Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.
adhyAsa is possibly the most important concept in Advaita – certainly in Advaita as ‘formulated’ by Shankara, since he wrote an extended introduction to his commentary on the Brahmasutras on this topic. I wrote this article originally for Advaita Vision but (as far as I know) it is no longer available at that site so I am reproducing it here. It will be in 4 or 5 parts.
These notes are essentially a rewording, omitting most of the Sanskrit, of the notes provided by Achacrya Sadananda on the Advaitin List and I gratefully acknowledge his permission for this. In turn, he wishes that I acknowledge his own indebtedness to H.H. Swami Paramarthananda of Madras, himself a student of Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda. His lectures form the basis of these notes.
The brahmasUtra is the third of the so called ‘Three pillars of vedAnta‘, the first two being the upaniShad-s (shruti – the scriptures ‘revealed’ and not ‘authored’ by anyone) and the bhagavad gItA (smRRiti – the ‘heard’ scriptures passed down by memory). The brahmasUtra is a very terse and logical examination of the essential teaching of the upaniShad-s, seeking to show the nature of brahman and the superiority of the philosophy of vedAnta. It is usually studied with the help of a commentary or bhaShya, the best known being the one by Shankara. Continue reading →
Born some eighteen years before the death of Descartes, the Englishman John Locke claimed that reason was not the principal means for finding out about the world, as the earlier philosopher had contended. Instead, he advocated an empirical approach to knowledge, i.e. using one’s senses actually to see what is the case. This is the only means for obtaining raw data and we use reason subsequently to make sense of it. Only then can it become knowledge. He believed his own purpose in life was to enquire into human knowledge to discover its limits and the extent to which we could be certain of it.
Unlike modern, evolutionary psychologists, he believed that we are effectively born with no innate knowledge, a metaphorical ‘blank slate’. All of our knowledge and understanding is therefore built upon information derived from our senses. Everything we know or think about ultimately comes from experience. The limits of what we can know about reality are fixed by the abilities of the senses and the associated mental equipment. Continue reading →
Part 10 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.
The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.
Part 10 looks at the five organs of perception and the six means of acquiring knowledge.
There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.
Part 1 of a 3-part essay by Dr. K. Sadananda, AchArya at Chinmaya Mission, Washington.
Science is Objective
The word science is derived from the root ‘scire’, meaning to know. Hence science really means knowledge which reveals a fact or truth. In Sanskrit, ‘vid’ means to know, and ‘veda’ means knowledge. Combining these two statements we can say that Veda means science. Vedanta means that which reveals the ultimate knowledge or absolute truth. From this, it follows that Vedanta is the ultimate science. This is not a fanatical statement but a statement of fact, as in ‘Light travels at 299,792,458 m / s’. This is not an opinion or belief but just plain fact, whether one believes it or not. We will examine here why Vedanta is the science of absolute.
Epistemologically, the word ‘knowledge’ without a qualifier, cannot be defined. The qualifier objectifies the knowledge as in ‘knowledge of Chemistry’ or ‘knowledge of Physics’, etc. It is always knowledge of something. It can be knowledge of the physical or phenomenal world, or knowledge of some subtle entities such as emotions, thoughts, intellectual concepts, etc. The former can be considered as the knowledge of gross entities that can be known via sense input, while the latter can be called the knowledge of subtle entities and can be known without the need of any sense input, or can be inferred indirectly from the sense input. Continue reading →
Once self-ignorance is admitted as the problem, then it follows necessarily that self-knowledge is required to remove it. In turn this implies the need for a teacher or material to impart that knowledge and consequently, effectively a path and a seeker etc. We do not have any sense organ for ‘self-knowledge’. All of the usual pramANa-s only provide information about the world of facts, observations and information (which includes our body and the subtle aspects of thoughts and emotions).
The seeker might well ask why it is that a sampradAya teacher should be better or more worthy of listening to than the independent teacher. The answer is simple – authority (in the sense of proven to work) and training. Why should one pay more attention to the claims of one ‘ordinary person’ than another? If a totally unqualified teacher says ‘This is it’ and my own experience tells me that “no it isn’t”, who is right? Should I not give more credence to first-hand experience? On the other hand, if a teacher is able to say “this is what my teacher told me” and so on, back down a noble line of sages to the shruti itself, then that is worthy of attending to.It might be said that the traditional path is a well-worn one and we are therefore far less likely to stray, whereas the neo-advaitin path is, by its own admission, no path at all.
Vedanta is a means of self knowledge through words called shabda pramANa.
It is able to give you direct knowledge of your eternal nature through words. In spiritual circles this will be generally criticized with the argument that the eternal self, enlightenment, the absolute, Brahman, the Tao or whatever you want to call it, is beyond words and indescribable. Therefore the conclusion is that it is impossible to get direct knowledge and know your “real” self through words. Continue reading →
This is the second of a four-part article by Acharya Sadananda of Chinmaya Mission Washington (edited by myself) clarifying the nature of the deep-sleep state and addressing a number of problems which frequently cause confusion in seekers.
When I enter into a pitch dark room I cannot see the presence of any object there as it is too dark. I need a light to illumine the objects. In a pitch dark room, the existence or non-existence of any object cannot be established; they may be there or they may not. In essence, their existence becomes indeterminate or anirvachanIyam. On the other hand, I can see that the room is pitch dark and understand that it is because of this that I do not see the presence or absence of any object. Darkness envelops both the known and the unknown. However, I do not need a light to see the darkness. In addition, I know that I am there even when the room is pitch dark. I do not need a light to know that I am there. I am a self existent entity and therefore a self revealing entity, and hence I do not need any pramANa to know that I am present in the dark room. It is similar to saying that I do not need a light in order to see another light. Being a conscious-existent entity, I am also a self-revealing entity or self-luminous entity or I am aprameyam, not an object of knowledge for which a pramANa is required. In addition, my presence as a self-luminous or self-conscious entity is required to illumine any other object – tasya bhAsA sarvam idam vibhUti; it is by that light of consciousness alone that all objects get revealed. Therefore, the light of consciousness that I am can illumine the darkness as well as the light that opposes the darkness. Thus I am the light of lights, since I light the lights and darkness too – jyotir jyotiH. Therefore, I say that I see it is pitch dark which is covering the existence as well the absence of all objects. Continue reading →
I am still in the process of writing my next book on the Mandukya Upanishad and kArikA-s. I have just written the following section on the concept of ‘difference’. Since I posted a query to the Advaitin group, relating to what Swami Paramarthananda had said on the topic, I concluded by sending the completed section to the group. Accordingly, I am also posting this here.
In his commentary on this kArikA (2.34), Shankara touches on the logic of this concept of ‘difference’ and Swami Paramarthananda expands upon this. What, he asks provocatively, is the color of the difference between red and blue? Clearly, it is potentially a very important topic since, if it could be proven logically that the idea of ‘difference’ is incoherent on examination, it would effectively demonstrate the non-dual nature of reality. Numerous post-Shankara philosophers have looked into this and formulated involved arguments. There is extensive material in the post-Shankara texts of brahmasiddhi, iShTasiddhi, tattvashuddhi, khaNDanakhaNDakhAdya and chitsukhI/tattvadIpikA but, having looked at these, they seem too impenetrable to study in detail. (No references are given for these – you really don’t want to read them!) Continue reading →