[Advaita-l] VedaprAmANya in Advaita

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Fri Apr 2 01:21:41 CDT 2010

श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः

An objection:

//Dvaitin's criticism is that, given the fact that Brahman is known only by
the Veda pramANa, how can Advaitins posit existence of Brahman first using
vAk based aagama and then contradict themselves by holding Brahman is
avAchya? Either do not accept Brahman's existence, or say Brahman exists and
do not say He is avAchya. If you accept Brahman's existence and say He is
avAchya at the same time, it is nothing but contradiction.//
 The Advaitic position regarding Veda-prAmANya

*Veda, the only pramANa for knowing Brahman *

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.26 there occurs an expression:

तं त्वौपनिषदं पुरुषं पृच्छामि  [ I ask of you of that Being who is to be
known only from the UpaniShads]

In the bhashya, Shankaracharya says:

…य औपनिषदः पुरुषः, अशनायादिवर्जितः, उपनिषत्स्वेव विज्ञेयः, न
अन्यत्प्रमाणगम्यः, तं ....पुरुषं पृच्छामि..

[I ask you of that Being, devoid of hunger, etc., Who is to be known only
from the UpaniShads, and through no other means of knowledge.]

In the Brahmasutra Bhashya 2.3.1 Shankaracharya says:

श्रुतिश्च नः प्रमाणं अतीन्द्रियार्थ-विज्ञानोत्पत्तौ ।

[In our knowing that which is beyond the scope of the sense organs, Shruti
is the means of valid knowledge.]

Brahman is beyond words

In the Bhagavadgita 13.12 the Lord says:

ज्ञेयं यत्तत् प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वाऽमृतमश्नुते ।

अनादिमत्परं ब्रह्म न सत्तन्नासदुच्यते ॥

[That which has to be known I shall describe; knowing which one attains the
Immortal.  Beginningless is the Supreme Brahman.  It is not said to be ‘sat
or ‘asat’.]

Shankaracharya, in the course of the commentary, raises a question:

ननु महता परिकरबन्धेन कंठरवेणोद्घुष्य ’ ज्ञेयं प्रवक्ष्यामि’ इति,
अननुरूपमुक्तं ’न सत्तन्नासदुच्यते’ इति । न, अनुरूपमेवोक्तम् । कथं ? सर्वासु
ह्युपनिषत्सु ज्ञेयं ब्रह्म ’नेति नेति’ , ’अस्थूलमनणु’,
इत्यादिविशेषप्रतिषेधेनैव निर्दिश्यते, न ’इदं तत्’ इति,  वाचोऽगोचरत्वात् ।

Objection: After proclaiming very loudly that He is going to speak of the
Knowable, it does not become the Lord to describe It as neither ‘sat’ nor

Reply: No; it is quite the right thing that has been said by the Lord.  How?
It is thus: Being inaccessible to speech, Brahman, the Knowable, is defined
in all Upanishads only by a denial of all specialities, such as ‘Not thus’
(Br.Up.2.3.6) and ‘not gross, not subtle’ (Br.Up.3.8.8) and NOT in the terms
‘It is this’.

ननु न तदस्ति यद्वस्तु अस्तिशब्देन नोच्यते । अथास्तिश्ब्देन नोच्यते, नास्ति
तज्ज्ञेयम् । विप्रतिषिद्धं च ’ज्ञेयं तत्’ ’अस्तिशब्देन नोच्यते’ इति च । न
तावन्नास्ति, नास्तिवुद्ध्यविषयत्वात् ।

Objection: That thing (alone) exists which can be spoken of as existing.  If
the Knowable cannot be spoken of as existing, then It cannot exist.  And it
is a contradiction in terms to say that Brahman is knowable and that It
cannot be spoken of as existing.

Reply: Neither is Brahman non-existent, since It is not an object of the
consciousness of non-existence.

Shankaracharya is here showing that Brahman is such an entity that cannot be
taught as ‘it is’.  For example, in the world, we point to a house and say:
It is.  Brahman is not available to any of our senses and so we cannot
‘point’ to It and say ‘It is”.  Then, one could conclude: ‘If It cannot be
said to exist, it would be proper to conclude ‘It does not exist’.  To this
Shankaracharya says: No, we cannot do that too.  For, if someone asks us:
‘Is the English version of the Mahabharata with you?’ , I would reply, if I
do not have it: ‘No. It is not with me’.  Here, the book in question is
definitely known to me to be not with me.  One may call it ‘anupalabdhi
pramaNa’ that I have used or just anumAna that I have used to say this.
Whichever way, I can say ‘It is not there’.  In the case of Brahman,
however, we cannot say so.  There is no ‘pramana’ to say that It is
non-existent. This is the point Shankaracharya is making so far.

In the discussion that continues, Shankara is making it clear that Brahman
cannot come under either ‘It is’ perception or ‘It is not’ perception.  This
is because, as we saw above, to say either ‘is’ or ‘is not’ is possible ONLY
in the realm of indriya-gochara.  Brahman being अतीन्द्रियं we cannot use
either ‘is’ or ‘is not’ with regard to It.

Now, as regards the objection that it is a self-contradiction in terms to
say that Brahman, the Knowable, is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’ by
Bhagavan, the reply is: there is no contradiction, for the Shruti says: अन्यदेव
तद्विदितादथो अवितादधि (केनोपनिषत् १.३) ‘It is other than the known and above
the unknown’.

Now, after showing the Lord’s description of Brahman as “that which cannot
be said to be ‘is’ or ‘is not’ “ is quite in alignment with the Shruti,
Shankaracharya embarks on showing the appropriateness of the Lord’s words by
taking recourse to reason, युक्ति.

Every word employed to denote a thing denotes that thing, when heard by
another, as associated with a certain jAti (genus)  or  kriyA (act) or guNa
(quality) or sambandha (relation).  Here are some examples:

   1. ‘This is a cow’.  In this sentence we refer to the object through its
   jAti: गोत्वम्.  A cow, this cow, is a vyakti of that jAti.
   2. ‘He is a cook’ ‘She is a teacher’.  Here, the act, kriyA forms the
   basis of denoting the object.
   3. ‘This is a white paper’, ‘Here is a black cow’.  In these cases the
   guNa, quality/colour/attribute is the criterion to refer to that object.
   4. ‘He is the estate-owner’.  Here, the man’s sambandha with the estate
   becomes the means to describe him.

In no way other than the above can we convey to another about an object.

But in the case of Brahman none of the above is possible.  There is no
‘jAti’ for Brahman; It is not a member of any species.  A cow is a member,
vyakti, of the bovine species, गोत्वजातिः.  Being actionless, ‘niShkriyam’,
Brahman cannot be spoken of thru any action.  Being devoid of attributes,
निर्गुणम्, there is no way of talking about Brahman on the basis of being
black or stout, etc.  Finally, Brahman is not ‘related’ to anything as It is
Ekam, One only without a second.

In view of this, it is right to say that Brahman cannot be denoted through
words at all. Since It is ‘advayam’, ‘aviShayam’ and the very Atman, it is
quite reasonable, yuktam, to say that It cannot be denoted by any word. I
can use a word to denote anything that is a ‘viShaya’ for me, an object that
is other than me.  I can talk about the body, my mind, my intellect, even my
ego.  But I cannot say anything about me the Atma. No words can I use
regarding the Atma.

Also, there is the Shruti too teaching this:

‘यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते..’ (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.9)

Thus, the impossibility of denoting Brahman through words, shabda, has been

(To be continued and concluded in Part 2)

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