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 the nature of brahman: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “the philosophy of vallabha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The nature of Brahman

Brahman is both the material and instrumental cause of the world. There is no diversity of opinion regarding the Brahman as the instrumental (nimitta) cause of the world, but there is difference of opinion whether Brahman is its creator or whether He is its material cause, since the Vedānta does not admit the relation of samavāya, the view that Brahman is the inherent (samavāyi) cause of the world. The objection against Brahman being the samavāyikāraṇa is further enhanced by the supposition that, if He were so He must be liable to change (samavāyitve vikṛtatvasyāpatteḥ). Vallabha holds that the sūtratat tu samanvayāt” establishes the view that Brahman is the inherent cause (samavāyikāraṇa), because it exists everywhere in His tripartite nature, as being, thought and bliss. The world as such (the prapañca) consists of names, forms and actions, and Brahman is the cause of them all, as He exists everywhere in His tripartite forms. The Sāṃkhyists hold that it is the sattva, rajas and tamas which pervade all things, and all things manifest these qualities; a cause must be of the nature of the effects, since all effects are of the nature of sattva, rajas and tamas. So the reply is that there is a more serious objection, because the prakṛti (consisting of sattva, rajas and tamas) is itself a part of Brahman (prakṛter api svamate tadaṃśatvāt)[1].

But yet the Sāṃkhya method of approach cannot be accepted. The pleasure of prakṛti is of the nature of ignorance, and is limited by time and space; things are pleasant to some and unpleasant to others; they are pleasant at one time and not pleasant at another; they are pleasant in some places and unpleasant in other places. But the bliss of Brahman is unlimited by conditions; the relation of. bliss and the self as associated with knowledge is thus different from the pleasure of prakṛti (ātmānandajñānena prākṛtikapriyatvādau bādhadarśanāt)[2].

The Brahman therefore pervades the world in His own true nature as knowledge and bliss. It is by His will that He manifests Himself as many and also manifests His three characters—thought, being and bliss—in different proportions in the material world of antaryāmins. This pervasion of Brahman as many and all is to be distinguished from the Śaṅkarite exposition of it. According to Śaṅkara and his followers the phenomenal world of objects has the Brahman as its basis of reality; the concrete appearances are only impositions on this unchanging reality. According to this view the concrete appearances cannot be regarded as the effects of Brahman, or, in other words, Brahman cannot be regarded as the upādāna or the material cause of the stuff of the concrete objects. We know that among the Śaṅkarites also there are diverse opinions regarding the material cause of the world. Thus the author of the Padārtha-nirṇaya thinks that Brahman and māyā are jointly the cause of the world, Brahman being the unchanging cause and māyā being the transforming cause. Sarvajñātmamuni, the author of the Saṃkṣepa-śāṛīraka, thinks that Brahman is the material cause through the instrumentality of māyā. Vācaspati Miśra thinks that the māyā resting in jīva as associated with Brahman jointly produces the world; māyā here is regarded as the accessory cause (sahakāri). The author of the Siddhānta-muktāvalī thinks that the māyā-śakti is the real material cause and not the Brahman; Brahman is beyond cause and effect[3].

Vallabha, however, disagrees with this view for the reason that according to this the causality of Brahman is only indirect, and as regards the appearances which are illusory impositions according to Śaṅkara no cause is really ascribed; he therefore holds that Brahman by His own will has manifested Himself with preponderance of the elements of being, consciousness, and bliss in His three forms as matter, soul and the Brahman. Brahman is therefore regarded as the samavāyikāraṇa of the world[4].

Bhāskara also holds that Brahman is at once one with the world and different from it, just as the sea is in one sense one with the waves and in another sense different from them. The suggestion that a thing cannot be its opposite is meaningless, because it is so experienced. All things as objects may be regarded as one, but this does not preclude their specific characters and existence; in reality there is no opposition or contradiction, like heat and cold or as between fire and sparks, between Brahman and the world, for the world has sprung out of Him, is maintained in Him and is merged in Him. In the case of ordinary contradiction this is not the case; when the jug is produced out of the earth, though the earth and the jug may seem to be different, yet the jug has no existence without the earth—the former is being maintained by the latter. So, as effect, the world is many; as cause, it is one with Brahman[5].

Vallabha’s point of view is very close to that of Bhāskara, though not identical; he holds that it is the same Brahman who is present in all His fullness in all objects of the world and in the selves. He only manifested some qualities in their preponderating manner in the different forms; multiplicity therefore does not involve any change. It is for this reason that he prefers the term samavāyikāraṇa to upādānakāraṇa ; according to him the concept of samavāyikāraṇa consists in universal and unconditional pervasion. The concept of upādāna involves a concept of change, though the effects caused by the change are maintained by the upādāna (or the material cause) and though it ultimately merges into it[6]. So far as the Brahman may be regarded as being one with all the multiplicity, Vallabha is in agreement with Bhāskara.

Vallabha again denies the relation of samavāya, like other Vedāntic thinkers, though he regards Brahman as the samavāyikāraṇa of the world. His refutation of samavāya follows the same line as that of the other Vedāntic interpreters, Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja, and need not be repeated here. Samavāya, according to Vallabha, is not a relation of inherence such as is admitted by the Nyāya writers; with him it means identity (tādātmya). According to the Nyaiyāyikas samavāya is the relation of inherence which exists between cause and effect, between qualities and substance, between universals and substance; but Vallabha says, that there is no separate relation of inherence here to combine these pairs; it is the substance itself that appears in action, qualities and as cause and effect. It is thus merely a manifestation of identity in varying forms that gives us the notion of diversity in contraries; in reality there is no difference between the varying forms which are supposed to be associated together by a relation of inherence[7].

Puruṣottama, in his Prasthāna-ratnākara, says that māyā is a power of Brahman, and is thus identical with Him (māyāyā api bhagavac-chaktitvena śaktimad-abhinnatvāt)[8]; māyā and avidyā are the same. It is by this māyā that God manifests Himself as many. This manifestation is neither an error nor a confusion; it is a real manifestation of God in diverse forms without implying the notion of change or transformation. The world is thus real, being a real manifestation of God. Brahman Himself, being of the nature of sat, cit and ānanda, can manifest Himself in His partial aspects in the world without the help of any instrument. It is possible to conceive Brahman in His aspects or characters as knowledge, bliss, activity, time, will, māya, and prakṛti. The kāla represents the kriyā-śakti or power of action. The determination of the creation or dissolution through time (kāla) means the limitation of His power of action; determined by this power of action His other parts act consonantly with it. By His will He conceives His selves as different from Him and through different forms thus conceived He manifests Himself; in this way the diverse characters of Brahman manifesting Himself in diverse forms manifest Himself also as differing in diverse ways. Thus, though He is identical with knowledge and bliss, He appears as the possessor of these. The power of God consists in manifesting His nature as pure being, as action and as producing confusion in His nature as pure intelligence. This confusion, manifesting itself as experiential ignorance (which shows itself as egotism), is a part of the māyā which creates the world, and which is instrument of God as pure bliss in His manifestation as the world.

This māyā thus appears as a secondary cause beyond the original cause, and may sometimes modify it and thereby act as a cause of God’s will. It must, however, be understood that māyā thus conceived cannot be regarded as the original cause; it serves in the first instance to give full play to the original desire of God to become many; in the second place it serves to create the diversity of the grades of existence as superior and inferior. It is in relation to such manifestation of God’s knowledge and action that God may be regarded as the possessor of knowledge and action. The aspect of māyā as creating confusion is regarded as avidyā. This confused apperception is also of the nature of understanding such as we possess it; through this confused understanding there comes a desire for association with the nature of bliss conceived as having a separate existence and through it come the various efforts constituting the life in the living. It is by virtue of this living that the individual is called jīva. The nature as being when posited or a product of the action appears as inanimate objects, and is later on associated again with action and goes to manifest itself as the bodies of the living. So from His twofold will there sprirg forth from His nature as pure being the material prānas, which serve as elements of bondage for the jīvas and are but manifestations of His nature as being: there also spring forth from His nature as pure intelligence the jīvas which are the subject of bondage; and there spring forth like sparks from His nature as pure bliss the antaryāmins which control the jīvas[9]. So among the jīvas who are bound there may be some with whom God may be pleased and to whom He may grant the complete power of knowledge; the confusing māyā leaves its hold upon such persons; they thus remain in a free state in their nature as pure intelligence, but they have not the power to control the affairs of the Universe.

Brahman may be described in another way from the essential point of view (svarūpa) and the causal point of view (kāraṇa). From the essential point of view God may be viewed in three aspects, as action, knowledge, and knowledge and action. The causes prescribed in the sacrificial sphere of the Vedas represent His nature in the second aspect. The third aspect is represented in the course of bhakti in which God is represented as the possessor of knowledge, action and bliss. In the aspect as cause we have the concept of the antaryāmins, which, though they are in reality of the essential nature of Brahman, are regarded as helping the jīvas in their works by presiding over them[10]; the antaryāmins are thus as infinite in number as the jīvas. But apart from these antaryāmins, God is also regarded as one antaryāmin and has been so described in the Antaryāmi-brahman.

Footnotes and references:


Vallabha’s Anubhāṣya, p. 85.


Puruṣottama’s commentary, p. 86.


See Siddhāntaleśa (ed. Lazaras, 1890), pp. 12-13.


anāropitānāgantuka-rūpeṇa anuvṛttir eva samavāya iti idam eva ca tādātmyam.
      Puruṣottama’s commentary on Anubhāṣya, p. 90.


kāryarūpeṇa nānātvam, abhedaḥ kāraṇātmanā hemātmanā yathā’bhedaḥ kuṇḍalādyātmanā bhedaḥ.
p. 18.


nanv atropādāna-padaṃ parityajya samavāyi-padena kuto vyavahāra iti ced ucyate. loke upādāna-padena kartṛ-kriyayā vyāptasya paricchinnasyaivābhidhāna-darśanāt prakṛtir hy asyopādānam iti.
      Puruṣottama’s commentary, p. i x 8.


nanu dūṣite samavāye ayuta-siddhayoḥ kaḥ sambandho’ṅgīkartavyaḥ iti cet tādātmyam eva iti brūmaḥ. katham iti cet itthaṃ pratyakṣād yad-dravyaṃ yad-dravya-samavetaṃ tad tadātmakamiti vyāpteḥ...kāraṇa-kārya-tādātmyaṃ dravyayor nirvivādam.
p. 627.


Prasthāna-ratnākara, p. 159.


evaṃ ca ubhabhyām icchābhyāṃ sac-cid-ānandarūpebhyo yathā-yathaṃ prāṇādyā jaḍāś cid-aṃśa-jīva-bandhana-parikara-bhūtāḥ sadaṃśāḥ jīvāś cidaṃśā bandhamīyā ānandāṃśās tan-niyāmakā antar-yāminaś ca viṣphuliṅga-nyāyena vyuccaranti.
      Commentary on Anubhāṣya, pp. 161-2.


antaryāmināṃ sva-rūpa-bhūtatve’pi jīvena saha kārye praveśāt tad-bhedānām ānantye’pi kāranī-bhūta-vakṣyamāṇa-tattva-śarīre praviśya tat-sahāya-karaṇāt kāraṇa-koṭāv eva niveśo na tu sva-rūpa-koṭav.
pp. 164—5.

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