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 god’s relation to his devotees: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth part in the series called the “the philosophy of jiva gosvami and baladeva vidyabhushana”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

The incarnations of God are also to be explained on the same analogy. It is not necessary for God to pass through incarnations or to exert any kind of effort for the maintenance of the world; for He is omnipotent; all the incarnations of God recounted in the Purāṇas are for the purpose of giving satisfaction to the devotees (bhaktas). They are effected by the manifestation of the essential powers of God (svarūpa-śaktyāviṣkaraṇa), out of sympathy for His devotees. This may naturally be taken to imply that God is affected by the sorrows and sufferings of His devotees and that He is pleased by their happiness. The essential function of the essential power of God is called hlādinī, and the essence of this hlādinī is bhakti, which is of the nature of pure bliss. Bhakti exists in both God and the devotee, in a dual relation[1]. God is self-realized, for the bhakti exists in the bhakta, and being a power of God it is in essence neither different from nor identical with Him. Bhakti is only a special manifestation of His power in the devotee, involving a duality and rousing in God a special manifestation of delight which may be interpreted as pleasure arising from the bhakti of the devotee. When God says that He is dependent on the bhakta, the idea is explicable only on the supposition that bhakti is the essence of the essential power of God; the devotee through his bhakti holds the essential nature of God within him. Now the question arises whether God really feels sorrow when the devotees feel it, and whether He is moved to sympathy by such an experience of sorrow. Some say that God, being all-blissful by nature, cannot have any experience of sorrow; but others say that He has a knowledge of suffering, not as existing in Himself, but as existing in the devotee.

The writer of Ṣaṭ-sandarbha, however, objects that this does not solve the difficulty; if God has experience of sorrow, it does not matter whether He feels the pain as belonging to Himself or to others. It must therefore be admitted that, though God may somehow have a knowledge of suffering, yet He cannot have experience of it; and so, in spite of God’s omnipotence, yet, since He has no experience of the suffering of men, He cannot be accused of cruelty in not releasing everyone from his suffering. The happiness of devotees consists in the experience of their devotion, and their sorrow is over obstruction in the way of their realization of God. God’s supposed pity for His devotee originates from an experience of his devotion, expressing itself in forms of extreme humility (dainyātmaka-bhakti), and not from experience of an ordinary sorrow. When God tries to satisfy the desires of His devotee, He is not actuated by an experience of suffering, but by an experience of the devotion existing in the devotee. If God had experience of the sorrows of others and if in spite of His omnipotence He had not released them from them, He would have to be regarded as cruel; so also, if He had helped only some to get out of suffering and had left others to suffer, He would have to be regarded as being only a partial God. But God has no experience of the sorrows of others; He only experiences devotion in others. The efficacy of prayer does not prove that God is partial; for there is no one dear to Him or enemy to Him; but, when through devotion the devotee prays for anything to Him, He being present in his heart in one through the devotion, grants him the object of his desire; so it is not necessary for God to pass through stages of incarnation for the protection or maintenance of the world; but still He does so in order to satisfy prayers to God. All the incarnations of God are for the fulfilment of the devotee’s desires. The inscrutability of God’s behaviour in the fulfilment of His devotee’s desires is to be found in the inscrutability of the supra-rational nature of the essential power of God. Though all the works of God are absolutely independent and self-determined, yet they are somehow in accord with the good and bad deeds of man. Even when God is pleased to punish the misdeeds of those who are inimical to his devotees, such punishment is not effected by the rousing of anger in Him, but is the natural result of His own blissful nature operating as a function of His hlādinī[2].

But the writer of the Ṣaṭ-sandarbha is unable to explain the fact why the impartial and passionless God should destroy the demons for the sake of His devotees, and he plainly admits that the indescribable nature of God’s greatness is seen when, in spite of His absolute impartiality to all, He appears to be partial to some. Though He in Himself is beyond the influence of māyā, yet in showing mercy to His devotees He seems to express Himself in terms of māyā and to be under its sway. The transition from the transcendent sattva quality of God to His adoption of the ordinary qualities of prakṛti is supra-rational and cannot be explained. But the writer of the Ṣaṭ-sandarbha always tries to emphasize the facts that God is on the one hand actuated by His purpose of serving the interest of His devotees and that on the other hand all His movements are absolutely self-determined—though in the ordinary sense self-determination would be incompatible with being actuated by the interest of others. He further adds that, though it may ordinarily appear that God is moved to action in certain critical happenings in the course of world-events or in the life of His devotee, yet, since these events of the world are also due to the manifestation of His own power as māyā, the parallelism that may be noticed between world-events and His own efforts cannot be said to invalidate the view that the latter are self-determined. Thus His own efforts are naturally roused by Himself through the impulsion of bhakti, in which there is a dual manifestation of the essential power of God, as existing in Himself and in the heart of the devotee. It has already been said that bhakti is the essence of the essential power of God which has for its constituents the devotee and God.

The prompting or rousing of God’s powers through world-events is thus only a mere appearance (pravṛtyā bhāsa), happening in consonance with the self-determining activity of God. It is further said that God’s activity in creating the world is also motivated by His interest in giving satisfaction to His devotees. Time is the defining character of His movement, and, when God determines Himself to move forward for creation through time-movement, He wishes to create His own devotees, merged in the prakṛti, out of His mercy for them. But in order to create them He must disturb the equilibrium of the prakṛti, and for this purpose His spontaneous movement as thought separates the power (as jīva-māyā) from His essential power (svarūpa-śakti) ; thus the equilibrium of the former is disturbed, and rajas comes into prominence. The disturbance may be supposed to be created in an apparent manner (taccheṣatātmakaprabhāvenaivoddīpta) or by the dynamic of kāla[3]. When God wishes to enjoy Himself in His manifold creation, He produces sattva, and, when He wishes to lie in sleep with His entire creation, He creates tamas. Thus all the creative actions of God are undertaken for the sake of His devotees. The lying in sleep of God is a state of ultimate dissolution. Again, though God exists in all as the internal controller, yet He is not perceived to be so; it is only in the mind of the devotee that He really appears in His true nature as the inner controller.

The author of the Ṣaṭ-sandarbha is in favour of the doctrine of three vyūhas as against the theory of four vyūhas of the Pañcarātras. He therefore refers to the Mahābhārata for different traditions of one, two, three and four vyūhas, and says that this discrepancy is to be explained by the inclusion of one or more vyūhas within the others. The Bhāgavata-purāṇa is so called from the fact that it accepts Bhagavān as the principal vyūha[4]. The enquiry (jijñāsā) concerning this Brahman has been explained by Rāmānuja as dhyāna, but according to the Ṣaṭ-sandarbha this dhyāna is nothing but the worship of God in a definite form; for it is not easy to indulge in any dhyāna (or worship of God) without associating it with a form on which one may fix his mind. Brahman is described as unchanging ultimate truth, and, as sorrow only is changeable, He is also to be regarded as wholly blissful. Brahman is also regarded as satyam, because He is the self-determiner, and His existence does not depend on the existence or the will of anything else. He, by his power as self-luminosity, dominates His other power as māyā, and is in Himself untouched by it. This shows that, though māyā is one of His powers, yet in His own nature He is beyond māyā. The real creation coming out of māyā consists of the three elements of fire, water and earth partaking of each other’s parts. The Śaṅkarites say that the world is not a real creation, but an illusory imposition like the silver in the conch-shell; but such an illusion can only be due to similarity, and, if through it the conch-shell can be conceived as silver, it is also possible that the silver may also be misconceived as conch-shell. It is by no means true that the ground (adhiṣṭhāna) of illusion should be one and the illusion manifold; for it is possible to have the illusion of one object in the conglomeration of many; the collocation of many trees and hills and fog may produce the combined effect of a piece of cloud.

The world of objects is always perceived, while the Brahman is perceived as pure self-luminosity; and, if it is possible to regard Brahman also as illusory, that will practically mean that Brahman cannot any longer be regarded as the ground of the world. The world therefore is to be regarded as real. The monistic view, that the Brahman is absolutely devoid of any quality, is false; for the very name Brahman signifies that He is supremely great. The world also has not only come out of Him, but stays in Him and will ultimately be dissolved in Him. Moreover, the effect should have some resemblance to the cause, and the visible and tangible world, of which God is the cause, naturally signifies that the cause itself cannot be absolutely devoid of quality[5]. Even on the supposition that Brahman is to be defined as that from which the world-illusion has come into being, the point remains, that this in itself is a distinguishing quality; and, even if Brahman be regarded as self-luminous, the self-luminosity itself is a quality which distinguishes Brahman from other objects. If self-luminosity is a distinguishing quality, and if Brahman is supposed to possess it, He cannot be regarded as qualityless[6].

Footnotes and references:


parama-sāra-bhūtāyā api svarūpa-śakteḥ sāra-bhūtā hlādinī nāma yā vṛttis tasya eva sāra-bhūto vṛtti-viśeṣo bhaktiḥ sā ca raty-apara-paryāyā. bhaktir bhagavati bhakteṣu ca nikṣipta-nijobhaya-koṭiḥ sarvadā tiṣṭhati.
p. 274.


atha yadi kecit bhaktānām eva dviṣanti tadā tadā bhakta-pakṣa-pātāntaḥ-pātitvād bhagavatā svayaṃ taddveṣe api na doṣaḥ pratyuta bhakta-viṣayaka-tad-rateḥ poṣakatvena hlādinī-vṛtti-bhūtānandollāsa-viśeṣa evāsau.
p. 278.


Ibid. p. 283.




sadhya-dharmavyabhicāri-sadhana-dharmānvita-vastu-viṣayatvān na tattv apramāṇaṃ.
p. 27.


jagaj-janmādi-bhramo yatas tad brahmeti svotprekṣā-pakṣe ca na nirviśeṣa-vastu-siddhiḥ bhrama-mūlam ajñānam ajñāna-sākṣi brahmeti upagamāt. sākṣitvaṃ hi prakāśaikarasatayā ucyate. prakāśatvaṃ tu jaḍād vyāvartakaṃ svasya parasya ca vyavahāra-yogyatāpādana-svabhāvena bhavati. tathā sati saviśeṣatvaṃ tad-abhāve prakāśataiva na syāt tucchataiva syāt.
p. 291.

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