Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

paramArtha - vyavahAra - pratibhAsa
Part 3

Definition by S. N. Sastri:

We have to make a distinction between 'vyAvahArika plane' and 'vyAvahArika standpoint'. We are all in the vyAvahArika plane. The upaniShad-s, which speak about brahman, are also in the vyAvahArika plane. All teachings, all discussions, all relationships such as teacher and disciple, are also only in the vyAvahArika plane. Not only this world, but all the higher worlds, including brahma loka are within the vyAvahArika plane. ShrI Shankara says in his bhAShya on gItA 8.16 that brahma loka is also limited by time. [brahma loka – the abode of Brahma, the creator, is the term for ‘heaven’.]

In the pAramArthika plane there is no shAstra, no guru, no shiShya. There is only brahman and there is no one even to say that there is nothing other than brahman.

But even though we are in the vyAvahArika plane, we can speak from the vyAvahArika standpoint as well as the pAramArthika standpoint. When we accept the existence of the world and when we speak of brahman as the cause of the universe or as the witness of the actions of the jIva-s we are speaking from the vyAvahArika standpoint. From the pAramArthika standpoint brahman is pure consciousness without any attributes. It is not a cause nor a witness because we can speak of a cause only in relation to an effect and we can speak of a witness only when there is some thing to be witnessed. When there is nothing other than brahman there is neither effect nor cause and neither witness nor any thing to be witnessed. From this standpoint we cannot even say that it is all-pervading because there is nothing else for it to pervade. brahman is described as omniscient, omnipotent, etc., only when it is associated with mAyA and so that is only from the vyAvahArika standpoint.

The upaniShad-s speak about brahman from both the standpoints. When they speaks of brahman with attributes, i.e. brahman associated with mAyA, they are speaking from the vyAvahArika standpoint. When the upaniShad speaks about brahman without attributes, it is speaking from the pAramArthika standpoint.

As far as nirguNa brahman is concerned, the taittirIya upaniShad says that "words as well as the mind recede from it without reaching it". This is because words can, by their primary meaning, denote only substances which have either a quality, or an activity, or a relationship with some other known substance. brahman has no such quality, etc. and so it cannot be denoted by the primary meaning of any word. It is because of this that lakShyArtha or implied meaning has to be resorted to for getting the meaning of the mahAvAkya-s such as 'tat tvam asi'.

brahman is described as satyam, j~nAnam, anantam – existence, consciousness, infinite – in the Taitt. U. but it has been explained by ShrI Shankara in his bhAShya that these words do not describe brahman in a positive manner; they only say that brahman is different from all that is unreal, all that is insentient, and all that is finite. Thus brahman can be spoken of from the pAramArthika standpoint only in a negative manner. Another instance of such a description is the words "neti, neti", which mean that brahman is different from everything that we experience in the universe. Here brahman is described by the method of adhyAropa and apavAda---superimposition and negation. ShrI Shankara says in his bhAShya on Br. U. 2.3.6.:

How is it sought to describe brahman, the Truth of truth? By the elimination of all differences due to limiting adjuncts, the words "Neti, neti" refer to something that has no distinguishing mark, such as name, form, action, heterogeneity, species or qualities. Words refer to things through one or more of these marks. But brahman has none of these distinguishing marks.

Therefore it cannot be described as, "It is such and such ", as we can describe a cow by saying, "There moves a white cow with horns". brahman can be described only by the superimposition of name, form and action. When, however, we wish to describe its true nature, free from all differences due to limiting adjuncts, the only way is to describe it as – not this, not this.

It must be said that even the mahAvAkya 'tat tvam asi" and the other mahAvAkya-s are also from the vyAvahArika standpoint. From the pAramArthika standpoint there is no 'tvam' or jIva different from brahman and so there can be no such statement where the identity of two entities is postulated.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012