[Advaita-l] On shraddhA: refutation of theology is still necessary

Shyam shyam_md at yahoo.com
Tue Aug 23 16:14:05 CDT 2011

Pranams dear Shri Raghav-ji (and others following this thread),

Thank you for your email - strangely at the time of composing my prior email I have in my mind to write about Bhagawatpada's refutations on Buddhism and how it relates to this, but lost track of that thought as I was writing - so thanks for reminding me about that!

Let me offer my perspective on this aspect.

The Abrahamic religions do have a strong theological aspect which is very familar and widely appreciated. And this is not unlike Vaidika Dharma as well - the majority (?90%) of even sincere followers of Sanatana Dharma may perhaps have little by way of inclination to believe that there is anything contained in it that goes beyond traditional God-worship. Even in the minority that do tread over, typically with trepidation, to the shores of uttara-mimamsa/vedanta, one finds great spiritual giants such as MadhavAchAryA and many illustrious and revered AchAryAs of His sampradAya unable to shake off the "baggage" of theology, or so it would seem.

In a similar vein, we certainly have little to no acquaintance with the theosophical/metaphysical constructs of these Abrahamic religions and hence for us to refute their "theology" may be akin to flogging a strawman -as in their own religion it may serve as a mere scaffolding in which is embedded layers that progress onto more esoteric truths for the appropriately prepared and sincere seeker.
For example, there are various aspects to Islamic metaphysics that are clearly discernible in Sufi teachings such as -Wajud or Wahdat al-Wajud - which emphasizes that 'there is no true existence (sat) except the Absolute (Brahman)' and it is this wajud alone is independent (mutlaq), and absolute, and infinite (anantam), while everything else is finite, and relatively dependent. Marifa ("knowledge of the Absolute") is acquired through reflection, and enquiry. Sufi mystics describe salvation via gnosis as fanaa or dissolution of the Ego in the absolute, after which there is no separate sense of individuality on the part of a seeker - and have declared "Oh humankind! One who knows his self also knows Me; one who knows Me seeks Me, and one who seeks Me certainly finds Me; one who finds Me attains all his aspirations and expectations, and prefers none over Me. Oh humankind! Be humble that you can have knowledge of Me. One who renounces his self finds Me. In
 order to know Me, renounce your own self. A heart which has not flourished and been perfected is blind." and "Among us are those who know God in this world, and among us are those who do not know Him until they die, loving some specific thing. Then, when the covering is lifted, they will come to understand that they had loved only God, but they had been veiled by the mere name of the created entity" Similarly with Kabbalah in Judaism - envisions two aspects of the Absolute: (a) An Impersonal Absolute, "Ein Sof", infinite (anantam) and attributeless (nirgunam) who is ultimately unknowable, and can only be described through negation (neti neti) (b) A manifest aspect of God that creates, preserves and sustains the universe, and interacts with mankind - this manifest aspect itself first evolving from nothingness or the unmanifest "ayin." The Torah has four levels of interpretation ranging from peshat, the literal; derashah, the hermeneutical; remez, the
 allegorical;and sod, the mystical.

Now obviously this is only a superficial read and does not necessarily mean that both Islamic/Judaic metaphysics and Advaita are similar, much less identical - but at the very least, what it demonstrates is a need to at first hand develop a mastery of those very metaphysical constructs before one attempts a refutation. Now one may argue that these loftier theosophical principles are attested to by only a small minority of proponents and practioners of that particular religion, and in fact the majority of clergymen in those religions shun these mytics as outcasts and there is some merit to that - although I might argue that a advaitin is also similarly viewed by the majority of staunch dvaitins - and exactly in the same vein, debating the scriptural import of their Scriptures and whether the import of their verses favors dvaita or advaita(if it does) is best left to rival proponents of that very religion or sampradaya.

Coming to Shankara's refutations in the shareerika sutrabhasyas, I will like to point to two facts. One - both Buddhism and Jaina philosophies arose as a refutation of Vedic validity - in other words they were related to the VedAs even if it was in the context of negating them, and that their proponents were very much in the same demographic tradition of that of sanatana dharmA. Such is not the case today with the offshoots of the Abrahamic religions. Morover and more importantly, the sarvajna DakshinamUrthy that He was, Adi Shankara, had a mastery over the entire subject matter of the Buddhist and Jaina doctrines that he had the interlocutor present in his bhashyas. In fact it is said that Sankara's purvapakshin presented his arguments in a far more cogent manner than any original siddhantin of the rival schools of philosophy. So a modern-day ShankarA would at first need to master the theosophical aspects of the Abrahamic religions before mounting a
 refutation even if such were considered "necessary". On the other hand what we see is our own most revered jivanmutAs - MahAswamigals of Sringeri and Kanchi advising sincere seekers from the Abrahamic religions to remain in whatever tradition the All-knowing Ishwara has placed them in and have sacrosanct faith in the tenets of the same and surely will they find deliverance there-in itself.
IN great contrast to these jivanmuktAs and great mahAtmas, we (better i say "i") have a lot of ground to cover in our own as yet fragile hold on the Truth and in the severely limited time we have in this human birth to fully understand and assimilate VedantA which we have fortunately been privileged to be learning in a sampradaya which has been preserved since time immemorial. It is perhaps best that our efforts and energies be consumed in that, rather than on fashioning refutations to philosophies we understand even less than our own.

Just my limited perspective.
Hari OM

--- On Tue, 8/23/11, Raghav Kumar <raghavkumar00 at gmail.com> wrote:

> From: Raghav Kumar <raghavkumar00 at gmail.com>
> Subject: [Advaita-l] On shraddhA: refutation of theology is still necessary
> To: "A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta" <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
> Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011, 7:05 AM
> Shyam ji, Thank you for your
> well-presented mail on how a smArta would view
> other shraddhA-s. But please observe that your very
> presentation itself
> (emobodying understanding and "tolerance") is however
> possible only in a
> Vedic or Vedic-compatible worldview. Or to put it
> differently, anyone who
> agrees to your kind of presentation would in my opinion be
> counted as
> belonging to what the gItA and bhAShyakAra refer to as
> sattvika be they
> nominally adherents of other traditions like Judaism, Islam
> etc. I am using
> the word shraddhA to include both the theories (theology)
> behind a given
> tradition and not merely outer observances like namAz etc.
> Om
> Raghav
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