Shankara on jiva and Brahman (was Re: Unreality of the world..)

Sankar Jayanarayanan kartik at ENG.AUBURN.EDU
Thu Jun 19 18:32:00 CDT 1997

Allan Curry wrote:

> It seems most religions base themselves on some kind of scripture which
> gives valid epistemological status to "things that are not perceived
> or inferred" in any other way. Most religions feel quite certain that their
> scripture is correct and the other fellow's scripture is "make believe".
> I had hoped Advaita Vedanta could establish its truth independently of
> Sruti (if that means scripture) and perhaps it can although it seems
> a little doubtful to me at this point.

As Kant makes it all too clear, the noumenon -- the thing-in-itself -- *cannot*
be known (at least not by the five senses and reason). Therefore advaita's
claim that the noumenal world is Brahman, which is one with the individual Self,
*must* rely on scripture.

A small note: when Shankara says that "the individual Self is Brahman," he
means something very different from jiva=Brahman, as the following extract from
Shankara's Brahma-Sutra-Bhashhya clarifies:

BSB (2.3.43) "(The individual souls are) parts of God because of the mention
that they are different, also because some read otherwise of (Brahman's)
identity with fishermen, slaves, gamblers, and others."


Opponent: When this doubt arises, the conclusion may be drawn that either the
relationship is irregular, or since the feeling as between the ruler and the
ruled is well-known to be of the pattern subsisting between the master and the
servant, it must be similar to that here as well.

Vedantin: Hence the aphorist says, "A part" etc. The individual should be a
part of God even as a spark is of fire. The individual is a part only
apparently, for the partless Brahman can have no part in the literal sense.

Opponent: Why should not the individual be God Himself on this very ground of
partlessness (of God)?

Vedantin: (No), "because of the mention that they are different. Unless there
is some dissimilarity, the statement of difference, as contained in,"He is to
be searched for, He is to be sought to be known" (Ch. 8.7.1),"Knowing It alone
one becomes a sage" (Br. 4.4.22)... and other similar texts cannot be justified.

Opponent: This reference to difference fits in more aptly if it be understood
to be like that between a master and his slave.

Vedantin: Hence the aphorist says: "it is mentioned other-wise also" etc.
Not that the individual is known merely to be a part from the mention of
difference. What else then? The mention is made in other ways also to establish
non-difference. Thus the followers of a certain section of the Atharva Veda
read in their hymn to Brahman of the identity of Brahman with the Dasas,
Kitavas and others in, "The Dasas are Brahman; the Dasas are Brahman; even
these gamblers are but Brahman" etc. The Dasas are the people known as
Kaivartas (fishermen); the Dasas are those (i.e. slaves) who surrender their
bodies to a master; and (Kitavas are) those others who are the gamblers engaged
in playing dice; they are all nothing but Brahman...Similarly elsewhere also,
when dealing with Brahman Itself, this very idea is is elaborated: "You are
woman, you are man, you are a young man or even a maid; you are old tottering
about with the help of a stick; having taken birth, you have your face
everywhere" (Sv. 4.3) [...]

According to strict advaitic ontology, REALITY IS WITHOUT PARTS. The jiva is
one with Brahman, as the space in a pot is one with the space everywhere.
But this analogy, which captures the one-ness of the jiva and Brahman has a
flaw, since the one-ness of jiva and Brahman is partless.

Does that mean that the jiva is *not* identical to Brahman? No, for Shankara
speaks of the identity of the liberated jiva and Brahman (or so it seems to me)
later on.

BSB (4.4.4) "In liberation the soul exists in a state of inseparableness from
the supreme Self, for so it is noticed in the Upanishad."

One would like to know whether the entity which becomes established in its own
Self after reaching the highest Light remains separate from the supreme Self or
continues in a state of identification. Now, when in such an inquisitive mood
one might conclude that the being exists separately, because in the text,"He
moves about there" (Ch. 8.12.3), speaks of something holding something else in
itself; and in the text,"having reached the Light," a subject and an object are
separately mentioned. The aphorist explains to such a (doubting) one that the
liberated soul remains identified with the supreme Self."



> I am reminded of Nietzsche's comment, "fine feelings are not arguments".

Nietzsche is very much anti-advaitic, if there is some such thing. According
to him, the "weak" people, fearing the "strength of the strong" have fabricated
"religion" which teaches humility, because the strong, if free from religious
scruples, would assert themselves and rule over the weak.

This is in stark contrast to Ramana Maharshi, who says that "Men want to
conquer others because they know that they can never really conquer themselves."

> I myself have experienced non-dual awareness in waking and sleep states
> countless times over a period of several years and it is not clear to me
> why this "state" should be interpreted to be more ontologically basic than
> any other. It does seem profoundly peaceful, joyously complete, and
> perfectly simple, but so what? Why should I assume it is the ontological
> foundation of the universe rather than a very enjoyable mode of brain
> function?  It may be either I suppose or even some other possibility.

No disrespect here, but if you have attained the *non-dual* awareness state,
there should be no universe apart from yourself. There ought to be no doubts
and nothing unclear! To one who has solved the problem of the Self, there are
no problems left to be solved; no questions requiring answers.

> When Sankara was asked how he knew he was Brahman he replied,
> "because my guru said I was". How lucky he was to have recourse to such
> a simple ending of doubt!

If Shankara saw his Guru as separate from himself, he could not have been
a non-dualist :-)

> best to all,
> Allan Curry



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