A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Part 6 - The Reality of the World

The Śaṅkarites hold that if the world which is of the nature of effect were real it would not be liable to contradiction at the time of Brahma-knowledge; if it were chimerical it would not appear to our sense. The world, however, appears to our senses and is ultimately liable to contradiction; it has therefore an indefinable (anirvacanīya) nature which is the same thing as saying that the world is false[1]. But what is the meaning of this indefinability? It cannot mean the absolutely non-existent, like the chimerical entities of the hare’s horn; it cannot mean that which is absolutely non-existent, for then it would be the souls. But all things must be either existent or non-existent, for there is no third category which is different from the existent and the non-existent. It cannot also be that of which no definition can be given, for it has already been defined as indefinability (nā’pi nirvacanā-narhattvaṃ anenai’va nirucyamānatayā asambhavāt).

It cannot be said to be that which is not the locus of non-existence, for even the chi-mericals are not so, and even Brahman, which is regarded as existent and which is absolutely qualityless, is not the locus of any real existence; for Brahman is only existent in its own nature and is not the locus of any other existence. If it is said that Brahman is the locus of the existence of false appearances, then that may be said to be true as well of the so-called indefinable. Brahman is not the locus of any existence that has the same status as itself. It cannot be defined as that which is not the locus of either the existent or the non-existent, for there is nothing which is the locus of absolute non-existence, since even the chimerical is not the locus of its own non-existence. Moreover, since Brahman and the chimerical have the quality of being qualityless, they may themselves be regarded as the locus of that which is both existent and non-existent, and as such may themselves be regarded as indefinable.

It cannot also be said that indefinability is that of which no sufficient description can be given that “this is such” or that “this is not such,” for no such sufficient description can be given of Brahman itself. There wrould thus be little difference between Brahman and the indefinable. If it is held that “the indefinable” is that regarding the existence of which no evidence can be put forward, then the same may be said about Brahman, because the Brahman being the conceptless pure essence, it is not possible to prove its existence by any proof.

Again, when it is said that the indefinable is that which is neither existent nor non-existent, the meaning of the two terms “existence” and “non-existence” becomes somewhat unintelligible. For “existence” cannot mean only “being” as a class concept, for such a concept does not exist either in Brahman or in the world-appearance. Existence cannot be defined as causal efficiency (artha-kriyā - kāritva), nor as that which is never contradicted; nor non-existence as that which is contradicted, for the world-appearance which is liable to contradiction is not supposed to be non-existent; it is said to be that which is neither existent nor non-existent.

Existence and non-existence cannot also be defined as that which can or cannot be proved, for Brahman is an entity which is neither proved nor unproved. Moreover, the world-appearance cannot be said to be that which is different from all that which can be called “existent” or “non-existent,” for it is admitted to have a practical existence (vyavahārika-sattā). Again, it cannot be urged that if the nature of anything cannot be properly defined as existent or non-existent that it signifies that such an entity must be wholly unreal (avāstava). If a thing is not properly describable as existent or non-existent, that does not imply that it is unreal. The nature of the final dissolution of avidyā cannot be described as existent or not, but that does not imply that such a dissolution is itself unreal and indefinable (nā’nirvācyaśca tat-kṣayaḥ).

Again, from the simple assertion that the world is liable to dissolution through knowledge, its falsity does not necessarily follow. It is wrong to suppose that knowledge destroys only false ignorance, for knowledge destroys its own negation which has a content similar to that of itself; the knowledge of one thing, say that of a jug, is removed by the knowledge of another, the subconscious impression is removed by recognition, attachment is removed by the knowledge of the defects of all worldly things and so also virtuous actions destroy sins. In the case under discussion also it may well be supposed that it is not merely the knowledge of Brahman but meditation of its nature that removes all false notions about the world. Thus, even if the bondage is real, there cannot be any objection that it cannot be cut asunder through the meditation of the nature of Brahman if the scriptures so direct.

It does not follow from any legitimate assumption that what can be cut asunder or removed must necessarily be false. Again, it is well known in experience that what demolishes and what is demolished have the same status of existence; if the knowledge of Brahman can destroy our outlook of the world, that outlook must also be a real and true one. As the knowledge and the object of knowledge have the same status, the defects, as also the locus wherein the defects are imposed, have the same status; the Brahman and the ajñāna also have the same status and both are equally real.

Further, if what is called ajñāna is merely false knowledge, then even when it is removed by the realization, there is no reason why it should still persist in the stage of jlvanmukti or sainthood. The mere fact, therefore, that anything is removable by knowledge does not prove its falsity but only its antagonism to knowledge. So the world is real and the bondage also is real. The bondage is removed not by any kind of knowledge but by the grace of God[2]. The function of true knowledge is to awaken God to exert His grace to cut asunder the knots of bondage.

Again, all the scriptures agree in holding that the world we see around us is being protected and maintained by God. If the world were but a mere false appearance, there would be no meaning in saying that it is being maintained by God. For knowing the world-appearance to be false, He would not be tempted to make any effort for the protection and maintenance of that which is false and unreal. If God Himself is admitted to be under the influence of ignorance, He cannot be entitled to be called God at all.

Pursuing the old dialectical type of reasoning, Mādhava Mukunda urges that the sort of falsehood that is asserted of the world can never be proved or demonstrated. One of the reasons that is adduced in favour of the falsity of the world is that it is knowable or the object of an intellectual state (dṛśya). But if the Vedāntic texts refer to the nature of Brahman, the due comprehension and realization of the meaning of such texts must involve the concept of the nature of Brahman as its object, and thus Brahman itself would be the object of an intellectual state and therefore false. If it is urged that the Brahman can be the object of an intellectual state only in a conditioned form and that the conditioned Brahman is admitted to be false, then the reply is that since the Brahman in its pure form can never manifest itself its purity cannot be proved. If the Brahman does not express itself in its purity through an ideational state corresponding to scriptural texts describing the nature of Brahman, then it is not self-luminous; if it is expressed through such a state, then being expressible through a mental state it is false.

It cannot also be said that since all that is impure is known to be non-self-luminous it follows that all that is pure is self-luminous, for the pure being absolutely unrelationed cannot be referred to or known by way of a negative concomitance. Thus the impure is known only in itself as a positive entity and not as the opposite of the pure, for such a knowledge would imply the knowledge of purity. If, therefore, the predicate of self-luminosity is not denied of impurity as an opposite of “purity,” the predicate of self-luminosity cannot also be affirmed of “purity.” Moreover, if the pure Brahman is never intelligibly realizable, then there would be no emancipation, or there would be an emancipation only with the conditioned Brahman.

Moreover, if all objects are regarded as illusory impositions on pure Brahman, then in the comprehension of these objects the pure Brahman must also be comprehended.

The scriptures also say:

“Brahman is to be perceived with the mind and with the keen intellect”

(manasai’va nudraṣṭavyaṃ . . . dṛśyate tvagrayā buddhyā).

There are also scriptural passages which say that it is the pure Brahman which is the object of meditation (taṃ paśyati niṣkalaṃ dhyāyamānam).

Again, if perceivability or intelligibility determining falsehood is defined as relationing with consciousness, then since pure consciousness is supposed to have a relationing through illusion it also is liable to the charge of being perceivable. In this connection it is difficult to conceive how Brahman, which has no opposition to ajñāna, can have an opposing influence against it when it is in conjunction with a mental state or vṛtti. Instead of such an assumption it might as well be assumed that the object itself acquires an opposing influence to its own ignorance when it is in association with a mental state having the same content as itself. On such a supposition perceivability does not consist in relation with consciousness as conditioned by mental state, for the conditioning has a bearing on the object and not on the consciousness. Thus it may well be assumed that an object becomes perceivable by being conditioned by a mental state of its own content.

The assumption that the vṛtti or the mental state must be reflected on pure consciousness is unnecessary, for it may well be assumed that the ignorance is removed by the mental state itself. An object comes into awareness when it is represented by a mental state, and in order to be aware of anything it is not necessary that the mental state, idea or representation should be reflected in consciousness. Again, if Brahman cannot be its own object, it cannot also be termed self-luminous. For self-luminous means that it is manifest to itself independently, and this involves the implication that the Brahman is an object to itself. If that which is not an object to itself can be called self-luminous, then even material objects can be called self-luminous. Moreover, in the differenceless Brahman there cannot be any immediacy or self-luminousness apart from its nature (nirviśeṣe brahmaṇi svarūpa-bhinnā-parokṣasya abhāvena).

In the monistic view the self is regarded as pure knowledge which has neither a subject nor an object. But that which is subject-less and object-less can hardly be called knowledge, for knowledge is that which manifests objects. If that which does not manifest objects can be called knowledge, even a jug can be called knowledge. Again, the question naturally arises whether, if knowledge be regarded as identical with the self, such knowledge is valid or invalid; if it be valid, then the ajñāna which shines through it should also be valid, and if it be invalid, then that must be due to some defects and there are no such defects in the self. If it is neither false nor right knowledge, it would not be knowledge at all. Again, if the world-appearance is an illusion, then it must be an imposition on the Brahman.

If Brahman be the basis (adhiṣṭḥāna) of the illusory imposition, then it must be an entity that is known in a general manner but not in its details. But Brahman is not an entity of which we can have either any general or specific knowledge. Brahman cannot therefore be regarded as the basis of the imposition of any illusion. In this connection it has further to be borne in mind that if the world were non-existent then it could not have appeared in consciousness; the chimerical entities are never perceived by anyone. The argument that even the illusory snake can produce real fear is invalid, for it is not the illusory snake that produces fear but the real knowledge of snakes that produces it. The child is not afraid of handling even a real snake, for it has no knowledge of snakes and their injurious character. Even dreams are to be regarded as real creation by God and not illusory impositions. The argument that they are false since they can only be perceived by the dreamer and not by others who are near him is invalid, for even the feelings and ideas felt or known by a person cannot be perceived by others who are near him[3].

The world is thus not an illusory imposition on the pure Brahman, but a real transformation of the varied powers of God. The difference of this view from that of Sāṃkhya is that while the Sāṃkhya believes in the transformation of certain primary entities in their entirety, the Nimbārkists believe in the transformation of the various powers of God. God Himself remains unchanged and unmodified, and it is only His powers that suffer modification and thereby produce the visible world[4].

The explanation that the world is produced through the reflection of Brahman in māyā or by its limitation through it is invalid, for since the māyā is an entity of an entirely different order, there cannot be any reflection of Brahman in it or a limitation by it. It is not possible to bind down a thief with a dream-rope.

Footnotes and references:


asac cen na pratīyate sac cen na vādhyate, pratīyate vādhyate ca ataḥ sad-asad-vilakṣaṇaṃ hy anirvacanīyam eva abhyūpagantavyam.
P. 384.


vastutas tu bhagavat-prasādād eva bandha-nivṛttir na prakāra ntareṇa.
p. 388.


Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, p. 420.


Ibid. p. 429.

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