Hi everyone. 🙂
From the (as if) paramartha level, the level where one thinks and talks about ultimate Reality, can one (correctly) say anything positive about brahman? E.g. Brahman is … <whatever>. Or is it only correct to negate that which is not brahman (neti neti)?
The best I have come across is Shankara’s bhAShya on Taittiriya Upanishad, brahmAnandavalli anuvAka 1. He explains how ‘satyam j~nAnam anantam brahmA’ works. His commentary is explained word by word in (volume 1 of) the two-volume work on Taittiriya by divyj~nAna sarojini veradarajAn. Brilliant! (but it does take up around 100 pages!)
Yep, ‘satyam j~nAnam anantam brahmA’ is definitely a positive assertion about brahman. Same for ‘sat chit ananda.’ And several of the mahavakyas: ‘prajñānam brahma’ ‘ekam evadvitiyam brahma’ ‘sarvam khalvidam brahma.’
My understanding of the shastra, based on my reading and the instruction of my teachers, is that whatever we say about Brahman is only an approximation or an attempt to describe the indescribable which is significant only from the empirical standpoint. From the standpoint of absolute truth it cannot be described. What we can describe positively is only that which is conditioned by our understanding of it. As Shankara indicates in his Brahma Sutra bashya, even to say that the ultimate Reality is non-dual is merely to prevent wrong understanding about it, not to affirm anything about it positively. Words stand for conditioned objects and when applied to the unconditioned reality, i.e. Brahman in Itself, they lose their power and turn back without apprehending it. It’s the Brahman on which the categories of our understanding are superimposed that is described as ‘Brahman’, ‘Atman’,’ Knowledge’, ‘infinitude’, etc. while the unconditioned reality or Brahman in Itself is simply undescribable and inexpressible (niruktam).
In his Brahma Sutra bashya (III.2.17) Shankara relates a story from the Vedas that is otherwise lost, of Sage Bhava being questioned by Vashkalin about the nature of Brahman. When asked by Vashkalin, Bhava became silent. Not able to understand the significance of the silence of the sage, Vashkalin asked him repeatedly to instruct him about Brahman. Bhava replied that all the while (through silence) he was explaining to Vashkalin about Brahman, but Vashkalin failed to understand. Brahman, said the sage, is absolute silence.
Thanks, Rick. Swami Sarvapriyananda said in one of his talks that (paraphrasing) to think “everything is brahman” or “nothing is brahman” was equally acceptable, it’s when you think “some things are or aren’t brahman” that you get in trouble.
Several questions arose for me when I read your message, but I’m going to exercise restraint and hold off on them to avoid falling into a brahman-contemplation loop in which I run around in circles like a samsaric hamster!