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
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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