A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of refutation of brahman as material and instrumental cause: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eleventh part in the series called the “controversy between the dualists and the monists”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 11 - Refutation of Brahman as material and instrumental cause

Vyāsa-tīrtha says that a material cause always undergoes transformation in the production of the effect; but Brahman is supposed to be changeless, and, as such, cannot be the material cause. There are, however, three views: viz., that Brahman and māyā are jointly the cause of the world, just as two threads make a string, or that Brahman with māyā as its power is the cause, or that Brahman as the support of māyā is the cause. The reconciliation is that the Brahman is called changeless so far as it is unassociated with māyā either as joint cause or as power or as instrument.

To this Vyā-satīrtha says that, if the permanently real Brahman is the material cause of the world, the world also would be expected to be so. If it is said that the characteristics of the material cause do not inhere in the effect, but only a knowledge of it is somehow associated with it, then the world-appearance also cannot be characterized as indefinable (or anirvācya) by reason of the fact that it is constituted of māyā. Since only Brahman as unassociated with māyā can be called changeless, the Brahman associated with māyā cannot be regarded as the material cause of the world, if by such material cause the changeless aspect is to be understood. If it is urged that the changes are of the character (māyā), then, since such a character is included within or inseparably associated with the characterized, changes of character involve a change in the characterized, and hence the vivarta view fails. If the underlying substratum, the Brahman, be regarded as devoid of any real change, then it is unreasonable to suppose that such a substratum, in association with its power or character, will be liable to real change; if it is urged that the material cause may be defined as that which is the locus of an illusion, then it may be pointed out that earth is never regarded as the locus of an illusion, nor can the conch-shell be regarded as the material cause of the shell-silver.

The reply of Madhusūdana is that Brahman remains as the ground which makes the transformations of māyā possible. The Brahman has a wider existence than māyā and so cannot participate in the changes of māyā. Further, the objection that, if the Brahman is real, then the world which is its effect should also be real is not valid; for only the qualities of the transforming cause (as earth or of gold) are found to pass over to the effect, whereas, Brahman being the ground-cause, we have no analogy which should lead us to expect that it should pass on to the effect.

Vyāsa-tīrtha further says that, just as one speaks of the being of jugs, so one may speak of the non-being of chimerical entities, but that does not presuppose the assertion that chimerical entities have non-being as their material cause. Again, if the world had Brahman for its material cause, then, since Brahman was pure bliss, the world should also be expected to be of the nature of bliss, which it is not. Again, on the vivarta view of causation there is no meaning in talking of a material cause. Moreover, if Brahman be the material cause, then the antaḥkaraṇa cannot be spoken of as being the material and transforming cause of suffering and other worldly experiences.

Vyāsa-tīrtha, in examining the contention of the Śaṅkarites that Brahman is self-luminous, says that the meaning of the term “self-luminous” (svaprakāśa) must first be cleared. If it is meant that Brahman cannot be the object of any mental state, then there cannot be any dissension between the teacher and the taught regarding the nature of Brahman; for discussions can take place only if Brahman be the object of a mental state. If it is urged that Brahman is self-luminous in the sense that, though not an object of cognition, it is always immediately intuited, then it may be pointed out that the definition fails, since in dreamless sleep and in dissolution there is no such immediate intuition of Brahman. It cannot be said that, though in dreamless sleep the Brahman cannot be immediately intuited, yet it has the status or capacity (yogyatā) of being so intuited; for in emancipation, there being no characters or qualities, it is impossible that such capacities should thus exist.

Even if such capacity be negatively defined, the negation, being a category of world-appearance, cannot be supposed to exist in Brahman. Moreover; if Brahman can in no way be regarded as the result of cognitive action, then the fact that it shines forth at the culmination of the final knowledge leading to Brahmahood would be inexplicable. Nor can it be argued that pure consciousness is self-luminous, i.e., non-cognizable, because of the very fact that it is pure consciousness, since whatever is not pure consciousness is not self-luminous; for non-cognizability, being a quality, must exist somewhere, and, if it is absent everywhere else, it must by reduction be present at least in pure consciousness. But it may be urged that, even if pure consciousness be self-luminous, that does not prove the self-luminosity of the self. The obvious reply is that the self is identical with pure consciousness. To this Vyāsa-tīrtha’s objection is that, since there cannot be any kind of quality in the self, it cannot be argued that self-luminosity exists in it, whether as a positive quality, or as a negation of its negation, or as capacity. For all capacity as such, being outside Brahman, is false, and that which is false cannot be associated with Brahman. If non-cognizability is defined as that which is not a product of the activity of a mental state (phala-vyāpyatvaṃ), and if such non-cognizability be regarded as a sufficient description of Brahman, then, since even the perception of a jug or of the illusory silver or of pleasure and pain satisfies the above condition, the description is too wide, and, since the shining of Brahman itself is the product of the activity of the destruction of the last mental state, the definition is too narrow[1].

It cannot be said that phala-vyāpyatva means the accruing of a speciality produced by the consciousness reflected through a mental state, and that such speciality is the relationing without consciousness on the occasion of the breaking of a veil, and that such a phala-vyāpyatva exists in the jug and not in the self. Nor can it be said that phala-vyāpyatva means the being of the object of consciousness of the ground manifested through consciousness reflected through a mental state. For the Śaṅkarites do not think that a jug is an object of pure consciousness as reflected through a vṛtti or mental state, but hold that it is directly the object of a mental state. It is therefore wrong to suggest that the definition of phala-vyāpyatva is such that it applies to jug, etc., and not to Brahman. By Citsukha pure self-shiningness of consciousness is regarded as an objectivity of consciousness, and, if that is so, Brahman must always be an object of consciousness, and the description of it as non-objectivity to consciousness, or non-cognizability, would be impossible. Citsukha, however, says that Brahman is an object of consciousness (cid-viṣaya), but not an object of cognizing activity (cid-akarmatva). If, following Citsukha, avedyatva (or non-cognizability) be regarded as the status of that which is not the object of a cognitive operation, and if by cognitive operation one expresses that consciousness is manifested through a particular objective form, as in the case of a jug, then, since Brahman also in the final stage is manifested through a corresponding mental state, Brahman also must be admitted to be an object of cognitive operation; otherwise even a jug cannot be regarded as an object of cognitive operation, there being no difference in the case of the apprehension of a jug and that of Brahman. If it is urged that object of cognizability means the accruing of some special changes due to the operation of cognizing, then also Brahman would be as much an object as the jug; for, just as in the case of the cognition of a jug the cognizing activity results in the removal of the veil which was obstructing the manifestation of the jug, so final Brahma-knowledge, which is an intellectual operation, results in the removal of the obstruction to the manifestation of Brahman. The objectivity involved in cognizing cannot be regarded as the accruing of certain results in the object of cognition through the activity involved in cognizing operation; for, the pure consciousness not being an activity, no such accruing of any result due to the activity of the cognizing operation is possible even in objects (as jug, etc.) which are universally admitted to be objects of cognition. If reflection through a mental state be regarded as the cognizing activity, then that applies to Brahman also; for Brahman also is the object of such a reflection through a mental state or idea representing Brahman in the final state.

Citsukha defines self-luminosity as aparokṣa-vyavahāra-yogy-atva, i.e., capability of being regarded as immediate. A dispute may now arise regarding the meaning of this. If it signifies “that which is produced by immediate knowledge,” then virtue and vice, which can be immediately intuited by supernatural knowledge of Yogins and Gods, has also to be regarded as immediate; and, when one infers that he has virtue or vice and finally has an immediate apprehension of that inferential knowledge, or when one has an immediate knowledge of virtue or vice as terms in inductive proposition (e.g., whatever is knowable is definable, such a proposition including virtue and vice as involved under the term “know-able”), one would be justified in saying that virtue and vice are also immediate, and thus immediacy of apprehension would be too wide for a sufficient description of Brahman. Thus, though virtue and vice are not cognizable in their nature, it is yet possible in the case of Yogins and of God to have immediate apprehension of them, and so also in our case, so far as concerns the direct apprehension of inference of them.

If immediacy signifies “that which may be the object of immediate knowledge,” and if the self be regarded as immediate in this sense, then it is to be admitted that the self is an object of immediate cognition, like the jug[2]. Nor can it be urged that the immediacy of an object depends upon the immediacy of the knowledge of it; for the immediacy of knowledge also must depend upon the immediacy of the object. Again, Vyāsa-tīrtha contends that immediacy cannot signify that the content is of the form of immediacy (aparokṣa-ity-ākāra); for it is admitted to be pure and formless and produced by the non-relational intuition of the Vedāntic instructions.

Vyāsa-tīrtha, in his Nyāyāmṛta, tries to prove that Brahman is possessed of qualities, and not devoid of them, as the Śaṅkarites argue; he contends that most of the scriptural texts speak of Brahman as being endowed with qualities. God (Īśvara) is endowed with all good qualities, for He desires to have them and is capable of having them; and He is devoid of all bad qualities, because He does not want them and is capable of divesting Himself of them. It is useless to contend that the mention of Brahman as endowed with qualities refers only to an inferior Brahman; for, Vyāsa-tīrtha urges, the scriptural texts do not speak of any other kind of Brahman than the qualified one. If the Brahman were actually devoid of all qualities, it would be mere vacuity or śūnya, a negation; for all substances that exist must have some qualities. Vyāsa-tīrtha further contends that, since Brahman is the creator and protector of the world and the authorizer of the Vedas, He must have a body and organs of action, though that body is not an ordinary material body (prākṛtāvayavādi-niṣedha-paratvāt); and it is because His body is spiritual and not material that in spite of the possession of a body He is both infinite and eternal and His abode is also spiritual and eternal[3].

Again, it is also wrong to say that Brahman is both the material cause and the instrumental cause of the world, as the substance-stuff of the world and as the creator or modeller of the world; for the material cause undergoes modifications and changes, whereas the Brahman is unchangeable. Brahman, again, is always the master, and the individual selves or souls are always His servants: so God alone is always free (nitya-mukta), whereas individual souls are always related and bound to Him[4]. The guṇas belong to prakṛti or māyā and not to the individual souls; and therefore, since the guṇas of prakṛti are not in the individual souls, there cannot be any question of the bondage of individual souls by them or of liberation from them. Whatever bondage, therefore, there is by which the guṇas tie the individual souls is due to ignorance (avidyā). The guṇas, again, cannot affect God; for they are dependent (adhīna) on Him. It is only out of a part of God that all individual souls have come into being, and that part is so far different from God that, though through ignorance the individual souls, which have sprung forth from this part, may be suffering bondage, God Himself remains ever free from all such ignorance and bondage[5]. The māyā or prakṛti which forms the material cause of the world is a fine dusty stuff or like fine cotton fibres (sūkṣma-reṇumayī sā ca tantu-vāyasya tantuvat), and God fashions the world out of this stuff[6]. This prakṛti is eightfold, inasmuch as it has five modifications as the five elements, and three as manas, buddhi and ahaṃkāra. The māyā, by the help of which God creates the world, is like the mother of the world and is called, in the theological terminology of the Madhva school, Lakṣmī. The creative māyā, or the will of God, is also called the svorūpa-māyā, because she always abides with the Lord. The māyā as prakṛti, or as her guiding power (mayāśrayin), is outside of God, but completely under His control[7].

God is referred to in the Gītā and other sacred texts as possessing a universal all-pervading body, but this body is, as we have already said, a spiritual body, a body of consciousness and bliss (jñānānandātmako hy asau). This His universal body transcends the bounds of all the guṇas, the māyā and their effects. All throughout this universal all-transcending spiritual body of the Lord is full of bliss, consciousness and playful activity[8]. There is no room for pantheism in true philosophy, and therefore Vedic passages which seem to imply the identity of the world and God are to be explained as attributing to God the absolute controlling power[9]. Again, when it is said that the individual souls are parts of God, it does not mean that they are parts in any spatial sense, or in the sense of any actual division such as may be made of material objects. It simply means that the individual souls are similar to God in certain respects and are at the same time much inferior to Him[10].

It may be pointed out in this connection that as God is all-pervasive, so the individual souls are by nature atomic, though by their possession of the quality of consciousness, which is all-pervasive, they can always feel the touch of any part of their body just as a lamp, which, remaining at one place, may have its rays illuminating all places around it[11].

At the end of pralaya God wishes to create, and by His wish disturbs the equilibrium of prakṛti and separates its three guṇas, and then creates the different categories of mahat, buddhi, manas and the five elements and also their presiding deities; and then He permeates the whole world, including the living and the nonliving[12]. In all the different states of existence (e.g., the waking, dream, deep sleep, swoon and liberation) it is God who by His various forms of manifestation controls all individual souls, and by bringing about these states maintains the existence of the world[13]. The destruction or pralaya also of the world is effected by His will[14]. Moreover, all knowledge that arises in all individual souls either for mundane experience or for liberation, and whatever may be the instruments employed for the production of such knowledge, have God as their one common ultimate cause[15].

Footnotes and references:


nāpi phalāvyāpyatvaṃ dṛśyatva-bhaṅge ukta-rītyā prātibhāsike rūpyādau vyāvahārike avidyāntaḥkaraṇa-tad-dharma-sukhādau ghaṭādau ca lakṣaṇasyā-tivyāpteḥ. tatroktarītyaiva brahmaṇo’pi carama-vṛtti-pratibimbita-cid-rūpa-phala-vyāpyatvenāsambhavāc ca.
p. 507(b).


vastuna āparokṣyam aparokṣa-jñāna-viṣayatvaṃ ced ātmāpi ghaṭādivad vedyaḥ syāt.
p. 511(a).


Ibid. pp. 496-8.


muktāv api svāmi-bhṛtya-bhāva-sadbhāvena bhakty-ādi-bandha-sadbhāvāt nitya-baddhatvaṃ jīvasya kṛṣṇasya tu nitya-muktatvam eva.
(p. 179) on Yukti-mallikā.


ekasyaiva mamāṃśasya jīvasyaivaṃ mahāmate
bandhasyāvidyayānādi vidyayā ca tathetaraḥ
sva-bhinnāṃśasya jīvākhyā ajasyaikasya kevalam
bandhaś ca bandhān mokṣaś ca na svasyety āḥa sa prabhuḥ.
p. 179.

The Bhāva-vilāsinī (p. 185) also points out that, though God has His wives and body and His heavenly abode in Vaikuṇṭha, yet He has nothing to tie Himself with these; for these are not of prakṛti- stuff, and, as He has no trace of the guṇas of prakṛti. He is absolutely free; only a tie of prakṛti-stuff can be a tie or bondage But prakṛti cannot affect Him; for He is her master— mama guṇā vastūni ca śruti-smṛtiṣu aprākṛtatayā prasiddhāḥ.

It may be noted in this connection that the Madhva system applies the term māyā in three distinct senses:

  1. as God’s will (harer icchā);
  2. as the material prakṛti (māyākhyā prakṛtir jaḍā);
  3. and māyā or mahā-māyā or avidyā, as the cause of illusions and mistakes (bhrama-hetuś ca māyaikā māyeyaṃ trividhā matā).

(Yukti-mallikā, p. 188.)

There is another view which supposes māyā to be of five kinds; it adds God’s power (śakti) and influence (tejas).


This stuff is said to be infinitely more powdery than the atoms of the Naiyāyikas (tārkikābhimata-paramāṇuto’py ananta-guṇita-sūkṣma-reṇumayī). Bhāva-vilāsinī, p. 189.

The Srīmad-bhāgavata, which is considered by Madhva and his followers to be authoritative, speaks of the four wives of Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, as Māyā, Jayā, Kṛti and Śānti, which are but the four forms of the goddess Śrī, corresponding to the four forms of Hari as Vāmadeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. Yukti-mallikā, p. 191.


It is curious to note that the māyā which produces illusion and which affects only the individual souls, counted in one place referred to above as the third māyā, is counted again as the fourth māyā, and prakṛti (or jaḍa-māyā and māyā-śrī) as the second and the third māyās. Yukti-mallikā, p. 192 a, b.


The Bhāva-vilāsinī (p. 198), giving the meaning of the word śarīra (which ordinarily means “body,” from a root which means “to decay”) with reference to God, assigns a fanciful etymological meaning; it says that the first syllable śa means bliss, ra means “play,” and īra means “consciousness.” In another place Varadarāja speaks of the Lord as being of the nature of the pure bliss of realization and the superintendent of all intelligence:

vidito’si bhavān sākṣāt puruṣaḥ prakṛteḥ paraḥ kevalānubhavānandasvarūpas sarva-buddhi-dṛk.
, p. 201.


ataḥ puruṣa eveti prathamā pañcamī yadā
sadā sarva-nimittatva-mahimā puṃsi varṇyate.
yadā tu saptamī sarvādhāratvaṃ varṇayet tadā
sūktasyaikārthatā caivaṃ satyeva syān na cānyathā.
p. 211.


tat-sadṛśatve sati tato nyūnatvaṃ jīvasya aṃśatvaṃ na tu ekadeśatvaṃ.
, p. 606.


Nyāyāmṛta, p. 612. The view that the atomic soul touches different parts of the body at different successive moments for different touch-experiences is definitely objected to.


Padārtha-saṃgraha-vyākhyāna, pp. 106-8.


The five manifestations of God, controlling the five states above mentioned (waking, dream, etc.), are called Prājña, Viśva, Taijasa, Bhagavān and Turīya Bhagavān respectively.


There are two kinds of destruction or pralaya in this system:

  1. the mahā-pralaya, in which everything but prakṛti is destroyed, only absolute darkness remains, and prakṛti stops all her creative work, except the production of time as successive moments;
  2. the secondary destruction, called avāntara pralaya, which is of two kinds, one in which along with our world the two imaginary worlds are also destroyed, and one in which only the living beings of this world are destroyed.

Ibid. pp. 117-19.


Ibid. p. 119.

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