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 status of the world: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “the philosophy of jiva gosvami and baladeva vidyabhushana”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Thus in the Vaiṣṇava system the world is not false (like the rope-snake), but destructible (like a jug). The world has no reality; for, though it is not false, it has no uninterrupted existence in past, present and future; only that can be regarded as real which is neither false nor has only an interrupted existence in time. Such reality can only be affirmed of Paramātman or His power[1]. The Upaniṣads say that in the beginning there existed ultimate Reality, sat ; this term means the mutual identity of the subtle potential power of Brahman and the Brahman. The theory of satkāryavāda may be supposed to hold good with reference to the fact that it is the subtle power of God that manifests itself in diverse forms (sūkṣmāvasthā-lakṣaṇa-tac-chaktiḥ). Now the question arises, whether, if the world has the ultimate sat as its material cause, it must be as indestructible as that; if the world is indestructible, then why should it not be false (like the conch-shell-silver) and, consequently, why should not the vivarta theory be regarded as valid? The reply to such a question is that to argue that, because anything is produced from the real (sat), therefore it must also be real (sat) is false, since this is not everywhere the case; it cannot be asserted that the qualities of the effect should be wholly identical with the qualities of the cause; the rays of light emanating from fire have not the power of burning[2]. Śrīdhara, in his commentary on the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, asserting that Brahman has an unchangeable and a changeable form, explains the apparent incongruity in the possibility of the changeable coming out of the unchangeable on the basis of the above analogy of fire and the rays emanating from it. Again, in other cases an appearance like that of silver manifesting itself from the conch-shell is wholly false, as it has only appearance, but no utility; so there are many other things which, though they are believed to have a particular nature, are in reality quite different and have entirely different effects. Thus some wood poison may be believed to be dry ginger, and used as such; but it will still retain its poisonous effects. Here, in spite of the illusory knowledge of one thing as another, the things retain their natural qualities, which are not affected by the illusory notion.

The power a thing has of effecting any change or utility cannot be present at all times and places, or with the change of object, and so the power of effecting any change or utility, not being an eternal and all-abiding quality, cannot be regarded as the defining character of reality; so a false appearance like the conch-shell-silver, which has merely a perceivable form, but no other utility or power of effecting changes, cannot be regarded as real. Only that is real which is present in all cases of illusory objects or those which have any kind of utility; reality is that which lies as the ground and basis of all kinds of experience, illusory or relatively objective. The so-called real world about us, though no doubt endowed with the power of effecting changes or utility, is yet destructible. The word “destructible,” however, is used only in the sense that the world returns to the original cause—the power of God—from which it came into being. The mere fact that we deal with the world and that it serves some purpose or utility is no proof that it is real; for our conduct and our dealings may proceed on the basis of blind convention, without assuming any reality in them. The currency of a series of conventions based on mutual beliefs cannot prove either their reality or their nature as knowledge (vijñāna) without any underlying substratum. Thus the currency of conventions cannot prove their validity. The world thus is neither false nor eternal; it is real, and yet does not remain in its apparent form, but loses itself in its own unmanifested state within the power of Brahman; and in this sense both the satkārya and the pariṇāma theories are valid[3].

It is wrong to suppose that originally the world did not exist at all and that in the end also it will absolutely cease to exist; for, since absolute reality is altogether devoid of any other kind of experience, and is of the nature of homogeneous blissful experience, it is impossible to explain the world as an illusory imposition like the conch-shell-silver. It is for this reason that the world-creation is to be explained on the analogy of pariṇāma (or evolution) and not on the analogy of illusory appearances like the conch-shell-silver or the rope-snake. Through His own unthinkable, indeterminable and inscrutable power the Brahman remains one with Himself and yet produces the world[4]; thus it is wrong to think of Brahman as being the ground cause. If the world is eternally existent as it is, then the causal operation is meaningless; if the world is absolutely non-existent, then the notion of causal operation to produce the absolutely non-existent is also impossible. Therefore, the world is neither wholly existent nor wholly non-existent, but only existent in an unmanifested form. The jug exists in the lump of clay, in an unmanifested form; and causal operation is directed only to actualize the potential; the world also exists in the ultimate cause, in an unmanifested form, and is actualized in a manifest form by His natural power operating in a definite manner. It is thus wrong to suppose that the māyā of the jīva, from which comes all ignorance, is to be regarded as the cause of the majesty of God’s powers; God is independent, all-powerful and all-creator, responsible for all that exists in the world. It is thus wrong to suppose that the jīva creates the world either by his own powers or by his own ajñāna ; God is essentially true, and so He cannot create anything that is false[5].

The Vaiṣṇava theory thus accepts the doctrine of ultimate dissolution in prakṛti (prakṛti-laya). In the time of emancipation the world is not destroyed; for being of the nature of the power of God it cannot be destroyed; it is well known that in the case of jīvan-mukti the body remains. What happens in the stage of emancipation is that all illusory notions about the world vanish, but the world, as such, remains, since it is not false; emancipation is thus a state of subjective reformation, not an objective disappearance of the world. As the objective world is described as identical with God’s powers, so also are the senses and the buddhi. When the Upaniṣad says that the manas is created by God, this merely means that God is identical with the cosmic manas, the manas of all beings, in His form as Aniruddha[6]. The ultimate cause is identical with the effect; wherever the effect is new (apūrva), and has a beginning and an end, it is illusory; for here the concept of cause and effect are mutually interdependent and not separately determinable. Until the effect is produced, nothing can be regarded as cause, and, unless the cause is determined, the effect cannot be determined[7]; so to validate the concept of causality the power as effect must be regarded as already existent in the cause. It is this potential existence of effect that proves its actual existence; thus the world exists as the natural energy of God, and as such it is eternally real. Even the slightest change and manifestation cannot be explained without reference to God or independently of Him; if such explanation were possible, the world also would be self-luminous pure consciousness.

It has been said that the jīvas are indeed the energy of God, but that still they may suffer from the defect of an obscuration of their self-luminosity. The jīvas, being of the nature of taṭastha śakti, are inferior to the essential power of God, by which their selfluminosity could be obscured[8]. This obscuration could be removed by God’s will only through the spirit of enquiry regarding God’s nature on the part of the jīvas. According to the Ṣaṭ-sandarbha the world is a real creation; but it refers with some approval to another view, that the world is a magical creation which deludes the jīvas into believing in a real objective existence of the world. This view, however, must be distinguished from the monistic view of Śaṅkara (which is that the real creator by His real power manifests the world-experience to a real perceiver)[9], and it also differs from the Ṣaṭ-sandarbha in that the latter regards the world as a real creation. It must, however, be maintained that the main interest of the Vaiṣṇavas is not in these hair-splitting dialectical discussions; theirs is professedly a system of practical religious emotionalism, and this being so it matters very little to a Vaiṣṇava whether the world is real or unreal. His chief interest lies in the delight of his devotion to God[10]. It is further held that the ordinary experience of the world can well be explained by a reference to world-analogies; but the transcendental relation existing between God, the individual, the souls and the world can hardly be so explained. The Upaniṣad texts declare the identity of the jīva and parameśvara ; but they only mean that parameśvara and the jīva alike are pure consciousness.

Footnotes and references:


tato vivarta-vādinām iva rajju-sarpa-van na mithyātvaṃ kintu ghaṭa-van naśvaratvam eva tasya. tato mithyātvābhāve api tri-kālāvyabhicārā-bhāvāj jagato na sattvaṃ vivarta-pariṇāmāsiddhatvena tad-doṣa-dvayābhāvavaty eva hi vastuni sattvaṃ vidhīyate yathā paramātmani tacchaktau vā.
p. 255.


Ibid. p. 256.


Ṣaṭ-sandarbha, p. 259


ato acintya-saṅkhyā-svarūpād acyutaṣyaiva tava pariṇāma-svīkāreṇa draviṇa-jātīnāṃ dravya-mātrāṇām mṛl-lohādīnāṃ vikalpā vedā ghaṭa-kuṇḍalādayas teṣāṃ panthāno mārgāḥ prakārās tair eva asmābhir upamīyate na tu kutrāpi bhrama-rajatādibhiḥ.
p. 260.


satya-svābhāvikācintya-śaktiḥ parameśvaras tuccha-māyikam api na kuryāt.
p. 262.


atas tan-mano’sṛjata manaḥ prajāpatim ity ādau manaḥ-śabdena samaṣṭi-mano’dhiṣṭhātā śrīmān aniruddha eva.
p. 262.

antaḥ-karaṇa-bahiḥ-karaṇa-viṣaya-rūpeṇa paramātma-lakṣaṇaṃ jñānam eva bhāti tasmād ananyad eva buddhyādi-vastu ity-arthaḥ.
p. 263.


yāvat kāryaṃ na jāyate tāvat kāraṇatvaṃ mṛt-śuktyāder na siddhyati kāraṇatvāsiddhau ca kāryaṃ na jāyate eveti paraspara-sāpekṣatva-doṣāt.
p. 265.


Ibid. p. 266.


satyenaiva kartā satyam eva draṣṭāraṃ prati satyaiva tayā śaktyā vastunaḥ sphuraṇāt loke api tathaiva dṛśyata iti.
p. 268.


satyaṃ na satyaṃ naḥ kṛṣṇa-pādābjāmodam antarā
jagat satyaṃ asatyaṃ vā ko'yam tasmin durāgrahaḥ.
p. 269.

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