Advaita Vision

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Advaita for the 21st Century

An Introduction to Vedanta
Part XVII
Dr. K. Sadananda

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Part XVII – Attribute and substantive

When there are two things, A and B, and they are related, we can have several types of relationship between the two.

Suppose we say: ‘The jar is on the table’. The association of jar and table with each other is called conjunction, saMyoga, where they are separable and each can exist in its own right. Each qualifies the other, although temporarily as an incidental relationship. The table is qualified by having a jar on top of it and the jar is qualified by being present on the table. Here the qualities that jar and table possess as a result of their mutual association are temporal.

The relation between an attribute or a quality and the substance has been elaborately discussed by Indian philosophers. Taking the example of a blue lotus, the blueness is inseparable from the lotus and, in addition, the blue color cannot exist, without a substance such as the lotus as its locus. On the other hand, a lotus can exist on its own without being blue. This inseparability of the quality from the substance is called samavAya by logicians (the tArkika-s – particularly nyAya-vaisheShika philosophers). Others question the need to bring in a separate relationship to relate the quality and the substance. But everybody, in one way or another, accepts the inseparability of the quality from its locus, the substance.

When the lotus is perceived through the eyes, the blueness is perceived inseparably from the object. vishiShTAdvaita calls this inseparability apRRithak siddhi – pRRithak means separate and apRRithak means inseparable and siddhi here means two things. So the name indicates that the quality and the substantive cannot be perceived separately. Advaita subscribes to the concept of adhyAsa or superimposition – one is dependent and other is independent.

You may be wondering why we are discussing all this. We want to know, ‘what is the relationship between the sets of things that we have discussed: Brahman and the world, individual self and the world, and individual self and Brahman’? These epistemological issues are in order to appreciate these relations. Let us first discuss the relationship between Brahman and the world. We have arrived at the following facts:

(a) Brahman and the world – both are infinite;
(b) The world consists of objects which are finite and space containing the objects which is infinite;
(c) Brahman is both the intelligent and the material cause for the universe;
(d) Brahman is pure consciousness. Therefore consciousness has to be infinite.
(e) The world is an inert or unconscious entity.

There seems to be some incompatibilities in these statements. How can an inert world come out of a cause which is pure consciousness? How can consciousness and the world both be infinite, since, if one limits the other, then both cease to be infinite? Essentially what exactly is the relation between Brahman and the world of objects including space?

Brahman is not an object. Any object is finite, and is distinguishable from other objects in the world. Each object is distinguishable from other objects in the world by its distinguishable attributes, which differ from those of other objects. Only through its attributes can an object be distinguished from other objects. Without its attributes even the existence of the object cannot be established. The precise definition of an object therefore rests on the precise definition of its distinguishing attributes.

Brahman being infinite cannot have attributes, just as space does not have any attributes. Vedanta calls it nirguNa, an attribute-less entity. Since attributes distinguish one object from another and Brahman is one without a second, there is nothing to differentiate Brahman from any other entity. (In this sense, advaita differs from vishiShTAdvaita as well as other Vedantic interpretations. These philosophies treat Brahman as all pervading, infinite but with infinite auspicious attributes). Consciousness is not an attribute of Brahman as some philosophers assume. As it has been pointed earlier, it is its intrinsic structure to differentiate it from all unconscious entities. Then, are there two types of entity – conscious and unconscious? In addition, is there one conscious entity or as many conscious entities as there are beings in the world? These are very deep philosophical questions that need to be analyzed systematically.

Proceed to the next essay.

Other Essays in this Section:
01. The common questions. 27. The Mind of God.
02. Search for happiness. 28. The Paradox of Space and Time.
03. Questions about Religions and God. 29. Living in the Present.
04. Belief that we are Mortal, Unhappy and Ignorant. 30. Relationless Relation.
05. You are not what you take yourself to be. 31. Concept of Ishvara or God-Hood.
06. Problem Definition. 32. Self-realization or God-realization.
07. Vedanta as pramANa. 33. Self realization - attitude of mind.
08. shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. 34. Consciousness and reflected consciousness.
09. Experience versus Knowledge. 35. Conscious and Unconscious Entities.
10. Who am I or what am I not? 36. Real Self and false self.
11. Ego or ahaMkAra. 37. Transmigration of Soul.
12. All about the universe. 38. Witnessing consciousness and reflected consciousness.
13. Creation according to Vedanta. 39. Analysis of Mind: Intro part 1
14. Description of brahman. 40. Analysis of Mind: Intro part 2
15. Progressive teaching method: svarUpa lakShaNa. 41. Mind and Matter: Part 1
16. Carpets and Schrödinger's Cat. 42. Mind and Matter: Part 2
17. Attribute and Substantive. 43. Classification of the Mind: Part 1
18. Does the world exist independent of an observer? 44. Classification of the Mind: Part 2
19. Brahman and the world. 45. Classification of the Mind: Part 3
20. The Cognitive Process. 46. Classification of the Mind: Part 4
21. Perception of the world. 47. Fundamental Human Problem: Part 1
22. What does negation involve? 48. Fundamental Human Problem: Part 2
23. Errors in Perception. 49. Fundamental Human Problem: Part 3
24. adhyAsa or error superimposition. 50. vAsanA-s part 1
25. What is Real? 51. vAsanA-s part 2
26. Transformation-less transformation. 52. Viewpoints of reality.

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