The Prashna Upanishad with Shankara’s Commentary
तस्मै स होवाच । इहैइवान्तःशरीरे सोभ्य स पुरुषो यस्मिन्नताः षोडशकलाः प्रभवन्तीति ॥ २ ॥
tasmai sa hovāca | ihaiivāntaḥśarīre sobhya sa puruṣo yasminnatāḥ ṣoḍaśakalāḥ prabhavantīti || 2 ||
2. To him he replied: ‘even here, within the body, good-looking youth! is that Purusha of whom these sixteen kalâs are born.
Com.—To him he replied: ‘even here, within the body, i.e., in the âkâsa of the lotus of the heart, O good-looking youth! is that Purusha to be sought for not in other places; of whom these sixteen kalâs, to be hereafter named, Prâna and the rest are bom. By ignorance, the Purusha though devoid of parts, is seen as one having parts, by virtue of the sixteen kalâs which are its conditions. In order that the Purusha may be seen as unconditioned, by means of knowledge and by the elimination of the kalâs, which are conditions super-imposed upon him, it is said that the kalâs, prâna, etc., have their origin in him. As it is not possible, except by superposition to speak of the unconditioned, the one and the pure entity as attainable, etc., the origin, the support, and the destruction of kalâs, subject of ignorance, are superimposed upon it. It is always seen that the kalâs, which are observed to arise, exist and disappear, are not different from intelligence. It is why some ignorant persons maintain that intelligence is every moment born and destroyed in the form of pot, etc., as the ghee by its contact with fire. Some others hold that when it is controlled, everything is void as it were. Some others think that the knowledge of pots, etc., is an ephemeral property which rises and disappears in the eternal knower who is the Âtman.
The materialists hold that intelligence is an attribute of matter; the true theory is that the âtman is intelligence itself, knowing no diminution or decay, and shines in assumed conditions of name and form; for, the srutis say “Brahman is existence, knowledge and infinity”; “Brahman is knowledge; Brahman is knowledge and bliss.” He is dense with knowledge, &c. While the objects change their form, the intelligence which cognises them in their various changes, does not change, as it cognises every change in the objects. It cannot be said that there exists an object but it cannot be known. It is like saying that there is no eye, although the form is apprehended. Knowledge may exist, where there is no object to be known; but the object never exists without knowledge; for, knowledge if it does not exist, with reference to any particular knowable, exists in regard to other knowables; but where there is no knowledge, there can be no knowable. As there is neither knowledge nor knowable in sleep, it may be contended that even knowledge disappears where there are no knowable objects. This cannot be. As the function of knowledge, like that of light, is to illumine the knowable, it cannot be inferred that there is no knowledge in sleep, as there is no knowable to be illumined by it, as the absence of light cannot be argued from the absence of objects which it could illumine; for, the non-existence of sight cannot be argued by the Vainâsikas from the fact that no form is seen in the midst of darkness.
It may be urged that the Vainâsika postulates the absence of knowledge in the absence of the knowable. But the Vainâsika must reply by what process he could argue out the absence of that knowledge, by which he was able to posit the absence of all knowables. The absence of the knowable, being itself a fact to be known, it cannot be known in the absence of knowledge. It may be argued that as knowledge is not distinct from the knowable, there can be no knowledge where there is no knowable. This cannot hold, as it is admitted, that abhâva (non-existence) is as much a knowable. The Vainâsikas concede that abhâva (non-existence) is permanent and knowable. If, therefore, knowledge is not distinct from the knowable, knowledge will be made permanent. As the non-existence (abhâva) of knowables is ex hypothesi of the nature of knowledge, the term ‘non-existence’ is only a misnomer, not a reality; as also the transient nature of knowledge. There is no harm done to knowledge which is permanent by its being verbally described as non-existence, i.e., abhâva. If it be said that though non-existence, i.e., abhâva is knowable, it is distinct from knowledge; then, it comes to this, that absence of knowledge does not follow from absence of all knowables.
It may be urged that the knowable is distinct from knowledge, but that knowledge is not distinct from knowable. But this statement is merely one of words. If the identity of the knowable and knowledge is conceded, it is mere word to say that the knowable is distinct from knowledge, and that knowledge is not distinct from knowable, as is the statement that vahni (fire) is distinct from agni (fire), though agni is not distinct from vahni. If knowledge is distinct from the knowable, the statement is inappropriate, that where there is no knowable, there is no knowledge. Nor can it be said that where there is no knowable there is no knowledge, as it is not perceived; for, they concede that in sleep knowledge exists. It is well-known that Vainâsikas admit the existence of knowledge even in sleep. But the existence of a knowable is also admitted. If it be said that in that case, knowledge is knowable by itself, we say ‘no’; for, the distinction between knowledge and knowable exists then. As the knowledge which perceives the non-existence of all things is distinct from the non-existence of the things themselves, the distinction between knowledge and knowable is inevitable even then; and a hundred Vainâsikas cannot get over this objection and make knowledge itself a knowable, as surely as they cannot revive a dead man. It may be objected that, according to our theory, one knowledge has to be known by another and so on without limit. We answer ‘no’: for, all things can be classified as ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowable,’ and those that are not Vainâsikas concede only a two-fold classification of ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowable,’ and do not admit a third knowledge, which perceives the other knowledge.
It may be contended, if knowledge could not know itself, there can be no omniscience. We answer, ‘let that blame attach to the Vainâsikas themselves.’ We gain nothing by refuting that objection. Not only this, their theory is vitiated by the absence of finality; for, according to them knowledge is know-able by another knowledge. If knowledge, therefore, cannot know itself, then the objection of the absence of finality to their theory is irrefutable. If it be urged that this fault is observable alike in our theory also, we say ‘no’; for, according to us knowledge is one. Knowledge which is one in all places, times and men, is reflected and seen diverse, in diverse conditions of name and form, as the sun, etc., is seen when reflected in water, etc. Therefore, the above-named objection has no force; and so, the following is here stated. Nor could it be contended that from the sruti here, that the Purusha is limited within our body, like an apple in a pit; because the Purusha is the cause of Prâna and other kalâs. For, the Purusha limited by the body alone cannot be understood to be the cause of kalâs, such as Prâna, Sraddhâ, etc.; for, the body itself is produced by kalâs. This body produced by kalâs which have their origin in Purusha cannot contain within it, as an apple within the pit, the Purusha who is the cause of its cause.
It may be urged that on the analogy of the seed and tree, this is quite possible. As the tree of which the seed is the cause, yields fruits containing within them, the seed, the cause of their cause, (for instance, the mango fruit), it may be urged that similarly the body may contain within it the Purusha which is the cause of its cause. This cannot be for a two-fold reason, i.e., difference and divisibility. In the illustration, the seeds contained in the fruits are different from those which produced the tree. In the case to which the analogy is sought to be applied, the same Purusha who is the cause of the cause of the body is said, by the srutis, to be contained within the body. Again, as the seed and the tree are composed of parts, the relation of the container and the contained may there obtain. But here, the Purusha is one and indivisible; and the kaìâs and the body are both composed of parts. From this, it follows that the body cannot contain even the âkâsa. How can it then contain the Purusha, the cause of the âkâsa? Therefore, the analogy is false.
It may be urged: ‘Let go the analogy, we have the text.’ We answer that texts cannot make and unmake things. The office of the texts is not to metamorphose existing things, but only to make existing things clear. So, the passage, which says that the Purusha i s within the body, must be construed, just in the same way as the passage which says that the âkâsa is within the globe. Besides, the statement that the Purusha is within the body, is intended to serve as a help to his realization; for, in our experience the Purusha is realized as if within the body, by the process of seeing, hearing, thinking, knowing, etc. Therefore, it is said, that Purusha is within the body. Even a fool will not allow himself to say, even in his mind, that the Purusha who is the cause of the âkâsa is really within the body, as the apple is within the pit. Much less would the authoritative sruti say so.