Sankara negates theories of other schools of thought
The 16th chapter of Upadesa Sahasri is called Partivapra-karanam, based on the first word in the first verse. This chapter contains 74 verses and can be divided into four parts for convenience of study:
Part 1: Verses 1 to 22. Determination of the nature of Atma (Atmasvarupanirnayam)
Part 2: Verses 23 to 57 Negation of other systems of philosophy (paramatakhandanam)
Part 3: Verses 58 to 67--Means for liberation (Moksha sadhanam)
Part 4: Verses 68 to 74--Conclusion (Upasamharam)
Body Is Not Atma
Part 1: The author establishes in the first 22 verses that Atma is Witnesss Consciousness (Sakshi Chaitanyam) different from the body, sense organs and mind. The body cannot be Atma, as it is made up of the five elements which are inert (panchabhowtika svarupam) and cannot be a conscious being. The sense organs are also inert by nature, as they are also made up of the five elements.
Besides, there is a law that the illuminator and the illumined should belong to the same species. Light illumines forms and colours. Light belongs to the agni tattvam and, therefore, the colours and forms also should belong to agni tattvam. Five sense organs illumine the elemental world (panchabhowtika prapancha). Thus, the sense organs and the world belong to the same species. Therefore, the sense organs are also panchabhowtikam and inert by themselves. It is, therefore, clear that inert sense organs cannot be the conscious Atma.
Neither the Mind
Similarly, the mind also cannot be Atma because it is also elemental, besides being an object of our experience. The known mind can never be the knower, Atma. The author establishes in this manner that Atma is different from body, sense organs and the mind (sarira, indriya, manavilakshanaha).
Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham). Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.
We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless. Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself.
No Proof Needed
As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof. That I am conscious is evident to me. The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious. Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything. This Atma is my real nature. All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).
Thus, Atma has to be known as free of attributes (nirgunasvarupa). Physical, emotional and intellectual attributes belong to the known body, mind and intellect respectively. Thus, Atma is free from kama, krodha, moha, ajnanam, samsayam and viparyaya (desire, anger, delusion, ignorance, doubt and misconception) which
Therefore, Atma is ever-free from samsara. The various modifications belong to the body-mind complex and thus Atma is free from change (nirvikara). Atma does not, therefore, even become liberated, as “becoming” involves modifications from bondage to liberation. As Atma is ever free (nityamuktaha), liberation is only in terms of claiming that I am
the ever liberated Atma. I only need to drop the notions of bondage and limitation.
Part 2: In verses 23 to 57, the author examines and negates four other systems of philosophy, two belonging to Buddhism (who do not accept Veda pramanam and, therefore, called nastikavadam),and two belonging to Sankhya and Vaiseshika, both of whom accept Veda pramanam and, therefore, are known as astikavadams.
One sect of Buddhists presents Atma as of the nature of Consciousness, while everything else is considered mithya by them. However, their concept of consciousness says that it is a flow of momentary consciousness. Thus, according to them, consciousness
arises and departs in a moment (kshanikavadam).
Refuted by Sankara
Sankaracharya refutes this school by using several arguments. If Atma is endowed only with momentary existence, one cannot talk of a flow of consciousness at all, as there will be no entity to talk about the prior consciousness and so on. To talk about flow, a permanent entity is needed.
Thus, kshanikavijnana vadam cannot be logically established. Also, if I am going to last only one moment, who will be
there to enjoy the benefit of permanent moksha? Thus, all efforts to gain moksha will become fruitless (Nitya moksha phalam, tat sadhanani cha aprasangatvat).
There is another school of Buddhism which reveals Atma as sunyam (blankness). Sankaracharya dismisses this school by saying that nobody can talk of absolute blankness (sunyam), as to talk about non-existence, we need a witness. According to this school, the entire creation is mithya (relatively real). Anything that is mithya needs to have a substratum which has to be real and existent. However, blankness presented by the sunyavadi as Atma cannot serve as substratum.
The Sankhya philosophy defines Atma as asangapurushatattvam and the universe as jadaprakrititattvam. And, according to them, the jadaprakriti intelligently works for liberation of the asangapurusha. By definition a jadavastu cannot be intelligent at all and there is no question of its working for liberation of asangapurusha, as such an event will involve asangapurusha’s association with any benefit as by nature the asangapurusha cannot have any association.
The vaiseshika philosophers present both Atma and the mind as inert. It is said by them that consciousness (chaitanyam) is generated by the association of Atma and the mind. This school also states that pleasure and sorrow (sukha/dukkha) are also generated by the association of Atma and mind. Sankaracharya rejects this view also as Atma manasam yoga (association) is itself illogical as no association is possible between two separate entities and according to the vaiseshika himself Atma is all-pervading and cannot be separated from the mind.
Again, how can pleasure and sorrow be experienced at all?
Atma manasam yoga produces consciousness. For sukhadukkha anubhava, Atma and mind have to separate themselves and join again to make sukhadukkha anubhava possible. But, the generated sukhadukkha cannot be known or cognised, as consciousness will be absent. Simultaneous presence of consciousness and sukhadukkha anubhava is thus not possible in the vaiseshika system.
With the rejection of the various other systems of philosophy, the author concludes that one should resort only to Veda Pramanam for understanding the nature of Atma (Atmasvarupam) and attainment of liberation (moksha prapti).
Part 3: In Verses 58 to 67, the author explains that moksha should not involve any type of change of condition or any kind of production, etc., as anything produced will be subject to destruction. Moksha cannot be the result of any process or event in time. Similarly, mokhsa does not imply any change in the state (avastha).
We, therefore, need to be clear in our mind that moksha is our real and permanent nature (svarupam). If mokhsa is my real nature, how can we explain the need for sadhanas prescribed in our scriptures? Will not sastra become irrelevant (aprasanga)? The answer is that sadhanas are needed only for removing the sense of bondage. Dropping the notion of bondage alone is figuratively called gaining liberation (adhyasa nivritti),and we need only to claim that we are ever free. Disciplines, such as Karma Yoga, Upasana Yoga and Jnana Yoga, are all intended only to remove the erroneous notion of bondage.
Means to Gain Jnanam
Part 4: In Verses 68 to 74, the author concludes the discussion by presenting the means for gaining jnanam, the benefit of jnanam and the glory of jnanam. In this portion, the qualifications for pursuit of Self-knowledge are summarised in the form of what is known as sadhana chatushtaya, comprising viveka, vairagya, the six-fold discipline of sama, dama, uparati, titiksha, samadhanam and sraddha and intense desire for liberation (mumukshutvam). The benefit of knowledge is described figuratively as moksha prapti.
Dropping the notion of bondage (which, in other words, implies removal of sense of insecurity / limitation/ fear/incompleteness/lack/inadequacy)
is the manifest benefit of Self-knowledge. The author ends the chapter in glorifying jnanam by saying that Self-knowledge alone can solve all samsara problems permanently. Only by gaining knowledge I can learn my glory and become truly independent.
Read Part 20 of the series...
Compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.