Consciousness in Gaudapada’s Mandukya-karika

by V. Sujata Raju | 2013 | 126,917 words

This essay is a critical study of Consciousness based on the models and mechanisms presented by Gaudapada in his Mandukya-karika: an ancient commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad. The latter is an important philosophical text in the Advaita-Vedanta school of Hindu Philosophy and contains a rigorous investigation on the nature of consciousness and th...

The present research work entitled: “A Critical Study of Consciousness in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkyakārikā”, aims to look at the nature and function of Consciousness from the classical Indian philosophy in general and Advaita tradition in particular.

This work proposes to give an insight into the study of Consciousness based on the models and mechanisms undertaken by Gauḍapāda in his seminal text Māṇḍūkyakārikā which is regarded to be the commentary on Maṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. The Maṇḍūkya Upaniṣad brings out the nature of Consciousness through a comprehensive and rigorous investigation of the three states, namely, wakeful, dream and deep sleep demonstrating that Consciousness is non-dual, continuous and pervasive in and through the three states of experience. It stands as an irrefutable principle. One can speak of one’s experience only if one is conscious of it; and to be conscious means to be consciousness itself. One does not possess Consciousness as an adjective but one is that principle itself.

In the contemporary West consciousness is quite often viewed as an epiphenomenon of matter and also sometimes equated with the mind. For the most part, consciousness and mind are treated as synonymous and used interchangeably; and intentionality is regarded as a defining characteristic of consciousness. Consciousness is always seen ‘of’ or ‘about’ something; and the goal of the pursuit is one of seeking rational understanding of what consciousness/mind is.

All the orthodox (āstika) schools of Indian philosophy, irrespective of the metaphysical theories, conclude that mind cannot be identified with the Self who is the ‘Knower’. In Western philosophy the word ‘mind’ is usually taken to mean both the subjects of consciousness and the psychical states and also the processes of consciousness which manifest the Self. The word ‘mind’ as used in Indian philosophy does not mean this. At best we may say that it refers to the empirical view of mind given by Western philosophers. It is considered positively as a substance and primarily as an instrument of knowledge.

Being soteriological in its approach, Advaita Vedānta proposes liberation/freedom as the ultimate goal and believes that it is attained only by being aware of the true nature of Consciousness. According to Advaita, understanding Consciousness is crucial to eradicate the misery of bondage. Bondage is effected by (1) non understanding of the given i.e. Consciousness (tattva agrahaṇam) and (2) instead misapprehending or distorting the reality, i.e. (anyathāgrahaṇam). This bondage, based on ignorance, can be removed only by knowledge of the “tattva” i.e. Consciousness. Hence, the study of Consciousness is central to Advaita Philosophy.

Advaita Vedānta maintains that Consciousness is not a characteristic of mind but selfmanifesting, non-intentional principle of awareness. They hold that self-luminosity is the defining property/principle of Consciousness; i.e. Consciousness is immediately experienced, even though it is not an object of knowledge. It is called the Subject, not in the sense of ‘knower’ or ‘cognizer’ (jñātā or pramātā), but in the sense that it is the ultimate revealing principle, the transcendental a-priori, which itself is not revealed by anything else. It is often described in the Advaita literature as prakāśa eka rasa, meaning that which has only one rasa or essence that is manifestation. Therefore, Consciousness is described as the ‘light of lights’ (Jyotiṣām jyotiḥ) as the ultimate presupposition of all knowledge.

Attempt has been made in this textual study to resolve crucial issues around which the study of the nature of Consciousness revolves. They are as follows: What is Consciousness? How is it different from the internal organs namely the mind, intellect, ego and memory? How does Consciousness manifest itself? In ‘disputational terms’, is it self-illumined (svaprakāśa) or has a dependent illumination (para-prakāśa)? Does Consciousness possess intentionality or not? In other words: is it saviṣayaka or nirviṣayaka? Questions regarding the form, structure and content of Consciousness raised by scholars in India are as follows: Is Consciousness with form (sākāra) or without form (nirākāra)? Does Consciousness have a locus (āśraya) or being all pervasive it is free from space and time cognates (nirāśraya)? Taking into consideration the above mentioned issues, I strongly feel that no other system of philosophy has thought so deeply on the nature of Consciousness as Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkyakārikā.

The present research is divided into six chapters apart from introduction and conclusion.

The first chapter:

The first chapter is titled “Consciousness: A Historical Perspective” is an analysis of the three states of Consciousness as found in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and Chāndogya Upaniṣads. In this chapter a detailed study of three schools of Indian Philosophy has been incorporated which offers a divergent views on Consciousness. I have expounded the Cā rvā ka, Sāṅkhya and Nyā ya Schools to highlight the objective and subjective views on consciousness.

The second chapter:

“A Study of Māṇḍūkya Kārikā and its Origin”, the second chapter focuses on the study of the two divergent views on Gauḍapādakārikā offered by two eminent Indian scholars namely, Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya and Raghunatha Damodara Karmarkar. Bhattacharya asserts that there is a strong influence of Mahayana Buddhism on Gauḍapāda while Karmarkar takes the orthodox view, which is that Gauḍapāda is not influenced by Mahayana Buddhism but by the early Upaniṣads. Keeping these views I have critically assessed the way in which the text has been handled and interpreted in the scholarly literature in order to arrive at a substantial understanding of Consciousness.

The third chapter:

The third chapter, “A Study of Māṇḍūkya Kārikā: Āgama Prakaraṇa” studies the three states of Consciousness (avasthās) showing that Consciousness which is referred to as the Turīya underlies and transcends the changing states of Consciousness. The study has undertaken the following topics:

(i) Three states of Consciousness: wakeful, dream and deep sleep.

(ii) Analysis of creation theories.

(iii) Turīya and three states of Consciousness.

(iv) The nature of Reality for the Awakened Jīva.

(v) The equation of the states with the syllable Aum.

The fourth chapter:

The fourth chapter, “A Study of Māṇḍūkya Kārikā: Vaitathya Prakaraṇa” deals with the argument given by Gauḍapāda that the two states, dream and waking are similar and its broader philosophical implication in Advaita Vedānta has been appraised. A critical exposition of Gauḍapāda’s views has been explored in this chapter. The study has focused on the following topics:

(i) The falsity of external objects in waking and dreaming states.

(ii) Nature of perception of objects in both states.

(iii) Various views of nature of reality.

(iv) The true nature of reality.

The fifth chapter:

The fifth chapter, “A Study of Māṇḍūkya Kārikā: Advaita Prakaraṇa” is an evaluation of the doctrine ajātivāda, that is ‘nothing whatsoever is born anywhere, though it seems to be born’ and the relevance of the practice of Asparśa-Yoga according to which Consciousness has no sparśa (touch), relationship, with anything at anytime. The major discussion in this chapter involves the path to the realization of non-duality called Asparśa-Yoga. This chapter evaluates and highlights the following features:

(i) The “Space in Pots” Analogy.

(ii) Māyā and the tradition of Vedic revelation.

(iii) Advaita is non-contradiction.

(iv) Creation in the Śruti.

(v) Manas in waking, dream and deep sleep and the realization of No-Mind.

(vi) The Yoga of non-contact (Asparśa-Yoga).

(vii) The realization of the motionless Citta.

The sixth chapter:

The sixth chapter, “A Study of Māṇḍūkya Kārikā: An understanding and critical analysis of Alātaśānti Prakaraṇa”, focuses on the various criticisms leveled by Gauḍapāda against the other schools of Indian philosophy through the four pronged dialectic (Catuskoti). Following themes are studied in this chapter:

(i) Critique of various theories of causation.

(ii) Cognition and the problem of objective reference.

(iii) Further analysis of waking and dream experiences.

(iv) Denial of theories of causality.

(v) How duality appears in everyday consciousness?

(vi) Perception in waking and dream states.

(vii) The non-originated, non-relational, ever-enlightened Consciousness.

The conclusion:

The conclusion sums up the analysis and findings of each chapters looking upon at various aspects of the study of Consciousness in Gauḍapādakārikā establishing the nature of Consciousness as the ultimate self-luminous principle. The Self is Knowledge itself. The Self, the Knower of Self, and the Knowledge of Self, are all one and the same. Knowing the Self is like perceiving Consciousness in Consciousness.

In the contemporary world, torn apart by caste, creed, gender and religious differences, an understanding of the nature of Consciousness as established in this present work, stands as a statement of hope, as an injunction to live a just and virtuous life, to pursue higher knowledge and to transcend the delusion of both the “other” and suffering.

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