[Advaita-l] Re: The current advaita-dvaita debate

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Jun 23 02:19:21 CDT 2003

It is said, "vAde vAde jAyate tattva-jnAnam" - knowledge of reality is born 
through dialogue, but the terms of dialogue have to be observed, which was 
unfortunately not the case in our recent experience. In any case, I 
overlooked one older mail from Jay Nelamangala, which raised important 
questions about advaita. I thought I'd answer them now, one, for the purpose 
of extracting some good out of an unsavory episode and two, for the purpose 
of explicating things in some detail.

Jay Nelamangala had written,

"The doctrine of vishEsha is just not there in advaita,  so terminology may 
sound very funny and obfuscating and self-contradictory to many advaitins."

Rather than telling us what is there and what isn't there in advaita, it 
would perhaps be better to see that advaita sees through viSesha, the 
attribute, and its relation to the substantive. Just in case someone is in 
doubt, Sankara and other authors consider in detail the possibility that 
brahman is a substance with many different attributes and only after 
analyzing that thoroughly do they talk of the brahman without attributes.

And then, Jay had said,

"The relation between a substance and its properties is that of identity.  
That relation is what is denoted as 'abhede' in the defn. But this identity 
admits the idea of differenece. The reason for this is the presence of 
'vishEsha' in the thing."

This is what I say is self-contradictory. It is not merely 
self-contradictory to us advaitins who supposedly 'have no doctrine of 
viSesha'. It is logically absurd to define the relation between a substance 
and its attributes in the above fashion, and then to claim that "this 
identity admits the idea of difference". Either the substance is identical 
with its attributes or it is not. In the words of an old English saying, you 
cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either you eat it, after which the 
cake is gone, or if you want to hold on to the cake, don't eat it. If one 
does not understand this elementary rule of life, one ends up with 
impossible situations. E.g. "whiteness of white cloth is identical with 
cloth", but "whiteness of milk is identical with milk", but cloth is not 
identical with milk, so whiteness (as an attribute of cloth) is not 
identical with whiteness (as an attribute of milk).

If the dvaita theory of viSesha, as stated by Jay, is correct, we would not 
even be able to come up with a general concept of whiteness at all, because 
we never perceive whiteness in and of itself; we only perceive whiteness of 
cloth or whiteness of milk or whiteness of some other particular substance. 
Nevertheless, we are all capable of understanding what whiteness is, and 
that is because the human mind, manas or antaHkaraNa as it is called in 
vedAnta, has already separated the substance (cloth/milk) from the attribute 
(whiteness) and has made a generalization about the latter without affecting 
the former. So also with anything that is an attribute, e.g. 1 kilogram is 1 
kilogram, irrespective of whether the substance one weighs is cotton or 
iron. 1 litre is 1 litre, whether one is measuring milk or water or oil or 
air. In the above examples, weight and volume are attributes (viSesha in 
Sanskrit), while cotton, iron, milk, water, oil and air are substances 
(viSeshya in Sanskrit). As anyone can see, it is contrary to all reason, to 
claim that the attribute is identical with the substance and then to further 
claim that this identity still admits of difference.

The final point raised by Jay that I want to address is,

"I would like to know how else you would maintain the Oneness of Brahman,  
and still explain Brahman by different things such as satyam, jnAnam, 
anantam, akhanda, Eka,  etc. without making all these different teachings 
useless while maintaining that Oneness."

Simple. When we say brahman is satya, it is not attribution of a property 
called "reality" to brahman. It is denial of a property called "unreality". 
brahman is not unreal. When we say brahman is jnAna, it means brahman is not 
ignorance. Similarly, brahman is not finite (ananta), not partible or 
divisible (akhaNDa), not many (eka), not subject to suffering (Ananda), and 
so on. The intention is to deny the opposite attributes, not to posit one 
set of attributes. Even in the ordinary world, one is not limited by binary 
logic. "Not small" does not always mean "large", it could be "medium" or 
"colossal". "Not white" does not mean "black", it could indicate any color, 
or even the absence of color, e.g. water is not white. One can build up 
thousands of such examples. The point is, there is no need to jump the gun 
and claim that different teachings will be useless unless one accepts 
brahman as having attributes. The whole point of the upanishadic teaching is 
to show us how to transcend the realm of attributes.

Just FYI, in case our recently departed dvaitin contestants are reading the 
archives, the above paragraph is based directly on how Sankaracarya explains 
satyaM jnAnam anantaM brahma in his commentary on the taittirIya upanishad. 
Contrary to what some have claimed, he does not say satya is the same as 
jnAna is the same as ananta in any direct, day-to-day sense of these words. 
Rather it is the logically indefensible doctrine of attributes being 
identical with the substance that would say that satya = jnAna = ananta, 
because each of these = brahman.


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