A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 5

Southern Schools of Śaivism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1955 | 79,816 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 “philosophy of shrikantha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The Nature of Brahman

Śrīkaṇṭha introduces a number of Upaniṣadic texts supposed to describe or define the nature of Brahman. These apparently are in conflict with one another, and the contradiction is not resolved either by taking those definitions alternately or collectively, and for this reason it is felt necessary to enter into a textual and critical interpretation of those texts as yielding a unified meaning. These texts describe Brahman as that from which everything has sprung into being and into which everything will ultimately return, and that, it is of the nature of pure bliss, pure being and pure consciousness. Appaya Dīkṣita says that, such qualities being ascribed to various deities, it is for us to find out the really ultimate Deity, the Lord Śiva, who has all these qualities. He also introduces a long discussion as to whether the ascription of these diverse epithets would cause any reasonable doubt as to the entity or person who possesses them. He further enters into a long discussion as to the nature of doubt that may arise when an entity is described with many epithets, or when an entity is described with many contradictory epithets, or when several objects are described as having one common epithet. In the course of this discussion he introduces many problems of doubt with which we are already familiar in our treatment of Indian philosophy[1]. Ultimately Appaya tries to emphasise the fact that these qualities may be regarded as abiding in the person of Śiva and there can be no contradiction, as qualities do not mean contradictory entities. Many qualities of diverse character may remain in harmony in one entity or person.

Lord Śiva is supposed to be the cause of the creation of the world, its maintenance, and its ultimate dissolution, or the liberation of souls, through the cessation of bondage. All these qualities of the production of the world, its maintenance, etc., belong to the phenomenal world of appearance, and cannot therefore be attributed to the Lord Śiva as constituting His essential definition. It is true that a person may, by his good deeds and his disinclination to worldly enjoyments and devotion, attain liberation automatically. But even in such cases it has to be answered that, though the person may be regarded as an active agent with reference to his actions, yet the grace of God has to be admitted as determining him to act. So also, since all the epithets of creation, maintenance, etc., belong to the world of appearance, they cannot be regarded as in any way limiting the nature of Lord Śiva. They may at best be regarded as non-essential qualities by which we can only signify the nature of Brahman, but cannot get at His own true nature. The application of the concept of agency to individual persons or inanimate things is only one of emphasis; for, from certain points of view, one may say that a person attains liberation by his own action, while from another point of view the whole action of the individual may be regarded as being due to the grace of God. So, from one point of view the laws of the world of appearance may be regarded as natural laws, while from another all the natural laws may be regarded as being the manifestations of the grace of God.

It may be urged that if Lord Śiva is all-merciful why does He not remove the sorrows of all beings by liberating them? To this question it may be said that it is only when, by the deeds of the persons, the veil of ignorance and impurity is removed that the ever-flowing mercy of God manifests itself in liberating the person. Thus there is a twofold action, one by the person himself and the other by the extension of mercy on the part of God in consonance with his actions.

Again, the dissolution of the world of appearance is not a magical disappearance, but rather the return of the grosser nature of the prakṛti or primal matter into its subtle nature of the same prakṛti. The world as a whole is not illusion, but it had at one time manifested itself in a grosser form of apparent reality, and in the end it will again return into the subtle nature of the cosmic matter or prakṛti. This return into the nature of the subtle prakṛti is due to the conjoint actions of all animate beings as favoured by the grace of God.

The second sūtra, which describes or defines Brahman as that from which all things have come into being, into which all things will ultimately return, and wherein all things are maintained, regards these qualities of production, maintenance, and dissolution of all things, according to Śrīkaṇṭha as interpreted by Appaya, as being the final determinant causal aspect, both material and instrumental, by virtue of which the nature of Brahman as God or Īśvara can be inferred. So according to Śrīkaṇṭha and Appaya this sūtra ‘ janmādy-asya yataḥ ’ should be regarded as a statement of infallible inference of the nature of Brahman. Śaṅkara in his commentary had definitely pointed out that those who regard Īśvara or God as the cause of all things and beings interpret this sūtra as an example of inference, by which the unlimited nature of Brahman could be directly argued; and that such a definition, in that it points out the reasons, is sufficient description, not too wide nor too narrow. Therefore, by this argument one can understand the Brahman as being the supreme and unlimited Lord of the whole of the material and spiritual universe. Śaṅkara definitely refuses to accept such an interpretation, and regards it as merely stating the general purport of the Upaniṣadic texts, which say that it is from Brahman that everything has come into being, and that it is in and through Brahman that everything lives, and that ultimately everything returns into Brahman. The main point at issue between Śaṅkara and Śrīkaṇṭha is that, while Śaṅkara refuses to accept this sūtra as establishing an argument in favour of the existence of Brahman, and while he regards the purpose of the Brahma-sūtra as being nothing more than to reconcile and relate in a harmonious manner the different texts of the Upaniṣads, Śrīkaṇṭha and the other Śaivas regard this sūtra as an inferential statement in favour of the existence of the unlimited Brahman or the supreme Lord Śiva[2].

Rāmānuja also does not interpret this sūtra as being an inferential statement for establishing the nature and existence of Brahman. He thinks that by reconciling the apparently contradictory statements of the Upaniṣadic texts, and by regarding Brahman as the cause of the production, maintenance, and dissolution of the world, it is possible to have an intuition or apprehension of the nature of Brahman through the Upaniṣadic texts[3].

Śrīkaṇṭha tries to interpret the various epithets of Brahman such as ānanda or bliss, sat or being, jñāna or consciousness, and the fact that in some texts Śiva is mentioned as the original cause of the world in the sense that Śiva is both the original and ultimate cause of the universe. He raises the difficulty of treating these epithets as applying to Brahman either alternately or collectively. He also further raises the difficulty that in some of the Upaniṣadic texts prakṛti, which is inanimate, is called the māyā and the cause of the inanimate world. If Brahman is of the nature of knowledge or consciousness then He could not have transformed Himself into the material world. The transformation of pure consciousness into the material universe would mean that Brahman is changeable and this would contradict the Upaniṣadic statement that the Brahman is absolutely without any action and in a state of pure passivity. From this point of view the objector might say that all the epithets that are ascribed to Brahman in the Upaniṣads cannot be applied to it at the same time, and they may not be taken collectively as the defining characteristics of the nature of Brahman. Śrīkaṇṭha, therefore, thinks that the abstract terms as truth, consciousness, bliss, etc., that are applied to Brahman, are to be taken as personal qualities of the Supreme Lord. Thus, instead of regarding Brahman as pure consciousness, Śrīkaṇṭha considers the Supreme Lord as being endowed with omniscience, eternally self-satisfied, independent, that is, one who always contains his power or energy, and one who possesses omnipotence. He is eternally self-efficient (nitya aparokṣa) and never depends on any external thing for the execution of his energy or power (anapekṣita-bāhya-karaṇḍ). Lord Śiva, thus being omniscient, knows the deeds of all animate beings and the fruits of those deeds to which they are entitled, and He also knows the forms of bodies that these animate souls should have in accordance with their past deeds, and He has thus a direct knowledge of the collocation of materials with which these bodies are to be built up[4]. The fact that the Brahman is described as ānanda or bliss is interpreted as meaning that Lord Śiva is always full of bliss and self-contented[5].

In the Upaniṣads it is said that the Brahman has the ākāśa as his body (ākāśa-śarīram brahma). It is also said in some of the Upaniṣads that this ākāśa is bliss (ānanda). Śrīkaṇṭha says that this ākāśa is not the elemental ākāśa (bhūtākāśa); it merely means the plane of consciousness (cidakāśa), and in that way it means the ultimate material (para-prakṛti), which is the same as the ultimate energy. Appaya points out that there are people who think that the energy of consciousness is like an instrument for creating this universe, as an axe for cutting down a tree. But Appaya denies this view and holds that the ultimate energy is called the ākāśa[6]. It is this energy of consciousness (cicchakti) that is regarded as pervading through all things and it is this energy that undergoes the transformations for the creation of the universe. It is this cicchakti that is to be regarded as the original force of life that manifests itself in the activities of life. All kinds of life functions and all experiences of pleasure are based on the lower or on the higher level of this ultimate life force, called also the cicchakti or ākāśa.

Again, Brahman is described as being of the nature of being, consciousness and bliss (ānanda). In this case, it is held that Brahman enjoys His own bliss without the aid of any external instrumentality. And it is for this reason that the liberated souls may enjoy bliss of a superlative nature without the aid of any external instruments. The truth as consciousness is also the truth as pure bliss which are eternal in their existence not as mere abstract qualities, but as concrete qualities adhering to the person of Lord Śiva. Thus, though the Brahman or Lord Śiva may be absolutely unchangeable in Himself, yet His energy might undergo the transformations that have created this universe. Brahman has thus within Him both the energy of consciousness and the energy of materiality which form the matter of the universe (cid-acit-prapañca-rūpa-śakti-viśiṣṭatvam svābhōbikam eva brahmaṇaḥ). As the energy of Brahman is limitless, he can in and through those energies form the material cause of the universe. As all external things are said to have ‘being’ as the common element that pervades them all, it represents the aspect of Brahman as ‘being,’ in which capacity it is the material cause of the world. The supreme Lord is called Śarva, because all things are finally absorbed in Him. He is called Iśāna, because He lords over all things, and He is hence also called Paśupati. By the epithet paśupati it is signified that He is not only the Lord of all souls (paśu), but also all that binds them (pāśa). The Brahman thus is the controller of all conscious entities and the material world[7].

It has been said that the māya is the primal matter, prakṛti, which is the material cause of the universe. But God or the Lord Śiva is said to be always associated with the māyā, that is, He has no separate existence entirely apart from the māyā. In such a view, if the māyā is to be regarded as the material cause of the universe, then the Lord Śiva, who is associated with the māyā, has also to be, in some distant sense, regarded as the material cause of the universe. So the final conclusion is that the Brahman as associated with subtle consciousness and subtle materiality is the cause, and the effect is the universe which is but gross consciousness as associated with gross matter[8]. It is true, indeed, that the facts of production, maintenance, and dissolution are epithets that can only apply to the phenomenal world, and therefore they cannot be regarded as essential characteristics determining the nature of Brahman as an inferential statement. Yet the production, maintenance, and dissolution of the world of phenomena may be regarded as a temporary phase (tatostha-lakṣaṇa) of the nature of Brahman. It should also be noted that when māyā transforms itself into the world by the controlling agency of God, God Himself being eternally associated with māyā, may in some sense be regarded as being also the material cause of the world, though in His supreme transcendence He remains outside the māyā. The difference between this view and that of Rāmānuja is that, according to the latter, the Brahman is a concrete universal having the entire materiality and the groups of souls always associated with Him and controlled directly by Him, as the limbs of a person are controlled by the person himself. The conception is that of an entire organisation, in which the Brahman is the person and the world of souls and matter are entirely parts of Him and dominated by Him. The position of Śaṅkara is entirely different. He holds that the central meaning of the sūtra is just an interpretation of the texts of Upaniṣads which show that the world has come out of Brahman, is maintained in Him, and will ultimately return into Him. But it does not declare that this appearance of the world is ultimately real. Śaṅkara is not concerned with the actual nature of the appearance, but he has his mind fixed on the ultimate and unchangeable ground which always remains true and is not only relatively true as the world of appearance[9].

We have said above that Śrīkaṇṭha regarded the second sūtra as indicating an inference for the existence of God. But in the course of later discussions he seems to move to the other side, and regards the existence of Brahman as being proved by the testimony of the Vedas. The general argument from the unity of purpose throughout the universe cannot necessarily lead to the postulation of one creator, for a house or a temple which shows unity of purpose is really effected by a large number of architects and artisans. He also thinks that the Vedas were produced by God. That is also somehow regarded as additional testimony to His existence. The nature of Brahman also can be known by reconciling the different Upaniṣadic texts which all point to the supreme existence of Lord Śiva. In Brahma-sūtra II. i. 18, 19 Śrīkaṇṭha says that the Brahman as contracted within Himself is the cause while, when by His inner desire He expands Himself, He shows Himself and the universe which is His effect[10]. This view is more or less like the view of Vallabha, and may be regarded as largely different from the idea of Brahman as given by Śrīkaṇṭha in I. 1. 2. Śrīkaṇṭha, in further illustrating his views, says that he admits Brahman to be the ultimate material cause of the universe only in the sense that the prakṛti, from which the world is evolved, is itself in Brahman. So as Brahman cannot remain without His śakti or energy, He can be regarded as the material cause of the world, though He in Himself remains transcendent, and it is only His māyā that works as an immanent cause of the production of the world. He thus says that there is a difference between the individual souls and the Brahman, and there is a difference between the prakṛti and the Brahman. He would not admit that the world of appearance is entirely different from Brahman; neither would he admit that they are entirely identical. His position is like that of the modified monists, like that of the Viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda of Rāmānuja. Brahman exists in quite a transcendent manner, apart from the individual souls and the inanimate world. But yet, since the individual souls and the material universe are emanations from His energy, the world of souls and matter may be regarded as parts of Him, though they are completely transcended by Himself[11].

Footnotes and references:


See especially the third volume of the present work dealing with the problem of doubt in Venkata.


etad evānumānam saṃsāriv-vyatirikte-śvarāstitvādi-sādhanaṃ manyanta īśvara-kāraṇinaḥ. nanu ihāpi tad evopanyastam janmādi-sūtre, na; vedānta-vākya-kusuma-grathanārthatvāt sūtrāṇām.
      Śaṅkara’s bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra I. I. 2.


Rāmānuja’s bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra I. 1. 2.


anena sakala-cetana-bahu-vidha-karma-phala-bhogānu-kūla-tat-tac-charīra-nirmāṇopāya-sāmagrī-viśeṣa jñam brahma nimittaṃ bhavati.
      Śrīkaṇṭha’s bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra I. i. 2, p.


parabrahma-dharmatvena ca sa eva ānanda brahmeti pracuratvād brahmatvenopacaryate. tādṛśānanda-bhoga-rasikaṃ brahma nitya-tṛptam ity ucyate.
p. 122.


yasya sā paramā devī śaktir ākāśa-saṃjñitā.
      Appaya’s commentary, Vol. I, p. 123.


anena cid-acin-niyāmakaṃ braḥmeti vijñāyate.
      Śrīkaṇṭha’s bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra I. i. 2, p. 127.


māyāṃ tu prakṛtim vidyād’ iti māyāyāh prakṛtitvam īśvarātmikāyā eva ‘māyinaṃ tu maheśvaramiti vākya-śeṣāt. sūkṣma-cid-acid-viśiṣṭam brahma kāraṇam sthūla-cid-acid-viśiṣṭaṃ tat-kāryam bhavati.
      Śrīkaṇṭha’s bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra I. 1. 2, pp. 134 et seq.

satyaṃ māyopādānam iti brahmāpy upādānam eva. apṛthak-siddha-karyā-vasthā śrayatva-rūpaṃ hi māyāyā upādānatvam samarthanīyaṃ. tat-samarthyamānam eva brahma-paryantam āyāti. nitya-yoge khalu māyinam iti māyā-śabdādi-nipratyayah. tataś ca māyāyāḥ brahmā-pṛthak-śiddhyaiva tad-apṛthak-siddhāyāḥ kāryāvasthāyā api brahmāpṛthak-siddhis siddhyati.
Appaya Dīkṣita’s commentary, Vol. I, p. 134.


For the view of Śaṅkara and his school, see Vols. I and II. For the view of Rāmānuja and his school see Vol. III.


“cidātmaiva hi devo” ntaḥ-sthitam icchā-vaśād bahiḥ. yogīva nirupādānam arthajātam prkāśayed’ iti. nirupādānam iti anapekṣitopādānāntaram svayam upādānaṃ bhūtvety arthaḥ. tataḥ parama-kāraṇāt parabrahmanaḥ śivād abhinnam eva jagat kāryam iti... yathā saṃkucitaḥ sūkṣma-rūpaḥ pataḥ prasārito mahāpata-kuṭī-rūpeṇa kāryam bhavati, tathā brahmāpi saṃkucita-rūpaṃ kāraṇaṃ prasārita-rūpam kāryam bhavati.
      Śrīkaṇṭha’s bhāṣya, Vol. II, p. 29.


bḥedābḥeda-kalpanam viśiṣṭādvaitaṃ sādhayāmaḥ na vayaṃ brahma-prapañcayor atyantam eva bheda-vādinaḥ ghata-patayor iva. tad-ananyatva-para-śruti-virodhāt. na vā’tyantā-bheda-vādinaḥ śukti-rajatayor iva. ekatara-mitḥyātvena tat-svābhāvika-guṇa-bheda paraśruti-virodḥāt. na ca bhedābheda-vādinah, vastu-virodḥāt. kin tu śarīra-śarīriṇor iva guṇa-gumnor iva ca viśiṣṭādvaita-vādinaḥ. prapañca-braḥm anor ananyatvam nāma mṛḍ-ghaṭayor iva guṇa-gumnor iva ca kārya-kāraṇatvena viśeṣaṇa-viśeṣyatvena ca vinābhāva-rahitatvam.
      Śrīkaṇṭha’s bhāṣya on Brahma-sūtra II. 1. 22, Vol. H, p. 31.

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