[Advaita-l] RE: brahman and Anandamaya-Atman

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Tue May 25 22:00:59 CDT 2004

In the preceding posts, we have seen that

a. the vedAnta-sUtra does not quite deny the meaning of vikAra for the -maya 
suffix, but rejects the idea that this meaning of vikAra negates Anandamaya 
as brahman;

b. it also rejects the idea that Anandamaya may be the transmigrating jIva;

c. contrary to mistaken interpretations of advaita thought, SankarAcArya's 
sUtra commentary also affirms that Anandamaya is brahman, but points out 
that Anandamaya is saviSesha (saguNa) brahman; and

d. the text of the taittirIya upanishad, AnandavallI, gives rise to certain 
issues that SankarAcArya raises in the form of doubts/questions and 
addresses in his commentary.

In this post, I will briefly go over the commentary on the Anandamaya 
description in the taittirIya upanishat. SankarAcArya points out that,

i. the -maya suffix continues to bear the meaning of vikAra here too, as in 
the outer four Atman-s/SarIra-s.

ii. the text goes on to say, "etam Anandamayam AtmAnam upasaMkrAmati". It is 
logically impossible for the Anandamaya-Atman to go beyond the 
Anandamaya-Atman. Therefore, Sruti does describe a brahman who goes beyond 
the Anandamaya,

iii. the Anandamaya is described in terms of parts, with priya, moda etc., 
which would not hold true of the absolute nirguNa brahman,

iv. the text also says "adRSye 'nAtmye 'nirukte 'nilayane" thereby showing 
the absence of all qualifiers in the highest brahman,

v. after describing the Anandamaya, the text quotes Sloka-s (asann eva sa 
bhavati ...) which imply the possibility of a doubt whether the highest 
brahman exists or not. Such a doubt would be impossible with respect to the 
Anandamaya, which is experienced by everybody, for varying reasons,

Having said all this, what then is this highest brahman? SankarAcArya points 
out that it is not the Anandamaya (the body made of bliss) per se, but 
Ananda itself, the highest bliss, which is indicated as the highest brahman. 
The taittirIya says that Ananda itself is the Atman (self) of the 
Anandamaya, and that brahman is the tail (puccha) / basis (pratishThA). It 
is not as if the highest brahman is literally one of the limbs of the 
Anandamaya self. Rather, brahman, which is bliss (Ananda), is the innermost 
Self of being, from the outermost annamaya to the Anandamaya. It is this 
brahman that is further described in terms of the absence of all attributes 
(adRSya, anAtmya, anirukta, anilayana) and it is with respect to this 
brahman that a question may arise as to whether it exists or not. (Indeed, 
there are schools of thought that claim that nirguNa brahman does not exist 
at all.) SankarAcArya here draws our attention to an important point 
regarding how to get rid of the doubt whether nirguNa brahman exists or not. 
The Anandamaya is known through our ordinary experiences of bliss/happiness. 
This may be a result of learning, or performance of actions, or the mere 
sight of a loved child. If we pay internal attention to our experience of 
Anandamaya, it is also known in the sleeping state. However, because our 
ordinary experiences of happiness are directed towards external objects, 
they do not last. When we turn away from external objects and find the bliss 
inherent in our own Self, as our own Self, that is no longer just a fleeting 
experience of happiness. Thus, the Anandamaya self, in its best experience, 
culminates in the highest Ananda. That Ananda is the highest brahman, and is 
described as the foundation of the Anandamaya. Therefore, we can infer that 
the highest brahman is not non-existent and that this brahman is the end of 
all the duality posited by ignorance (Anandamayasya ekatva-avasAnatvAt | 
asti tad ekam avidyA-kalpitasya dvaitasya-avasAna-bhUtam-advaitaM brahma 
pratishThA puccham).

The upanishat further goes on to say, "asad vA idam agra AsIt tato vai sad 
ajAyata" - here the highest brahman, which is devoid of all attributes, is 
figuratively described as "asat" - non-existence. This does not mean 
absolute non-existence, but indicates that the highest brahman is beyond all 
name and form (nAma-rUpa). This is because the doubt regarding the possible 
non-existence of brahman has already been addressed. From this brahman 
arises all that has name and form and is generally known to be existent in 
the world (tato vai sad ajAyata).

Thus, we can see that SankarAcArya draws a crucial distinction between 
Anandamaya-Atman, the self known through experiences of happiness/bliss, and 
Ananda itself, the brahman which is beyond all sensory experience. His 
explanation is the best possible one of the seemingly contradictory and 
puzzling statements in the taittirIya upanishat. After all, read by itself, 
without the help of the commentary, the upanishat first warns that one who 
knows brahman as "asat" (non-existence) will himself become non-existent and 
then goes on to say "asad vA idam agra AsIt tato vai sad ajAyata" 
(non-existence alone was, in the beginning, from this, arose existence). It 
is only through SankarAcArya's clear interpretation that we get an idea of 
what these enigmatic statements in the upanishat really mean.

This concludes this short series.


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