Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

upadesha sAhasrI part 3

BRAHMAN Cannot Be Different from ATMAN. Refutation of this understanding fails due to logical inconsistencies.


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In the second chapter of Upadesa Sahasri, the author explained how the scriptures reveal the Self as the unnegatable awareness by negating all that is objectifiable in the entire creation.  A discussion is presented in the third chapter on several logical fallacies (doshas) that may have to be confronted if we do not accept the revelation of the scriptures that Brahman has to be understood as the very Self (Atman), the awareness principle. 

This chapter is also very small, with only four verses and is titled Isvara Atma Prakarnam.  The term, Isvara, in this chapter refers to Brahman and, therefore, the chapter can also be titled as Brahma Atma Prakarnam.

Four Defects
The Upanishads uniformly present Brahman as being identical with Atman (Self).  In other words, Brahman cannot be different from Atman. Sankaracharya devotes the entire third chapter to logically establish this by pointing out how in the event that Brahman is taken to be different from Atman (Self), several defects (doshas) will arise in the form of logical contradictions.  In all, the author adduces four such defects, each verse touching upon one defect.

The first defect will be that, looking at the Brahman as different from Atman (Self) will involve a contradiction of the Upanishadic revelation contained in what are known as Mahavakyas which declare the oneness of Brahman and Atman (such as Tat Tvam Asi, Aham Brahmasmi, Prajnanam Brahma and Ayamatma Brahma).  Such a view is also revealed by several other passages in the Upanishads.

The author, therefore, points out in Verse 1 that Brahman is not available for objectification. According to the scriptures, it has to be known only as Self (Atman), which is self-evident and does not need a  pramanam (instrument) to prove its existence.  Thus, in case  Brahman is different from the Self (Atman), a spiritual seeker cannot gain the knowledge, Aham Brahmasmi, as revealed by the scriptures and this will imply a contradiction of the scriptures (Sruti Virodham).                                                

On the other hand, the knowledge that ‘I, the Self, am Brahman,’ will, apart from not contradicting the scriptures, result in freedom from the limitations of the wrongly understood ‘I,’ as Sruti reveals that the Brahman is free from all limitations

How Relevant?
The second defect is dealt with in the second verse.  The scriptures contain an elaborate description of  Brahman and its glory.  The author asks the question how such a glorification of Brahman will be relevant for a seeker if he did not know Brahman as his own Self (Atman).  

This defect is known as Brahma Vivarnam Nishproyajanatva dosha.  If, however, one knows Brahman as non-different from the Self (Atman), he can claim all the glories of Brahman as his own, besides disclaiming all limitations wrongly superimposed on the Self prior to gaining this knowledge.

The author talks of the third defect in the third verse.  The existence of any object can be established only in two ways.  One is that the object must be available for cognition by any means of knowledge (Pramana Vishayam).

Not Possible to Objectify
The other possibility is that the object must be self-evident (Svata Siddham).  Applying this principle, if Brahman has to be known, it has to be either Pramana Vishayam or Svata Siddham.  Our scriptures declare that Brahman is not available for objectification by any means of knowledge (Pramana Agocharam or Aprameyam). 

As Atman (Self) alone is self-evident, it follows that to prove the existence of Brahman, it has to be understood only as the Self (Atman).  Therefore, non-acceptance of this truth and Brahman being taken as non-Self will result in Brahman becoming non-existent/blank (shunyam) based on a process of negation set out in the scriptures of the Brahman becoming “not large,” “not small,” etc.

This defect is technically known as Shunyatva Vivarana Dosha.  The process of negation will be relevant and valid only if Brahman is understood as the Self, as such negation will help the seeker to falsify the apparent limitations he has placed on himself due to ignorance.

Meaningless Negation
The concluding verse (4) deals with the fourth defect, technically called Aprasakta Pratisheda Dosha (defect of meaningless or purposeless negation).  The author refers to a passage from the Mundaka Upanishad (Mantra 2.1.2) which talks of Brahman as aprana, amanaa (devoid of Prana and Mind), etc. He says that such a negation will be meaningful only if the Brahman is recognised as the very Self, as such a knowledge will help the spiritual aspirant to claim he is free from the gross, subtle and causal  bodies (with which he has developed identification due to ignorance prior to gaining self knowledge).

(To be continued)

Compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.



Page last updated: 13-Sep-2012