Becoming – in Shankara and Plato

Some interesting contrast and parallels can be made between the non-duality of the Indian subcontinent and the philosophical thought of the greatest Western philosopher, Plato. The concept of Becoming is a case in point. This term has, for the latter, both epistemic and ontological connotations. Its primary meaning – as doxa – is opinion, in particular true opinion (epistemology), but it is also akin to the Shankhyan concept of prakrity – underlying matter, material cause, or matrix (ontology).

On the other hand, the Platonic Becoming resembles ‘mithya’ (not true, not false): a mistaken identification, mistaking resemblance (or appearance) for identity, that is, sensible appearance for true reality. Doxa or opinion usually refers, in the Greek philosopher, to a state of indiscriminate cognition, mixing the particular with the ideal or universal, the unreal with the real, reminiscent of the double notion of avidya-adhyasa or mutual superimposition of the unreal and the real of Shankara’s philosophy.

From the stand-point of advaita  Becoming is related to the vyavaharika view-point, where it has practical validity in the empirical realm. It is applicable to the disciplines of psychology, biology, and the process of knowledge/knowing, etc.

What about the notions of apparent transformation (Vivarta-vada) and real transformation (Parinama-vada), which appear to be related to Becoming one way or another? The latter, promoted by Shankhya philosophy, is refuted by Shankara and his followers as a metaphysical theory related to the cause of the world; this leaves aside the frequently quoted example of milk turning into curds of phenomenal reality, which is taken to be a real ransformation.

Concerning change and Becoming, which are practically equivalent metaphysical concepts, the final word lies with Shankara (and Gaudapada): “What is never ceases to be; what is not never comes into being”. At this level of understanding there is neither time, space nor causation.