be the subjects of imposition, for that which is absolutely non-existent cannot appear at all.

Again, illusions are supposed to happen through the operation of impressions (saṃskāra), but in the beginningless cosmic illusion the impressions must also be beginningless and co-existent with the basis (adhiṣṭḥāna) and therefore real. The impressions must exist prior to the illusion and as such they cannot themselves be illusory, and if they are not illusory they must be real. Again, the impressions cannot belong to Brahman, for then it could not be qualityless and pure; they cannot belong to individual souls, for these are produced as a result of illusory impositions which are again the products of the operation of impressions. Further, similarity plays an important part in all illusions, but Brahman as the ground or basis which is absolutely pure and qualityless has no similarity with anything. There cannot also be any imaginary similarity imposed upon the qualityless Brahman, for such an imaginary imposition presupposes a prior illusion. Again, all illusions are seen to have a beginning, whereas entities that are not illusory, such as the individual souls, are found to be beginningless. It is also erroneous to hold that the ego-substratum behaves as the basis of the illusion, for it is itself a product of the illusion.

Furthermore, the supposition that the world-appearance is a cosmic illusion which is related to pure consciousness in an illusory relation (ādhyāsika-sambandha) is unwarrantable. But the Śaṅkarites admit that the relation between the external world and the knower is brought about by the operation of the mind in modification, called vṛtti. Moreover, if the pure consciousness be admitted to be right knowledge or pramā, then its object or that which shines with it must also be right knowledge and as such it cannot be the basis of false knowledge. If the pure consciousness be false knowledge, it cannot obviously be the basis of false knowledge. The mere fact that some of the known relations, such as contact, inseparable inherence, do not hold between the object of knowledge and knowledge does not prove that their relation must be an illusory one, for other kinds of relations may subsist between them Knowledge-and-the-known may itself be regarded as a unique kind of relation.

It is also wrong to suppose that all relations are false because they are constituents of the false universe, for the universe is supposed to be false because the relations are false, and hence there would be a vicious infinite. Again, the objection that, if relations are admitted to establish connection between two relata, then further relations may be necessary to relate the relation to relata and that this would lead to a vicious infinite, and also that, if relations are identical in essence with the relata, then relations become useless, is futile. The same objections would be admissible in the case of illusory relations. If it is held that, since all relations are illusory, the above strictures do not apply, then it may be pointed out that if the order of the relations be subversed, then, instead of conceiving the jug to be a product of māyā, māyā may be taken as a product of the jug. Thus, not only the Śaṅkarites but even the Buddhists have to admit the orderly character of relations. In the Nimbārka view all relations are regarded as true, being the different modes of the manifestation of the energy of God. Even if the relations be denied, then the nature of Brahman cannot be described as this or that.

(c) Refutation of the Śaṇkarite View of Ajñāna.

Ajñāna is defined as a beginningless positive entity which is destructible by knowledge (anādi-bhāvatve satijñāna-niv arty atv am). The definition is unavailing as it does not apply to ignorance that hides an ordinary object before it is perceived. Nor does ajñāna apply to the ignorance regarding the negation of an object, since it is of a positive nature. Again, in the case of the ignorance that abides in the saint who has attained the knowledge of Brahman, the ajñāna is seen to persist even though knowledge has been attained ; hence the definition of ajñāna as that which is destructible by knowledge fails. In the case of the perception of red colour in the crystal through reflection, the ignorant perception of the white crystal as red persists even though it is known to be false and due to reflection. Here also the ignorance is not removed by knowledge.

It is also wrong to suppose that ajñāna, which is but the product of defect, should be regarded as beginningless. Moreover, it may be pointed out that all things (excluding negation) that are beginningless are also eternal like the souls and it is a curious assumption that there should be an entity called ajñāna which is beginningless and yet destructible. Again, ajñāna is often described as being different both from being and non-being, but has yet been defined as a positive entity. It is also difficult to imagine how, since negative entities are regarded as products of ajñāna, ajñāna may itself be regarded as a positive entity. Moreover, the error or illusion that takes place through absence of knowledge has to be admitted as a negative entity; but being an illusion it has to be regarded as a product of ajñāna.

There is no proof of the existence of ajñāna in the so-called perception “I am ignorant.” It cannot be the pure Brahman, for then that would have to be styled impure. It cannot be a positive knowledge by itself, for that is the very point which has to be proved. Further, if in establishing ajñāna (ignorance) one has to fall back upon jñāna or knowledge, and if in establishing the latter one has to fall back upon the former, then that would involve a vicious circle. It cannot be the ego-substratum (aham-artha), for that is itself a product of ajñāna and cannot be in existence as the datum of the perception of ajñāna. The ego itself cannot be perceived as ignorant, for it is itself a product of ignorance. The ego is never regarded as synonymous with ignorance, and thus there is no means of proving the supposition that ignorance is perceived as a positive entity either as a quality or as a substance.

Ignorance is thus nothing but “absence of knowledge” (jñānā-bhāva) and ought to be recognized by the Śaṅkarites, since they have to admit the validity of the experience “I do not know what you say” which is evidently nothing but a reference to the absence of knowledge which is admitted by the Śaṅkarites in other cases. There is no proof that the cases in point are in any way different from such cases of absence of knowledge. Again, if the ajñāna is regarded as hiding an object, then in the case of mediate knowledge (parokṣa-vṛtti —where according to the Śaṅkarites the vṛtti or the mental state does not remove the veil of ajñāna) one ought to feel that one is ignorant of the object of one’s mediate knowledge, for the veil of ajñāna remains here intact[4]. Moreover, all cases of the supposed perception of ignorance can be explained as the comprehension of the absence of knowledge.

In the above manner Mukunda criticizes the theories of ajñāna and of the illusion in their various aspects. But as the method of the dialectic followed in these logical refutations is substantially the same as that attempted by Veṅkaṭanātha and Vyāsatīrtha which have been examined in detail it is not necessary to give a detailed study of Mukunda’s treatment.

Footnotes and references:


dvitīye aikya-pratiyogika-bhedasya pāramārthikatva-prasaṅgāt.
p. 12.


Ibid. p. 14.


nā’py anyottyā-śrayaḥ bheda-pratyokṣe pratiyogitā-vacchedaka-stambhatvā-di-prakāraka-jñātiosyai’va hetutrāt na tāvad bheda-pratyakṣe bhedā-śrayād bhinnatvena pratiyogi-jñānaṃ etuḥ.
pp. 14, 15.


parokṣa-vṛtter riṣayā-varakā-jñāna-nivartakatvena parokṣato jñāte’pi na jānāmī’ty anubhavō-pātāc ca.
p. 76.

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