A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of brahma-experience and experience: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth part in the series called the “the philosophy of vijnana bhikshu”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 4 - Brahma-Experience and Experience

Cause may be defined as the productivity due to direct and immediate perception of the material cause. The buddhi is regarded as an effect because, like jugs and other things, it is produced through some direct and immediate intuition of its causal material. This naturally implies that the buddhi has a causal material which is directly perceived by some Being and to which His creative activity is directed and this Being is God. It is said in the Brahma-sūtras that Brahman can be known by the testimony of the scriptures. But this cannot be true, for the Upaniṣads say that the Brahman cannot be expressed by words or known by intellect.

The reply to this is that the denial contemplated in such passages refers only to the fact that Brahman cannot be known in entirety or in its uniqueness by the scriptural texts, but these passages do not mean that it is not possible to have a generic knowledge of the nature of Brahman. It is only when we have such a generic knowledge from the scriptures that we enter the sphere from which we may proceed further and further through the processes of Yoga and have ultimately a direct intuitive apperception of it. The specific nature of God as devoid of any quality or character only means that His nature is different from the nature of all other things, and though such a nature may not be realized by ordinary perception, inference or other sources of knowledge, there cannot be any objection to its being apprehended by the intuition of Yoga meditation.

There are some Vedāntists who think that the Brahman cannot be felt or apprehended intuitively, but there is a mental state or function (vṛtti) which has the Brahman as its object. Such a mental state destroys the nescience and as a result of this the Brahman shines forth. But Bhikṣu objects to this and says that the vṛtti or mental function is admitted for relating the consciousness or the self with the objects, but once this connection is effected the objects are directly apprehended; so, in order to bring Brahman within the sphere of knowledge, the intuitive apperception is in itself sufficient for the purpose. It cannot be held that, since Brahman is itself of the nature of pure illumination, no special intuitive apprehension is necessary and that the existence of the mental function or vṛtti was admitted for explaining the dissolution of ajñāna; for Brahman, being of the nature of consciousness, can be realized only through intuitive apprehension which is itself of the nature of knowledge. Since all apprehension is direct and immediate, self-knowledge must also be of the same kind.

There is also no necessity to assume a principle of obstruction which has to be overcome as a condition of the rise of knowledge. In the state of deep dreamless sleep a principle of obstruction in the shape of the function of tamas has to be admitted in order to explain the absence of knowledge which leads to the absence of all cognitive or practical behaviour. To the opponent’s idea that since Brahman is self-luminous it cannot have any relation with anything else, and that since Brahman and the self are identical there cannot be any self-knowledge of Brahman, for the Brahman cannot be both the knower and the known, Bhikṣu’s reply is that self-luminousness does not mean unrelatedness; and the absolute identity of the self and the Brahman cannot also be admitted, and even if it be admitted we can explain the method of Brahma-knowledge by the same manner in which our experiential knowledge or self-consciousness can be explained.

Bhikṣu thinks that since we do not find in the Brahma-sūtras any account of the origin and growth of knowledge, the Sāṃkhya-Yoga account of knowledge may well be accepted on account of the general affinity of the Sāṃkhya-Yoga ideas with the Vedānta. According to the Sāṃkhya-Yoga there is first a contact of the senses with their respective objects and as a result the tamas aspect of the buddhi is subordinated at the time; and the buddhi as pure sattva assumes the form of the object. This state of buddhi is called an objective state of the buddhi or a sensory idea or state (sā buddhya-vasthā viṣayā-kārā buddhi-vṛttir ity ucyate).

During dreams and contemplative states images of external objects arise in the mind and are directly perceived and therefore valid. The connection of the puruṣa with the external objects is thus effected through the intermediary of the buddhi. So long as the buddhi remains impure the puruṣa cannot get itself related to objects through it. It is for this reason that during deep sleep when the buddhi is dominated by tamas the puruṣa- consciousness cannot manifest itself or make itself related with other objects. As soon as the buddhi is modified into a sensory or image-state it is reflected in the puruṣa, which then reveals it as a flash of conscious state. It is in this manner that the pure infinite consciousness can manifest itself into finite forms of objects. As the buddhi is constantly transforming itself into various forms and reflecting them on the puruṣa from beginningless time there is a continuous flow of conscious states only occasionally punctuated by dreamless sleep.

The puruṣa in its turn is also reflected in the buddhi and thereby gives rise to the notion of ego. In this connection Bhikṣu criticizes the view of Vācaspati that the reflection of the puruṣa in the buddhi is sufficient to explain the cognitive situation, and says that a reflection of consciousness cannot itself be conscious and hence cannot explain why the states of buddhi should appear as conscious. But the assumption that the states of buddhi are reflected in the consciousness explains their real connection with consciousness. It may be said that since it is only the reflections that are associated with consciousness, the things as they exist are not known. The reply to such an objection is that the buddhi-states are but copies of the external objects; and if the copies are intelligized, we have in the validity of such direct acquaintance of the copies the guarantee of their application to objects. It may be said again that when the reflections of the buddhi-states in the consciousness appear as one with it and therefore produce the phenomenon of knowledge we have in such phenomena an illusory unity of the consciousness with the states; our knowledge then becomes illusory.

The reply to such an objection is that even if there is an element of illusion in knowledge, that does not touch the reality and validity of the objects to which such knowledge refers. Valid knowledge (pramā) thus consists of this reflection of the buddhi- states in the puruṣa. The fruit of the cognitive process (pramāṇa-phala) belongs to the pure consciousness or the puruṣa who thus behaves as the knower, though he is absolutely unattached to all experiences. The Vaiśeṣikas lay stress on the appearance of knowledge as produced and destroyed and therefore regard knowledge as being produced or destroyed by the collocation of causes. The reflection of the mental states to puruṣa is explained by them as if the knowledge belonged to the self. The Vedāntic epistemological process in which the puruṣa appears to be the knower and the enjoyer is explained by them as being due to a separate cognitive process called anu-vyavasāya.

The transcendental experience of God has also to be explained on the basis of the origin of ordinary experiential knowledge. Through the understanding of the meaning of the scriptural texts and by the processes of Yoga there arises in the buddhi a modification of the form “I am Brahman.” This valid form of modification, being reflected in the puruṣa, is revealed as an intuitive apperception of the fact as true self-knowledge belonging to puruṣa. The difference between ordinary experiential knowledge and this knowledge is that it destroys egoism (abhimāna). In such a conception of self-knowledge the objection that the self cannot be both the knower and the known does not hold good; for the self that is known, being a mental state, is different in character from the transcendent self which knows it.

The transcendent self as such is the knower, while its reflection in the buddhi as coming back to it is the self that is known[1]. The objection that the admission of the possibility of self-knowledge stands against the doctrine of the selfluminosity of the self is not valid. The self-luminosity of the self simply means that it shines by itself and does not require the aid of any conditions to manifest itself.

Footnotes and references:


 ātmā’pi bimba-rūpeṇa jñātā bhavati svagata-sva-pratibimba-rūpeṇa ca jñeyaḥ.
, I. I. 3.

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