Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Critical analysis of vedAnta paribhAShA Part XXXXIII
Dr. K. Sadananda

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Part XXXXIII - Creation as Transformation

vedAnta says that Brahman is one without a second: ekam, eva, advitIyam – one, alone, without a second – and Shankara comments on the use of these three separate words (ekam, eva and advitIyam) to negate differences of any kind. Three kinds of differences can exist: vijAti, sajAti and svagata bheda-s; and hence Shankara says that three separate words are used by the scripture to negate each of these three types of differences.

1) Differences of genus (e.g. trees are different from stones) is called vijAti bheda.
2) Differences within the same genus or family (e.g. a mango tree is different from a coconut tree) is called sajAti bheda.
3) Differences within a unit or vyakti (e.g. within a tree, the roots, branches, leaves, fruits, etc are different) are called svagata bheda-s.

The differences exist because all objects are made up of parts. In Brahman, since it is one without a second, there is nothing else to differentiate it from. Hence, the scriptures call Brahman ‘agotram’, meaning that it does not belong to any family or genus since it is one without a second. It is an undifferentiated homogeneous mass of consciousness – praj~nAnaM brahma. We have discussed before that this is a svarUpa lakShaNa of Brahman, implying that consciousness is Brahman and Brahman is consciousness. Since consciousness has to exist, Brahman is also defined as pure existence. Being one without a second, Brahman has to be limitless or anantam which also means that it is of the nature of pure Ananda svarUpa. The implication of all this is that there cannot be anything other than Brahman, and therefore there cannot be anything other than pure, undifferentiated, infinite existence-consciousness.

The question then arises as to how we can explain the universe of things and beings, apparently consisting of many conscious and inert entities. Brahman, a conscious entity without a second, appears to transform itself into many things and beings. As the Shruti says: bahusyAm, prajAyeya – let me become many and it became many. How does one become many? Here, two prominent theories exist – one is pariNAma vAda and the other is vivarta vAda. VP discusses the difference between the two. Advaita subscribes to vivarta vAda.

pariNAma involves complete transformation of one thing into another, like milk becoming yogurt or curds. In science, we call this ‘irreversible transformation’. In this transformation of one thing into another, the cause is destroyed in the formation of the product. VP says that, in this kind of transformation (pariNAma), both cause and effects are ontologically equivalent – pariNAmo nAma upAdAna samasattAkakAryApattiH; the material cause, upAdAna kAraNa, has the same ontological existence as the product. Another example of pariNAma is when a ring is changed into a bangle. Both ring and bangle have the same degree of reality. vishiShTAdvaita, following sAMkhya, subscribes to this type of transformation for creation. In doing so, one gives the product the same degree of reality as the material cause. Hence jIva and jagat become as real as Brahman from which they are formed, just as the yogurt or curd is formed from milk.

In contrast, vivarta involves a transformation of the cause into products without the cause getting destroyed during the transformation. Hence, it is called an ‘apparent’ transformation. The scriptures give three examples to illustrate this transformation: clay becoming many types of clay-vessels; gold becoming many golden ornaments; iron becoming many iron-tools (Ch. Up 6-1-3). In all these cases of vivarta transformation, the material cause pervades the effects without itself undergoing any transformation.

Hence VP says: vivarto nAma upAdAnaviShamasattAkakAryApattiH – in the production of a product, the upAdAna kAraNa or material cause has different degree of reality or existence from the product. That is, ontologically, the cause and the effects are different. In the case of the formation of a ring from gold, the gold remains as gold and the ring is produced by this vivarta or ‘transformation-less’ transformation. Is the product gold or a ring? We normally refer to it as a golden ring. But that is a misnomer, as we are giving more importance to the name and form than to the substantive. It should rightly be called ‘ringly gold’, i.e. it is gold with the quality of being in the form of a ring. Although the word ‘ring’ is a noun, it has no substantive of its own. I.e. ring cannot exist independent of gold whereas gold can exist independently of a ring.

These distinctions are expressed by the anvaya-vyatireka (co-existence and co-absence) logic in tarka shAstra. This logic is used to establish the relation between two entities that exist together, and clarify whether they are interdependent or independent of each other, i.e. their ontological status with respect to each other. anvaya implies ‘one is, the other is’, i.e. both exist simultaneously. Taking the example of the ring: ‘ring is, gold is’ implying that, wherever a ring is present, then gold has to be there also. Without gold being present, the ring cannot be there. At this stage we do not know which is independent and which is dependent. Now we apply vyatireka. vyatireka involves their absence: ‘ring is not, gold is’. This means that, even if the ring is destroyed by melting, the gold still remains. This proves that the gold has the independent existence. The transformation of gold into a ring is of the ‘vivarta’ type. VP says that the material cause and the product have different degrees of existence. One is ‘more real’ than the other.

Now let us apply this anvaya-vyatireka logic to the milk and yogurt example. Applying anvaya: ‘milk is, yogurt is not’. And vyatireka says: ‘milk is not, yogurt is’. Thus they both are independent of each other. In the language of VP they have the same degree of existence or reality. That is the nature of pariNAma.

Returning to the vivarta transformation, in respect of the ring and gold example, the existence of the ring is of lower reality since the ring can be negated without negating the gold by changing the ring into a bangle. The gold remains as gold while the ring can be changed from one form/name into another. With reference to the gold, this transformation is vivarta, but with reference to the ring transforming into a bangle, it is pariNAma.

According to advaita vedAnta, all objects in the universe are only relatively real – vyavahAra satyam. Absolute reality remains with Brahman, as it is one without a second and part-less. Also it remains as Brahman without undergoing any transformation during the creation of the universe, since it is infinite. What is infinite cannot undergo any transformation. Just as gold appear to transform into ornaments without itself undergoing any transformation, Brahman transforms into space-air-fire-water-earth as per the Vedantic declarative statement “let me become many and he became many”. Because of vivarta, or transformation-less transformation, Brahman remains as Brahman, while there are varieties of products as a result of combinations and permutations. Brahman expresses as ‘existence’ in everything, and as ‘consciousness’ and ‘happiness’ also in subtle products, depending on the subtleness or the purity of the objects. Just as in the metaphor of ‘ringly gold’, the substantive of every object is Brahman only. Hence the famous Gita shloka: brahmArpaNam brahma haviH – everything is nothing but Brahman; and neha nAnAsti kincana – there is nothing other than Brahman.

Proceed to the next essay.

Other Essays in this Section (Perception):
01. Introduction Part 1. 28. Perception at the Individual Level.
02. Introduction Part 2. 29. Perception at the Cosmic Level.
03. Analysis of Time and Space. 30. Summary so far.
04. Knowledge is Continuous. 31. vAchArambhanaNaM.
05. Whatever you perceive is Brahman! 32. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.1.
06. Attributes and Substantive. 33. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.2.
07. Mechanics of Perception. 34. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.3.
08. Some Objections. 35. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.4.
09. Internal Perceptions. 36. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.5.
10. The Criteria for Cognition. 37. Nature of ‘ego’ and Self-realization.
11. Unity of limiting consciousness for perception. 38. Erroneous Perceptions Pt. 1.
12. Internal Perceptions (cont.) 39. Erroneous Perceptions Pt. 2.
13. Some Clarifications Regarding Internal Perception. 40. Analysis of Error - Part 1: khyAti vAda-s.
14. Some Clarifications Regarding Character. 41. Analysis of error - Part 2: vedAnta paribhAshA analysis.
15. Question related to jAti [species]. 42. Analysis of error - Part 3: naiyAyika objection.
16. Relation between an attribute and its substantive. 43. Creation as Transformation.
17. brahman is the changeless substantive. 44. Questions on ‘Creation as Transformation’.
18. Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 1). 45. Ontological Status of 'This'.
19. Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 2). 46. Two Layers of Ignorance.
20. Questions related to Perceptuality (part 1). 47. Conclusion of silver-nacre analysis.
21. Questions related to Perceptuality (part 2). 48. Perception in Dream.
22. Mind as Subject. 49. Negating false perception.
23. Self-realization. 50. Counterpositive.
24. Application to Illusions. 51. Summary of Mechanism of Perceptual Knowledge.
25. Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 1). 52. vyAvahArika vs. prAtibhAsika Pt. 1.
26. Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 2). 53. vyAvahArika vs. prAtibhAsika Pt. 2.
27. The position of vishiShTAdvaita.  
The next section in this series continues with the pramANa of anumAna (inference).

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Page last updated: 08-Jul-2012