Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

cannot be described by any word whatsoever

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by S N Sastri

taittiriya upaniShad (2.9.1) says that words turn back along with the mind, failing to reach brahman (yato vAcho nivartante aprApya manasA saha). Sri Shankara points out in shloka 10 of his dashashlokI that none of the words such as �one�, �absolute�, etc., can be used to denote brahman. The shloka is:

�It is not one; how can there be a second different from it? It has neither absoluteness nor non-absoluteness. It is neither void nor non-void since it is devoid of duality. How can I describe that which is established by the entire vedAnta!�

In his commentary on this shloka in siddhAnta bindu, madhusUdana sarasvati says: �One is what is capable of being counted as one. A second is what is capable of giving rise to the cognition of a second relative to it. When there is no one, how can there be a second? A second is what implies a third, etc.

�Objection: but by the shruti �One only, without a second,� (chhAndogya upaniShad (6.2.1)), oneness is postulated.

�The answer: no. It is said (in the above shloka)�nor even absoluteness. Absoluteness is oneness. That statement in the shruti�one only, without a second�is also owing to avidyA. (When the shruti says, �One only, without a second,� it is only repeating the general notion in the world, which is owing to avidyA. Even absoluteness cannot be postulated in respect of the Atma because that is also a relative term.) Then can it be said that if the shruti does not really declare the oneness of the Atma, it follows, on the basis of the means of knowledge such as perception, that there is definitely multiplicity?

�The answer: no. Not even non-absoluteness. Non-absoluteness is �being many�. This follows from the shruti statements such as, �There is no diversity whatsoever here,� (bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (4.4.19)), �One only, without a second,� (chhAndogya upaniShad (6.2.1)), �Now therefore the instruction, not this, not this,� (bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (2.3.6)).

�Objection: in that case, since everything is denied, there is only void.

�The answer: no. It is not a void. �If any one considers brahman as non-existent, then he himself becomes non-existent (because brahman is none other than his own real nature). If any one knows brahman as existing, then they (the knowers of brahman) consider him as existing,� (taittiriya upaniShad (2.6.1)), brahman is Reality, Consciousness and Infinite,� (taittiriya upaniShad (2.1.1)), by the shrutis starting from, �O dear boy, this was only existence in the beginning,� (chhAndogya upaniShad (6.2.1)), and up to, �All this world has this as the Self, it is the Reality, it is the Atma, that thou art,� (chhAndogya upaniShad (6.8.7)) the reality of the Atma is declared; it is the substratum of all illusions, and it is where all negation culminates (it cannot be negated at all).

'Objection: then it would mean that the Atma has the qualities of reality, knowledge, etc.

�The answer: no, because it has been said that it is not non-void. (Non-void means �not empty� i.e. there is some thing on it such as a quality. Or in other words, it has some quality. So by the double negative �not non-void� it is meant that it does not have any quality.) While by the two terms �one� and �without a second� the existence of any thing else of the same species or a different species is denied, by the term �only� (eva) all differences such as the difference between a quality and the possessor of a quality are denied. The reason for all these is given as��because of being devoid of duality�. What is divided into two is �dual�. The state of being dual is duality. It has been said in the vArttika: �What is divided into two is said to be �dual� and such a state is called �duality� (bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad,vArttika (4.3.186)). Where there is no duality or the state of being divided into two, that is non-duality. This is the literal meaning. As the shruti says, �Like water, one, the seer, and free from duality,� (bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (4.3.32)). Since it is only the knowledge of the counter-correlative that is the cause of easily becoming aware of the absence of some thing, and since duality has been accepted as indeterminable, denial is quite logical because the objects are knowable through the means of knowledge such as perception. (This sentence is explained in the note below.)

[Note: the last sentence is in refutation of an earlier objection that, as a rule it is only a thing that is known by some valid means of knowledge to exist somewhere that can be denied somewhere else. In order to deny the existence of a snake in a particular place the person denying must know what a snake is. But it is not necessary that he should have seen a real snake. It is enough if he has seen the picture of a snake somewhere. The objection raised is that the world is non-existent according to advaita and there is no point in denying the presence of a non-existent thing like the horn of a hare. The answer is that the world is not totally non-existent. The advaita view is that the world is neither real nor unreal. Moreover, it has been accepted as having empirical reality. The objects in the world can be known through the means of knowledge such as perception, inference, etc. Only their absolute reality is denied. So the denial is quite justified.]

�Objection: in that case please indicate such an Atma by pointing it out with the finger.

�Answer: it is not possible; it has been said, �How can I describe?� �How� indicates impossibility. Being non-dual it cannot become an object of speech. The shrutis: �He explained without words,� (Nr.Uttara Tapani upaniShad (7)), �That from which words return without attaining it, along with the mind,� (taittiriya upaniShad (2.4.1)), �You cannot know the knower of knowledge,� (bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (3.4.2)), indicate this.

�If it is asked, how can vedAnta be the valid means of knowledge if the Atma cannot become the object of speech, the answer is: even though the Atma is not an object, ignorance about it is destroyed by a mere vRRitti of the mind of the form of the Atma. This is expressed by the term, �That which is established by the entire vedAnta." The shrutis such as, �It is known to him to whom it is not an object of knowledge; he who thinks he knows it does not know. It is unknown to those who think they know it well, and known to those who know that they do not know it (as an object),� (kenopaniShad (2.3)), �That which is not comprehended by the mind, but that by which the mind is said to comprehend, know that alone to be brahman and not that which is worshipped,� (kenopaniShad (1.6)), show that the Atma is not an object. Thus it is established that when avidyA is destroyed by the vRRitti in the form of the indivisible Atman generated by the statements of vedAnta, all the sufferings that are imagined because of avidyA come to an end, and one remains as supreme bliss, having attained the ultimate aim.�

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012