Advaita Vedanta

Entries from the Theosophical Glossary

Adwaita (Sk.). A Vedânta sect. The non-dualistic (A-dwaita) school of Vedântic philosophy founded by Sankarâchârya, the greatest of the historical Brahmin sages. The two other schools are the Dwaita (dualistic) and the Visishtadwaita; all the three call themselves Vedântic.

Adwaitin (Sk.). A follower of the said school.

Sankara (Sk.). The name of Siva. Also a great Vedantic philosopher.

Âchârya (Sk.). Spiritual teacher, Guru; as Sankar-âchârya, lit., a “teacher of ethics”. A name generally given to Initiates, etc., and meaning “Master”.

Sri Sankarâchârya (Sk.). The great religious reformer of India, and teacher of the Vedânta philosophy—the greatest of all such teachers, regarded by the Adwaitas (Non-dualists) as an incarnation of Siva and a worker of miracles. He established many mathams (monasteries), and founded the most learned sect among Brahmans, called the Smârtava. The legends about him are as numerous as his philosophical writings. At the age of thirty-two he went to Kashmir, and reaching Kedâranâth in the Himalayas, entered a cave alone, whence he never returned. His followers claim that he did not die, but only retired from the world.

Ânanda-Lahari (Sk.). “The wave of joy”; a beautiful poem written by Sankarâchârya, a hymn to Pârvati, very mystical and occult.

Atmabodha (Sk.). Lit., “Self-knowledge”; the title of a Vedantic treatise by Sankarâchârya.

Smârtava (Sk.). The Smârta Brahmans; a sect founded by Sankarâchârya.

Sringa Giri (Sk.). A large and wealthy monastery on the ridge of the Western Ghauts in Mysore (Southern India); the chief matham of the Adwaita and Smârta Brahmans, founded by Sankarâchârya. There resides the religious head (the latter being called Sankarâchârya) of all the Vedantic Adwaitas, credited by many with great abnormal powers.

Vedânta (Sk.). A mystic system of philosophy which has developed from the efforts of generations of sages to interpret the secret meaning of the Upanishads (q.v.). It is called in the Shad-Darshanas (six schools or systems of demonstration), Uttara Mîmânsâ, attributed to Vyâsa, the compiler of the Vedas, who is thus referred to as the founder of the Vedânta. The orthodox Hindus call Vedânta—a term meaning literally the “end of all (Vedic) knowledge”—Brahma-jnâna, or pure and spiritual knowledge of Brahmâ. Even if we accept the late dates assigned to various Sanskrit schools and treatises by our Orientalists, the Vedânta must be 3,300 years old, as Vyâsa is said to have lived 1,400 years b.c. If, as Elphinstone has it in his History of India, the Brahmanas are the Talmud of the Hindus, and the Vedas the Mosaic books, then the Vedânta may be correctly called the Kabalah of India. But how vastly more grand! Sankarâchârya, who was the popularizer of the Vedântic system, and the founder of the Adwaita philosophy, is sometimes called the founder of the modern schools of the Vedânta.


Foundational Texts:

The Prasthana Traya (Prasthānatrayī) compose the primary authoritative sources of Vedanta, these being:

1. The Upanishads (sruti prasthana)

The 108 Upanishads as given in the Muktika Upanishad (see notes below): PDF Version
Veda Mukhya Sāmānya Sannyāsa Śākta Vaiṣṇava Śaiva Yoga
Ṛigveda Aitareya Kauśītāki,
Nirvāṇa Tripura,

Akṣamālika Nādabindu
Samaveda Chāndogya,

Krishna Yajurveda Taittirīya,
Sarasvatīrahasya Mahānārāyaṇa,
Shukla Yajurveda Bṛhadāraṇyaka,


Atharvaveda Muṇḍaka,
Nṛsiṃhatāpanī (purva)*,
Nṛsiṃhatāpanī (uttara)*,

* The Nṛsiṃhatāpanī listed in the Muktika Upanishad is found in some cases listed as two upanishads (the purva and the uttara). The total of 108 is reached when counting these as one, as is most common.

See Also: The Vedas in Sanskrit, The Upanishads in Sanskrit (devanagari) and The Upanishads in Sanskrit (romanized transliteration)

2. The Bhagavad Gita (sadhana or smriti prasthana)

The Bhagavad Gita

Translated in Verse by Sir Edwin Arnold,

Recension By William Quan Judge, and

The Gita According to Gandhi

Full Text Online

See Also: Bhagavad Gita with Sankara Bhashya, translated by Swami Gambhirananda

3. The Brahma Sutra (nyaya prasthana)

The Brahma Sūtra

Translations by Swami Gambhirananda, S. Radhakrisnan,
Swami Sivananda & George Thibaut

Full Text Online


Explanation of the formation of the Prastanatrayi, by T.S. Narayana Sastry

Of all these schools [Darśanas] of philosophy, the most important and authoritative was the Vedanta Darśana founded by Bādarāyaṇa, son of Bādari, at Badarikāṡrama on the Himalayas. He found that the existing schools of philosophy—both orthodox and unorthodox—were in some way or other opposed to the true spirit of the Śrutis and Śmṛitis as handed down by Veda Vyāsa or Kṛishṇa Dvaipāyana, the compiler of the Vedas and the author of the Mahabharata. He at once understood that the true ideal of the Śrutis lay in the unity of the Infinite in man and the Infinite in nature and that this was fully declared and established in the Āraṅyaka or Upanishad portion of the Vedas and not in the Samhitā and Brabmaṇa portions of the same.

Like the great Veda Vyāsa, Bādarāyaṇa divided the whole of the Vedas into two main parts—the Karmakāṇda and the Jñānakāṇda—the exoteric and the esoteric, and arranged the latter into Ten Principal Upanishads. Again he separated the Bhagavadgītā from the rest of the Mahābhārata and made it—perhaps with slight alterations—an independent authority like the Upanishads for his new school of philosophy. But bare quotations from these Śrutis and Śmṛitis were not enough to satisfy the growing demands of the intelligent inquirers of his time. Further, there were apparent inconsistencies between the various texts of the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgītā, which required to be reconciled and explained away by means of strict reasoning. To reduce, therefore, the teachings of the Upanishads and of the Bhagavadgītā or the Mahābhārata to a consistent and systematic whole, to explain away apparent contradictions in those various texts, and to refute all objections that have been or might be urged against them, it was necessary for Bādarāyaṇa that he should compose a work strictly based on reasoning. He accordingly composed his famous Vedānta Sūtras in four chapters in 556 aphorisms. Each of these four chapters (Adhyāyas) comprises in its turn four sections (Padas) and each section a number of sub-sections (Adhikaraṇas).

These three—the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgītā and the Vedānta Sūtras—constitute, according to Bādarāyaṇa, the complete canon of the Vedānta Darśana. They are called the three Prasthānas or Institutes of Vedāntic teaching, the Upanishads being called the Śruti-Prasthāna (Scriptural Institute); the Bhagavadgītā, the Smṛiti-Prasthāna (Traditional Institute); and the Vedānta Sūtras, the Nyāya-Prasthāna (Logical Institute).

—from The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, p. 42-47

Advaita Texts:

Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada's Karika

Mandukya Upanishad


Gaudapada’s Poem

Translated by Charles Johnston

Full Text Online




Gauḍapāda’s Kārikā


Śankara’s Commentary

Translated and Annotated by

Swāmi Nikhilānanda

Full Text Online (PDF)




Gaudapâda’s Kârikâs

and the

Bhâshya of Śankara

Translated into English


Manilal N. Dvivedi

Full Text Online

See Also


with a complete translation into English,
Notes, Introduction and Appendices
Raghunath Damodar Karmarkar

Full Text Online (PDF)

The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom by Adi Sankaracharya


(Crest-Jewel of Wisdom)

Sri Sankaracharya

Full Text Online

Discrimination of Spirit and Not-Spirit (Ātmânātma-viveka)

Discrimination of Spirit and Not-Spirit

Translated from the original Sanskrit of Sankara Acharya

by Mohini M. Chatterji

[An apology is scarcely needed for undertaking a translation of Sankara Acharya’s celebrated Synopsis of Vedantism entitled “Atmanatma Vivekah.” This little treatise, within a small compass, fully sets forth the scope and purpose of the Vedanta philosophy. It has been a matter of no little wonder, considering the authorship of this pamphlet and its own intrinsic merits, that a translation of it has not already been executed by some competent scholar. The present translation, though pretending to no scholarship, is dutifully literal, excepting, however, the omission of a few lines relating to the etymology’of the words Sarira and Deha, and one or two other things which, though interesting in themselves, have no direct bearing on the main subject of treatment—TR.]

NOTHING is Spirit which can be the object of consciousness. To one possessed of right discrimination, the Spirit is the subject of knowledge. This right discrimination of Spirit and Not-spirit is set forth in millions of treatises.

This discrimination of Spirit and Not-spirit is given below:—

Q. Whence comes pain to the Spirit?

A. By reason of its taking a body. It is said in the Sruti:1 “Not in this (state of existence) is there cessation of pleasure and pain of a living thing possessed of a body.”

Q. By what is produced this taking of a body?

A. By Karma.2

Q. Why does it become so by Karma?

A. By desire and the rest (i.e., the passions).

Q. By what are desire and the rest produced?

A. By egotism.

Q. By what again is egotism produced?

A. By want of right discrimination.

Q. By ‘what is this want of right discrimination produced?

A. By ignorance.

Q. Is ignorance produced by anything?

A. No, by nothing. Ignorance is without beginning and ineffable by reason of its being the intermingling of the real (sat) and the unreal (asat.)3 It is a something embodying the three qualities 4 and is said to be opposed to Wisdom, inasmuch as it produces the concept “I am ignorant.” The Sruti says, “(Ignorance) is the power of the Deity and is enshrouded by its own qualities.”5

The origin of pain can thus be traced to ignorance and it will not cease until ignorance is entirely dispelled, which will be only when the identity of the Self with Brahma (the Universal Spirit) is fully realized.6 Anticipating the contention that the eternal acts (i.e., those enjoined by the Vedas) are proper, and would therefore lead to the destruction of ignorance, it is said that ignorance cannot be dispelled by Karma (religious exercises).

Q. Why is it so?

A. By reason of the absence of logical opposition between ignorance and act. Therefore it is clear that Ignorance can only be removed by Wisdom.

Q. How can this Wisdom be acquired?

A. By discussion—by discussing the nature of Spirit and Non-Spirit.

Q. Who are worthy of engaging in such discussion?

A. Those who have acquired the four qualifications.

Q. What are the four qualifications?

A. (1) True discrimination of permanent and impermanent things. (2) Indifference to the enjoyment of the fruits of one’s actions both here and hereafter. (3) Possession of Sama and the other five qualities. (4) An intense desire of becoming liberated (from conditional existence).

(1.) Q. What is the right discrimination of permanent and impermanent things?

A. Certainty as to the Material Universe being false and illusive, and Brahman being the only reality.

(2.) Indifference to the enjoyment of the fruits of one’s actions in this world is to have the same amount of disinclination for the enjoyment of worldly objects of desire (such as garland of flowers, sandal-wood paste, women and the like) beyond those absolutely necessary for the preservation of life, as one has for vomited food, &c. The same amount of disinclination to enjoyment in the society of Rambha, Urvasi, and other celestial nymphs in the higher spheres of life beginning with Svarga loka and ending with Brahma loka.7

(3.) Q. What are the six qualities beginning with Sama?

A. Sama, dama, uparati, titikshá, samadhana and sraddha.

Sama is the repression of the inward sense called Manas—i.e., not allowing it to engage in any other thing but Sravana (listening to what the sages say about the Spirit), Manana (reflecting on it), Nididhyasana (meditating on the same). Dama is the repression of the external senses.

Q. What are the external senses?

A. The five organs of perception and the five bodily organs for the performance of external acts. Restraining these from all other things but sravana and the rest, is dama.

Uparati is the abstaining on principle from engaging in any of the acts and ceremonies enjoined by the shastras. Otherwise, it is the state of the mind which is always engaged in Sravana and the rest, without ever diverging from them.

Titiksha (literally the desire to leave) is the bearing with indifference all opposites (such as pleasure and pain, heat and cold, &c.). Otherwise, it is the showing of forbearance to a person one is capable of punishing.

Whenever a mind, engaged in Sravana and the rest, wanders to any worldly object of desire, and, finding it worthless, returns to the performance of the three exercises—such returning is called samadhana.

Sraddha is an intensely strong faith in the utterances of one’s guru and of the Vedanta philosophy.

(4.) An intense desire for liberation is called mumukshatva.

Those who possess these four qualifications, are worthy of engaging in discussions as to the nature of Spirit and Not-Spirit, and, like Brahmacharins, they have no other duty (but such discussion). It is not, however, at all improper for householders to engage in such discussions; but, on the contrary, such a course is highly meritorious. For it is said—Whoever, with due reverence, engages in the discussion of subjects treated of in Vedanta philosophy and does proper service to his guru, reaps happy fruits. Discussion as to the nature of Spirit and Not-Spirit is therefore a duty.

Q. What is Spirit?

A. It is that principle which enters into the composition of man and is not included in the three bodies, and which is distinct from the five sheaths (Koshas), being sat (existence),8 chit (consciousness),9 and ananda (bliss),10 and witness of the three states.

Q. What are the three bodies?

A. The gross (sthula), the subtile (sukshma), and the causal (karana).

Q. What is the gross body?

A. That which is the effect of the Mahabhutas (primordial subtile elements) differentiated into the five gross ones (Panchikrita),11 is born of Karma and subject to the six changes beginning with birth.12 It is said:—

What is produced by the (subtile) elements differentiated into the five gross ones, is acquired by Karma, and is the measure of pleasure and pain, is called the body (sarira) par excellence.

Q. What is the subtile body?

A. It is the effect of the elements not differentiated into five and having seventeen characteristic marks (tin qas).

Q. What are the seventeen?

A. The five channels of knowledge (Jnanendriyas), the five organs of action, the five vital airs, beginning with prana, and manas and buddhi.

Q. What are the Jnandendriyas?

A. [Spiritual] Ear, skin, eye, tongue and nose.

Q. What is the ear?

A. That channel of knowledge which transcends the [physical] ear, is limited by the auricular orifice, on which the akas depends, and which is capable of taking cognisance of sound.

Q. The skin?

A. That which transcends the skin, on which the skin depends, and which extends from head to foot, and has the power of perceiving heat and cold.

Q. The eye?

A. That which transcends the ocular orb, on which the orb depends, which is situated to the front of the black iris and has the power of cognising forms.

Q. The tongue?

A. That which transcends the tongue, and can perceive taste.

Q. The nose?

A. That which transcends the nose, and has the power of smelling.

Q. What are the organs of action?

A. The organ of speech (vach), hands, feet, &c.

Q. What is vach?

A. That which transcends speech, in which speech resides, and which is located in eight different centres13 and has the power of speech.

Q. What are the eight centres?

A. Breast, throat, head, upper and nether lips, palate ligature (frænum), binding the tongue to the lower jaw and tongue.

Q. What is the organ of the hands?

A. That which transcends the hands, on which the palms depend, and which has the power of giving and taking. . . . (The other organs are similarly described.)

Q. What is the antahkarana?14

A. Manas, buddhi, chitta and ahankara form it. The seat of the manas is the root of the throat, of buddhi the face, of chitta the umbilicus, and of ahankara the breast. The functions of these four components of antahkarana are respectively doubt, certainty, retention and egotism.

Q. How are the five vital airs,15 beginning with prana, named?

A. Prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana. Their locations are said to be :—of prana the breast, of apana the fundamentum, of samana the umbilicus, of udana the throat, and vyana is spread all over the body. Functions of these are :—prana goes out, apana descends, udana ascends, samana reduces the food eaten into an undistinguishable state, and vyana circulates all over the body. Of these five vital airs there are five sub-airs—namely, naga, kurma, krikara, devadatta and dhananjaya. Functions of these are :—eructations produced by naga, kurma opens the eye, dhananjaya assimilates food, devadatta causes yawning, and krikara produces appetite—this is said by those versed in Yoga.

The presiding powers (or macrocosmic analogues) of the five channels of knowledge and the others are dik (akas) and the rest. Dik, vata (air), arka (sun), pracheta (water), Aswini, bahni (fire), Indra, Upendra, Mrityu (death), Chandra (moon), Brahmâ, Rudra, and Kshetrajnesvara,16 which is the great Creator and cause of everything. These are the presiding powers of ear, and the others in the order in which they occur.

All these taken together form the linga sarira.17 It is also said in the Shastras :—

The five vital airs, manas, buddhi, and the ten organs form the subtile body, which arises from the subtile elements, undifferentiated into the five gross ones, and which is the means of the perception of pleasure and pain.

Q. What is the Karana sarira?

A. It is ignorance [of different monads] (avidya), which is the cause of the other two bodies, and which is without beginning [in the present manvantara],18 ineffable, reflection [of Brahma] and productive of the concept of non-identity between self and Brahma. It is also said :—

“Without a beginning, ineffable avidya is called the upadhi (vehicle)—karana (cause). Know the Spirit to be truly different from the three upadhis—i.e., bodies.”

Q. What is Not-Spirit?

A. It is the three bodies [described above], which are impermanent, inanimate (jada), essentially painful and subject to congregation and segregation.

Q. What is impermanent?

A. That which does not exist in one and the same state in the three divisions of time [namely, present, past and future.]

Q. What is inanimate (jada)?

A. That which cannot distinguish between the objects of its own cognition and the objects of the cognition of others. . . .

Q. What are the three states (mentioned above as those of which the Spirit is witness)?

A. Wakefulness (jagrata), dreaming (svapna), and the state of dreamless slumber (sushupti).

Q. What is the state of wakefulness?

A. That in which objects are known through the avenue of [physical] senses.

Q. Of dreaming?

A. That in which objects are perceived by reason of desires resulting from impressions produced during wakefulness.

Q. What is the state of dreamless slumber?

A. That in which there is an utter absence of the perception of objects.

The indwelling of the notion of “I” in the gross body during wakefulness is visva (world of objects),19 in subtile body during dreaming is taijas (magnetic fire), and in the causal body during dreamless slumber is prajna (One Life).

Q. What are the five sheaths?

A. Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vjjnanamaya, and Anandamaya.

Annamaya is related to anna20 (food), Pranamaya of prana (life), Manomaya of manas, Vijnanamaya of vijnana (finite perception), Anandamaya of ananda (illusive bliss).

Q. What is the Annamaya sheath?

A. The gross body.

Q. Why?

A. The food eaten by father and mother is transformed into semen and blood, the combination of which is transformed into the shape of a body. It wraps up like a sheath and hence so called. It is the transformation of food and wraps up the spirit like a sheath—it shows the spirit which is infinite as finite, which is without the six changes, beginning with birth as subject to those changes, which is without the three kinds of pain21 as liable to them. It conceals the spirit as the sheath conceals the sword, the husk the grain, or the womb the fœtus.

Q. What is the next sheath?

A. The combination of the five organs of action, and the five vital airs form the Pranamaya sheath.

By the manifestation of prana, the spirit which is speechless appears as the speaker, which is never the giver as the giver, which never moves as in motion, which is devoid of hunger and thirst as hungry and thirsty.

Q. What is the third sheath?

A. It is the five (subtile) organs of sense (jnanendriya) and manas.

By the manifestation of this sheath (vikara) the spirit which is devoid of doubt appears as doubting, devoid of grief and delusion as grieved and deluded. devoid of sight as seeing.

Q. What is the Vijnanamaya sheath?

A. [The essence of] the five organs of sense form this sheath in combination with buddhi.

Q. Why is this sheath called the jiva (personal ego), which by reason of its thinking itself the actor, enjoyer, &c., goes to the other loka and comes back to this?22

A. It wraps up and shows the spirit which never acts as the actor, which never cognises as conscious, which has no concept of certainty as being certain, which is never evil or inanimate as being both.

Q. What is the Anandamaya sheath?

A. It is the antahkarana, wherein ignorance predominates, and which produces gratification, enjoyment, &c. It wraps up and shows the spirit, which is void of desire, enjoyment and fruition, as having them, which has no conditioned happiness as being possessed thereof.

Q. Why is the spirit said to be different from the three bodies?

A. That which is truth cannot be untruth, knowledge ignorance, bliss misery, or vice versa.

Q. Why is it called the witness of the three states?

A. Being the master of the three states, it is the knowledge of the three states, as existing in the present, past and future.23

Q. How is the spirit different from the five sheaths?

A. This is being illustrated by an example :—

“This is my cow,” “ this is my calf,” “this is my son or daughter,” “this is my wife,” “this is my anandamaya sheath,” and so on24 — the spirit can never be connected with these concepts; it is different from and witness of them all. For it is said in the Upanishad—[The spirit is] “naught of sound, of touch, of form, or colour, of taste, or of smell; it is everlasting, having no beginning or end, superior [in order of subjectivity] to Prakriti (differentiated matter) ; whoever correctly understands it as such attains mukti (liberation).” The spirit has also been called (above) sat, chit, and ananda.

Q. What is meant by its being sat (presence) ?

A. Existing unchanged in the three divisions of time and uninfluenced by anything else.

Q. What by being chit (consciousness)?

A. Manifesting itself without depending upon anything else, and containing the germ of everything in itself.

Q. What by being ananda (bliss)?

A. The ne plus ultra of bliss.

Whoever knows without doubt and apprehension of its being otherwise, the self as being one with Brahma or spirit, which is eternal, non-dual and unconditioned, attains moksha (liberation from conditioned existence.)

1. Chandogya Upanishad.

2. This word it is impossible to translate. It means the doing of a thing for the attainment of an object of worldly desire.

3. This word, as used in Vedantic works, is generally misunderstood. It does not mean the negation of’ everything; it means “that which does not exhibit the truth,” the “illusory.”

4. Satva (goodness), Rajas (foulness), and Tamas (darkness) are the three qualities; pleasure, pain and indifference considered as objective principles.

5. Chandogya Upanishad.

6. This portion has been condensed from the original.

7. These include the whole range of Rupa loka (the world of forms) in Buddhistic esoteric philosophy.

8. This stands for Purusha.

9. This stands for Prakriti, cosmic matter, irrespective of the state we perceive it to be in.

10. Bliss is Maya or Saki, it is the creative energy producing changes of state in Prakriti. Says the Sruti (Taittiriya Upanishad): “Verily from Bliss are all these bhutas (elements) born, and being born by it they live, and they return and enter into Bliss.”

11. The five subtile elements thus produce the gross ones—each of the five is divided into eight parts, four of those parts and one part of each of the others enter into combination, and the result is the gross element corresponding with the subtile element, whose parts predominate in the composition.

12. These six changes are—birth, death, existence in time, growth, decay, and undergoing change of substance (parinam) as milk is changed into whey.

13. The secret commentaries say seven; for it does not separate the lips into the “upper” and “nether” lips. And, it adds to the seven centres the seven passages in the head connected with, and affected by, vach—namely, the mouth, the two eyes, the two nostrils and the two ears. “The left ear, eye and nostril being the messengers of the right side of the head; the right ear, eye and nostril, those of the left side.” Now this is purely scientific. The latest discoveries and conclusions of modern physiology have shown that the power or the faculty of human speech is located in the third frontal cavity of the left hemisphere of the brain. On the other hand, it is a well. known fact that the nerve tissues inter-cross each other (decussate) in the brain in such a way that the motions of our left extremities are governed by the right hemisphere, while the motions of our right limbs are subject to the left hemisphere of the brain.

14. A flood of light will be thrown on the text by the note of a learned occultist, who says :—“Antahkarana is the path of communication between soul and body, entirely disconnected with the former, existing with, belonging to, and dying with the body.” This path is well traced in the text.

15. These vitals airs and sub-airs are forces which harmonize the interior man with his surroundings, by adjusting the relations of the body to external objects. They are the five allotropic modifications of life.

16. The principle of intellect (Buddhi) in the macrocosm. For further explanation of this term, see Sankara’s commentaries on the Brahma Sutras.

17. Linga means that which conveys meaning, characteristic mark.

18. It must not be supposed that avidya is here confounded with prakriti. What is meant by avidya being without beginning, is that it forms no link in the Karmic chain leading to succession of births and deaths, it is evolved by a law embodied in prakriti itself. Avidya is ignorance or matter as related to distinct monads, whereas the ignorance mentioned before is cosmic ignorance, or maya-Avidya begins and ends with this manvantara. Máya is eternal. The Vedanta philosophy of the school of Sankara regards the universe as consisting of one substance, Brahman (the one ego, the highest abstraction of subjectivity from our standpoint), having an infinity of attributes, or modes of manifestation from which it is only logically separable. These attributes or modes in their collectivity form Prakriti (the abstract objectivity). It is evident that Brahman per se does not admit of any description other than “I am that I am.” Whereas Prakriti is composed of an infinite number of differentiations of itself. In the universe, therefore, the only principle which is indifferentiable is this “I am that I am” and the manifold modes of manifestation can only exist in reference to it. The eternal ignorance consists in this, that as there is but one substantive, but numberless adjectives, each adjective is capable of designating the All. Viewed in time the most permanent object or mood of the great knower at any moment represents the knower, and in a sense binds it with limitations. In fact, time itself is one of these infinite moods, and so is space. The only progress in Nature is the realization of moods unrealized before.

19. That is to say, by mistaking the gross body for self, the consciousness of external objects is produced.

20. This word also means the earth in Sanskrit.

21. The three kinds of pain are :—
Adhibhautika, i.e., from external objects, e.g., from thieves, wild animals, &c.
Adhidaivika, i.e., from elements, e.g., thunder, &c.
Adhyatmika, i.e., from within one’s self, e.g., head-ache, &c. See Sankhya Karika, Gaudapada’s commentary on the opening Sloka.

22. That is to say, flits from birth to birth.

23. It is the stable basis upon which the three states arise and disappear.

24. The “heresy of individuality,” or attavada of the Buddhists.

See Also:

Bibliography entry for Advaita Vedanta, from the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies

Library of Vedic Source-Texts (Sanskrit with some English translations)

Collection of Avaita Vedanta Texts from

Selection of Advaita Vedanta Texts & Articles from Jnanajyoti Portal

Selection of Advaita Texts from

Selection Advaita Works (Sanskrit with some English translations)

On Advaita Vedanta

Short Survey of the Vedânta System

Short Survey of the Vedânta System.

By Dr. Paul Deussen

Translated by Charles Johnston

 [Originally printed as Appendix I of The System of the Vedânta, 1912]


1. Introductory.

Fundamental thought of the Vedanta

§ 1. The fundamental thought of the Vedânta, most briefly expressed by the Vedic words: tat tvam asi, “that art thou” (Chand. 6, 8, 7) and aham brahma asmi, “I am Brahman” (Brih. 4, 10), is The Identity of Brahman and the Soul; this means that Brahman, i.e., the eternal principle of all Being, the power which creates, sustains and again absorbs into itself all worlds, is identical with the Âtman, the Self or the Soul, i.e., that in us which we recognize, when we see things rightly, as our very self and true essence. This soul of each one of us is not a part, an emanation of Brahman, but wholly and absolutely the eternal, indivisible Brahman Himself.

Contradiction by experience.

§ 2. The statement contradicts experience (vyavahâra), which shows us not that unity, but a plurality (nânâtvam), an extension (prapañca) of names and forms (nâma-rûpe, i.e., impressions of ear and eye, sense-impressions) and as a part of them our own Self in the form of our created and perishable body.

Contradiction by the law of works.

§ 3. But the fundamental dogma of the Vedânta is equally in contradiction with the canon of Vedic ritual; this it is true teaches the continued existence (vyatireka) of the soul after the body, but it assumes a plurality of individual souls different from Brahman; they are entangled in unceasing transmigration (samsâra) and at the death of each body pass into a new body; in this process the works (karman) of any one life condition inexorably the succeeding life and its nature.

Ignorance and Knowledge.

§ 4. Both experience, as a result of worldly means of cognition (pramânam)—perception (pratyaksham), inference (anumânam) etc.—, and the canon of the Vedic ritual with its commands and prohibitions, promises and threats rest on false knowledge (mithyâ-jñânam), an innate illusion (bhrânti), which is called Avidyâ, Ignorance; what it tells us is, like the pictures of a dream, only true till the awakening comes. This innate Avidyâ is more accurately described by saying that the Âtman, the Soul, the Self is unable to distinguish itself from the Upâdhis or limitations (i.e., the body, the psychic organs and works) with which the Soul is clad, and of which only a part—the body—is annihilated in death, the rest accompanying the Soul on its migrations.—This Avidyâ is the contrary of Vidyâ, knowledge, also called perfect knowledge (samyagdarshanam), by virtue of which the Âtman distinguishes itself from the Upadhis, and recognises that they are dependent on Avidyâ, a glamour (mâyâ) or an illusion (abhimâna); while it is itself identical with the one Brahman, without a second, who comprehends all things in Himself.

Source of Knowledge.

§ 5. Samyagdarshanam, perfect knowledge can neither be produced by worldly means of knowledge (pratyaksham, anumânam, etc.), nor commanded by the canon of the Veda as a duty, because both are rooted in Avidyâ and do not lead beyond it. The only source of Vidyâ is revelation, Shruti (which we, not quite correctly, generally term “Scripture”) i.e., the Veda, and of this in particular the part of knowledge (jñâna-kânda) which exists side by side with the part of works (karma-kânda); and contains certain texts scattered through the Mantras and Brâhmanas; but more especially formed in the concluding chapter of the latter, the Vedânta (end of the Veda), known as the Upanishads.—The whole of the Veda without distinction, that is the whole body of Mantras (Hymns and formulas) and Brâhmanas (theological explanations) together with the Upanishads is of divine origin; it was “breathed out” by Brahman and only “beheld” by the human authors (rishis). The world and the Gods with it pass away but the Veda is eternal; it outlasts the destruction of the world and continues to exist in the spirit of Brahman; in accordance with the words of the Veda, which contain the eternal archetypes of things, gods, men, animals, etc. are created by Brahman at the beginning of each world period; thereupon the Veda is revealed to them by “Expiration”—the part of works as a canon of actions which have happiness (abhyudaya) as their object, the part of knowledge as the source of Samyagdarshanam, the only fruit of which is bliss (nihshreyasam) i.e., liberation.—Perfect knowledge is not attainable by reflection (tarka), and just as little by tradition or Smriti (including the Vedic Sûtras, Kapila, Manu, the Mahâbhâratam, etc.); both of these, reflection and Smriti, can only in a secondary sense be considered a source of truth, so far as they are directed to the Veda and serve to clear up and complete its revelation.

2. Theology.

Higher and lower Knowledge.

§ 6. The aim of man (purusha-artha) is liberation (moksha) i.e., the cessation of transmigration (samsâra); and the release of the soul from its wanderings is brought about by man’s own Self (âtman) being recognised as identical with the highest Self (parama-âtman), i.e., the Brahman. The whole content of Vidyâ is therefore knowledge of the Âtman or Brahman (they are interchangeable ideas).—But there are two sorts of knowledge of Brahman—the higher knowledge (parâ vidyâ); its aim is Samyagdarshanam and its one and only fruit is liberation; and the lower knowledge (aparâ vidyâ) which does not aim at the knowledge but at the worship (upâsana) of Brahman; it brings as its fruit, according to the steps of this worship, in part the prospering of works (karma-samriddhi), in part happiness (abhyudaya, heavenly, perhaps also in the following birth), and finally in part kramamutkti, i.e., gradual liberation.—The object of the higher knowledge is the higher Brahman (param brahma) and of the lower the lower Brahman (aparam brahma).

Higher and lower Brahman.

§ 7. For the Scripture distinguishes two forms (rûpe) of Brahman; the higher, attributeless (param, nirgunam) and the lower attribute-possessing (aparam, sagunam) Brahman. In the former case it is taught that Brahman is without any attributes (guna), differences (vishesha), forms (âkâra), and limitations (upâdhi)—in the latter, for the purpose of worship many attributes, differences, forms, and limitations are ascribed to him.

Difference between them.

§ 8. One and the same object cannot be at the same time with and without attributes, and with and without form; in Himself (svatas) Brahman is therefore without attributes, forms, differences, and limitations; and this higher Brahman becomes the lower when Ignorance (avidyâ) for the purpose of worship ascribes to him the limitations or Upâdhis. That Brahman is subject to Upâdhis is only an illusion (bhrama), just as much as it is an illusion to hold a crystal for red in itself because it is painted red. As the clearness of the crystal is not changed by the red colour, so the essence of Brahman is not altered by the limitations ascribed by Ignorance.

The higher Brahman cannot be perceived.

§ 9. The higher Brahman is in his own nature attributeless (nirgunam), formless (nirâkâram), and without differences (nirvishesham) and limitations (nirupâdhikam). It is “not coarse, and not fine, not short, and not long,” etc. (Brih. 3, 8, 8); “not to be heard, not to be felt, not formed, imperishable” (Kath. 3, 15); it is “not thus and not thus” (neti, neti, Brih. 2, 3, 6); i.e., no shape and no idea corresponds to its real being. Therefore it is “different from what we know, and from what we do not know” (Kena 1, 3); “the words and thoughts turn back from it and find it not” (Taitt. 2,4); and the sage Bâhva met the question as to its essence by silence [[(See p. 210, The System of Vedanta by Paul Deussen, tr. Charles Johnston, 1912) Note: all page number references are to this work unless otherwise noted.]]

Essence of the higher Brahman.

§ 10. The only assertion that can be made of the attributeless Brahman is that it is not not. In this sense it is “the Existent” (sat); but if this conception is taken in its empirical sense, Brahman is rather “the non-Existent.”—The Scripture further defines the essence of Brahman as through and through pure spirituality (intelligence, caitanyam) just as the lump of salt tastes salt through and through. But by this two characteristics (plurality) are not ascribed to Brahman, because both are identical, so far as the essence of Being consists in spirituality, and of spirituality in Being. Bliss, ânanda [attributed to Brahman as a third predicate by the later Vedânta in the name Sac-cid-ânanda] is occasionally recognized as a limitation of the attributeless Brahman; it remains unmentioned however in the discussion of his being, perhaps because it can be regarded as a merely negative quality, as painlessness, which is ascribed to Brahman alone, for “what is different from him is afflicted” (ato ‘nyad ârtam) as the Scripture (Brih. 3, 4, 2) says.

Brahman is the soul.

§ 11. That the attributeless Brahman cannot be perceived depends on the fact that he is the inner Self (antar-âtman) of all; as such he is on the one hand the greatest certainty of all and cannot be denied by anyone; on the other hand He is not to be perceived because in all perception He is the Subject (sâkshin), and can therefore never become the object.—He is however beheld by the sages in the state of Samrâdhanam (perfect satisfaction), which consists in a withdrawal of the organs from all external things, and a concentration on their own inner nature. On the consciousness of being this attributeless Brahman and on the accompanying conviction of the unreality of all plurality of names and forms depends salvation.

The lower Brahman.

§ 12. The higher Brahman becomes the lower Brahman by being connected with pure (vishuddha) or perfect (niratishaya) limitations. The lower Brahman is to be recognised wherever the Scripture ascribes limitations, attributes, forms or differences of any sort to Brahman. This happens when the aim is not knowledge but worship (upâsanâ), and the fruit of this worship is, like that of works, which are to be placed in the same category, not liberation (moksha, nihshreyasam) but happiness; this is, as it seems, mainly heavenly; it is however limited to the Samsâra (p. 148, 5) though the heavenly lordship (aishvaryam) attained after death by the path of the gods (devayâna) as a result of the worship of the lower Brahman leads by means of Kramamukti or gradual liberation to perfect knowledge and therefore complete liberation. This result however does not follow immediately, because the worshippers of the lower Brahman have not completely “burnt up” Ignorance; for it is this which ascribes the limitations to the higher Brahman and transforms it into the lower Brahman. The nature of Brahman is as little changed by these limitations as (in the already mentioned simile) the clearness of the crystal by the colour with which it is painted—as the sun by its images swaying in the water—as space by bodies moving or burning in it.—The richly developed ideas of the lower Brahman may be divided into three groups, according to whether they regard Brahman pantheistically as world soul, psychologically as principle of the individual soul, or theistically as a personal God.

The lower Brahman as world soul.

§ 13. The most important passages of the first group are Chand. 3, 14 which terms Brahman “all-working, all-wishing, all-smelling, all-tasting [the principle of all action and sensuous perception], embracing the All, silent, ungrieved” (above p. 153); and Mund. 2, 1, 1 according to which sun and moon are his eyes, the cardinal points his ears, the wind his breath etc. (above p. 132). We bring under the same head Brahman as source of all light (p. 130); as the light beyond the sky and in the heart (p. 169); as the ether from which all things proceed (p. 145), and which holds asunder names and forms (p. 146); as the life from which go forth all beings (p. 146), in which the whole world trembling moves (p. 148); as the inner ruler (p. 149) as the principle of the world-order; the bridge, which holds these worlds asunder that they do not blend (p. 162), by which sun and moon, heaven and earth, minutes, hours, days and years are kept apart (p. 133); finally as destroyer of the world, who swallows up all created things (p. 151).

The lower Brahman as world soul.

§ 14. With the dimensions expressed by these ideas is often contrasted the smallness which belongs to Brahman as psychic principle; as such he dwells in the stronghold of the body (p. 199), in the lotus of the heart (p. 160), as a dwarf (p. 50), a span large (p. 156), an inch high (p. 155), smaller than a grain of millet (p. 153), large as the point of an awl (p. 311), as principle of life (pp. 177, 182) as onlooker (p. 171); also as the man in the eye (pp. 140, 165) etc.

The lower Brahman as personal God.

§ 15. These ideas which assign attributes to Brahman culminate in the conception of Him as Îshvara, i.e., personal God. In the Upanishads this idea is relatively rare and little developed (e.g., Brih. 4, 4, 22 above p. 195; Kaush. 3, 8; Kath. 4, 12); in the system of the Vedânta on the other hand it plays an important part; it is Îshvara by whose permission Samsâra, and by whose grace (prasâda, anugraha) the saving knowledge is conditioned; He decrees for the soul its works and sufferings, taking into consideration in this the works of the previous life, and causing the fate in the new life to proceed from them as the rain produces the plant from the seed after its nature. The personification of Brahman as Îshvara, Lord, Ruler, to whom is opposed the world as that which is to be ruled, is expressly limited to the standpoint rooted in Ignorance of worldly action, which has no reality in the highest sense (above p. 272).

3. Cosmology.

The empirical and metaphysical standpoint.

§ 16. The dual knowledge (aparâ and para vidyâ) of Theology (and as we shall see of Eschatology) has as its counterpart in the spheres of Cosmology and Psychology the dual standpoint:—the empirical (vyavahâra-avasthâ, literally, standpoint of worldly action) which teaches a creation of the world by Brahman and a wandering of the soul rendered individual by the Upâdhis; and the metaphysical (paramârtha-avasthâ, literally, standpoint of the highest reality) which maintains the identity of the soul with Brahman, and denies all plurality, and therefore the validity of the ideas of the creation and existence of the world, as well as the individuality and wanderings of the soul.—To the detriment of clearness and logic this dual standpoint in Psychology and Cosmology is not always strictly adhered to. The system takes up the metaphysical standpoint as a rule and neglects the empirical, without however denying or being able to deny its relative right of existence, it being the indispensable presupposition for the aparâ vidyâ of Eschatology. This aparâ vidyâ treats the creation in the Cosmology very fully and regards it as real, at the same time we meet with the assertion again and again that this scriptural doctrine of the creation has only the purpose of teaching the Brahmanhood of the world; to support this view the idea of causality is transformed into that of identity; in Psychology the metaphysical doctrine of the identity of Brahman and the world is always in the foreground, and is defended against an opponent who generally speaking upholds the empirical standpoint indispensable for the Eschatology of the system, but also (e.g., in maintaining the creation of the soul) deviates from it, so that the relative recognition and appropriation of his arguments only concerns a part of them, and a complete theory of the empirical psychology is thus wanting. Still by bringing together occasional and scattered assertions a reliable picture of this part of the system too may be obtained.

Relation of the two kinds of knowledge to the two points of view.

§ 17. The coherence of the system may prove to us that the parâ vidyâ in Theology and Eschatology forms with the knowledge paramârtha-avasthâ in Cosmology and Psychology an inseparable unity of metaphysical doctrine; and that on the other hand the aparâ vidyâ of Theology and Eschatology with the vyavâhara-avasthâ of Cosmology and Psychology a connected picture of metaphysics viewed from the empirical standpoint of Avidyâ (i.e., innate realism) and forms a system of popular religion for all those who cannot raise themselves to the standpoint of the doctrine of identity.—And it is clear that only a lower, not a higher Brahman can be conceived as creator of the world, firstly because the act of creation, as has been repeatedly insisted on, requires a plurality of powers (above p. 227), which can only be ascribed to the aparam brahma; and further, because the passage by which this plurality of creative powers is proved: “all-working is he, all-wishing, all-smelling, all-tasting” (Chand. 3, 14, 2) receives the preference as a proof of the doctrine of the lower Brahman.


§ 18. According to the Upanishads Brahman creates the world and then as individual soul (anena jîvena âtmanâ) enters into it (Chand. 6, 3, 2. Taitt. 2, 6. Brih. 1, 4, 7. Kaush. 4, 20). There is no question either of an existence of individual souls before the creation, or of a periodically repeated creation.—In this view the germs of the empirical and metaphysical doctrine of the Vedânta are present in an undeveloped form side by side; the metaphysical part is the identity of the soul with Brahman, the empirical the extension of the world of sense. In the Vedânta system the two are separated; metaphysically we have the identity of the soul with Brahman but neither origin, persistence, nor destruction of the world; empirically on the other hand we have a creation of the world but no identity of Brahman and the soul; on the contrary the individual soul with the Upâdhis, which cause its individuality, has existed from all eternity and migrates (except in the case of liberation) from one body to another to all eternity; and the dogma of the creation of the world is transformed into that of a periodically alternating emanation of the world from Brahman and reabsorption in it; these processes repeat themselves not once only but countless times throughout eternity. Souls, like the elements, continue to exist, at the reabsorption of the world, potentially and as seed in Brahman, and at each new creation go forth from Him unchanged. The original sense of the doctrine of creation is thus completely abandoned; it is adhered to, in the modified form in question, simply because the Veda teaches it; in the system there is a motive not for a creation of the world, but rather for its eternal duration; in place of this (to save the authority of Scripture) we have the periodical creation and reabsorption, which however must incessantly be repeated, and are not permitted to alter the order of the world; this is to satisfy the condition of eternal existence demanded by the system, and is as we shall see, dependent on a moral necessity.

The world has no beginning.

§ 19. The fundamental idea of the empirical Cosmology and Psychology is that Samsâra (transmigration) has no beginning. There exists from eternity a plurality of individual souls different from Brahman. What distinguishes them from Brahman (with whom they are in the metaphysical sense identical) is the Upâdhis in which they are clothed; by Upâdhis are understood, in addition to the works, which accompany the soul, the psychic organs (indriyas, manas, mukhya prâna), the subtle body (sûkshmam sharîram) which bears them, and, in a more extended sense, occasionally the gross body together with external objects. Only the gross body is annihilated by death; the subtle body on the other hand with the psychic organs has existed from eternity as the vestment of the soul and accompanies it on all its wanderings. And the wandering soul is further accompanied by the works (ritual and moral) performed by it during life; and it is just these which prevent Samsâra from coming to a standstill. For every deed, good and evil, demands retribution, and therefore reward and punishment, not only in the Beyond but, besides that, in the form of another existence. Without works no human life is conceivable; and therefore also no life that is not followed by another as its retribution. Very good works result in existence as a god; very bad in existence as an animal or plant; even if the soul does no works in these lives, this does not protect it from rebirth, for works of special goodness or badness demand for their retribution several successive existences. On this depends the fact that Samsâra through all spheres of existence from the gods down to plants is without beginning and (if the seed of works is not”burnt up” by knowledge) without end.

Moral necessity of the creation of the world.

§ 20. The spatial extension of the sense-world (nâmarûpa-prapañca) is essentially nothing more than the fruit of works which is imposed as a burden (adhyâropita, p. 1056, I. 1132, 10) on the soul; the world is, as the common formula runs, kriyâ-kâraka-phalam (pp. 273, 12. 291, 6. 447, 3. 987, 6), “requital of the deed on the doer;” it is bhogyam (what is to be enjoyed) while the soul in it is bhoktar (enjoyer) and on the other hand kartar (doer); both of these of necessity and in exact agreement with its kartritvam (activity) in the preceding existence. The intermediator between the works and their fruit (which includes the deeds and suffering of the succeeding existence) is not an adrishtam (invisible power of the works reaching beyond life) or at least not this alone but rather the Îshvara, a personification of Brahman, which is valid for the empirical standpoint alone (§ 15.); the Îshvara decrees action and suffering for the soul in the new birth in exact correspondence to the works of the former existence. Moreover each new creation of the world after its absorption into Brahman depends on the same necessity as the rebirth; for even when the souls are absorbed in Brahman, they still continue to exist in the form of seed together with their works, and the latter require for their retribution another creation of the world, i.e., the emanation of the elements from Brahman; this process we shall now consider more closely.

Inorganic nature (the elements).

§ 21. At the creation, srishti, which according to this word is to be conceived as an “outpouring,” i.e., emanation, there goes forth from Brahman first of all the Âkasha, ether, or more properly all-penetrating space conceived as a very subtle form of matter; from Âkasha goes forth air (vâyu), from this fire (agni, tejas), from this water (âpas), from this earth (prithivî, annam); and in this process each successive element is produced not by the elements themselves but by Brahman in the form of the elements. In reverse order at the end of the world earth first becomes water, this fire, this air, this ether, and this Brahman.—Ether is perceived by the sense of hearing, air by hearing and touch, fire by hearing, touch and sight, water by hearing, touch, sight and taste; and earth by hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. These elements occurring in nature, however, are not the pure, original elements but a mixture of all with preponderance of some one of them. [There is no systematic account of the theory of mixture in Shankara’s Commentary on the Brahmasûtras; we do not find one before the Vedântasara.]

Organic nature (souls).

§ 22. After Brahman has created the Elements, he enters them, according to the Upanishads, as the individual soul; i.e., in our system the wandering souls, which continue to exist potentially (shakti-âtmanâ) in Brahman even after the destruction of the world, awake from this state, itself a part of the glamour [of empirical reality], of very deep sleep (mâyâmayî mahâsushuptih, p. 342, 9) and assume divine, human, animal or plant bodies according to their works in the previous existence. This comes about by the seed of the elements, carried by the soul with it on its wanderings in the form of the subtle body, becoming the gross body by the addition of homogeneous particles from the coarse elements which surround it (above p. 259); at the same time it unfolds the psychic organs (mukhya prâna, manas, indriyas) which during the wandering were rolled together (sampindita). (What becomes in the case of the organs of plant souls remains undiscussed; it may be assumed that they remain rolled up.) The body is nâmarûpakrita-kârya-karana-sañghâta (pp. 473, 17. 455, 4. 686, 5), “the complex of the organs of work formed of names and shapes” [[ According to Chând. 6, 3, 2 Brahman enters into the elements by means of the individual soul and by this means expands Himself as names and shapes; Shankara on the other hand speaks, p. 507, 1, of a nâmarûpa-mâyâ-âvesha, an entrance into the illusion of names and shapes and in this sense the above formula is probably to be translated; for p. 787, 13 the expression kârya-karana-sanghâta is replaced by deha in this formula.]] [i. e., from the elements], and the soul is lord (svâmin) of this complex. The growth of the body takes places from the elements, in which gross, middle and fine are distinguished; correspondingly faeces, flesh, and Manas are developed from earth; urine, blood, and Prâna from water; and bones, marrow, and speech from fire;—as however according to the system the soul already has with it its psychic organs, and among them Manas, Prâna, and speech, we must either see a contradiction here, or assume that the growing Manas, Prâna and speech are related to the similarly named organs which the soul always has with it, as the coarse body is to the subtle. The absorption of this material from food is rendered possible by the fact that (v. § 21) every natural body contains all the original elements.—According to their origin organisms are divided into those born from germs (plants), those born from moisture (vermin), the oviparous, and the viviparous; procreation consists in the soul of the child, which has entered into the father as food and sojourned in him as a guest, passing by means of the sperm into the body of the mother and from her blood developing the subtle into the coarse body. Death is the separation of the soul (with its organs and the subtle body) from the material body; if the organism is destroyed the soul wanders forth. The duration of life is not accidental but is predestined exactly according to the quantum of works to be atoned for, just as the nature of the life is by their quality. On the other hand again we find works, which cease to be, not all at once, but only after repeated rebirths; only in this way can we explain why e.g. transmigration does not come to a standstill when the soul enters into a plant. As every plant is an embodied soul, and every incarnation only serves the end of atonement, the system is quite logical (pp. 772, 4. 774, 5) in attributing sensation to plants also.—While the duration of life of plant, animal, and human souls is short, those souls which, in consequence of exceptional performances in the previous life, are born as gods, are immortal, i.e., they continue to exist till the next destruction of the world; then they again enter the cycle of Samsâra; and the places of Indra etc. can be occupied by another soul in the next period (above p. 69).

No world from the metaphysical point of view.

§ 23. Just as all clay vessels are in reality only clay, since the conversion of the clay into vessels is “a mere name, dependent on words” (vâcârambhanam vikâro, nâmadheyam, Chand. 6, 1, 4 cf. Parmenides’ saying: “τψ πάντ’ ὄνομ’ ἐστίν, οσσα βροτοὶ κατέθεντο, πεποιθότες ἀληθῆ”), so also the whole world is in reality only Brahman and has no existence beyond Brahman (brahma-vyatirekena); there is nothing different from Brahman (na iha nânâ asti kiñcana, Brih. 4, 4, 19). But here our system goes further than the Veda. The whole extension of names and forms (namarûpa-prapanca), the whole plurality of phenomena (rûpa-bheda) is, from the standpoint of highest reality, caused, produced and laid as a burden [upon the soul] by Ignorance (avidyâ-kalpita, avidyâ-pratyupasthâpita, avidyâ-adhyâropita), arises from false knowledge (mithyâjnâna-vijrimbhita), is a mere illusion (abhimâna), which is refuted by perfect knowledge (Samyagdarshanam);—just as the illusion that there is a snake, where there is only a rope, a man where there is only a tree trunk, or a sheet of water where there is only a mirage, is refuted by closer examination and deceives no longer. The whole world is only an illusion (mâyâ) which Brahman projects (prasârayati) from himself like a magician (mâyâvin), and by which he is not affected any more than the magician is by the magic he creates; or, to change the image, Brahman owing to Ignorance appears as multiplex (vibhâvyate) just as the magician does owing to the illusion; he is the cause of the continued existence (sthiti-kâranam) of the world, as the magician is of the magical scene he projects, and of the absorption of the world into his own Self (sva-âtmani eva upasamhâra-kâranam), just as the earth withdraws living beings into itself; the action of plurality (bheda-vyavahâra) during the existence of the world and the force of plurality (bheda-shakti) before and after both depend on Ignorance or false knowledge. As to this idea of avidyâ, mithyâjñânam, all further inquiry is at a loss; of the origin of this Ignorance, innate in all of us, we learn nothing; we penetrate deepest by the repeatedly employed image of the person with diseased eyes, who sees two moons, where in reality there is only one. [[Guilt reaching back ad infinitum is in this case not to be thought of; cf. what has been said above p. 802 and as confirmation the important passage p. 85, 4: tat-krita-dharma-adharma-nimittam sasharîratvam, iti cet? na! sharîra-sambandhasya asiddhatvâd dharma-adharmayor âtma-kritatva-asiddheh; sharira-sambandhasya dharma-adharmayos tat-kritatvasya ca itara-itara-âshrayatva-prasañgâd andha-paramparâ eva eshâ anâditva-kalpanâ kriyâ-samavâya-abhâvâc ca âtmanah kartritva-anupapatteh (translated above p. 420) .

However the non-existence of the world is only relative: the plurality of phenomena, names and forms, and Maya are tattva-anyatvâbhyâm anirvacanîya, i.e., “one cannot say that they are Brahman (tat), nor yet that they are different from Him.” They are, like the figures in a dream, true (satya) so long as the dream lasts, and are so no longer when the awakening (prabodha) comes.—This idealism, of which we see the dawn only in the Upanishads, the Vedânta tries to bring into unison with the Vedic doctrine of creation by maintaining that by creation is only meant the identity (ananyatvam, tâdâtmyam) of the world and Brahman; the world is the effect, Brahman is the cause; and effect and cause are identical; for the proof of this proposition the persistence of matter through changing states serves as the main argument.

4. Psychology.

The soul alone is real.

§ 24. While we recognise in all Being around us, in all the names and forms, of which the world consists, a deception, a mere illusion dependent on Ignorance and comparable to a dream, there is one point in the Universe when these considerations have no application; this point is our soul, i.e., our own Self (âtman). This Self cannot be demonstrated because it is the basis of every proof, but it cannot be denied either, because anyone who denies it presupposes its existence (above p. 127). Of what nature is there this sole foundation of all certainty, the soul or inner Self? How is it related to Brahman, who includes all Being in Himself?

Identity of the soul with Brahman.

§ 25. The soul can (1) not be different from Brahman because there is nothing “Existent” outside Brahman; but it is (2) not to be regarded as a transformation of Brahman either, for Brahman is unchanging; it is (3) just as little a part of Brahman, for He has no parts.—Therefore it only remains that the soul is identical with Brahman, and that each of us is the whole, indivisible, changeless Brahman who comprehends all Being in Himself.

The soul from the metaphysical standpoint.

§ 26. From this follows that all that is established of the Brahman who is without differences, is also true of the soul; like Brahman the Soul is essentially pure spirituality (caitanyam), and to it are applicable all those negative characteristics whose purpose is to secure the conception of Brahman from all ideas by which His Being might seem to be limited. Therefore the soul is, like Brahman (1) omnipresent (vibhu, sarvagata), or, as we should say, spaceless, (2) omniscient and omnipotent, (3) neither agent (kartar) nor enjoyer (or sufferer as the case may be, bhoktar).

The soul from the empirical standpoint.

§ 27. If the true nature of the soul lies in these characteristics, it follows that all which contradicts them is “ascribed” to it only by Ignorance. These ascribed limitations or Upâdhis have their foundation only in false knowledge and to them as we saw all which conditions bodily existence belongs; on them depends the fact that the soul in the state of Samsâra is (1) not all-pervading and omnipresent but dwells in the heart, its size being limited to that of the Manas, (2) is also not omniscient and omnipotent; for its natural omniscience and omnipotence become latent through the Upâdhis, just as the light and heat of fire in wood in which it is hidden and slumbers; (3) finally the soul by its connection with the Upâdhis becomes an agent and enjoyer (kartar and bhoktar) and by these latter qualities its entanglement in Samsâra is conditioned; for the works of one life must be recompensed by enjoyment and works in the following existence; the works however which form one part of the requital demand a further requital and so on ad infinitum.

The Upâdhis.

§ 28. This beginningless and endless Samsâra depends only on the soul’s true nature being hidden from it by the Upâdhis due to Avidyâ. They make Brahman the individual, active and enjoying soul; in addition to all outward things and relations and including the “gross body” which belongs to them and at death returns into the elements, they are the following: (1) the Manas and Indriyas; (2) the Mukhya Prâna; (3) the Sûkshmam Shariram; and with this unchanging psychic apparatus, with which the soul has been clothed from eternity and remains clothed till liberation, is associated (4) a changeable element which we shall term moral determination. We have now to consider these Upâdhis individually.

Manas and Indriyas.

§ 29. While the gross body (deha, kârya-karana-sanghâta) and its organs (karanam), such as eye, ear, hands, feet etc. perish at death, their functions (vritti) regarded as separate entities remain united with the soul for all time. These organs are the Indriyas (the powerful ones) which the soul puts forth like feelers and withdraws at death. On these depend the two sides of conscious life, perception on the one hand and action on the other. Answering to this the soul has five faculties of perception (jñâna-indriyas)—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, and five faculties of action (karma-indriyas)—,grasping, moving, speaking, procreating, and evacuating. These ten Indriyas commonly named after the corresponding organs of the gross body, are directed by a central organ, the Manas, which on the one hand works up the data of perception into ideas (manasa hi eva pashyati, manasâ shrinoti, Brih. 1, 5, 3), and on the other by the faculties of action causes what is willed to be executed; it is therefore at once what we call understanding and conscious volition. While the Indriyas pervade the whole body, the Manas “large as the point of an awl” dwells in the heart, and in the Manas, filling it completely, dwells the soul in the closest connection with it, broken only by liberation; only by the organs to which Ignorance chains it does the soul become an agent and enjoyer; it is itself as regards the activity of the organs a passive on-looker (sâkshin), pure apperception (upalabdhi) so that in spite of its immersion in worldly action it remains in its essence untouched (asañga, ananvâgata) by it.

Mukhya Prâna.

§ 30. With the Mukhya Prâna the soul seems to be less intimately connected than with Manas and the Indriyas; this term still has in the Upanishads the meaning of “breath in the mouth,” but in the system it has come to denote “chief breath of life.” Just as Manas and the Indriyas are the functions of perception and action hypostatised into separate entities, the Mukhya Prâna on which they all depend is a hypostasis of empirical life itself, which its five branches—Prâna, Apâna, Vyâna, Samâna, and Udâna condition. Of these Prâna causes exhalation, Apâna inhalation; Vyâna is what supports life when breathing is momentarily suspended; Samâna is the principle of digestion; just as these four sustain life, Udâna brings about its termination, leading the soul out of the body at death by one of the 101 principal arteries. By the same road withdraw Manas, the Indriyas and Mukhya Prâna; just as during life they are the forces that rule the organs of the body, they are after the death of the body the seed from which at each rebirth the bodily organs arise.

Sûksmam Shariram.

§ 31. Just as the soul carries with it the seed of the bodily organs in the Indriyas, it bears with it the seed of the body itself in the form of the “subtle body” sûksmam shariram, or as it is paraphrased repeatedly by Shankara, deha-vâjâni bhûta-sûkshmâmi, i.e., “the subtle parts of the elements which form the seed of the body” [and, according to Shankara, as is demonstrable from p. 743, 4, the impure elements; cf. for a contrary view Vedântasâra § 77]. How these subtle parts are related to the coarse elements is not further explained. The subtle body formed of them is material (tanutvam) but transparent (svacchatvam); therefore it is not seen at the withdrawal of the soul. On it depends animal heat; the corpse grows cold because the subtle body has left it to accompany the soul on its wanderings along with the other organs.

Moral determination.

§ 32. With this psychic organism (manas, indriyas, mukhya prâna, sûksmam shariram) which is attached to the soul in life and death at all times, and appears completely unchanging, is associated further as a companion in the migrations a changing Upâdhi; this is moral determination, consisting in the treasure of works (karma-âshaya) collected during life; side by side with the physical substratum (bhuta-âshraya) i.e., the subtle body, it departs with the soul as a moral substratum (karma-âshraya) and inexorably determines the nature of the future existence in respect of enjoyment and suffering as well as of works.

Special state of the soul.

§ 33. There are four states of the wandering soul—waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and death. In the waking state the soul sojourning in the heart in association with Manas rules over the whole body, perceiving and working through Manas and the Indriyas. In dream sleep the Indriyas enter into rest while the Manas remains active; and the soul, surrounded by Manas into which have withdrawn the Indriyas, pervades the body in the veins and in doing so beholds the dreams “fitted together” from waking impressions (vâsâna). In deep sleep the union of the soul with the Manas is dissolved; Manas and the Indriyas, entering into rest, go into the veins or the pericardium and then into Mukhya Prâna, whose activity continues in deep sleep also; meanwhile the soul, temporarily freed from all the Upâdhis, enters into Brahman in the ether of the heart; as the soul without the Upâdhis is Brahman, this entrance into Brahman is only another way of expressing the complete deliverance from the Upâdhis. From this temporary identification with Brahman the soul on waking issues with all its individual characteristics, the same that it was before.

5. Transmigration.

The passing of the soul from the body.

§ 34. At death the Indriyas first of all enter into the Manas, this into the Mukhya Prâna. this into the soul affected by moral determination, and lastly the soul into the Sûksmam Shariram. After all these are assembled in the heart, its tip glows to illuminate the way and the Udâna leads the soul, together with the Upâdhis mentioned, out of the body. The soul of him who has acquired (lower) knowledge passes by the artery of the head (mûrdhanyâ nâdi, later termed sushumnâ); those who have not knowledge depart by the 100 remaining main arteries of the body. (He who has acquired the higher knowledge does not, as we shall see later, depart at all.) From this point the roads branch; the Ignorant who has performed works follows the Pitriyâna or way of the fathers; he who has the lower knowledge the Devayâna or way of the gods; he who has neither knowledge nor works, i.e., the wicked man, is excluded from both these roads.

Fate of the doers of works (Pitriyâna).

§ 35. The Pitriyâna, intended for those who have neither the higher nor the lower knowledge of Brahman but have performed good works, leads the soul up to the moon to be recompensed. The stages on this road are the following—(1) smoke, (2) night, (3) the half of the month in which the moon wanes, (4) the half of the year in which the days grow shorter, (5) the world of the fathers, (6) the ether, and (7) the moon. In the luminous realm of the moon the souls enjoy converse with the gods as a reward for their works, and that until no more works remain. Only a part of the works however is recompensed on the moon. Another part forms a residue (anushaya) and finds its recompense in the next birth. Which works are to be understood in each case is a question that is not cleared up. After the works which find their reward on the moon are consumed the soul descends again; on the return journey the stages are—(1) the ether, (2) the air, (3) smoke, (4) the cloud, (5) rain, (6) the plant, (7) the male semen, and (8) the mother’s womb. In all the soul sojourns merely as a guest and is to be distinguished from the elements and souls it traverses. After it has finally reached a womb corresponding to the merit of its works it again passes out to another life on earth.

Fate of the wicked (Hell and the third place).

§ 36. The wicked who have neither knowledge nor works do not ascend to the moon; their fate is not clearly developed, for Shankara refers on the one hand to punishment in the seven hells of Yama, and on the other to the “third place,” in which they are born again as lower animals, but the connection between the two is not made clear. Though the wicked remain excluded from life on the moon, among those who return from the moon there is a further difference made between those of good conduct who are reborn in one of the three higher castes and those of evil conduct who enter the bodies of Candâlas or animals. A combination of these ideas to a connected whole, easily possible by the distinction of various steps in the good and evil works to be atoned for, is not found in the work from which we draw our facts.

Fate of the pious worshippers of Brahman (Devayâna).

§ 37. From those who do good works (§ 35) and adhere to the old Vedic cult of sacrifice are to be distinguished those who retain the Brahman doctrine but are unable to rise to the perfect knowledge of the doctrine of identity; and who therefore regard Brahman not as the soul in themselves but as God outside themselves and worship him accordingly. These possessors of the lower knowledge (aparâ vidyâ), i.e., the worshippers of the lower, attribute-possessing (aparam, sagunam) Brahman, all enter, (with the exception of such as have worshipped Brahman under a symbol, pratîkam), after death by the Devayâna into the lower Brahman. The stages of this road are variously given in the different accounts, and Shankara weaves them into a whole. According to Chand. [Brih., Kaush.] the soul of him who possesses the lower know- ledge, after leaving the body by the artery of the head, traverses the following regions—(1) Flame [= Agniloka], (2) the day, (3) the half of the month when the moon waxes, (4) the half of the year when the days grow longer, (5) the year, [(6) Devaloka, (7) Vayuloka], (8) the sun, (9) the moon, and (10) lightning. These stages are neither to be regarded as signposts, nor as places of enjoyment for the soul, but as guides which it needs, because it cannot use its own organs as they are rolled up. While therefore by those already mentioned we are to understand divine, quasi-human guides of the soul, the soul after its entrance into the lightning is received by a “man, who is not as a human being” (purusho ‘mânavah), and conducted to Brahman [through (11) Varunaloka, (12) Indraloka, and (13) Prajapatiloka]. By Brahman however the lower, attribute-possessing Brahman is here to be understood, who has himself originated (kâryam) and therefore perishes at the destruction of the world. In the world of this Brahman the souls enjoy aishvaryam, lordship, which consists in a quasi-divine but limited omnipotence and includes the fulfilment of all wishes. The Manas serves as organ of enjoyment; whether the soul can also make use of the accompanying Indriyas is doubtful. Among other powers of the soul is that of animating several bodies at once, among which the soul distributes itself by dividing its Upâdhis.—Though this aishvaryam of those who have entered into the lower Brahman by the Devayâna has an end and only lasts till the destruction of the world, the scripture says of them: “For such there is no return.” We must therefore assume that the higher knowledge of Samyagdarshanam is communicated to them in the Brahman-world, and that thus at the destruction of the world, when the lower Brahman also perishes, they enter with Him into the “eternal, perfect Nirvâna.” This way of entering Brahman is termed Kramamukti “progressive liberation” because it is conditioned by a progression, or “liberation by steps” because it is brought about by the intermediate step of heavenly lordship. To be distinguished from it is the immediate liberation of those who possess knowledge and this we shall now consider.

6. Liberation.

“From knowledge comes release.”

§ 38. The question of the possibility of a release from individual existence which forms the cornerstone of the Vedânta as of other Indian systems presupposes the pessimistic view that all individual existence is a misery. This view is occasionally put forward both in the Veda (Brih. 3, 4, 2, ato ‘nyad ârtam, “what is different from him is afflicted;” Brih. 4, 4, 11, anandâ nâma te lôkah, “yea joyless are these worlds” above p. 194; cf. Kath. 1, 3. Isha 3) and in the system (above pp. 318, 433, cf. p. 1139, 12); but is not emphasised to anything like the extent we should expect.—How is liberation (moksha) from the bond (bandha) of existence possible?—Not by works; for they, good and evil alike, demand their recompense, condition a new existence and are the cause of the continuance of Samsâra; but not by a (moral) purification (samsâara) either; for this can only take place in an object capable of change; but the Âtman, the soul, whose liberation is in question, is unchangeable. Therefore liberation cannot consist in a process either of becoming or of doing something but only in the knowledge of something, already present, that is hidden by Ignorance: “from knowledge liberation” (jñânân mokshah). After the Brahmanhood of the soul is recognised liberation follows at once (“that thou art” is the phrase not “that thou wilt be,” p. 917, 7); simultaneously with the attainment of the knowledge of the identity with Brahman the soul becomes the Soul of the universe (p. 66, 7).

Knowledge brought about by the grace of God.

§ 39. The Âtman, in the knowledge of which consists liberation, is nought else than the subject of knowledge in us. For this reason it is not recognisable by natural means: “thou canst not see the seer of seeing” etc. (Brih. 3, 4, 2); it cannot be sought for and looked at as an object; knowledge of it cannot be obtained at will, and even research in the scriptures does not produce a knowledge of it at once; this only serves to clear away the obstacles in the way. Whether the Âtman is known depends like the knowledge of every object on whether it shows itself to us, and therefore on itself. For this reason in the lower knowledge, which contrasts the Âtman to ourselves and worships him as a personal God, knowledge appears as dependent on the grace of God; but in the higher knowledge, as the Âtman is in reality not an object, we cannot inquire further after the cause which makes it known to us.

Auxiliary means of acquiring knowledge.

§ 40. Religious practice however knows certain means (sâdhanam), by which the acquisition of knowledge of the Âtman is furthered. Thus from those who are called to knowledge is demanded the study of the Veda and the four requirements (1) Discrimination between eternal and non-eternal substance, (2) Renunciation of the enjoyment of reward here and in the other world, (3) the attainment of the six means—tranquillity, self-restraint, renunciation, resignation, concentration, belief, (4) desire for release).—In a more general sense and apart from this enumeration customary in instruction there are two means of furthering knowledge—works and meditation. (1) Works cannot, it is true, produce knowledge but are auxiliary (sahakârin) to the attainment of it, and that by destroying the obstacles that stand in the way; as obstacles are reckoned the affections (klesha) such as (passionate) love, hate, etc. (Works have therefore in the plan of salvation not a meritorious but an ascetic role; cf. 1082, 12 nirabhisandhin). Works which serve as a means of knowledge are auxiliary in part “outside” (vâhya) in part “closer” (pratyâsanna). As these “outside” means are reckoned—“the study of the Veda, sacrifice, alms, penance, fasting” (Brih. 4, 4, 22); these are to be employed only till knowledge is gained. In contrast to these the “closer” means continue to exist even when knowledge is attained; they are “tranquillity, restraint, renunciation, resignation, concentration” (Brih. 4, 4, 23).—(2) Side by side with works pious meditation (upâsanâ) serves as a means of knowledge. It consists in the devout consideration of the words of scripture, e.g., the saying tat tvam asi, and is, like threshing, to be repeated till knowledge appears as its fruit; this requires a longer or shorter time according as a person is mentally limited or afflicted by doubts. With the attainment of the higher knowledge meditation becomes unnecessary, for it has served its purpose. (The meditation on the other hand which is a part of the service of works, and that which is usual in the lower knowledge are to be practised till death, for the thoughts in the hour of death are of importance in determining the fate in the life beyond.) The posture is indifferent in the case of meditation serving the purpose of the higher knowledge. (So too for meditation as part of the service of works; the meditation necessary for the lower knowledge must be practised sitting, not standing or lying down.)

Destruction of works.

§ 41. Knowledge consists in the immediate intuition (anu-bhava) of the identity of the soul with Brahman. The works of Him who has attained this and with it the conviction of the unreality of the world of plurality and transmigration, are annihilated and in the future cleave to him no more. This annihilation refers just as much to good as to evil works, for both demand retribution and therefore do not lead beyond Samsâra.. He on the other hand who has attained knowledge has won this conviction—“that Brahman the nature of which is opposed to the nature, previously considered by me to be true, of agent and enjoyer, which is in its own nature in all time past, present and future non-agent and non-enjoyer, that Brahman am I; therefore I never was agent and enjoyer, and I am not one now, nor shall I ever be” (p. 1078, 4). With the unreality of activity the unreality of the body which exists as the fruit of works is recognised; therefore he who has attained knowledge is as little affected by the sufferings of his own body as by the sufferings of another; and he who still feels pain, has verily not yet attained full knowledge.

Abolition of all duties.

§ 42. Even as for the man who has attained knowledge there is no longer a world, a body, or suffering, there is also no longer prescribed action. But he will not therefore do evil; for that which is the presupposition of all action, good and evil,—illusion—has been annihilated. It is a matter of indifference if he does works or not; whether he does them or not they are not his works and cleave to him no more. (However natural it would have been to desire from the described position of him who knows himself as soul of the world a positive moral disposition which shows itself in works of justice and love, this consequence is not drawn in Shankara but only in the Bhagavadgita, cf. above p. 59, note 36).

Why the body of the liberated continues to exist.

§ 43. Knowledge burns the seed of works so that no material is at hand to cause a rebirth. On the other hand knowledge cannot annihilate works, the seed of which has already germinated, i.e., those from which the present life is put together. This is why the body, even after the awakening (prabodha) is complete, continues to exist for a while, just as the potter’s wheel goes on revolving even when the vessel which it supported is completed. This continuance is however a mere appearance; the possessor of knowledge cannot destroy it, but it cannot deceive him any more either; just so the man with diseased eyes sees two moons but knows that in reality there is only one there.

Absorption of the possessor of knowledge in Brahman.

§ 44. After the works whose fruit has not yet begun to appear have been destroyed by knowledge, and after those, the fruit of which is the present existence, have by completion of this present life come to an end, with the moment of death full and eternal liberation comes to him who possesses knowledge; “his vital spirits withdraw not; Brahman is he, and into Brahman he is resolved.”

“As rivers run and in the deep
“Lose name and form and disappear
“So goes, from name and form released,
“The wise man to the Deity.”

S. Radhakrishnan on Vedanta


The Ethics of the Vedanta

The Vedantic Approach to Reality

The Vedanta Philosophy and the Doctrine of Maya

Intellect and Intuition in Sankara’s Philosophy

The Ethics of the Vedanta.

S. Radhakrishnan.


A system of philosophy is generally tested by its ethical doctrine. Though a criticism of life, philosophy is judged by its capacity to improve life. Let us, therefore, ask how far the Vedanta philosophy satisfies the demands of the moral consciousness. Like dress and other things, advanced thought has its own fashions, and it has become a philosophic fashion of the present day to consider the Vedanta system a non-ethical one. But the careful observer will notice that this doctrine is instinct with ethical interest. Max Müller says: “The Vedanta philosophy has not neglected the important sphere of ethics; but, on the contrary, we find ethics in the beginning, ethics in the middle, and ethics in the end, to say nothing of the fact that minds, so engrossed with divine things as the Vedanta philosophers, are not likely to fall victims to the ordinary temptations of the world, the flesh, and other powers.” It is true, the Vedanta does not contain an articulate code of morality derived from an acknowledged ethical ideal. Though the problems of modern ethics are not explicitly raised in the Vedanta writings, the answers to them can be gathered from suggestions contained in the Vedanta texts. It is for the critical student of the Vedanta to bring together the scattered elements and present them in a whole.

The ethics of the Vedanta is dependent on its metaphysics. According to the Vedanta metaphysics, the Brahman is the sole reality, and the individuals are only modifications of it. The Vedanta postulates the absolute oneness of all things. “In a Brahmana endowed with wisdom and humility, in a cow, in an elephant, as also in a dog and a dog-eater, the wise see the same” (“Bhagavadgita,” Chap. V, 18). This metaphysical monism requires us to look upon all creation as one, upon all thinking beings and the objects of all thought as non-different. In morals, the individual is enjoined to cultivate a spirit of abheda, or non-difference. Thus, the metaphysics of the Vedanta naturally leads to the ethics of love and brotherhood. Every other individual is to be regarded as your coequal, and treated as an end and not a means. In the Mahabharata, Parasara says to Janaka: “Let no man, however unhappy his lot, despise himself; man as such, though a chandala, is a noble creature in every way.” The Vedanta requires us to respect human dignity and demands the recognition of man as man. To a Vendantin nothing human is alien. The whole universe is one country, all creation the family of God. No man has a right to isolate himself from the life of the whole. The individual’s life is not a means to the satisfaction of his personal desires, but is a trust for humanity. This Vedantic ideal of love, fellowship, and self-sacrifice is not the vain fancy of a dreaming poet sighing after an impossible Utopia, but is the logical outcome of a rational reflection upon man’s place in the cosmos.

But if the individual is already an expression of the Infinite, why should he strive? Where is the necessity for work and effort? The Vedanta answers that, though the individual is lit with the divine spark, he is not wholly divine. His divinity is not an actuality, but a potentiality, a prophecy and not a fulfillment. Man is a part of God aspiring to be the whole. As he is, he is dust and deity, God and brute crossed. It is the task of the moral life to eliminate the non-divine element, not by destroying it, but by suffusing it with the divine spirit.

Let us next see what kind of life would enable the individual to make his whole nature divine. It cannot be a life of mere existence and growth, for even plants possess that; nor can it be a life of mere feeling and sensation, for even animals share this. It should be a life of reason. Without reason, man is on a level with the grass that withers and the beasts that perish. Life according to nature is, for man, life according to reason. What are the general features of a rational life? First, it will be a life of unselfish devotion to the highest ideals of humanity. Though the other parts of human nature lead to distinction and individuality, the touch of reason makes the whole world kin. Anything rational will be acceptable to all. Reason makes us act on a feeling of the unity of the whole human race. The ideals of reason will be the ideals of justice, humanity, and righteousness. The rational life will thus be an unselfish life. Secondly, it will be a life in which the senses are controlled by reason. This is plain from the Bhagavadgita. We find it there stated that Arjuna comes to the battlefield of Kurukshetra to fight the enemy. He is fully convinced of the righteousness of the cause for which he stands. But it is action that tries. At the psychological moment, when he has to put the hand to the deed, Arjuna’s strength fails. He is overcome with pity and grief. He hesitates, doubts, falters, and at last declines to fight. Tossed hither and thither in his distress, with a mind divided by doubt and torn asunder by conflicting apprehensions, he approaches his spiritual leader. Sri Krishna explains to him the metaphysics of the relation of the Eternal Spirit to the finite, points out how the kingdom of God may be planted on earth by every man performing his assigned task, describes to him the work of the warrior which he has to do, and concludes by exhorting him to make a stand and fight. The lesson of the Bhagavadgita is to displace ignorance by knowledge, selfishness by love of duty. Inclinations must be overcome or else they drag us on without resistance. The mere push and pull of desire must yield place to the calm and quit of reason. The divine element of reason should leaven the whole nature of man. Rational life is, then, the life in which the senses are curbed and confined within their proper limits. It is wrong to think that the Vedanta demands the total abolition of the senses. In the opinion of the present writer, the Vedanta asks us to beware of them. The senses are not bad in themselves; they are bad when uncontrolled and indulged under unlawful conditions. The senses are to be disciplined and not crushed. The following passages show that the Vedanta, while recognizing the dangerous nature of the senses, asks us to keep them in good trim and under bridle.

3. Know the self to be sitting in the chariot, the body to be the chariot, the intellect (buddhi) the charioteer, and the mind the reins.
4. The senses they call the horses, the objects of the senses their roads. When He (the highest Self) is in union with the body, the senses and the mind, then wise people call him the enjoyer.
5. He who has no understanding and whose mind (the reins) is never firmly held, his senses are unmanageable like vicious horses of a charioteer.
6. But he who has understanding and whose mind is always firmly held, his senses are under control like good horses of a charioteer. (Katha Upanishad, 3rd valli, verses 3 to 6.) The dangerous senses, O son of Kunti, forcibly carry away the mind of a wise man, even while striving to control them. Restraining them all, a man should remain steadfast, intent on Me. His knowledge is steady whose senses are under control (The Bhagavadgita, Ch. II, pp. 60, 61).

The senses are, of course, dangerous. In the normal state, they ought to be dependent on reason, while we generally find them asserting their authority and claiming independence, fighting with and resisting reason. This dangerous character of the senses might have betrayed the Vedanta writers into the extravagance of advocating the total destruction of the senses. But it is only an extravagance inconsistent with the general spirit of the Vedanta. A rational life is not a life of no desire, but a life of regulated desires. By making our senses serve our higher ends we can elevate ourselves.1 Besides the two features of unselfishness and rational control of the senses, the rational life will be marked by unity and consistency. The different parts of human life will be in order and make manifest the one supreme ideal. If instead of reason, our senses guide us, our life will be a mirror of passing passions and temporary inclinations. He who leads such a life will have to be written down, like Dogberry, an ass. His life, which will be a series of disconnected and scattered episodes, will have no purpose to take, no work to carry out, no end to realize. In a rational life, every course of action, before it is adopted, is brought before the bar of reason, and its capacity to serve the highest end is tested and, if found suitable, adopted by the individual. The Vedanta ethics requires us to think before we act.

Sometimes, this exercise of reason or thought descends into a scrupulosity that fights shy of action. We have such a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Arjuna at the opening of the war resembles Hamlet. The Vedanta is criticized as encouraging quietism and inactivity, since it demands an undue amount of deliberation and contemplation. In this difficulty the Bhagavadgita again helps us. No doubt, contemplation is proclaimed as the highest good by the Vedanta. If reason is the peculiar privilege of man, distinguishing him from the other species of the creation, then an exercise of reason, pure and simple, ought to be considered a good in itself. The Vedanta recognizes the importance of this energizing of thought. It is that which enables us to see the oneness of things, that gives us the power to recognize the brotherhood of all, and points out the necessity of merging the individual will in the collective will. Knowledge is an organic part of the spiritual good of humanity. But when the Vedanta speaks of knowledge, it does not mean a study of the technical disciplines of the schools or systems of philosophy, or abstract analyses of thought, but the knowledge that is power, the knowledge that enables us to take a right view of things and our place in the world. The criticism points out the danger incident to a conception of life which lays stress on thought-activity. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita come after the Vedas, and their spirit is a revolt against the depressingly utilitarian spirit of the Vedas, which advocated the mere observance of the ritual for the sake of rewards and punishments. They pointed out that the outward conformity to law was not so important as the inner spirit. An action is good, not because of its external consequences, but on account of its inner will. Virtue is a mode of being and not of doing. It is not something to be found, but a function or an exercise of the will. This lesson of the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita should be retold at the present day. To bend the knee to and worship a deity is not religion if the principles of morality are ignored. Many believe that to be religious is to perform sacrifices, visit the sacred places, and feed a number of people on special occasions required by the sacred scriptures. Brigands rob and kill while considering themselves quite religious if on fixed days they allot a certain proportion of their funds to pacify the wrath of gods, as if piety could remain intact without character. If piety is the telling of beads and the tramping of pilgrimages, it can exist without morality. But religion is a matter of the heart and is nothing if not inclusive of morality. Without the moral spirit, which in the main is identical with the religious, the Vedic culture and the observance of the Vedic ritual bear no fruit. The Vedas declared that the way to salvation was through the performance of sacrifices and the observance of elaborate ritual. The Upanishads explained the significance of sacrifices by holding out that the greatest sacrifice is unselfish devotion to the general good at the sacrifice of the individual self. A Vedanta text says: “And of the sacrifice performed by the master who has understood these truths, the soul is the performer; the heart, the seat of the sacrificial fire; sensual desires, the ghee; anger, the sacrificial lamb; contemplation, fire; the period of sacrifice as long as life lasts; whatever is eaten is sacrificial rice; whatever is drunk is the soma drink; and death is the sacred bath concluding the ceremony.” Thus, while the Vedas lay stress on the external conformity to the law, later Vedanta writings bring out that this outer conformity without the right spirit is good for nothing. Action generally produces a reaction. So from mere action without the underlying spirit, mere spirit without the act became emphasized. Sri Krishna argues in the Bhagavadgita that life and action are deeper than logical processes. He advises Arjuna not to fritter away his life in scruples, tremors, and hesitations, but asks him wholeheartedly to perform his duty. The highest knowledge cannot be got by turning our attention inward, but only by conducting ourselves in our external relations, fully imbued with the spirit of the all-presence of the divine. The Vedanta ethics does not ask us to sit with folded hands or, like the mystic, look down on earth or up to heaven, at nothing in particular. In the world here and now, the individual inspired by the vision beatific must do his level best to make his small corner of the world happier, nobler, and better. It is not the mystic in his cell or the philosopher in his retreat who is held up as a model, but the warrior fighting with righteous indignation the battle against the forces of evil and wickedness. Life is a battle of good against evil. By ceaseless striving and activity, man must conquer the opposition between the two. He must work out his spiritual destiny by struggle and effort.

The motive with which all acts should be performed ought not to be selfish. No act should be done with a selfish interest or for the gratification of inclinations. Reason tells us that the highest ideal is service of humanity, and reason must be exercised in the ascertainment of our duty in any particular crisis. If our conscience tells us that something is right, we must follow it, thoroughly prepared to meet fortune in all its moods. We must act disinterestedly. The Bhagavadgita says: “Then treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success or defeat, prepare for the battle and thus wilt thou not incur sin” (II, 38). This ideal of disinterested action is misconceived when it is confused with motiveless action. A rational being cannot act without motives, but can and ought to act disinterestedly. The Vedanta says, let not your selfish satisfaction be your motive. Anything you do, do because it is a necessary means of promoting the general welfare. Let not self-love be the motive, but let it be the love of soul to soul, love of the whole race of mankind. Only that love abideth. The highest form of self-realization consists in living for others. The Vedanta law of morality does not ask us to act without motives, but asks us to serve humanity, without any selfish desires or petty interests, without envy or jealousy, regardless of party or personality.

It is also urged, as a charge against the Vedanta, that it encourages reckless action. It asks us to perform acts irrespective of consequences. If we recognize a particular line of action to be right, we are asked to proceed with it in order and gravity, even though the powers that be do not sanction it. But it ought to be remembered that the Vedanta ethics is emphasizing the essence of all moral life, conscientiousness, in pointing out that one must put into practice what one feels to be right. The limitations of this principle the Vedanta is aware of. It anticipates that if every individual forces on others what he considers to be right, it will give rise to lawlessness. That is why the Vedanta demands careful consideration before coming to a decision. We must not judge lightly. We know as a matter of fact that the most pitiable thing in the world is to be a well-intentioned but misguided person. Visionary idealism which lacks focus and intelligent direction is ineffective and mischievous. The Vedanta requires careful consideration of the course we wish to adopt. It knows that if private interest is allowed full license, the chances are the society will be disrupted, and recognizes the necessity of supplying some foundation for the exercise of the individual’s private judgment. A man cannot stop and debate within himself at every point as to what his duty is. Hindu scriptures have laid down certain duties corresponding to the different orders. “Therefore the scripture is thy authority in deciding as to what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. Now thou oughtest to know and perform thy duty laid down in the scriptural law” (Bhagavadgita, Ch. XVI, verse 24). Certain regulations are laid down as binding on members of the four different classes into which men are divided. We are not here holding up the caste system as a model for imitation or as an institution free from blame, but only indicate that the individual’s private judgment is limited by an objective system of right. The Vedanta criterion of morality may well be expressed in the famous formula made familiar to the philosophic world by the Hegelian school of ethics: “my station and its duties.” The Vedanta, no doubt, asks us to act according to our conscience, but at the same time it guides the conscience so far as a general ethical system can do this. The Vedanta recognizes that loyalty to humanity at large does not mean, what it meant to the Cynics of ancient Greece, disloyalty to the narrower conceptions of family and city. It declares that the highest ideals can be realized only through loyalty to the smaller ideals of family, country, and so forth. The world we live in will be made better if each individual does well the small task assigned to him. There is no use talking about reforming the world without caring for the pressing problems of the moment. The immediate crisis, the task that lies ready to hand, must engage the individual’s attention, and if he does it well, he will indirectly help the betterment of the world. Every man has a certain station to occupy and a certain function to fulfill in the social economy. The Vedanta does not stop with pointing out that the ideal is social service, for in that case it would be airy, abstract, and unsubstantial, but it provides us with a code of ethics calculated to realize that ideal. It recognizes that, however good private judgment may be, it has to work under limitations. Free play to the individual’s private judgment would bring about an ethical atomism destructive of the supreme ideal of social solidarity. We see that the anarchic conception of man versus the State is alien to the spirit of the Vedanta philosophy. This does not mean that the principle of private judgment is sacrificed at the altar of social convention. By emphasizing the aspect of knowledge, the Vedanta points out the necessity of thinking obedience to its laws. Blind conservatism is not of much use. The different social rules and conventions are means of expressing the ideal. To the ideal we must hold fast, and if the institutions on account of changing conditions are not true to the ideal, they may be modified. The Vedantin does not ask the individual to be absorbed in the society, but presses home the organic nature of society which would do justice to both individual independence and social solidarity. The ideal thus makes for both moral order and progress.

Let us consider the ambiguity of the phrase ‘duty for duty’s sake’ as applied to the Vedanta criterion of morality. It is true that the Vedanta ethics asks us to do what we feel to be our duty, simply because it is our duty. This view, we have already seen, is a protest against the Vedic spirit which troubled itself much about the external effects of action. But if it is argued that the Vedanta considers the different duties universally valid and exceptionless, then it is open to criticism. First, there are not many moralists who will condemn the physician for giving deceptive answers to the questions of his patients, an honest man for misdirecting a murderer in search of his victim. To respect the principle of veracity to its very letter would be in these instances to expedite the patients’ death and promote the satanic misdeed out of mere love for consistency. To be consistent, sometimes, is to be dead to the generous impulse of the human heart. Secondly, we have what are called conflicts between duties. There arise situations in which it is difficult to find out what we should do. We seem sometimes to be caught in the horns of a dilemma. Scott, in the “Heart of Midlothian,” represents Jeannie Deans as tempted to give false evidence to save the life of her sister whom she knows to be innocent. The Bhagavadgita opens with a conflict between the two duties of fighting in the battle and respecting human life. How does the Vedanta ethics help us in this difficulty? The Vedanta does not regard the different rules as exceptionless and universally valid. It holds that there can only be one Absolute in morality as in metaphysics. Moral life is an organism in which every part contributes to the life of the whole. Every rule is justified by its relation to the other rules and its place in the system of morality. Unless there is one supreme end to which all the other rules are subordinate, our moral life will become a ‘thing of shreds and patches.’ If there is any one end that is universally binding and that can be called a categorical imperative, it is, according to the Vedanta, the rule relating to the highest end. The ideal of unselfish service of humanity is the only absolute moral rule which ought never to be broken. This ideal of social service can generally be attained by the practice of the virtues of veracity, justice, benevolence, and the like. But to hold that these rules cannot be broken at any time, that they are all equally categorical imperatives, is to land us in moral anarchy, in view of the all too obvious conflicts between duties. The laws merely represent the mechanism by which the ideal of service can be realized. But man has no call to act in blind unthinking obedience to them. The end, according to the Vedanta, is not conformity to all these rules, but conformity to the law of reason. It is obedience to reason and its ideal of service and sacrifice that is the one supreme law, and all others are subordinate to it. When the rules come into conflict, we must fall back on the supreme commandment, and ask ourselves which is the course most conducive to the realization of reason in the world. Our whole moral life must be a rational unity. The different acts must be expressive of one central purpose. This consistency, which is the concern of great souls as opposed to ‘little minds,’ is consistency with the supreme ideal and not merely outward consistency with the external law.2

Let us next consider the charge that the Vedanta ethics is ascetic in its nature and does not positively support the conception of an active life. The metaphysical doctrine of Maya resolves the facts of this world into pure illusions. If the world of our knowledge is purely illusion, then morality becomes an appearance. Life, with its distinctions of subject and object, good and evil, is reduced to a fiction of the mind. The best thing for man would be to withdraw from this Maya world, turn his attention inward and see if there is anything there that is not a mere appearance. The whole criticism rests on a misunderstanding. The world of knowledge and life is not an appearance or a shadow, but is reality partially understood. The different parts are real in so far as they are parts of one whole. They do not have a self-dependent reality. This does not mean that the facts of life are all illusory. There are, of course, passages in Sankara which might be taken to mean that the world of science, art, and morality is illusory. Sankara, when confronted with the difficulty that such a conception does not do justice to the moral life, says the world of morality is illusory sub specie œternitatis. But here, from the platform of empirical knowledge, sub specie temporis, the world is as real as anything can possibly be.3

Another argument for the quietistic interpretation of the Vedanta doctrine of ethics is derived from the doctrine of karma. ‘Karma’ is a hypothesis devised by the later Vedanta writers as an explanation of the inequalities of this life and a solution of the problem of future life. It says we are not the sport of a cruel chance or the victims of a blind destiny. There is a principle governing the universe. We reap what we sow. The accidents of birth and fortune in this world are but the rewards and penalties of our deeds in the past life. The conception of karma has a great positive value. The good and evil we do not only affect society, but ourselves and our lives. Suffering in this universe is regarded as the wages of sin, which ought to be borne in meek resignation and in the belief that it is the reward of our own wrongdoings. Personal responsibility is given its due importance. As a solution of the problem of future life, the doctrine of karma holds that there is conservation of value in the economy of nature. The values of spirit and reason are not wasted. This life is the beginning of another into which we carry with us what we are and do here. The new starts just where the old life left off. The law of karma is the law of spiritual continuity. The Chandogya Upanishad says: “Now man is formed out of will. According to what his will is, in this world, so will he be when he has departed. Let man then seek the good will” (III, 14).

But this doctrine of karma is sometimes interpreted in a way that makes impossible individual initiative, so that the proper attitude for the individual is to bow to what happens in the belief that it is the inevitable. Let us, therefore, inquire into the relation of karma to human freedom. If karma means that all our acts, including the complex details, are completely predetermined, human freedom, without which moral life loses its integrity, becomes a fiction. Then the doctrine of karma brushes aside the consciousness of freedom as a palpable illusion of the intellect, destined to disappear with a more adequate knowledge of the world. But does the doctrine of karma say that all our acts are predestined by our past deeds? No. It only says that man’s past deeds are continued into this life in the form of tendencies or predispositions. But character is not the product of karma. Though character has to do with inherited endowment, it is not the inherited endowment. Character, which is the habit of will, is not determined but self-created. Certain dispositions are given to us, but they are not motives or self-conscious desires. The rational self must consent to the disposition before it becomes a desire. Man is not bound down to the natural endowment. Reason enables him to transcend it. The independence of reason asks him not to accept the given nature as his natural destiny, but requires him to control the given and shape it conformably to the ends of spirit and reason. In rationalizing the given, or in forming character on the basis of the given material, we are free. The Vedanta ethics recognizes the limitations under which our human freedom has to work. We do not have the universal field of possibilities or ourselves to choose from. Natural forces, heredity, and environment limit our freedom. These external conditions may thwart the free passage of an idea into an act, but this cannot materially affect the human soul any more than poverty can debase or riches elevate it. Our duty is to stand for the right and fight for it. It does not matter whether we succeed or not. We must do the right whether the right is done or not. Thus we see that the karma doctrine is not opposed to an active life of exertion. We are not asked to sit idle in the belief that everything will follow the impulse of karma, but are asked to do our very best, through the exercise of reason to overcome the force of karma. There is a famous saying which asks us to “destroy fate by force of exertion.”

Is the Vedanta ethics asceticism? The Vedantic principles of the energizing of the soul and the rational control of the senses are regarded as countenancing a life of inactivity. We pointed out that the Vedanta requires the due control and not the destruction of the senses. The Vedanta recognizes that the end-all and be-all of life is not the satisfaction of the senses. Life is more than animal enjoyment. If asceticism consists in the recognition of a higher principle than the animal, and in the call to sacrifice our lower interests for the sake of higher ends, then the Vedanta ethics is a type of asceticism. If the sacrifice of selfish desires, love of ease, and other sugar-plums in the cause of the right, is a feature of asceticism, then the Vedanta ethics is an ascetic code. But why say it supports a life of inactivity? The Vedantin knows that such a life is not possible, if desirable; not desirable, if possible. Arjuna at the beginning of the battle, in a fit of weakness, proposed to give up the warrior’s career and assume the life of an ascetic. Sri Krishna protested against this resolve and advised him to do his duty unselfishly. The Vedanta philosophy teaches us that our lives are not ours. They belong to humanity, which ought not to be deprived of its possessions. Render unto humanity what belongs to humanity. “Not by abstaining from works does a man reach the actionless state; not by merely renouncing works does he attain perfection” (Bhagavadgita, III, 4).

There is absolutely no doubt that this lesson must be brought home to the drugged conscience of the average Hindu mind. Political apathy, lack of organization, absence of the civic virtues, and a spirit of the exaggerated importance of relaxation and rest led to that great country’s fall. The sad story of India’s fall should teach every individual the utility of practical energy, efficiency, strength of character, and unity. Unless India recovers from her stupor, there is no chance for her. She must meet death from without. But if she takes to heart the lessons of her great religion and ethics, which bid her neither sit, nor stand, but go, she will have victory from within. It is a great pity that the Hindu religion and philosophy have been so interpreted in the past as to give color to a quietistic and unpractical code of duties, quite in accord with the introspective turn of the Hindu’s mind. The whole spirit of the Bhagavadgita is a protest against this quietistic spirit. The highest religious philosophy of the Hindus requires each man to enter into the strife of the world and wholeheartedly to perform his duty. “Devoted each in his own work, man attains perfection” (Bhagavadgita, 18-45). Every man, according to the ethics of the Vedanta, is required to contribute to the national strength his quota of earnest work. It is by the adoption of this gospel of work that the nation can grow.

S. Radhakrishnan.

The Presidency College, Madras.

1. See Bhagavadgita, Ch. VI, verses 5, 6.

2. There is the obvious danger in all such theories that if we allow a loophole for breaking the laws, we do not know where it will all end. Every man will try to excuse himself for violating the laws on account of his peculiar circumstances. But before we think of violating the well-recognized rules of morality, we should make sure that the one supreme end is promoted by our violation. Secondly, we should also take into account the remote effects of this violation on the society.

3. He says: “The entire complex of phenomenal existence is considered true so long as the knowledge of Brahman, as the Self of all, has not arisen; just as the phantoms of a dream are considered true until the sleeper awakes. When a person has not reached the true knowledge of the Unity of the Self, it does not enter his mind that the world of effects, with its means and objects of right knowledge and its results of actions, is untrue; rather, in consequence of his ignorance, he looks on mere effects as forming part of and belonging to his self, forgetful that Brahman is in reality the Self of all. Hence, so long as true knowledge does not present itself, there is no reason why the ordinary course of secular and religious activity should not go on undisturbed.”

The Vedantic Approach to Reality.

S. Radhakrishnan


Philosophy is the attempt to think out the presuppositions of experience, to grasp, by means of reason, life or reality as a whole. It seeks to discover a rational explanation for the universe—an explanation which gives to all parts, nature, God and man, their due, views all things in their right proportion and resolves the contradictions of experience. The search for such a solution is the problem of philosophy. The answer should be something in which reason can finally rest. Philosophy has to find out an all-comprehensive and universal concept which itself requires no explanation, while it explains everything else. It must be the ultimate reality into which all else can be resolved and which cannot itself be resolved into anything else. Philosophy is the theory of reality if by reality we mean something that exists of itself and in its own right and not merely as a modification of something else. The test of a philosophical theory is, then, its capacity to coordinate the wealth of apparently disconnected phenomena into an ordered whole, to comprehend and synthesize all aspects of life, reality or experience; for is not the philosopher the spectator of all time and all existence?

Attempts to solve the problem of philosophy generally start from inadequate conceptions which lead us on to more adequate ones through their own inner logic. We start with some part of the whole, some conception which accounts for a portion of our experience, and soon mistake it for the whole or the final explanation of things. We are surprised with contradictions and inconsistencies, which condemn the theory as an inadequate solution of the riddle of the universe. The mechanical principles of the physical sciences are of great use and value in the region of inanimate nature, but so soon as we apply them to other fields of reality, say animal life, they confess themselves to be bankrupt. Their poverty becomes patent and we, on the basis of these notions and their inadequacies, progress to more concrete and definite theories. Philosophy passes in review the different conceptions which claim to represent the universe, and tests their varying fulness and worth. Philosophy, in this sense, is a criticism of categories. We start with a lower category, criticize it, discard it as incomplete and progress to a higher one where the lower receives its fulfilment. Philosophy, then, is a progressive discovery of reality or defining of reality in terms of fundamental conceptions or categories, or a gradual passage from lower, more abstract and indefinite conceptions, to higher, more concrete and definite ones.

The Vedanta thinkers sometimes approach the problem of philosophy from this standpoint. If we turn to Chapter III of the Taittiriya Upanishad we see there a progressive revelation of the true nature of reality to the seeking mind. The absolute is identified first with one thing, then with another, until we reach a solution which stifles all doubt and satisfies all inquiry by its freedom from discord and contradiction. We here propose to sketch in modern terms the picture of the world as it appeared to those ancient seekers after truth.

The discussion about the nature of reality is in the form of a dialogue between father, Varuna, and son, Bhrigu. The son approaches the father, entreating him to teach him the nature of reality. The father mentions the general characters or the formal aspects of the Absolute known in the Vedanta philosophy as Brahmam. It must be something which includes everything else. It is that by which the whole universe is sustained. “That from whence these beings are born, that by which when born they live, that into which they enter at their death; try to know that. This is Brahmam” (Taittiriya Upanishad, Chap. III, 1). The ultimate reality is that in which we live, move and have our being. It is the whole or the totality. “It includes all the world”; naught exists outside it; “there is nothing else beside it”; it is the res completa, that which is complete in itself, determined by itself and capable of being explained entirely from itself. Thus the father describes to the son the general features of reality. He gives him the empty formula and asks him to discover by reflection the content of it. The son proceeds to identify it with one thing after another.

The most immediate datum which may be regarded as given, and which strikes our mind at first thought, is the world of relatively unorganized matter. One who does not care to strain his thought to go deeper than surface appearances will be struck with the universality and omnipotence of the material forces. Matter is the basis of life. It is the stuff of which the world is made. So the son pitches upon Anham1 (food, matter) as the content possessing the characteristics of the Absolute already set forth. “He perceived that Anham is Brahmam; for from Anham these beings are produced; by Anham when born they live; and into Anham they enter at their death” (Taittiriya Upanishad, III, 2).

It is the nature of any partial or abstract theory to transcend itself and thus manifest its inadequacy. Matter, though it accounts for a part of experience, cannot be the final explanation of things. Thought can never rest in it. While materialism is a sufficient explanation of the inanimate portion of reality, it does not account for the living and conscious aspects of it. If adopted in human affairs it becomes a thoroughly inadequate and false guide. The materialists’ picture of the world disregards the specifically human elements of life. The whole of experience cannot be identified with this part of matter. Our thought rebels against treating parts as wholes. So Bhrigu is convinced that materialism does not effect the unification of reality needed for the Absolute and is therefore not more than a temporary resting place for thought. Dissatisfied with his discovery that matter is the Absolute, he approaches his father for help, and the father asks him to think further. “Desire to know Brahmam by reflection” (or deep thought) (Taittiriya Upanishad, III, 2). Paryalochanam ( reflection) is what the father advises.

The son adopts the advice. Further reflection reveals to him the precise inadequacy of the materialist’s theory. In organized matter, the plant world, we come across something to which “matter,” though it is the indispensable basis and aid, is not the complete explanation. So this theory of “Matter is Brahmam” leaves aside a good deal of the world of existence, while a true theory should cover the whole range of actuality or existence. Mechanical formulas do not account for the life-phenomena. The ultimate reality should be, not matter but something akin to Prana (life). “He perceived that Prana is Brahmam, for from Prana these things are born; by Prana when born they live; into Prana they enter at their death” (Taittiriya Upanishad, III, 3). From this it should not be inferred that the Vedanta philosophy supports a theory of vitalism. That life cannot be completely accounted for on physico-chemical principles is the element of truth exaggerated in theories of vitalism. According to the Vedanta philosophy it is not correct to speak of a sudden revelation of spirit when we come to life, for even matter is spirit, though in its lowest mode of manifestation. It rejects both mechanism and vitalism. We cannot make life mechanical. The world of mechanism is not the same as the world of life. The two are distinct, but the discontinuity between matter and life is not so great as to justify vitalism. The world of mechanism is the medium in which alone life has its being. Though life is not mechanism, still life dwells in it. You find also a tendency to make all mechanism alive. To make life mechanical or mechanism alive is to dissolve the differences in an abstract identity. It would be to sacrifice wealth of content and speciality of service for the sake of symmetry and simplicity. To make mechanism alive would be to deprive matter of its specific function in the universe. Dead mechanism has its own purpose to fulfil, its contribution to make to this wondrous whole. It is therefore not right to reduce unity to identity. We must recognize the difference between the two as much as their unity. The world of matter exists for the purpose of responding to the needs of life. The name Anham (food) is advisedly given by the Vedanta philosophers to the principle of matter. Matter exists for the purpose of being used up by life. It serves as food for living beings. It is not an alien element, but is something which can be “eaten,” controlled and utilized. It is the food which enters into the organic life, the material which the organism uses to build up its body. The authors of the Upanishads make it clear to us that environment, with its necessity, is not a recalcitrant force, not some dark fate over against which we have to knock our heads in despair, but rather the servant of the organism, the helpmate of life and consciousness enabling the growth and perfection of higher beings. In short, life and matter, organism and environment are members existing for each other in a larger whole. They are unintelligible when viewed in separation. “Matter is rooted in life and life in matter” (Taittiriya Upanishad, II, 3). The science of physics, which seeks to divorce matter from life and study matter in its isolation, studies an abstraction, however useful it may be. The ideal of physical science is an explanation of life in terms of mechanism. Anything which comes in the way of this mechanical ideal is quite unwelcome to physics. Again, if the science of biology concerned itself with life to the exclusion of matter, it would be a science of dead abstractions. What we need is biophysics and physicobiology; they only would do justice to the different aspects and their essential unity. The whole must be seen as a whole if it is to be seen at all. We see then the exact relation of life and matter. The same whole of reality manifests itself first as matter, then as life. The two are but lower and higher expressions of the deeper reality. They are but movements in one grand scheme. Life, being a higher stage than matter, is the completer truth. Life is the promise and potency of matter. Life is the soul and spirit of matter. The Upanishad says of matter that “this Prana (life) produced in the body is the soul.” So life includes and transcends matter. It is a higher concrete than matter. Matter is a fragmentary abstraction from the point of view of life. The mere externality of matter is transcended and overcome. The parts are no more external to each other but they are elements in an organic whole with a definite end. In the living body the elements cooperate in the preservation of the organism. But even in the living body there is an element of externality which will disappear as we proceed to the next higher category of Manas (mind) or consciousness.

The whole world of reality refuses to be squeezed into the category of life. Though Prana or life is nearer to reality than matter or mechanism, still it cannot account for the whole of our experience. Life, for instance, cannot account for consciousness. The category of life, failing to embrace the whole of reality, confesses itself to be but a partial truth covering only a limited field of experience. It cannot therefore be put forward as the ultimate essence or principle of the whole world of reality. Once again the son approaches the father. The father asks him to think to the bitter end without stopping at halfway houses. He pursues his reflection and discovers that the higher forms of life require us to introduce another category to describe their relations. The new factor of consciousness makes its appearance as life develops. Manas or perceptual consciousness is the sole reality. “He perceived that Manas is Brahmam, for from Manas these beings are born; by Manas when born they live; into Manas they enter at their death” (III, 4). Here by Manas is meant perceptual consciousness which delights in sense objects and is moved by instincts and impulses.

The relation of mind to life is exactly of the same kind as the relation of life to matter. “Mind is the soul of Prana or life.” Mind is not a by-product of body or life but is the central core of life. The two are different expressions of the one spiritual essence, lower and higher stages of a single all-embracing life. The relation of mind to life is that of a higher to a lower aspect of the spirit. It is puerile to minimize the distinction between the two by materializing mind or spiritualizing matter and life. While recognizing the distinction we should not lose our grip on the essential unity which underlies the distinction. The two contribute in their own distinct ways to the same individual whole. The two are so fashioned and constructed as to develop and promote a complete identity. They are aspects of the ultimate spirit, through the interaction of which the whole realizes itself. The science of biology, which studies life, neglecting the fruit and essence of life, mind, studies an abstraction. Psychology, if it divorces mind from life and studies mind as an isolated phenomenon, apart from its setting of life and the organism, lays itself open to the fallacy of the abstract. It studies not human minds but disembodied ghosts. It is “phantomology” and not psychology. It is a good sign that psychology at the present day views its subject-matter from the biological point of view. Psychology studies not merely the psyche but the psychophysical organism. The conscious organism can be seen as a whole only by bio-psychology or psychobiology. Only then shall we know mind in its origin and working.

The concept of Manas (mind) is higher than life or matter. It is the richer, fuller and more inclusive concept. But the searching intellect is not satisfied with its adequacy, for the perceptual consciousness does not exhaust the nature of reality. No doubt it accounts for the animal mind. Animals have only a perceptual consciousness, their mental horizon being restricted to mere perceptions of the present moment. The animal lives only in the present. It is devoid of the power of synthesis and therefore of self-consciousness. But the human consciousness is capable of rising above itself, of comparing itself with other selves and of passing judgment on its own character. The man judges while the animal only senses. He is a being of “wise discourse looking before and after.” He is able to transcend the animal limitations, break down the despotism of the senses and lift himself above himself. While the animal leads a life of mere feeling and impulse, the self-conscious individual regulates his life in conformity with ideals of beauty, goodness and truth. It is the capacity to distinguish fact from idea which makes possible art, morality and science. So a higher category than animal mind or perceptual consciousness is felt to be needed. He approaches his father and is advised by him to think to the root of the matter. The son realizes, on reflection, that the specific quality of man which makes him the lord of creation is his intellectuality. By his intellect or understanding he seeks the true, attempts the good and loves the beautiful. By it he connects sensations, compares and contrasts them with one another and derives inferences. It gives the power of synthesis. To it is due the self-consciousness of man. So the seeker after truth hits upon Vignana or understanding. “He perceived that Vignana (intellect) was Brahmam, for from Vignana these beings are born; by Vignana when born they live; into Vignana they enter at their death” (III, 5).

What is the relation of Vignana to Manas, or understanding to perception? This is the familiar question of modern epistemology, the relation of the universal to the particular, concept to percept, thought to sense. Understanding is related to perception as perception to life, or as life to matter. Vignana is a higher form of the lower Manas. It is the soul of Manas or its essential reality. “Vignana is the soul (or spirit) of Manas” (II, 4). Nothing is gained by divorcing intellect from sense. Such a divorce leads to abstract explanations of reality. Sense is the condition of thought. Thought does not produce or create a new order of existence. The sense world is not a mere chaos of particulars into which thought introduces, later and from outside, order and system. Thought only discovers or explicates the order which already prevails in the world of facts. The ideals of the world reveal themselves to thought. We seek order of facts. As in science we try to interpret the order prevalent in the actual and discriminate it from our errors and prejudices, so in morality we try to see the goodness of things and discriminate the good from the bad. We are not creating a new moral world by our action. The tendency to neglect the perceptual basis is the besetting temptation of the intellectualist temper. Rationalist theories which sacrifice the particular to exalt the universal reduce the universe, in the vivid phrase of Bradley, to an “unearthly ballet of bloodless categories.” We get a philosophy of arid concepts having nothing to do with the glowing experiences of life. Truth becomes a dead conformity to certain logical conceptions and ideas with no promptings from life. In art technique gets the mastery over temperament. Art expresses the critical and not the creative attitude of life. Morality becomes the drill-sergeant type, insisting on nothing more than a blind unthinking obedience to the commands delivered. Rationalism thus murders reality to dissect it. We find a mechanical perfection in place of spiritual beauty, logic in place of life. Organization is the ideal, but the process of starving the real leaves no material to organize. Philosophy becomes arid and abstract, art mechanical and soulless, and ethics formal and dead. The dire consequences resulting from the adoption of this theory in practical affairs of the world, we see to-day on the fields of Europe. We find also systems of philosophy which protest against this deification of intellect. But in their righteous revolt against the abuse of logic they are led to the opposite extreme of advocating inordinately the claims of immediate experience. Bergson and James are representatives of this new tendency in philosophy, which goes by the name of intuitionism or radical empiricism. This tendency to exclude logic from life is as viscous as the other tendency to exclude life from logic. The abstract and one-sided nature of mere empiricism is reflected in the world of philosophy, art and morality. Under its influence the superficial aspects of things are noted and the underlying principles neglected. Naturalistic explanations become dominant in philosophy. Art is sensualistic and ethics economic or utilitarian in the lowest sense of the term. Mere percept and mere concept are both good for nothing. Both are abstracts reified. Kant spoke a great truth which the world cannot afford to forget when he said that “percepts without concepts are blind; concepts without percepts are empty.” This essential unity of these two distinct factors the Vedanta thinkers recognize.

The self-conscious individual in whom Vignana functions at its best becomes the highest expression of reality if there is nothing higher than intellect. But self-consciousness which is the product of intellect presupposes self-distinction. At the intellectual level the self conscious of itself is self exclusive of others, one among many. The self not only distinguishes itself from others but excludes others from its nature. A “pluralistic universe” will be the last word of philosophy, but the thinking mind recognizes certain difficulties in the way of accepting this solution as final. The natural outcome of such an intellectualist pluralism will be a narrow philistine spirit of individualism, sensualism and selfishness. The individuals enter into rivalry with one another for the satisfaction of their appetites and ambitions. Such a view will develop a sort of morbid ease and self-satisfaction with the actual and thus curb all efforts for the improvement of mankind. It would make it impossible for the finite mind to transcend its finiteness. It gives man no ideal of the solidarity of the universe to which he has to work himself up. The human consciousness which in some moments of exaltation feels itself to be at one with the whole universe, baffles this intellectual analysis. Those aspects of experience known as religious are not accounted for by the pluralist scheme. The factor of ever aspiring, ever striving for something higher which man has not but hopes to have, is not satisfactorily explained. Man recognizes his incompleteness and imperfection and seeks for something above himself, an ideal, an infinite. If the individual’s highest aim is merely to secure an independent status for himself he becomes divorced from his real, i.e., his divine self. It is impossible for man, a child of eternity, to distinguish himself from God in the long run. He cannot fix any boundary to his real self. If he seeks for the private self-satisfaction he seeks the finite as if it were the infinite. It is the self-contradiction of a being who knows not what he really is and seeks his good where it can never be found. If the world is a number of distinct isolated units, then peace and harmony are a priori impossible. Pluralism by itself cannot give any satisfactory account of the unity of the world of spirits. Most of the modern pluralistic systems recognize this difficulty. Professor Ward says: “That a plurality of individuals in isolation should ever come into relation is inconceivable indeed, but only because a plurality without unity is itself inconceivable” (Realm of Ends).

There is no doubt that human self-consciousness represents, though not the highest, yet a very high manifestation of reality. Sankara gives the following statement: “The Atman is expanded only in man. He is most endowed with intelligence. He speaks what is known, he sees what is known. He knows what is to come, he sees the visible and the invisible worlds. He desires to obtain immortality by appropriate means. Thus endowed is man.” He has ideals of knowledge, beauty and goodness but he does not as a finite consciousness realize his aspirations. He only struggles toward union, peace and harmony. Though he ever strives toward union with the whole or the divine, he never grasps it on account of his finiteness and impotence. Finite souls never realize, though they ever strain after, that pure bliss and self-forgetful realization which in Vedantic phraseology is called Ananda. The sciences belonging to the intellectual level are sciences of struggle and endeavor and not sciences of fruition or fulness of attainment. They are sciences of approach to reality. Logic with its impulse toward totality demands a complete and consistent world; love struggles for union with the whole, and life attempts to realize the all-perfect in conduct. In all these regions of mind we catch glimpses of the real but do not have the full vision with its joy unspeakable and the peace that passeth all understanding. We have demands, struggles and attempts. We are in the striving stage. We are only on the road with a dim vision of the end; the fulfilment is still a distant scene. The full splendor is not yet. So human self-consciousness is incomplete and imperfect. It is only a grade of reality to be transcended in something higher but not the whole of reality. On the other hand, if intellect should be the highest phase of reality, then morality, law and justice become the ultimate terms and struggle the end of existence. What a poor imperfect thing man will be if he has no prospect of realizing his ideals! His effort to become something greater, holier and higher than his own finiteness will be unsuccessful. The world will be cut into two as with a hatchet, self and not-self. If we do not embrace them in a final higher unity, then his spiritual endeavors are foredoomed to failure. Pessimism is our only refuge and prayer all our business. Man presses on toward a higher life, but cruel fate crushes the human soul. He desires to throw off his brutish heritage and reach heaven. But the blind forces of nature which go on their relentless way caring naught for the human victims, dash him down to the bottomless void. The intellect with its vision confined to outward appearances, is struck with “nature red in tooth and claw.” Such an outward vision gives the impression that we are caught in the wheels of a soulless engine which has neither the eyes to see our agony nor the heart to feel for us. We are the victims of a merciless fate, trapped in the grip of destruction. Intellectualistic despair is the mental attitude of those who break the real into self and not-self and make the universe a tug of war between the two. Matthew Arnold’s insistent note of sadness is due to his theory of opposition of self and not-self.

No, we are strangers here, the world is from of old. To tunes we did not call, our being must keep chime.” The system of nature does not sympathize with the bliss for which we sigh. Our boundless hopes are shattered to dust and our tenderest ideals mocked by the stern indifference of nature. The microcosm is pitted against the macrocosm and to all outward appearances the external world seems to be the more potent force. What can man do in this plight except withdraw from the world and obtain inner freedom by renunciation and contemplation? “By the Tiber as by the Ganges, ethical man admits that the cosmos is too strong for him, and, destroying every bond which ties him to it by ascetic discipline, he seeks salvation in absolute renunciation” (Huxley, Romanes Lecture, p. 29). The Sankhya philosophy of ancient India starts with a dualism of Purusha (self) and Prakriti (not-self). They are the two eternal uncreated substances differing essentially from each other. Deliverance is to be obtained by realizing the separateness of the two and dissolving the bond between them. Man to gain his freedom has to cut himself off from the ties that bind him to nature. We are exhorted by Mr. Russell in his admirable essay on the Freeman’s worship to cherish, adore and love the ideals where the mind is at home, caring naught for the universe. He builds an ethics of renunciation on this “firm foundation of despair.” “To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things, this is renunciation and this is the Freeman’s worship.” We are engaged in an unequal struggle between man and nature, self and not-self. A mere contemplation of it would produce a stoic calm combined with a stern pathos.2 Militant heroism we may adopt if we care for the martyr’s crown. Even martyrs die with the complaint, O God, why hast thou forsaken me? The destiny of man seems to be struggle, unrest, and baffled hope. This pessimistic conclusion is the essential theme of the Buddhists. They say there is nothing else than this world process or Samsara. There is neither a changeless God responsible for it nor a suffering deity struggling against the attacks of Satan. Buddhism considers the appearance of opposition to be final and exhorts man to get out of this whirlpool by sinking his selfhood. But this is too harsh a conclusion to be accepted by all. So a supreme soul or Iswara soon appears to help the individual in his warfare against the not-self. So God along with man battles with the prince of darkness. The atheism of the Sankhya system gives place to the theism of the Yoga philosophy. We have then the individual self, God and nature; the individual self, according to Saiva Siddhanta, Vaishnavism and Christianity, has to extricate himself from the fetters of Nature by the grace of God. The Highest in all these theistic systems is looked upon as a personal godhead,—a father, creator or providence, accessible to prayer and propitiation, ever loving man and granting his requests. By the help of God it is possible for man to escape out of this drift of the world called Samsara. If we think in the acquired dialect of the intellect we will not be able to reach the highest which includes all other things. We will get a pluralistic universe presided over by a God whose position therein is ambiguous. If we say God is over against a number of spirits and that the Absolute is a republic of spirits including God, we ask, what is the position of God in the republic? If he is one among the many he is reduced to the level of the finite beings. If man himself is part of God we shirk the whole problem by raising man to the level of the infinite. Pluralism is displaced by an abstract monism. But the pluralists’ God is not the perfection transcending both good and evil, not the absolute which absorbs them both, but only a force within it fighting with another. Such a God can only be an aspect of reality and not the whole of it. Besides, this conception of God opposed to the world naturally culminates in deism. God is transcendent to the world because the world is evil and he is good. He has nothing which nature has and can only be defined negatively. So a severe logician of the type of Sankara who thinks to the very foundations, with his intellectualist bias, reduces the universe to an opposition of self and not-self, God and the world, the infinite and the finite. Certainly both cannot be real, for the two are exclusive of each other. The finite world is dismissed as illusory and the absolute posited as real. For if we argue about the problem of the origin of the world and man’s place in it, we will be drowned in a sea of contradictions. Kant, and after him Bradley, have shown the difficulty of reconciling the antinomies with which our understanding confronts us. The self-contradictory cannot be real. Therefore the finite world is illusory and the Absolute is real, for it is pure affirmation. But the Absolute which repels the relative cannot be anything more than an undifferenced unity which is the negation of the finite and the determinate. The Absolute is related if we can talk of relation in this sense, only negatively to the world. The Absolute thus collapses into a self-identity, negatively related to the particulars, a featureless unity leaving aside all differences. To this absolute none of the attributes of finite being belongs. If we attach any predicate to it we will bring it down to the level of the finite. It is not anything which the finite world is. If the finite world is many it is one; if it is complex it is simple; if it is varying it is constant; if it is temporal it is eternal. Strip off everything finite and what remains is the infinite or God. Everything positive is excluded from the real, mind and matter included. Escape from finite life is the goal of humanity. Such are the views of Sankara and the neo-Platonists. The fatal criticism against all such abstract notions of the Absolute is that they do not give any explanation of the finite universe. To say that the Absolute is the external and accidental cause of the universe, is no answer. To dismiss the world as illusion only removes the difficulty a little farther, for the question still arises, What is the cause of this world illusion? Thus we see that if we stick fast to the intellectual level we have either a bare unity as in Sankara or a collection of separate elements as in Sankhya and the Yoga. But in no case is it possible for us to have a unity in diversity, an organic system in which the whole should be known through the distinction and relation of all the parts. We do not see the two, unity and diversity, as elements in a whole or factors in a unity. It is such a solution that is adopted by the Vedanta philosophers.

The distinction between self and not-self is not an irrational surd which cannot be eliminated, but is a distinction within a unity. In man there is a struggle between the higher and the lower, self and not-self (Purusha and Prakriti). He is an amphibious animal living in two worlds. Born of matter, entangled in it and oppressed by want and misery, he still has the divine spark which gives him a place in the spiritual realm of freedom. But the struggle between the divine and the human is bound to result in a complete triumph of the spirit and the consequent idealization of the material aspect. The self with its “ought” comes down on the not-self and, in spite of the refractory nature of the latter, transforms it. In morality we transform the actual and idealize it. Knowledge presupposes a unity between subject and object; without this basis knowledge is impossible. The very distinctions made by the intellect presuppose a unity which is not grasped by intellect. The interpretability of nature is proof positive of the kinship of object with subject, nature with mind. The antithesis between self and not-self is resolved in the Vedanta philosophy and the two are reconciled; “Purusha (the self) is the eater, Prakriti (not-self) is the food, and, abiding with it, he feeds” (Maitrayana Brahmana Upanishad, VI, Prapathaka 10). The not-self offers the conditions which are the material of self and the self instead of being the slave of the not-self is the highest and the most articulate expression of the not-self. Self and not-self do not run counter to each other. They are no rivals; rather do the two help each other in fulfilling the mission of the Divine. They are co-operating and not conflicting elements in the whole. We cut in two the whole and then view the environment as an alien influence checkmating the individual at every step of his progress. The individual is said to progress by fighting and conquering nature. We forget how nature could not be conquered by him if it were different from him in its essence. It is therefore a system of absolute idealism, however much we may try to disguise it by giving it other names that preserve to us the reality of the ideals and the unity of the pluralistic world. Even thinkers strongly inclined to pluralistic notions are compelled by sheer force of logic to embrace their pluralism in a higher idealism. Upton says: “It follows therefore that, though atoms and bodies appear to be isolated co-existences in space, this complete isolation and seeming independence of each other is only an appearance; for the reciprocal causality by which all these atoms and bodies are linked together inevitably forces us to the conclusion that deeper than the apparent spatial distance and division there is a metaphysical unity, or in other words that the self-subsistent creative ground of all finite existence does not wholly separate Himself from any one of the plurality of dependent energies or beings into which He differentiates himself; and therefore as every finite atom or finite soul still remains, as regards a part of its nature, in indivisible union with its self-subsistent ground and source, the common relation to the self-subsistent one affords a true explanation of the metaphysical unity of the cosmos, and also of the possibility of reciprocal action of the monads of nature on each other, and of reciprocal action of the finite mind on nature and of nature on the mind. Thus the most recent science and philosophy appear to assert at once a real pluralism or individualism in the world of finite beings, but at the same time a deeper monism. The Eternal, who differentiates His own self-subsistent energy into the infinite variety of finite existences, is still immanent and living in every one of these different modes of being, and it is because all finite or created beings are only partially individual and still remain in vital union with their common ground, that it becomes possible for them through the medium of this common ground to act dynamically on each other; and it is for the same reason that those finite beings such as man, who have attained to self-consciousness, are able to enter into intellectual, moral, and spiritual relations, both with other rational finite minds and also with the eternal being with whom their own existence is in some measure indivisibly conjoined” (Bases of Religious Belief, pp. 12-13). The latest and the ablest exponent of pluralism, Dr. Ward, says: “Faith in God as the ground of the world affords us an assurance which we could not otherwise have, that complete harmony and unity, the good of all in the good of each is really attainable, nay will verily be attained. Whereas if we stop at a plurality of finite selves in interaction, we have no guarantee, cannot even reasonably expect that such a totality will ever attain to perfect organic unity” (The Realm of Ends, p. 447). Thus Ward and Upton, no friends of absolute idealism, are driven to admit the existence of an all-embracing unity as the ground of the world and recognize the finite selves as differentiations thereof, though they try very hard to give the finite souls separate individualities.

The reality of the ideals of knowledge, art and morality has for its basis the highest unity which cannot be realized by Vignana (intellect) which revels in distinctions of self and not-self, subject and object, man and the universe, organism and environment. Our knowledge aspires to something more than knowledge, an intuitive grasp of the fundamental unity; our morality to something more than morality, viz., religion; our self to something more than personality, viz., God or the Absolute. Our knowledge is incapable of bringing us into contact with the whole. It aims at the unity, though the limitations of intellect forbid the attainment of the unity. The highest unity “from which all speech with the mind turns away, unable to reach it” (Taittiriya Upanishad, II, 4) cannot be grasped by the intellect.3 The universe does not spell out its secret to man. It withholds from man the mystery which he strains to see. The human understanding can classify, relate and create out of given data, but it cannot say anything about the Absolute which is one without a second, and which is no object of the senses but constitutes the self of the whole world. The Kena Upanishad says: “It is other than the known and above the unknown.” Simply because it is not open to knowledge we cannot say it is unreal. The illusions and contradictions of the intellect according to the Vedanta philosophies only exhibit the insufficiency of intellect to grasp the whole. They only show that there is a higher form of experience and that the spiritual life is not exhausted by the intellectual. To realize that there is the one all-encompassing reality including self and not-self, we have to proceed to the next higher stage. Finding the finite intellect infected with duality, and realizing its inadequacy to represent the real, the son approaches the father, who asks him to persist in his inquiry. Bliss (or Ananda) reveals itself as the final explanation. “He perceived that Ananda is Brahmam; for from Ananda these beings are born; by Ananda when born they live; into Ananda they enter at their death” (III, 6). We have direct experience of this bliss or delight in philosophic contemplation, artistic worship and religious devotion. In them we gain the ultimate peace beyond the unrest of life, attain the glorious harmony transcending all discords and grasp the unity of purpose which works through the apparent conflict of natural and social forces. The seer, the sage and the saint all enter into direct communion with the heart of things. Self and not-self are felt to be clasped in one in that stage. “All fears cease.” Incidents of the earth cease to trouble the knower. The self has the consciousness that there is nothing else beside the Absolute. “One finds nothing else, knows nothing else, but the self.” “All this is the self and the self alone” (Brihadavanyaka Upanishad, II, 4-6). So long as he sticks fast to the hard distinction between self and not-self, he has not reached the highest. It is said, “Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the finite” ( Chandogya Upanishad, VII, Prapathaka, 24th Khanda). The oneness of the universe cannot be characterized by anything else than bliss, joy or delight. “Seeing the self by the self, he is satisfied in his own self” (Bhagavat Gita, VI, 20). This highest experience is the heaven of Dante, free from darkness, confusion and antagonism. It is characterized by peace, perfection and tranquility. The aspirations of knowledge, love, morality, are here transformed into actualities. The unity of subject and object is no more an ideal but we see it face to face. The oppositions of the finite consciousness are all reconciled. The son arrives at this stage and is no more troubled with doubts. His inquiry ceases. From Ananda, matter, life, consciousness and understanding are born, in Ananda they live and to Ananda they return. The harmony of man and the universe, chit (intelligence) and sat (reality) is realized. In that moment of divine vision described in the Bhagavat Gita the whole choir of heaven and furniture of earth was seen by Arjuna moving in the radiance of God. This religious or intellectual experience is the summit of the whole evolution. It is the crowning round of human life. It is the completion and the consecration of the whole struggle. It is “the light that never was on sea or land, the consecration, and the poet’s dream.” Here the philosopher’s quest for reality in which thought can rest, terminates.

If self-consciousness is the distinctive mark of the intellectual experience, self-forgetfulness characterizes the Ananda (bliss) condition. It is the state where the self loses itself in the universe and by so losing finds its own realization. Peace and harmony we have; for the self offers itself up wholly and completely to the service of the Absolute. So long as we feel ourselves to have individualities of our own, we will be beset with conflict and contradiction, pain and pleasure, but when once we disinterestedly give ourselves up to the whole, there is an end of all discord. “Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou sacrificest, whatever thou givest, in whatever austerity thou engagest, do it as an offering to me” (Bhagavat Gita, IX, 27). “Fix thy mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me. Thus steadied, with Me as thy Supreme Goal, thou shalt reach Myself the Self” (Bhagavat Gita, IX, 34). Only this complete renunciation of self and delivering up to the whole, will liberate us from the pains of opposites (cf. Bhagavat Gita, IX, 28). The beautiful tradition that no man can see God and live, points to this truth that finite selfhood is incompatible with the life of the spirit. It shows how we cannot see God until we roll the stone of self away. The religious individual feels himself to be, not a selfish atom in the universe, but part of an order with a station to occupy and a function to fulfil in the economy of things. With his vision ever on the supreme, the religious soul approaches the facts of existence. He knows that the forces of the world cooperate with him in the realization of the highest. He lives above the plane of human experience, but still in it. He is the hero of the world who deserves worship at our hands.

It is not right to presume that intuition, by which we see the oneness of things, negates whatever intelligence posits. Intuition is really the soul of intelligence. The unity we will be able to grasp by means of intuitive insight, is the presupposition of all intellectual progress. Intuition is only the higher stage of intelligence, intelligence rid of its separatist and discursive tendencies. While it liberates us from the prejudices of the understanding, it carries our intellectual conclusions to a deeper synthesis. Instead of being an unnatural or a mysterious process it is a deeper experience which, by supplementing our narrow intellectual vision, amplifies it. Intuition is not an appeal to the subjective whims of the individual or a dogmatic faculty of conscience or the uncritical morbid views of a psychopath. It is the most complete experience we can possibly have. It is the experience devout souls have in moments of spiritual exaltation or religious devotion. Hegel, and after him Bradley, testify to the highest worth of this religious experience. Hegel says: “All the various peoples feel that it is in the religious consciousness they possess truth, and they have always regarded religion as constituting their true dignity and the Sabbath of their lives. Whatever awakens in us doubt and fear, all sorrow, all care,—we leave behind on the shores of time; and as from the highest peak of a mountain, far away from all definite view of what is earthly, we look down calmly on all the temptations of the landscape and of the world, so with the spiritual eye man, lifted out of the hard realities of the actual world, contemplates it as something having only the semblance of existence, which, seen from this pure region bathed in the beams of the spiritual sun, merely reflects back its shades of color, its varied tints and lights, softened away into eternal rest” (Philosophy of Religion, English translation, Vol. I, p. 3). So Hegel. Bradley says: “We can see at once that there is nothing more real than what comes in religion. The man who demands a reality more solid than that of the religious consciousness, knows not what he seeks” (Appearance and Reality, p. 449). So when we talk of intuitional truths we are not getting into any void beyond experience. Intuitional experience is within the reach of all provided they strain themselves to it. These intuitional truths are not to be put down for chimeras simply because it is said that intellect is not adequate to grasp them. The whole, the Absolute, which is the highest concrete, is so rich that its wealth of content refuses to be forced into the fixed forms of the intellect. The life of the spirit is so overflowing that it bursts all barriers. It is vastly richer than human thought can compass. It breaks through every conceptual form and makes all intellectual determination impossible. The real is no more a pulseless identity excluding all differences; nor is it a chaotic disconnectedness with no order in it. It is the spiritual life, embracing the facts of nature which are shot through and through with the forms of mind. Philosophy is neither purely conceptualist nor merely empiricist but is intuitional. Art is the living expression of the soul which feels itself to be in tune with the infinite. Morality is no more self-satisfaction or blind obedience to a set of categorical imperatives but is the life of a soul which feels its grip firmly on the spiritual destiny of the world. Philosophy, art and religion become different expressions of the one feeling of unity with the universe. This feeling of the essential oneness of the world-spirit failed the facts in the lower stages and made them lower, but now the identity is revealed and the Absolute is reached.

The relation of this Absolute Ananda to the other categories is one of higher to lower. The lower is included in the higher. The whole world is in Ananda, “The other beings live upon a small part of this Ananda.” This joy is the reality or essence of the lower categories. “Life is the essence of food, mind of life, knowledge of mind, joy of knowledge” (Maitryana Brahmana Upanishad, VI, Prapathaka, 13). The highest and the most concrete category is Ananda. All the rest are imperfect revelations of it.4 The whole variety of being rests in the Absolute and “is an evolution from that alone” (Bhagavat Gita, XIII, 30). The Chandogya Upanishad says: “From the Self is life, from the Self is desire, from the Self is love, from the Self is Akasa, from the Self is light, from the Self are waters, from the Self is manifestation and disappearance, from the Self is food” (VII, 26). Ultimately, life, mechanism, consciousness and intellect are parts of this comprehensive whole. They are all abstracts from it and the Absolute is the only res completa. It is the only individual. We cannot attribute a substantial existence to the individuals of sense. If we do so we remain, to use Spinoza’s language, at the level of imagination without rising to the level of reason. The Absolute therefore is the whole, the only individual and the sum of all perfection. The differences are reconciled in it and not obliterated. The dead mechanism of stones, the unconscious life of plants, the conscious life of animals and the self-conscious life of men are all parts of the Absolute and its expression at different stages. The same Absolute reveals itself in all these. The ultimate reality sleeps in the stone, breathes in the plants, feels in the animals and a wakes to self-consciousness in man. It progressively manifests itself in and through these particulars. The Absolute thus is an organized whole, with interrelated parts. It embraces time, its events and processes. The finite universe is rooted in the Absolute. Life, mechanism, etc., are all members together of one whole. The Absolute is not an abstract unit but a concrete whole binding together the differences which are subordinate to it. The whole has existence through the parts, and the parts are intelligible only through the whole.

On this view there cannot be any “creation.” The question as to why the Absolute limited itself, why God became man, why the perfect became imperfect, is irrelevant. For there is no such thing as an infinite which first was an infinite and then transformed itself into finite. The infinite is finite. The Absolute is the self and its other. Gaudapada in his Karikas on the Mandukya Upanishad mentions the different theories of the creation of the universe. The universe may be the creation of an extra-cosmic God, or an illusion or the product of evolution. He dismissed these theories as incorrect, and declared that it is of the nature of God to express himself. It is the essence of spirit to manifest itself. The world is the affirmation of the Absolute. The universe is the energizing of God. God realizes himself in the world. We do not have the infinite and the finite, God and the world, but only the infinite as and in the finite, God as and in the world. The Supreme, the Eternal, is the unity of all things, finite and infinite. But when we consider the development of the Absolute, the distinction of self and not-self appears. The first existent or object in the Absolute is God, Iswara or the world-soul. He is the first-born lord of the universe, the creator of the world and its ruler. The Absolute breaks up its wholeness and develops the reality of self and not-self, Iswara and Maya, Purusha and Prakriti. The self is God and the not-self the matter of the universe. This not-self is not a positive entity, as the Sankhya philosophers view it, but is only the reflection of the Iswara, the negative side of the affirmative. Iswara, or the personal God, is not the Absolute, but the highest manifestation of the Absolute. But even its highest manifestation is only a partial expression of it and not the whole.5 The opposition of self and not-self, necessary for the universe, arises. The universe is due to the conjunction of Maya (not-self) with Iswara (self). “I know Maya as Prakriti (matter), him who is united with her as the great ruler (Maheswara). The whole world, in truth, is pervaded by his parts” (Swetaswatara Upanishad, IV, 10; cf. Bhagavat Gita, XII, 29). By the further differentiation of this original duality of self and not-self, Iswara and Maya, the whole universe arises. The world process is viewed as an eternal sacrifice, of which the one all-embracing reality is the victim (see Catapatha Brahmana, X, 2, 2, I; III, 5, 3, I; and XIII, 3, I, I).

We see now how the popular conception of the world as Maya or illusion is not right. Brahmam, the Absolute, is described in the Vedanta texts as an all-inclusive and not exclusive idea. It is the life of life, “the reality of reality” (Brahadaranyaka Upanishad, II, I, 20). It is “existence, intelligence and bliss.”6 It is not a homogeneous unity but a harmony of different constituent elements. The Absolute is the fulfilment and completion of everything that is in the universe and not their extinction. It is the consecration of the lower forms of reality and not their destruction. The Vedanta Absolute is not the abstraction of an être suprême which avoids all differences but is a spirit that transcends and at the same time embraces all living beings. The Maya theory simply says that we are under an illusion if we think that the world of individuals, the pluralistic universe of the intellect, is the absolute reality. If in that way we make absolutely real what is only relatively real, we are bound in the chains of Maya.7 Again, the Vedanta system cannot be considered pantheistic if by pantheism we mean an identification of the world with God. The Vedanta says nature or the world is only an expression of God. God is more than the world. The finite reveals the infinite but it is not the whole infinite. The Vedanta does not say that the human self-consciousness of the twentieth century is an adequate revelation of the absolute mind. The Absolute is more than man or for that matter the finite universe which includes man. “This whole world is sustained by one part of myself” (Bhagavat Gita, X, 42). “All beings form his foot” (Taittiriya Aranyaka, III, 12).

We will conclude this discussion with a few remarks on the place of imperfection and evil in the Vedanta philosophy. The whole universe has in it the impulse toward union with the Absolute. The pulse of the Absolute beats through the whole world, self and not-self. The world is an imperfect revelation of the Absolute striving to become perfect, or to reach harmony. The universe is the Absolute dynamically viewed. If eternity is a circle, then the process of the universe may be viewed as a straight line. The universe of finite objects gives us a moving image of eternity, in the words of Plato. The eternal is viewed as a growth or a becoming or a working out. In the universe we have the self-evolution of the Absolute. The lower stages, which are imperfect as compared with the higher, strive to become perfect. The whole universe is a vast struggle to realize the unity which is the ideal. This tension of the universe is mirrored in man, reflected in his individuality. The Taittiriya Upanishad declares that man is a microcosm in which all parts of reality are represented on a reduced scale.8 His nature reaches up to the Absolute and down to the plant and the animal. While confined to a material organism, the individual self has the capacity to rise beyond intelligence into immediate contact with the divine. To bring about the unity between the higher and the lower is the aim of the individual self as it is the aim of the universe. The individual self is the theater in which is enacted the drama of the universe, namely, the realization of a central identity in and by means of the differences of mechanism and life, consciousness and intellect. The impulse toward union and harmony is present in all finite objects. The finite strives to pass out of itself. All objects of the universe are thus double-natured. “Whatever being is born, the unmoving or the moving, know thou, O best of the Bharatas, that to be owing to the union of Kshetra and Kshetragna, ‘matter and spirit, finite and infinite’” (Bhagavat Gita, XIII, 26). They are finite-infinite. The finiteness qua finiteness is a standing contradiction to the infiniteness. The presence of the infinite enables the individual to break the finite and proceed higher up. It is by such a breaking of the shell of finiteness that the infinite self finds itself and develops. To gain the higher we must give up the lower. Unless our little self is sacrificed, progress is not possible. Every step on the upward path of realization means sacrifice of something else. This sacrifice, which means friction, opposition and pain, is the penalty we have to undergo in rising to our selves, on account of our finiteness. Throughout we have these incidents in the growth of a soul. Pain and suffering are phases of all progress. The process of the life of self is also a process of death. To have the fruit we must sacrifice the flower, though it is hard and painful to sacrifice it. Evil is thus organically related to the higher interests of man and is a necessary phase in the development of the individual self. Evil is therefore as real as the finite being is real. In this universe there is always development. We can never say “it is finished.” The Absolute is never in history completely revealed. If so there will be no universe and no finiteness. As Schelling says, “God never is, if is means exhibition in the objective world; if God were, we should not be.” Again, “The ultimate goal of the finite ego and not only of it but of the non-ego—the final goal therefore of the world—is its annihilation as a world.” As Bradley says, “Fully to realize the existence of the Absolute is for finite beings impossible. In order thus to know we should have to be and then we should not exist.” When we see Brahma we become Brahman. That is the verdict of the Vedanta philosophy. As finite we cannot see; when we see, we become infinite. In the finite universe there will ever be approximation to the goal of reaching the infinite and never realization. The Absolute in this world is half dream, half reality. The universe is only a partial revelation of the Absolute. Knowledge is an infinite progress; morality, a ceaseless growth. That is why the Vedanta philosophy considers this finite world to be a beginningless and endless Samsara. We can never completely break the shell of egoism and attain the infinite if we remain in the finite universe, giving a substantial existence to our own individual self. The release from this world of trouble, risk and adventure can be had only by losing the separate self. Absolute surrender of self to God, a perfect identification with the divine will, will “let us pent-up creatures through into eternity, our due.” The Swetswatara Upanishad says: “In this wheel of Brahman, which is the support as well as the end of all beings, which is infinite, roams about the pilgrim soul when it fancies itself and the supreme ruler different. It obtains immortality when it is upheld by him” (i.e., when the soul thinks itself to be one with him” (V, 6). If the soul does not gain this height of spiritual splendor when it loses itself in the all, it will find itself again and again taking births in the finite universe, as a separate self with all the results of the past Karma entering into its nature. It will revolve in the wheel of births and deaths until it reaches the highest, when it gives up all subjection to time.

Pain and suffering then are necessary incidents in the development of a human soul, which, as given, is a discord. Man is at a parting of the ways. There is a conflict between the different elements, the higher and the lower. Man is the completion or fulfilment of the lower and the anticipation of the higher. But growth means the death of the lower and the birth of the higher self, and so it will be accompanied by the agony of death and the travail of birth. We have moral evil and sin if the finite self assumes a false sufficiency and independence and adopts a more or less indifferent, if not a hostile, attitude to the universe at large. He is a sinner who, owing to imperfect understanding, takes up a false defiant attitude to the not-self. Intellectually this act is error and morally it is evil. If a man considers his supreme good to be in the satisfaction of his appetites and the desires of the organism, he is a sinner. Selfishness is the root cause of sin. It is the opposition of the finite to the infinite, the rebellion of man against God. Evil is as necessary as any other finite element in the universe. A universe without it will be a universe where the finite is swallowed up in the infinite. A mere infinite without finite is an impossible conception. Therefore evil is a permanent factor in the universe.

S. Radhakrishnan.

Madras, India.

1. Anham is used as equivalent to “matter.” See the Vedanta Sutras, II, Adhyaya, III, Pada 1, Sutras 12 and 13. Vidyaranya, referring to a Chandogya passage, says: “Here by Anham is meant Earth” or matter.

2. Nature is cruel, man is sick of blood;
Nature is stubborn, man would fain adore;
Nature is fickle, man hath need of rest;
Nature forgives no debt, and fears no grave;
Man would be mild and with safe conscience blest;
Man must begin, know this, where nature ends;
Nature and man can never be fast friends.
Fool, if thou canst not pass her, rest her slave.”—M. Arnold.
How pathetic is this expression of despair, born of an intellectual vision which disdains to dive beneath appearances (Cf. Russell, Philos. Essays).

3. Kena Upanishad says: “The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor mind. We do not know, we do not understand, how any one can teach it. It is different from the known, it is also above the unknown” (I, 3-4. See also I, 5-9).

4. The categories cannot adequately bring out the nature of Brahman though they all rest in it. “That which is not expressed by speech and by which speech is expressed; . . . . that which does not think by mind and by which, they say, mind is thought; . . . . that which does not breathe by breath, and by which breath is drawn, that alone know as Brahman, not that which people here adore” (Kena Upanishad, I, 5, 6 and 9).

5. Sankara speaks of Sri Krishna, the fullest incarnation of God according to the Vedic religion, as Amsena Sambhabhuva, “born of a part.”

6. “He in whom the heaven, the earth and the sky are woven, the mind also with all the vital airs, know him alone as the Self” (Mundaka Upatlisllad, II, 2, 5) “that immortal Brahman is before, is behind, Brahman is to the right and the left” (Ibid., II, 2, 11).

7. See the writer’s paper on “The Doctrine of Maya in the Vedanta Philosophy” in the July number of the International Journal of Ethics, 1914.

8. In Chapter II it is said that the individual should not be identified with either the physical or the vital or the mental or the intellectual self. The essence of the individual’s nature is to be found in the self of bliss which is the inmost self of all.

The Vedanta Philosophy and the Doctrine of Maya.

S. Radhakrishnan.


The doctrine of Maya is considered by many thinkers, both in the East and the West, to be an integral part of the Vedanta philosophy. The Vedanta system is supposed to be an acosmic pantheism, holding that the Absolute called Brahman alone is real and the finite manifestations are illusory. There is one absolute undifferentiated reality, the nature of which is constituted by knowledge. The entire empirical world, with its distinction of finite minds and the objects of their thought, is an illusion. Subjects and objects are like the fleeting images which encompass the dreaming soul and melt away into nothingness at the moment of waking. The term Maya signifies the illusory character of the finite world. Sankara explains the Maya conception by the analogies of the rope and the snake, the juggler and jugglery, the desert and the mirage, and the dreamer and the dream. The central features of the Vedanta philosophy, as it is conceived at the present day, are briefly explained in the lines:

Brahman is the real, the universe is false,
The Atman is Brahman. Nothing else.

Although the doctrine of Maya is viewed at the present day as an essential part of the Vedanta system, Oriental scholars are divided in their opinions concerning the relation of the Maya doctrine to the Vedanta system of philosophy. Mr. Gough, Dr. Deussen of Kiel, and Dr. Prabhu Dutt Shastri have all asserted that the doctrine of Maya is native to the Vedanta philosophy. They are of the opinion that the conception of Maya belongs to the primitive speculation of the early sages of India. “The doctrine of Maya, or the unreality of the duality of subject and object and the unreality of the plurality of souls and their environment, is the very life of the primitive Indian philosophy” (Gough, “Philosophy of the Upanishads,” p. 237). But, on the other side, Colebrooke and Dr. Thibaut hold that it is a graft of a later growth. Colebrooke, in a paper on the Vedanta, read before the Royal Asiatic Society in 1827, said: “The notion that the versatile world is an illusion (Maya) and that all that passes to the apprehension of the waking individual is but a phantasy presented to his imagination, and every seeming thing is unreal and all is visionary, does not appear to be the doctrine of the text of the Vedanta. I have remarked nothing which countenances it in the Sutras of Vyasa or in the gloss of Sankara, but much concerning it in the minor commentaries and elementary treatises. I take it to be no tenet of the original Vedanta philosophy, but of another branch from which later writers have borrowed it and have intermixed and confounded the two systems.” Colebrooke is wrong in holding that he finds nothing in the gloss of Sankara which countenances the Maya doctrine. But he is right, according to the present writer, in thinking that the text of the Vedanta, viz., the Vedas, the earlier Upanishads, and the Vedanta Sutras, does not suggest, even remotely, the theory of Maya. On the other hand, it will be possible for us to establish that these texts point to a realistic conception of the universe. It was Sankara, under the influence of the Buddhistic teaching, following the traditions of Gaudapada, who imported the conception of Maya into the Vedanta system. Maya is a pivotal principle of the later Sankara Vedanta, but it is not a part of the primitive cosmological conception of the Vedas and the earlier Upanishads. This controversy over the relation of the Maya theory to the Vedanta philosophy is not peculiar to our age. Even Indian thinkers of the past have doubted the authenticity of the Maya theory. Vignana Biksbu cites with approval a passage from the Padma Purana, where the tenet of Maya is said to be crypto-Buddhistic. In the Padma Purana, Isvara says to Parvati, his wife: “I, myself, goddess, assuming the form of a Brahman, uttered in the Kali age the false doctrine of Maya, which is covert Buddhism, which imputes a perverted and generally censured signification to the words of the Veda and inculcates the abandonment of ceremonial works and an inactivity consequent on such cessation” (Muir, “Sanskrit Texts,” Vol. III, p. 202). Thus the doctrine of Maya is considered by some to be an essential feature of the Vedanta system, while others view it as an accidental accretion to the system. What is the place of Maya in the Vedanta philosophy? It is the aim of this paper to contribute to the solution of this problem.

The Upanishads, which are the concluding portions of the Vedas, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavadgita form the texts of the Vedanta philosophy. The latter two are only summaries of the Upanishads, and the Upanishads grew out of the speculation of the Vedas. It is, therefore, our business to describe briefly the systems of thought contained in the Vedas and the Upanishads, and to see if they lend any countenance to the Maya theory.

It is an oft-quoted saying that philosophy begins in wonder. The mystery of the world with all its changes strikes the reflective temper. How does the white milk come from the red cow? How is it that the sun does not fall down? “Unpropped beneath, not fastened firm, how comes it that downward turned, he falls not downward?” (Rigveda, IV, 13, 5.) Philosophy, according to Hegel, is a thinking consideration of things. In thinking, we reach the law of the object, its essence, its universal element, in a word, its explanation. The Vedic philosophy grew out of a demand for the explanation of actual experience. Philosophy bade men seek beneath all change, which is the law of life, unity and persistency. All things are passing; what remains? Anything or nothing? The Vedic age raised the problem of philosophy and offered a solution. It was then that attempts to reflect upon the world of experience were made for the first time. But we should bear in mind that the Vedas are a production of a race as yet in its infancy, struggling to give expression to its religious emotions. Viewed with our eyes, they appear unphilosophical. By a rigorous application of the principle of causality, the Vedic philosophers were forced to postulate deities behind the natural forces. Why should the sun rise every morning and the moon every evening, if it is not due to powers working behind them? Such was the origin of the gods Surya and Soma. The ancient Hindu saw a god in the clouds and heard a god in the winds. The world of nature became a divine community. The elemental forces of earth and sky, fire and wind, became small divinities. Polytheism is the doctrine of the Vedas, though there were glimpses of the divine unity underlying all things. These glimpses were few and far between and were not sufficient to raise the people beyond the seeming multiplicity of the divine. The Upanishads, as we shall see, emphasized the unity of all things which was dimly suggested by the Vedas.

During the Vedic period, the universe in all its fullness was conceived as real. Only, the Vedic thinkers asked for an explanation of it: philosophy meant to them a disentangling of the ultimate elements from the chaos in which they are lost. The demand of philosophy, viz., scientific knowledge of reality, led them to postulate a number of agents behind the diversity of things. But there is no suggestion here of the unreality of the universe. In a sense, reality, for these sages, was not something extra-empirical, but the world of experience.

Passing next to the Upanishads, we find that the thinkers of that era were not satisfied with many gods and many lords. They attacked the problem of philosophy boldly. Philosophy always seeks a unifying principle by which the immense wealth of phenomena may be articulated into a coherent system or a cosmos: it views the whole universe with its infinite variety as one single system. The sages sought for an ultimate unity that can explain everything, that comprises both the ego and the non-ego. The polytheism of the Vedic age was discarded and the dim hints of monism thrown out by the Vedic hymns elaborated and developed. Thus the Upanishads naturally grew out of the Vedic hymns. That the different agents are one is suggested in several passages of the Rigveda. “They called him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; then there is that celestial well-winged bird. Sages name variously that which is but one. They call it Agni, Yama, Mataraisvani” (Rigveda, I, 164, 46).

The philosophic impulse led to the abolition of polytheism and the synthesis of the many agencies. What is the nature of the supreme agency? Is it matter or spirit? The Upanishads declare that it is spirit. The Aitareya Upanishad, after enumerating the principal classes of objects, says: “All this is produced by Reason and rests in Reason, and Reason is Brahman” (Aitareya Upanishad, III, 3). “As a mass of salt has neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of taste, thus indeed the Self has neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of knowledge” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV, 5, 13). Another passage says: “It is the true, the Infinite, and knowledge” (Taittirya Upanishad). In the Brahma Sutras, the theory of the Sankhya philosophers that the Absolute or reality is matter or Prakriti is criticised. Because Pradhana or Prakriti does not possess the power of automatic guidance and control, it cannot be the Absolute. Thus the Brahma Sutras say: “The Pradhana cannot be the cause of the world, since the order and arrangement of the world is impossible on that hypothesis.” Hence, the Absolute is not matter; for order, harmony, and rationality cannot be due to the accident of material motions. The blind workings of chance cannot give rise to the sublime order which we find everywhere in the universe. A supreme intelligence was made the absolute principle. In place of a plurality of spirits, the Upanishads substituted one supreme spirit. But no attempt was made to explain away as an illusion the world of experience which had aroused curiosity in the inquiring mind. Its explanation, however, was sought and the solution found in a supreme spirit. The supreme spirit was considered to be the explanation of all thinking beings and the object of all thought. In the II Aitareya Aranyaka, 6 Adhyaya, 1 Khanda, it is said: (2) “Who is he whom we meditate on as the self? Which is the self? (3) That by which we see (form), that by which we hear sound, that by which we perceive smells, that by which we utter speech, that by which we distinguish sweet and not sweet, and what comes from the heart and the mind, by perception, command, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, seeing, holding, thinking, considering, readiness, remembering, conceiving, willing, breathing, loving, desiring? (4) No, all these are various names only of knowledge (the true self), (5) and that self (consisting of knowledge) is Brahman, it is Indra, it is Prajapati. All the Devas, those five great elements, earth, air, ether, water, fire, these and those which are, as it were, small and mixed and seeds of this kind and that kind, born from eggs, born from the womb, born from heat, born from germs, horses, cows, men, elephants and whatsoever breathes, whether walking or flying and what is immovable, all that is led (produced) by knowledge (the self). (6) It rests on knowledge (the self). The world is led (produced) by knowledge (the self). Knowledge is its cause. (7) Knowledge is Brahman.” (Max Müller, Upanishads, Vol. I, p. 245.) Thus, everything in the universe, instead of being dismissed as illusory, is thought to be produced by Brahman. But this principle of Brahman is recognized as immanent in the universe. It is not a corporeal presence seated on high in the heavens, but an eternal spirit manifesting itself in all things. It is not apart from the world,—it is the world. The world is the product of Brahman, and, therefore, Brahman. Hence, instead of being an illusion, the world is the sole reality. There is nothing else besides it. “Believe it, my son. That which is the subtile essence, in it all that exists has its Self. It is the True; it is the Self and thou O! Svetaketu, art it” ( Chandogya, VI Prapathaka, 12 Khanda). “That whence these beings are born, by which when born they live, into which they enter when they die, endeavor to know that; that is Brahman” ( Taittirya Upanishad, III, 1). Here the highest point of the Upanishad teaching is reached, the identity of the finite self and everything else with the Absolute. The Absolute is the beginning of all things and the end of all things.

We see that the Vedanta philosophers attacked the problem of reality: What is the explanation of this universe? They started out from the answer given by the Vedic sages that a plurality of gods is necessary to account for the universe, and improved upon it by reducing the plurality to a unity; this unity is regarded as a spiritual principle and is called Brahman. The whole world is regarded as nothing more nor less than a manifestation of Brahman, and is, therefore, just as real as Brahman is. Since Brahman is the fulness of being, the world which is but a manifestation thereof must be real. The significance of the different theories of creation discussed in the Upanishads is this, that Brahman and the world are very closely related. The two are one, though sometimes we regard one as the effect, the other as the cause. The accounts of creation in the Upanishads are not to be taken seriously; but they clearly show that the Upanishad writers did not conceive the world as pure illusion. They regarded the world as real and seriously set about accounting for its reality. If the world is unreal, questions concerning creation,—whether it is a product distinct from Brahman or only a material modification of it,—can find no place.1

These accounts of creation, according to the defenders of the Maya doctrine, are only concessions to popular clamor: the ignorant masses cannot be made to accept this lofty philosophy which preaches the reality of Brahman and the illusory nature of the world. The multitude cannot deny the reality of the world. As Dr. Shastri remarks: “This extreme idealism, which refused to grant reality to the world, seemed to be rather too advanced for the ordinary understanding, which could not reconcile the fact that the world was there somehow or other, and it could therefore not be explained away by being called unreal. The inherent empirical tendencies of our nature are too strong to be wholly conquered; howsoever they may be subdued, they still rise up at some time and refuse to harmonize with the metaphysical standpoint. Moreover, to the majority who are not accustomed to transcend the boundaries of empirical understanding, such metaphysical speculations as are contained in the pure idealism of Yagnavalkya seem hardly to convey any meaning. Yet these minds are not totally to be ignored by the old sages, they must then make room for some concession to the empirical consciousness which refuses to part with the idea of the reality of the world. It was possible to do this by granting the existence of the world and yet maintaining at the same time that the sole reality is Atman” (“The Doctrine of Maya,” pp. 67, 68). This explanation is, indeed, ingenious and has long been the current one. But it is rather hard to comprehend. If the realistic conception of the universe is merely a concession to the views of the ignorant multitude, it is not easy to see why it is emphasized again and again, in almost every Upanishad. The Upanishad writers, who were wholly untrammelled by authority, cannot be supposed to have laid stress on a strictly untenable position, if it appeared untenable to them. The untenableness of the doctrine of the reality of the world, and its supposed origin as a device to satisfy the gross and empirical nature of the multitude, are inventions of the later Vedantins who refuse to grant the reality of the world, but who still seek to harmonize their teachings with the Upanishads. If we distinguish the facts from their hypothetical and interpretative gloss, we will see that the accounts of creation are genuine parts of the earlier Vedanta philosophy, and that this philosophy recognized the reality of the world, though it conceived it as an expression of the nature of Brahman.

Thus we see how ancient Hindu philosophy sought for an explanation of the world of experience and arrived at the solution that the whole world is identical with the Eternal Spirit. There is no duality between the two, between the world and the spirit. The world is the spirit. But any one portion of the world, any aspect thereof, is only a phase of the eternal spirit and is, therefore, not the spirit. Every part is dependent on the others, which altogether constitute Brahman. Reality is the whole, and it is one system. It is impossible to be satisfied with anything short of the whole. “Sir, in what does the infinite rest? In its own greatness or not even in greatness?” (2) “In the world they call cows and horses, elephants and gold, slaves, wives, fields, houses, greatness. I do not mean this,” thus he spoke, “for in that case, one being (possessor) rests in something else (but the infinite cannot rest in something different from itself).” (Chandogya Upanishad, VII Prapathaka, 24 Khanda.) Any part or feature of reality may be regarded as dependent on some other part or parts. In the case of everything but the absolute system as a whole, this dependence is found. Only the Absolute is real. We are unable to rest in any of the objects as an absolute reality, i.e., a reality that does not need to be referred to anything else as its explanation. Reality is that which stands in need of nothing else. So a plurality of realities is a contradiction in terms. Reality, in other words, is an organism, furnished with a multiplicity of organs and manifestations of life. The true is the whole, and the untrue is the fragmentary or the limited. The finite is real in so far as it is an organic unity, organic with the whole life of the Absolute. We all exist in and not apart from God. The Absolute is a single, all-inclusive system. The finite, we say, is an expression of the spiritual principle, although the Vedanta does not regard it as an exhaustive expression of the spirit. The finite is an aspect (though a partial aspect) of reality. The finite is the incomplete, while the infinite is the complete and the sufficient. To be finite is to be limited. There is something else to limit it. It is not self-sufficient. As Hegel would put it, the finite always transcends itself. The Absolute is neither this nor that, but the whole in its completeness; the finite is real as a part of the Absolute. The completely independent reality is the whole which we call the Absolute. The finite which sets itself up as a res completa, is real only in its relation to the whole. The reality of the finite is not denied. It has a life of its own as a part of the whole. Again, if we look at the parts, we will find change, but if we look at reality as a whole, we find that though there is change, yet there is persistence. Identity is maintained even in change. The whole will remain identical with what it is even if there be change in the parts. If persistence or permanence is supposed to be the test of reality, we find it is only the whole that is real, for only that is unchanging while the finite changes. “Brahman is the unchanging among changing things” (Katha Upanishad, II, 22). The whole remains even though there is change. The whole of nature with all that belongs to it is in a process of change. The parts of nature with their changes are in time, but the whole is out of time. Thus, the permanent or the unchanging or the real or the self-sufficient is the whole or the totality of existence, and it is otherwise called Brahman, for Brahman is all modifications. It is everything that exists. Brahma Sutras (II, 1, 22) distinctly declares that Brahman is adhika; i.e., more than the individual souls. The finite modifications, as the poet says,

. . . are but broken lights of Thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

This idea is brought out by the Mundaka Upanishad, which declares that Brahman is that “through which, if it is known, everything else becomes known” (I Mundaka, 1 Khanda, verse 3). Again, the Chandogya Upanishad says, “When Brahman is known, everything is known” (VI, 1).

We see, there is a great difference between this view, which ascribes reality,—though a dependent reality,—to the finite world, and the Maya view, which reduces it to an illusion. The world which our intellect reveals to us is real, though its reality is limited and partial. The finite world is not absolutely real, for it demands something else on which it depends. It is Brahman that imparts its being to the world. But from this it does not follow that our life is a mere dream and our knowledge of the world a mere phantasy. However imperfect and inadequate it may be, it is a real knowledge of a real world. The world, to the Maya theorists, is a false appearance, as unreal as the snake for which a piece of rope is mistaken; according to the strict Vedantic view, it is an inadequate expression of the spiritual principle, and yet as real as Brahman. The Vedanta texts ask us to rid ourselves of the belief in the separate and individual existence of the finite modes. They tell us that their reality is Brahman or the whole. We have to see Brahman in everything and everything in Brahman.

The self in all beings and all beings in the self, thus sees the self-poised with equal vision in all” (Bhagavadgita, VI, 29). “He who sees all beings in the supreme self and the supreme self in all beings, becomes fearless and is not anxious about saving his self” (Isavasya Upanishad, mantra 6).

Can this reality be known? According to the view of the Absolute we have just sketched, the absolute reality cannot be known in its entirety. Our intellect is so constituted that it can grasp reality only piece by piece. We can see things only in a fragmentary way. Brahman is infinitely more than what our finite lives can express. Reality is the whole; the finite consciousness is limited, and cannot therefore grasp the whole. Reality can be known by us only dimly as through a glass, but we can never see it face to face. The object of our knowledge is limited, finite, and only partial. It is not as real as the whole. This does not mean that our knowledge is false. We do not know Brahman fully, but we know it partially. Kena Upanishad says: “I do not think, I know Him fully, nor do I say I know Him not at all, for I know. He amongst us who says, ‘I know Him,’ he knows Him not. He who says, ‘I do not know Him,’ he knows indeed” (II Khanda, mantra 2). This passage clearly shows that Brahman is unknowable in its entirety, while knowable in part. Reality is neither completely unknown nor completely known. Reality in its wholeness cannot be grasped by the discursive understanding, which distinguishes, separates, and relates. The final unity at which thought aims is beyond all concepts. The feature of selective activity characteristic of the human mind makes it unequal to the task of grasping reality. Thought on account of its very nature is destined to fail in its enterprise. Reality is the whole, and its essence is spiritual, but we cannot grasp it. It is in us, though we do not know it. The following passages bring out the fact that the Upanishad writers considered our understanding inadequate to the task of knowing reality: “The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor mind. We do not know, we do not understand, how can any one teach it” (Kena Upanishad, Khanda I, verse 3.) “The Self is to be described by no, no; He is incomprehensible, for He cannot be comprehended” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad III, 9, 26).

This idea of the Self that thou hast gained is not to be attained by the discursive intellect” (Katha Upanishad, valli 2). Although the Vedantins were satisfied that the intellect, which works through the categories of subject and object, which breaks up unity and marks off one thing from another, cannot grasp the Absolute, they thought there was a higher kind of knowledge, knowledge of intuition, knowledge of immediate apprehension of reality, which made reality known. The Vedanta philosophy does not stop with a confession of the impotence of the human reason. Immediate apprehension is capable of putting us in possession of reality. In a final intuition we can realize the immediate fact that all is one. Know it we cannot; but realize it we must. Logic does not help us here, but it is life. Though we cannot know it, we can see it. This is an element of mysticism in the Vedanta system. We are told that we know the Absolute immediately, by feeling or by An-schauung, but this is not philosophy or a rational exposition of the nature of reality. We want the soul of the seer or the eye of the artist to take in at one glance the whole of reality, which cannot be comprehended by our intelligence. Bhava, questioned by Vashkalin concerning Brahman, explained it to him by silence. He said to him, “Learn Brahman, O Friend,” and became silent. Then on a second or a third question he replied: “I am teaching you indeed, but you do not understand. Silent is that Self.” This silence is an indication of spiritual rapture where human speech and understanding fail.

Resuming the thread of our argument, we see that the earlier Vedantin does not deny reality to the finite, but grants Brahman or the Absolute a reality that embraces the reality of the finite world. The analogies which the Upanishads use to illustrate the relation between the Absolute and the finite world clearly indicate the reality of the finite world. In the Chandogya Upanishad it is said: “My dear, as by one clod of clay, all that is made of clay is known, the difference being only a name arising from speech, but the truth being that all is clay . . .” (VI Prapathaka, Khanda 1). Plainly the finite world is not a vivasta or an illusion, but a parinama or a real modification of Brahman. The finite world has Brahman for its causal substance, as clay is the causal matter of earthen pots. The illustrative instance of a lump of clay does not say that either the effect is unreal or the process by which the cause is transformed into the effect is unreal. The world is nothing but Brahman, and, therefore, the world is not a baseless illusion or an imaginary dream. But the reality of the world is its dependence on the Absolute. The Vedanta philosophy does not dispute the reality of the world, but simply declares that the world is not unconditioned. In the same Upanishad it is said: “Brahman is the subtile essence . . . by which the whole Nyagrodha tree exists” (VI Prapathaka, Khanda 12). The whole of reality is an organism, and it is a spiritual organism, and the essence of the organism is constituted by Brahman or the eternal spirit. The different parts of the organism are but differentiations of the Absolute. The whole is Brahman. Again, in the Vedanta Sutras, the relation of Brahman to the individual souls is represented as that of the snake to its coils. Apart from the snake there are no coils, just as apart from Brahman there is no world. The snake is the coils and the hood and the erect posture and so on. So Brahman is the whole. The coils by themselves have no independent reality. Just so the finite world has no independent reality. But the coils are as real as the snake. So the world is as real as the Absolute. (See Vedanta Sutras, III, 2-28, Vol. III, p. 174.)

It is supposed that passages which speak of the sole reality of Brahman involve the implication that the finite world is unreal. Dr. Deussen thinks the theory of Maya forms the ‘necessary complement’ ‘to the doctrine of the Atman’ (“Philosophy of the Upanishads,” p. 44). Dr. Shastri remarks: “The theory may be enunciated in two ways: (1) that the world is an illusion or appearance, and (2) that the only reality is the Atman. These two statements mean the same thing, so that the passages which emphasize the statement that the Atman is the only reality, clearly mean that all else (i.e., other than the Atman, viz., the world, etc.) is not real” (“The Doctrine of Maya,” p. 49). We protest against this logic. The inference of the unreality of the world from the sole reality of Brahman is legitimate, if the world is viewed as separate from Brahman. But is there any ground for such an assumption? The defenders of the Maya theory assume that the world is something different from Brahman; they combine with this assumption the premise that Brahman alone is real and logically conclude that the seemingly solid world is illusory. We grant the premise that Brahman alone is real; but we dispute the truth of the other premise that the world is something different from Brahman. The reality of Brahman according to the Vedanta is not exclusive of the reality of the universe. The two are not different. The visible universe has its basis in Brahman. As things made of clay are as real as the lump of clay, the universe is as real as Brahman underlying it. The reality of Brahman everywhere asserted in the Upanishads, instead of implying the unreality of the world, logically involves its reality. Anything apart from the Self is unreal, but the world is the Self. There are passages which say, “It is the air, it is the fire.” The Svetasvatara Upanishad says (IV, 3): “Thou art woman; thou art man; thou art youth; thou art maiden; thou as an old man totterest along on thy staff; thou art born with thy face turned everywhere.” The different theories of creation, however much they differ in regard to details, still agree on this one point that the world has for its creator Brahman. The Chandogya Upanishad says: “Being only, my dear, was this in the beginning, only one without a second. It thought, may I be many, may I grow forth? It sent forth fire” (VI, 2, 1, 3). Again: “In the beginning all this was Self, one only; there was nothing else blinking whatsoever. He thought, shall I send forth worlds?” (Aitareya Aranyaka, II, 4, 1, 12). “That whence these beings are born, by which when born they live, into which they enter when they die, endeavor to know that, that is Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad).

The Vedanta Sutras, which in concise aphorisms sum up the essential features of the Vedanta system of philosophy, lay down in the second Sutra the definition of Brahman as “that whence the origin and so on (i. e., sustentation and reabsorption) of this world proceed.” The Vedanta Sutras declare that the Brahman is a unity in variety and not a pure blank identity, for they say: “And likewise in the Self there are diversified objects” (Sutras, Pada 1, Adhyaya II, Sutra 28). In the face of these statements, which clearly establish the oneness of the finite and the infinite, it cannot be maintained that the reality of Brahman means the falsity of the finite. The argument will be valid on a dualistic metaphysics which makes the infinite and the finite different, but not on a monistic system like the Vedanta, in which the finite world and Brahman are said to be one.

When confronted with this difficulty, the Sankara Vedantins are ready with the answer that all this belongs to lower knowledge, which has for its aim the satisfaction of the ordinary empirical intellect. The Brahman that is described as the cause of the universe is not the unqualified, distinctionless Brahman of higher knowledge, but the Brahman associated with Maya termed Iswara, belonging to lower knowledge. But to this distinction between higher knowledge, treating of Nirguna Brahman, and lower knowledge, treating of Saguna Brahman, we have to object on the following grounds: The Brahma Sutras are an epitome of the philosophic teaching of the Upanishads. We, therefore, naturally expect a definition of the higher Brahman there. They attempt in their very first Sutra to give us an exposition of Brahman, and that of necessity must be the exposition of the higher Brahman belonging to the superior science. The definition given in the second Sutra is that Brahman is the cause of the origin, preservation, and reabsorption of the world. It would be hard to suppose an inquiry into Brahman starting with a false possibility were it not for Sankara’s commentary on the second Sutra, in which he observes that Isvara is the Brahman referred to as the originator (and so on) of the world. It is Brahman in union with Maya from whom the false appearance of the world is projected. Sankara, in the interests of his system, has to assume that it is not Brahman, but a false Brahman, that is the cause of the world. He dismisses the world as illusory, but there are texts holding to its reality and even pointing out that Brahman is the cause of its reality. The way out of the difficulty is that all this is lower knowledge, intended to satisfy the ordinary intellect. The world is real. It is projected out of Brahman associated with Maya. The unreal nature of Isvara and his product, the world, will become apparent if one acquires higher knowledge. But in the view of the present writer, this entire difficulty is due to a twisting of the Vedanta doctrine. It is not our purpose just now to criticise the doctrine of Maya. All we are interested in making clear is that it has no support in the earlier form of the Vedanta philosophy. If the Maya doctrine had really been held by the earlier Vedantins, they would have said something about Maya when the theories of creation were described. When speaking of the material cause of the world even, Brahman is asserted to be the material cause. There is not a single word about Maya. The Vedanta Sutra says: “Brahman is the material cause on account of this not being in conflict with the promissory statements and illustrating instances” (I Adhyaya, 4 Pada, Sutra 23). If Sankara’s theory is held by the earlier Vedantins, then Maya must be supposed to be upadana of the material world; but they say that the material cause or upadana is Brahman, and object to a suggestion of the Sankhyas which makes the material cause identical with Maya, with which is generally identified the Prakriti of the Sankhyas. Here, if anywhere, we should expect a reference to Maya if the Sutrakara entertained that belief, but there is no reference to it. Secondly, the distinction between higher Brahman and lower Brahman is foreign to the Upanishads. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Brahman is represented as destitute of qualities in one place (VIII Prakaranam), and in another place Brahman is referred to as the Ruler of the world. “By the command of the Imperishable, the sun and moon stand apart.” Even Sandilya Vidya (Chandogya, III, 14) is not aware of the distinction between the lower and the higher Brahman. Sankara holds that this distinction is necessary to synthetize the different accounts of Brahman. It may be regarded as a practical working assumption. In some passages Brahman is described as incomprehensible, in some others Brahman is described as the cause of this, that, etc. How are the two views to be reconciled? To explain the discrepancy it is not necessary for us to assume that the former passages describe the higher Brahman and the latter the lower Brahman, and that the lower Brahman is an appearance of the higher Brahman since Maya is associated with it. For it is quite possible that the Upanishads, when their interest is to lay stress on the finite nature of the human intellect and its incapacity to grasp the nature of reality, speak of Brahman as something that cannot be characterized adequately by the finite mind; and that they describe it as the Self, the life of all, that in which we live, move, and have our being when they are interested in showing that the whole universe is based on and is Brahman. There is no suggestion that the two are different. No doubt the Mundaka Upanishad distinguishes between superior and inferior knowledge (see I Mundaka, 1 Khanda, verses 4 to 5). But superior knowledge is not here knowledge of distinctionless Brahman; nor is inferior knowledge that of determinate Brahman. Superior knowledge treats of Brahman, while inferior knowledge treats of sacrifices, modes of performance, etc. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita are, according to the Mundaka Upanishad, superior knowledge. They are born of the spirit of revolt against the ceremonial portion of the Vedas. The Vedas lend color to the doctrine that religiosity consists in the observance of the ceremonial. The Upanishads or the higher knowledge point out that the more important thing is the inner mind and right knowledge. So the Vedas, with all their appendages, are held to be inferior to the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, which speak of the nature of the individual soul and its relation to the Eternal Reality.

Let us conclude this discussion concerning the place of Maya in the Vedanta philosophy with a consideration of the positive or the negative nature of the Absolute. Is Brahman the fullness of being or is it an empty abstraction? The Vedantins, including Sankara and his followers, admit that the Brahman is all-real and all-perfect. But this all-reality of Brahman can be granted only if the world is real. If the world is Maya, then Brahman becomes a pure blank, a negative infinite. It is, as Hegel would put it, a spurious infinite. It is a mere beyond, which we do not know. It can never be the explanation of all that is, for there is nothing. The world is not. But according to the Vedantin, the Absolute is pure affirmative Being, the presupposition from which all determinations of the finite proceed. Knowing it, we know everything. An acosmic interpretation (like the theory of Maya) that denies the reality of the finite world, will make the Vedantic Absolute a pure nothing. Such an interpretation would deserve Erdmann’s criticism, which likens this Absolute to the lion’s den in the fable, in which all the footsteps of thought are pointed inward and none directed outward. But according to the earlier Vedanta, the Absolute is not merely the negation of the finite, but is its explanation. The Absolute includes the finite. It is the whole. It is the self-determining principle which manifests itself in all the determinations of the finite without losing its unity with itself. The Absolute involves the diversified universe as the universal involves the particular. The relation between the Absolute and the finite is that between the universal and the particular. (This is only an analogy, and like all analogies should not be pressed too far.) The particular is an illustration of the universal, and the universal is the ground of the particular. It is that in the light of which the particular becomes intelligible. We do not deny the reality of the particular, but we say its reality is due to the reality of the general principle. The place, the function, and the exact nature of the reality of the particular are brought out by relating it to the universal. In exactly the same way, it is wrong to think that the finite world is a reality by itself. Its reality is due to the spiritual principle underlying it. If you conceive it apart from the Absolute, then you are viewing it from a mistaken point of view. We have to see, as Malebranche saw, all things in God, if we want to see aught. Just as the general exists in the particular, so the Absolute exists in the finite. There is no finite without an infinite, and no infinite without finite. These are the necessary sides or moments of one and the same concrete reality. Reality appears in the finite, and the finite is its revelation. The Bhagavadgita says: “He who sees me everywhere and everything in me, to him I vanish not, nor to me does he vanish” (Chap. VI, 29). The one is in all, and all are the one. The Absolute is inclusive and not exclusive. It is absurd to say that the finite experience is illusory. If you think the world is illusory, then the Absolute becomes pure vacancy and in fact neither more nor less than nothing. It is a matter of indifference whether you call it being or nothing, a conclusion with which no Vedantin will agree; and to be consistent no Vedantin should agree with the theory that the world is illusory. The conclusion at which we arrive is that the doctrine of Maya is not an integral part of the Vedanta system of philosophy. The Absolute is not a pure self-identity or a simple reality opposed to the world as appearance; it is an eternal unity involving differentiations, and therefore the Vedanta system is not acosmism.

S. Radhakrishnan.

The Presidency College, Madras.

1. For accounts of creation see Chandogya VI, 2, 3; Aitareya, I; Mundaka Upanishad, first part of the second Mundaka.


Intellect and Intuition in Sankara’s Philosophy

Dr. Sir S. Radhakrishnan


Philosophy is not a matter of dialectics and intellectual jugglery, but a product of life and meditation on it. It is Common enough for philosophers who sport on the surface of life to possess the leisure and the capacity for technical discussions. What is rarer is the combination in one individual of knowledge and wisdom. It is only from those of deep thought and large experience that we can get a breadth and depth of understanding, a hold on essentials too often absent from the works of mere intellectuals. In our ancient scriptures it is laid down that philosophy is not a pursuit to which anyone can take. It requires not only a sharp intellect but a detached spirit. Commenting on the first Brahma Sutra, ‘athato brahmajignasa,’ Vidyaranya observes: “He who possesses the four requisites, since release is not to be attained through works, must enter on an inquiry into the Vedanta texts in order to obtain the intuition of Brahman, which is the means of release.”1 This view is not a peculiar idiosyncracy of the follower of the Advaita Vedanta. It is the ancient tradition accepted by all systems. When the old sage Yajnavalkya gave up his all to seek the way of wisdom, he left his possessions to his two wives. Maitreyi refused the riches of the world with the remark, ‘yena na amrita syam kim tena kuryam’? What shall I do with these by which I cannot gain life eternal? Philosophical wisdom is possible only for those who have disciplined their whole nature and not merely those who have sharpened their intellectual powers. Wisdom is integral thinking, while knowledge is fractional thinking. While the latter is more in evidence in science and mathematics, which can be understood by all who possess a trained intellect, the exercise of the former is demanded for an understanding of poetry and philosophy, art and literature.

In a recent book2 I argued that integral thinking or intuitive understanding is responsible for the great insights of philosophy and it is not without reason that philosophy in India is conveyed by the term ‘darshana’ which literally means ‘sight’ or ‘insight’. Philosophy as a ‘darshana’ implies that the ultimate reality is something of which we are directly aware and is not a matter of speculative construction of logical syntheses.

While this view is regarded as true of the Indian philosophers who are theological in their outlook, it is said to be inappropriate to a thinker like Sankara, who does not lean on either dogmatic orthodoxy or emotional assurance. Such a contention is hardly fair.

The real is no mere aspiration unrealised and unrealisable but is the ultimate behind all appearances whatsoever. It is not something which has yet to be accomplished like the future deity of Alexander, but what is already there, ever present. For Hegel the Absolute is a construction epistemologically analogous to similar constructions in the world of knowledge. It is a hypothesis like that of the electron or the neutron. Sankara is definitely opposed to this view. For him the real is genuinely given in knowledge. He distinguishes between purushatantra and vastutantra, that which is constructed by the knower and that which is given to it. Philosophy is knowledge of being, bhutavastuvishaya. It is the apprehension of being, an apprehension which has a distinct flavour of its own. It is more immediate than mediate, more direct than indirect. It has more in common with perception than conception. It is pure immediate self-intuition and is utterly distinct from reflection or mediated thought. Commenting on the phrase pratyakshavagamam,3Sankara says–”Pratyakshena sukhader iva avagamo yasya tat pratyakshavagamam.” In the view of Hegel, the Absolute is a rational synthesis transparent to the human intellect. There is no mystery in it which thought cannot disclose. Protests were uttered immediately. Schleirmacher and Lotze deny the adequacy of thought to comprehend the whole of reality without remainder, and resort to considerations of value. Ritschl, after Kant, affirmed that religious faith is rooted in the practical side of our nature. Systems of voluntarism were the result.

Perception and inference are inadequate to the Absolute. The Real is a vastu but not in space and time; nor is it a mere universal. Bradley correctly represents the teaching of Hegel when he observes: “For thought what is not relative is nothing.” 4 The being of Sankara is one which suffers no second. Human thought is bound up with distinctions while the real is above all distinctions. Our linguistic symbols and logical concepts veil the Real and reduce it to an idol. The Katha Upanishad says: “Not by speech, not by thought, not by sight, does one grasp Him.” Sankara tells us that Brahman “cannot become the object of perception because it does not possess qualities such as form and the like, and as it is devoid of characteristic signs, it does not lend itself to inference and the other means of right knowledge.”5 The Absolute is a positive but unnamable being. It negates limitations, privations. The moment we apply logical concepts to it, we reduce it to a non-absolute, the determinate God. The Absolute is the ground of all possibilities including that of God. To know it we have to pass beyond God (Isvara) into the silent real which precedes and is prior to all things. It is ekam, advitiyam, nirvisesham, avikriyam, opposed to all becoming, formless and fashionless. Simply because we characterise it by the negative terms, it does not follow that it is non-being. It is neither being nor non-being, as it is above both these. It is sad asat tat param.6 Sankara recognised the possibility of directly apprehending the ultimate reality in a way which cannot be equated with either ordinary sense perception or logical inference.

It is what he calls aparokshanubhuti. It is not individual phantasy or illusion. It is unfortunate to characterise this view as mysticism and be done with it. Mysticism is a blanket term, a portmanteau expression which covers a miscellaneous host of ideas, occult visions, apparitions, trance and ecstasy, pious gushing, luminous vacancy, intoxicated erotism, a striving after the bliss of the bridal chamber. While Sankara admits the value of the eightfold yoga; it is only as a means to samyagdarshana, a perfect insight which is far removed from any kind of sentiment or feeling. Nor does he believe that this direct awareness of spiritual reality is a mystical insight or heavenly vision or special revelation. It is the normal experience of all who get to the depths of the soul. It is the possession of self as such and not of this or that special individual. Sankara says: “The self is not capable of proof nor does it need any. It is self-proven (svasiddha). Itself inconceivable, it is the ground of every possibility of conceiving, of every thought, of every act of knowledge. Even he who denies it, admits it.” We may call it pure reason if we please, so long as we do not confuse it with either perception or inference in their ordinary significations.

The difference between Sankara and Hegel is just here. Logical reasoning by itself cannot lead to the apprehension of reality. Sankara admits: “On account of the diversity of men’s opinions, it is impossible to accept mere reasoning as having a sure foundation.”7 Sankara has in view what Professor Taylor in his Gifford, Lectures calls “the systematic ambiguity of epistemology.” “There might prove to be alternative metaphysical interpretations of the given historical reality, all equally consistent with the only condition which the epistemologist can legitimately insist on, the condition that on any interpretation the real world must be capable of being progressively known as intelligence is steadily brought to bear on it.”8 In other words, the last word on the structure of reality cannot be uttered by the epistemologist who leaves us with open alternatives. While it is disloyalty to reason to deny the known character of the world, it is not disloyalty to reason to note that it is something more than what is known of it. Kant, for example, held that there were alternative interpretations of the pattern of reality, all equally consistent with the legitimate claims of science. The world may be an assemblage of mindless forces or a commonwealth of free, progressive agents. When we accept the second, we go beyond mere logic and take our stand on moral consciousness. It is possible that moral consciousness might leave open a number of alternatives, which insistence on the autonomous religious life might close up. In short we are called upon to supplement logic by the facts of life, ethical as well as religious. Only then is logic complete. The unsuppressed aspirations of mans spirit are as much a part of the natural order as the suppressed desires of psycho-analysis or the ordinary perceptions of mankind. In other words we want a synoptic comprehension of all facts of life. Samyagdarshanam is not merely perfect vision but total vision.

While Sankara admits that sakshatkara is a specific mode of apprehension distinct from ordinary perception or inference, he regards it as a species or knowledge and not of feeling or of desire. It is as much determined by the inward organ as perceptual or inferential knowledge is, If the latter is brought about by antahkaranavritti, even so is the former. Commenting on Bhagavadgita, VI. 20, Sankara writes that the yogin, “whose mind is restrained by the practice of yoga sees the self, the highest which is wholly spirit and essentially light, by means of the purified inner organ.”9 Here he differs from the view which is sometimes adopted by Bergson that intuition is a negation of intellect. For Sankara, it is a fulfillment of it. Intuitive experience is the crown of intellectual knowledge. Anubhavavasanam brahma-jnanam, anubhavarudham eva cha vidyaphalam. Intuition is not a substitute for rational knowledge but a supplement to it. It is rational thought matured to inspiration. Intuitive insight while spontaneous does not arise except in the minds of those who are prepared for it by study of scripture and reflection. “Hearing from scriptural texts and reflecting with the help of arguments and meditation are the causes of the insight (into Braman). l0

From the vividness of the experience arises emotional intensity but these accompaniments are not a guarantee of the truth of the object intuited. These intuitions, simply because they carry conviction to the seer, are not to be taken as true. Subjective certitude is different from logical certainty. The sense of assurance is present even when the object is imaginal and even such unreal objects, so long as they are believed to be actual, evoke feelings and attitudes quite as intense and effective as those excited by real ones. The strength of assurance and the intensity of the experience are not a proof of the reality of the object experienced. Intuitions, sensuous as well as spiritual, require to be tested and criticised before they are accepted as valid. Questions of validity are not answered by the experiences themselves. Certitude is not certainty. Psychological objectivity is not ontological reality. While religion may be satisfied with the sense of convincedness, which is enough to foster spiritual life, philosophy is interested in finding out whether the object believed in is well-grounded or not. Pramanair arthaparikshanam nyayah. Nyaya is knowing an object thoroughly by means of the pramanas.

What is intuited cannot be irrational. It cannot be in conflict with reason. What reason suggests as the truth, intuition reveals as the reality. The intuited truth that the self of man is eternally one with the supreme is the ultimate fact to which we are led by a rational ontology which establishes the unreality of multiplicity, division, manifoldness, and separateness. The unreality of the world is just its self-contradiction. It is said to be avastu since it is contrary to reason.11 What is self-contradictory and yet actual cannot be real. The real is what is not self-contradictory. Reality cannot explain the possibility of mere appearance. Error can be dispelled but not explained. What is of its own nature irrational does not admit of explanation. Reason affirms the complete oneness and simplicity of the real. But reason by itself cannot disclose this truth. When once the beliefs arise through intuition or scripture, then logic can tell us whether they are valid or invalid. Sankara uses the methods of proof and dialectic in the formulation of the absolutely inconceivable absolute which escapes all definitions. Sankara’s samyagdarshana does not express itself in song or ritual but in a rational dialectic rather cold and stiff, when we compare it even with the mysteries of the Upanishads, Dialectics help us in proof but not in discovery. They point the way and reveal the defects of the rival views but they are dependent on given facts. Pratyakshagamasrtam anumanam. Reasoning is dependent on perception and testimony.12 If reasoning is uncontrolled by facts, it is only reverie or imagination or tarka which is notoriously apratistha.

Even the scriptural texts are to be used with discrimination. We cannot interpret them arbitrarily. Blind acquiescence in authority is as unsound as a cheap rejection of it. A wise Greek has said: “Not to know what was done in the world before we were born is always to remain a child.” We must always begin as learners, accept something which we did not create. Even scripture is a means to the insight into the real,13 and loses its point when enlightenment arises. “Sruter api abhavah prabodhe.14

It is obvious that Sankara believes in a direct awareness of reality which is neither perceptual nor conceptual. Here he differs from Hegel, but he also affirms that this direct awareness is through and through rational, and in this he differs from Bergson.

To dissever thought and intuition is to dismember the real and deny the eternal unity of life. The puzzles and paradoxes of philosophy are due to the fallacy of abstraction, and if we are loyal to the great tradition of this land, we shall always use intellect in the interest of intuition and adopt that is called anukulatarka.

The tragedy of our age is traceable to its excessive intellectuality. A narrowly intellectual life is lopsided. It revels in the abstract and the repetitive and believes that it is the real. Life is sacrificed to its appurtenances. To give to millions of men the electric light does not mean the development in them of clearer illumination. Cain, in Byron’s poem, asks of Lucifer, the prince of the intellectuals, “Are you happy,” and the great intellectual says to him, “No; art thou?” Our civilisation is shadowed by a sense of defeat and depression. The typical characters of our age are represented by the Forsytes of England, the Babbitts of America, and the Buddenbrooks of Germany, all small adventurers with no heroism about them. They do not know what to do, and so spend their time playing golf, cursing the weather, revising the prayer book, and ruling empires, if they get a chance, Philosophy is dismissed as a narrowly intellectual affair dealing with proofs and evidences, with the result that it has become negative and arid.

Our literature is critical and realistic. It deals with life as a formula or a pattern and not with men and women, their ardours and ecstasies, their strange possibilities and endless mysteries. Great literature ought to produce a sense of something inexplicable and overwhelming. It must “tease us out of thought” with the pale light of another world, and if the works of today do not possess such compelling or consecrating power, it is because they are mainly intellectual, “Analysis kills spontaneity just as grain, once it is ground into powder, no longer springs and germinates,” says Amiel. The true seers possess a different tone and temper, a spirit out of the common, touched with a light from beyond. When we read their writing, they quicken a like life in us and make us glow with the ardours of self-discovery.

In art, again, the greatest triumphs are of exact science. They are not the pyramids or the temples but the sky-scrapers which show a sense of mathematical law. We teach drawing and painting in our schools to help us to understand the works of Botticelli or Michael Angelo, but the faith and the passion that made their works possible are no more available. Ethical life is reduced to a code of rules supposed to be rational. Our conventional codes are pretentious failures, which break down at the first touch of reality. We extinguish the light within us for the sake of peace with the world.

We should recognise that happiness is found in the adequate realisation of all human powers. Physical prowess, mental cunning, and spiritual peace are needed. The ancient text says: Pranaramam manasanandam santisamruddham, amritam. The play of life, the satisfaction of mind, and the fulness of peace form the life eternal. It is emphasis on intuitive understanding or spiritual values that we need today. How we can develop them in the intellectual conditions of today is the problem to which philosophers have to address themselves. The work which ancient religions did requires to be done now be a new synthesis or samanvaya.

India of the ages is not dead; nor has she spoken her last creative word. The time has come for a few religious expression, a new language for the old everlasting emotions in terms of modern knowledge, a religious form that should Contradict no fact and check no inquiry. The everlasting spirit of love and righteousness which has inspired the religions of the past must now quicken and inform the new learning.15

—from Triveni, July–August, 1933

1. Tadevam sadhanachatushtayasampannasya, karmabhir mokshasiddher

mokshasadhanabrahmajnanaya Vedantavakyavicharah kartavya iti srautyarthah.-

Vivaranaprameyasangraha, p. 6.

2. An Idealist View of Life. Allen & Unwin, 1932.

3. Rajavidya rajaguhyam pavitram idam uttamam. !

Pratyakshavagamam dharmyam susukham kartum avyayam. !!

4. Appearance and Reality, p. 30.

5. Thibaut’s E. T. Vol. XXXIV, p. 316. Rupadyabhavaddhi nayam arthah pratyakshasya gocharah lingadyabhavascha nanumanadinam. III, 11. S. A.

6. B.G. XI. 37.

7. Na pratisthitatvam tarkanam sakyam asrayitum purusha mativairupyat. S.B, II.1.ii.

8. The Faith of a Moralist, Vol. II, p. 378.

9. Atmana samadhiparisuddhena antahkaranena atmanam param chaitanyam jyotissvarupam pasyan upalabhamanah.

10. Vivaranaprameyasangraha.

11. Cf. Anirvachaniyavadinam asmakam adhyasasyavastutva yuktivirodhayor

istatvat. Vivaranaprameyasangraha, pp. 12-13.

12. I. 1. 1. N. S.

13. Brahmadarsanam uddisya sravanavidhanetu. Vivaranaprameyasangraha, p. 4.

14. S.B.XV. 1. 3.

15. The Presidential Address at the Mysore session of the Indian Philosophical Congress, December 1932, with H. H. The Maharaja of Mysore in the chair.

T. Subba Row on Esoteric Vedanta

Notes on the Bhagavad Gita

by T. Subba Row, B.A., B.L., F.T.S.

Full Text Online


Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine

by T. Subba Row, B.A., B.L., F.T.S.

Printed in The Theosophist, September, 1883.
Reprinted in Blavatsky Collected Works, Volume 5, Pages 176-197,
and in Five Years of Theosophy, Pages 278-308

Full Text Online


Articles published in Five Years of Theosophy

Brahmanism on the Sevenfold Principle in Man
Personal and Impersonal God
Septenary Division in Different Indian Systems
Prakriti and Parusha
Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine

Full Text Online


Advaita Philosophy

(articles and debate between Paramahansa Swami of Almora and T. Subba Row)

Full Text Online (p. 471-etc.)

See Also:

Confusing the Esoteric with the Exoteric: T. Subba Row on Advaita Vedanta” by David Reigle


Biography of Sri Sankaracharya

See Also: Vedic India on Universal Theosophy

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