Samkara's theory of reality

Gregory Goode goode at DPW.COM
Sun Oct 12 10:31:52 CDT 1997

> The following quote is from  R.Puligandla's "Fundamentals of Indian
> Philosophy". I liked it very much and would like to consider it an accurate
> representation of  Samkara's thought. If it misrepresents Samkara in any
> way, I'd appreciate hearing about it...
> "Central to Samkara's theory of reality is the concept of sublation.
> Sublation is essentially the mental process of correcting and rectifying
> errors of judgment. Thus one is said to sublate a previously held judgment
> when, in the light of a new experience which contradicts it, one either
> regards the judgment as false or disvalues it in some significant sense. It
> is obvious that sublation of a given judgment necessarily results in its
> being replaced by a new one.

This sublation is essentially the same thing as the Indian concept of
"Arundhati-darsananyaya," a method of teaching something unfamiliar to
the student.  It is a method of spottng the tiny star Arundhati with
the help of the bigger star near it, and calling the latter Arundhati.
Later the student will be able to make out the smaller star itself.

Swami Vireswarananda explains this in his Introduction to the
Shankara-commentary-edition of the Brahma-Sutras, and also says that
many Indian teachers employ this method of instruction going from
lower to higher truths.

> relations. and in general any content of consciousness, can be sublated.
> For Samkara sublatability is the criterion of the ontological status of any
> content of consciousness;

[...stuff deleted...]

> Let us first note that the act of sublation presupposes an essential
> dualism between the experiencer and the experienced, the subject and the
> object, consciousness and the contents of consciousness. It also
> presupposes a plurality of objects, concepts, judments - contents of
> consciousness in general. The distinction between subject and object is
> necessary for sublation because it is the subject who sublates the object.

This seems clear to me -- because anything in phenomenality
presupposes duality.  To me, this theory doesn't help me understand
Shankara any better.

[...more deleted...]

> the non-self. It is clear that the experience of reality is unsublatable,
> since there can be nothing besides the unitary experience which may
> conceivably contovert the experience. Reality is unsublatable because it is
> wholly bereft of any distinctions, oppositions, qualifications or
> relations. It is the experience of reality that sublates all else, itself
> being unsublatable by any other experience whatsoever."

But it seems to me that this explanation is mostly in accord with
Shankara.  In the part of Puligandla's text that I deleted, he spoke
about grades of reality.  I don't know if Shankara really believed
that reality has ontological grades.  Maybe successive sublated truths
are closer to reality than others.

To me, an aphoristic way to present Shankara's concept of reality to
someone is as follows (I first read it somewhere, and can't find the
quote anymore):

     Brahman is real.
     The world is unreal.
     The world is Brahman.

Which makes the world both real and unreal outside the aphorism.


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