Shastra - as a pramana?
Anand_Hudli_at_USININ31 at BMC.BOEHRINGER-MANNHEIM.COM
Wed Jun 4 15:20:33 CDT 1997
I have posted earlier a message about Shankara's reasons for accepting Vedic
testimony as the only means to knowlegde about Brahman/Atman. Also please see
Shankara's introduction to his commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad for
a discussion on why we should rely solely on the Vedas for Brahman-knowledge.
Sureshvara in his sambandha-vaartika, which is the introduction to his
commentary on Shankara's bhaashya, deals with the same topic in greater
detail. One point of the argument here is that if the Atman can be
established (proved) by reasoning and/or perception alone, then we would not
have any arguments with the Buddhists and materialists who hold that there is
no Atman which is eternal or even something that
exists after the body dies. The background for the argument is that
the Miimaamsaka is trying to convince us that to know Atman, it is
not necessary to resort to shruti, since the Atman can be known by other
pramaaNas. By showing this, the Miimaamsaka hopes to prove that the real
purport of the Vedas is not Self-knowledge but rather
injunctions/prohibitions with regard to karma. But Shankara and Sureshvara
have shown that this position of the Miimaamsaka is untenable.
As far as I see it, there are three problems in trying to prove by logic
alone that the Self is the only reality. First, you need to show
that there is an Atman (Self) in the body. The materialists, for
example, will not recognize anything that is not known by perception or
inference. Since the Atman is always the Knower and never the Known, it
is impossible to show that the Atman exists in the body.
Second, as Vidya has pointed out, is the definition of Reality itself.
If you define Reality as something eternal, the next person may not
The dvaitins have a different notion of Reality. Third, the problem is
to show that the Atman is eternal. The shuunyavaadii buddhists will
readily point out that by negating everything that is perceived, there
is no guarantee that the Atman will not be negated similarly.
I agree that advaita is much more logically plausible than other
systems. Any system that cannot support its tenets based on reason
will be dubbed a religion based on blind beliefs. But any system
that does not have a foundation in scriptures will be reduced to
mere speculation. In this respect, advaita strikes a remarkable
balance by basing its conclusions on both reasoning and scripture.
As I indicated in my earlier message, reasoning and shruti complement
each other; they do not preclude each other.
VidyaaraNya remarks in his Panchadashii,
"shrutyarthaM vishadiikurmo na tarkaadvachmi kiJNchana"
(I do not merely speak from a logical viewpoint, but I make clear the
meaning of the Shruti.)
Again, Sureshvara says in his Sambandha vaartika:
tvamasyaaditastasmaadaagamaadeva naanyataH |
aikaatmyavastunaH saakshhaadvyutpattiravichaalinii ||
Therefore, from scriptural sentences such as "tat tvam asi" and not from
any other source, arises the direct knowledge of the One Self, in an
>Taking as a reality as that which cannot be negated, (trikaala abhaadhita
>vastu) everything can be negated including the concept of Brahman. Only
>thing that remains that is the eternal is I. Why do I need to know that I
>am Brahman when I know that I am the only that remains with out any
>duality. I am sure you realize that Brahman is the concept to account for
>the creation and the changing world. But when everything is negated as
>non-real what remains is only I - call it self, Atman, Brahman any do not
>call anything. What I am searching mostly through all pravRiti and
>nivRitti is only happiness and experience teaches me that happiness is not
>out there - it is ones owns self. The realization stops the very search.
The *crucial* question here is: How do you know the "I" is trikaala-
abaadhita, ie. eternal? All you can prove with logic is perhaps that this
"I" exists during your waking, dream, and deep sleep states. But beyond
that, you cannot *prove* that this "I" has always existed no matter how
far back you go into the past, and will always exist no matter how far
ahead you go into the future. Was this "I" there before the body was
born? Will it exist after the body dies? After all, the statement you
are making about the "I" is when you still have the body.
The opponent may argue that this "I" will die with the body. How do you
argue against that without resorting to shruti? Now, there *seems* to be
a way out. You can say that the body is not real, the objects in the
dream and waking states are unreal. So in this case, there is no birth
of anything. This also means there is no death of anything. Also, it
means there is no concept of Time. So there is no past, present, or
future. From this, the eternality of the "I" follows. But in order
to "prove" the unreality of all objects in the waking and dream states,
you must necessarily use the logic of GauDapaada. If you read carefully
what GauDapaada has proved in the Vaitathya prakaraNa, you will notice
a crucial point. What GauDapaada has proved is the following. "IF you
hold the dream objects to be unreal AND the objects in the waking state
to be real, THEN you are being inconsistent."
The opponent may now say that the dream objects have a different
order of reality from the objects in the waking state. Nevertheless,
both types of objects can be accepted as real. The opponent does not
mean that objects in the dream state are either less real or more
real than those of the waking state, but only that dream objects
are subjected to different laws than those in the waking state.
To refute this argument, there is no way other than using Shruti as the
pramaaNa to show the unreality of the dream state.
na tatra rathaa, na rathayogaa na panthaano bhavanti...
There are no chariots, nothing to be yoked, no roads, ...
(Br Up 4.3.10)
As I emphasized above, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to
*prove* the unreality of all objects in the waking and dream state
without resorting to shruti. It is only from the shruti (for example
the maaNDuukya upanishhad) that we learn that there is a nondual
fourth state (turiiya). It is impossible to *prove* that this fourth
state, which transcends the other three, exists. You can say that
unreality of objects in the real and waking states is proved
because they are not known to exist in the sleep state. But here
your argument hinges on the acceptance of the trikaala-abaadhita
definition of satya. That is, reality is something that is not
negated (sublated) at anytime. But the opponent, especially the dvaitin,
holds that if something is not negated at some time, then it is real.
From the empirical viewpoint, of course, this definition is not
unreasonable. Suppose we see a pet animal being born, grow up with us,
and then die. Can we call the animal that had been our friend unreal
just because it is no longer with us? It did not exist prior to some
point in time, and it no longer exists. But it did exist for some
period of time. So it should be held to be real, although not existing
currently. Again, there is no resolution of which definition of truth or
reality is the correct one, without recourse to Shruti.
There is further complication from the argument about the three states. If
you say all objects are negated in the sleep state, what prevents me from
saying that the sleep state is the Absolute Reality? There is happiness in
the sleep state. Nobody ever says that there is unhappiness in the sleep
state. In that state, there is also consciousness -- the "I".
However, we know that the sleep state is not eternal. We have to come back
from the sleep state after a while. So it may be concluded (erroneously)
that whatever happiness we experience is only temporary. There is no
>Are there many Atmans or one Atman? First the scriptures do not
>categorically state that either. If so there would not haaave been several
>theories based on the same scripture. In fact Sri Ramanuja rests mostly on
>scriptural statements to prove that advaitic concepts are not scripturally
>based. Same pramana is used to extract different meaning. If logic cannot
>provide it the scripture cannot either atleast convincingly to others.
While interpreting shruti, it is necessary to adhere to some standard
exegetical methods established by Miimaamsa. We cannot give just any
interpretation. Also, if a shruti passage is given a certain meaning,
then it should be consistent with the rest of the shruti. Most of the
commentators who endorse bheda (difference) of some kind, resort to
distorting the passages which speak of abheda (nondifference) of
Brahman/jiiva. On the other hand, advaitic interpretation is much more
consistent, because it interprets bheda passages as adhyaaropa or
superimpositions, which are later sublated by the abheda passages.
This does not mean that Shruti is itself inconsistent, but that Shruti
teaches efficiently by asking us to first accept bheda and later
transcend bheda to arrive at abheda. In other words, we go from
duality to nonduality. There is no point in denying duality *to
begin with*. Duality is all around us in the perceivable world
and shruti does not ask us to take the impractical (and absurd) step of
denying duality while living under the influence of duality. What
shruti asks us to do is to accept duality and gradually, in stages,
lift ourselves up out of duality.
Secondly, the commentators who admit bheda have to contend with defining
what Brahman is- whether Shiva or Vishnu or Devi or Surya. etc. If you
look at the hymns of the Rg Veda, it is Indra who gets the most attention.
It would be possible to argue that Brahman is Indra, and we should all be
worshipping him! Such a position would be irreconcilable with
those who accept other Gods, but reconcilable with advaita. Whether one
worships or respects as Brahman any God, be it Vishnu, Shiva, Devi,
Ganapati, Surya, Indra, etc., one worships a symbol (pratiika) or
representation of the same nirguNa Brahman. Now, advaita does recognize
that once you worship a God, you may get attached to that particular form.
If being attached to just one God allows you to make progress, there is
nothing wrong in such attachment.
You may even say that your personal God is the best among Gods as long
as you understand that it is your personal opinion. What is wrong is
to show disrespect to somebody else's God.
>In fact, it is easier for me through logic to prove that there cannot be
>more than one consciousness and every thing is unreal including the world
>since it exists only in the mind.- ( I am stating this here since there is
>another thread by Allan Curry etc. on the proof of the unreality of the
>world). Consciousness cannot be an object since object is a jada vastu with
>each object reducing to an associated thought in the mind as this is or that
>is. Hence every object is nothing but a thought and every thought is nothing
>but perturbation in the consciousness with the seer/seen artificial
>distinction. All seens can be dismissed with the seer remaining alone.
>"This" thought itself is illumined by the consciousness and nothing is
>needed to illumine consciousness just as the light does not another light to
>light it up. Ultimately there is only one thing that remains without any
>partitions, divisions. Since I am the one who is consciousness of all those
>divisions and partitions in consciousness if they at all exist? I cannot be
>divided. Seer/seen I, are only apparent divisions but on inquiry this
>divison also disappears.
If Consciousness is not an object, how can it be proved by the help of
logic alone? Because, logic can only prove something that can be
represented as an object with some attributes, ie. something that can be
known in some sense. But Consciousness cannot be known objectively.
It is always the Knower, never known objectively.
>> So what we need here a mahaavaakya from the Vedaanta that tells us
>> conclusively "tat tvam asi, shvetaketo!" (You are That.)
>> Your Atman is the same Brahman as my Atman is. The Atman of
>> everybody is the same. There is no bigger Atman which includes the
>> sum of all these identical Atmans. There is just one Atman and
>> everybody's Atman is It. This Atman is all there is.
>But remember Sri Ramanuja and others interpret the same pramana statement
>differently using a self-consistent model different from that of advaita.
>The pramana including Brahma Sutra has not categorically endorsed advaita.
>Sankara discards or interprets some statements as related to vyavaharika
>satya and not at the Brahman level while Ramanuja takes the statements more
>literally and juggles with them to come up a model that satisfies in his
>mind most of scriptural statements. But looking logically with the help of
>current understanding of the scientific laws, Ramanuja's arguments are more
>questionable than Shankara's.
>But from the point of sastra as the sole pramana, that pamana is not
>categorically clear as the truth.
I agree that advaita is much more logically and scientifically plausible
than other systems. In fact, if you read Shankara's commentaries you will
see that he appeals either to reason or to the shruti almost exclusively.
The Brahma suutras are supposed to be based on the upanishads. So in
interpreting them, the interpretation should be consistent with what is
said in the upanishhads. Since the upanishhads, taken as a whole, do
endorse advaita, how is it possible that the Brahma suutras do not do
>> how do you guarantee that this individual, who imagines the
>> world, is eternal? As long as the individual exists, there is
>> only one entity that exists, but if and when it perishes,
>> there will be a void (shuunyataa).
>Individual can perish since it is just the ego, but I cannot perish for the
>sunya vada to operate! If I perish who will know? If Sunya state exists,
>consciousness is required to illumine that state otherwise who can tell
>there is a sunya state? That consciousness in which light the state of
> sunya is illumined is I that is ever present. It is the same as the
>absence of I can only known by I which is present. Hence I can never be
How do you prove that this "I" will be there for ever? Just because this
"I" exists during the three states does not necessarily prove that it
will exist for ever.
>> Now, some people may be perfectly happy with accepting something
>> which is *plausible* to be indeed the truth. But no
>> true seeker will accept it. However, the true seeker will accept
>> something as the truth, if it is both logically plausible and
>> supported by the words of the infallible Veda.
>I agree with that statement. But question is do I really need shastra as
>pramana to know my self.
You do need the shaastra as per Shankara and his tradition.
>> I will try to find out more from Shriharshha's work. His main
>> arguments are directed at the Nyaaya realists, but they also
>> apply to subjective idealists. Modern philosophers classify
>> him as an idealist, but this is inaccurate. Shriharshha was
>> an advaitic logician par excellence. advaitins are neither realists
>> nor idealists. They are just that - advaitins!
>Great. I will be looking for your discussion of Shriharshha's work. Is
>there any good English translation of the works available?
There is a translation by Ganganath Jha, but I am not too sure. I have
seen a discussion of Shriharsha in the book titled "Indian Metaphysics"
by Stephen Philips, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
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