Preceptors of Advaita

by T. M. P. Mahadevan | 1968 | 179,170 words | ISBN-13: 9788185208510

The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself — as Śrīman-Nārāyaṇa or as Sadā-Śiva. The supreme Lord revealed the wisdom of Advaita to Brahma, the Creator, who in turn imparted it to Vasiṣṭha....

13. Vimuktātman



P. K. Sundaram

M.A., Ph.D.

Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, at the end of his great classic Advaita-siddhi, refers to three Siddhi works, viz.

  1. Iṣṭa-siddhi,
  2. Naiṣkarmya-siddhi,
  3. and Brahma-siddhi.

The Brahma-siddhi of Maṇḍana may be said to devote itself to the definition (lakṣaṇa) and testimony (pramāṇa) of Brahman indicated in the expression, Brahmajijñāsā, the that of the desire to know. The Naiṣkarmya-siddhi of Sureśvara is interested in showing the how of Brahman-knowledge, i.e., whether it is by knowledge alone or by action that release is secured. The Iṣṭa-siddhi of Vimuktātman engages itself rather in the question of the why of Brahman-knowledge, enquiring into the nature and cause of error, that is, the world. In short, ontology, ethology and epistemology may be said to be the respective contents of these three Siddhis.


Summary of the chief points discussed in the Iṣṭar-siddhi

The various theories of error are enumerated by Indian philosophers as follows:

ātma-khyātir-asat-khyātir akhyātiḥ khyātiranyathā

These five can be classified into two broad categories, viz., sat-khyāti and asat-khyāti. Ātma-khyāti of the Yogāchāra Buddhists, akhyāti of the Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas and anyathā-khyāti of the Bhāṭṭas and Naiyāyikas fall under the first category, and the asat-khyāti of the' Mādhyamika Buddhists falls into the opposite camp. The doctrine of anirvachanīya-khyātī adopted by the Advaitins tries to show that the object of illusion is neither real nor unreal but indeterminable.



Akhyāti or non-discrimination is the explanation that the Prābhakara offers to the problem of illusion where there are two knowledges, each of which taken in isolation is not false (p. 42). The failure to discriminate that there are really two jñānas leads to error. In other words, bheda-agraha or asaṃsargāgraha is the cause of error. This position of the Mīmāṃsakas is the result of their realism. Knowledge is self-valid and what it shows up is valid and true. If error arises, it is a subjective short-coming. Knowledge itself can never be doubted (p. 41). There is no question of the defective senses presenting positive illusion (p. 42).

Vimuktātman argues that the theory of the self-evidencing character of knowledge adopted by the Prābhākara rebels against his theory of error. For, if he is consistent he will see that the two separate knowledges (of the shell and silver in the illusion where the shell appears as silver, for example) must present themselves as separate in which case there is no question of their not being discriminated (p. 43).

If truth, as the Prābhākaras hold, is that which succeeds in yielding the expected results, Vimuktātman points out that there are instances where knowledge issues in no practical activity at all (pp. 45-46). To be sure, knowledge does lead to activity, but this is only incidental.

Again, non-discrimination is said to be the cause of error, but Prābhākaras at least cannot hold this. doctrine for they do not accept negation as a category at all. For them there could be no absence of knowledge as in non-discrimination (p. 116).



The Bhāṭṭas hold that in error the object appears otherwise than what it is. But it remains to be asked, whether the object in error becomes other than what it is, or the knowledge becomes other than what it is, or the knowledge shows the object as other than what it is. The first two alternatives are rejected on the grounds that the object cannot become something else if it has a nature of its own, and that knowledge cannot suffer a change without reference to the object, for knowledge is object-dependent.

Thus it is the third alternative that is discussed elaborately by Vimuktātman. To the Bhāṭṭas, what appears in illusion is not unreal. But what is unreal is the saṃsarga or identity of the appearance with its basis. Defects in the sense-organs contribute positively to the production of error (p. 45). While to the Prābhākaras, error is bheda-agraha, to the Bhāṭṭas it is abheda-graha.

All the time, the Bhāṭṭas protest that they are realists. In that event, it is not obvious how they can bear the introduction in error of a subjective element which brings about the mistaken identity between two real objects. This subjective dement does not have any corresponding reality (p. 105).

Again, how can the silver, in the silver-illusion that is presented in immediate perception, be denied particularly when the Bhāṭṭas hold it to be real? If silver is denied, then illusion will have to be accepted and realism must be given up. If silver is not denied, there will be no question of illusion at all (pp. 94-96). Either that the, silver is remembered or that it is presented here and now. But what is denied in the judgment ‘nedam rajatam’ is the silver presented actually and not the remembered one If was already stated that the presented object cannot be the content of negation without damage to the professed realism of the Bhāṭṭas. Nor can the remembered one be the object, for the negation of the remembered silver cannot affect the presented one and thus illusion would never have been negated. Hence, we cannot have both the remembered and the presented as factors in illusion.

If it is said that what is denied here and now of the shell, viz., silverness, characterizes really another object existing elsewhere and that this is the intention of the negative judgment, in that case, it is the silverness that will be denied and not silver (I, 19). But in illusion we are concerned with the particular silver, and not with a universal..

Again, the negating judgment, nedam rajatam, is supposed to make only the predicate false, but not the this, or the relation ‘is’. Why should one alone of the three factors in “this is silver” be false? (III, 15). Moreover, the fact that while the ‘this’ element is reaffirmed by the negating judgment “This is not silver”, the silver-element is denied clearly demonstrates that of the two elements, ‘this’ and ‘silver’, silver is less real than the ‘this’, which, in the example, is the shell, or at any rale, not real in the same sense. But this conclusion will militate against the pluralistic realism of the Bhāṭṭas.



The Yogāchāra Buddhists hold that there are no external objects at all. What exist are only the cognitions. One proof for this is the togetherness of object and thought, sahopalaṃbhani - yama. Even in an illusion, what we see as silver outside is only our own cognition. It is the mind that splits itself up as subject and object, as in dreams. To these Buddhists, silver is real only as a mode of cognition. What the negative judgment “This is not silver” does is to negate, not the supposedly external silver (there is no such thing) but the appearance of its externality (p. 40).

Vimuktātman thinks it is useless to reduce the object lo a mode of thought. While thought or knowledge is constant, objects are specific and shifting. The constancy of thought cannot be explained if it takes shape into objects. And there can be thought without objects (p. 14).

What is said to be sahopalaṃbhay-niyama by the Buddhists is really sahopalabhyatva-niyama and there can be no such niyama between the dṛk and the dṛśya, for the dṛk is not seen. Nor is it sahopalabhitvam for the object is not and cannot be the seer. Moreover, the very notion of externality will be impossible to explain when there is no external object at all. bāhyatvasya asataḥ khyāti-prasaṅgāccha.

Again, how can one cognition which is momentary according to the Vijñāna-vādin be the cognizer of another cognition? Both of them cannot co-exist, asatvāt, kṣaṇikatvāccha (p. 113). Lastly, one cognition cannot reveal itself and at the same time be revealed by another, and to the Vijñānavādin, cognition is self-luminous. The silver being a mode of cognition must be at once apparent, in which case there is no occasion for error at all.



In error, the asat-khyāti-vādin argues that that which is non-extent appears as existent The negating judgment “This is not silver”, establishes the non-existence of the perceived silver in the silver-illusion (p. 155)

If, either in the error or by its cancellation, the existent were known it will be tantamount to admitting that there is no illusion at all since there is no possibility of error or its cancellation when the content is the existent sat That which is existent can be cancelled neither by the knowledge of the existent, nor of the non-existent. Nor does the knowledge of the existent cancel the knowledge of the existent or that of the non-existent As then, the relation of the sublating and the sublated cannot subsist between two cognitions of the existent, and as a sublation is actually perceived, it is fair to conclude that it is the non-existent that appears as the existent in error.

To the argument that the merely non-existent cannot be perceived, the asadvādin replies that the negative judgment points to the fact that the non-existent ean be experienced (p. 156). Even when one urges the perception of non-existent tuchchha as error, one accepts it as presented in error (p. 157). Even Advaitins must accept the perception of tuchchha, because in māyā, which is of the nature of inexplicability, silverness and reality are perceived in error. Both of them are thus tuchchha and perceived.

Now, against this theory, Vimuktātman asks: How can the non-existent appear as existent, when it cannot even appear as non-existent? Again, since there is not possible distinctions of time in the śūnya, the earlier appearance and the later sublation have no meaning and consequently both the error and its cancellation will be there always; and if this is not desired, never at all, because of distinctionlessness itself. Since there is not restrictions of space in śūnya either, it is not possible to suggest that silver that exists elsewhere appears in the shell. Moreover, the usage in illusion is: “This is silver” and not “negation is silver”. Even the “This” does not appear in the form of negation. There is no such apprehension of the “This” as “ this is not.



When the theories of the sat and the asat as presented in error cancel out each other, what we are left with is the fact that the object in error is characterisable neither as real nor as unreal nor as both.

khyateḥ nasat, badhat na sat iti anyonyapakṣam nirākurvadbhiḥ vādibhireva rupyasya anirvachanīvatvam(?) sthāpitam.

There can be no knowledge without an object. In error, then, we seem to have an object which belongs to an order of reality different from the normal, (p. 120). Silver, the product of nescience, like nescience itself cannot be an object of any valid means of knowledge. Likewise, its negation, too, is not open for knowledge by means either positive or negative. Does the effect of nescience exist and come into being or is it non-existent? Does nescience also existing in the same form become otherwise, or does it change and become otherwise? Does it, existing, perish or being non-existent perish? Is this destruction a negation or a positive entity? Questions like these are relevant only with reference to either positive or negative entities, and not to the inexplicable illusion. That the inexplicable should appear as existent is precisely the illusion. And it is not asat-khyāti because there is no evidence for the unreality of that inexplicable form. As is silver, so is everything in this world.



Ajnana or nescience is the material cause of all illusion. Just as a single principle continues to manifest itself both in the seed and the sprout, the earth and the pot, one beginningless persistent cause produces all the empirical existence. There is no necessity that when the cause is present, the effect is necessarily present. Otherwise, since ajñāna is always present, the illusion will constantly be present.

This ajnana is beginningless. Though the shell in illusion has a beginning, its ignorance is beginningless. This is because this ignorance is not located in the shell but in the Intelligence-Self, even as the knowledge of the shell is. Nescience is established only by Self-Intelligence, and not by pramaṇas (p. 60-61).

The non-apprehensibility by pramaṇas is, however, not the reason why nescience is indeterminable, but its destructibility by knowledge, (jnana-mātra-apanodyatvāt) (p. 63). For, nonapprehensibility is found even in determinable categories like knowledge, pleasure, etc. (p. 63). Nescience of specific objects are many, though the mūla-ajñāna or primordial nescience is one. In fact, there are as many nesciences of, say, a shell as there are shell-cognitions (p. 63). All cognitions, in other words, have the hitherto unknown for their content. Everytime an object is cognized, the nescience concealing that object is removed.

Nescience is not just absence of knowledge. If it were, it will be known by a negative means, abhāva-pramāṇa; one reason for this is that it is located in the Self. Ajñāna cannot be of the nature of mutual negation, because mutual negation has for its substrate the object, while for nescience it is the Self. Nor is it posterior non-existence for which beginning is accepted and nescience is beginningless. Again, while nescience is removable, pradhvaṃsa is not.

Ajñāna is like darkness which is not mere antecedent nonexistence of light. It is positive. Otherwise, it will be difficult to explain how a lamp taken from one place to another dispels darkness there. Ajñāna is called so either because of its conflict with knowledge or because of its being other than knowledge.


Removal of Nescience

Destruction of nescience does not conform to any of the known categories, existent, non-existent, both, and indefinable, but belongs to the fifth alternative: pañchamaprakāra. One has, as Prof. Hiṛyanna suggests, to speak of it thus by the fact of the actual removal of nescience which is indefinable. But in the last chapter of the Iṣṭa-siddhi, Vimuktātman seems to take the view that the destruction of nescience is indefinable with this difference that while ajñāna is removable by knowledge, ajñāna-rtivritti is not (VIII, 2). He also says that Ātman alone is ajñāna-nivrittL Jñānottama writes that Vimuktātman agrees to the suggestion of some among the Advaitins that Ātman alone is the removal of ajñāna in so far as it does not conflict with non-dualism (p. 620),

But the difficulty that if Ātman is the remover of ajñāna how there was any bondage at all is felt by Vimuktātman. He suggests the alternative view that avidyānivritti is the absence of any other than Ātman. And Advaita is not opposed to the nonexistence of anything other than Ātman. Moreover, if Ātman were not opposed even to the presence of nescience, how can it be opposed to its absence? Here the abhāva is only the removal.




Vimuktātman does not accept the theory that the continuance of the body after realization in the case of a jīvan-mukta is due, not to ajñāna itself, but to its latent, impressions, (saṃskāras). Latent impressions are nothing apart from nescience. In the case of the rope-snake illusion, it is suggested that fear, trepidation, etc., are present even when one knows that there is only t he rope and not the snake, and that, similarly, the sarhskāras alone are responsible for the continuance and maintenance of the body of a jīvan-mukta. But this is a mistaken view. Fear, trepidation, etc., do not constitute the body of nescience. Only the snake-illusion does. And when that is over, nescience at that place is removed. If the saṃskāras themselves causing fear, trepidation, etc., were part of the śukti-ajñāna , they will be enough to produce the sarpa-bhrānti at any time. But that is not found to happen.

It is, then, reasonable to suppose that in the jīvan-mukta there is a residuum of ajñāna in the form of the prārabdha-karmas which is responsible for the continuance of the body. There is no conflict between prārabdha and the origination of redeeming knowledge. In principle, actions bestow their fruits only without conflict with the results of other actions that have commenced yielding their consequences. Actions of great merit like the Horse-sacrifice wait for their operation for the exhaustion of the prārabdha—karmas. Similarly, actions which pave the way for the rise of true knowledge will yield their results only in the body which is the locus of experiences brought about by other activities, without conflict (P- 75).

Knowledge then does not militate against experience and vice versa. This shows that though inhabiting a body, a mukta is not a baddha. The body should be there for the released soul so that he can transmit the knowledge to others. If wisdom and death were simultaneous, there will be no one to pass the wisdom on to others and with the first wise man, his wisdom would be buried. The actions which lead to knowledge, says Vimuktātman, preserve the body for sometime for this purpose.

vidyachcharīram paripālayantyeva vidyārthānyapi karmāṇi
kiṃchit kālam yāvatā vidyā-saṃtatyucchhedo na bhavet.

Indeed, without the teacher and his instruction, mere activities, however correct according to scriptures, will never lead to permanent good.



Means to Release

The intuition into the oneness of Reality alone can remove avidyā completely. For this intuition, śravaṇa, manana, and nididhyāsana are the means. Calmness and equanimity are prescribed till renunciation of all actions takes place. Even sacrifices indirectly help this process by creating purity of mind. The asaṃbhāvam (the notion of improbability) and viparīta-bhāvanā (the notion of contrariety) with regard to the real nature of Brahman are removed by the scripture by means of explaining the nature of Ātman beginning with astitva and ending with freedom from hunger and thirst. (See Chhāndogya Upaniṣad). The Upaniṣad repeats nine times the declaration: tat-tvam asi, dispelling every time an illusion about Reality.

If śravaṇa or hearing once only without these aforesaid means could bring about intuition, they would be futile. When the mind is sufficiently pure to receive the final illumination mellowed by these disciplines, then śravaṇa of the Vedānta texts results in the intuition, removing the specific illusion every time it is repeated. Here too, Vimuktātman does not see eye to eye with the school of Maṇḍana which holds that mediate knowledge arising from śravaṇa needs to be transformed into immediacy by repeated meditation. He, on the contrary, suggests that from śravaṇa itself, intuition takes place, provided it comes at the top of all spiritual equipment

na cha parokṣam vastu parokṣa-jṅānaireva abhyasyamanaiḥ aparokṣībhavet. . . . . . tasmāt śravaṇādīni abhyasyamānāni aparokṣa eva ātmani anekaprakārān bhramān nivartayati-santi sākṣāt darśanārthāni bhavanti (p. 64)

* The numbers within brackets refer to the page number or the Adhyāya number in Iṣṭa-siddhi edited by Prof. Hiriyanna in Gaekwad Oriental Series, Baroda.

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