This is effectively Part 6 1/2 of 10 in the pratibandha series. It follows on from the heading of “The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’”. Apologies for the misleading and changing part numbers. This is the result of writing ‘as I go’ rather than completing the entire topic first.
xi) AbhAsa vAda
This theory was mentioned briefly above in 2b, when bhAmatI and vivaraNa were discussed in the context of sources for mistaken views of Advaita. AbhAsa translates as ‘fallacious appearance’ and it is effectively the term that is used to describe this ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect. Shankara addresses this in his upadesha sAhasrI, principally in chapter 18 ‘tat tvam asi’. The following analysis is with the help of Ref. 211.
As the chapter heading indicates, the topic is the mahAvAkya and how the knowledge of its truth is all that we need in order to gain enlightenment. We are already free and always have been, so once we realize this, there is nothing more that needs to be done. The idea that, after gaining ‘merely intellectual knowledge’ from shravaNa, we have somehow to gain ‘direct experience’ of Brahman before we are liberated, is called prasa~NkhyAna vAda. This is discussed and rejected in detail below, under the topic of ‘meditation’ but in this chapter Shankara introduces an objector who has these notions and the subsequent arguments are relevant to this topic of pratibandha-s.
The pUrvapakShin puts forward the following views in 18.9 – 18.18.
- We know from our own perception and experience that we are a limited person, subject to the vicissitudes of life and doomed to death. The pronouncements of the scriptures contradict these experiences. 18.13: “The powerful impressions (saMskAra) arising from sense perception certainly contradict the knowledge ‘I am the real’ derived from hearing the text, and then one is (also) attracted towards the external by defects.” (Ref. 11) [‘Defects’ presumably refers to habitual desires etc.]
- After gaining this knowledge, our experience of these limitations continues. 18:15; “No one is found to become free from pain merely through comprehending the meaning of a text.” (Ref. 11)
- If hearing the mahAvAkya gives liberation, why do scriptures say that we must renounce everything afterwards? 18:16: “Indeed, if anyone could become free from pain through the mere comprehending of a text, it would follow that there is no Vedic warrant for our traditional discipline.” (Ref. 11)
Shankara argues that, although our experience may appear to contradict the message of the scriptures, that experience is mithyA. Something that is mithyA cannot impact upon the truth conveyed by the mahAvAkya. He gives two reasons why saMsAra is mithyA. We can never actually ‘know’ that we are bound and subject to rebirth etc. It is only a belief and it is a mistake. The second argument uses the ideas already discussed above. He asks whether the supposed bondage applies to Consciousness, the body-mind, or a mixture of the two – the Atman that is Consciousness (chit); the body-mind that is inert (jaDa or anAtman); or the ‘reflection’ or ‘false appearance’ (chidAbhAsa).
He asks to whom this bondage applies and sets out to show that it cannot belong to anything. Firstly, he has to establish the validity of the term (AbhAsa) itself.
He begins by saying that the one who listens to the scriptures being taught is a seeker who believes him or herself to be bound. This seeker cannot be Atman because Atman is eternally free. And the seeker cannot be anAtman because a) anAtman is inert and b) anAtman is not Brahman (so cannot gain the knowledge ‘I am Brahman’). Therefore, we need something else if we are to speak meaningfully about bondage and liberation; we need an AbhAsa.
Next, he asks whom the scriptures are addressing when they say ‘tat tvam asi’. Is it saying ‘you are Brahman’ to Atman or anAtman? It cannot be the former because Atman is not an ignorant seeker of liberation. Nor can it be the latter. Apart from the fact that it would not be very productive to tell a stone that it was Brahman, it would also render the shruti ineffective as a valid source of knowledge (shAstra pramANa). Therefore, a third element has to be introduced to provide the answer, namely AbhAsa.
Finally he says that, when we say ‘I know’, it means that there is an ‘I’ that is both conscious and subject to change (because I am ignorant before and knowing after). Brahman is conscious(ness) but not changeable (nirvikAra). Inert matter (anAtman) is changeable but not conscious. Accordingly, ‘I know’ cannot apply to either Atman or anAtman. AbhAsa provides the means by which the anAtman body-mind can be a seeker in bondage that can be liberated by the words of shAstra. The mechanism is that these characteristics (bound seeker, knower etc.) are superimposed upon the eternally free Atman.
Having established the viability and logical necessity of AbhAsa, Shankara then goes on to show that it is mithyA. To do this, he uses the metaphor of the reflection of a face in a mirror. He asks whether the reflection belongs to the face or the mirror (18.37 – 38):
“The reflection of the face in the mirror is a property (dharma) neither of the mirror nor of the face. If it were the property of either of them, it would persist in one or other of them when the two were parted. It might be thought that, because one speaks of the reflection of the face as ‘the face’ it must be a property of the face. But this is wrong. For on the one hand it conforms to certain characteristics of the mirror (which would not be possible if it were a property of the face). And on the other hand it cease to manifest when the face is still in existence (but parted from the mirror).” (Ref. 11)
Since the reflection does not belong to either the face or the mirror and does not exist independently, it has to be mithyA.
So is saMsAra satyam or mithyA? Following the above discussion, Shankara asks: ‘does saMsAra belong to Atman, anAtman or AbhAsa?’ It has already been pointed out above that it cannot belong to Atman, which is nirvikAra, and it cannot belong to anAtman, which is jaDa. So it would seem that it has to belong to AbhAsa.
But Shankara shows that it cannot belong to any of these (18.44):
“To whom, then, belongs the property of being the transmigrant (saMsArin)? Not to pure Consciousness, for it is not subject to modification (nirvikAra). Not to the reflection, for it is not a reality. And not to the ego-sense (the receptacle of the reflection) since it is (per se) non-conscious.” (Ref. 11)
He says simply that saMsAra cannot belong to the reflection either, because it is mithyA. He then concludes (18.45):
“Transmigration, therefore, must be mere ignorance (avidyA) arising from non-discrimination [i.e between Self and not-Self]. It only possesses being (AtmavAn) and appears to afflict the Self on account of (that) changeless (kUTastha) Self.” (Ref. 11)
And this is the logical conclusion of the ‘mixture’ idea. It has to be mithyA in the end. You cannot have a mixture of two things when only one of those ‘things’ is real! The idea was introduced (adhyAropa), used to provide a useful ‘explanation’ of a knotty problem, and then withdrawn (apavAda) once the difficulties had been resolved!
But the ‘final explanation’ is, of course, an ‘as if’ pAramArthika one. Ultimately, the answer is always going to be that there is only Brahman – sarvam khalvidam brahma. There is only Brahman in reality. From an empirical standpoint, chidAbhAsa and the concept of a mixture of Consciousness and body-mind continues to provide a meaningful explanation.