Advaita Vedanta of Śankara
The Upaniṣads are said to be the Vedānta or the concluding portions of the Veda.
Efforts were made in early times to give a consistent and coherent interpretation of the teaching of the Upaniṣads.
We have noticed in the article on the Upaniṣads that there are two different tendencies in the Upaniṣads, one which affirms the identity of Brahman, the individual soul and the world, and the other which distinguishes them.
We have to harmonize the two different sets of statements. How can the soul and the world be both identical with and different from Brahman? One such effort at reconciliation has come down to us in the Brahma- sūtra or the Vedānta-sūtra of Bādarāyaṇa.
The Brahma-sūtra mentions that there were other attempts to systematize the thought of the Upaniṣads such as those of Auḍulomi, Kāśakṛtsna, Bādari, Jaimini, Kārṣnājini, Āśmarathya. As they have not come down to us, Bādarāyaṇa's work gained prominence.
The Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad Gītā and the Brahma-sūtra form the triple basis of the Vedānta system. They constitute the prasthāna-traya of the Vedānta.
The Brahma-sūtra is also called the Uttarā- Mimāṅsā as distinct from the Pūrva- Mimāṅsā which deals with the ritual portion. Mimāṅsā or systematic investigation assumes that what is given in the Vedas requires to be investigated.
Śankara’s Interpretation of the Brahma-sūtra.—
The Brahma-sūtra has four chapters each divided into four quarters or sections.
Its laconic contents have given rise to several interpretations of which the chief are the Advaita, the Viśiṣṭādvaita, the Dvaita, Bhedābheda and Śuddhādvaita, associated with the great names of Śankara, Rāmānuja, Madhva, Nimbarka and Vallabha, respectively.
They seem to follow the views of one or the other of the ancient traditions mentioned by Bādarāyaṇa in his Brahma-sūtra. Each of them includes different types of teaching. Śankara's interpretation of the Vedānta philosophy is the subject of the present chapter.
Śankara belongs to the eighth century A.D. He describes himself as a pupil of Govinda, who was himself a pupil of Gauḍapāda.
He lived for thirty-two years and wrote many works of which the chief are his commentaries on the classical Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad-Gītā and the Brahma- sūtra. Several others are attributed to him, though we cannot be certain of his authorship of them.
Śankara established spiritual absolutism or non-dualism as the main teaching of the Upaniṣads.
Nāgārjuna, author of the Mūla-madhyamaka- kārikā makes out that a radical absolutism, advaya-vāda is the main teaching of the Buddha.
Gauḍapāda gave an account of the apparently conflicting statements of the Upaniṣads in his Kārikā on the MāṇḍūkyaUpaniṣad:
His Kārikā is the first exposition of the basic principles of Advaita philosophy, the orders of reality, the identity of Brahman and Ātman, the doctrine of appearance, the inapplicability of logical categories as causation to ultimate reality, jñāna or wisdom as the direct means to mokṣa or freedom.
His Kārikā is an attempt to combine in one whole the negative logic of the Mādhyamikas with the positive idealism of the Upaniṣads. He refers, however, to an ancient Advaita tradition.
His Kārikā is divided into four chapters:
The first, called the Āgama, explains the text of the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. Gauḍapāda tries to show that his view of reality is sanctioned by the Śruti and supported by reason.
The second chapter, called Vaitathya, explains by means of arguments the phenomenal nature of the world, characterized as it is by duality and opposition.
The third part establishes the Advaita theory.
In the last part, called Alātaśānti, or Quenching the Firebrand, there is a further development of the Advaita position regarding the sole reality of the Ātman and the relative character of our ordinary experience:
As a stick burning at one end, when waved round, quickly produces an illusion of a circle of fire (alāta-cakra), so is it with the multiplicity of the world.
Gauḍapāda refers to the Yogacara views, and mentions the name of the Buddha half a dozen times.
Gauḍapāda lived at a time when Buddhism was widely prevalent. Naturally he was familiar with Buddhist doctrines, which he accepted when they were not in conflict with his own Advaita.
To the Buddhists he appealed on the ground that his view did not depend on any theological text or revelation. To the orthodox Hindu he said that it had the sanction of authority also.
His liberal views enabled him to accept doctrines associated with Buddhism and adjust them to the Advaita design.
Gauḍapāda seems to have been conscious of the similarity of his system to some phases of Buddhist thought. He therefore protests—rather overmuch—that his view is not Buddhism.
Towards the end of his book he says: “This was not spoken by the Buddha." Commenting on this, Śankara writes: “The theory (of Buddhism) wears a semblance to the Advaita, but is not that absolutism which is the pivot of the Vedānta philosophy."
Gauḍapāda's work bears traces of Buddhist influence, especially of the Vijñāna-vāda and the Mādhyamika Schools. Gauḍapāda uses the very same arguments as the Vijñāna-vādins do to prove the unreality of the external objects of perception.
Both Bādarāyaṇa and Śankara strongly urge that there is a genuine difference between dream impressions and waking ones, and that the latter are not independent of existing objects.
Gauḍapāda, however, links the two, waking and dreaming, experiences together:
While Śankara is anxious to free his system from the subjectivism associated with Vijñāna-vāda, Gauḍapāda welcomes it.
Unwilling to accept the Vijñāna-vāda as final, he declares that even the subject is as unreal as the object, and thus comes perilously near the nihilist position.
In common with Nāgārjuna, he denies the validity of causation and the possibility of change:
“There is no destruction, no creation, none in bondage, none endeavouring (for release), none desirous of liberation, none liberated; this is the absolute truth."
The empirical world is traced to avidya or, in Nāgārjuna’s phrase, saṁvṛti:
"From a magical seed is born a magical sprout; this sprout is neither permanent nor perishing. Such are things and for the same reason."
The highest state beyond the distinctions of knowledge cannot be characterized by the predicates of existence, nonexistence, both or neither. Gauḍapāda and Nāgārjuna regard it as something which transcends the phenomenal.
In addition to these points of doctrine, there are affinities in phraseology which point unmistakably to the influence of Buddhism:
The use of the word “dharma" for a thing or entity, "saṁvṛti” for relative knowledge, and usaṁghāta” for objective existence, is peculiarly Buddhist. The simile of the firebrand circle is often used in Buddhist writings as a symbol for unreality.
Authority, Intuition, Reason.—
In the interpretation of texts, Śankara is faithful to the spirit of the teaching of the Upaniṣads rather than to their letter.
He claims for his views not only the authority of the Scriptures but also intrinsic reasonableness and direct experience. These different types of knowledge do not contradict one another.
We may argue to the reality of an ultimate principle from the law of causation. We assume the world to be an effect and point to the necessity of a cause. Such an inferential argument cannot disclose to us the nature of the cause. Only direct experience can bring us into contact with reality.
Reality is not a metaphysical concept but spiritual being. It is an object of intuition, not inference, of aparokṣānubhūṭi. When Śankara says that the Śruti or Scripture is pratyakṣa, he means that it records the integral experiences of the seers.
The validity of the Śruti is said to be self-certifying because anubhava or experience which is recorded is "of a self-certifying character." The Śruti illuminates the objects of its reference even as the light of the sun illuminates visible objects.
Scripture is only a reminder, jñāpaka and not kāraka. Thought leads to intuition and the record of intuitions is Scripture.
Śankara interprets the Scripture, argues the case and holds that Brahman is an object of intuition. It is not an object of perception or other means of knowledge like inference, analogy, implication and Scripture.
Brahman is apprehended by immediate experience and not discursive reasoning. In this experience everything is felt as the self.
The distinction between the knower, the process of knowing and the object known disappears. The conditions necessary for the ordinary empirical knowledge are not present. There is a feeling of certitude.
Śankara asks: "How can one contest the fact of another possessing the knowledge of Brahman, vouched as it is by his heart's conviction?"
The experience is intimate, ineffable and incommunicable. The self alone is witness to it, ātma-sākṣikam anuttamam. It consists in the realization that one is the self of pure consciousness free from all pain. Pain is the result of alienation from reality and when that is removed, pain disappears.
In many passages of the Upaniṣads, it is said that it is impossible to give any positive determinations of the supreme Brahman.
The famous passage neti neti (not this, not this), tells us that Brahman is absolutely non-empirical. It is beyond the reach of empirical thought. It is inapprehensible by logical knowledge.
It is pure inwardness of which no conceptual interpretation is possible. It is indivisible, inalienable. It is neither external nor conditioned by external causation. To define it is to transmute it into object. We cannot even say that it is one. It is non-dual(advaita).
The difficulty of empirical characterization does not make it into a bare abstraction, a mere nothing:
In his commentary on the Chāndogya- Upaniṣad Śankara says that those who imagine that the metaphysical reality free from all determinations is as good as non-being are the feebleminded.
He would not accept the validity of the criticism made by Hegel on Spinoza's substance that pure being devoid of all determination is as good as non-being.
Ultimate reality, for Śankara, is fullness of being. We can think the whole world away, yet we cannot but assume a real which is. Life becomes meaningless without this a priori notion of being (astitva-niṣṭhā). From non-being we cannot explain the rise of being.
The existence of anything presupposes the reality of being. This universe has its roots in being (san-mūla), has its basis in being (sad-āśraya), and is established in being (sat-pratisṭhā).
Being is eternal, self-existent. It alone exists for itself. It is non-dual, homogeneous. It assumes different forms on account of various adjuncts:
"When it performs the function of living it is called the vital force, when it speaks the organ of speech, when it sees the eye, when it hears the ear, and when it thinks the mind."
This being (sat) is consciousness (cit). The ultimate reality is being and consciousness. The light of consciousness that illumines the universe is Brahman:
“As pure consciousness, the self is self-subsistent and independent of everything else and never ceases to be."
Only in regard to the consciousness of self we have absolute certainty. We can doubt or deny any object but we cannot deny one's own being, for in the very act of doubting or denying we affirm its existence.
The reality of ātman is self-evident. Ultimate reality, though it transcends all distinctions of subject and object, is not wholly unknown to us for it is our very self.
The real is not an objective something but a subjective reality, subjective not in the sense that it is peculiar or private to the individual but is the spirit discovered in the depths of the subject.
Ātman is not the subject (pramātṛ) but is the basis of the subject-object distinction.
When we make a distinction between subject and object and oppose one to the other we are in the world of empirical discourse.
The self (ātman) exists for itself; everything else has being in and through the self. What appears as not-self (anātma-vastu) has its being in the self. It is a bhūta-vastu which we have only to acknowledge.
Brahman is being (sat), consciousness (cit), and bliss (ānanda). The universe lives on a fraction of the supreme bliss. Brahman is perfect being, infinite awareness and supreme bliss.
These are not attributes possessed by Brahman as the substance, the very nature of Brahman. Brahman is jñāna-svarūpa and not jñāna-guṇāśraya. Knowledge is the essence of Brahman and not an attribute which qualifies Brahman.
If we wish to have intelligible discourse about Brahman, we have to use empirical forms. The wise understand these forms as necessities of relational thought; while the ignorant take them to be infallible truth.
Reflection on the absolute Brahman is possible only through empirical discourse. We can reflect on Brahman only by subjecting it to empirical conditions.
The supreme Brahman when viewed as the creator and governor of the universe is said to be sa-guṇa Brahman or the personal God (dvi-rūpam hi brahmāvagamyate, nāma-rūpa-vikāra-bhedopādhi-viśiṣtam, tad-viparītam sarvopādhi-varjitam).
Both are valid forms of Brahman. Sa-guṇa Brahman or Īśvara is the living God, the totality of all things that are. The pure spirit beyond subject-object distinction, the unconditioned Brahman is conceived as the subject confronting the non-subject or the object.
We have the interaction between the two which is the cosmic process gradually realizing the values of spirit in its upward ascent from nothingness to the kingdom of God under divine inspiration and influence.
The Status of the World.—
Śankara does not assert the absolute oneness of Brahman and the world but only denies their difference. We deny only the existence of the world apart from or independent of Brahman.
The world is traced to the development of prakṛti which is also called māyā in the Advaita Vedānta, but this prakṛti or māyā is not independent of spirit. It is dependent on Brahman.
Brahman with prakṛti or māyā is sa-guṇa Brahman or Īśvara comprehending the diversity of souls and objects. Īśvara as the lord of all existences is immanent in the cosmic process.
Brahman is both Īśvara and jīva (the cosmic lord and the individual ego) though there is a fundamental difference between the two in regard to the adjuncts with which they are associated:
Īśvara is said to be associated with cosmic māyā while the individual is associated with avidya or ignorance.
The supreme Lord is not subject to any ignorance but remains untouched by the vicissitudes of the finite objects. Attachment implies likes and dislikes, but God is detached since He is attached to all.
God is sometimes represented as the creator of the universe and māyā is then treated as the power or śakti through which He creates. In this sense God is the material as well as the efficient cause of the universe.
The world of not-self (anātma-vastu) derives its meaning from self of which it becomes an object. Apart from self or consciousness, the object world is non-existent.
Only the self is svārtha or exists for itself; object world is parārtha or exists for another. The existence of the world is not of itself. In this sense, its reality is less than that of Brahman.
Brahman is real (sat). The world is not absolutely real but it is not a-sat or nothing. The world has empirical existence which is quite different from the eternal being of Brahman and absolute non-being.
No non-entity exists. A hare's horn or a barren woman's son does not exist. The world cannot be said to be non-existent for we apprehend it.
Śankara criticizes the Śūnya-vāda on the ground that it is not possible to negate the empirical world without positing another reality.
To negate an error is to accept the truth on which it is based. Śankara here assumes that the Śūnya-vāda negates all existence and does not posit an underlying reality.
Both Śankara and Nāgārjuna admit the unreality of the empirical world based on distinctions (dvaita-mithyātva). But Śankara as a follower of the Vedānta tradition admits the reality of Brahman as the basis of the empirical world about which Nagarjuna is reticent.
It is often said that the world is an illusory appearance for Śankara. This view is encouraged by the illustration which Śankara employs to describe the relation of the world to Brahman:
The serpent which appears where there is only a rope is neither existent nor non-existent. It is a presented datum but is not real. When we examine the object we find that it is only a rope and not a serpent. The appearance of the serpent lasts until correct knowledge arises.
This shows only that the self-existent character of the world persists so long as the knowledge of its rootedness in Brahman does not arise. In the state of enlightenment we realize that the world is only a manifestation of Brahman.
By this analogy Śankara wishes to suggest that the world is distinct from the real and the unreal, sad-a-sad-vilakṣaṇa. The things of the world are of an order intermediate between the absolute reality, Brahman and complete non-existence.
The serpent appears. It is not real but it is not utterly non-existent. It lasts so long as the illusion lasts. It is apprehended as out there. The utterly non-existent cannot be known at all. The world cannot be viewed as either real or unreal. It is inexpressible.
The Advaita Vedānta adopts the view of a-nirvacanīya- khyāti or the apprehension of the inexpressible. Logical thinking which is characterized by certain specific features, identity with itself, avoidance of contradiction, exclusion of a third term between true and false is not all.
The world which can only be described as inexpressible is sometimes called māyā. It is neither non-existent nor existent, nor is it both combined. It is not describable as either existent or non-existent. It is of the nature of mithyā and is eternal.
Śankara uses the example of rope and serpent to suggest the one-sided dependence of the world on Brahman:
Whereas the appearance of the serpent is dependent on the existence of the rope, the existence of the rope does not depend on the appearance of the serpent.
The world is dependent on Brahman in the sense that there will be no world without Brahman. The non-existence of the world does not make any difference to Brahman.
The world rests on Brahman as the serpent on the rope and not Brahman as the world, not the rope on the serpent.
This one-sided relationship is indicated in the later Advaita, by the term vivartta (appearance) as distinct from pariṇāma (modification):
Brahman is the ground of the world and yet transcends it. Things of the world undergo change, but Brahman remains beyond change.
According to Śankara, the whole conception of causation applies within the realm of phenomena:
The world is the realm of causes and effects and we cannot, strictly speaking, say that Brahman is the cause of the world. An empirical category like causation cannot apply to a being that is essentially non-empirical.
Śankara is emphatic that the world is not to be equated with a dream phenomenon. The world is a cosmos, an ordered whole of spatio-temporal-causal events. There is no such order in the world of dreams.
Again, in all knowledge there is an objective factor (vastu-taṅtram hi jñānam). Only the object of dream experience has a status different from an object of waking experience. The former is sublated unlike the latter.
The dream object is discovered to be merely a dream. But objects of waking experience like tables and chairs are not sublated in that way.
The ideal of knowledge is to know a thing in itself without any distortion or interference by our mental forms. This ideal is not realized in empirical knowledge. The real object of knowledge exists in itself unrelated to the subject. It is the real in itself, pure being (sat).
Empirical particulars are related to others. Dream objects do not exist apart from their appearance in dreams. That relationship exhausts their existence. Pure being is self- evidencing (svayam-prakāśa). Empirical objects are unlike dream objects. They are independent of the act of cognition.
Śankara criticizes the vijñāna-vāda which reduces outer objects to states of consciousness:
For the vijñāna-vāda error consists in the wrong identification of what is essentially a state of consciousness (vijñāna) with an external object.
The given object is parikalpita or constructed while consciousness is the only reality. For Śankara the object known is independent of the knowing act. It is vastu-tantra. Knowledge is of the given.
Śankara's is an ontological idealism and not an epistemological one. He rejects the theory which identifies the essence of a thing with our perception of it.
He does not say that the world depends on the perceiver for its existence. To say that the self is the foundational reality is not to say that our awareness constitutes the reality of the object.
The worlds of dream and waking are both inexpressible since they cannot be viewed as either real or unreal. Again, if the test of truth is non-contradiction (a-bādhita) neither of them satisfies that criterion. Only the ultimate reality, Brahman, is un-contradicted.
From the metaphysical point of view they both fall short of reality. Yet there is a distinction between the two:
While the illusory reality is confined to the individual percipient, empirical reality is open to all sarva-loka-pratyakṣa. Empirical reality is to be distinguished from dream existence as well as ultimate being.
The word māyā is used to denote different meanings in Śankara's system:
1. That the world is not self-explanatory shows its phenomenal character, which is signified by the word māyā.
2. The problem of the relation between Brahman and the world has meaning for us who admit the pure being of Brahman from the intuitive standpoint and demand an explanation of its relation to the world, which we see from the logical standpoint.
We can never understand how the ultimate reality is related to the world of plurality, since the two are heterogeneous, and every attempt at explanation is bound to fail. This incomprehensibility is brought out by the term māyā.
3. If Brahman is to be viewed as the cause of the world, it is only in the sense that the world rests on Brahman, while the latter is in no way touched by it, and the world which rests on Brahman is called māyā.
4. The principle assumed to account for the appearance of Brahman as the world is also called māyā.
5. If we confine our attention to the empirical world and employ the dialectic of logic, we get the conception of a perfect personality (Īśvara) who has the power of self-expression. This power or energy is called māyā.
6. This energy of Īśvara becomes transformed into the upādhi, or limitation, the unmanifested matter(avyakta prakṛti) from which all existence issues. It is the object through which the supreme subject Īśvara develops the universe.
The word māyā is used to denote different meanings:
“Therefore this whole universe consisting of a series of thoughts and works, means and ends, actions and results, although held together by a series of works and impressions of innumerable beings, is transient, impure, unsubstantial,
like a flowing river or a burning lamp, lacking in fibre like a banana, comparable to foam appearance, a mirage, a dream and so on, appears to those who have identified themselves with it to be undecaying, eternal and full of substance."
The Individual Soul.—The Jīva or the individual soul is a composite of self and not-self. All experience is based on the confusion between the two. The wrong identification (adhyāsa) of the self with the not-self is the basis of all experience.
Through association with the limitations (Upādhi) like the internal organ (anta -kāraṇa) the self functions as enjoyer subject to rebirth or bondage.
When we speak of the individual jīva as born or as growing we mean that its adjuncts come into being or grow and not that the spirit is born or grows.
Jīva is an empirical form or manifestation of Brahman. Its finitude and separateness are due to the limitations of the media. The human individual belongs to the object side, is an element in the perpetual procession or saṁsāra.
The jīva when viewed in its true character as distinct from the adjuncts is the sākṣin or the witness self.
It is consciousness, pure and simple. It is not objective cognition or vṛtti-jñāna which is a modification of the internal organ but is the very form of consciousness (svarūpa-jñāna).
All changes are in this consciousness and not of it. The seer (sākṣin) is always present while the changes which it witnesses come and go. The seer is the implication of all empirical knowledge though it is not itself an object of such knowledge.
Nothing can be both subject and object. The eye can see other things but not itself. When we say that we know ourselves, it is the empirical self that we know. The true self cannot be known as an object though as subject it is self-revealing.
How is the supreme self (Ātman) related to the individual (jīva)? What is the relation between the pure self and the limiting adjuncts which are the products of prakṛti?
Śankara says: “The self or the I-element is so opposed to the not-self or the thou element that they can never be predicated of each other.”
The relationship between the two I and not-I is inexplicable logically. It is inexpressible (a-nirvacanīya) on the analogy of the relation of Brahman to the world. The tendency to regard the not- self as real is there, psychologically given though not logically established
The multiplicity of the world and the independence of the individual appear to be the truth owing to an inveterate (naisargika) habit of mind which is traced to avidya or ignorance which is beginningless (anādi).
This ignorance may be either negative, i.e. lack of knowledge of the unity underlying the diversity of things, or positive in the sense that it gives rise to a misapprehension.
We see the manifold world where there is only Brahman. In the former case our knowledge would be partial; in the latter it would be misleading and erroneous. We must overcome this congenital ignorance by means of knowledge or enlightenment.
While māyā covers the whole cosmic manifestation avidya relates to the ignorance of the individual. The limitations of each individual are derived from the avidya of the particular soul.
What distinguishes Īśvara or the supreme Lord from the individual soul (jīva), is the quality of the adjuncts. When freed from these adjuncts the egos are not distinct from one another.
The famous text tat tvam asi (that art thou) affirms the identity, not actual but potential of the individual souls and supreme god. When we realize our true nature we get rid of the feeling that we are the agents or the enjoyers.
The liberated jīva is liberated from the limiting adjuncts. In empirical life we attribute to the jīva features that do not belong to it though they are all presented at the time. If we free ourselves from these limitations we realize the truth of the identity of the self with Brahman.
Mokṣa or Liberation.—
When it is said that we should attain the self, the meaning is that we should know it. The end of knowledge is also the aim of human endeavour.
When it is said that Brahman is to be seen, known, cognized and comprehended, it is assumed that we can cross our finitude and attain to our true nature. To become what we are is our ultimate aim.
Right knowledge should displace the erroneous identification of the self with its adjuncts. The change has to be effected not in the world of being but in the world of thought. Avidya has to be displaced by vidyā.
According to the Mādhyamika system also, samsāra and nirvana are the same; only our viewpoints in the two cases are different:
“When the universe is viewed as a process of causes and conditions it is called the phenomenal world; the same world is called nirvana when causes and conditions are disregarded.”
The identity of the self with Brahman is the fact; we realize it when the obscuration is removed.
It is wrong to assume that in the state of liberation all plurality is annihilated and “only the knower in us and therefore the ātman remains as the unit." To get rid of the ego sense is not to get rid of all life and existence.
What is needed is not merely a theoretical knowledge of the oneness of the self with the Absolute but a practical realization of it. Knowledge of Brahman has for its result personal experience.
The Absolute consciousness is viewed either as being “without any limiting adjuncts or as being all the limiting adjuncts." It becomes the self of all; salvation is sarvātma-bhāva:
“This universe is myself who am all this. Identity with all is his highest state, the self's own natural, supreme state."
The person who is freed is the jīvan-mukta, one who is liberated while alive, i.e. while associated with his varied adjuncts.
His life will be one of dedicated service to humanity, which is a spontaneous expression of his realization of the oneness of all. At death the physical body is cast off and the freed soul attains videhamukti.
The question is raised whether illumined souls preserve their individuality after obtaining enlightenment. Śankara admits that some of them do retain their individualities for fulfilling the functions assigned to them by the supreme Lord:
The maintenance of individuality is not inconsistent with a state of enlightenment. Their spirit is otherworldly but their life is not colourless.
They transform their energies into a living whole which expresses itself through love and power. Their lives are purposeful and purposeless, like the very act of creation.
When we know the truth of things, karma as such ceases to be obligatory(na karmāvasaro’sti). He has no need for action.
The law of karma is assumed by Śankara. Individuality is due to karma, which is a product of avidya.
The kind of world into which we are born is just the return of the works on the doer (kriyā-karaka- phalam).
The individual organism is the working machinery (kārya- kāraṇa-saṁghāta) intended to produce that requital in the form of actions and its results of suffering and happiness.
Sometimes the works of a single existence have to be atoned for in several succeeding ones. Even as the atonement for the past is completed, fresh karma accumulates, “so that the clockwork of atonement in running down always winds itself up again."
Moral life is an unremitting active energizing, which is never exhausted. It takes endless forms, owing to the variety of the demands of the conditions of human life.
This process goes on forever, until perfect knowledge is gained, which consumes the seed of karma and makes rebirth impossible. Freedom from subjection to the law of karma is the end of human life.
To get rid of avidya is to be freed from the law of karma. But so long as the individual is finite, he is subject to the law of karma, i.e. he always strains after an ideal which he never reaches.
Morality is a stepping-stone and not a stopping-place. All acts done with an expectation of reward yield their fruits in accordance with the law of karma while those done with no selfish interest, in the spirit of dedication to God, purify the mind.
It does not, however, follow that we move like marionettes pulled by the strings of our past karma.
It has already been said that the individual is responsible for his acts, and God is only the assisting medium, conserving the fruits of his deeds. God does not compel anyone to do this or that. Even those tendencies with which we are bound can be overcome by strength of will.
Vāsiṣṭha asks Rāma in the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha “to break the chain that holds us in bondage by free effort."
The individual has an impulsive nature by virtue of which he has likes and dislikes. Man, if guided by the unformed nature with which he is born, is completely at the mercy of his impulses. So long as his activities are determined by these, they are not free.
But man is not a mere sum-total of his impulses. There is the infinite in him. The self as causal power lies outside the empirical series and determines them. The history of man is not a puppet show. It is a creative evolution.
Ethics and Religion.—
To gain enlightenment we must cultivate vairāgya - detachment of spirit. We must suppress our egotistic tendencies and perform our duties in a disciplined and disinterested way.
Śankara lays down the four-fold requirement for the study of the Vedānta. They are:
1. Ability to discriminate between the eternal and the non-eternal;
2. Freedom from desire for securing pleasure or avoiding pain, here or elsewhere;
3. Attainment of calmness, temperance, the spirit of renunciation, fortitude, the power of concentration of mind, faith;
4. Desire for freedom. Moral life prepares us for the apprehension of truth by purifying our affections and cleansing us of our egotism.
Śankara argues that karma or ethical activity does not directly contribute to spiritual freedom. It creates in us the desire to know. It is the indirect preparation for mokṣa or liberation.
Freedom is not the direct result of action. While the results of action are transitory, mokṣa or freedom is eternal.
Our actions prepare for knowledge which reveals the reality. The real is not something to be achieved. It is a-sādhyam, for it is the eternal real. It is ever-accomplished (nitya-siddha-sva-bhāvam).
Perfection is always present. It is not a thing to be acquired. It is revealed when the mirror of the soul is cleansed from dust. We have to break down the barriers that stand in the way of realization. Karma helps us to remove the hindrances to jñāna or wisdom.
If Śankara is opposed to the way of works, he is opposed to the theory of salvation by works. The realization of Brahman as one's very self is the goal of human endeavour.
The natural tendency is to assume that Brahman is other than self. Brahman is conceived as the divine Being, creator, ruler and sustainer of the universe. It is worshipped as the Lord and the Lawgiver.
Upāsanā or worship is different from jñāna or knowledge:
In Upāsanā there is an element of distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped. In knowledge or jñāna we experience the nature of reality as it is in itself; in worship or Upāsanā we experience it under the limitations of name and form.
The same Brahman is experienced in both these ways:
Through worship we gradually overcome the distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped and experience the Real as it is.
When the worshipper realizes that the God he worships is none other than his deepest self, when externality is broken down, he reaches the object of worship.
There are different modes of worship which lead to different results. These modes are different on account of the different limiting adjuncts. These are the different ways in which the ultimate Reality is mediated for us.
ŚANKARA AND BUDDHISM
The Indian tradition holds that Śankara in the interests of the reestablishment of the Hindu faith wrote as a controversialist against Buddhism.
The Buddhist tradition also confirms this view. It affirms that Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, the famous expositor of the Pūrva-Mimāṅsā and Śankara were the chief critics of the Buddhist faith.
Śankara's works do not confirm this view. He wrote as a defender of the Advaita doctrine and attacked other views in order to vindicate his faith. In a work like his Bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra, the refutation of the Buddhist views forms a small part.
Śankara's criticism of the Sāṁkhya system is more severe and extensive. The primary purpose of his works is the vindication of the Advaita doctrine rather than propaganda against other views.
Many critics, ancient and modem, hold that Śankara himself was greatly influenced by Buddhist thought. The famous line from the Padma- Purāṇa is often quoted that “the māyā doctrine is an untrue science and is only a concealed Buddhism."
The Buddhists also refer to the similarities between the Advaita Vedānta of Śankara and the Vijñāna-vāda and the Śūnya-vāda Schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism.
There is considerable measure of similarity between Śankara's views and Buddhist doctrine.
Śankara used some of the reasoning made familiar by the Buddhist dialectic in support of his non-dualism. Śankara used every device to defend his belief in the reality of a transcendental non-dual Brahman.
Gauḍapāda, who is Śankara's teacher's teacher in his Kārikā on the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad has used phrases and metaphors which are well known in Buddhist literature.
After a careful and detailed study of the parallel passages, the late De la Vallee Poussin observed:
“One cannot read the Gauḍapāda-kārikā without being struck by the Buddhist character of the leading ideas and of the wording itself. The author seems to have used Buddhist works or sayings and to have adjusted them to his Vedāntic design;
even more, he finds pleasure in double entendre. As Gauḍapāda is the spiritual grandfather of Śankara, this fact is not insignificant."
There is no doubt that Śankara's views are a straightforward development of the doctrines of the Upaniṣads and the Brahma-sūtra. No innovations are introduced into these by Śankara which require to be traced to the influence of Buddhism.
Unfortunately we are inclined to forget that Buddhism also developed on the foundations which were already laid in the Upaniṣads.
The two tendencies of the Vedānta and Buddhism are parallel developments out of a common background, though their emphases were different. The similarities between Śankara's Advaita and some Schools of Buddhism are not unnatural.
The greatness of Śankara's metaphysical achievement rests on the intensity and splendour of thought with which the search for reality is conducted, on the high idealism of spirit with which he grapples the difficult problems of life and on the vision of a consummation which places a divine glory on human life.